Gospel: John 11:1-45 (46-53)
Epistle: Romans 8:1-11
Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm: Psalm 130
CLB Pastors Network – Rev. Mark Erickson
“The raising of Lazarus is the climax of the series of ‘signs’ which characterize John’s record of Jesus’ public ministry, serving as manifestations of the divine glory which is resided in the incarnate Word. At the same time it precipitates the series of events which culminate in the passion narrative.” The Gospels & Epistles of John, F. F. Bruce, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 249.
This is one of the longest texts we will find in the Lectionary. It is a single narrative unit, but it also divides into four basic scenes: 1) Jesus and the disciples find out about Lazarus’s illness and death; 2) Jesus goes to Jerusalem to comfort Lazarus’s sisters; 3) Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead; and 4) the plot of the Jewish leaders to find a way to put Jesus to death.
Each preacher will need to decide whether to read the entire text and focus on just one or two main ideas in the sermon, or just focus on one segment of the text and provide abbreviated introductory comments to bring the congregation to a point where they can understand the larger narrative. It is possible to shorten the text to 1-48, although the Jewish leaders’ lack of faith in Jesus and their blatant effort to kill Him seems particularly significant for the season of Lent.
In the first scene, Jesus indicates that Lazarus’ illness is for the glory of God and God’s Son and that it will not end in death (v. 4) and, after informing them that Lazarus was in fact dead, He tells them that this is good for their sake so that they will believe (v. 15). It is notable that the “doubter,” Thomas, quips, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (v. 16)
In the second scene, Jesus meets with Lazarus’ grieving sisters. Both of them believe in Jesus and both are convinced that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if only He had been there. This seems to reflect honest grief more than to blame Jesus for his tardiness. Notably, Jesus is deeply emotional in this scene; twice John notes that Jesus’ strong emotions (indignation and weeping). Jesus knows that He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, so why does He have such deep grief? It would seem that He is grieving over the fact of death itself. Death is the great intruder into God’s creation and the last enemy to be defeated when God makes all things new. In the meantime, death is the reminder of universal sinfulness, of the broken relationship between God and humanity, of the tragedy and loss associated with death, and of Jesus’ impending death on the cross. In the midst of the deep emotions, the key verses are John 11:23-27 – “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’”
In the third scene, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead! This should probably be called a “resuscitation,” rather than a “resurrection,” since Lazarus will die again. This is not to diminish this amazing miracle that has been accomplished; simply to put it in its appropriate category. The resurrection is final; death will not again affect one who is resurrected. The scene may be seen as a foreshadowing of the Day when all who are dead will hear the voice calling them back to life (John 5:25-29).
In the fourth scene, we see that this sign led many to believe in Jesus. However, it also moves others who do not believe in Jesus to action, with the result that the Jewish leadership began to look for a way to put Jesus to death. They wouldn’t have long to wait…(John 12:1).
Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels
“A question. Since this is so, that by Lazarus and other dead ones sin is understood, how does this consist with the gospel where the Evangelist says, v.3,: ‘Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest, is sick,’ and v. 36. ‘Behold, how he loved him!’ The answer is in Matthew ix. 13, ‘I have not come for the sake of the righteous, but that I may make righteous what is unrighteous and sinful, and call sinners to repentance.’ The whole human race was deserving of hatred; yet Christ loved us; for if he had not loved us, he would not have come down from heaven. Christ loves sinners out of the commandments of the Father, who sent him for our consolation. This is the will of the Father that we should look upon the humanity of Christ and love him in return; but yet, so that we consider that he did all this because he was bidden (commanded; ordered) according to the most noble good will.”
Luther, M., Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels. York, PA: P. Anstadt & Sons, 1899.
The NIV Application Commentary – John
“Jesus’ tears (11:35) are not for Lazarus, whose removal from the grave is imminent and whose life is going to show God’s glory. He knows what good surprises are in store for his good friend! Jesus’ tears should be connected to the anger he is feeling so deeply. The public chaos surrounding him, the loud wailing and crying, and the scene of a cemetery and its reminders of death – all the result of sin and death – together produce outrage in the Son of God as he works to reverse such damage.”
Burge, G.M., The NIV Application Commentary – John. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2000.
Interpretation of Saint Matthew’ s Gospel
“‘The dead man came forth, bound hand and foot with gravebands; and his face was bound with a sweatcloth.’ First, the great fact as such in the fewest possible words; then, the description of the figure that appeared in the door of the tomb. John does not even use an exclamation. With a subject so tremendous to present he drops all attempts to make us feel its tremendousness. This is all: ‘The dead man came forth.’ If we pause to think, the statement becomes a paradox, a contradiction, how can a dead man come forth out of his tomb? Not only alive now but wholly sound and full of vigor, hampered by the linen swathings though he was, Lazarus came forth. Without a struggle death gives up its prey. All death’s ravages are undone. Here is the glory of the Father and the glorification of the son whom he did send. Even the physical eyes of the bystanders can ‘see’ it. Not a word, however, does John record about the excitement that surely must have overwhelmed the witnesses who beheld the man, dead and in his tomb for four days, now alive at Jesus’ word.”
Lenski, C.H., Interpretation of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943.