POWER OVER DEATH John 11
“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?” (John 11:25)Death has no claim on those who believe in Jesus.
Jesus delayed response to Mary’s appeal for her dying brother (11:1–6) until after Lazarus died (vv. 7–16). When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He called Himself “the resurrection and the life” (vv. 17–37) and raised Lazarus from the dead (vv. 38–44). This act confirmed faith but also hardened opposition. The leaders determined Jesus must be killed (vv. 45–53). Jesus withdrew, but both the crowds and the leaders expected Him to reappear in Jerusalem (vv. 54–57).
Understanding the Text
“Lord, the one You love is sick” John 11:1–3.
Jesus had a long-standing and close relationship with Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter are not evidence, as some suggest, that the story was inserted later into the Gospel narrative. These verses were penned by John to remind us of how close Jesus was to the little family in Bethany. And to help us realize that when Mary made her appeal to Jesus, she did so with absolute confidence that Jesus would respond immediately. After all, Lazarus was “the one You love”: a close and precious friend. Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter are also directed to us, for those times when we pray for some desperate, important need. A mom or dad or child is suffering from a fatal disease. Unemployment suddenly threatens us with the loss of our home. At such times we remind ourselves of Jesus’ love, and launch prayers toward heaven that are desperate, and confident. Surely the Lord will deliver us. How could anything else possibly be His loving will? But if the loved one dies, the divorce becomes final, the home is lost—we’re torn by doubt. Why didn’t God respond? Didn’t we have enough faith? Or can it be He doesn’t love us as much as we thought He did? As John began the story of Lazarus, he wanted us to know how deeply Jesus did love the man and his sisters. Jesus delayed His response to Mary’s prayer, and Lazarus did die. But in this case—as in ours—Jesus had a purpose no one was able to grasp until Lazarus was raised. Don’t let God’s failure to give you what you ask shake your confidence in prayer or in God’s love. He has something better in mind for you too. “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there” John 11:7–15. The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ reason for not going at once to Bethany. They supposed He was unwilling to return to Judea, where He had almost been stoned for His teaching (cf. 10:31). Only Jesus knew what He intended to do—and that the delay which led to Lazarus’ death and caused Mary and Martha so much suffering had a beneficial purpose. Let’s be careful not to second-guess God. We have no way to gauge His motives, or to forecast His actions. What we can be sure of is that in everything God is working for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” John 11:11. The word translated “sleep” here, koimao, is found 18 times in the New Testament, with all but three references being to biological death. This perspective on death does not imply the dead are unconscious (cf. Luke 16:19–31; 23:43; Phil. 1:23). It does, however, imply an awakening. Sleeping Lazarus would soon hear the voice of Jesus, and his essential personality would be reunited with his revitalized body. Death for him was but a brief nap from which Jesus would awaken him. For us death may be a longer sleep for the body. But at history’s end we too will hear the call of Jesus. Our bodies will rise from the dust and be transformed and, united with our resurrection forms, we will remain awake and alive forevermore. “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” John 11:16. Thomas’ pessimistic words help us sense how intense the opposition to Jesus had become, and how loyal the little band of true disciples was. Thinking that it would cost Jesus His life to return to Judea, the disciples were prepared to go with Him, even though it would probably cost them their lives too. Few disciples are called to actually die for Christ and the Gospel. But all of us are to be willing to. “If You had been here, my brother would not have died” John 11:17–27. The words express faith, and perhaps reproach. Jesus should have been there for His friend Lazarus. But He wasn’t. And Lazarus died. If we look back over our lives, we can all identify times when God could have intervened for us, but did not. He could have changed things. Yet for some reason we can’t understand, He did not. At such times it’s likely that we too mix a measure of faith with a measure of reproach. Let’s remember the rest of this story. Then let faith grow and reproach go. The Jews buried a corpse on the day of death, wrapping the body in strips of cloth or in a sheet. They did, however, return to the grave, to make sure the person was really dead and not in a coma. Lazarus had been in his tomb four days (v. 17) when Jesus arrived. When Lazarus responded