This is our fourth week taking a look at the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Four weeks taking a look at the same story. Like a jeweler inspecting a precious gem we’ve allowed the light to highlight the various facets of the story. We spent one morning taking a look at Mary and Martha’s first response to the critical situation they faced with their brother—they sent a friend to go and tell Jesus. The next week we followed their friend to Jesus and listened in on Jesus’ strange response to the news that His friend Lazarus was ill. Do you remember what Jesus did and said? First of all, Jesus didn’t rush to the side of His friend Lazarus. He stayed where He was for two more days. Secondly, the disciples were confused about what Jesus said about Lazarus. Was he asleep or was he dead? John tells us that Jesus spoke bluntly to the disciples when He said,
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15 NIV)
That seems like such a strange response coming from Jesus if we simply take it at face value. The truth of the matter is that Jesus had said that Lazarus’ situation was going to be for the glory of God. None of those involved in the story other than Jesus could have ever dreamed that the sickness and death of Lazarus could put the glory of God on full display, but in time they would learn.
Then last week we spent our entire time in God’s Word taking a look at Jesus’ resurrection. That might have seemed strange to some of you since the story is about Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead, but I wanted us to see that Lazarus’ resurrection could have only happened at the hands of the One who proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Everything we believe, the very existence of Christianity hangs on the empty tomb of Jesus. If God did not raise Jesus, bodily, from the grave, then you and I are still in our sins and alienated from God. Believing that a literal miracle of God occurred when a man, who had been dead for four days, got up and walked out of a tomb is not hard to believe if Jesus’ resurrection is true. Remember the quote I shared with you last week from the British agnostic who said, “Let’s not discuss the other miracles; let’s discuss the resurrection. Because if the resurrection is true, then the other miracles are easily explained; and if the resurrection is not true, the other miracles do not matter.”
The last three weeks have brought us to this morning where we are now standing at Lazarus’ tomb with Jesus, Martha, Mary, and those who have come to mourn Lazarus’ death. Let’s read our Scripture found in John 11:32-46.
32 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 would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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 sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:32-46 NIV)
It’s an amazing scene isn’t it? Can you imagine seeing such a scene unfold before your eyes today? I’ve been involved in lots and lots of funerals through the years. Typically funerals are held two or three days after the person dies. I can’t even imagine what would happen if I stood up to share about the person’s life and suddenly the casket lid opened and the person in the casket climbed out. Yet, we are told that Lazarus had been dead four days. That’s an important piece of information for us when you consider what the Jews believed about the time following the death of someone.
In a Jewish midrash used to help people interpret the book of Genesis we can read about what Jews believed about what happens following death. The particular midrash I want to share from is called Genesis Rabbah, in Hebrew: ???????????? ??????, B’reshith Rabba. According to the midrash the soul stays near the body for three days after a person’s death: “For three days the soul hovers over the grave, contemplating a return to the body, but once it sees that the facial color has faded, it goes away, never to return” (Gen. Rab. 50:10). For three days, but Lazarus had been dead for four days. He was really dead with no hope of recovery. Nothing could be done. No doctor had the needed skills. No faith healer could make a difference. Lazarus was dead when Jesus arrived at his tomb.
There’s something else about the scene at Lazarus’ tomb that I want to show you this morning. The emotions experienced by Jesus as He stood at Lazarus’ tomb with Martha, Mary, and the crowd gives us an understanding that might surprise us. Turn to verse 33 and let’s read it together.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:33 NIV)
This verse is a great example of how there are some things we simply can’t see and understand simply by reading the English Bible. We read that Jesus saw Mary weeping, He saw the crowd of Jews wailing, loudly wailing in their pain and grief, that’s what the Greek verb, “?????” (klaio) means. Jesus saw all of this and then we read, “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Immediately I’ve got a picture of Jesus, don’t you? Jesus must have begun crying with them, He was “moved and troubled.” There’s much more to this than meets the eye. The Greek word John uses to describe Jesus at this moment is the word, “???????????” (embrimaomai) and it literally means, “to snort with indignation or to be angry.” Leon Morris writes,
The verb rendered ‘groaned’ (KJV) is an unusual one. It signifies a loud inarticulate noise, and its proper use appears to be for the snorting of horses. When used of men it usually denotes anger. (Leon Morris)
Are you starting to get a different picture of Jesus standing before Lazarus’ tomb? He wasn’t curled up in the fetal position. He was angry. He was indignant. John provides another descriptive word for Jesus’ demeanor for us in verse 33. After we read that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit” we read another description, He was “troubled.” The word for “troubled,” is the Greek word, “???????” (tarasso) and it means, “to agitate, trouble, to be shaken.” I hope you are getting a better picture of Jesus as He stood with the crowd at Lazarus’ tomb. I want to come back to this in a moment, but first we need to take a look at one more word, another descriptive word that gives us insight into what was going on in Jesus’ heart and mind. The shortest verse in the Bible is found in John 11:35 where we read, “Jesus wept.” The Greek word for “wept,” is the word, “??????” (dakruo) and it is different from the wailing of Mary and the crowd. Most Bible teachers believe this form of weeping shows us that Jesus quietly burst into tears.
