Dr. Jim Hurley preaches on the resurrection of Lazarus at RTS Jackson. The message is entitled “When Jesus Does Not Do it the Way We Want.”

Let’s take a moment to pray before we read God’s Word.

Holy Spirit, you’ve carried these men along who wrote and gave them a gospel that reaches from the time of its writing till the coming of our Savior, and a Scripture that goes from the time of its first writing until the coming of our Savior. We pray that here in this time when we look at and learn from your Word that it would be not just words on a page, but that you take this which you’ve given and bring it into our hearts that we might learn of you and also worship you more. We present ourselves and our time in worship looking to learn from you. We pray heavenly Father not because we’ve earned your ear—we’ve not—but Christ has and so we come to pray in his name. Amen.

The text this morning comes out of John’s gospel, the eleventh chapter. I want to set just a little bit of stage before I read it through, and we’re reading a good chunk. So, a good bit of the time allocated for the worship service you’ll just get to listen to a text being read. That also means I have to move with a little more speed across it because I only have so long. But the text is a rich text, and it’s well worth reading.

Context of the Passage

Setting the stage a bit: John is very careful as he writes to organize his material. He tells us where he’s going, and then as you watch him build piece after piece of his narrative focuses in on what it is that John wants to bring to us. He often starts a chapter by telling us what’s coming, and then we are to watch it as he goes through it. This passage here in chapter 11 is certainly one of those places.

Jesus is at the end of his various tours coming up into the Feast of Dedication in chapter 10. He’s more and more been disclosing himself for who he is, and he begins the discussions in the temple of his relation to his Father. And as he begins to let them know about his relation to his Father they get more and more upset. Finally they pick up stones to stone him because they correctly understood that “you’re saying you’re equal with God and that’s blasphemy.” So, things have grown up, mounted up. People are actively looking to kill him. Jesus withdraws from Jerusalem. It’s not yet the time.

We’re in about December. As we get up into the time of the Passover then it will be the time of his death. He’s withdrawn from Jerusalem as we have the growing tensions, and he goes down across the Jordan to Bethany and Perea on the other side of the Jordan where he teaches. John carefully tells us where he’s teaching there. Many are seeing what he does, and they’re coming to believe in him. You have Jerusalem that’s mounting up with some groups following him and some wanting to kill him, and then he moves away and he’s teaching and being well received where he’s preaching in Perea.

That gets us to the end of chapter 10, and now we come to chapter 11. How long has he been there? We don’t really know. It’s probably January or February because it seems not to be a super long time since he left Jerusalem. He’s been there weeks perhaps a couple of months. We don’t know whether the Jerusalem group knew where he was, but they were able to find him.

Scripture Text

We begin now with Chapter 11,

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it’s for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

That’s your theme statement. That’s what John is about to develop, and he’s going to filter his material to this end. He’s going to leave many questions out because he’s addressing this topic focally.

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a little while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It’s when he walks by night that he stumbles for he has no light.”

After he said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I’m going to wake him up.”

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he’s going to get better.” Jesus had been speaking about his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I’m glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let’s go too so we can die with him.”

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than a couple of miles from Jerusalem, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out of the house to meet him, and Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Mary answered, “I know he’ll rise again at the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

After she said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Jesus hadn’t entered the village yet, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who’d been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus burst out in tears.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. There was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take the stone away,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there’s a bad odor. He’s been dead four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you’d see the glory of God?”

They took the stone away. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you that you’ve heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you’ve sent me.”

When he’d said this, Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, hither out.” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “This man is performing lots of miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this everybody’s going to believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.” (John 11:1–48)

Jumping to verse 53: “So, from that day, they planned to kill him.”

We end the reading of a long chapter in God’s Word.

Jesus Works with People in Different Ways to Show That He Is Trustworthy

This is a chapter that is rich almost beyond words, and has layer after layer in it as you think of what Jesus is doing, what he’s saying, and the things he’s alluding to in Scripture. Yet, John is focusing us in here—this is something that’s going to glorify God and glorify his Son. That’s where we’re going to focus. As things move on, everything is going to center around that. I want to call your attention especially to the way in which as Jesus walks through this set of events group by group, individual by individual, he’s helping them, and he’s moving them to see who he is. This is a very, very, very careful dealing with these people.

