As we have been working our way through this Fourth Gospel we've seen that Lazarus has been recording miracles that Yeshua performed—turning water into wine, healing the official's sick son, restoring a lame man, feeding 5,000, walking on water and giving a blind man his sight. But here is the climactic miracle of his earthly ministry—He raised the dead. And not someone who had just passed away, but someone whose body had begun to decay and putrefy. This miracle wasn't done in an unknown village in the middle of nowhere—this was Bethany, just outside the capital city of Jerusalem. And it was witnessed by a crowd of mourners.
For Yeshua's enemies, the Jewish leadership, this was the straw that broke the camels back. This miracle and its effects are what led to His crucifixion. We saw that in the first six chapters of this Gospel Yeshua's popularity was on the rise. In chapter 6 we see the peak of His popularity; "Yeshua, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king." But as we go on in this chapter, as Yeshua teaches the people in the synagogue the crowds begin to fade.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. John 6:66 ESV
Yeshua's teaching was too hard for them, the "eating His flesh and drinking His blood" was more than they could take.
Opposition to Yeshua from the Jewish leadership had begun in chapter 5, when Yeshua heals the paralytic man on the Sabbath. And then defends His actions by claiming to be God. Yeshua then retreats to Galilee in chapter 6, where He feeds the 20,000, and teaches that He is the "bread of life." The feeding miracle is what brought Him to the height of His popularity. Then in chapter 7, Yeshua returns to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. The issue of the healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath is once again raised, and soon the Pharisees and chief priests send out the Temple police to arrest Yeshua. They return empty handed. Do you remember what their excuse was for not arresting Yeshua? They said, "No one ever spoke like this man." In chapter 8, Yeshua claims to be the "light of the world," and then in chapter 9, He demonstrates it by giving sight to a man born blind. Then in chapter 10 Yeshua claims to be the good Shepherd implying that the Jewish leaders are "thieves and robbers," who abuse the sheep. The Jewish leaders again try to kill Him, but once again they fail. So Yeshua leaves Judea once again, traveling back to the other side of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist had ministered. While ministering there many were coming to believe in Him. Then some messengers show up with a message from Mary and Martha telling Yeshua that he who He loves is sick. After waiting two days Yeshua tells His disciples, "Lazarus has died." Then they make the four day journey to Bethany. That brings us to chapter 11 and the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
We are breaking down this 11th chapter like this: verses 1-16 deal with the setting and background. We looked at this two weeks ago. Verses 17-33 focus on Yeshua's dialogs with Martha and Mary. We looked at this last week. Then verses 34-44 describe the trip to the tomb and the raising of Lazarus. This is our text for this morning.
Before we get into our text for today let me just say that there are two Lazarus' stories in the Gospels. The other account of a man named Lazarus is found where? We find it in Luke chapter 16 in the parable of "The Rich Man and Lazarus." Scholars have debated whether the Lazarus mentioned in both accounts are the same man. When looking at a time line it seems clear that these two Lazarus' are not the same man.
We ended last week with verse 33:
When Yeshua saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. John 11:33 ESV
This is a very debated verse as far as why it is that Yeshua is "deeply moved" and "greatly troubled." Many say He was angry. But I don't see that. The verse tells us that it was seeing Mary and the Jews weeping that stirred up His emotions. Whatever the reason it is clear that the death of Lazarus, and the grief of His family and friends stirred Yeshua deeply. This is a very important aspect of this story. The God whom Yeshua reveals cares deeply about us. Peter put it this way:
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 ESV
The sovereign God who orders every event of the universe, cares for us. That ought to give you great comfort and peace. Believers, our God is a compassionate God. What text do you think of when you think of God's compassion? When I think of God's compassion, I think of God's attitude toward the prodigal son. When he ends up broke and in the pig pen, he decides to go home and ask his father if he can just be a hired servant. Notice carefully the Father's response to this repentant sinner:
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 ESV
Yeshua's emotion in our text remind us that He was both fully divine and fully human and therefore experienced of all the depths of emotion that we feel.
And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." John 11:34 ESV
Yeshua is deeply moved by all the grief and asks them to take Him to the tomb.
