If You Believe, You Will See the Glory of God (Phil Johnson)

John 11:1-44   |   Sunday, April 13, 2014   |   Code: 2014-04-13-PJ

I have been contemplating the fact that death is a consequence of sin, and it is a universal reminder of how evil sin is. Its ultimate fruits are sadness and death, and this is the ultimate culmination of our earthly existence. Every one of our lives will ultimately be touched by the sadness and tragedy of human loss. And unless we are fortunate to be among those alive at the Lord's return, every one of our lives will ultimately culminate in death.

Death is a horrible enemy. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." And when you sit and watch someone dying slowly, you come face to face with the fact that death is a formidable, tyrannical universal enemy. The grief and sadness of death is almost unbearable. And if you thought about it in human terms, you might be tempted to become melancholy and despondent. It is sad. It is awful. It does at times make all of life seem utterly hopeless.

And yet Scripture gives us hope and reason to rejoice, even in the midst of the gloom of death. And that is what my heart is full of this morning. In the midst of my own sorrow and sadness, I've been remembering that even Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus. And yet it was in that very same context that Jesus made one of His most glorious promises about His victory over death and hell. It was in the wake of Lazarus's death that Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn. 11:25-26).

Turn to John 11, and let's look at this passage. The whole episode of Lazarus's death and resurrection is one of my favorite NT accounts. This passage sums up why we don't need to despair, even though life is so full of sadness and death. 

Let me set the context for you. John 10 describes the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. There Jesus had stirred up the murderous wrath of the Jewish leaders because He claimed  to be God. You'll recall that they took up stones to stone Him. They were determined to kill Him then and there. But it was not His time. John 10:39 says, "They sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands." He miraculously eluded  their grasp. And since it was not quite yet His time,  according to verse 40, He "He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained." He was not hiding out of craven fear; He was awaiting the God-ordained time. Since He was the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, it was important that his death occur at the Passover. So he went to the same region of the wilderness where John the Baptist was ministering a few years before.

And thus he finished His public ministry in the very same place where He had begun. Notice the testimony of those who were there in verse 41. They said, "'John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.' And many believed in him there."

This was a time of great fruitfulness in Jesus' ministry.

This particular period in Jesus' ministry mirrored the ministry of John The Baptist. He was preaching in the wilderness, with great crowds coming out to hear Him. But unlike John, Jesus would heal them and do miracles.

Scripture tells us very little about this time, but it must have

been one of the most spectacular times in all of Christ's ministry.

But then something happened that would abruptly bring an end to that ministry in the wilderness, and ultimately spell the end of Christ's earthly ministry altogether. John 11:1: "Now a certain man was ill." Did you realize this is the first

mention of Lazarus anywhere in the gospels? Jesus tells a parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, but that Lazarus was already dead, so it is not the same guy. So here for the first time we meet Lazarus, and discover that he was someone whom Jesus loved dearly (v. 3).

Unfortunately we cannot take time to study every verse in this narrative. There's simply too much here. So I want to do a broad overview of the chapter, calling your attention to

three great truths about Christ we find here. One is His sovereignty over all circumstances. The second is His compassion over the plight of our sin. And finally we will examine His power over death.



Throughout this whole chapter we see clear proof of Christ's absolute sovereignty over every detail of what occurred.

From the disciples' perspective this whole event seemed like an unfortunate accident.                                 

There they were, in the midst of the most fruitful ministry they had ever enjoyed with Christ. Most of them were from GalileeCas Christ himself was. And you'll recall that Christ's Galilean ministry was not well received.           

He cast demons out of some lunatics in Gadara, and the response of the people was to ask Him to leave.           

He preached the gospel in Nazareth, His own hometown, and the people tried to throw Him off a cliff.           

He ended up cursing the cities of Galilee at the end of Matthew 11. 

