Today I want to speak to you about Lazarus, and the gist of the story is, Lazarus died and Jesus brought him back, but I’ll do more than that.
You’re going to love this miracle. It is the crown jewel of all the miracles that Jesus ever did. This one is the tops, and I want you, as you listen to this story, I want you to think, “Has there anything that died in my life?” Has anything died in your life? Maybe you have a relationship that has died. Maybe your health died over the past few weeks or this year. Maybe your bank account has gone south. Maybe your job has fizzled out. With Jesus, there is hope for a new beginning, and that’s the story of Lazarus, right? You may say, “I’ve experienced a lot this week. You don’t know what I’ve been through. This happened to me and that happened...” With Jesus there is always a new beginning. Don’t forget that. That’s the story of Lazarus.
Let’s go to John now, chapter 11, and let’s start with verse 1, because this is an exciting story. It says, ”Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and his sister Martha, and the sisters sent word to Jesus, and they said, ‘Lord, the one You love is sick.’” And what did they expect? They didn’t ask, but they expected. As soon as Jesus hears that the one that He loves is sick[snap], He’s going to go. He’s going to come. He’s going to heal him before he gets too bad, and Lazarus and his sisters were members of an elite family. A lot of the leaders of Jerusalem were members of this particular family, and Lazarus was one of the most faithful disciples of Jesus even though he was not listed among the 12. Jesus loved him and he was sick. Now think about that. Saints get sick, and Jesus loves sick saints. How many of us are sick? All have sinned. Jesus loves us all, sick or healthy. He loves us. That’s the message of this. Jesus loves sick saints. Well Lazarus was dying. He was sicker than sick.
I remember back in 1996, when my father who lived here in Collegedale got sick. He was 90 years old. He came down with cancer, and we all came close to his side, and we prayed for daddy, and I remember holding his hand. His hand was always warmer than my hand, and I would hold his hand, and I just prayed, “Lord, if some of my strength could just come into my daddy’s life, You know, maybe he could be healed from this,” and he just got weaker and weaker. On the day he died we were there with the church hymnal. We were singing hymns, and he died to the sound of his family, singing. Songs of hope. That’s how it was with your family.
My dad died, and I can visualize Mary and Martha. I kind of know what they were going through, and I can picture the runner that they asked to go. “Would you go and tell Jesus, and hurry because he’s really sick. Go. Run. It’s 20 miles. You’ve got to go from Bethany to where Jesus is. You can do it, and tell Him, ‘The one you love is sick.’, and that’s all you have to tell Him and He’ll know what to do. He’ll come[snap] just like that.” And so this runner headed off with the message, the precious message, and he ran as fast as he--he ran through crowds, he ran through villages, and finally he found Jesus, and breathlessly he broke the news, and what did Jesus do? Look at verse 4 now. “And when He heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.’” Verse 5. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, and yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.”
Why does God wait so long to answer our urgent problems? We have emergencies, as human beings, and God just waits. He--I just don’t understand, sometimes, why God doesn’t [snap] come when we want Him to come. We’re back there in Bethany praying, and Jesus is out there doing who knows what. He doesn’t come. You pray over and over and nothing happens. Mary and Martha waited. Their brother got worse and worse. They waited some more, and I think they said, “Lazarus, just hold on. If you hold on, Jesus, He’ll be here any minute. He’s coming. I know He’s coming. He would not not come.” But Lazarus finally lost consciousness, and finally his battle was over and he died, and I can just picture Mary and Martha saying, “Why does this happen? Jesus heals whole town-loads of people and He can’t even come here and heal the one that He loves! He could have saved our brother. He was only 20 miles away. We know where He is. He’s had the message and He didn’t come.”
So I can see them still with hope. You see, they have to prepare the body, and so while they do that they do it slow. Slow preparation. Wrapping the wrappings around slow. “Maybe Jesus’ll come, because we remember, we remember this girl, Jairus’ daughter. She died and Jesus brought her back to life and He could do that with Lazarus,” so they wrapped him slowly, and I can see them dragging their feet as the funeral procession makes its way to the tomb, and “Any minute, Jesus is going to come. I know He’ll come. He wouldn’t not come,” and they remembered that time when Jesus interrupted a funeral procession. Remember that? The widow’s son had died and Jesus raised him back to life, there in Luke, verse 7, and He might do it again. He could do that. All the way to the cemetery they kept watching for Jesus to arrive. But Jesus didn’t even bother to come to the funeral or the burial. Neither one. He did not show up. In the hour of their greatest pain, Jesus was absent. Why!? Why would Jesus do that?