Yeshua wept. John 11:35 ESV
The Greek verb translated, "wept" here is dakruo, which means: "to tear up in the eye" or "to shed tears." This is different than the Greek verb translated, "weeping" in John 11:33, which is klaio, and means: "to wail." So Yeshua "wept" as in shedding tears while the people around Him were wailing. This fits the prophetic picture of Yeshua in:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3 ESV
Yeshua's "tears" demonstrate His compassion for humanity. Three times in the New Testament we are told that Yeshua wept, (1) here, (2) over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and (3) in Gethsemane (Hebrews 5:7).
What is the shortest verse in the Bible? Yes, it's this verse, "Yeshua wept." It's the shortest verse in the English Bible, but the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always," which is 14 Greek letters while "Yeshua wept" is 16 Greek letters.
Many people start their Bible memory with this verse. Let me give you a little bit of Bible trivia here. I know, I know, there is no trivia in the Bible. Hang on, you'll see what I'm talking about. When the Bible was written there were no chapter and verse divisions. The man responsible for the dividing of the Bible into chapters was Stephen Langton, and he did this in the 13th century. Then in the 16th century (1551) Robert Stephanus divided the chapters into verses. I'm thankful for this; it would be really hard to teach the Bible without these chapter and verse divisions. They help us find the text. But on the other hand it has been said, "The first step in interpretation is to ignore the modern chapters and verse divisions." So they are very helpful, but they can also be a hindrance.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" John 11:36 ESV
This is the third time in this chapter that we are told that Yeshua loved Lazarus. What makes this very important is that Lazarus is the only man named in the Bible that is said to be loved by Yeshua. The ONLY man! And in this chapter the Spirit of God has emphasized three times that Yeshua loved Lazarus. This is important!
But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" John 11:37 ESV
Yeshua's healing of the man born blind had occurred several months earlier, but it had obviously made a strong impression on the people living in Jerusalem. This crowd of mourners have no doubts about the reality of Yeshua's miracle of healing the man born blind. Their question is a natural one: Since Yeshua has performed such powerful miracles, why didn't He heal this man He loved? They couldn't reconcile Yeshua's love and power with Lazarus' death. Yeshua loved him and He has great power, so why didn't He heal him?
I'm sure you have heard things from people such as, "If God is love, why did He allow that to happen?" Which is an accusation against God's love. The Bible says that God is love, but many question that when tragedy strikes. Some say, "It's not fair that innocent people suffer and babies die." Or, "it's not right that men like Hitler, Jeffery Dalmar, or Ted Bundy were allowed to live. There's no justice when good people struggle and wicked people live in great prosperity."
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book entitled, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. In it he wrestles with difficult questions from a very personal point of view. Kushner in effect says, "God is either good and not all powerful, or He is all powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways." Well, Kushner is wrong. The Bible, from beginning to end, teaches the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God.
These mourners are saying, He is powerful, He healed the blind man and He loved Lazarus so why did he not heal him? I'm sure that this past week many Christians were questioning God over the death of Nabeel Qureshi who died on Saturday, September 16, at the age 34, after enduring a year long battle with stomach cancer. I was deeply saddened by the news of his death. I had to wonder why God would take such a great man of God who had such a powerful ministry. I didn't question God's love or power, but I did wonder why He took Nabeel.
So this crowd questions why Yeshua let Lazarus die. We know why. Yeshua told us in:
But when Yeshua heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4 ESV
Here we are told that Lazarus' illness is for God's glory. So it should be obvious that sometimes believers are sick and die for the glory of God.
Then Yeshua, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. John 11:38 ESV
The words, "deeply moved" are again the verb embrimasthai, which means: "moved with deepest emotion," which is the same verb used in verse 33. Yeshua is truly touched with compassion as He enters into the grief of those gathered there to mourn the death of Lazarus.
"Came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it"—the rich and even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed. These tombs were treated and inherited as private and personal property.
According to Paterson, "In accordance with local custom, Lazarus would have been buried within twenty-four hours of his death. But Middle Eastern funeral customs meant that this wasn't cremation or being placed in a hole in the ground. Rather, as was common among the Jews, the dead were buried in caves—whether man-made or natural. And in those caves they would construct or carve out a little room or chamber in which the body would be laid, wrapped in a linen sheet, the head covered with another cloth. A stone was then rolled over the mouth of the cave to keep out stray animals and keep in vile odours. The plan was that one year after the death the family would return to the burial chamber and recover the bones (from which the flesh had by now rotted away) and store those bones in a little box that would be kept in a hole in the wall of the outer burial chamber. [Paterson, A. . Opening Up John's Gospel [pp. 95-96). Leominster: Day One Publications.)