The starting place is so well worth our attention, and something that so many of you will recognize. Jesus is off teaching, the brother is sick, they know that Jesus heals, they’re worried that he’s going to die, he’s getting worse and worse, they send a messenger to find him. We don’t know how long, and the exegete spent a lot of time asking how many days it took to get from Bethany to wherever Jesus was. That’s well worthwhile especially in a class. It’s worth our while here, but we haven’t time for it.

So the messenger goes and gets to Jesus and brings the message, “The one whom you love is sick.” He’s going straight to the point of caring: “You love this man. He’s sick.” And the unspoken, of course, is, “Could you heal him?” Jesus responds with words that his disciples and Lazarus’s sisters will have turned over and turned over. He says, “The sickness is not the death. No, it’s for the glory of God and that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus says this. The messenger heads back—day and a half, two days’ journey, 25–30 miles back—taking this response of Jesus to the sisters, and Jesus carries on with his ministry.

Jesus Allows the Disciples to Be Confused to Amplify His Glory

One day we get to ask the disciples, “What did you think had just happened? When he said that what were you expecting?” I’m guessing they were expecting that where Jesus said, “It’s not the death. God will be glorified,” that they were expecting that Lazarus was going to get better. Surely, that’s what we’ve got here.

It’s much more complex. It’s not just that Jesus is going to be glorified because he has the power to raise a man from the dead. He does that, but his goal in this is not simply that that happened, wonderful as it would be and though he had done it before.

So, two days later he says, “Right. Let’s go back to Judea.” The disciples are well aware of attitudes back there, and they say, “You know they’re trying to kill you back there? You don’t want to go back. That’s why we left.” And John is more brief than that, but they’re clearly aiming for that with Jesus. And he answers them in language that we often missed today, but they didn’t. He says, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If a man walks by day he won’t stumble because he sees by the light of this world.” Of course, in a Jewish day, the day was defined by how long the sunlight lasted. Our days have 24 clock hours. And we’re coming up to daylight savings time when we’re going to juggle things around. But in a Jewish day, the day starts when the dawn comes. The ninth hour or the third hour is a quarter of the way up; at the the sixth hour, you’ve got midday; you get the ninth hour; and then you get the 12th.

Jesus is saying, “By definition a day has twelve hours. That’s when it’s going to be light. If you walk then, you’re okay. There’s an appointed time. In fact, it varies by day, but it’s all right.” They’re saying, “They’re going to kill you.” He says, “No. There’s an appointed time. There are 12 hours in a day if you walk in that you’re okay. Don’t freak out. It’s okay.”

Then he says, “Lazarus is asleep.” The disciples not wanting to go back and get killed, say, “Hah. If he’s sleeping he’s past the crisis, and he’s going to be all right. We don’t need to go to Jerusalem, do we?”

Also Jesus is going to wake him. You ought to think about that a minute. He’s a couple of days away. How long is this guy going to sleep? Jesus hadn’t spoken plainly in the sense of highlighting what was going on. I suspect it’s not an accident; we can check with him one day. But not an accident at all that his language was such that they engaged it, missed it, and then he clarified for them to really underscore what’s going on. He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

What is he talking about? Now frequently, Jesus will say something and ask the disciples if they understand and they say that they do and the Gospel writer makes it clear that they don’t understand and that they have completely missed it. And he says things that they don’t quite understand or as he says, “But later on then you’ll understand it.”

So he teaches and then as life goes on, there’s a deepening understanding of what’s being said. “Lazarus is dead and I’m glad I wasn’t there,” Jesus says. “Why for our sake are you glad you weren’t there when Lazarus died? What is this?” They don’t know. “Let’s go to him.” Thomas, the twin, is wonderful he says, “Okay, let’s go and die too.”

I’m not sure I would be saying that. And I don’t know what how totally convinced he was of that. Whether that’s kind of an ironic statement or, as I suspect, he actually meant it, that they go back there with the likelihood that a lot of them would be killed.

They’re confused. They’re struggling. They really don’t know what’s going on. They walk back, and after a couple of days of travel, they’re probably sweaty and sleep by the side of the road. They come up on the village. We have the village where Lazarus has been in the grave three days. This is the fourth day. The Jewish tradition was that a spirit kind of hangs around the body for three days and then leaves. And Jesus has rather pointedly sat still for two days, come walking back, and when he gets there, it’s the fourth day for Lazarus. He’s decidedly dead.

