John 11:-10 | Sovereign Over Death | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 11:1–11:16
Please open your Bible to John 11. The text for the morning is found in verses 1 through 16. You can really title, as we have, this chapter The End of Death. Jesus, here in John 11, does a seventh sign. Remember we’ve been talking about the seven signs of Jesus all throughout the gospel of John. Well, here is the seventh and final sign that he does. The seventh and final miracle proving that he himself is God. He comes in the power of God himself. And it is the resurrection of a man named Lazarus, a man who was once dead and then now lives again.
And so we see this sign that Jesus does and we’re going to take it in its parts, obviously, to get the full richness of what Jesus is teaching. So, for this morning, we will be in verses 1 through 16. Please follow along as I read.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 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."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" 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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
In this text we see the beginning of Jesus’ teaching that he is sovereign over death. The title of this particular message, "Sovereign Over Death." Sovereign—in control, having authority over death.
There is a phrase used to describe arrogant doctors. We’ve got some doctors in our body and I don’t think of them as arrogant doctors; I think of them as humble doctors. But there are some out there who are arrogant physicians and they’re said to have a God complex.
There’s a movie—I’ve not seen it—but Googled the quote. There’s a movie where one of these doctors puts his arrogance on display. And he says this, "When someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn’t miscarry or that their daughter doesn’t bleed to death or that their mother doesn’t suffer acute neurotrauma from post-operative shock, who do you think they’re praying to? You ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something: I am God."
That’s a fictional physician making a statement that many probably actually believe, that they, because they can do so many things medically, can stop death from happening. But there’s only one problem: They themselves die at some point and cannot give themselves new life.
There’s only one person that has the power over life and death, who creates life, who can also raise a life that has once been dead. And that is Jesus Christ. That’s the testimony of Scripture. That’s the testimony of history. That’s the testimony of the early church. Jesus Christ has power over death.
And in this chapter he puts that on display. And you can see that in this chapter there are a number of people who don’t always come to embracing that idea so easily. His disciples, the women, some people who doubt—they’re not sure about all of these claims. You even see this in the disciples as they are fearful of their life and fearful for his life. But Jesus, ever the teacher, is teaching lessons in verses 1 through 16.
So I’m going to look at the three lessons that Jesus is teaching. As I was reading through this this week, you see Jesus teaching, teaching, teaching. Yes, he’s sovereign over death, but he is teaching by his actions and by his words how people should respond to this power that he holds. And so this morning we’re going to look at three lessons Jesus teaches us as the glorious sovereign over death. Three lessons Jesus teaches us as the glorious sovereign over death.
And so these lessons, as I outline them for you this morning, are going to be in imperative form. The things that we need to learn. We need to know about what Jesus is teaching us.
1. Trust in Sovereign Love.
The first lesson is this: Trust in sovereign love. Trust in sovereign love. We see this in verses 1 through 6. Verse 1 sets the stage for us. "Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha." Now just to kind of explain where we’re at here. Bethany is a town about two miles from Jerusalem. It’s on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives, so not very far from Jerusalem. It’d take longer to walk there than drive there, obviously. It’s a little distance from Jerusalem. It’s immediately in the area where the Pharisees are waiting for Jesus or threatening Jesus.
It’s a little distance away, but it’s pretty close to Jerusalem and it’s pretty heated if Jesus were to go back there, because remember they want to kill him. They want him to die. He is not in Bethany. He’s further away. So he’s in this village of Bethany and we notice that Lazarus, a man there, is ill. And from the following verses we know that Lazarus was evidently familiar with Jesus; in fact, Jesus loved Lazarus, as Jesus loved his sisters, Mary and Martha.
John assumes that we’d know Mary and Martha. By the time of people’s reading of the gospel of John, Mary and Martha and Lazarus would have been very prominent. Everybody certainly would have known this family and they certainly would know Mary. Why? We’ll see that in chapter 12. Verse 2 says, "It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill." John is telling us something about Mary that he’ll explain later on in his gospel, but that everybody—every one of his readers—would have known by now. Mary is the one who anointed the Lord’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair. That’s the one whose brother Lazarus was ill.
