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The Authentic Jesus | Corpse Raiser
March 26, 2023
1Now certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The 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.”
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Holy God, creator of life, you call us out of our dark places, offering us the grace of new life. When we see nothing but hopelessness, you surprise us with the breath of your spirit. Call us out of our complacency and routines, set us free from our self-imposed bonds, and fill us with your spirit of life, compassion, and peace, In the name of Jesus, your anointed one, we pray. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 107:1-9, 15
1Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
3and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
6Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
8Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things
15Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Summary and Connection
For the past few weeks, we have been looking into the gospels to discover The Authentic Jesus. So far, we have discovered Jesus to be scandalous in his association with people he called friends, radical in the claims he made, and authoritative in the miracles he performed. We have discovered Jesus to be both a compassionate friend and a commanding teacher. We have seen Jesus exercise authority over nature and human nature. This week we will discover Jesus as the Lord who is sovereign over life and death.
Today, we will take a close look at John 11:1-44. This familiar Johannine passage deals with the death and raising of Lazarus by Jesus. John uses this long narrative (44 verses), to masterfully draw us into the story with excellent dramatic development. It is important for us to understand John’s literary techniques from the outset. Throughout the gospel we see John employing irony, deeper message, and double meanings to establish theological truths about Jesus’ identity and sovereignty over life and death. As a narrative, this story is obviously about a man whom Jesus rescues from the pangs of death. However, it is also a symbolic story that gives us insight into Jesus’ identity, his power, and his upcoming death and resurrection. In other words, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death foreshadows Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lazarus’ miracle points to Jesus’ Lordship over death and the power of resurrection life.
This narrative structure could be summarized into four things that Jesus does which establishes one fundamental truth of who Jesus is — “I am the resurrection and the life.” Let us briefly look into the four things that Jesus does in this passage:
Jesus waits: This incident happens in Bethany, a village just east of Jerusalem over Mount of Olives, about two miles away (11:18). Early in the passage we learn about Lazarus’ illness and Jesus receiving the message from Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. We learn about the central theme of the story in Jesus’ response to the message: The ultimate result of Lazarus’ tragedy is not his death, but God’s glory, and the impact on the disciples’ faith in God. It is important to know that Jesus’ delay is not the cause of Lazarus’ death. In fact, when Jesus arrives in Bethany after delaying for two days, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. This means that Lazarus likely died right after the departure of the messengers. Jesus waits, and his waiting is significant. The Jews believed that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days. Lazarus was considered truly dead by the fourth day. Thus, Jesus’ delay serves not to promote Lazarus’ death, but to heighten the significance of his own miraculous work.
Jesus weeps: Jesus arrives in Bethany, and he sees Mary and the mourners weeping. The Greek verb klaio describes loud wailing and crying. Loud wailing and public displays of grief was very common in Jesus’ day. In verse 33 we see Jesus’ response to the wailing — Jesus is deeply moved. In Greek the verb embrimaomai describes outrage, resentment, fury, or anger. Jesus’ anger is displayed in his weeping (11:35). Jesus is overcome by the futility of suffering and death in light of the reality of his own death and resurrection. Jesus, in other words, is angry at death and the devastation it brings. New Testament commentator Gary Burge makes an insightful observation: “Jesus’ tears should be connected to the anger he is feeling so deeply. The public chaos surrounding him…and the scene of the cemetery and its reminders of death — the result of sin and death — together produce outrage in the Son of God as he works to reverse such damage.”
Jesus comforts: This story gives us a deep insight into the emotional life of Jesus — his compassion and sympathy towards sufferers. Martha meets Jesus before he enters Bethany (11:30). We see Martha’s deep faith and confidence in Jesus’ authority. Jesus comforts Martha by reminding her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, like the disciples, fails to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, and simply agrees by saying, “I know he will rise again on the last day.” Jesus gently corrects Martha and reassures her by pointing to the reality of the power of resurrection life in the here and now. As Christians, we can trust Jesus with not only life but also death. Only Jesus can provide comfort in both life and in death. Furthermore, we see Jesus comforting Mary (11:32-34). Notice Martha and Mary’s words to Jesus: They both say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:21, 32). However, Jesus’ response to them is remarkably different. Jesus knew both Martha and Mary’s personalities. He addresses Martha’s grief by providing theological assurance, and Mary’s grief with emotional assurance. We see Jesus enter into Mary’s sorrow by weeping with her (11:35). Jesus is the sympathetic savior who comforts us by entering into our grief and ministering in our suffering.
