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Let’s pray. O Lord, as we come to Your Word, give us now ears to hear, eyes to see, minds to understand, hearts to believe, and wills to obey. Lead us, O Lord, as a good shepherd. May we know Your majesty and may we know Your tender mercy. In Christ we pray. Amen.
It seems like every age of the church has a different set of theological issues to define and defend. In Luther’s time the issue was justification. In the 17th century, you remember teaching on the Canons of Dort last year, it was the nature of grace and God’s electing grace. In Augustin’s time the issue was the nature of man. In our day, I don’t have to tell you, that the issues surround sexuality, the uniqueness of Christ.
In the very first centuries of the Church’s history, the controversies tended to focus on God and then related to that on the person of Jesus Christ. From the very beginning, followers of Jesus worshipped Jesus as God. It is very clear in what they’re doing, in bowing before Him, in giving Him worship, and then in the early church singing songs to Him. These are the things you only do for a god. Even though they had been with Him and they could all recognize first-hand that He was a man.
In large part, the first few centuries of theological controversy were taken up with how do we reconcile these two things, which we see plainly in these letters from Paul and these Gospels. And we know, in the first century from first-hand experience that this Jesus we worshipped as a God and this Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth and he was a man.
If you know something about Church history, you know that in those early centuries, on the one hand there were the Arians, followers of the North African theologian Arius. Arianism taught that Jesus Christ was a created being, that the son was of a similar essence to the father, but not quite the same essence with the father, so he was like God, he was very close to God, he was not fully God in every way.
In many ways, it’s opposite error in the early church. If that was Arianism, there was an opposite error called Docetism. Docetism was not a specific teaching, but rather a label for a group of similar heresies, all of which denied the full humanity of Jesus Christ. The heresy is called Docetism not because it’s named after somebody named Docet, but because it comes from a Greek word “dokein,” which means “to seem” or “to appear.” So these were a constellation of ideas and teachings, all of which said, “Well, Jesus only seemed to be human. He only appeared to be fully man.” The Docetists were those who believed that Jesus appeared a certain way, and yet how could he really be fully God and fully man.
So if some of the Jews, and then the Arians, had a hard time imagining that the man Jesus could be fully God, then you had many Greeks and philosophers who had a difficult time imagining that the God that they were now worshiping and singing songs to and praying in His name that, could He really be fully man?
Both errors, Arianism and every variation of Docetism, are heretical. And, is almost always the case with heresy, started off with good intentions.
I hope you understand that when it comes to pointing out error in our own day that many times heresy comes through people who are quoting Bible verses, who may have been nice pious-looking individuals who had good intentions at first to protect certain truths of the faith.
So Arianism says we must defend the majesty of God. And so how can we say that this human Christ was fully God? That will devalue the majesty of God. And Docetism says well, we want to defend the perfection of God, so we can’t have a divine Christ with all of the perfections that attend deity be fully human.
You see, almost every heresy starts with the desire to affirm or to protect some important truth, some important truth that has either gotten imbalanced or has not been sufficiently articulated with its corresponding complementary truth. When you lose sight of equally important truths, or ignore Scripture’s complementary teachings, you end up imbalanced and untrue to the Bible, even if your original aim was to try to defend the Bible.
It’s like G. K. Chesterton in that brilliant book Orthodoxy. Now, it’s a wonderful book to read. He was Roman Catholic and there’s a few digs against Calvinists, so just set that aside, but it really is a wonderful book where he speaks of the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. When it comes to the fundamental articles of the faith, he argues the church cannot afford to swerve the slightest bit from the right to the right or to the left. “It was only a matter of an inch,” he’s speaking about these early heresies, “it was only a matter of an inch, but an inch is everything when you are balancing.”
Isn’t that true? Think of doctrinal truths sometimes as walking across a balance beam or a tightrope and you might think, “well, what does it matter a few inches here or there?” Well, it matters everything. If you are just a little bit too far this way or too far this way and you fall to your death. And so it is with these precious truths.
Now what does that have to do with the text here in John chapter 11? We’re going to read it, but what I want you to notice is how Jesus is every bit as human as we are, yet without sin, and at the same time, in this passage, He does things which no mere human can possibly do. We see here a savior who is fully human and fully divine. Which means, if you’re a Christian, you have at your bedside, in your corner, on the throne of heaven, pleading for you, you have this weeping Messiah who works wonders.
And that’s what we need. Not simply one who is sympathetic with us; anyone can find someone’s shoulder to cry on. Nor do we want someone who is just raw power and authority, who rules from a distance, a great and powerful Oz.