Actually, let me tell you something. Jesus does not exist to minister to our perceived needs. He has a higher plan. He knows what’s best for us, and the older I get, the more I think that I just need to pray, “Lord, may Your will be done in my life. It’s better than my will, and may I fit in with Your will.” That’s the higher prayer. His purposes are high and our understanding can’t fathom them very often. Today, We want a God that smoothes out all the ripples in our road. We want a God who jumps when we pray. We also want a pastor that jumps when we call on the phone. It pains us to wait on God. We get discouraged.
Jesus deliberately waited until the fourth day before He arrived, and His purpose in the delay was to glorify God. That’s His purpose. You see, God is never late to any appointment. We live in a world called time. God does not live in a world called time. He’s never late. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had a grand purpose in the death of Lazarus. Jesus knew the instant that Lazarus died. Jesus knew it. Jesus later said in verse 15, “I’m glad I was not there.” He didn’t want to be there.
Look at John 11:11. “After He had said this, He went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’", and I will tell you that death for the Christian is always a temporary sleep. It’s a nap. That’s all it is, for the Christian.
Finally Jesus said to His disciples, “Let’s go.”, and you know what the disciples tried to do? To convince Him not to go. “It’s already too late. Don’t go. He’s already dead. He’s died, and besides that, remember, those people in Jerusalem, just on the other side of Bethany is the Mount of Olives and over the Mount of Olives, You are a wanted Man. Your picture, Your poster is there. You’re among the most wanted Man of all Palestine. There’s a price over Your head. They’re going to kill You. The Jews are going to get You. Don’t go.”, and remember doubting Thomas? We don’t think too much of him, do we? Look at what doubting Thomas says. Look at verse 16. “Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’" “We’ll just all die. It’s ok. Jesus is going to be killed. Let’s all go.” He was a brave man, wasn’t he? He wasn’t just a doubter.
Now obviously, Lazarus had died four days earlier which means that he died before Jesus got the request to come, so Jesus’ delay in no way was responsible for Lazarus’ death, and you know, in Palestine, most of the people believed that after the third day, the soul left the body, and this was the fourth day. They believed that serious decay sets in on day number 3 and the soul hovers around the body, they believed, until that time, and then it leaves. Now, of course, we don’t believe that. What is a soul? I’m looking at several hundred of them right now. There’s one right there. We are souls. A soul is you, but anyway, after the fourth day, there wouldn’t be one chance in a zillion zillions that Lazarus could be alive. He was as dead as a door nail.
And Martha heard that Jesus was in town on the fourth day, and so she went running out of town to find Jesus. She finally found Him and in verse 21, "’Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You would have been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now God will give You whatever you ask.’" She had faith. Verse 23, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’”, and Martha was a Seventh-day Adventist, and in verse 24 she states it correctly. She says, in verse 24, "I know he will rise again,” when? “In the resurrection at,” when? “At the last day.” She was a good Seventh-day Adventist. She had it right. Verse 25. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies’”. And Desire of Ages says, “In Christ there is life, original, un-borrowed, and un-derived.” He is the Creator God, and when you’ve got Jesus, you’ve got life.
Well, Martha ran back home and told Mary. Martha had to get back to her dusting and her cooking, and in verse 32, “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and she said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’" You know, Mary spends an awful lot of time at Jesus’ feet, doesn’t she? She washes them with her tears. She dries them with her hair. Here she is again, at His feet, with the tears dripping on His toes.
Jesus, it says, was “troubled”, and then here comes the shortest verse in the Bible. What did Jesus do? He wept. “Jesus Wept.” The shortest verse, but the longest, I think, in spiritual meaning. Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus suffered every pang of hurt that Lazarus suffered. Every disappointment that Mary and Martha suffered, He suffered, and here He is, weeping, but I want to tell you, He is not weeping for Lazarus. Jesus is not weeping for him. Remember, Lazarus is going to be alive in 20 minutes, and Jesus knows that. He’s not weeping for him. Who is He weeping for? He sees every person that ever died from the first one to the last. He sees you as you suffer. The death that Adam and Eve’s sin brought on to the world causes pain in the heart of the Creator.
Verse 38. “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. Jesus said, ‘Take ye away the stone’”. That’s significant.
You know, Lazarus was down and out, and when people are down and out, instead of throwing stones at them, let us remove stones that separate them from Jesus. We have just the opposite... When you hear, “Oh the pastor did this, and it’s in the newspaper,” we all pounce, or when we hear that somebody went bankrupt, “Well, they should have known better,” you know. Let’s not throw stones. Let’s remove the stones that separate them from Jesus.