Finally, Jesus raises Lazarus: Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ tomb (11:38). Jesus’ confrontation of death at Lazarus’ tomb foreshadows Jesus’ confrontation of death on the day of his resurrection. Jesus’ prayer (11:41-42) reinforces the theme and purpose of this miracle — to glorify God, and to deepen the disciples’ faith in God. Jesus commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Jesus’ command is followed by a spectacle that symbolizes the power of salvation — the Word of God restores life. Lazarus comes out of his tomb. Most importantly, this miracle also points to the ultimate and all-encompassing sign of victory over death — the cross and resurrection of Jesus. In his seventh and final sign, Jesus points us to the ultimate fact that Lazarus’ empty tomb anticipates his empty tomb — The Lord who has power over life and death has power over his own life and death as well. As Christians, we join Lazarus as the beneficiaries of the living hope of resurrection in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life.
1. Looking at the Bible
What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- In verse 4 we read about Jesus’ cryptic response after receiving a distressing message about Lazarus’ illness. What does Jesus mean by, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it?”
- What was the significance of Jesus visiting the tomb of Lazarus on the fourth day?
- In verses 23-27 we see the interaction between Jesus and Martha on the topic of resurrection. How are we to understand resurrection — is it primarily a future hope as Martha believed, or a present experience as Jesus claimed (11:26)?
- Why was Jesus deeply moved and greatly troubled in his spirit (11:33, 38)?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- In this story we see the humanity of Jesus displayed in his comforting presence with Mary and Martha. We see the divinity of Jesus displayed in his commanding power calling Lazarus to come out. Why is Jesus’ comforting presence and his commanding power important in our suffering?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
- In this story we see Jesus delay his visit to Bethany by two days while Martha and Mary waited for him to arrive. What is the significance of waiting in Christian life?
- How does this passage help you to understand Jesus using tragedy — personal suffering or death of a loved one, to glorify God’s name and to deepen your faith in God?
4. Looking at Our World
- In light of this passage, how does Christianity offer a robust understanding of death? How does this passage give us hope and confidence to live in a culture that avoids the fatality of death?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were like an extended family for Jesus. Lazarus was a beloved friend of Jesus. When Jesus receives the distressing message about his friend’s illness, he does not respond by leaving for Bethany immediately. Instead, we see Jesus delay his departure by two days. Jesus’ response naturally invokes questions about his love for Lazarus. However, John wants us to understand the deeper purpose and meaning behind Jesus’ words and actions in this story.
When Jesus received the news about Lazarus, he had the divine knowledge of what was happening in Bethany. Jesus was also aware of the implications of returning to Judea (11:8). Jesus’ response points us to two deeper truths — the final result of Lazarus’ illness and death is God’s glory, and not death’s victory. Lazarus’ death was not designed by God; however, God used Lazarus’ death as an opportunity to glorify Jesus. Secondly, Jesus’ words foreshadowed his own death and resurrection — Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross does not ultimately end in death. Jesus’ resurrection glorifies God and ushers in eternal life to all those belonging to him.
The Jews in Jesus’ day believed in a medieval tradition according to which the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days attempting to re-enter it. It was common for the Jews to return to the tomb after three days to see if the person was living. Jews believed that the soul would depart three days after decomposition set in. John wants his readers to know that Lazarus was truly dead, and the miraculous sign of Jesus was not mere resuscitation but a supernatural act of God. Furthermore, Jesus by raising Lazarus on the fourth day, established his divine authority, as only God can raise the dead.
