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|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
Thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you today. I haven’t had much experience in giving sermons, so when Don offered me the opportunity to come here I was a little worried. But as Don wisely put it, “You should take every chance to practice”. So, fortunately for me, here I am to practice. Unfortunately for you, here I am to practice.
I’ve chosen to speak today on John 11. Recently my friends Chris gave a sermon on a Psalm of his choice. He chose Psalm 100. Chris jokingly remarked that he had chosen this Psalm because it was so short – only 5 verses. So when I was told I could choose any topic or Bible reading at all for today, my mind kept thinking “Jesus wept” – yep, there’s nothing shorter than that! I felt drawn to talk about this story where Jesus wept.
I don’t know if many people remember seeing the advertisement "Jesus wept" appear on billboards and buses about 5 years ago. It seemed to me that half of the buses that I drove behind had those two words on them back then. I think that they are quite unexpected words - especially for people who aren’t Christians. There was even a full page ad in The Advertiser. The man behind the advertisements tells his story like this
- One night I had a vision of the earth paper mached with Bible pages. After receiving this vision, I was compelled to enquire about the boundary advertising at Football Park which had become available mid-season. This was miraculously offered at a fraction of the cost normally demanded for such a high profile position.
- My next dilemma was what verse to use. What would speak to the multitudes? I had reservations about using "Jesus wept" but my staff suggested this message because its brevity meant it was legible from afar - and of course because it is a verse from the Holy Bible.
- In the middle of deciding whether to use it or not, I had a phone call from a friend who told me of the death in an accident overseas of younger mutual friend, who had always looked up to me. I cannot remember weeping so hard as I did that day.
- I believe God spoke to me showing me that that is how he feels for us. That was confirmation for me to put that verse on the boundary sign at Football Park, where according to research, 600,000 people, per game, would see it.
It was about the same time as these ads appeared that I was a university student doing a rotation in Oncology at hospital. A young woman, I think her age was 21, had been sent in for investigation of a lump in her neck that had grown over the last month. Her story made me think about that verse, “Jesus wept” a lot. She was told her lump was probably lymphoma, which is often curable, but that a biopsy was needed. I remember seeing the girl that first day with her fiancée and parents. She was obviously worried. I believe her main worry was actually not for herself though - I think she was most concerned about her family and fiancée. Still, it was going to be a lymphoma, so there was some hope. She had the biopsy and waited for the results. At the meeting the next day, the oncologists discussed the results. It was a terrible shock. It wasn't a lymphoma. It was something much worse. It was a type of cancer that couldn’t be treated. The doctors arranged some urgent scans. These showed cancer throughout her bones, lungs and liver. She was going to die, and there was nothing that could be done. By the end of the year she would no longer be alive. I don’t know if this girl knew Jesus. At the time her story made a big impression on me, and I wrote a song about it with these words
- One week can change the world. A single fact can change you girl
- Nowhere to run, no where to hide. This grows within, it's deep inside
- You can't deny it, you know it's true. You know death's coming and there's nothing you can do
- One week can change the world. A single death can change you girl
- No need to run, no need to hide. He comes within, he lives inside
- He won't deny you, just believe he's true. Your life's eternal and there's nothing you need to do
- These seven days, Jesus wept too. These seven days, he's wept with you
Examining the Bible passage
Keeping in mind these two stories, let’s revisit this passage where Jesus weeps. There are many different angles to the story. I want to take a look at the characters of the story, and their response to Jesus. And then, let’s think about how we, as Christians, can respond. How should we respond to a God who weeps with us? How do we respond to a God who raises a man from the dead?
The chapter begins by introducing Lazarus. He was “one whom Jesus loved”. Jesus is met by a messenger bringing the news that Lazarus is sick. Lazarus hadn’t been mentioned in the gospel until that point, yet the passage gives the impression that Jesus must have known him well.
There is one point that I think is particularly interesting about these first verses - the name Lazarus. It was apparently a common name in first century Palestine, but with a wonderful meaning. It’s fascinating to think that names have meanings. David means “Beloved”. Mum, I’m afraid that Marilyn, according to one website I looked up, means “Bitter Lake”. My own name isn’t much better - “Graham” means “gravelly home”. I don’t tend to think of the meanings of names, but they do have meanings nonetheless. I wonder if God was at work in the parents of Lazarus when they were naming him. For his name means “God Helps”.
The next character I want to look at is the disciple Thomas.
After finding out Lazarus was sick, Jesus waited two days. The narrative tells us in verse 7
- Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
- "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?"
- Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."
