The Death Of Lazarus And The Love Of Christ – John 11:1-16

The Death of Lazarus and the Love of Christ

Nick Esch, 11/19/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

We just finished our series on the gospel and life; and throughout that series God’s Word kept pointing us back to God’s love for us in Christ, and the love that we should have in response to His love: love for God and love for people. And today as we pick back up our series through the Gospel of John, it just so happens that this theme of love is found in our text today.

I don’t know if you remember, but John is an incredible book; and John actual tells us why he wrote this book. Towards the end of his Gospel he says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). In other words, John was very choosy about what he put in this book; and the reason he put the things in here that he did, is so that all who read it might believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He is Lord and Savior, the Son of God, and that by believing they would have life in His name.

So we entitled our series through John, the Glory of Christ in the Gospel of John, because it is as we behold His glory in His Word that we believe and are changed and are given life… Without Christ we are dead, dead in our sin and headed towards eternal death… But Christ gives life to those who behold and believe, to those whom He loves and who love Him… And all of this shows up in our passage today, in one way or another… Love, belief, life, and death… It’s all there… And Lord willing we will behold His glory as we look at these things… So let’s look at John 11:1-16 together, and marvel at the love of Jesus and the glory of Jesus, in hopes that we might be transformed more into His image and might grow in our love and affection for Him…

Context

It’s been right at three months since we were in John, so let me refresh your memory on the context of our passage. Jesus fed the five thousand, and then He taught those around Him that He is the bread of life, and that true belief is being satisfied in Him. He healed a man blind since birth, and then taught in the temple, telling those around Him that He is the light of the world, that He brings light into darkness because He is the light… He taught on many occasions in the temple, and each time He did another miracle or taught another lesson the Jews grew more and more enraged. But Jesus did not relent in His teaching; He even told them that He is God in the flesh, and has power over life and death. And after going there the Jews sought to arrest Him, they even took up stones to kill Him; but He escaped them, and He went out into the country to continue His ministry there. And that brings us to our passage…

John 11:1-16

Most, if not all of you know this story well; but, I hope you’ll give careful attention to God’s Word today, and be open to seeing something that you may have not noticed before, or perhaps just seeing with greater clarity. Today we’re only taking on the first 16 verses because there are truths so massive here that I couldn’t bring myself to gloss over them. So, Lord willing, we’ll finish the Lazarus narrative next week; but this week I want us to look at some truths tucked away in here that get at the very core of Christianity. So let’s dive in.

Starting in verse one we read, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” Bethany was about two miles away from Jerusalem, where the Jews were that wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus and His disciples likely stayed with this family in Bethany often, as He went back and forth to Jerusalem. And we can see that there was a close relationship here by what John tells us next.

In verse two we read, “It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.” Now as I pointed out earlier, John was very choosy about what he put in this book, so we should stop and ask why he included this. Well, it seems that he’s trying to demonstrate that there was a close relationship here. This family was no stranger to Jesus. And Mary herself showed that she loved and trusted Jesus, even after all of this happens with her brother, because this scene of Mary anointing the Lord hasn’t yet happened in the Gospel. It happens just before the cross. So John is telling us that there is a loving relationship here. And that’s exactly what’s said next in verse three.

“So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’” Apparently Mary and Martha sent a messenger to Jesus to tell Him that Lazarus, who He loves, is ill. The way love is being used here is not in the way that is typically true of Jesus’ love for man; typically when we read of Jesus’ love the Greek word used is agape, which refers to divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good. But the word for love in the Greek being used here is the word that typically refers to the love among friends… it’s a relational love. So this is pointing more to Jesus the man, not so much Jesus the Son of God; though Jesus was and is 100% God and 100% man. But Jesus, just like all men desired friends and fellowship, and He had a friend in Lazarus, indeed He loved Lazarus, indeed He loves this whole family; they were close to Him…

Now look at verse four, “But 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.’” Now that may sound a bit confusing because we know that Lazarus does in fact die. But, as we’ll see next week, Jesus is going to raise Lazarus from the grave, He’s going to bring Him back to life. What Jesus is saying here is that the point of this illness is not death. You could translate this sentence literally, “This illness does not happen for death.” So if it doesn’t happen for death, if the point is not death, then what is the point? Well, Jesus tells us the point is, “the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So all that’s happening and all that is about to happen to Lazarus is for the glory of God in Christ, that His glory might be displayed.