According to the Talmud, the burial niches were usually six feet long, nine feet wide, and ten feet high. The entrance to the burial cave was sealed by a large round stone that rolled in front of the opening in a channel specially cut for the stone or was sealed by a plug-like stone (Ancient Israel, page 280).
The Jews did not embalm, as in Egypt. They believed that mankind came from dust and must return to dust (Genesis. 3:19; Psalm 103:14; 104:29). I have read that the Jews often watched the grave for three days, believing that the soul could return to the body within that time frame.
The fact that this family could afford a cave burial site is another indication that Lazarus' family was neither poor nor destitute. This burial site sounds very similar to the burial sight of our Lord, which was the tomb of a wealthy man who was a disciple as well as a member of the Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea:
and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:60 ESV
So Yeshua is now standing at Lazarus' tomb and He says:
Yeshua said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." John 11:39 ESV
"Martha, the sister of the dead man"—does that sound strange to you? "The sister of the dead man." Why does he not call Lazarus by name? It's because he is talking about himself. Lazarus, who was the dead man, is writing this.
"Lord, by this time there will be an odor"—I love the KJV here, "Lord, by this time he stinketh." It seems quite obvious that Martha is not expecting Yeshua to perform any miracle here.
Martha did not appeal to Yeshua on the basis of the ritual uncleanness that contact with a dead body would create for the Jews. Characteristic of her personality her concern was a practical one, the decaying flesh has a very strong and repulsive odor and Martha doesn't want to offend her guests.
"He has been dead four days"—this statement by Martha is extremely significant for our understanding of what actually took place. There is no doubt that Lazarus had really died, because the decomposition of his body had already begun to take place.
The Jews did nothing to stop the decay. They wrapped the body and sprinkled spices on it to mitigate the smell. That's it. Here's what happens to a dead body according to the Australian museum website article entitled, "Stages of Decomposition":
Initial decay—0 to 3 days after death—Although the body shortly after death appears fresh from the outside, the bacteria that before death were feeding on the contents of the intestine begin to digest the intestine itself. They eventually break out of the intestine and start digesting the surrounding internal organs. The body's own digestive enzymes (normally in the intestine) also spread through the body, contributing to its decomposition.
Putrefaction—4 to 10 days after death—Bacteria break down tissues and cells, releasing fluids into body cavities. They often respire in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) and produce various gases including hydrogen sulphide, methane, cadaverine and putrescine as by-products. People might find these gases foul smelling.
The build up of gas resulting from the intense activity of the multiplying bacteria, creates pressure within the body. This pressure inflates the body and forces fluids out of cells and blood vessels and into the body cavity.
The decomposing tissue takes on a horrific look and smell and emits green liquids by about 72 hours. A horrible smell is emitted.
This is the condition that Lazarus is in when Yeshua arrives. That's important. Everyone knows he is dead. As Martha says by this time "He stinketh," because he's been dead four days.
Yeshua said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" John 11:40 ESV
Yeshua makes the connection between what He is doing and what He said back in verse 4: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." Now He is talking to Martha and she wasn't there when He said this earlier. But this can be taken as a summary of what was promised in verses 23-26, to raise to life someone who has died is a manifestation of the glory of God.
What does He mean by "seeing the glory of God"? Talking about Yeshua's first miracle in this Gospel of turning water into wine we are told:
This, the first of his signs, Yeshua did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:11 ESV
These works performed by Yeshua are not just supernatural acts, but are signs that unveil the glory and power of God working through Yeshua. Lazarus understands the miracle at Cana to reveal the glory of God. His power to create manifested His glory. And so will His power to raise the dead.
This mention of glory gives an inclusion within the chapter (11:4). But it also forms an inclusion with the Cana miracle (2:11). Which brings together the first and last of the signs.
So they took away the stone. And Yeshua lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." John 11:41-42 ESV
What Yeshua was doing before He raised dead Lazarus was to show the people that He acted in absolute reliance on and total obedience to God the Father.
"So they took away the stone"—I would guess that those who moved the stone got a good smell of Lazarus' decaying flesh. Can you even imaging being there? As they roll away the stone every eye must have been on Yeshua to see what He would do. They have to be thinking, What is about to happen?