And it continues in verse 14
- So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
- Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Lazarus lived in Bethany, which is now a suburb of Jerusalem, but back at that time it was apparently 2 miles away from Jerusalem. The picture on the screen shows Bethany 150 years ago. Travelling to Bethany would have seemed quite dangerous to Jesus’ disciples. There had been growing pressure on him and his disciples by the religious leaders, and they were probably quite worried by this stage. But Jesus asks them the rhetorical question, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?” by which I think he is suggesting that He and they are safe until God’s appointed time. The response of Thomas initially seems quite puzzling however. Thomas will unfortunately always be remembered for wanting to feel the scars on the resurrected Jesus, and so be known as “Doubting Thomas”. But his response here shows that he was a man who was courageous enough to face death with Jesus. In verse 16, Thomas says, “Let us go and die with him.” I don’t think the “him” is referring to Lazarus. I think he is referring to Jesus, and is saying, “Let us go and die with Jesus” – that is “Let’s follow Jesus into the danger zone and be prepared to die with him”.
Another character worth examining is Martha, the sister of Lazarus.
We are told in verse 17, that by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. Many Jews of that era believed that the soul of a dead person stayed near the body for 3 days in the hopes of a resuscitation, but on the 4th day it departed. This belief would have made the coming miracle appear even more amazing.
On arriving in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus. I find it quite interesting that Martha went out to meet Jesus, rather than wait for him to come and find her, which is what would seem more natural to me. I think this is something I can learn from. When things are tough and times are bad, this verse reminds us to go and meet our Lord, to pray to him. When Martha meets Jesus she cries out that if only he were there, Lazarus would have lived. Verse 21 tells us
- "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
The words Jesus responds with are magnificent.
- 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?
He is the sustainer of life:
- I am the bread of life
He shows the path to life:
- I am the light of the world
He is the way to life:
- I am the gate
He guides us through life
- I am the good shepherd
And, he shows us his unity with the Father, telling us that he is the creator of life
- I am
His statement that he is the resurrection must appear ridiculous to those who don’t know him. If he was only a good man who lived 2,000 years ago, then he was clearly deluded. But Martha didn’t respond as if he was crazy. She responded as someone who believed what Jesus has just said.
- I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.
What a statement of faith!
The critical person in the story is of course Jesus. He has stated the truth that he is the resurrection and the life. There are two further events that unfold. Firstly, the words that made me think about this topic initially – “Jesus wept”. And secondly, that Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead man actually walked out of the tomb alive!
Verses 33 to 36 tells about Jesus weeping
- When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…
- Jesus wept.
- Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit” we’re told. The Greek word for "deeply moved" is a powerful one. It speaks both of great emotion and of the physical expression of that emotion. Elsewhere the word is translated as “groaned” and also “being angry”. In German Bibles the verse reads "Jesus became angry in spirit and troubled." But why would Jesus become angry?
But whatever the reason, it is clear that the death of Lazarus and the grief of his family and friends stirred Jesus deeply. This is a very important part of the story. The God whom Jesus reveals cares deeply about us. He is not apathetic. He is sympathetic. And he shares our pain. That is part of the meaning of love. Verse 5 said that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. 1 Corinthians says that love does not rejoice in what is wrong. If God loves us beyond human love, then He grieves and shares our pain more powerfully than any human grief or sympathy. And so we are told quite simply, “Jesus wept”. I think that this is beautiful and amazing.
And so Jesus had the stone rolled away, and in verse 44 we are told
- 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.
So Jesus had told the great truth about himself. He had showed that he loved Lazarus. And finally he had proven beyond any doubt that he had the ability to give life. His words and his emotions were not hollow or empty. Behind his words was real power.
We’ve seen the response of Thomas and Martha to Jesus, and that was before he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Both of them trusted Jesus, even though they may have been a little muddled in their thinking. Now that this amazing miracle has been performed, let’s look at how the crowd of onlookers reacted.
I’m a sceptical person by nature. Driving into work recently I heard John Edward being interviewed on the radio. You may have heard of his television show, “Crossing over”. He claims to speak to the dead relatives of people in his audience. He might say something like, “I’m getting a voice from someone called Rebecca. There is something about water too. Does that mean anything to anyone here?” And sure enough, someone yells out, “Oh, I have a dead sister called Rebecca. And she lived by the ocean!” I’m convinced he uses a combination of statistics, being vague and judging people’s facial expressions to make up a convincing sounding story. Surely someone here knows about a person called Rebecca, and water is suitably vague so that everyone could think of some sort of link (I have cousin called Rebecca, and she has a pool). So yes, I’m very sceptical by nature. Of course, my Christian beliefs don’t allow for spirits of dead people floating around waiting to talk to their living relatives. But even if I wasn’t a Christian, I know that I wouldn’t believe a word of what John Edward says in a million years.
