LAZARUS: JESUS FORCES THE ISSUE OF HIS RESURRECTION
After a lecture by Harold Stough, March 1991
THE raising of Lazarus from the dead was the most crucial point in the whole of Our Lord’s ministry. Just before the final Passover, when He was away from both Jerusalem and Bethany, He received messengers sent by His beloved friends Mary and Martha. Their brother lay dying and they longed for Jesus to be with them. Yet He tarried. “Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick”. To which He replied “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby”. - (John 11: 4) In His foreknowledge of His Father’s will He knew that, although in due time, Lazarus would face death, the present sickness would not lead to death; instead, something was to occur for the express purpose of declaring the glory of God. The Son of God was to be glorified before He faced the terrible last days.of His life on earth.
Two events were used by Our Lord at that time to glorify His Father’s name and to be thereby glorified Himself. The first, the raising of Lazarus and the other His conversation with Greeks, in Jerusalem for the Passover. To them He said, “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit”. - (John 12:23,24) Then He prayed “Father, glorify Thy Name”. “Then came there a Voice from Heaven saying I have both glorified it and will glorify it again” “This Voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”. - (John 12:30-32)
What an answer to give to the Greeks. Could it be that they recognised in Him, as Judas did for other purposes, that He was one who was a king? That He was one who could command the respect of the common people and so with their help, overthrow the yoke which Rome had imposed on their brethren?
Those Greeks were representative of that other Israel which did not live in the land of Palestine. Their forebears, descendants of some of the ‘lost’ tribes of Israel who had spent centuries migrating from the Caspian Sea, where they had been taken as prisoners by the Assyrians in the 700’s BC, to the Black Sea area and further west. They were the people who, in Our Lord’s time, formed the bulk of the congregations in the synagogues throughout Asia Minor. As John recounts, they were in Jerusalem for the Passover and asked the disciples if they could meet Jesus. They were thus witnesses to the Voice of God declaring the glorification of His name.
The message given by the Son of Man from the start of His ministry was “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand”. The Bethany family knew this, and believed in him as the Christ, the Son of God; because of this belief and their absolute trust in him, the sisters had sent for Him to attend on their dying brother. Yet, He delayed. Why? “This sickness is not unto death” He said, and waited two days in the same place, after which He said “Let us go into Judaea again”. “His disciples say unto Him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again” - (John 11:8) Jesus, in His reply, must have deeply confused them. “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep”. But also “Lazarus is dead and I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there to the intent that ye may believe...” He equated sleep with death. What was it that He wanted them to believe? Lazarus, by that time, had been four days buried - he was surely dead. Nevertheless, Jesus was to wake him. He had declared it.
Bethany being “nigh unto Jerusalem”, about two miles or, as the Gospel says, 15 furlongs away (John 11:18) was near enough for Jesus to stay with His loved family frequently. He returned to them, and Martha, hearing of this, went out to meet Him, but with a mild rebuke. “Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died. But I know that even now whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee”, to which came the reply “Thy brother shall rise again”. To the glory of God Martha affirms her belief, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day”. Then comes (John 11:25) the great corner stone of Christianity, the statement that no other religious leader has ever been able to make. It is this which distinguishes Christianity from ALL other religions. Interfaith groups treat Christianity on the same level as Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists and all the rest. But no! Not one of them can make this assertion — “I am the resurrection and the life: He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” “She saith unto Him, Yea Lord. I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world”. And so saying she went away and called Mary.
Then the same thing happened again, because Mary on meeting Jesus on the road outside Bethany said “If Thou hadst been here my brother had not died”. - (John 11:32)
The promise of life eternal given by the living body of Christ is a gift to all people who say with Martha and Mary “Yea Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God”. Not only is the gift freely available to everyone who loves Our Lord, but it was also promised to a nation. In the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 36 and 37, God declares His mercy will obtain in Israel.
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you A new heart will I give you ... I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and ye shall keep my judgements and do them ... ye shall be my people and I will be your God”. - (Ezekiel 36:25-28)
This prophecy of a time yet to come is followed in chapter 37 by the dramatic ‘Valley of Dry Bones’ promise,
“And ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, 0 my people ... and I shall put my spirit in you and ye shall live ... I the Lord have spoken it” - (Ezekiel 37:12,18,14)
The prophecy finishes with “I will make an everlasting covenant with them ... and set my sanctuary in their midst ... I will be their God and they shall be my people... when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore”. That is when the spirit of God will cause Israel to live again because their Redeemer ... lives.
We live because our Saviour lives, Israel will live because her husband, her Redeemer lives. Paul speaks of the gathering of Israel as life from the dead, of natural resurrection. We shall see that when the kingdom of God is established, under the divine governance of Our Lord and King. Can we answer as Martha did to Our Lord, when He asked her, “Believest thou this?” “Yea Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God”.
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