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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:Jesus Raises Lazarus
Text:John 12: 38-44 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Raising of Lazarus

John 11: 38-44

Preached by Rev. Keith Davis at Bethel URC 3-18-18 a.m.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you read through the Gospel accounts you will find a grand total of three instances where Jesus raised someone from the dead. Jesus raised the widow’s son; the daughter of Jairus; and his friend Lazarus.


Granted, John 20:30 says that Jesus did MANY OTHER miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which were not recorded in this book -- so it’s quite possible that Jesus raised others from the dead. But the miracles that are revealed for us in God’s Word are more than sufficient to reveal the glory, power and majesty of God’s Son, the Messiah.


And in my opinion, it is particularly the resurrection accounts that command our curiosity attention; they captivate us. That’s simply because of the incredible nature of these signs. Jesus is bringing the dead back to life.


In other words, he’s is not just restoring the faculty of sight to the blind, or the sense of hearing to someone born deaf; or giving the lame the strength to walk. No. Jesus is restoring, reviving the entire person and it is such an incredible miracle -- it defies imagination and description.


Not only that, but this passage also serves as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection from the grave (which would take place about 10 days after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead). And this passage also serves as a foreshadowing – a foretaste -- of what’s going to happen on the day of the Lord when he will call forth the dead and the living to appear before Him.   


All this comes into view here in our passage. We consider this amazing and glorious sign where Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead.

  1. His Deep Emotions 
  2. His Confident Prayer
  3. His Graveside Instructions
  4. His Life-Giving Word

1) His Emotions

The opening verse of our text tells us that Jesus, once again deeply moved came to the tomb.

This is now the second time that John calls attention to the emotions of our Lord, and this is the second time he uses this word which the NIV translates as “deeply moved”. We saw it earlier in verse 33. There we read: When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.


These are the only 2 times this word appears in the New Testament, so we don’t have a way to compare or contrast how this word is used in other passages; however this word was used in ancient Greek literature and it was used to describe the snorting of horses or even the flaring of the nostrils of a horse.


Commentator D.A. Carson points out, when this word is used in connection with humans, it suggests anger, outage, or emotional indignation. In fact, his translation of verse 33 is this: Jesus was outraged in spirit and troubled. And so of course that translation carries over here to verse 38: Jesus, once more outraged in spirit, came to the tomb.


So if this is the case, what is Jesus angry and troubled about? Certainly is it has to do with the death of his friend Lazarus; but there’s more going on here. Let’s remember that Jesus is the Lord of Life; He is the King of Creation, He is the Light of the world and as Jesus stands before the tomb, the tomb represents the antithesis of everything God created (and of all that God is)..


God not only created man to live, but to live in unending fellowship and communion with God. But man ruined all that when he fell into sin. So the tomb represents (it’s a painful reminder) of how sin destroyed what God created and called ‘good’. As a result, the curse of sin, the wages of sin (Romans 6:23) was visited upon mankind. 


And when we look at it like this we see that the tomb, every grave yard, every grave marker is an intrusion upon God’s perfect creation. It represents sin and Satan; the kingdom of darkness. The tomb is also a symbol of terror; of hopelessness, as everyone born into this world will die and suffer the same inescapable fate. It’s like staring in a mirror as we grow older and we see the age spots and wrinkles. That’s the power of death in the world.


So that’s part of it, but there’s also this: as Jesus stands there before the tomb of Lazarus, there’s no doubt he also has in mind the nearness of his own suffering and death. Very soon he would be made to endure (in his own body and soul) the full wrath of God against all our sin.


So this too should help us understand why our Lord Jesus was filled with a righteous indignation as he stood before the tomb. However, this should also fill us with unspeakable joy and comfort; for we realize that Jesus did not come just to “snort’ in the face of death; not just to be angry and troubled in spirit, but Christ came to conquer everything that the tomb represents! Jesus came to crush the head of the serpent; to reverse the curse of sin; to set us free from the wrath of God, to give us life, that we might have it abundantly!


And so Jesus Christ came and took upon Himself our human nature; and He suffered his whole life long, but especially on the cross; and he endured the wrath of God against our sins; he suffered the condemnation of hell for us; he was forsake and cut off from God that we might never be forsaken by God, and he himself was buried – his dead body laid in a tomb, so that by his resurrection he might sanctify the grave for us.


In other words, Christ came conquering sin and Satan, death and hell all to give us hope in a world of hopelessness; to give us joy in the midst of our suffering and sadness; to give us life and light as we live in a world of death and darkness. And ultimately to give us a sense of peace and comfort and confidence when we face our own death, knowing that death and the grave no longer hold any power over us. As we sing in the hymn In Christ alone: no guilt in life, no fear in death, that is the power of Christ in me!.   


And you and I have the privilege and the responsibility of bringing that encouraging message, this message of hope, of life, of victory to people all around us who living in a dark and dying world. Christ is the answer. He is this dark world’s light. He is the sinner’s only hope!   


