The Thirty-Fifth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Even Jesus could not keep his friend Lazarus from dying–or so it seemed. All of Jesus’ disciples eventually died, as have all Christians since the time of Jesus down to the present day (including Lazarus, a second time). This raises the question as to whether or not the curse has the final word and whether death ultimately wins in the end. At times it sure looks that way. If Jesus truly is the resurrection and the life, as he claims, then he must decisively defeat death and the grave. When Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead, we see the unmistakable proof that death does not win in the end. Although his body has been in the tomb four days, when Jesus steps up to Lazarus’ tomb and commands “Lazarus, come out!” (and the dead man does) we get a brief glimpse of what will happen on the last day, when Jesus returns to judge the world, raise the dead, and make all things new. The story of Lazarus is not only a critical turning point in the Gospel of John, this is proof that Jesus is who he claims to be, and the events surrounding the raising of Lazarus set the stage for Jesus’ own death and resurrection, soon to come.
We return to our series on the Gospel of John, and we come to the next section of John’s Gospel–the literary bridge between Jesus’ messianic mission to Israel, and the events which occurred during the Passover and Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. This literary bridge includes the materials in John 11 (the account of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead) and chapter 12 (Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany, before Jesus speaks of the necessity of his being “lifted up”–a reference to his suffering upon the cross). This two-chapter bridge prepares the way for the extended Upper Room Discourse in chapters 13-17, in which Jesus instructs his disciples about his soon-coming death, resurrection, and ascension, and when he promises to send the blessed comforter, the Holy Spirit.
Then, in chapters 18-20, we come to John’s Passion narrative, in which we read of Jesus’ death for our sins, and his bodily resurrection from the dead. Unlike the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the first half of John’s Gospel is devoted to his messianic mission, while the entire second half is devoted to the Passover and the final week of our Lord’s earthly ministry. We are entering that last half of John’s account of the word made flesh, and we will spend much of our time covering events which occurred during the last week of Jesus’ messianic mission, shortly before his death as the true Passover Lamb and his resurrection from the dead–the guarantee of our final victory over death.
Every preacher faces the same dilemma when preaching through John’s Gospel. Throughout this gospel, there are long teaching discourses, like the 44 verses in John 11 dealing with the resurrection of Lazarus. These discourses are best covered in one sitting because one event is being recounted. Yet, these discourses (like that the “Bread of Life” discourse of John 6, and the “Good Shepherd” discourse of John 10) are so rich in content, that if we are to do John justice, we would spend about two hours covering chapter 11. Given the shortness of the human attention span, the rhetorical skills of your preacher, the weakness of the human gluteus maximus, and the nature of our pews, unfortunately, we must divide John 11 into a number of sub-sections which we will treat over a four week period. You will help me out, and you will get far more out of these next few sermons on John 11, if you read through this entire chapter several times in the coming weeks so as not to lose the forest for the trees.
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