In verse 23, Jesus encourages Martha by saying, “your brother will rise again.” Martha understood Jesus’ words in light of the common Jewish belief of end time resurrection. Jews firmly believed in end time resurrection of the dead. However, Martha, like the disciples, entirely missed the immediate application and relevance of Jesus’ statement. Jesus corrects Martha by one of his most significant “I AM” sayings: “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Notice, Jesus does not say that he can offer resurrection and life in future, but that he is resurrection and life. As one commentator puts it, “eternal life and rescue from finality of death are not merely gifts obtained by appeal to God; they are aspects of what it means to live in association with Jesus.” In other words, those who believe in Jesus will enjoy the resurrection life on earth. Christians are united with Jesus, and they experience resurrection life now and do not have to await the end of time in order to enjoy the benefits of resurrection. This is not to say that followers of Jesus will not die a physical death, rather it means that Christian life on earth is a foretaste of resurrection life in eternity. Eugene Peterson makes an emphatic statement describing the theme of resurrection: “The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection.” Read Romans 8:31-39 to emphasize the benefits of resurrection life on earth.
Refer summary and connection for question 4
Question 2: The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as the savior who is able to sympathize with our suffering. We need the comforting presence of Jesus when we are crippled with anxiety about life and are overwhelmed with fear of death. For some of us, Jesus’ comforting presence could be like his presence with Martha — assurance and affirmation of deep theological truths to reorient our faulty understanding of God. For some of us it could be like Jesus’ presence with Mary — assurance of Jesus as the gentle and compassionate savior who weeps with those who weep. We also need the commanding power of Jesus in our suffering. We need Jesus to command us to come out of the grave of spiritual death. The ultimate display of Jesus’ commanding power to end our suffering is seen in his death and resurrection. On the cross Jesus suffers and dies on our behalf. On the third day, Jesus is raised from the dead. In his resurrection Jesus commands dominion over suffering and death. Jesus calls us to live out our resurrection life in light of his commanding power and comforting presence — “I am the resurrection and life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:25-26).
Question 3: In the story of Lazarus, we see the themes of grief, loss, waiting, and tension between life and death. Oftentimes when we reach out to God in prayer, our tendency is to expect, or even demand immediate response from God. However, sometimes God calls us to wait. Waiting is significant in Christian life as it invigorates our faith in the promises of God. Waiting compels us to transition from intellectual knowledge about God to an experiential knowledge of God. Furthermore, when we wait, we grieve, and suffer. According to Paul, suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character; and character, in turn produces hope. This hope is unlike the worldly hope — fleeting and circumstantial. It is the resurrection hope in Jesus — living and life giving. Waiting is not a guarantee that we will receive what we want, rather it is a guarantee that we will find who we need — Jesus.
Second question in this section is a personal application question.
Question 4: In order to acknowledge the value of Christianity’s robust understanding of death, it is vital for us to understand how the culture interprets death. In his book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker makes an insightful observation: “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity — activity largely designed to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.” The culture we live in constantly grapples with the finality of grave and incomprehensibility of death. In her book The Lost Art of Dying, Lydia Dugdale talks about how our culture has overly medicalized death: “Dying is often institutional and sterile, prolonged by unnecessary resuscitations and other intrusive interventions. We are not going gently into that good night — our reliance on modern medicine can actually prolong suffering and strip us of our dignity.” The culture either offers an escape hatch to deny death by avoiding its fatality, or it offers unnecessary intrusive interventions to prolong the inevitability of death.
In contrast, the Bible offers a robust understanding of death. The Bible identifies death as the consequence of sin. The Bible compels us to acknowledge our finitude as image bearers of God. The Bible does not minimize the reality and seriousness of death. Death destroys human nature, whereas the grace of God restores human nature. The ultimate expression of the grace of God reversing the curse of death and restoring human nature is seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are raised with Jesus as a new creation experiencing resurrection life. When we experience the resurrection life in Jesus, we look at death as Jesus looks at death — a defeated enemy. The hope of resurrection gives us strength to face our own mortality, or death of a loved one. The hope of resurrection gives us confidence in death by dispelling the shallow optimism that denies the anguish of death. In other words, a Christian’s confidence at the grave has nothing to do with our intrinsic potential to survive death by denying or escaping it. It has everything to do with our understanding and confidence in the power of Jesus who defeated death on the cross.
The Heidelberg Catechism encapsulates the Christian understanding of death beautifully: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”