"And Yeshua lifted up his eyes and said"—Yeshua looks up not because God the Father is physically located above Him, but because it was common to look to the heavens when praying. He wants those who witness this event to realize that God the Father is the source of the miracle they are about to see.
"Father, I thank you"—Yeshua doesn't begin His prayer by petitioning God to intervene; instead, He begins with thanks for what God has already done. This is how Paul says we are to pray:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 ESV
The words "with thanksgiving" in the Greek are meta eucharistia. Meta and the genitive means: "with," but this is meta and the accusative, and it never means: "with," it means: "after." After thanksgiving make your request. What Paul is saying is instead of crying out to God in your difficulty with doubt, questioning, dissatisfaction, discontentment, blaming God, cry out to Yahweh after a time of thanksgiving. Why? If you have a thankful heart your prayers will be right. And here we see Yeshua model this.
This is one of the few times in the Gospels that a public prayer of our Lord is recorded. Yeshua prays with His eyes opened and raised to heaven, as is the Jewish custom. Our Lord's prayer demonstrates the truth of 5:19ff., that Yeshua does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father's will. Notice that His prayer does not specifically petition the Father to raise Lazarus. He spoke as though the raising of Yeshua was something that the Father had already decreed, which was true, in verse 11 he said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him."
In commenting on Yeshua's prayer life, Paul Miller observes, "If you know that you, like Jesus, can't do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense." (A Praying Life, NavPress, p. 44)
Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, said, "All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them."
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." John 11:43 ESV
"He cried out with a loud voice"—Yeshua doesn't mumble these words under His breath, so that no one will hear what He is saying. No one comes away from this burial place wondering if there is a connection between that shout and Lazarus coming out.
"Lazarus, come out"—that's it, no fanfare, no speaking in tongues, no trumpets, just "Lazarus, come out." Commenting on this, Augustine said, "If he had not said, 'Lazarus' the whole cemetery would have come forth."
While our Lord used different methods to perform His miracles of healing, His method of raising the dead was always the same. He spoke to them as if they heard Him. Do you know why He did that? Because they heard Him! But how can the dead hear?
"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. John 5:25 NASB
This voice of the Son is a sovereign call to life. This is fleshed out in Lazarus:The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Yeshua said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." John 11:44 ESV
Why does he say, "The man who had died came out" instead of saying Lazarus came out? I think he puts it this way because he is writing this about himself.
"The man who had died came out"—what this means is that Yeshua reconstitutes the putrefying flesh; He renews the dehydrated blood; He restores the body fluids; He reverses the cold, hard stiffness of death; He resuscitates the heart and the lungs. All of this and more, simply by the power of His word.
Because He is the resurrection, and the life, His voice commands the one who has been dead for four days. By His words calls forth life out of death. Just as in the original creative act at the beginning of time the Word of God summoned into existence all that is, so here the living Word, the Son of God, speaks life into him who was dead.
In this 7th sign Yeshua has given back physical life as a sign of His power to give eternal life and as a promise that on "The Last Day" He will raise the dead!
Something that I found interesting was that in Christian art found in the catacombs in Rome dating from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries there are over 150 representations of the raising of Lazarus, symbolizing the gift of the life.
"His hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth"— the corpse was customarily laid on a linen sheet, wide enough to cover the body completely and more than twice the length of the corpse. The body was placed on the sheet so that the feet were at one end, and then the sheet was drawn over the head and back down to the feet. The feet were bound at the ankles, and the arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth.
So I want to ask you, How do you come out of a tomb if you're bound hands and feet with wrappings and your face is wrapped with a cloth? What do you do? Was he hopping? How did he get out of there? Well just a few minutes ago Lazarus was an oozing mass of decaying bloated flesh, so if Yeshua could make him new, I'm sure bringing him out of the tomb was no problem. He may have hovered to the entrance of the tomb.
"Unbind him, and let him go"—the witnesses to this resurrection, those there to morn Lazarus' death are involved in the outworking of the miracle. They see and hear Yeshua calling Lazarus out of his tomb. They help roll the stone away from the tomb, and they remove the cloth that has been wrapped around the body of Lazarus.
What is the significance of this unwrapping of Lazarus? Well first we must understand that this physical resurrection of Lazarus is a picture of our spiritual resurrection. This miracle is to confirm the statement of Yeshua in verse 25. "I am the resurrection and the life." This miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead authenticated Yeshua's authority to grant eternal life to those who believe in Him.
