John 11:34 – And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
Our last post ended with Jesus deeply grieving as he looked upon the sorrow of his friends, Mary and Martha. He was troubled by the havoc and destruction that sin was wreaking upon his creation – those he made in his own image, those into whom he breathed the breath of life and those whom he deeply loved.
As he stood there grieving with the family, the other mourners gathered around. There was probably quite a crowd.
At that point Jesus asks the sisters to take him to the grave. It is important to note that this was not really a request for information. God often asks us questions when he already knows the answer:
- When God asked Cain where his brother was, he already knew Abel was dead (Genesis 4:9-10).
- When God asked Elijah why he was at Mount Horeb, he already knew Elijah was afraid of Jezebel (I Kings 19:13-14).
- When Jesus asked Judas why he had come to the Garden of Gethsemane, he already knew it was to betray him (Matthew 26:46-48).
In this case, Jesus already knew where the grave was located. So what was the purpose of the question?
- Going straight to the grave would have implied some kind of collusion between him and the family. The unbelieving Jews would have accused Jesus of perpetrating a false miracle.
- By asking to see the grave, Jesus diverts the grief of Mary and Martha while at the same time raising their expectations of a miracle.
- Jesus waited until all of the mourners had gathered around Mary and Martha before asking the question. Thus, it was a natural thing for all of them to accompany Jesus to the grave. This put all of them (including the influential Jews and unbelievers) in a position to be eye-witnesses to the miracle.
John 11:35 – Jesus wept.
As we discussed at the beginning of our study, one of the main focuses of the gospel of John is the divinity of Jesus. This is a point that he stresses over and over. But at the same time, we know that Jesus was also human. Before giving proof of his divinity, Jesus allowed himself to experience the intense grief and sorrow that all of us have known at one time or another.
This is consistent with what the Old Testament prophets said of the Messiah – he would be a man of sorrows/grief:
Isaiah 53:3 – He [the Messiah] is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
His tears are also evidence of the compassion he had for a lost and dying world, enslaved in sin and subject to death.
John 11:36 – So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
The Jews took the tears of Jesus as evidence of his love for Lazarus. They were right to do so; Jesus loved him very much.
But at the same time, Jesus demonstrated his love for us in a much more powerful way – he died for us.
John 15:13 – Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
We need never question the love of Christ for us. God could simply have written us off like a bad debt, or completely destroyed us. Instead, he left the splendor and glory of heaven, came down to earth, subjected himself to a mortal body, then laid down his life so we could be reconciled to God. What more could he have done to demonstrate his love for us?
John 11:37 – But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Others interpreted the tears of Jesus in a very different way.
The death of Lazarus was obviously a source of sorrow to Jesus. According to some of the Jews, if Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, he would have. The fact that Jesus didn’t prevent it, led them to incorrectly assume he couldn’t.
This is similar to the assumption people made when Jesus hung on the cross:
Matthew 27:42 – He [Jesus] saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
People wrongly assumed that Jesus didn’t willingly go to the cross. They also mistakenly assumed he couldn’t come down from the cross and save himself from physical death.
They failed to consider that divine power is always directed by divine wisdom. Furthermore, God’s ways are not our ways. We cannot make assumptions about the power and authority of God based on the things we see around us. Christians may be persecuted or afflicted but that does not mean that God does not love us or that he does not have the power to deliver/rescue us. It means that from God’s perfect eternal perspective, these circumstances are beneficial for us.
These unbelievers thought Jesus had limited power, but he will soon prove them wrong.
John 11:38 – Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
Our translation says that as Jesus arrived at the tomb he was ‘deeply moved’. The King James Version says Jesus ‘again groaned in himself’. Why would Jesus be deeply moved/groaning again?
- The most obvious reason was that as they approached the actual grave, the mourning of Mary and Martha became even more intense and Jesus was touched by their grief.
- He was also acutely aware of the misery mankind was experiencing under the bondage of sin and death.
- Some think that Jesus was moved because he was going to call Lazarus away from the presence of God and back into this sinful, troublesome world.
- It is also possible that Jesus was grieved by the unbelief and hardness of heart exhibited by the Jews who were present (Matthew 23:37). This must have been a source of sorrow to Jesus all throughout his ministry. The Jews were God’s chosen people. They had the promises of the first covenant. God longed to gather them to himself and bring them into the age of grace. They only thing that prevented that from happening was their unbelief:
Luke 13:34 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!
