The Thirty-Seventh in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Humanity’s greatest enemy is death. Yet, God has promised that death will not have the last word. At the end of the age, God will raise the dead, judge all men and women, and then usher in a new heaven and earth where all traces of the curse and human sin are vanquished. But until that day, the curse remains, and those whom we love still die. So when Jesus’ friend Lazarus tastes death, those following Jesus look to him for comfort and guidance, as well as for some word of hope in anticipation of the great day of final victory over death at the end of the age. But at a burial ground in Bethany–a small village just outside of Jerusalem–Jesus does something beyond all human imagination. After weeping at the sight of Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus performs his seventh and greatest miraculous sign yet. He raises his friend from the dead, giving everyone present at the tomb the unmistakable proof that he is God incarnate, and that he is Lord over death and the grave. But he is also giving everyone a glimpse of what will happen in just a few short days when he dies on a Roman cross and is then raised from the dead on the third day. It is our Lord’s own bodily resurrection from the dead which is the guarantee of the great resurrection on the last day.
As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, we come to John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11). In verses 28-44, we see the emotions of Jesus on full display when Jesus rages against death, and then raises his dear friend Lazarus from the dead. If we thought that Jesus’ initial reaction to the news of Lazarus’ death was cold and indifferent, in this section of John’s account we will discover that we were greatly mistaken. Jesus was not unemotional about the death of his friend–as it seemed. Jesus knew that his hour was not yet–although his hour is drawing near. He also knew that there was still much for him to teach his disciples before they make their final trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, in which Jesus brings his messianic mission to its glorious climax as he reveals himself to be the true Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
In this section of John, the disciple recounts Jesus’ great of compassion for Lazarus’ family, and he himself openly weeps at the sight of the tomb of his friend. But these are not just tears of sadness as the English word “weep” conveys. Jesus cries tears of both anger and anguish, as he witnesses what Adam’s fall and the curse have done to the human race. When we see Jesus weeping at the death of a close friend, we learn much about our Lord’s true human nature and the profound human emotions which Jesus truly felt. We also learn much about grief, and the Christian attitude toward death, which is grounded in the reality of human sin and the curse, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body.
As I mentioned several weeks ago, John’s Gospel is difficult to preach since there are a number of lengthy discourses which are best treated as a single block of material. But since we don’t have the time to go through these discourses in the detail they deserve, I have chosen to break these discourses down into smaller units. The problem with doing so that it is easy to lose sight of the powerful drama and overall thrust of the narrative. Apart from the rich and profound theological implications of this passage, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus is very compelling in its own right. The inherent drama of the narrative is especially important to recapture before we take up our text–one of the most moving and dramatic in all the Bible.
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