And I would note that this is how we glorify God: we glorify the Father by making much of the Son. To glorify God we must glorify the Son of God. That’s why we have a sign in our fellowship hall that says, “It’s all about Jesus…” Because the life that’s all about Jesus is the life that glorifies God. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God, and if we would do that we must make much of Jesus in doing those things… So remember that this Thanksgiving, as you eat and drink and do all that you do… The way to glorify God is to magnify the beauty, the worth, the value, the glory of Jesus…

And here we’re told that what’s happening to Lazarus is happening for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it… So on the one hand we see that glory is what is driving Jesus’ thoughts and actions. But then in verse 5 we read, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” So as we’ve seen, Jesus really loves this family, but the love that is spoken of here isn’t the same type of love that is mentioned in verse three; this is agape love: divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good… And like glory, this love that Jesus has for Lazarus and his family likewise seems to be playing a role in His’ thoughts and actions here…

Jesus loves this family is such a way that He is sacrificially committed to their good. He is for them. He desires their flourishing and happiness… He loves them… Not just the love of a good friend, but deep gospel love—divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good, of this family’s good… He loves them like that… Yet, look at what our passage says next.

In verse six we read, “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” It says, so, as in therefore, or because… So because Jesus loves them with a great gospel love, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed put… What?! Because Jesus loves Lazarus He chooses to not go to Him as soon as possible… Because Jesus loves Lazarus in more ways than one, the greatest of which is a deep gospel love… because He loves Lazarus and this family like that, He chooses to wait two days before He does anything… Though He is God in the flesh who created all things and has power over all things, He chooses to stay put… Yet He loves Him? What’s the deal?

Is it because He knows something everyone else doesn’t? Maybe Lazarus isn’t that sick… Maybe he’s going to be fine without any help from Jesus… No! We know that’s not the case because Jesus Himself says in verses eleven through fourteen that Lazarus died…

So why doesn’t He go? Well, it’s not like Jesus is afraid of going back to Jerusalem; I mean in verse seven we read, “Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’” There was no fear in Christ at all here. In verse eight the disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” The disciples certainly feared, but not Him. In verses nine and ten Jesus 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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Here He’s expressing His confidence in God’s sovereign plan.

In the Jewish world at this time, most people worked twelve hours since there was generally twelve hours of daylight. By the light of day it was safe to work; generally it was only in the dark that danger laid waiting… Jesus uses this to communicate that as long as He is doing the will of the Father there is nothing to fear. To walk in the day is to walk in obedience to God, and Jesus was and is always obedient to the Father. Jesus always perfectly lived for the glory of God; and here He’s saying that to walk in the day is to live for God’s glory. And when we leverage our lives for the glory of God there is nothing to fear, come what may; we are immortal until our work is done. And that seems to be why He didn’t go to Lazarus at first, and it seems to be why He is ready to boldly go to Lazarus now… He was submitted to God’s sovereign plan; He would not go anywhere unless He was led by the Father. And when the Father led Him to go He was always obedient to go, no matter what awaited Him. Though the cross is not far down the road, Jesus knew that no one could harm Him until God willed it; He was immortal until His work was done, and likewise for us, when we leverage our lives for the glory of God we are immortal until our work is done.

And notice Jesus applies all of this to His disciples as He ties this illustration directly to Himself. He says that those who walk in the day do not stumble because they see the light of the world. And it wasn’t long before this that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). To leverage our lives for the glory of God is to follow Jesus; when we see Him for who He truly is—the light of the world—and we follow Him, we walk in His light… And as we already saw, the way to glorify God is to magnify the beauty, the worth, the value, the glory of Jesus… That’s the very reason we exist: to magnify the glory of God by making much of Jesus… And beloved, when we give our lives to this, no matter how risky it may seem, we can trust that we are immortal until our work is done. Not a hair of your head will perish. Nothing is outside of God’s control… Jesus knew this, and He did not fear; so neither should we… It’s not that we will not suffer if we leverage our lives for the glory of Christ, it’s just that living for Jesus is better than not suffering. And suffering inside the will of God is nothing compared to the eternal suffering that is awaiting everyone outside of Christ; that’s what Jesus is referring to when He says, “if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Christians follow the light of the world, and that light lives within them; to walk in darkness is to not be a Christian… And beloved, walking in darkness is what should be feared, not walking in faithfulness to God. But, Jesus didn’t fear, and we’re living for Him neither should we.

