John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus
11:28-29 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.
It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers. When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.
The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8. This is a trait of a true follower of Christ. When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey? Or do we hesitate? Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord? Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus. May we do the same.
11:30-32 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.”
Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died. “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring. They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites. What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life! All He did was serve! He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.
11:33-36 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!”
Compassion for His Sheep
If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.
Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ. It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.
And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.
Why is this His response? It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses. I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that. He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us. He enters into our sorrows with us.
We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…
MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys. The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!” The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”
So the Lord was upset on several levels. The scene is a complex one. He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.
You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come. Christ came to change all of that. And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant. This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.
Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier. A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope. There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment. But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul. And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.
Joined with Christ
Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.
I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.
Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God. A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us. He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears. He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.
I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!”
The Impending Victory
But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer. We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ. So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all! That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”
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?”
This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt. It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.
11:38-40 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?”
Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).
Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).
SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.
The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us
We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.
This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.
I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.” John explains in his epistles that:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.
For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him? It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.
How is it that we behold His glory here? We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts. This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous! Our doing is our beholding. And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.
This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important. That’s consequently why I teach expositionally! I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that. He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.
11:41-42 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.”
Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”
There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion. It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.
Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention. For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead. Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.
11:43-44 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.”
There are several key points that we see here.
First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures. We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.
Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again. And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)
Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”