Week commencing 24 February 2019
Notes for sermon next Sunday by Bishop Chris Edwards – John 11:1-44
We are pausing our Luke series for one week, as next Sunday we have Bishop Chris Edwards with us – our 2019 Lenten study speaker. We’ve pulled this week’s reading notes from the archives of April 2017 and hope that it will help you prepare for Chris’ message on this great chapter next Sunday.
DAY 1: Read John 11:1-16
All miracles in John’s Gospel – and there are only seven of them – are called ‘signs’. This sign of the raising of Lazarus, points us to the reality of Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life for all who believe and repent. This story points us to the climax of John’s Gospel – the resurrection of Jesus.
Chapters 11 and 12 of John are transition chapters between Jesus’ public ministry and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection (often referred to as Jesus’ “passion”). His move toward Jerusalem is the last one in this gospel. Up until now we have learned Jesus is the bread of life, the water of life, the light of life. Now, in this last night, Jesus gives life itself; in anticipation of the fruitfulness of his own death.
The village named “Bethany” here is different from that of 1:28 and John wants us to know that, by describing it clearly as the village of Mary and her sister Martha. John assumes his hearers have heard of Mary as he describes her as the same one who poured perfume on the Lord – an incident he will go on to describe in Chapter 12. Although Luke tells the famous Mary and Martha story, this account is the first time the family has appeared in John’s Gospel. It is only here that we meet Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus. The reference to their brother as the ‘one Jesus loves’ is touching and hints at friendships barely explored in the gospels.
In v4, Jesus does not mean that this sickness is not fatal, but that it will not ultimately end in death. Rather, it will end in resurrection from the dead, and for God’s glory. That Jesus delayed his journey could be interpreted as callousness. However, John insists that Jesus loved this family. Lazarus’ death and the resurrection that follows, are not only to glorify the Father and the Son, but are for the good of Lazarus and his sisters.
Upon hearing that Lazarus has died, Jesus delays his journey again, to ensure that no-one could misinterpret the miracle as a mere resuscitation, effected before the man’s spirit had properly left the area (assumed to be three days in common understanding). Jesus is now going to Bethany to wake Lazarus up. He refers to death as a sleep from which one can be wakened, but the disciples did not fully appreciate what Jesus was saying. The disciples were not keen on returning to Judea because of the threats that lay there. Jesus now speaks plainly and tells them Lazarus is dead. Thomas (often described as the doubter due to the account of John 20) is here portrayed as a man with raw devotion and courage. He spoke of things more wonderful than he fully grasped and the call for all disciples to take up their cross and be prepared to die for Jesus, is previewed here!
Thomas was ready to follow Jesus even if it meant disaster. Are you?
DAY 2: Read John 11:17-37
The reference to Lazarus having been in the tomb four days, is an insistence that we comprehend that the man is actually dead! The fact that many came from Jerusalem to grieve, indicates that this was a prominent family. Martha’s words to Jesus are not a rebuke, but rather of grief and faith: she is confident that had Jesus been there, he would have healed her brother. V22 tells us she had not lost confidence in Jesus.
Don Carson says that v23 is “a masterpiece of planned ambiguity”. On the one level Martha understands Jesus’ words to be referring to the resurrection of all at the end of time, but at another level, Jesus is promising a more immediate resurrection for Lazarus. And yet now at v25, Jesus insists that he alone will raise the dead. Through the work of Jesus; a believer even though they die, will nevertheless come to life at the resurrection. And the believer who already enjoys the new life, will in some sense, never die!
In anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection and the pouring out of the Spirit, there is the repeated promise that those who believe in him will immediately possess eternal life. John 8:51: whoever obeys my word will never see death.
When Jesus asks Martha Do you believe this?, he is asking whether she personally trusts Jesus as the resurrection and the life – the only person who can grant eternal life! If she answers positively, the raising of Lazarus becomes an enacted parable of the life-giving power of Jesus. Her ‘yes’ reflects her confidence in who Jesus is as the promised Messiah.
Finally today, I want you to note v33 where we see Jesus deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Translators struggle to convey the sense here. The word used describes a horse snorting! Jesus here is confronting the great enemy death, which he is soon to face head on! He is angry at death and at the rebellion of mankind which caused death to enter the world! John Calvin describes Jesus here as a “wrestler preparing for contest” He was readying himself for the great battle at the cross and the tomb. And of course, he was also identifying with the grief of his dear friends Mary and Martha. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! Do you believe this?
DAY 3: Read John 11:38-44
That Martha now protests the removal of the stone, suggests that she had not grasped from her earlier conversation with Jesus that he was going to raise her brother immediately. Jesus will now display the glory of God through Lazarus’ resurrection. Note that Jesus’ prayer assumes that he had already asked for Lazarus’ life as now he only thanks his Father for the answer. And his public prayer reflects Jesus’ hope that his hearers will believe that he has been sent by God himself.
Now, before the Last Day and in anticipation of it, Jesus’ cry ‘Lazarus come out’, proved to be an instance when the dead heard the voice of the Son of God. (See 5:25 and 5:28-29.) It has often been remarked that such is the authority of Jesus, that had he not specified ‘Lazarus’, all the dead would have emerged from that tomb! A person bound in grave clothes could hop and shuffle but could not easily walk. Hence, Jesus gives the command to take off the grave clothes and let him go.
We need to note here, a comparison to Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus rose, the linen strips were still in the tomb and the burial cloth from around Jesus’ head was lying separately. Those differences in themselves point to the fact that Lazarus was called to a restoration to mortal life, groping blindly for the exit and needing to be released from the grave clothes that bound him. Jesus rose with what Paul calls a ‘spiritual body’ (1 Cor 15), leaving the grave clothes behind and being able to materialise in locked rooms. Though his resurrection body bore the marks of his wounds and was capable of eating and being touched, it was raised with the power of endless life – the first fruits of the resurrection at the end. The resurrection of Lazarus was in the end, only a pale anticipation of what is yet to come, when we are finally raised with Jesus with the same spiritual bodies. It was in fact, a ‘sign’ and appropriately, the climatic sign of John’s Gospel.
Do you believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?? What difference does that make to the way you live your life?
DAY 4: Read John 20
What a joy to read this great chapter! Let me highlight just a few features:
- All four gospels begin the resurrection account by recounting that it took place on the first day of the week – indicating that something new and wonderful was happening.
- The darkness of the hours is the perfect counterpart to the darkness which still shrouds Mary’s understanding.
- Seeing the removed stone upon arrival, prompts Mary to assume the body of Jesus had been stolen.
- In v3, the ‘other disciple’ is John himself. Note in v8 that belief dawns, but it is not as yet borne of an understanding of the Old Testament. That will come later when Jesus opens their minds to understand.
- The description of the linen folded is powerful and vivid and not something which would have been dreamed up. The fact that two men saw it, makes their evidence admissible in a Jewish court.
- Note that John came to believe, not because he saw Jesus (at this point) but because he saw an empty tomb and because the grave cloths were still there.
- Two necessary foundations for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection – an empty tomb plus people who saw Jesus alive!!
- Note vv30-31 which are a good reminder that these signs were written that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in his name! Alleluia Alleluia. Christ is risen!
Sources: The Seven signs, Anthony Selvaggio; Carson’s commentary on John.
Some words and phrases are used word for word.