The resurrection of Lazarus is an acted out parable of Christian conversion and life. It is a picture! So let me ask you, What part did Lazarus have in his resurrection? None, he was dead and rotting. And as a dead rotting man he is a picture of sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), cut off from the life of God. As a dead man, Lazarus had no power to raise himself from the dead. He needed new life that comes only from God:It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63 ESV
Lazarus is a dead man mind you but he hears the voice of our Lord. That's the miracle of the power of God through the word of God. He's dead, but he can hear because the Word gives life. That's how dead men can come to life. Lazarus was given the power to hear and he heard and responded.
So is there any symbolic significance to this unbinding and letting him go? Maybe, when we are given new life by the Lord we are still bound up by our old life style. And with the help of others that we are in fellowship with, we begin to remove the grave clothes, we begin to remove the old life style and begin to walk as He walked.
The raising of Lazarus is the third resurrection miracle in the Gospels. Can you name the other two resurrection miracles? The raising of Jairus' daughter in Mark 5:35-43 and the widow of Nain's son in Luke 7:11-17. There were also two Old Covenant prophets who raised the dead, Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:8-37).
So what's the chief difference between these Old Covenant resurrections, the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jairus' daughter and the widow of Nain's son compared to Yeshua's miracle with Lazarus? The length of time that Lazarus was dead. The other resurrections occurred immediately after death. It had been at least 4 days since Lazarus had died. His body had begun to actually decay and smell.
This is an awesome story unless you are a relative or close friend of John the Baptizer or James. Do you see where I'm going with this? Yeshua didn't raise John the Baptizer when he was martyred at a fairly young age. The Lord didn't raise James, the brother of John, when Herod executed him. Why? The simple answer is, It wasn't His will to raise them. Some believers are very sick and some die because that is the way the Sovereign Lord wants it. We have no say in it. We are all called to submit to Yahweh's Sovereign providential will whatever it is.
How does Yeshua's resurrection from His tomb differ from Lazarus resurrection from the grave? Lazarus lived out the normal span of his life after his resurrection and then physically died again, but Yeshua being raised from the dead will never die again!We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Romans 6:9 ESV
We see this also in:this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Yeshua, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' Acts 13:33-34 ESV
Lazarus was brought back to physical life. Yeshua was raised in newness of life.
Lazarus was raised in a physical body. Christ was raised in a glorified spiritual body. Christ didn't need to have to have His grave clothes unwrapped, He went through His grave clothes.Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Yeshua's head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. John 20:6-7 ESV
His glorified body was in no way limited by the laws of physics. After the resurrection it seems that He only became physically visible when He wanted to, much like the angels in Scripture, who could become visible physically. A glorified body can become physically visible and interact with physical beings. Remember 2 Kings 6:15-17, where Elisha's servant's eyes were opened to see the angelic army? Paul wrote:It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:44 ESV
Paul says, "It is raised a spiritual body." Lazarus was raised back into his physical body. When we think of spiritual body, we probably think of something like a disembodied spirit. We don't think of something corporeal like you could touch, but that's actually what Paul is getting at. I use to think "spiritual body" was an oxymoron because I thought of "spiritual" as non-material. But a "spiritual body" is a non-fleshly body, it's corporeal. It is a body of the spiritual realm.
In raising Lazarus from the dead, Yeshua was also demonstrating the validity of His own claims that He would rise again, and that He had the power and authority to do so. This miracle also illustrates Yeshua's claims that He will raise people at the eschatological resurrection.
I think that you would agree that the raising of Lazarus from the dead was a profound event in the life of Yeshua. Yet this remarkable miracle is missing from three of the four Gospels. The first three Gospels don't offer even a hint that this miracle occurred, and they never mention that Yeshua had a friend named Lazarus that He loved.
Now consider that Matthew was probably an eyewitness to the raising of Lazarus. This was surely a powerful and unforgettable experience, yet Matthew left this out when he wrote his Gospel. Lazarus was big news! So why is it that the other Gospels fail to mention any of this?
Strangely enough, it turns out that there is another prominent figure in the life of Yeshua who is also nowhere to be found in the first three Gospels. The person is "the disciple whom Yeshua loved." Is this simply a coincidence?
What makes this even more difficult is that this raising of Lazarus was the event that caused the leaders in Jerusalem to determine to end our Lord's life and bring Him to the death of Calvary. And yet the Synoptic Gospels don't mention it. Why?