But when you have that God, that perfection and that character, who takes the form of a servant, and weeps with those who weep, you have a God unlike any other god anywhere, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son who came to weep, to show the Father’s intense love and compassion for His people.
Follow along as I read from John chapter 11, beginning at verse 28. And we pick up the story, as we’ve been going through it the last few weeks, with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha seeking Jesus’ help.
“When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When 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. Now 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.’ 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. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?'”
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. 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.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ 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.'”
The Jesus we meet at Lazarus’ tomb is a wonderfully human savior. The Gospels consistently portray Jesus as a real human being, liable to weakness, limitation, emotion, and pain. Part of the miracle and the mystery of the incarnation is the remarkable condescension of the Son of God that He in His incarnate state is able to do all of these un-God-like things. God does not feel pain, God does not weep, God as God cannot die.
The Son of God wept. The Son of God felt pain. The Son of God died.
He hungered, Luke 4. He slept, Luke 8. He felt tired after long journeys, John 4. He pined for Jerusalem, Matthew 23. He displayed great sorrow in the garden, Matthew 26. He flared His anger in the temple, Matthew 21. He had to grow and learn and mature like other humans, not mature from a state of sin-full-ness to sin-less-ness, but He had to learn to read and to write, Luke chapter 2.
In other words, He felt what humans feel. And in this passage, that means anger, sorrow, and compassion.
Did you notice everyone in this scene is sad? We’ve already met Martha on the road and we’ve seen of her distress. Now we meet Mary and she falls at Jesus’ feet weeping. Then we see again some of the Jews from the town who are consoling her and they, too, are weeping. And finally we see Jesus and we come to that dramatic statement in verse 35, the shortest verse in the Bible. My kids often say “Dad, Mr. Davis asks you to pick the verse that we have to memorize each year, could you do John 11:35 next year?” [laughter] No, but it is a powerful verse, worth memorizing. Jesus wept.
Not only that, verse 33 says He was deeply moved in His spirit. It’s the same verb used again in verse 38, “then Jesus deeply moved again.” And if you read the commentaries, they would all have several pages about this particular Greek verb, “en brimaomai.” It’s difficult to translate. Here the ESV, this is a fine translation, “deeply moved,” so long as we understand that He’s deeply moved with more than simple sorrow. This verb is used three other times in the New Testament. Matthew 9, verse 30, it’s translated as “sternly warned”; Mark 1:43, “sternly charged”; and Mark 14:5, “scolded.” So you can hear from those three other instances that there’s something to this word which speaks of some righteous anger and indignation. That’s why, if you look at the footnote in the ESV, it says at the bottom “or was indignant.” It can mean sorrow, it can mean anger, it can mean both, which is why the ESV says “deeply moved,” and then in the Greek it says “in His spirit,” which is just the Jewish way of saying “internally,” “in His heart,” He’s deeply moved. Not only with sorrow, and weeping because Lazarus has died, but with anger, indignation. The Greek poet Aeschylus centuries earlier used this same Greek word to refer to horses snorting.
So why is Jesus indignant? Why is He deeply moved?
Well, some people say, “well, He must be, He’s deeply angered because of their unbelief, because He’s already said that He can raise Him from the dead, and they’ve seen Him do miracles and signs, and now they’re coming again and they’re weeping, and so He’s angry at their unbelief.”
Well, it’s true, we will see, Lord willing, when we come back next week that there is continuing unbelief even at this great penultimate sign in the Gospel. And yet, no, that doesn’t fit the context. Perhaps that might make sense of verse 33, but certainly not verse 38 when He comes to the tomb.
No, it’s not anger at unbelief, but anger at death itself. He is indignant in the face of seeing things the way they are not supposed to be.
Have you ever stopped for a moment. There’s a familiar passage to think, well, why exactly is Jesus weeping? And we automatically think “well, He’s sad because He loved Lazarus,” and that’s what they say later, “see how He loved him?” So He’s just, He’s so sad, his friend died. Well, that’s part of it, but Jesus knows that in about a minute He’s coming back. So there has to be more than that.
You know, if you were will all of your friends and your family and you’re, you’re missing a child and you’re frantic and there’s weeping and there’s wailing and you know that he’s just hiding behind the tree right there, he’s been there for the last two hours and you didn’t see him, it’d be hard to have the same sort of emotion that everyone else has when you know “hey, boy, come on out, there he is.”