to Jesus’ call and came out from the grave, there was not the shadow of doubt that Christ had recalled a dead man to life. “Jesus wept” John 11:35. This is the shortest verse in the Bible. It is also one of the most significant. Along with verses 33 and 38 it assures us that Jesus did not wait callously, intending to “use” Lazarus’ death to His own advantage. Jesus cared deeply about His friends, and their suffering “deeply moved Him in spirit” and “troubled Him.” Even though Jesus knew what He was about to do, the sight of His friends’ suffering caused Him to weep. What an insight into the heart of God. And what comfort for us when we suffer. God is not sitting back, indifferent on the throne of heaven, moving us here and there in accord with some great, complex plan. He is deeply troubled for us. He weeps with us in our pain. When God permits us to suffer we know that it must be because the experience is intended for our good. “I am the resurrection and the life” John 11:25–44. This great “I Am” claim was vindicated in the raising of Lazarus. Jesus brought life into being. He conquered death itself. And it is the very glory of God to give human beings eternal life as a free gift in and through Jesus. My wife remarked last night that most of the 11th-graders in her English classes seem to categorize religion as “superstition.” To modern teens here in Florida, at least, belief in God ranks right alongside belief in Santa Claus and fear of black cats. No such confusion existed that day in Bethany when Jesus claimed to be the resurrection and the life, and proved it by raising Lazarus from the dead. “Many . . . put their faith in Him but some of them went to the Pharisees” John 11:45–53. The whole of Jesus’ ministry led up to this culminating miracle. All He had done was intended to force a choice between belief and unbelief. Each of His “I Am” statements brought the issue into clearer focus. Now His claim to be the resurrection and the life, vindicated by the miracle of Lazarus’ return to life, made it impossible to avoid a decision any longer. John made it clear that a number of the Jews from Jerusalem who had come to comfort Mary and Martha saw the miracle, and were convinced. Others scurried away to report the miracle to the authori- ties, who called a meeting of the Sanhedrin to determine policy. No one suggested acknowledging Jesus as the Christ and worshiping Him. All admitted He performed miracles, but refused to take the logical step of faith. What’s fascinating is that the Sanhedrin argued that the “responsible” thing to do was to kill Jesus before everyone acknowledged Him as the Messiah and there was a general uprising. These “spiritual” leaders seemed to fear the force of Roman arms more than the supernatural powers demonstrated by Jesus. And “from that day on they plotted to take His life.” The materialist will always make this choice. Whatever the materialist witnesses, it will never dawn on him or her that the spiritual world is more significant than the physical, or that Christ is Lord of all. Whatever the evidence, the materialist will attempt to do away with Christ rather than to worship Him.
At the Last Day(John 11:17–44)
The words Martha blurted out put her in a category shared by many modern Christians. Jesus had just said, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). And Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (v. 24). But Jesus kept on probing. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said. “Do you believe this?” (vv. 25–26) You can almost see Martha nod in puzzlement. ” ’Yes, Lord,’ she told Him, ‘I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ” It was after this that Jesus went on down to the tomb where Lazarus had laid for four days, and gave the dead man back his life. And it is only in this event that we can understand the implications of Jesus’ conversation with Martha. You see, Martha did believe. She was convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. She was convinced that He could raise her brother in the resurrection of the last day. But Martha never stopped to think that Jesus could also raise her brother then!Like Martha, many modern Christians have a deep and abiding faith in Jesus. They are sure He has won eternal life for them, and believe in a resurrection which they will share. But, like Martha, many modern Christians limit the power of Jesus to the future. They fail to realize that Jesus brings life to the dead now. He can take our dead hopes, and revive them. He can take our dormant relationships, and revitalize them. He can transform the spiritually indifferent, redirect the life of the sinner, and bring a vibrant newness to every dead area within our lives. Martha limited Jesus by expecting Him to act only in the future. Jesus in raising Lazarus demonstrated that He is ready, willing, and able to act in our now.
Never limit Jesus. Expect Him to act, today!
“The steps of faith fall on the seeming void and find rock beneath.”—John Greenleaf Whittier