So, they took away the stone. Who took away the stone? They did. Who is they? The church! The people of the church. They took away the stone. The church rolled away the stone, and if a large stone blocks the way of your spiritual relationship with Jesus, our church wants to help you remove it. We want to do everything we can to help you establish that relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s what the church is for.
Now who removed the heavy stone that was on Jesus’ tomb? Angels. They came and they rolled it away, but here, Jesus commanded them to roll the stone away. Why does Jesus..? I mean, Jesus could have called 10 thousand angels. Isn’t that the song that we heard this morning, and they could have vaporized that stone. Jesus could have placed wings on that stone and made it fly up through the skies, leaving a vapor trail of stone writing the words ‘Lazarus is alive again’. But He didn’t do that.
Why did He get them to do it? There’s a lesson here. Hang with me. Why did He get them? Because they could. Because they could. Do what you can. They couldn’t raise Lazarus, but they could remove the stone. Do what you can. In other words, let me bring this home. God wants, He wants participants more than spectators. The old saying is true, God helps them that help themselves. In other words, you need to pray for food. That’s ok. Pray for food, but get out there and plant your garden and weed your weeds. Pray that God’ll help your marriage, but be willing to go to a councilor. Do what you can with what you’ve got.
One day I made a visit. This was up in Michigan. I used to pastor in Michigan. It’s a great place, and I went to visit an overweight member, and he said, “I’ve got high blood pressure. Would you pray, Pastor, for my high blood pressure?” We talked awhile, and I had come at an unfortunate time. He was eating and he said, “Well come on in anyway. Just sit at the table.” So I watched him eat. He consumed nearly a whole bag of potato chips. Then his wife brought in a big load of french fries, and he used almost the whole shaker full of salt on those things. You know, we should pray for help, but we need to slow down on the salt. Do what you can. Roll the stone away. You get the message there?
Next come all the excuses. “Lord, we can’t roll the stone away. We can’t do what you’re asking us to do. We can’t do it. It’s been four days and he’s decomposing. We can’t roll the stone away.” The King James says, “He stinketh.” He stinketh. Why do they put stones over the entrances to tombs? To keep the stink in there. “We can’t do what You want us to do, Lord. It’s impossible what You’re asking us to do.” Do we ever say that? “It’s too late Lord. He’s already dead.” In our judgment, with our limited knowledge, we see doom where Jesus sees hope. Don’t ever not do what God is asking you to do. Be sure of what God is asking you to do. Be sure it’s Him and what it is, and then do it. Do it!
Do you have some smelly problems in your life? Perhaps there are some rotten issues that you would rather leave buried. I’m beginning to preach now. You want to let that can of worms be unopened, right? “Let’s not open that.” You don’t want it to be open, but, let me tell you. In order to receive your miracle you must be willing to unearth the innermost stinking problems that you’ve got in your life and let Jesus deal with them. Be willing to open those festering sore places. They’re never going to heal unless you open them, and invite Jesus to deal with your problems. Have you ever watched that program on TV called Dirty Jobs? Is that the name of it? Mike Rowe. He might not want to touch your stinking problems, but Jesus will always handle the smelliest issues that you can bring to Him.
I like Mary and Martha’s attitude. They may have thought, “You know, Jesus wants to see His friend one more time, and we shouldn’t open this up, but our love for Jesus is stronger than our good judgment, and so, yeah, go ahead. Roll the stone away. It’s alright.” The sisters trust in Jesus caused them to obey Jesus. You know, you’ve got to have faith, even after the funeral. So they gave permission to open the tomb, and I do think that a strong, overpowering stench came out of that tomb, and they said, “Eww!” and they held rags over their noses, and they said, “Mmmmm!” and everybody could see the dead man in there lying down, wrapped up in the wrappings and they could smell this terrible aroma. Nobody there could ever believe that he wasn’t dead. He was dead!
And Jesus began to pray. And Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank You that You have heard me.” When did He pray. He’d just started His prayer and He says, “I thank You that You have heard me.” in past tense. You know what I think Jesus did? I think Jesus prayed to His Father all the way there, that whole 20 miles. I think you need to bathe your problems in prayer just like Jesus bathed His problems in prayer. You can’t pray enough. When you’re at night and you can’t sleep, what do you do? Count sheep? No! Talk to the Shepherd.