But now, ministering in the wilderness near the Jordan River, multitudes were coming out to hear him, and many were believing. Here's an interesting detail: If you compare this with John 1:28, this location in the wilderness is the very place Christ had first met Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel, and Philip. Scripture expressly states that Andrew was one of John's disciples, and it is likely that at least Peter, Nathaniel, and Philip were also. So they would have remembered when Jesus was baptized, and they no doubt had high expectations from the beginning that Jesus would manifest Himself as the Messiah. From their perspective it must have seemed like all the full potential of His ministry, at long last, was just beginning to be realized.    Everyone was talking about it, saying "everything that John said about this man was true" (10:41).

And then, just when things were going well, Lazarus fell sick. Scripture says,

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

Bethany is exactly two miles east of the Temple in Jerusalem. Verse 18 in the King James Version says "fifteen furlongs." You'll find "two miles" in most modern versions, and that is exactly correct. If you have ever been there, you can picture it in your mind. If you walked out of the front of the Temple, through the huge Eastern gate, you would be facing the Mount of Olives, which is really more of a hill than a mountain, and on the other side of the Mount of Olives, about a 40-minute walk from the Temple steps, is Bethany. So a trip to Bethany would take them right back into a firestorm of oppositionCright into the teeth of Christ's most hostile enemies.

Verse 4: But "But when Jesus heard it he said, 'This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.'" The disciples must have breathed a temporary sigh of relief. They knew that when Jesus said something like this, He knew what He was talking about. They had seen many displays of His omniscience before. He       could look right into the soul of a Samaritan woman and tell her her life's history. John 2:24-25 says "Jesus .      .     . knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." He could heal a centurion's servant from a distance (Matt. 8); and John 9 records how He even knew the reason a man was born blind. So if he said Lazarus was not going to die, they believed Lazarus was not going to die.

 But look at verse 4 again: "But when Jesus heard it he said, 'This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.'" That doesn't mean that Lazarus would not die; it only means that the ultimate purpose of his sickness is not death, but something greater. Jesus knew this.  He was in control of every detail that occurs.

Now look at verse 5:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.    

6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was [This was a deliberate delay, proof that He is orchestrating the timing of all these events for His own purposes.]

7    Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

8    The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there


9    Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.

10    But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because

the light is not in him."

11   After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." 

12   The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."

13   Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.

14   Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died,

15   and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

Notice that Jesus knew when Lazarus died. Again, this whole narrative is told in a way that underscores His absolute sovereignty over all these events. He was in control from the beginning, though from the disciples' standpoint, all this might have looked very accidental.

That's why He says in v. 15, "for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe." If Jesus had actually been present when Lazarus died, the disciples' impression that things were getting out of control would have been exaggerated even more. Imagine the doubts that would have assailed the disciples' minds if Jesus had actually been standing by Lazarus' bedside when he died. This way, at least, they could see that none of this came as a surprise to Him. He knew the nature of Lazarus's sickness, and He knew precisely the moment when Lazarus died. Plus, he was about to do something a thousand times better than healing Lazarus from an illness, and this would strengthen their faith a thousand-fold. 

Although the disciples did not understand Jesus' purposes, it was very clear to them that he was acting sovereignly, orchestrating events right down to the timing of each detail.

From their perspective what was happening made no sense, but there was no denying that He was in control.

That is precisely how we must learn to view the sovereignty of God.          

If you think you must first understand God's purposes before you can embrace the truth of His sovereignty, you will always struggle against the doctrines of divine providence and the sovereignty of God. God rarely explains His purposes to us.    He just assures us that He is in complete control, no matter how chaotic things seem to be, and He asks us to trust that all His purposes are good. When you get to the point of being able to do that, the doctrine of divine sovereignty suddenly begins to make sense.

Thomas had not yet reached that point.   He was still too much of an Arminian. That's why we call Him "doubting Thomas." He always seems to express the skeptical point of view. Arminianism breeds doubt, and that was the case with Thomas.

Verse 16: "So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with him.'" Thomas was convinced that things were getting totally out of control and that they were all going to die if they went back to Jerusalem.    He should have seen that Christ was arranging every detail of every circumstance, but somehow he missed that truth.

You have to deplore Thomas's theology at this point, but you can admire his spirit. Despite all his doubting, there was never any question about his devotion. He loved Christ, and was willing to follow Him even if it meant death.