Jesus Discusses the Resurrection to Martha and Points Her to Himself

Jesus walks up, and we wonder about what these sisters have been doing? Can you imagine what happens to their confidence?, The messenger comes back and the exegetes are going to go back and forth, but it looks as if that Lazarus will have died before the messenger got back. Likely, he was alive and then died before. We don’t know for sure, but we know for sure he was dead before Jesus got there.

So the messenger comes and brings the good news. It’s for the glory of God. Wow! That’s terrific, and either then Lazarus dies which would be an interesting impact on your faith, or the messenger comes back and looks at the house, and their mourners, and they say, “Well what did he say?” “He said it’s not to death it’s for the glory of God.” Any way you slice it, we’ve got this message from the one they count on and that they trust that it’s not going to be bad, but he’s dead.

So they will have turned that over, chewed it over, and wrestled with it. Some of you have had a death, and others not. When somebody dies that hits you like a truck. These people are grieving and mourning and they look to Jesus, and he didn’t do what they wanted. He comes up and somebody goes in to tell the sisters that he’s coming. We don’t know who, we don’t know how, but they got the message. Martha comes running out, and in her words, “If you had been here,” there may be a little piece of blame. “We sent a messenger. It doesn’t take four days to get here. If you’d come, I could have had my brother.”

These people are grieving and mourning and they look to Jesus, and he didn’t do what they wanted.We don’t know if it’s a wish or a little bit of accusation. Then it has this funny thing tacked in after it that lets you see what’s running the back of her mind. “I know that God will give you anything you ask.” She doesn’t even dare say it. Could that happen? It would be really easy to handle her anxiety instantly. “Martha, I got this covered. Relax we’re going to the tomb and he’s coming up.” But he didn’t.

He chose instead to engage with Martha and move through a very real situation. He does that with us. We have good news, but he walks us through hard places and trials in which we grow. They’re not games. You may have noticed that. They’re not games to Jesus either. Jesus looks at Martha and says, “Your brother will rise again.”

We can check with her, but my guess is what she next says is not what she was wishing. She probably didn’t even dare say what she was hoping, but we’ll find out. She says, “I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection at the last day. I believe in the resurrection. He’ll come, I’ll see him again. I’m reassured. I’m comforted by that.” It’s likely they comforted each other with that.

We do that today, right? Someone has died and we look forward to seeing other people. I look forward to talking, don’t you? I spent a lot of my academic time studying Paul so I’m really interested. I would like a few hours with him as explains what he meant when he wrote this. Then we can talk to the Holy Spirit and Jesus about that too. How come it looks like this?

“I know he’ll be there at the resurrection. He’ll rise again.” And Jesus carefully walks her forward with language that’s also going to stretch her. He does this so often. It’s kind of clear but then there’s more than just what’s being said. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now in John’s gospel and in Jewish background “I am” is potent language. “I am the resurrection and the life.” She says, “He’ll rise at the end,” and Jesus says, “No, I am.” He’s pulling the attention right to himself. There’s been a lot of question about what he’s doing, but he’s pulling the attention here. “He who believes in me will live.” Even though he dies–you can bet your boots that she didn’t miss that language. “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus so often chooses language that forces us to think, ‘What is this? Can we see further into that? Can we bring this into the larger context of his message and of his work?’I suspect she was good with the first part of that. “Even if he dies he’ll live? That’s what I’m asking for.” Then this funny next piece, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” “Well wait a minute, wait a minute. Lazarus is already dead. What are you talking about?” And Jesus so often chooses language that forces us to think, “What is this? Can we see further into that? Can we bring this into the larger context of his message and of his work?”

“Do you believe this?”.

“Yes, Lord.”

And she actually doesn’t fully answer his question. I suspect she’s wrestling still with what it means. “But I believe that you’re the Christ the Son of God who is to come into the world.” This is a huge confession in a day when people wanted to stone him for saying that kind of thing. Then she goes to her sister, “The teacher is here he’d like to speak to you.”