Jesus was full of emotion as He stood with the crowd at Lazarus’ tomb, but we have to ask the question, “What was He so angry about? What was it that disturbed Jesus so badly that He shook and snorted?” It’s not made clear is it? We’re told about Jesus’ emotions, but John doesn’t fill in the blank of the “why?” I’ve read several ideas this past week. Some have said that Jesus was indignant about the unbelief of those who were there. It is true that none of those who had gathered believed that Jesus was going to change Lazarus’ circumstance in the least. Someone else supposed that Jesus’ anger stemmed from the drama of the crowd who were paid mourners. Jewish customs mandated that even the poorest families hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman at the death of a loved one. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were not poor by any means so it is understood that they would have had even more professional mourners for Lazarus. Nothing more than hired guns full of alligator tears, actors on the big stage of death. It’s possible.
I do think something much deeper than these was troubling Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:26 we learn that the last enemy that Jesus will defeat is death. Paul writes, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26 NIV) In Job 18:14, death is described as “the king of terrors.” The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “no one has the power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the time of their death…” (Ecclesiastes 8:8 NIV) The prophet Ezekiel announced in his day and his announcement rings true to this day, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:20 NIV) Paul reminds us, in Romans 6:23, that in death we get what we have earned. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death.”
Our modern society has tried to sanitize death, normalize death, and domesticate death, but death is a monster that stalks our minds and haunts our hearts. We try to dismiss it, block it from our thought processes, prepare for it, but when death comes it comes like a deluge.
I got a call from a friend Wednesday night asking me to call a lady who lost her husband to pancreatic cancer a couple of months ago. I called her Thursday when I took a break from working on my lesson. I had never talked to her before, but I learned so much. She was a Hospice worker for 30 years. She’s helped people with their grief. She knows all about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. She knows all there is to know about death and dying, grief and loss, but she is struggling since she lost her husband. Losing someone you dearly love is different from helping others face death.
Death is diabolical and Jesus hates what sin and death have done to those He created and loves. I stand with those whom I have learned from this week who say that Jesus was angry and troubled at the destruction, pain, and indescribable sorrow that death brings to those Jesus would die for so that He might loose death’s grip. Yet, we must contemplate this enemy of ours, death. Moses wrote, in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 NLT)
Peter Masters is the pastor at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. He has written a piece that has helped me tremendously this past week. I pray it will help you as well.