Verse 43. “Jesus called in a loud voice,” and I’m not going to do this on this microphone. He said, “Lazarus, come forth.” Come forth. Come out. He didn’t say, “Come down,” or “Come up”. He came out. He didn’t come down from Heaven. He didn’t come up from Hell. He simply came out. He was in the tomb “sleeping in Jesus” and Jesus woke him up and asked him to come out, and prior to the resurrection, in other words, he was not in heaven. Not there. He was in the tomb, and prior to your resurrection, if you die and you’re buried and you are raised at the last day, you will not be in heaven. You will not be in Hell. You will not be in purgatory, and you will not be in limbo. Where will you be? In the grave, where Lazarus was. That’s where you’re going to be. “Sleeping in Jesus,” and when Jesus calls your name you’re going to come out, just like he came out, and you’re going to come out to a new life just like he came out with a new life. Lazarus was alive, and his new life was overwhelming evidence that Jesus Christ was divine. That Jesus was the Creator, and the priests said, “We give up. The only thing we can do to stop this wretched thing called Christianity is to kill Him and kill Lazarus,” and they were both placed on the death list. See, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus never did raise Jairus’ daughter back to life because she wasn’t really dead, but they could not say that with Lazarus.
And so the Bible continues talking about Lazarus, “He came forth, his hands and feet were,” what? “They were wrapped up with strips of linen, and there was a cloth around his face, and Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’"
He looked like a mummy. His legs were wrapped. His arms were wrapped clear down to the fingertips. His body was wrapped. His face was covered with a linen cloth. He was just like a mummy. His body was in wrappers.
And you know, the devil loves to keep your eyes bound so you can’t see God’s truth, so you can’t see God’s will. He loves to keep your hands tied up and busy with so much stuff so that you can’t do God’s work, and he keeps your feet bound so that you cannot go on the path where the light is shining for you to walk.
Jesus commanded the friends to take off the grave clothes. Why did He do that? Because the man was unable. Remember? He’s wrapped up clear to his fingertips. He had no way to get hold of anything. All he could do is shuffle out of there. Angels probably helped him up. I don’t know. Out he came. He was unable to remove the shroud himself. He had experienced death, burial and resurrection but he was still enveloped in his death pall, and how many of us experience baptism which is the true symbol of the resurrection of Christ, the death, burial and resurrection. That’s baptism, and we still wander about in our old clothes. We still wander about in the wrappings of our old man.
Now think about this. Here he was, still in the wrappings of his former death experience. We still, when we’re baptized, some of us still battle the old habits. Now be honest. That happens. Those old habits cling to us like drowning rats to a floating piece of stove wood.
And he had the power to shuffle out of there but he needed friends to remove the old clothing of the former life, and you may have some bad habits and you may need some friends to help you. You may need an accountability partner. You’ve got to have people to help you, and the friends, that’s the church. That’s your family. That’s the people that are going to help you get unshackled from the old habits of a sinful past. So get ahold of your wife, get ahold of your husband. You can’t unbind yourself. You’ve got to have help, and we’ve got to be unbound from whatever it is that keeps us and prevents us from doing God’s will.
Now imagine Lazarus, picture Lazarus there all unwound and unbound from all these wrappings. The wrappings are in a big pile, and here stands Lazarus completely unwrapped. It’s just him, and the crowd looks at Lazarus. What do they see? His skin is probably like that of a baby. It’s brand new. It’s just been created. He’s standing there with new life, and Desire of Ages says, “His eyes beam with intelligence and with a love for the Saviour.” [DA 536] Isn’t that a great description? I love Desire of Ages. Lazarus became a living demonstration that Jesus was the Christ. That Jesus was divine.
Jesus healed Lazarus, and did more than that. It was an act of absolute creation, and Lazarus was loosed for what purpose. What did Lazarus go out and do after this? He became a witness to Jesus Christ. So much of a witness, everybody would come around him, “Oh, yes, it’s really, you’re the one. We used to know you, and here you are brand-new.” I mean was just the living witness that Jesus was the Christ. And he went around doing that. He was not one of the 12 disciples but he didn’t allow that lack of position to prevent him from being a successful witness. He hit the trail running. He went out. He convinced hundreds of people, and hundreds of people joined the cause of Jesus Christ because of him, and I believe that someday, faithful Lazarus will again experience a wonderful resurrection, and this time it won’t be a resurrection so he can just die again. It’ll be a resurrection so that he can live throughout eternity. Eternal life, and he’ll be raised by his Redeemer. His Redeemer.
Jesus is our Redeemer. I want us to sing our closing hymn. I Will Sing of my Redeemer, and I want you to know that the final score in the great controversy between Christ and Satan will be death zero, and Jesus won. Jesus is the winner. Let’s sing of our Redeemer.
Hymn of Praise: #36 Oh Thou In Whose Presence Scripture: John 11:25,26 Hymn of Response: #343 I Will Sing Of My Redeemer
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 9/19/08