Full Service Video (link)
TEXT: John 11:1-4; Revelation 21:1-5
Do you know the story of Lazarus? He was the man – the friend – that Jesus raised from the dead. His story has so much going on. In fact one year I preached through this story for all of Lent – six sermons on the one story! There is grief, there is waiting on God (or Jesus), there is faith, there is risk, there is death, and there is life. But ultimately, though this might be accurately described as one of the greatest miracles of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it is about more than that. It is about the glory of God. In fact, all of Jesus’ miracles were about “something else.” Though often motivated by compassion or faith, they were signs of power that showed (as signs do) what God was doing. They showed the power of God or the coming Kingdom or Jesus purpose. And this last and greatest miracle (before his own resurrection) was no exception. In fact, Jesus tips us off at the beginning and the end of the story as to the greater purpose. Look at what he tells his disciples in verse 4, while they are still a long way off from Bethany and Lazarus:
“This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
I want to talk briefly about what that is… the “glory of God.” Then I want to list and briefly describe six interesting places in the overall story that might be points of connection for us as we look for the glory of God in our lives and situations.
The Glory of God
What is the glory of God?
Glory is hard to wrap our minds and even our hearts around; it is not an intellectual or philosophical category. Perhaps one of the words that best gets at it is that glory is BEAUTY. The expansive view over the Blue Ridge mountains is breathtakingly beautiful; it is glorious. The thunderous power of ocean waves crashing on a pristine beach is awe-inspiring; it is glorious. God is said to be glorious because God’s goodness, love, wisdom, justice, power, and all of God’s character, being, and actions are glorious. Something is glorious if it is more radiant, more weighty, more true, more real than anything else; and God is the most glorious of all.
From the beginning, Jesus says that this sickness is not to end in death. But the punchline isn’t “but in life”; rather it is “for the glory of God.” And that is so that the Son of God might also be glorified. Jesus was saying that what was about to happen was that God would show up, God’s power would be evident, God’s character and purpose would be on full display. It would be glorious! Is that something we can see in the story? Is it something we can see today? That’s the question…
So I want to list out six factors that contribute to seeing God’s glory in the resurrection of Lazarus. And just to point you to the end, I’m going to try to make some connections that these are ways we might still look for God’s glory today.
#1 Timing (v.6)
The first factor that contributes to seeing God’s glory is timing. Jesus got word about Lazarus being sick while he was a distance away. He could have left immediately to go see Lazarus. (Of course, we also know from other stories that he could have healed Lazarus at a distance.) But he chooses neither.
One of the surprising twists this story takes comes in verse 6. We’ve just heard how close Jesus is to this family: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And then abruptly we read verse six: “So when He heard that [Lazarus] was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” What in the world?!
It reminds me of the way of often pray: “God, here’s a problem; please fix it right away.” And this was the most urgent of things imaginable… a close and beloved friend was very sick and might die. What could be more urgent than that. Yet Jesus delayed; and Lazarus died well before Jesus got there.
And yet, it was that timing that made the story unfold the way it did.
Did God make Lazarus sick? No. But was God’s timing a factor in Jesus delaying? Apparently so.
Have I seen God be glorified in sickness? Absolutely!
Have I seen God be glorified even when the sickness resulted in death? Yes, I have. I’ve seen it in this church and in the wait and struggle many of you have endured.
What I do know is that God can be glorified, even when we have to wait. And it is possible for us to SEEK God’s glory in that difficult time.
#2 Risk (v.16)
There is another significant and unexpected element to this story, and that is the risk involved.
In John 10 Jesus was teaching in the Temple court in Jerusalem and enraged the religious leaders. They asked him to say plainly whether he was the Messiah and in his answer he said, “I and the Father are one.” (10:30) They picked up stones to kill him but he slipped away and went beyond the Jordan to the area I showed you on the map.
So this is the context when Jesus suddenly announces after two days, “Let us go to Judea again.” (v. 7) Jesus had said the sickness wouldn’t end in death, so the disciples are incredulous: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” The disciples knew he (and they with him) were among Jerusalem’s Most Wanted.
It is at this point that he tells them what is really going on with Lazarus. And you have to chuckle at this exchange. He first uses a figure of speech, “Lazarus has fallen asleep.” That was a gentle way to say someone had died, like we might say someone has “passed on” or “is no longer with us.” Whether just not understanding or still dumbfounded that he wants to return into such danger, the disciples don’t hear him. So he tells them outright, “Lazarus is dead.” And then we get a little deeper glimpse into the dynamic of waiting on God’s timing: “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe.” (v. 15) Clearly, the glory of God is still in view and Jesus intends for the disciples to witness whatever he has in mind.
Finally, you get a real sense of the disciples’ perspective with the last quip from Thomas, who says to the others, “Let’s go then, and we’ll all die together.” (v. 16)
Ponder this risk. If the disciples had remained in relative safety beyond the Jordan, they would not have seen God’s glory in what Jesus was about to do. Likewise, if we simply meet week after week, safe and secure from scrutiny to study scripture and if we isolate our spiritual lives from the outside world, will we thrive? I don’t think so. Getting out means taking a risk, interacting with the world, engaging with those who are struggling apart from God. Are there risks we need to take for Jesus?
#3 Faith and Grief (vv.21-22, 32-33)
I want to look at the responses of both sisters together. They bear some similarities and some notable differences. When Jesus does finally reach Bethany, where Lazarus has now died, first Martha and then Mary come out to see Jesus. Each of them says the same initial thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vv.21,32) But then the conversations diverge. Martha goes on to make a faith statement: “Even now I now that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” And Jesus goes on to speak of resurrection, though she doesn’t realize he means literally. Mary, on the other hand comes after because she has been in the house with the mourners. She says “if you had been here” but is already at his feet weeping.