2) His Prayer

So that is the Emotions of Jesus. What we want to consider next is His prayer. Look at verses 41-42. This is right after the stone has been rolled away and right before Jesus raises Lazarus. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have 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 sent me.”


Before we look at what this prayers means, at what Jesus says, let’s just take a moment to see what it does not mean, what Jesus does not say. Notice that this prayer is not a petition. Some people read this and believe that Jesus is asking the Father here for the power to raise Lazarus. But he’s not. Again, this is not a request.


Instead, this is a prayer of thanksgiving from the Son, to the Father, and it is a prayer that is spoken publically, it is prayed in the hearing of everyone present, and for the benefit of everyone present. It has a dual purpose: to reveal Jesus as the divine Son of God, and to call people to believe in Him as the Messiah, the Son sent by the Father.


And this prayer gives us another glimpse of his humility and submission of the Son to the Father. All along, in chapter 7 and 8 Jesus has insisted that he does nothing on His own, that he only does that the Father gives Him to do, that he only says what the Father gives him to say; and that He has not come to do His own will, but to do the will of the One who sent Him.


In this instance, it was the Father’s will that the Son would allow his good friend Lazarus to die in order that the glory of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah might shine forth for all to see! In saying Father, I thank you that you have heard me. Carson says that this assumes that Jesus has already asked for the life of Lazarus, and as we know from Christ’s words earlier in this chapter (vs 11, that Jesus was going to Bethany to ‘wake him up’), that he already knows that Lazarus will be raised. William Hendriksen states that Jesus is praying with confidence, boldness and certainty as if the miracle had already been performed.


Another interesting aspect of this prayer is its public nature. In many other instances, the Gospels record that Jesus went up on a hill side to pray in solitude to the Father. But not here. In this account we have the privilege (like in John 17) to see and hear the intimacy, the Oneness which the Father has with His Son.


I know this is not a sermon on the Trinity (from Lord’s Day 8) but it shows, it demonstrates powerfully and irrefutably the Oneness and Unity of God as to His purposes, His will, His works and action – and even His passion for His own glory. And at the same time it beautifully demonstrates the divine economy and diversity of the Persons of the Trinity as the Son comes to fulfill the Father’s will and carry out the work of our salvation!  


This also serves as a wonderful reminder of the privilege we have in prayer as God’s sons and daughters by grace. Because of what Christ has done for us, because He is our Savior who paid for our sins and reconciled us to God, we may with gratitude, confidence and boldness come before God our Father in prayer – (both private and public) – knowing that God will surely hear and answer our prayers; that God will give us all that we ask for according to His will, when we pray in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.


3) His Grave-Side Instructions

Now, before we get to actual raising of Lazarus, I just want to speak a word or two about a minor point which I have entitled the grave-side instructions of Jesus. As we read through this account we come across no less than three distinct commands which Jesus gives. He first commands the people to roll away the stone; then Jesus commands Lazarus to come of the tomb. Thirdly, Jesus instructs the people to remove his grave cloths and set him free.


I want to reserve the second command (where Jesus calls forth Lazarus) for our last point, but here I just want to discuss what we might refer to as the ‘lesser instructions’ which Jesus gives: the command to remove the stone, and to take off his grave cloths.


Maybe you’ve never given this much thought, but why does Jesus give these grave-side instructions to the people? Why does he tell the people to roll away the stone? Why not just command the stone to move? Any why does Jesus have the people remove the burial cloths? Why not just have Lazarus emerge already free from his wrappings?


The answer is found partly in this: because that’s just the way God planned it, and sometimes we have no better answer than that. Another possible explanation is that this account sets apart the resurrection of Lazarus from the resurrection of Jesus.


Remember, Lazarus was restored to a mortal life (as only a temporary resurrection for he would die again). But Jesus was raised with what Paul describes in I Corinthians 15 as a spiritual body in which Jesus (although he still bore in his body the marks of the nails and spears; and although he could be seen and touched and he could eat with his disciples), he could pass through walls of the tomb without the stone being rolled away; and Jesus could appear and disappear in a moment.


Recall, as well that when Jesus was raised, his grave cloths were found neatly arranged in the tomb. Jesus did not emerge from the tomb stumbling about blindly, needing assistance; needing to be set free. So those are significant differences.


In addition to this, I want to highlight one other possible reason for these graveside commands. Here I refer to the observations made by Pastor John MacArthur in his sermon on this passage. He made the comment that Jesus uses people to do what people can do.


Here’s what he says: They can’t raise him from the dead, but they can unwrap him. They can’t steal him out of the clutches of the king of terrors, death, but they can roll the stone away, and that’s how the kingdom of God works in the world. God does what only God can do, but what you can do and what I can do, God always enlists us to be involved in, and that’s how we work in the kingdom, and we see that here.


And time and again – even as Jesus heals -- we see Jesus involving people. The lame man was told to take up his mat and walk; the blind man was told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam; lepers were told to go and present themselves to the priests.


In doing so, Jesus alone heals, but he expects that those whom he heals will respond in faith; that they obey what he commands. In this way God involves us even in his most powerful and divine acts which he alone does for humanity.  


