Jesus Encounter: Lazarus (John 11)


The Christian gospel is a unique message. Every other religious movement or idea has a founder or at least sparked by an individual that is now dead. Even if they were prophetically inspired by a divine being they have ceased to exist. Yet, not Christianity. Christianity is different in that it is not about you performing or reaching up but is about God reaching down in the person of Jesus. Jesus entered our world experiencing all humanity has to offer – even death (on a cross Philippians 2:8). But, Jesus’ life and teaching influence didn’t end as He was resurrected. Therefore, Christianity isn’t centered on religious teaching but on a person’s death and resurrection.

Most people are uncomfortable with the subject of death.

Illustration: Like the 3 guys who were speaking about their future death and funeral. Each wanted others to offer grand eulogies at their funeral services. The first guy emphasized wanting persons to speak about his philanthropy and how many thousands of dollars he gave away. The second guy remarked wanting persons to speak of his greatest influence among his family with wife and children. The third guy quipped, “I want someone to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”[1]

Likewise, the message of Jesus’ death is not final, it continues because of the glorious resurrection! Ultimately, the gospel message and Easter story is about God’s love for us. We can see 3 ways God shows His love through the story of Lazarus Encountering Jesus in John 11.


Jesus loves us by waiting (11:1-27).

Jesus receives word that Lazarus, a beloved friend, was ill. In essence, Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha were requesting Jesus to come and heal. John says that Jesus waits two days before He goes in route to see Lazarus. The conversation is something like, Martha: “Lord, I need you right now!” Jesus: “Yea, yea, I’ll be there in a couple days.” But, John also says that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus (11:5) not that he was loathsome to her request.

Jesus had been traveling and involved in public ministry for about 3 years now. These years had been the hardest of His life collecting only a few close friends/followers, experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion, opposition and threat on His life, and even spiritual warfare. A family member, (cousin) John the Baptizer, had recently been murdered. And this weighed on Jesus. So, what was Jesus doing when He was requested to save Lazarus? Rather than coming to cure he would come to a corpse. Did Jesus realize the urgency? Was Jesus stressed, over-worked, or simply unable to heal Lazarus? How was this waiting showing love?

Certainly, the point is that Jesus waits intentionally. He knew that Lazarus’ illness and death was “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). So, what is the purpose for Jesus’ waiting – not just for Lazarus but also in our own lives today? Why is it that we can pray about something for months seemingly without any response from God?

There’s something about waiting that is instructive. God is seldom in a hurry. When you are in a waiting season of life, God is very likely trying to teach and speak to you. Supremely, that you would seek and rely on Him rather than human resources. His lack of visible action does not mean His lack of affection; it simply is God’s approach – His divine method for directing your life toward dependence on Him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts your thoughts.”

Psalmist prayed for insight in the midst of waiting

Psalm 25:5 “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

God’s promise to those who wait with trust

Isaiah 26:3 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”


Lamentations 3:22-26 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Waiting can be a burden or a blessing. Which are you choosing?
     His waiting shows He cares

    1 Peter 5:7 “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you”

     His waiting shows He cautions

     2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient     

     toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Jesus loves us by weeping (11:28-37).

Mary and Martha are surrounded by family, friends and even professional mourners (wailers, flute players, etc.[2]). It was Jewish custom for the family to mourn and grieve for several weeks. This is known as “shiva” where the deceased’s family and visiting friends would be spent mourning together sitting on the floor for seven days. During this time there would also be no bathing, no wearing of clean clothes or shoes, and periods of fasting would be done. For the next 3 weeks the mourners would abstain from adornment and for the next year from common pleasures all to publicly signify their still grief.

If you’ve lost a loved one you know it’s a long process of sadness and sorrow. It feels like unbearable weight of 1000lbs on top and then eventually pushes all the air out of you that you’re wrung out and empty. Then after some time and you regain ability to move forward but it’s never the same. This is Mary & Martha. And we know Jesus cares and loves this family because of how He responds emotionally. He relates and counsels each of these ladies individually.

Martha is concerning and anxious. She runs to meet Jesus outside of the house. And Jesus speaks words of calm assurance:

John 11:25 “Your brother will rise again…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.”

– Christianity is not religious works reaching up to God but God’s relationship reaching down to man. Jesus enters this world to die and defeat death through the resurrection. All those who believe in Jesus shall live – both a quantity of life (eternal) and a quality of life (extraordinary).

Mary is contemplative and prayerful. She stays in the house to grieve. And Jesus weeps with compassion.
John 11:33, 35-36 “When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled… Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!””

– Christianity attaches us to a Person. Jesus identifies with us. The original language suggest Jesus is outraged over death (ενεβριμησατο – to snort [as horses] with anger; deeply agitated); it’s more than grief or sadness. In addition, Jesus wept (krusen – weep audibly not silently). His anger and crying centered on the heartbreaking consequences of sin, being death and even more would bring His own death! Perhaps also centering on the fact that these people were grieving seemingly with little hope – not trusting in the resurrection.

     In all, Jesus understands.

Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus cried out on the cross My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The brokenhearted One cares for other broken hearts

Psalm 34:18 “The lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Jesus loves us by working (John 11:38-44).

Jesus’ brokenheartedness compels Him to action. He approaches Lazarus’ tomb and commands the people to remove the sealed stone entrance. He is unfazed and unstopped at the stench of death (four day funk) or the stymie complaints. And He cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And indeed, Lazarus comes out bound in burial linens but is unbound – death no longer holds him!

Just as Jesus called out Lazarus, He calls out you. His work was not only to bring back Lazarus but also to confront the greatest enemy of mankind – that of sin, satan and death. This passage and ultimately the message of Jesus in the gospel is that death is not deadly – it’s a doorway to life. Religion is dead but Jesus is alive! This is the story of Easter; that eternity in Heaven is available to all who personally trust in Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 “God made alive together with Jesus, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”


Some people are waiting for God to do a miracle before they believe. “God, if you will just resurrect someone, some thing in my life THEN I will believe.” No you won’t. There were some in the crowd of Lazarus’ day and they didn’t believe. Instead, they dug their heels in all the more and sought a way to get rid of Jesus. God’s greatest miracle is in the cross & resurrection. Do you believe?

God has you hearing this message to tell you that HE LOVES YOU

BY WAITING – for you to turn and trust.

BY WEEPING – for your circumstances and eternal fate

BY WORKING – for you to believe and receive Jesus.

Jesus says, ‘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? (John 11:25)

[1] Illustrative story heard from sermon by Dr. Stephen Rummage.

[2] Donald Carson, PNTC The Gospel of John, p.415.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Heinz Witteveen says:

    Come, Lord Jesus, come! Grace2U, Heinz.

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