Do I want to lift up one response as better than the other? No; rather I think these sisters illustrate the range of human response to grief, death, and loss in this world. BOTH sisters looked to Jesus as the one who could have done something. Neither can envision what Jesus is going to do, but I think their postures prepare them to see God’s glory. Martha processes her grief with faith in God’s promised future for Lazarus, and Jesus affirms that. Mary pours out her grief at the feet of the one she loves and trusts with that grief. I don’t read either of their statements as accusatory, but full of loss and grief; and each sister processes that grief in their own way.
What I want to hold out to you is that in their grief each one came to Jesus. Neither turned Jesus away, but came to him with their loss, their grief, and their helplessness. And I think that prepared them to see and experience God’s glory.
#4 Emotional Jesus (vv.34-38)
What came next was seemingly in response to Mary and her weeping. But it’s also not what I thought for so long. Part of Jesus’ response is the famous “shortest verse in the Bible” – John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” But he had another response as well. When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the other mourners who followed her out to where Jesus was, he was “deeply moved.” Now that is misleading. He’s not weeping along with them, but having a different response. There are three different kinds of emotional response in these verses:
Mary and the mourners were “wailing” (v.33) – this was a loud and public wailing, almost a kind of ritual, though certainly rooted in grief over a death
In response, Jesus snorts. That’s a more literal translation of “deeply moved” that occurs in v. 33 and then again in v.38. It’s that kind of unbidden, choking burse of emotion that comes from way down deep. (It is used to describe the sound a horse makes when agitated!) Here it has a flavor of indignation or even anger to it. We also read in that same sentence that Jesus was ‘troubled’. So clearly something is going on! However I don’t think Jesus is angry at Mary or the mourners; rather, I think he is agitated and deeply angered by death seemingly having the last word, over his friend, just days before he will defeat death itself. And he sees the full and public demonstration of what death’s claim on humanity means to his friends and his people.
Then there in verse 35, Jesus weeps yet a third kind of emotion… this is more the silent and semi-private expression of sorrow, perhaps over what Lazarus had to face and perhaps empathizing with Mary and Martha.
Don’t miss, though, that Jesus has emotions. This is one of the few places where you see them on full display, and they provide insight into the glory of God. It is okay to grieve; it is okay to be angry against sin, death, injustice, and more that grieves God. Those emotions make us all the more ready to see God break through and deliver us.
#5 Faith and Glory (vv.39-40)
Briefly, a fifth detail is interesting and also connects some of the dots. Jesus instructs those standing there to remove the stone on the tomb of Lazarus. (v.39) And ever-practical Martha protests that it will smell bad because he’s been in there for four days. But it’s the next part I don’t want you to miss. Jesus responds to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v.40)
Remember that he told the disciples this at the beginning? “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And he had said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies… do you believe this?” And she did.
So again, Jesus is reminding her (and us) to keep her eye on the glory of God.
#6 Preview of Glory (vv.41-46)
They remove the stone and then there is a very interesting prayer. After they move the stone, Jesus looks up to Heaven and prays out loud, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.” (v. 42) Think about that prayer. It was not, “Father, I ask you, in your power, to bring Lazarus back to life.” It was not, “Father, help these people believe.” Jesus has apparently already communicated with God; he says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” Indeed, we hear in Jesus’ words that God “always hears him.” This prayer was public, for the sake of those gathered around. And we know that because he even says so in the prayer! It’s not for show; it’s so those gathered may believe. (We also know that because he says so.) And how does their belief relate to God’s glory? Remember, we just talked about that with Martha. It is so that they can SEE God at work, so they can see God’s glory and believe.
The next thing Jesus does is cry out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” Why so loud? I think it was like Jesus’ prayer… public, for the sake of those listening. If they missed Jesus’ prayer, they didn’t miss this. That guy is shouting into the open, stinky cave for the dead man to come out. Hard to miss that! All this and the miraculous resurrection that follows is all so public. There is a reason for that! There is a trajectory here that doesn’t end with Lazarus being raised. It is to bear witness to God’s glory and the even greater miracle that is soon to come on Easter morning.
Keep Your Eye on the Glory of God
This is a story about the glory of God. Think about all the ways the people in the story were invited to see and experience God’s glory. Through waiting, godly risk, faith, grief, and other emotions. Is all that dependent on the resurrection of Lazarus? Does your own experience of God depend on whether God answers ‘yes’ to your most earnest prayers?
While I understand the yearning for God to give us what we want – I do! – this story didn’t end with the resurrection of Lazarus but with the resurrection of Christ on Easter. That’s the glory God wants us to see and experience in our own lives. And for some even seeing Lazarus dead four days and brought back to life was not enough to open their eyes. But for many others, it led them to believe.
So my question is whether you have sought God, whether you WILL seek God in your own waiting, risking, faith, grief, and other emotions. Will you seek God recognizing that God’s great ‘yes’ and the great demonstration of God’s glory is found in Jesus, crucified and raised for you?
The disciples waited with Jesus and then returned with him to face the risk of Jerusalem. Martha came to Jesus in faith in the midst of her loss. Mary brought her tears and sorrow to Jesus, also in faith. Jesus himself grieved the sorrows and losses of this life, but also demonstrated the power of God in this last sign, one that would point directly to the cross and the empty tomb, and beyond.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
Do you see it? There, the glory of God! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Prelude: Wade in the Water/Down by the Riverside – Rick Bean, arr. and piano
- Revelation Song
- Sing Praise to God
- I Will Rise
- Postlude: Just a Closer Walk – Rick Bean, arr. and piano