We think of the way this applies to salvation: Christ alone saves those whom the Father has predestined, through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. But how does God choose to do that? Now it’s true, God doesn’t need us. God does not need the help of man to accomplish any of his purposes. He’s almighty. God could choose to save his people by any means he chooses or by using NO means.


But God has chosen to involve us in the ministry of reconciliation. God has chosen to use the Gospel, the preaching of the Word as the means whereby fallen sinners, people who are dead in sin, are made alive again in Christ Jesus. And that’s one of the reasons we exist as a church, as a people living in this world. God chose to use you and me, and our witness as Christians, our Gospel ministry as a church to proclaim the message of salvation so sinners can hear and be saved.


God does what he will do – and only He can save -- but God still calls us and employs us to do what we can do in the strength he provides, so that we too make have a part in this glorious work; so that we too may see God’s grace in action and give God all praise honor and glory!


God may use you or me to roll away the stone of ignorance; of doubt; of prejudice against the Christian faith – which could pave the way for the Holy Spirit to work in that person’s heart! God might use you or me to help free a friend or co-worker from the grave clothes of depression or addictive sin or an abusive relationship; we can point them to the truth, to the hope of the Gospel, again paving the way for God’s Spirit to open their heart and mind to the Gospel! Pray for such opportunities beloved and NEVER underestimate the role that you and I play in helping others along the way to their salvation.     


4) His Life-Giving Word

Fourthly and finally, we consider Jesus’s life giving Word. I mentioned before that this point is all about the incredible command which Jesus gives in verse 43: Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And what was the result of this powerful command? Verse 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Death and the grave had no choice but to obey, and yield up its precious prey.


What an incredible testimony to the power of Jesus Christ – to the life-giving power of the Word of God. Maybe you have already heard it explained that Jesus spoke with such amazing power and authority that if he did not speak the name of Lazarus specifically then all they who were dead in their tombs would have at once sprung to life and come forth. 


Notice how John focuses our attention on the power of God’s living and incarnate Word! You no doubt recall these opening words from John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that has been made.


There John declares the pre-existence of Jesus, the Son of God, who was with the Father from all eternity, and through whom the Father created all things. The Father created all things through the Word of His power, by the agency of His Holy Spirit.


In John 11 we hear this same Divine Word which said “Let there be light” and there was light. The Word which called forth light from darkness, order from chaos, that brought forth all that is out of nothing; the same Word which brought forth the sun, moon and stars, and all living creatures, and created man out of the dust of the earth, that voice now thunders with all His creative power and authority outside the tomb of Lazarus, commanding him to come out!!


The result cannot be anything but obedience as the dead man “hears” as it were, and comes forth. The magnitude of this miracle cannot be over-stated. Twice in this passage we’re told that Lazarus has been dead (in the tomb) for four days. Martha is concerned about the stench which would be emanating from the tomb by now.


As I mentioned in a previous sermon, the Jews did not embalm their dead as did the Egyptians. The Jews simply wrapped their dead in grave cloths and placed them in the tomb, so after a day or two, the smell of the dead body would be noticeable. After four days, it would be unbearable.


Medically speaking, what happens here is simply impossible and inexplicable. A heart has stopped beating not just for 20 minutes, but again for four says. The blood is not circulating, the brain is not functioning, the lungs have collapse, the liver, kidneys and other vital organ are all in a state of decomposition.


I think of patients in the hospital who are brain dead and their organs are going to be donated. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a time limit on how long those organs can remain in the body of the deceased – it’s only a matter of hours, certainly not FOUR DAYS! So this is nothing short of amazing.


Yet, with only three words, Jesus reverses the process of decomposition; the Lord of Life makes alive all that was dead. It is a miracle beyond scientific and human comprehension. And with that, Lazarus walks out from the grave, a victor from the dark domain, and those who were near took off the wrappings and set him free.


And what we see here beloved is so much more than a physical resurrection. This is also a wonderful illustration of the way the sovereign and irresistible grace of God works in our hearts. Man is dead in his trespasses and sins, there’s no love for God in his heart; no thoughts of God in His mind; Man is dead, and nothing he does can change that.


But then as Ephesians 2:4ff says, and Romans 10 as well, God comes along and in His grace, and by the preaching of His Word, God brings life to that which was dead. God’s Word has the power of life. The Gospel is Good News because it is a life-giving Word; it is the power of God unto salvation to awaken the dead; to raise the dead from their spiritual slumber to make us New Creations in Christ!


And every one of us here today who believes, believes ONLY BECAUSE God, in Christ quickened us; he raised us from the dead so to speak, and God set us free from the grave cloths of sin, and dressed us in the white robes of Christ’s righteousness, so that now we might truly be free; so that now we light live in the freedom which Christ won for us.


There’s much more to talk about here – and tonight we’ll deal with the response to this miraculous sign. But already here we can marvel at the glory and power of the Son of God who not only raised Lazarus to new life, but he has raised US to new life as well!! So we praise Jesus Christ as Lord, for He truly is the Resurrection and the Life! Amen. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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