The Thirty-Ninth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
When he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus demonstrated for all to see that he is Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. But Israel’s religious leaders–the Sanhedrin and the high priest Caiaphas–were very troubled by the news that Jesus had returned to Jerusalem and was working miracles just a few days before the annual Passover. They were afraid that Jesus would return to Jerusalem during the Passover for a final showdown with the Sanhedrin. And so they had hatched a plot to arrest Jesus upon his return to the city, so that Jesus would then be put to death. Blind to the fact that Jesus was that one promised throughout the Old Testament, the Sanhedrin was worried that Jesus would do something to provoke the Romans to intervene and remove them from power. It was clear that many people had seen (or heard of) Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was already popular because he was a miracle-worker and messianic figure and now, Jesus had many new followers as a result of his seventh and greatest miracle to date. When Caiaphas proposed that Jesus die for the sake of the nation, his proposal was quickly agreed upon and the Pharisees made it known that if anyone saw Jesus or knew where he was, the Pharisees were to be informed. And if people are following Jesus because of Lazarus, then Lazarus should be arrested and put to death as well. . . Yes, it really has come to this.
We return to our series on the Gospel of John. We have come to the literary hinge of John’s Gospel–chapters 11-12–which serve to join the two halves of John’s Gospel together. The first 10 chapters of John deal with Jesus’ three-year messianic mission, while chapters 13-21 deal with those events surrounding the coming Passover, which include Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples (the Upper Room Discourse), his passion, and his resurrection (all of which take place during the last week of Jesus’ life). Chapters 11-12 serve as the transition from our Lord’s messianic mission to his Passion.
In John 11, we read of Jesus’ seventh and most dramatic miraculous sign, the raising of his dear friend Lazarus from the dead. We read of Jesus’ great sorrow at the death of his friend, as well as the grief experienced by Lazarus’ friends and family. When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb, he openly weeps. But what moves Jesus to such anguish? There is the spectacle of death itself. There is the tomb. Lazarus’ body is wrapped in linen and embalmed with spices to deal with decomposition–the cruelest reality of death. There is the wailing of the professional mourners along with Lazarus’ family and friends. The musicians play their somber funeral dirge. The family and friends are all grief stricken and wailing. Jesus rages in anger against what sin and death have done to the human race, including his dear friend.
John also tells us that a good number of people actually witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. They saw the once-dead man now hopping and staggering out of his tomb, still bound by his grave clothes. Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ family certainly witnessed the miracle. So did a number of Jews from Jerusalem who had come to the graveyard near Bethany, a small village about two miles from Jerusalem, to pay their respects to Lazarus’ family. According to John, many of those who witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus believed in Jesus. Who else but the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah could raise a man who had been dead for four days?
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