So there must be more than just Lazarus. No, Jesus is affected by death itself. By this entire scene of human sorrow. He is not unaffected by human suffering. He is agitated by death. You could say devastated by death. Death has reduced Him to tears. That’s why He weeps, because His heart goes out and He sees there is dear Mary and Martha, and they’re so sad. And His friend, He’s going to see His friend in just a moment, but do you think something of the, the odor struck him. “There’s my friend, he’s decomposing.”
And beyond that, the wailing, weeping women. And beyond that to see this world of grief and pain, and He of all people, as God created all things through His Word, through the Son, understands this is not the way things were supposed to be.
Friends, it’s okay, in fact, it’s good if you look out at the world from time to time and you think that. People aren’t supposed to be killed on Easter Sunday morning. People aren’t supposed to be shot in schools. People aren’t supposed to get cancer. People aren’t supposed to die in their 20s and 30s. All these things, this is not the way that the world was meant to be.
And so Jesus weeps.
Calvin says Christ does not approach the sepulcher as an idle spectator, but as a champion which prepares for a contest, and therefore we need not wonder that He again groans for the violent tyranny of death which He had to conquer is placed before His eyes.
Don’t forget, death is an enemy. Jesus was never friendly towards sin. He was never friendly toward unrepentant sinners. He was never friendly toward religious hypocrisy, and He was never friendly toward death. He did not accept death as just the natural order of things. Death represents a corruption of the way the world is supposed to work. It is the wages of sin.
Now, yes, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. But Christians, we do mourn.
And let me say this carefully, because none of us will, will be righteously angry with the same purity that Jesus is, and yet surely Jesus gives us permission, that there is a way to not only grieve in the face of death, but be indignant in the face of death. Not angry at God, God, shake my fist at You, why could You do this to me? Why did You take him away? Why did You take her from me?
But truly a righteous indignation at death itself, and all that it does and all that it represents, all that it steals from us. Death is the last enemy to be overthrown, the final holdout in Christ’s war against the evil one. When death is finally turned back, then the curse will have been reversed, but until that day, we will weep, as Jesus wept, and we will have occasion to be deeply moved, snorting even, when we see the world not the way it’s supposed to be.
And yet, the power of this passage is not simply that a friend or a teacher would weep. Don’t think Jesus is just a sympathizer. We have many sympathizers. He is a sympathetic high priest. What makes this passage so powerful and so striking is not just the weeping, but who it is that is weeping. It’s Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of Man, the Son of God. The one who just moments after demonstrating His identification with humanity is going to demonstrate His identification with deity.
And so we come to the resurrection itself, of Lazarus. You notice verse 40, He gently corrects Martha: Did I not tell you? Remember? We went through this. You would see God’s glory.
And then He prays, verse 41 and 42, very noticeably He prays out loud not because the Father needs to hear, but because the crowd needs to hear it. The very first thing He says is “I thank You that You have heard Me.” So, in some unknown way, the Son has already prayed to the Father, and in praying the Father has already indicated that He will grant the Son’s request to raise Lazarus. “You have heard me, I thank you, and now I am offering this publicly so that everyone else can see what You are doing to bring glory to Your name and to glorify the One whom You have sent.”
And then verse 43, “He cries out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, outside.'” So you could translate it “Here! Now!” And I love the simplicity and the brilliance of how John writes this, verse 44, “The man who had died came out.”
I tell you, that doesn’t happen when I tell my kids, “get out here! Come downstairs! Sit at the table!” It never happens. [laughter] “And they came.” No. [laughter] And they’re not dead. [laughter]
Lazarus is. And as you’ve heard the quip many times and it’s true, if He had not prefaced His command with “Lazarus,” all of the dead would have risen from their graves, such is the power of His voice. “Outside,” and he comes out.
It’s not a hard thing for God to raise the dead.
But there’s even more going on that that. You may know your Bibles and know that there are, on occasions, other restorations of life, days of Elijah and Elisha. What makes this unique? Well, what’s unique here is not only the power and authority with which Jesus does it, but the way in which He is foreshadowing His own resurrection, which will far surpass this resurrection.
Maybe you haven’t thought of this before. Well, why, why, why Easter? Why is that such a big deal? Jesus rose. We’ve already had, we already see that a dead man comes back to life.
Well, but there is an eternal difference between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of Lazarus, and were meant to see it here in John’s Gospel.
You notice that when Lazarus comes forth, verse 44, his hands and feet are bound with linen strips and his face is wrapped with a cloth.
In his commentary, D. A. Carson explains the burial practice that the Jews would have enacted. The body was placed on a large sheet and it was more than twice as long as it needed to be so that you would fold over the body length-wise, and it was folded over from the head down to the feet, and then the ankles were bound together and you can picture this huge sort of sack, then tied together at the feet, and then the arms would be tied to the body and the face would be covered with a separate sort of cloth.