Is there something that is keeping you in unbelief? Just because something hasn’t happened until now, doesn’t mean that God won’t or can’t do it. Someone may have told you that ‘God doesn’t do that today’, but they are wrong. Nothing is impossible with God.
John 11:39 – Jesus 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.”
Why does Martha raise this objection? Does she do it out of respect for her brother? Perhaps she doesn’t want his decaying body to be a stench and a spectacle to her friends. Is she trying to spare everyone the unpleasant experience of the smell of death? Or do her words reflect the language of unbelief?
Look at her answer again – her unbelief is easily evident in her statement. We could paraphrase her words this way: ‘Jesus, it is too late for you to intervene in his case. His body is not just dead, it has begun to rot. It is utterly impossible for something that dead to live again.’ In other words, she has given up this situation as hopeless.
She wasn’t the only one that thought this way. The people at the gravesite were well aware that after four days in the heat anything that was dead was going be putrid and the smell of death/decay would be unmistakable. And that was exactly the point.
The noses of the witnesses were just as important as their eyes. While no one physically went into the tomb to see the decaying body, they all knew Lazarus was dead because they could smell him. You might be able to fake being dead, but you can’t fake the smell of rotting flesh.
John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
When Jesus replied to Martha, he could just have easily said ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you would see the resurrection of your brother’, or something similar to that. But instead he replies in terms that apply to believers in every age.
Stop right now and consider a circumstance in your life that you want God to touch, but at the same time it seems hopeless to you. I am confident that you have one, because we all do! Now picture Jesus saying this same phrase to you: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Jesus saying those words directly to me, it really encourages my faith. It makes me realize that God is acutely aware of my circumstance, that he has heard every prayer I have prayed, and that he has the situation well under control. In fact, it even makes me a little embarrassed that I could have doubted his intervention in my situation!
So let us remember that God is always working in our lives, even when we don’t see it or when we don’t understand his entire plan. Our faith can rest on the certainty that God never fails; he always keeps his promises:
Jeremiah 1:12 – Then said the LORD unto me, You have well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.
It is also good to remind ourselves that God works in our lives in proportion to our faith:
Matthew 17:20 – And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, Remove from here to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
So let’s grasp and hold onto the promises God has given us. Let’s speak them out loud and claim them for our own.
John 11:41 – So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”
Obviously, Martha was in charge of the funeral; the servants were not going to remove the stone without her permission. So for a brief moment, everything came to a standstill while Martha made a decision. Would she follow her instincts and prevent the grave from being opened? Or would she change her mind and allow the stone to be removed?
In order for God to proceed in her situation, Martha had to change her mind/thinking. She had to let God do things at his time, in his way regardless of when and how she wanted the situation to unfold.
In other words, she can’t tell God what she wants, and then proceed to tell him how to do it. While that makes perfect sense, we have all done that exact thing! At one time or another, we have all told God specifically how we wanted him to answer our petitions.
But if you look back, you might just discover that you are glad you didn’t get what you asked for! Because the truth is that God knows best. The answer he gives you is far better for you than anything you could have imagined.
So the stone is rolled away, and Jesus begins to pray.
When you pray, what posture do you normally take? When I was growing up, we were always taught to close our eyes and bow our heads. While there is nothing wrong with that, it isn’t the only manner in which to pray.
When Jesus lifts his eyes to heaven, he is using an outward sign to express what is going on in his heart. Jesus looks towards heaven, fixing his attention on the Father – the source of all life and help. By doing so, he overlooks the grave where Lazarus was lying. In other words, he did not dwell upon the (seemingly) impossible situation before him; he focused his faith on the power of God.
Scripture tells us that Abraham did the same thing as he waited for the impossible to happen in his life (the birth of Isaac). In fact, we are specifically told that Abraham refused to look at/consider the futility of his situation:
Romans 4:19 – And being not weak in faith, he [Abraham] considered not his own body as now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:
Instead, he kept his attention and faith focused on the promise of God:
Romans 4:18, 21 – Who [Abraham] against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall your descendants be. And being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he was able also to perform.
When we find ourselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable, we should follow the example of Abraham and Jesus; we should focus on the power of God, not the limits of our situation!
We also find that Jesus had complete confidence in approaching the Father through prayer. He had no doubts at all. He was fully convinced that God was listening.
John 11:42 – “I 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.”
