March 6 Sermon Resource

Jesus Raises Lazarus

  • Main Text: John 11:1-44
  • Accompanying text: Psalm 104:27-30


“In John’s story, Jesus is very good friends with Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha. We are told at the beginning of the story that Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters came to tell Jesus, presumably so he could come heal him (John 11:1-3). Then comes one of the truly most remarkable verses in the entire New Testament, even though most readers have simply never noticed: ‘Now Jesus loved Mary and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed in the place where he was for two days.’ That’s how much he loved Lazarus! When he heard he was sick, he stayed away.” [1]

This might seem shocking to us but there is a background to it. In Jewish thinking the soul/spirit remained in the body for three days after death and on the fourth day the person could be regarded definitively as dead. “Jesus wanted Lazarus to die so he could raise him from the dead to prove that he is the Son of God: ‘I am glad I was not here, so that you may believe’” (John 11:15)… By the time Jesus gets to their town of Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. The author wants to stress that he was really and completely dead. When Martha hears that Jesus has come, she goes to meet him and gives him a mild reprimand: ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died’ (John 11:21). But then she hints a miracle is still possible: ‘I also know that whatever you ask God, he will give you’ (John 11:22).

Jesus’ reply encapsulates the older view found in the teachings of the historical Jesus himself and in the writings of Paul: ‘Your brother will arise’. Obviously, in that older context, this would have meant that on the last day, when the Son of Man arrives in judgment on the world, the dead will be raised and rewarded. And that’s what Martha understands Jesus to mean…But Jesus corrects her in words that could be found nowhere in the New Testament outside the Gospel of John: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, will live, even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). [2]

Thoughts re application today

“The sixth sign forms the climax of the ministry and points to the final sign, the resurrection of Jesus himself. The theme of resurrection also links it with the corresponding sign of the first group, the healing of the man at Bethesda. It is not our purpose to discuss questions of historicity. But since many have doubted the credibility of this story, let it be said that some commentators think it not unreasonable that if historical evidence alone can establish the credibility of any miracle, this has as good a claim as any to reliable testimony.

Once again, we find that the key word, summarizing the purpose of all miracle, is glory: it is to be a revelation of the glory of God (v.4). The full glory will be shown in the saving action of God in Jesus on the cross: this sign is the curtain-raiser for the passion. The remark of Thomas (v.16) keeps the goal of the passion in the reader’s mind…Jesus is proclaiming more than resurrection on the last day. Many Jews believed this already. Jesus is saying that for those who accept him resurrection and life are available here and now…The raising of Lazarus that follows his teaching demonstrates this newness of life in Christ. Passing from life to death is no longer a theological platitude but an actual event consequent upon the words and works of Jesus, who raises men and women and children to life…Resurrection is an actual happening, for Jesus is the resurrection and the life.” [3]

“The claims of Jesus regarding his identity are clearly defined in seven striking statements that begin with the words ‘I am’. On different occasions in the Gospel of John Jesus explains who he is, using simple but powerful metaphors: 1. “I am the bread of life. 2. I am the light of the world. 3. I am the gate of the sheep. 4. I am the good shepherd. 5. I am the resurrection and the life. 6. I am the way and the truth and the life. 7. I am the true vine…Remarkably, each of the seven ‘I am’ utterances contains a life-giving message. The bread, the light, the shelter of the gate, the guidance of the shepherd, the hope beyond death — all these illustrations point to the fulness of like here and now, but also for all eternity…A notable feature of these claims is that Jesus never intended them for his own benefit or glory: ‘I am not seeking glory for myself…If I glorify myself, that means nothing’ (John 8:50,54). There is no personal gain whatsoever in promise such as ‘I will set you free’, ‘I will give your rest’, ‘I will give you peace’…his claims may seem arrogant, but they were always meant to bless and benefit others…They sound self-centred, but they are not selfish…the proof that legitimizes these claims is the resurrection of Jesus.” [4]

For the religious leaders the raising of Lazarus was the last straw. They met to work out how to deal with Jesus. “So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples” (11:53-54).

Some other Scripture Resources
• 1 Corinthians 15:50-55
• Romans 6:5

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Bart M. Ehrman, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, published by Oneworld publications, UK in 2020:206-207.
  2. Ibid
  3. Morris Maddocks, The Christian Healing Ministry, published by SPCK, UK, in 1981, 1995:51-52.
  4. Pablo Martinez & Andrew Sims, Mad or God? Jesus: the Healthiest Mind of All, published by IVP, UK, in 2018:155-158.
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