But, if Jesus wasn’t in fear of being killed by the Jews, why didn’t He leave to go to Lazarus two days earlier? Jesus is God, He knows all things, so He must have known when He decided not to go to help, that Lazarus was going to die. And Lazarus did die; that’s what Jesus says in verses eleven through fourteen: “After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died…’”

Well, so far Jesus has said that it’s because of glory and because of love that He didn’t go to help Lazarus, and then from here, in verse fifteen He gives us a bit more insight into why He’s doing what He’s doing. After He tells His disciples that Lazarus died, He says, “and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” When He says “you” here, that first applies to His disciples that are with Him, but it likewise applies to every follower of Christ since then. So He’s doing what He’s doing, He allowed Lazarus to suffer and die because of His love for Lazarus and His family, and because of His glory, and for the sake of every person who would ever follow Jesus, so that they and so that we would believe… And you see, this brings it all together for us…

Jesus knew good and well that Lazarus was going to die, and this was all a part of God’s grand plan. As Jesus said in verse eleven, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” Lazarus wasn’t sleeping, he was dead, but Jesus was going to raise Him from the dead; that’s why He waited. He let Lazarus die so that He could bring Him back to life. And as we’ll see next week, He will live again; Jesus will raise Him from the dead. He’s now going to Him to awaken him… And for Jesus it’s just that easy; for the God of the universe in the flesh, giving life to the dead is just as simple as waking someone up from a nap.

So Jesus lets Lazarus die, so that His glory would be displayed through his resurrection. He loves Lazarus and He loves His disciples, all of His disciples, including Lazarus and His family, and including us, by allowing Lazarus to suffer and die. And remember, the love He loves us with here, the love He loves Lazarus with here is divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good. And the ultimate good here in His love is helping Lazarus, helping Lazarus’ family, helping His disciples, helping us see and savior His glory that we might believe all the more, or believe for the very first time. If you think back to why John said he wrote what he did in this book, why he included this miracle of Christ, and every other miracle of Christ in his Gospel this ties right in. He said, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). So think about that; that means Jesus let Lazarus die that he might have life—that he might believe and have life in His name. The purpose of the death of Lazarus was life…

And friends, this grand purpose lies behind everything God allows in this broken world. Now we might be tempted to think that the suffering Lazarus and his family went through was really no big deal, because in just a short while Jesus is going to raise him from the dead. But he still died. He still suffered. His family still suffered. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all desperate and scared, and they all thought Jesus wasn’t coming; no doubt in their suffering they may have thought He didn’t care. Their pain was real, their suffering was real, and Lazarus’ death was real… and death hurts!!!

It was just over a week ago that I was preaching the funeral of a family member… a family member who knows Jesus, praise God… She too, in a short while—in the scheme of eternity—will be raised from the dead in the resurrection… but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt… It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt now… The pain of death is real… The pain and suffering of this broken world are real… When people die it hurts; everything within us cries out, “This isn’t right!” As we’ll see next week, even Jesus weeps when He gets to tomb of Lazarus. Resurrection or not, the sting of death is still very real in this broken world… But death does not get the last say! The sting of death will be removed!

But all of this pain, all of this suffering, for the Christian is doing something—it’s working towards something… It’s working for a great good, the greatest good… For God’s glory and the good of His people. That’s why Jesus said for His disciples sake, for our sake He is glad that He wasn’t there to keep Lazarus from dying. He was glad, He was delighted, He rejoiced because in and through the death and resurrection of Lazarus, His glory would be displayed. And in seeing His glory, in beholding His glory we are brought into His rejoicing, we are brought into His joy.

You see, what you need, what I need, what we need more than life itself, more than comfort or ease, far more than a lack of suffering, indeed more than anything else in all of this world is glory. We need to see, we need to behold the glory of Jesus; we need to enjoy and experience the glory of God in Christ more than anything else in all the world. That is what we need… And that is what love is… Love gives us what we need and what we need is Jesus…

Jesus said He’s glad that all of this happens this way, for our sake, that we may believe; and remember how Jesus defined belief: when He taught that He is the bread of life He was explaining that true belief is being satisfied in Him. That’s why we need to behold His glory, that’s why He’s glad that His glory is on display… Because as we see His glory on display, we see Him for who He truly is: the all glorious God of the universe, the all sufficient one who will truly satisfy our souls…

