Fifth Sunday in Lent | March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14 • Psalm 130 • Romans 8:6-11 • John 11:1-45

11 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

John 11:1-45 New Living Translation (NLT)


As you can see, today’s text is long. For those of us who grew up in Sunday School it is a very familiar story. I hope that you have taken the time to read the passage above – if not – take the time to more than scan it, but read it. If you are familiar with the story, slow down and read it like you are reading it for the first time.

This is a story of Jesus raising a good friend, Lazarus, from the dead. This is just one of the many miracles that Jesus did during his time on earth. Lazarus is one of several people that Jesus rose from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s an important sentence at the beginning. Mary and Martha send for Jesus because their brother was a close friend of Jesus. When Jesus receives the message, He says this:

Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.

John 11:4

As I said Jesus performed many miracles during his time on earth. Last week we looked at the healing of the blind man in John 9. I want you to compare the words Jesus spoke before he healed the blind man.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

John 9:3

I hope that you can see the similarities. Jesus did these miracles to display the power of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. Going back to Lazarus. You would think that Jesus would have immediately headed to Bethany, but He doesn’t…He delays and during that time his dear friend Lazarus dies. Did you ever feel like God didn’t hear you? I’m sure that’s how Mary and Martha felt about this time…like Jesus didn’t even care. John tells us differently because John tells us how much Jesus loved Lazarus. So why did Jesus wait?

It could be because the last time they were in the region, the people wanted to stone him. (vs 8) That would be a valid reason. Jesus makes a curious statement, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” The disciple are confused. What? They had waited a couple extra days because of the threat of stoning and now they were going anyway. One of them pipes up, “If he is only sleeping he will soon get better.”

Then Jesus tells them the real truth. Lazarus is dead. Here’s where it gets interesting. Jesus tells his disciples that He was glad they weren’t there because now they will really believe. Jesus must have still had some doubters in the crowd – doubters that He really was the Son of God. This idea of belief is a common one in the Gospel of John. He states in his epilogue that “These things are written so that you may believe.”

Both Martha and Mary question why Jesus didn’t come when He heard the news. Jesus meets them both separately. There response to seeing Jesus is almost identical, “Lord if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

They are both disappointed. Jesus delayed his visit. I’m sure both Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had the power to heal their brother. After all they had seen the miracles. They saw the blind healed – they saw the deaf hear – they saw the lame walk. They knew what Jesus could do – and yet their brother died. Jesus delayed – Jesus the Son of God delayed. What do we do with that? How does it feel when we think God delayed? How does it feel when we think that God isn’t answering our prayers?

Jesus reassures Martha with these words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?

Martha responds, “Yes!” She goes on to tell Jesus that she has always believed that He was the Messiah – the promised one. There’s that word again “believe.”

Jesus knows that this event will show God’s glory. They people are afraid – after all Lazarus has been in the grave for 4 days. Have you ever passed by a deer on the side of the road after it’s been there a couple days? I have during some of my runs. The smell is horrible. Jesus waited four days to show that Lazarus was really dead. You can only imagine the people’s horror when Jesus tells them to roll away the stone.

The people standing near had two thoughts: One group who had seen Jesus weeping for Lazarus said, “See how much he loved him!” While others – the skeptics said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Reluctantly the people roll away the stone. Jesus repeats:

Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?

John 11:40

Then they roll the stone aside and Jesus prays to the Father:

Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

John 11:41b-43

Jesus would not have had to shout – but said these words loud – for the people in the back – so that they may believe! We often hear the phrase “Say it louder for the people in the back!” That is what Jesus did. Then he shouts “Lazarus, come out!” Scholars tell us he identified Lazarus, because if he hadn’t, all of the graves would have opened. Immediately, Lazarus comes out of the grave wrapped in cloths and the people unwrap him.

While it isn’t in our text for this morning, I want to continue to verse 45. “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.” What was the purpose of Lazarus’ sickness, death, and subsequent – yet temporary resurrection? There are two that come to mind:

  1. To show the glory of God.
  2. That people would believe that Jesus is who he said he was.

There are times that it is hard to see God’s big picture. Sometimes it’s hard waiting on God. Waiting on God can be frustrating. Pam and I have been there. We wonder why God doesn’t move to our timetable. Sometimes God’s apparent delay causes the death of our plans. It’s frustrating to wait on God to bring healing and resurrection. Mary and Martha were frustrated that Jesus didn’t show up on time. Here it is important to remember that Jesus loves us – even to the point of weeping. Remember that Jesus came into our world – full of pain and death.

This week it seems that I have come back to this passage numerous times:

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Hebrews 4:14-17

He longs to come into our lives to bring us life – to bring us into his light – for us to believe that He indeed is the Son of God. He desires to bring us to a point of spiritual resurrection. None of us were able to take the first steps of this spiritual journey from death to life apart from Christ. We did not pull ourselves up from the grave by our own bootstraps. But as Jesus called Lazarus into new life, he calls us to do the same. He calls us to call those in spiritual darkness and spiritual death into new life in Jesus Christ and walk in the newness of life.

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