Jesus Mourns with Mary and Takes Decisive Action

Apparently, John doesn’t report it, but Jesus sends a sister and says, “Tell your sister come out here. I’d like to talk to Mary.” Mary jumps up goes running off to meet him. We don’t know where he was, or where he had been coming up toward Bethany. The suspicion is that he may have been also kind of near the graveyard, but we don’t know. And so she goes running out and the mourners who were there with her look at this sad person heading for the tomb to weep at the graveside, and off they go to join her.

She gets there and then as she reaches Jesus, she just falls down. She says, “Jesus if you’d been here he wouldn’t have died.” We recognize that language right? That’s her sister’s language. My guess is this is the first time they had thought this or maybe said it to each other. We still don’t know whether that’s a confession, a plea, or an accusation, but with this sister Jesus approaches it differently. He doesn’t do the discussion of resurrection. He says, “Where have you put him?” With this person he’s going right to the issue. She’ll talk to her sister in due season. Oh you can count that they talked about it, and I would give a lot to be able to have talked with Lazarus about 40 minutes later. Though CNN would interview him, and John the Gospel writer doesn’t give us that discussion because this is not a discussion about how Lazarus experienced it. It’s about who raised him. He meets the sister. “Where have you laid him?” “Come and see.”

Then the text is stunning. We often see it kind of like little tears. But “Jesus burst into tears,” is a better reading of that. “Come and see.” What would I do? “Hang in there man. In 10 minutes, you know what’s happening? You don’t have to worry. I have got this covered. Your brother’s going to be out of the grave. Just hang in. You’ll see the glory of God.” And that’s not how he’s dealing with her. With each person here he is meeting them to grow them and to move them forward and boy our trials look a lot like that. “God could have just ended it immediately? Then I wouldn’t have to go through with it.” And if you think of the Scripture over and over where Paul for instance talks about our trials that build us up. Paul says, “I know how to abase and to abound.” He doesn’t if he’s going to come out of the dungeon but he’s alright with that. Jesus is talking about building them in their relation of trust to him.

We have a high priest who really knows our life.“Where have you laid him?” And Jesus burst out in tears. Some of them say, “See how much he loved him?” I want to emphasize here that Jesus does know the end. He knew the end from when the servant got there. He announced the end. He knew about Lazarus’s death when nobody had gone to tell him so he probably learned that from God. But he’s with a woman who is sobbing because she’s lost her brother and he is not saying, “It’s going to be okay.” He feels. He empathizes. He weeps. He bursts into tears. Jesus is not separate from our feelings even though he knows the end result. We have a high priest who really knows our life.

Wow, I value that. He sees and he weeps. Many of us know places where we weep. It’s good to know we have a savior who really understands that.

We learn that some people see his compassion and love, and others are saying, “Why didn’t you do something about it? You’ve done it at distance before. Why didn’t you help this man? Heals the blind.” So we begin to see people who see Jesus see him with some accuracy and they start to divide. Some to respond to trust and others respond with real cynicism and with criticism and it’s going to get bigger as we go on in the text. Then John carefully tells us that Jesus was deeply moved and troubled. The language there comes just before the weeping describes a gut level response of upset at the death, and it describes anger. He’s troubled and he’s angry-upset as well as sad-upset.

Jesus Is Angry about Lazarus’s Death and Raises Him from the Dead

In terms of our raw biology, when something precious is harmed or lost we want to reconnect and we feel sad. That’s called grieving. When there’s a threat to something precious we get energy to address it. We call it anger or fear. Jesus is looking at something that’s harmed, and someone he loved that was made in God’s image and he is angry about that and he’s sad for the death of someone he loves. When you’re pastoring you will have lots of people sad at the death and mad that he didn’t drive responsibly and mad at God because he would let this happen. We are literally wired that when we have something important blocked, we have energy. Paul says be angry; don’t sin. That you would have turmoil, anger or try to figure out what to do with it, that comes with how God has made us.