Why did Jesus delay when he heard His friend was sick? Try to answer that from the disciples' perspective while they were on their way to Jerusalem. If you've ever been to Israel and made the trip from the Jordan near Jericho up to Jerusalem, you know that is a long, steep, treacherous climb through some desolate terrain. It was a full day's journey on foot. You know the end of this story, so it's easier for you to see what Jesus' purposes were. But imagine the doubts that must have assaulted the disciples' minds. They must have been wondering if Jesus had lost His sanity, or His compassion, or at least His common sense. First he had told them Lazarus sickness was not unto death; then he had waited two days; and then he had told them Lazarus was dead. In all their experience they had never seen Him behave this way. It must have appeared to them that He was vacillating, out of control.

And when they arrived, they were in for an even bigger shock. Verse 17 says, "Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

Now, do the math on this: It means Lazarus was probably already dead when the messengers first reached Jesus to tell Him Lazarus was sick! Counting back, it was a full day's journeyCcertainly less than two days' travelCfrom the Jordan to Bethany; verse 6 says Jesus had waited two days in the Jordan after the messengers brought him news that Lazarus was sick. So Lazarus was probably already dead by the time the messengers brought Jesus news that he was sick!

What do you suppose the disciples thought when they realized this?

Verse 19 says "And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother." There had no doubt been crowds of people coming to comfort the family for four days. Jesus is a latecomer to this funeral. He could have been there earlier. He knew the very moment Lazarus died, and the disciples knew that He knew this.                                                                            Yet he didn't arrive until four days later.

They must have been questioning His compassion. They had seen His sovereignty on display in all these circumstances, so they knew He was ordering the timing of these events. He could have done something to stop all this tragedy from happening. But he purposely delayed.                                                                           

Do you suppose they were questioning His compassion?

We all tend to do this, don't we? We ask questions like: If God is sovereign, why is there so much pain and suffering?

If God is in control of all things, why does He sometimes permit wicked people to prosper, and allow the righteous to be persecuted?        Why is there evil at all? Everyone of us has wondered about those things from time to time.

But here we get a glimpse into the answer to those questions: God sometimes allows evil for awhile, because He has a greater purpose in view when He conquers the evil.

God permits bad things to happen, but He promises that all His purposes are good. This is the very heart of one of the most cherished promises in all of Scripture, Romans 8:28:

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Christ had not lost His compassion. Far from it. In fact, this brings us to our second point. The second great truth about Christ's character that is on display throughout this passage: 


Now Lazarus here perfectly pictures the plight of the sinner.        

He is dead. And he's not only mostly dead; he has been four days in the grave. He is beginning to decompose. This is the picture Scripture uses of the sinner apart from ChristCnot just sick, but thoroughly deadCrotten. You'll find this in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2. As sinners, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, totally cut off from God, without any hope whatsoever, children of wrath. It takes a divine miracle to raise a person like that from the state of death.    The dead person cannot raise himself. He cannot even hear or respond to anything.

Now Jesus had already proved His power to raise the dead. Luke 7 records how He raised the young son of a widow, and Luke 8 records the raising of Jarius's daughter. But both of them had been dead less than 24 hours.                                                                        

In Lazarus's case, decomposition had already begun. The situation seemed utterly hopeless.

Now you'll remember from Luke 10 that Martha and Mary were two completely different personalities. Martha was the one who busied herself fussing around, while Mary was content to sit at Jesus' feet. So it was completely in character for Martha to go rushing out of the house to meet Jesus while Mary stayed to continue mourning with the other guests. Look at what happens:

So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

21   Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

22   But even now I know that whatever you ask from God,

God will give you."

23   Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24   Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Martha is typical of the anxious believer. Her faith was real, but it was not sufficient to quiet her distress. It was not that she doubted Christ; she certainly believed Him. But her mind was constantly assaulted with questions: "How shall this thing be?" "Why did this happen?" People like that often forfeit the comforts of God's Word, because God's comfort lies in promises, not in explanations. The questions of How? and why? belong to the Lord.          He gives us promises to sustain us. Explanations require no faith; promises are only good to those with faith.

