Subject – THE RAISING OF LAZARUS. The Seventh Sign.
Study portion – Chapter 11. 1-27.
THERE ARE THREE OCCASIONS in the Gospels when the Lord Jesus raised the dead, namely:
a.A young girl of twelve years, the daughter of Jairus, dead but a few hours, Mark 5. 42.
b.A young man, the only son of a widowed mother, carried to his burial, Luke 7. 14.
c.Lazarus of Bethany, already four days in the pave. Christ’s power is not limited to age or conditions.
1. A TREASURED MEMORY, V. 2. ‘It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair’. Note that this was a memory of Personal affection. The memory of this outstanding woman had obviously made a tremendous impact upon John, so much so that he must draw attention to her individually, as he describes the home at Bethany. ‘The memory of the just is blessed’, Prov. 10. 7, and ‘a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches’, Prov. 22. 1.
As our character portraits are displayed before our fellows, are they worthy of special esteem? It was a memory of Practical devotion. ‘She anointed the Lord with ointment’. See chapter 12 and note that it
i. Declares its weight - ‘a pound of ointment’.
This was no mere minimum fragment or gesture of good manners and courtesy, but a symbol of complete and sacrificial devotion, one whole pound. Nicodemus, ch. 19. 39, also brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
Not all the silver that filled the bag of the betrayer could balance the ponderous worth of Mary’s precious spikenard. Money does not always measure motive, nor coin contribute to character.
ii. Describes its worth - ‘ointment … very costly’.
Even Judas valued it at three hundred pence, but the true worth of this act of devotion was not to be measured by the silver of Judas but by the saying of Jesus, ‘let her alone against the day of my burying hath she kept this’, v. 7. Her love could not wait until death, He was worthy of it now.
iii. Displays its witness - ‘and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment’.
Such love and devotion could not pass unnoticed, for that which cheers the heart of the Saviour must fill the house of the saints. The measure of our own appreciation of Christ is the measure of our influence and impact upon others. It was a memory of Perfect submission. ‘She wiped his feet with her hair’.
That which was her glory, 1 Cor. II. 15, she willingly placed at His feet. Here was the place of surrender and submission to His will, she gave Him all.
Now His feet were cleansed with tears, soon His head would be crowned with thorns.
2. A TIME OF MYSTERY. Note first:
The mystery of The will of God, vv. 3 and 4.
‘He whom thou lovest is sick … when Jesus heard that, he said, this sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby’.
‘Those whom Christ loves are no more exempt than others from their share of earthly trouble and anguish, rather are they bound over to it more surely.’ -Trench.
The final issue of this sickness was not that it should result in death, nor even in the raising of Lazarus and restoration to the family circle, but in the display of the glory of God in His Son. The glory of God is supreme, and the good of man is secondary. When God came down ‘with man to dwell’, the message was ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill toward men’. The will of God, in what ever way it comes to us, is always ‘good, and acceptable, and perfect’.
The love of God and the will of God are complementary. We may not always understand His will, but we can rest assuredly in His love. Secondly, we note:
The mystery of The ways of God, 5 and 6.
Following the declaration that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, how strange seem the words ‘therefore, he abode two days still in the same place where he was’.
The ways of God are not the ways of men, nor is divine love always displayed in the framework of human activities. Human love would have carried Him with immediate haste to Bethany, but divine love compelled Him to linger where He was. His love for the sisters was not lessened by distance nor delay, His way is always best. Thirdly, note:
The mystery of The words of God, w. 11-14.
‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth … then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep he shall do well;… they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep … then said Jesus plainly, Lazarus is dead’.
The vocabulary of the Christian is often a puzzle to the world.
It should be noted that the body alone is in view in the metaphor ‘sleep’. The word used means ‘to lie down’ (con¬trast, ‘resurrection’ which means ‘to cause to stand up’). When the physical frame of the Christian is dissolved, 2 Cor. 5. 1, and returns to dust, he himself departs to be with Christ, Phil. 1. 23; to be ‘at home with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 6-9, which is ‘very far better’.
The English word ‘cemetery’, or sleeping place, was derived from the word used by Greeks for a rest-house for strangers and this was adopted by the early Christians for the place of interment of the bodies of the departed. – Hogg and Vine.
I fail to find in Scripture the doctrine of ‘soul sleep’. Fourthly, let us note:
The mystery of The work of God, w. 23-27.
Martha was aware of the final triumph and work of God in resurrection ‘at the last day’, but what of her present experience of sorrow? Her theology was sound when she said ‘1 know …’, v. 25, but she must learn the deeper experience that the whole power to restore, impart and maintain life, resides in Christ. He says not only ‘I will…’, but ‘I am’.
3. A TOUCH OF SYMPATHY, V. 35. ‘Jesus wept’. We note The brevity of the fact.
The words are unique in Holy Scripture, combining as they do in the shortest expression, the full deity and perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here are His tears shed for the household, soon He would shed them for the city of Jerusalem, Luke 19. 41, and later for the whole world He would offer up ‘prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death’, Heb. 5. 7-The dignity of the act.
These were not tears of human weakness and frustration. This was the supreme expression of perfect manhood, in tears of sympathy with Mary and Martha, and with all the sorrow caused by sin and death.
God values tears. Are they not in His bottle and His book? Psalm 56. 8. There are tears of anger and jealousy, remorse and repentance, sorrow and joy; but none are to be compared with the golden tears of the Son of God.
4. A TRIUMPHANT VICTORY, W. 41-46. Note:
The victory of answered prayer, v. 41 ‘Father, I thank thee, that thou hast heard me.’ It has been said that the Lord Jesus prayed not for what He wanted, but for the manifestation of what He had. He gave thanks for the answer before He had performed the act, and did always the things which pleased the Father. The audible expression of prayer revealed the complete co-operation with the Father in every activity of the Son.
The voice of authoritative power, v. 43. ‘He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth’.
On one other occasion only did our Lord cry with a loud voice, His last utterance upon the cross, Matt. 27. 46. As the Servant of Jehovah, the prophet had said, ‘He shall not cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street’, Isa. 42. 2; in His ministry of grace there would be no ostentation. However, in His sovereignty ‘He shall cry, yea roar’, Isa. 42. 13, as a mighty man He prevails against His enemies.
Perhaps this shout of victory is in contrast to the muttering and incantations of sorcerers and wizards. All assembled could hear this clear command.
The value of an active profession, v. 45. ‘Then many of the Jews, which came to Mary and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him’.
Nothing is recorded that Lazarus ever said, although his experience was unique, but he himself, as living and liberated, was a sermon eloquent enough, and many believed on Jesus. Is your life a powerful confession to the power of Christ?
5. A TACTICAL EXPEDIENCY, W. 47-54.
Political diplomacy.The words of Caiaphas, the high priest, ‘that one man should die for the people, that the whole nation perish not’ were those of a shrewd politician. A diplomatic bargain must be struck, let one man die that the nation be spared annihilation by the power of Rome.
Prophetical destiny. These were not only words of diplomacy and expediency, but as John comments, w. 51, 52, those of divine and eternal destiny. ‘Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only …’ was the central theme of God’s eternal purpose. Man has often expressed greater truths than he himself has understood. ‘He saved others, himself He could not save’.
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