Today we come to the climatic point of John’s Gospel. Because today we are going to see the definitive sign that Jesus is who he says is. And what is that sign? That sign is Jesus raising a dead man back to life. After this section of John’s Gospel there should be no doubt that Jesus is who he says is.
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”—11:38-40
Lazarus was buried in a typical first-century tomb cut from the rocky hillside. A large stone was placed over the entrance so that it could be reopened for future burials. A central door led into the burial room, where benches were carved in stone along the inner walls. Jesus’ command to remove the stone concerned Martha. Obviously, she did not expect Jesus to resurrect Lazarus. The fact that Lazarus had been dead four days meant decomposition had set in and there would be the stench of death when the stone was removed. Jesus reminded her that if she believed, she would see God’s glory.
Now let’s talk a little more about this repeated phrase “four days.” Why is this phrase so significant? It is significant for two very important reasons:
- It proved that Lazarus was actually dead clinically. Which means that this was not some elaborate initiation ritual that was designed to make Lazarus part of some secret inner circle that had some secret hidden knowledge. What we must remember is that even though the people of the first-century lacked the clinical knowledge to prove someone was dead; they did, however, recognize the stench of death. And after four days of lying in a tomb in the Middle East Lazarus’s body would certainly have smelled dead.
- It proved that Lazarus was dead culturally. First-century Jews believed that a person’s soul hovered over their body for three days after they died. Which, essentially means that after three days there was no way for a person to be brought back to life. And as we are going to see Jesus not only defied medical science but he defied cultural norms when he brought Lazarus back from the dead.
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”—11:41-44
After the stone was moved, Jesus stopped and prayed. When he concluded his prayer, he called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Lazarus emerged wearing the grave clothes, and Jesus instructed the onlookers to remove them. The resurrection is the seventh and culminating sign in John’s Gospel. And it was a sign pointing to Jesus, not only as the source resurrection and life, but as part of his nature—he is the resurrection and the life. Final death is impossible for him, as his own resurrection will later prove. What Jesus did for Lazarus was an example of what God will do for all his faithful people who have died. They too will be raised from the dead. This miracle was also the final offense that caused the jealous Jewish leaders to decide that Jesus must be put to death. And we will pick up from here tomorrow as we finish John chapter 11 with the Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 18:1-19:10, John 20:1-31, Psalm 119:153-176 and Proverbs 16:14-15
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