But Martha's faith was weak. So when Christ promises  her that her brother shall rise again, her inclination was to put a pragmatic meaning to His words. She assumed He could not possibly mean that Lazarus would rise today. And so she put the promise off into the far-off distant future, and therefore she forfeited the greater part of the comfort Christ extended to her.

Christ's reply is one of the famous "I am" statements that we find throughout John's gospel.

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life.

Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."

Notice how compassionately He deals with Martha. There is no rebuke for her weak faith. He merely affirms for her His deity, stressing His power over death. And He tenderly prompts an affirmation of this great truth from her. Then he apparently sends her to get Mary.

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."

29   And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

30    Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.

31    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.

So all this took place outside the house, apparently on the outskirts of town, near the place where Lazarus lay. Martha approached Mary secretly, perhaps because she was aware that Jesus' life was in danger if he made a public appearance anywhere near Jerusalem. But when the people in the house saw Mary leave quickly, they assumed she was going to the tomb to mourn, and protocol demanded that they go with her. So unintentionally, Mary drew all these people to witness the miracle that was about to occur.

Notice how Jesus repeatedly expresses His compassion in these verses:

32   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." [these were the exact words Martha said to Jesus in v. 21. In fact, these were the first words both sisters said when they saw Him. Evidently the two of them had already discussed this between themselves.]

33   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.

34   And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."

35    Jesus wept.

36    So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

Notice that Mary fell at Jesus' feet. We meet Mary three times in the gospel accounts: Luke 11; John 11; and John 12. In each case she is at Jesus' feet. In Luke 11 she is at His feet listening; In John 12 she is at His feet worshiping; here she is at His feet sorrowing.

His response is a sharing of Her sorrow. Verse 33 is amazing: "He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled." Now think about this: Christ is sovereign God incarnate. He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He knows it. He is about to turn this funeral into a festival of life. So why does He first weep? What is it that so moves His spirit that He groans and weeps and mourns with His friends?

Some would say this kind of compassion is incompatible with the divine sovereignty we saw in the earlier verses. I know people who say that if God is sovereign over the salvation of sinners, then the tender appeals He makes in the gospel cannot be well-meant. I know of CalvinistsCI'd call them hyper-CalvinistsCwho think that because God has sovereignly chosen some and passed over others, He cannot possibly have any sincere good-will towards those whom he permits to suffer the consequences of their sin. 

The ideas is that if God is really sovereign, he cannot possibly express any sincere wish for things to be other than they are. I do not believe that is the case. Time and again we see God lamenting the effects of sin and grieving over the destruction of humanity.                         

Ezekiel 33:11 says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked.                             

He has sovereignly permitted things that do not please Him. And the compassion He expresses for the plight of fallen humanity is a sincere compassion.

Here in John 11 we see both the sovereignty and the compassion of Christ in bold relief. We are not to think there is any conflict between the two.             

Christ, who has been sovereignly in control of all the circumstances surrounding these events nevertheless expresses the sincerest kind of grief, and groaning, and weeping over what has come to pass.

Verse 35 is well-known as the shortest verse in all Scripture.    But few people appreciate how profound it is.

The Greek word for weeping in verse 33 is klaio, a word that signifies loud wailing. In Mary's case it surely reflected  a sincere grief.                   But in the case of the other mourners, it might be just a show of weeping for effect. A common

practice at Jewish funerals was to hire professional mourners, women who would weep aloud, just to set the atmosphere. (We do the same kind of thing at funerals, only we use a quiet organ to set the somber tone.    They preferred the kind of mourning where people howl aloud.) This kind of loud weeping might be sincere, or it might not be.

But the word for weeping in verse 35, where "Jesus wept," is dakruo, which speaks of shedding tears. When the

mourners weep, John's focus is on their wailing. In Christ's weeping, the focus is on the tears, the sincerity of His compassion, the reality of His anguish, the genuineness of His sorrow. This is bona fide grief, and the fact of Christ's sovereignty does not diminish the reality of His grief one bit.