This answers the question that we have been asking this morning: how can Jesus truly love Lazarus and his family, how can He love them with agape love, sacrificial love, and yet let Lazarus die? How can He love this family and yet let them suffer? How can He love us and let us suffer?… Because He truly loves them, He truly loves us by giving us what we need most, not simply what we want. Of course they want comfort, of course they don’t want to suffer… But what they need more than anything else is Jesus… They need to behold His glory and to believe… They need to have their hearts so transformed that they are satisfied in Christ alone… And that’s what we all need… And that’s what He was seeking to give us all here… God ordained the death of Lazarus for the life of all of His people, that we might behold glory and believe…

The world says that to love is to give someone whatever they want; we must affirm them, we must approve of them, we must tolerate and cater to their every desire… But God’s Word says that to love is to give someone what they need most… even if that conflicts with everything they want, even if that means that you don’t affirm them, that you don’t approve of them, that you don’t cater to their every desire… You see, it’s not loving just to give people whatever they want if what they want isn’t going to bring them any lasting joy. But as I said already, in seeing the glory of Jesus we are brought into His joy, and His joy is eternal, it last forever. So, love then, is doing whatever is necessary to help people behold and treasure Christ in all His glory, above all else… That’s how Jesus loves Lazarus, loves Mary and Martha, loves His disciples, and loves us here…

Now you might be thinking, “But all of the sacrifice is falling on Lazarus and His family here… Not Jesus…” Well, it may seem that way, but in going to Lazarus Jesus is going to the cross. In verse sixteen we see Thomas—called the Twin here, but known to most of us as Thomas the doubter—say to the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas and the disciples knew that if Jesus went to Lazarus He was going right back into the hands of the Jews that wanting to kill Him. And they assumed that if the Jews killed Jesus they would kill His disciples as well.

But Jesus, knowing that the cross was before Him, goes to Lazarus… In love He commits Himself to go to this family, and in love He commits Himself to go to the cross to bring us into His family. Just as the purpose of the death of Lazarus was life, so likewise, on a much grander scale, was the purpose of the death of Jesus life… eternal life… life abundant… a life overflowing joy for all eternity with Christ… Beloved, Jesus did whatever was necessary to help us behold and treasure Him in all His glory, above all else… He went to the cross. He lived, died, and rose again to bring us into this… So that’s my prayer for us this morning: that we would behold His glory and believe… really believe, where we are completely satisfied in Him, where we treasure Jesus above all else…

Closing

Friends, we all have a belief problem, and that’s ultimately because we have a spiritual vision problem—we don’t see Jesus rightly… If we did we’d never give into sin, we’d always live lives totally committed to His glory and the good of people… But we don’t; we slip and fall, we fail and we falter… We are half hearted in our discipleship and we constantly settle for so much less than Jesus. But God in His kindness does whatever is necessary, again and again, to wake us up to the fact that Jesus is better than everything… He’s better than our sin, He’s better than our comfort, He’s even better than our very lives… That’s why Jesus let Lazarus die; his death was an instrument of life; it was a way for Jesus to display His glory that His people might see, believe, and have life abundantly…

Suffering comes for us all… And one day we will all die… But God in His kindness is working in and through all of that to display His glory and to strengthen our faith… He’s working all things together for our good and His glory… And He even uses the good, the bad, and the ugly in this world to bring people to faith… So if you haven’t truly believed in Jesus yet, I invite you to do so now; turn from your sin and trust in Christ; see Him as the all satisfying treasure that He is… See His great love for you and be changed… Jesus loves us at great cost to Himself, the greatest cost—His very life… And His love shows itself to be true love because it is a love that opens our eyes to His glory and enables our hearts to be eternally satisfied in Him… That’s what true love is… And like Thomas here, we are to follow Christ in this calling… We are to embrace the call to die, which is really a call to love… To give our lives for the glory of Christ and the good of His people… To pick up our cross and to follow Him… To pour out our lives for that fame of Christ among all peoples…

So this week, when you gather with loved ones around a table of food for Thanksgiving, remember that as good as all of that is, none of it compares to Jesus; He is the ultimate good… He is what we should be supremely thankful for… He loves us with a sacrificial love, a love where He sacrificed all for our good… And our great good is knowing Him, loving Him, and being satisfied in Him above all else. That’s why He displays His glory, and that’s how we display His glory… Trials will come, but through them all He’s loving us, and growing us… God does what He does for His glory and the good of His people… And even though it may be hard to see that sometimes, we must trust that His ultimate aim is actually to enable us to see His glory all the more, that we might believe and have life…