Lazarus needed to be unbound, if you can picture this. He’s wrapped up, almost mummy-like, so that he’s, he’s shuffling. He’s, he’s waddling, he’s hopping out. He needs to be unbound. He literally comes out of the grave in the bands of death, brought from the darkness of the tomb into the light of day.
Jesus shows, you remember this line from earlier in the Gospels, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus shows He has the power to enter the strong man’s house, bind him and plunder his goods. He has entered the strong man’s house, that is the house of death, and He has plundered his treasure and He has brought forth Lazarus.
Now we’re not there yet at the end of the story, to get to Jesus’ resurrection, but when we do, you will note, and I will remind you, that there is a striking contrast between Jesus’ resurrection and Lazarus.
Turn just quickly to the end of John to John chapter 19, verse 40, Jesus’ burial. We read “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices as is the burial custom of the Jews.” In other words, He was buried like the normal way. How they buried Lazarus was how they buried Jesus. Same sort of way, would have been head over, down to the feet, bind the ankles, wrap the arms, linen sort of shroud around the head, just like Lazarus, Jesus was bound, put into the grave.
But turn the page to chapter 20. You wonder why is this information here when we read the Easter account. Chapter 20, verse 5: “And stooping to look in, Peter and the disciple who reached the tomb first, saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came following him and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there. And the facecloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”
That’s strange. Why on the glorious resurrection morning are we taking time to note the laundry practices of Jesus? That He folded up the linen cloth. Who cares? Well, because every detail matters, and that detail shows to us this is not another Lazarus.
See, see, Lazarus was brought back to life by the power of another.
Jesus routs death, vanquished the grave. Jesus does not hop and shuffle out for someone else to unbind Him from the shackles of death. Because Lazarus has had life restored, but death has not been conquered. When Jesus is raised, death itself has been vanquished, and so you can take off those strips, you can take off the burial shroud, and you can fold it up in the corner, we don’t need those anymore.
Lazarus was a restoration, a resumption of normal mortal existence. He would die again. His body started breathing and beating and synapses firing.
Jesus, 1 Corinthians 15, was given a new spiritual body, the first fruits of the final resurrection to come. Not simply a restoration of life that He would die again, but a thorough routing and conquering of death.
Which is why, when you go back to John 11, doesn’t the story end? Now, we’ll get to the unbelief and the plot to kill Jesus next week, but doesn’t the story end in a curious way? This is now how the movies would finish this story. They would, they would want to go back and circle on the human relationships, the human emotion, well, how’s Mary, how’s Martha? What was it like when they saw Lazarus? What did, did Lazarus and Jesus, did they embrace? What’s going on? What was Lazarus thinking? What had it been like? Did he still smell? What’s going on?
Now, we’ve had the human element for sure, but you see, this is not a human interest story. This is a Jesus interest story. And so at the story’s climax, all of that is left behind. We have nothing about how Lazarus felt, nothing about Mary and Martha, how the town responded. We’ll get to the unbelief. Nothing about the site of His friend when Jesus sees him. It’s a story about Jesus. It’s a story first of all about this weeping, wonder-working Messiah.
You see, because we’re not Arians, we know that Jesus can. And because we are not Docetists, we know that Jesus cares.
If you’re married and your wife fell into a steep ravine, you would want to get her out, you would want to rescue her, you’d want to save her. Arianism is like the husband sending a lesser creature to get her out. “Honey, I’m sending the dog. You’ll be okay.” Docetism is like your husband comes to save you, but later you realize it was a hologram, or you realize it was your husband, but some mad scientist had taken out his husband brain and put in a computer chip to make him more considerate and caring. [laughter] Well, that takes away from some of the loveliness.
No, this is a fully human, fully divine, God-man. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, can sympathize with us.
One commentator says “to break this spell of death, He strides to the tomb, not in sovereign apathy of a great outsider, but as the One sent into the world by the Father as the advocate who has entered human flesh and blood.”
Jesus is not some distant, aloof superhero with a strange origin story who swoops in to save the day and goes back to His Christ cave and broods. He is God, and He is good. He sees, He knows, He sympathizes, He loves us, and He has already conquered the death, which we are right to hate.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we give thanks for this, Your Son, whom we can know in the Scriptures and by the power of Your spirit, and now can feast upon Him in this meal. Prepare our hearts that You might strengthen us and nourish us to life everlasting. In Jesus we pray. Amen.