You should be thinking about the mystery of death and yes, it is a solemn subject. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. The Apostle Paul, in several passages, personifies death. And so you must, it behaves as if it is a person. It stalks you through life. All life is a fight against death. Sickness is only a department of death. A warning, a premonition, and ultimately may very well carry us to it. It’s a constant process death. Why it is obvious and so often said, “We’re dying from the moment of birth.” Death, is demanding, relentless, no yielding. It tortures you. It plays with you, death. It baits you. It mocks you. It’s always there. The great shadow over you. It almost beckons you in life. Some people it beckons in a curious way. It kind of challenges them to do dangerous things. To go in for perilous pursuits. Or, it lures people into drink and drugs or things that will eventually be the ruin of them. Or if you are so made and inclined to deep depression, death comes in, it’s a coward, and beckons you. Death. It will take away your loved ones, ruthlessly, and take you from them. Death, it taunts, it taunts some of you young people. You don’t much about the taunting of death yet, you will. When from time to time and you get sick first of one thing and then another, it just looks you in the face. And death kind of leers at you, come on, come one. Death, O’ friends, it’s so dishonest. I know a lady, not so long ago, she had an operation. It wasn’t so serious an operation. She was getting so much better and suddenly she’s gone. Nobody expected it. The doctors had no doubt done their best and the surgeon. And it wasn’t a life threatening thing. And this happens. Suddenly, it swoops. And if you are not converted you are at the mercy of death with all of its tricks and taunts. Death disfigures you and your body is now decomposing. And in death it is now disfigured and it’s lost it’s life. If you are not a Christian, everything you’ve learned, every experience you’ve ever had, every skill you’ve ever picked up, everything that has ever added anything to you and made you more worthwhile as a person is gone, finished, never to be exercised again. Death will not be reasoned with. It’s entirely unapproachable. You cannot persuade it to leave you alone. Not for a moment. You have no worse enemy. You have no more formidable and ruthless enemy than death. There’s nothing to be more feared. In the Bible, in the book of Job, chapter 18, death is called, “the king of terrors.” And when you are near to it, it can be that too, consciously, it leaves people lonely on earth. You go alone through the gateway of death. Nobody can accompany you. Nobody can be with you. Somebody is seriously ill and they go to the hospital. They take their husband with them, or their wife, or somebody else. You go through the gates of death entirely alone. You’re going into judgment friend. Everything is over. Death is judgment. The judgment of God upon human beings for sin. But if you come to Christ and you trust in Him, you may be the most evil man or woman in the world and people say, “how could such a person ever come to Jesus Christ?” But if you pour your hearts out before Him and tell Him your worst, and ask Him for His pardoning love, if you mean it, He’ll change you. And so, when the time of physical death comes, Christ will lift us right through it and we will scarcely taste it and know it. When the light of this life turns out the light of another will come on. And He will receive you. The friend of sinners. The Savior of man. Listen to Him. (Peter Masters, The Mystery of Death. Metropolitan Tabernacle.)
Death is certain to come my friend, but we can take heart and not lose hope because the One who is “the Resurrection and the Life” lifted His voice and said, “Lazarus, come forth!” and he did. And because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, the One who has overcome the grave never to die again, we have hope, the assurance that though we will die yet shall we live! I know, it ludicrous, it’s preposterous, it doesn’t make sense. My friends there are lots of things that we’ve not figured out, things that don’t make sense, and yet they are true.
Let me give you just one example. I was at a dinner for an organization this week when I heard an illustration used about a Monarch butterfly. I was captivated by it. When I got home I got on the computer and started reading. I was even more mesmerized after I finished reading. Let me give you the shortened version. A butterfly lays its eggs on the underneath of a milkweed leaf. The egg hatches and a caterpillar is born. The caterpillar’s one objective in life is to eat and it eats and eats and eats. Caterpillars can’t expand so they shed their exoskeleton five times in order to continue growing to adulthood. After about two weeks the caterpillar is fully grown so it connects to the underside of a limb or leaf by spinning a silk pad and then attaching itself to it. It sheds it’s skin one more time. Under the skin is a jade green casing called the chrysalis. The chrysalis is soft at first, but within an hour it becomes hard and the process of metamorphosis, that will last less than two weeks, begins.
The caterpillar begins to release enzymes that literally digest all of its tissues. If you were cut a chrysalis open you would say the caterpillar is dead. Yet, something marvelous, nothing short of miraculous, is taking place in that buttery goo. Another set of blueprints, a second set of DNA, springs into action and begins to reorganize the proteins and imaginal discs. Wings are formed, a fluid is created which will be pumped into the wings to help them unfold at the proper time and then will be extracted to make the wings light, a proboscis used for sucking nectar is built, six jointed legs emerge, sensory organs are developed on the Monarch’s feet and head which help them identify various plants, a gut that was accustomed to digesting leaves is reengineered to digest nectar, and I could go on and on. It’s astounding isn’t it? All of this takes place inside of the chrysalis, and in less than two weeks.
It’s a mystery isn’t it? An amazing mystery that brings about an unbelievable change! The Apostle has told us about another mystery. He wrote,
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NIV)
What a day that will be! Until that day, death need not have a stranglehold on us my friends. Jesus, our Savior, lives and because He lives so shall all of those who trust in Him. Will you trust Him this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 18, 2015