Now I’m sure there were people like me in Palestine 2,000 years ago. There must have been many people in the crowd who were sceptics. Yet, nowhere in the passage is there any hint that anyone denied this miracle. No-one is recorded as having said, “He wasn’t really dead. It’s all a hoax!” It seems that the reality of this miracle was beyond doubt in the minds of those who saw Lazarus come to life. And they responded in one of two ways. Verses 45 and 46:
- Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done
Some put their faith in Jesus. But some did not. It’s much the same today really. There are those of us who hear about Jesus, and decide to follow him. But there are those of us who hear about him, and decide to reject him. Nothing has changed.
Of those in the crowd who did not put their faith in him, some went to the Pharisees. Not only were they not content in ignoring Jesus, but they felt the need to put a stop to him. Again, I think this represents people of today accurately. Some will ignore Christianity, but there are those who are actively trying to silence God’s people.
The story climaxes in the meeting of the Sanhedrin. The response of the rulers and leaders is quite incredible. You would imagine that the leaders would rejoice that a man had been brought to life. Or that at least they would stand in awe. But, somehow they completely looked past the miracle and saw only problems. In verses 47 and 48 the chief priests are quoted saying
- “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
They were worried that the Romans will take away their “place”. Their place may have meant the temple, which is quite ironic. The temple was thought to be the dwelling place of God. As they worried about losing the dwelling place of God, all the time, God in Jesus was dwelling among them. They were so blind that they couldn’t recognise God’s Son. They would read in Genesis that God created the man, breathing life into him. Yet they couldn’t make the link that if Jesus was bringing a man back to life, maybe he was telling the truth when he said that he and the Father were one.
But the even greater irony is, that their solution to the man who brought life, was to destroy life. By bringing life to Lazarus, Jesus had set into motion the specific plan to kill him, as it says in verse 53
So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Firstly, Caiaphas was a Sadducee. This meant he wouldn’t have believed in resurrection. The Sadducees believed that when the body died, the soul also died. Caiaphas should have been bowled over that someone who had died had been brought back to life. He should have been changed by it, ready to re-examine his beliefs. But there is no suggestion of that here. I find it quite remarkable that he couldn’t look past his hatred of Jesus to see that he, Caiaphas, might just be wrong.
Secondly, isn’t it interesting that God still used this man. Caiaphas was not in tune with the living God. Instead, he had turned his back completely on God. And yet, God still used him to make a prophecy. In verses 49 and 50
- Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
It’s strange how words like those of Caiaphas can be at the same time so beautiful and yet so terrible. And of course, they became true. Just a little time later, Jesus was hung on the cross to die. His death was to save the nation. To save Lazarus and Martha from death. To save the crowd of onlookers from death. To save even Caiaphas from death. And today, to save me and you from death.
In the story, different people have responded to Jesus differently. Thomas was willing to follow Jesus into danger. Martha trusted what Jesus said was true. Some of the crowd put their faith in Jesus. But some of the crowd did not. And Caiaphas, well, he decided to silence Jesus.
When we hear about Jesus today, how have we responded? Have we been willing to follow Jesus despite the danger? Have we believed what he said is true? Have we put our faith in him completely? I hope the answers are yes. I know for me, that I don’t always respond as I should. But I know that this story of Jesus weeping and raising a man to life does demand a response from me. Like Martha, the response includes a personal faith and trust in Jesus.
But I think this passages asks something more of us than just a personal acknowledgement of Jesus.
Firstly, if we are really to imitate Christ’s love, then we can’t watch someone suffer and not weep with them. When sin and death hurt a neighbour, it will hurt us too if we have God’s love in us. And what better way to show God’s love than by weeping with our neighbour.
And secondly, I think it is a call to evangelism. We know that Jesus brings life – that he is the resurrection and the life. And so, we can’t stand by and watch a family member or a friend not have had a chance to hear this good news. Our thinking and praying needs to be consumed with the desire to display the gospel to everyone we know, and everyone we meet.
I’d like to return to the beginning of the sermon, to the man who started the “Jesus wept” advertising campaign. He has this desire to spread God’s love and to preach the gospel. You might wonder though if his method has born any fruit. Well, this is story I found on the internet
- It seemed to me that every bus in front of me or across the road from where I was standing had 'Jesus wept' on it. After seeing this day after day, it began to seem like God was 'on my case' to go and check out Jesus. It seemed like the messages were meant for me personally. So recently I have been 'checking out' Christianity and seeing what it's all about, and I like what I see
Return to John 11