So what was He weeping over? It could not be merely the loss of Lazarus, because He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. What is He mourning about?

He is grieving over the effects of sin on people He loves.

He is sorrowing over the ravages of evil. He is identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. [I like the King James rendition of this verse, where it says Jesus is] touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15). He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And here he feels the full weight of anguish over the human condition in sin.              

And He was deeply and sincerely moved by it. 

The spectators saw His tears as an expression of His love for Lazarus. But notice verse 37: "Some of them said, 'Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?'"

This was essentially the same thing both Martha and Mary had said to Jesus. Coming from them it was an expression of faithCweak faith, but faith nonetheless. They knew that no one ever died in Jesus' presence, and they were sure that if He had been there, Lazarus would still be alive. But coming from unbelievers this was an expression of unbelief and disdain for HimCThey were actually questioning the power or the goodness of someone who would allow such a good friend to die if He had the means to stop it.

One thing is obvious: No one present expected a miracle. To all who were thereCthe disciples, Mary and Martha, and the crowd of mournersCthe situation seemed utterly hopeless, and seeing Jesus weep must have only magnified their sense of despair.

But having displayed both His sovereignty and His compassion, He is about to display one more characteristic in all its glory:


Verse 38: 

38    Then Jesus, deeply moved again, [this was no superficial grief] came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

39    Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha [always the pragmatic one], 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." [Again, I like the King James Version: "By this time he stinketh."]

40    Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

41    So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his

eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me.

42    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."

43    When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud

voice, "Lazarus,come out."

One of the Puritans wrote that if Jesus had not specifically named Lazarus, there was enough power in His words to have emptied the whole cemetery!

Now try to picture this in your mind.   

This funeral is now four days old. These people would be nearly exhausted from so much mourning, becauseCagainCmourning at a Jewish funeral did not involve sitting quietly on a couch reminiscing and having refreshments. It had been a long ordeal. Their grief was nearly spent, and suddenly that long night of grief gave way to a brilliant dawn of joy.

Verse 44:

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."

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

This makes a kind of funny picture. Lazarus would barely have been able to waddle.             

The grave-clothes would have been several layers of linen, packed with aloe and embalming spices.              

After four days it would have been stiff and extremely confining. There was also a cloth tied over his face, so that he would have been unable to see where he was going. Everyone was so stunned by this turn of events that Jesus had to command them to untie Lazarus so that he could move.

We can only imagine the celebration that followed.                                                                   

Can you picture what it must have been like to go instantly from the deepest level of grief and despair, to the joy of having a dead loved one restored to life before your very eyes?

This was the most spectacular of all Jesus' miracles, apart from His own resurrection. It demonstrated in a very graphic way that He holds the keys to death. But notice the twofold response of the crowd: (45) "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done."

Some believed, and some hated Him all the more. You see this kind of response throughout the life of Christ. It is not difficult to understand how someone witnessing a miracle of this magnitude could believe. What is incredible is that some who saw it only hardened their hearts against Him. But such is the poison of sin. It makes our hearts wicked.                                                                            

It renders us unable to truly love Christ. That is why we must acknowledge our own spiritual bankruptcy. That is why we must look to God to renew our hearts. That is why we are forced to seek divine grace as the only possible remedy for our sinful condition.

Let me close by saying this: It would be wrong of me to assume that everyone here this morning is already a believer in Christ. It would be wrong to assume that everyone who attends GraceLife regularly is a true believer in Christ.

I want to make sure you see the gospel in this passage we have looked at this morning. Notice that in verses 25-26,

Christ says, "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?""

That is a simple promise of eternal life to all who believe.

There are no preliminary demands, no legal conditions. In fact, the only biblical prerequisites to this kind of faith have to do with recognizing your own inability to merit God's favor. You cannot please God with your own righteousness. But Christ has pleased God, and those who are in Christ can know with certainty that He has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on their behalf.    

More than that, He has taken their sin and paid its full penalty. Then He declared victory over sin and death forever by rising from the dead.

That is what the gospel is all about, and if you believe, you  shall never die.   

It is really that simple. I pray God will open your heart to believe today.