So, he’s upset and he’s angry. “Where have you put him?” He heads for the stone and John draws this together very, very carefully. He gets there. “Roll the stone away.” He could have done it himself, but he didn’t. He comes into and really works in the world. And the sister is very practical. He’s four days dead. Do you know what four day old meat smells like? Actually I do because when I was a student in Philadelphia I bought a chicken that was a little tainted. I’m Scottish enough as it were, or just plain chintzy enough and didn’t have much money that there’s no way I’m going to throw this thing out. It’s going back. And they can replace it. But I couldn’t do it right then. So I put an aquarium just outside my window because my wife didn’t like the stench. Yeah, she can tell you about that one. But then it’s two days later and I remember that I have that chicken. It’s been outside for two days in Philadelphia heat. She’s telling me to get rid of the thing and I’m saying, “No, no, no. This goes back.” Can’t remember which store. They probably still remember. I took it and she says, “I’m not riding with you.” I go, “Okay, okay.” I put it on top of the car, and then I walk in. Well everybody knew what I had. It wasn’t even four days, a little hotter maybe than Lazarus, but it stank.

Trust and you will see the glory of God.And she’s saying that he’s been dead four days. It’s going to smell. You don’t do this. Trust and you will see the glory of God. And they roll it back. And now you want to see the scene that John has carefully drawn. We have the sisters in grieving and confusion. We have Jesus very much at the center. We have his disciples who are wondering, “What on earth is going on? Why did he sit there? How come this is not until death when he’s dead.? You have all of the people who have come to mourn who are watching this man who has worked great miracles, but there’s a cave and there is a dead man in there and it smells.

What does Jesus say? We often miss it in the translation. We generally read it as Jesus saying, “Lazarus come out,” but it’s not what he said. He says, “Lazarus, hither out. Lazarus, come out to me.” God is glorified and the Son is glorified in this death. “Come out to me.” The whole narrative, people from wherever they are, Jesus is engaging them to learn who he is and by experience that he is trustworthy. Even in the terribly hard places, “Lazarus come out to me.” And the dead man came out. Can you imagine what happened when he started out of that tomb? What would you do? If you went to somebody’s tomb and he starts to walk out? We do horror movies but this isn’t a horror movie of that sort. There’s a dead man walking out of his tomb. The world will stop. People will have gasped. Some will have wept because he’s alive. Some will have been scared because dead men don’t walk. This hit like a truck.

The whole narrative, people from wherever they are, Jesus is engaging them to learn who he is and by experience that he is trustworthy.Jesus is teaching them about himself. He doesn’t take us away from all stress. He says, “I will be with you even to the end of the world. And if I walk you through the valley of the shadow I will be with you.” It doesn’t mean we don’t glorify him in really hard places.

As you walk in godly ways some people are going to be drawn to the Savior and others are going to deeply resent and reject.So Lazarus comes out. We have a million questions. Jesus tells him to take the clothes off. He’s done. He’s ready. Then the crowd splits. One side says, “Whoa,” and put their trust in him. The other side says, “This is too dangerous. We can’t have this.” Jesus does that. As you walk in godly ways some people are going to be drawn to the Savior and others are going to deeply resent and reject. We’re in a culture that’s made that decision. Increasingly if you follow Jesus you are going to be rejected. You are going to pay the price. Be the sweet savor, but then be prepared. There are people who turned against them and our culture is doing it now.

There are times when Jesus doesn’t do what we want, but what he does he does for the glory of God.We come in today at the end of this. There are times when Jesus doesn’t do what we want, but what he does he does for the glory of God, the glory of his Son, and he calls us to walk and glorify him by the walk. It’s wonderful when he does gracious things. Oh we celebrate that. We weep in joy when he does those gracious things and other times we walk and die. He is with you. We’re his servants. It’s not about what’s most pleasing to me. It’s about what glorifies as the Savior. My prayer is that you’ll get to know this one you really, really can trust, and that wherever he walks you your walk of faith will honor him and that you’ll know that peaceful relationship can hold you through that.

Let’s take a moment to pray and then we’ll sing.

Lord Jesus, you didn’t stay in comfort, but you gave yourself up for us. We had judgment coming. You took it. You came and loved us, and you dealt with Lazarus and his sisters not just for their comfort but for their good, and were glorified even in their suffering. Lord, thank you that you would show us yourself bursting into tears and feeling outrage at what death did to one made in the image of God and choosing in all of that to act for the good of your people. We worship you for that. Holy Spirit pray for your work to teach us to be trusting lights in a world. Lord, give us grace if the world splits around us the way it did around you. Lord Jesus, you said if they that they didn’t like you they’re not going to like us either. Give us grace to walk that way if that’s our calling. We pray, Heavenly Father, not because we’ve earned it, but Christ has, has loved us. We pray in his name. Amen.