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An Earlier Resurrection

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 11:1–53

The death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus provides an amazing opportunity for the Lord to present the truth of who He is. This truth exposes the hearts of people as they choose to either acknowledge Him as the Son of God or obstinately reject Him in the face of undeniable proof.


In our chronological study of the Gospels, we come now to John 11 and the record of another resurrection.

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha lived near Jerusalem in the village of Bethany; they were close friends of Jesus. Verse 3 tells us the sisters send word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love [Lazarus] is ill.” Now these sisters undoubtedly believed Jesus would pack up and come running. I mean there should be a perk like that if you are a friend of Jesus. He cannot give you front row seats at the symphony, but He can heal your friends and family.

But instead of running to Bethany, Jesus does something else:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (verses 5-6)

That doesn’t make any sense! He loved them, but then He delayed another two days. Well, let me tell you, these two sisters wanted Jesus to reveal His power to heal sickness. Jesus is going to wait until Lazarus dies so that He can reveal His power over the grave.

Two days later, when Jesus announces to His disciples that they are going to head over to Bethany, they are concerned for His safety. After all, there are death threats against Him. But Jesus says to them, “Lazarus has fallen asleep” (verse 11). Well, they miss the point, so He tells them “plainly” in verse 14, “Lazarus has died.” Death looks like the body is sleeping, which is why “sleep” is often used to describe someone who has died.

When Jesus finally arrives, Mary stays in the house—she is pretty upset with Jesus—but Martha rushes out to meet Him. She just blurts out in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is upset with Him too.

But note the exchange that follows:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (verses 23-26)

Jesus says not only that He has the power to bring someone back to life, but also that He is the resurrection and the life. In other words, He is the source of resurrection life.

Jesus says, “Do you believe this?” Martha answers in verse 27, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

I want you to notice that Jesus does not ask Martha how she feels; it is what she believes that is important! Beloved, there will be times when you don’t feel like you understand what Jesus is doing. His delays may be painful. But the question is not how you feel about what is going on right now in your life. The question is, do you believe that Jesus is capable and trustworthy in managing your life?

Well, with that, Mary finally comes out of the house and falls down at Jesus’ feet and, like her sister, says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (verse 32).

Verse 33 states, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” The Greek word translated “troubled” is also used of a horse that is breathing heavily. Jesus feels the pain of those tears from Mary and Martha.

As Jesus arrives at the tomb, verse 35 simply says, “Jesus wept.” By the way, this does not mean a little tear trickled down His check; you could render this, “Jesus burst into tears.”

But why weep in view of what He knows He is going to do? I believe this reveals that He is indeed touched by the feelings of our infirmities. He shares our sorrows over what sin and death have brought into the world.

But why did Jesus wait until Lazarus had been dead for a total of four days now? I believe it is because the rabbis were teaching the superstition that the soul hovered over the body for three days, hoping, if possible, to reenter it. Jesus is giving no place for any superstitious belief regarding Lazarus. He is leaving no doubt whatsoever that Lazarus is dead and beyond hope.

When Jesus calls for the family cave, or crypt, to be opened, Martha objects, expecting the stench of death. Jesus tells her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you will see the glory of God?” (verse 40).

Then Jesus prays briefly and afterward cries out, “Lazarus, come out” (verse 43). The church leader Augustine wrote centuries ago that if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, the entire cemetery would have emptied at that moment!

But look what happens:

The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (verse 44)

This is a wonderful picture of the Lord’s power to bring someone who died back to life. He is the resurrection and the life.

I want to point out two responses to this miracle. First, there is belief. Verse 45 says, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.”

How could you disbelieve after watching a dead man come out of the tomb? Oh, but some did! The other reaction to this miracle is willful blindness. Some reported this miracle to the Pharisees! And how did they respond? Verses 47-48:

The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

Caiaphas, the high priest, speaks up here and adds in verse 50 these prophetic words: “It is better . . . that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” In other words, “Let’s kill Jesus before the Roman army comes and wipes us all out for following a false king and Messiah.”

Verse 53 tells us, “From that day on they made plans to put him to death.” They did everything they could to keep from seeing and hearing the truth.

James Montgomery Boice once wrote about a man who refused every invitation to visit the church he lived near. One day he was walking by and heard music and decided to go in and sit near the back of the church until the music finished.

But when the music was over, and the preacher stood up to preach, the man realized he was hemmed in by all the people; he could not leave without being noticed. So, he decided to slouch down and put his fingers in his ears so he could not hear.

A little housefly began buzzing around his nose. He ignored it as long as he could, but finally swatted at it, just as the pastor said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what God says.”[1] That did it. The man listened and then gave his heart to Christ.

Beloved, the religious leaders have their fingers in their ears and their hands over their eyes. Even the raising of Lazarus does not faze them. They are just going to try to swat it all away.

Here is the warning perhaps to you today: If you do not personally know the Lord Jesus as your God and Savior, do not cover your ears and your eyes. Jesus is the resurrection and the life; if you believe in Him, He will one day take you from death to everlasting life.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 3 (Zondervan, 1975), 922.

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