We too can have the same confidence. God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalms 121:4); he hears prayer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The writer of Hebrews instructs us to boldly enter the throne room of grace so that we can receive grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Furthermore, the scriptures tell us that when we ask anything according to his will, God hears us:
1 John 5:14 – And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us:
God always hears when his children pray; he heard Jesus and he hears you too. However, there is a very important detail we need to discuss. We pray because we need God to intervene in our circumstances, but that was not the case for Jesus. He didn’t need to ask his Father to raise Lazarus from the dead because he possessed resurrection power within himself.
Furthermore, the will of Jesus was always in perfect harmony with the will of his Father. Therefore, God was always ready to grant any request that Jesus made. And since Jesus knew his Father would always grant his requests, there was really no need for Jesus to even ask.
That being the case, why did Jesus pray?
The prayer was for the benefit of the people present. Remember, many of the religious leaders blasphemously claimed that Jesus worked miracles by the power of the devil. In this instance, he purposely appeals to God through prayer to prove once again that he was commissioned and approved by God.
John 11:43 – When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
Ancient magicians who worked wonders by the power of Satan did so by whispering, muttering or reciting incantations. Jesus does the exact opposite of this. He asserted his resurrection power in a clear, concise, loud voice. He addresses Lazarus as one would address a friend that he wanted to wake from sleep.
The power of raising the dead is the highest power we can imagine. It entails having power and authority in the spiritual realm so that you can recall a departed soul. Then that soul must be reunited to the body and life restored to it. Anyone who can do that has to be omnipotent (unlimited in power and ability) and therefore divine.
Jesus wielded this power through his spoken word; even death is subject to his commands. Upon hearing the voice of the Son of God, the dead man was instantly turned from a putrefying pile of flesh into a living, breathing healthy human.
Here is the best part: This is a striking illustration of the general resurrection which will take place at the end of this age. At that time, all the dead will be raised by the voice/word of Jesus:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 – For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Jesus has just demonstrated that he can and will bring about the resurrection of mankind by his own power and authority. How important it is that each one of us prepare for the moment when we will hear the call of his voice!
John 11:44 – 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.”
Lazarus came out of the grave in the same manner in which he was laid there – wrapped in a shroud, with his head in a separate cloth. This gave the witnesses an opportunity to touch Lazarus as they removed his grave clothes. They could verify that he was not a ghost. It was really Lazarus in the flesh, restored to life.
So the witnesses have seen, smelled, heard and touched the miracle of resurrection. What further proof could be given?
John 11:45 – Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…
Many (not all) of the Jews that were present acknowledged the validity of this miracle. As a result, they were willing to accept that Jesus was the Messiah.
Sadly, there were some who persisted in unbelief and continued to reject Jesus as Messiah. We will look at these people and their actions in our next post.
In the meantime, let’s review a point we made early on in our study of John chapter 11. Specifically, Jesus will allow us to suffer if that suffering results in our good or his glory.
Mary and Martha definitely suffered at the death of their brother. We have evidence that, as a result of that suffering, they questioned God’s love for them. At the time, they did not understand the purpose of their suffering.
But in time they came to see the unfolding of God’s plan. God restored Lazarus and used the suffering of this family to bring many Jews into the kingdom of heaven. God also used it to give us a sure and certain example of his resurrection power; we can have faith that he will keep his word and resurrect all people at the end of this age.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Are you experiencing some suffering right now? Are you unable to see the purpose behind it? If so, take heart – you are in good company. Each one of us has experienced these same feelings.
When you find yourself in that situation, here is an encouraging thought you can hold onto: your suffering will not be in vain. God used the suffering of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to bring many people into the kingdom of God. You can rest assured that there is a purpose in your suffering as well, even though you don’t see it right at this moment.
Let me offer you some relief:
In this post we saw that Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. His tears reflected the love he had for his friend. We also noted that Jesus demonstrated his love for us in a much more powerful way – by dying for our sin.
Satan often tries to convince us that God does not love us when we mess up or sin. But nothing could be further from the truth! God’s love for us is not dependent upon our performance. He loves us because he is our Creator and we love his Son. So if you sin, repent and move on – but don’t EVER allow Satan to convince you that God does not love you!
Let me offer you some strength:
Sometimes it seems like the pain, suffering and struggles of this life will never end. But I assure you, they will! In the meantime, remember that God has made you and I victorious over the world through the power of Jesus Christ. Amen!
1 John 5:4 – For whoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.