The Seventh Sign – The Raising of Lazarus
Home Church Devotional 6/21/2020
These devotionals were written during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic when area churches were not allowed to meet for fear of spreading the coronavirus. They were used in place of a full sermon as my family and I gathered for worship and communion.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. “I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:33-44 (NASB)
Pain and suffering are part of human life; they are hard to deal with, come unexpectedly and often times, leave us feeling empty and without hope. There is no pain and suffering more difficult to deal with than the loss of a loved one. Whether it be through an accident, a prolonged illness or a sudden and unexpected death, this one hurts deeper and seems to last much, much longer. The issue of pain and suffering is often an argument used against the faith of Christianity. How can a loving God, the argument goes, allow people to suffer so needlessly and so horrifically? At times like these, it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide an answer for someone who is in the midst of this deep and difficult time of suffering.
Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, are close friends with Jesus. He has spent much time in their home as He passes through the area of Bethany, across the Jordan. Jesus is alerted to the illness of Lazarus, yet He does not immediately leave for Bethany, instead, He simply states this illness will not end in death. We are about to learn what Jesus already knows. God will be glorified through this death and Jesus will be shown to be, undoubtably, the Son of God. In an interesting twist, the name Lazarus will become more important and take on a deeper meaning in our passage. The name Lazarus means “God is my help” and becomes even more significant as the passage progresses.
In our passage, Jesus has arrived some distance from the family home. Martha is the first to arrive and has a lengthy conversation with Jesus before informing her sister, Mary, that Jesus has arrived. When Mary arrives, with friends and family as well, Mary weeps before Jesus and we see that Jesus is moved by the experience. Earlier in this passage Jesus tells the disciples He was glad that He had not arrived sooner and now, John tells us Jesus is deeply troubled in His spirit. The Greek word for troubled means to be troubled within Himself. We are witnesses to the understanding and compassion of Jesus. The grief of Jesus has gripped Him with intense emotion. Jesus has been deeply moved by Martha, broken with deep sorrow; Mary, gripped with pain and hurt; those who have been affected by the death of Lazarus, the great sorrow and suffering of the family; the tragedy and pain caused by death; and the terrible price He would soon pay to defeat death. Jesus is angry at man’s ultimate enemy – death.
John has built the case that God cares. The Greek concept of God is a God with no emotion or empathy for humanity. But here, standing before the family and friends mourning the death of Lazarus, Jesus shows His compassion, indignation, sorrow and even frustration. Jesus shows His deep emotions and we MUST NEVER be afraid to show our deep emotions to Him. God cares when we hurt; He cares when we suffer; He knows the deep hurt that is caused by death, nit just because He created us but because He gave His Son to die for each of us, to remove sin, grant forgiveness and give eternal life. God truly cares for each of us, individually.
To further emphasize this point, John records for us, in verse 35, perhaps the two most powerful words in all Scripture. Jesus wept. Why? Did not John tell us that Jesus waited for two days before leaving for Bethany? Did not Jesus, Himself say He was glad He was not there to heal Lazarus? I have already mentioned that Jesus said this illness will be for the glory of God and to proclaim Him as the Son of God. But why the delay? There are simple explanations for the delay, mostly concerning logistics, but that is not the point. The point is the compassion and understanding of Jesus. Jesus wept beside those who mourned the death of Lazarus. He wept over the pain and suffering felt by family and friends.
Jesus wept over the sorrow and fate of all humans. Humans were created for life and righteousness, not for sin and death. The tears Jesus shed tells us of His great love for each of us, individually. The heart of Jesus is broken over our sorrow, pain and suffering. And His heart is also broken over our common destiny, death, and the grave. His heart was so broken that He came to earth, as a man, in order to die in our place. It is through His sacrifice, His atoning death and glorious resurrection, that He will defeat our ultimate enemy – death!
And now, as Jesus prepares to pray publicly, before the grave of Lazarus, we find that Jesus has been praying for Lazarus for some time. This was not a public prayer, but a silent request made to God alone. Jesus is confident that the Father hears Him, and He wants us to believe this as well. God does not require that our prayers be loud or filled with repetition; the quiet, simple prayer echoes just as loudly in the Father’s ear. God hears, understands and has compassion in our pain and suffering.
Jesus, once again being deeply moved, calls for the stone to be removed from the tomb. We must take notice that it is a believer, the sister of Lazarus, Martha, who objects to the stone’s removal. Why? Her initial objection is that Lazarus has been dead four days and there will be a stench. Martha is the one who first showed disappointment in Jesus because He had not come in time to keep her brother from dying. Now she is concerned about the smell of death. And she is right, the body would have begun to decompose, but deep inside her objection is rooted in distrust and uneasiness.
Many times, we as believers, simply want to leave things alone, we are happy with the way things are. Martha is unsure if the actions of Jesus are for her best, she is happy knowing that Lazarus has been laid to rest, she does not want the situation to be disturbed or worsened. As believers, many times we want just enough of Jesus to give us comfort, security and ease of life. We want little, if anything, to do with His demands and confrontation of our sin and the death found in this world.
Jesus has challenged Martha, and believers today, to take a leap of faith, an enormous leap of faith. He wants Martha, and us, to conquer our complaining, to set aside our objections and simply rest in Him. Jesus wants us to trust Him, to stop questioning what He has done. He wants us to trust in His judgment and will; to trust His knowledge and understanding; to trust His word and instructions. Jesus wants Martha, and us, to rest in Him, to place an unlimited, resting faith in the Son of God. If we believe and rest in Him, we will see the glory of God; His power, mercy, love and care will be seen on this earth, if we rest in Him!
With a great shout, a shout that demonstrates His power over death, Jesus calls Lazarus to come forth from the grave! In this we see a picture of the coming resurrection of believers, but of importance for us today, we see a picture of the believer being called from death and darkness, into the glorious light of Christ. Jesus alone has the power over death; Jesus alone has the power to call the dead to life; Jesus alone can speak the word over death and the grave. The shout of our Lord demonstrates the enormous power required to defeat death and the power found within Jesus is the power of God Himself!
The power of Christ, this death-defying, death-defeating power calls the dead person to come forth! There is no way any person called out of death by Jesus can remain in death; there is no power to hold them there. Called from death the person is to come out of death immediately, in obedience, perfectly, and visibly. The person called from death has received the personal attention of Jesus. His care and concern, and the thoughtfulness of Christ are fully on display as He commands that Lazarus be set free.
Ours is a journey into completion, not a once and done event. Jesus gives second birth to those who are dead in sin, but the free gifts of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit do not create perfect Christians. We enter into Christ’s kingdom with old habits, sinful behaviors and painful memories that require gentle and loving removal. It is the command of Jesus that our healing be complete, but we need other believers and the power of Christ to complete the unwrapping. Where do you find yourself in this journey to completion? Have you felt the compassion and understanding of Jesus in your pain and suffering? Perhaps you are feeling them in your current situation?
Whatever you are facing, pain and suffering, stress or strain from life’s difficult experiences, you are not alone. Jesus weeps with you in your pain and suffering. From this passage we can learn that, as Christians, we do not have different life experiences, rather, with Christ we experience life differently. Jesus knows, understands and has compassion on those who have called on His name. Our faith in Him does not keep us from life’s difficult experiences, it provides us with the strength to navigate through them. Whatever you may be experiencing at this moment in life, may you find the compassion of Jesus as He sheds tears of love over your current situation. To the glory of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.