So in a sense Mary’s kind of the prominent one here at the beginning. It’s her brother that is ill. This makes sense because in Mark 14:9 after Mary does this, after Mary does this wonderful act of devotion to the Lord, Jesus promised that wherever the gospel was preached in the world, she would be known for what she had done. And so that’s evidenced here in John when John says it was Mary’s brother Lazarus that was ill. You know Mary, the one that wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and anointed him with oil, and every reader of John would have said, oh, yeah, that Mary; we know that Mary. And that prophesy still holds true today in Prescott. Today in 2016, yes, we know that Mary, the one who anointed Jesus. So when Jesus says that someone will always be known for what they’ve done, he actually is right. It’s true.
She’s the one whose brother Lazarus was ill (verse 3). So the sisters did what any sisters who loved their brother would do. The sisters sent to him saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill. Now remember, Jesus is quite a ways away from Bethany and Jerusalem. He is not close. At the end of chapter 10 we learn that he left and went across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first and there he remained. He stayed for a while (chapter 10, verse 40).
Jesus escaped the immediate threat of the Jewish leaders and went back to where John had been baptizing years earlier. And then he believed and came to him. Jesus left there because he was out of the way, out of the way of the threat of the Jews. And so they send to him. They need Jesus. Their brother is ill. Their brother is dying. They need Jesus to help, so they send to him. And notice, they say, Lord, he whom you love is ill. They don’t say, Lord, our brother’s ill. Lord, Lazarus is ill. They kind of play on the affection of Christ. It’s probably what I would say, too. Lord, the one you love back here is ill. Please come back.
Verse 4: "But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death.’" Now, it would have taken a messenger probably a couple of days to get from Bethany to where Jesus was. And the messenger comes with news to Jesus. Lord, Mary and Martha sent me and they’re telling me to tell you that the one you love is ill. And Jesus immediately says, this illness does not lead to death. To which the messenger could say back, how in the world do you know? Well, we know it’s because Jesus is sovereign. He knows all things.
Remember early in John when Jesus healed the royal official’s son and Jesus wasn’t even there? He healed him from a distance. Jesus is sovereign over illness, sovereign over everything. He knows what’s coming. He knows what’s going to happen. He knows the outcome of it. He knows. "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."
This isn’t the first time Jesus has spoken this type of language to refer to sin. Go back to chapter 9, a couple of pages or one page perhaps. Chapter 9, remember when Jesus healed the man born blind. Chapter 9 starts out with this: "As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’" (John 9:1-3).
So this is familiar for Jesus. Lord, something bad is happening. Someone’s sick. Someone’s dying. And Jesus says, don’t worry about it; it’s so that God will be glorified. There’s something greater than the sickness that’s going to happen.
Now the healing of Lazarus isn’t what is important about chapter 11. That is very important. The most important thing about chapter 11 is that Jesus Christ is to be glorified for the healing of Lazarus. There’s a difference there. It’s not just, he healed him; he’s back. No, that thought is supposed to end on worship and adoration toward Christ. No, Lazarus has been raised from the dead and that is meant to give glory to the only person who could do that work—Jesus Christ.
Jesus says it’s for the glory of God. And notice, by the way, the subtlety of Jesus. It’s not just for the glory of God; it’s for the glory of God so that the Son of God, Jesus himself, may be glorified through it. Now, if there’s one thing that you should not ever do, it’s steal glory from God himself. Jesus says this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God so that the Son of God, meaning yours truly, Jesus in the flesh—so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Is it so God the Father may be glorified or is it so Jesus the Son may be glorified? Yes, is the answer.
Verse 5: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Such an important statement. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Jesus loves this family. He knows this family. And the reason John put that in there, I’m convinced, is because if we just went from verse 4 to verse 6, we might doubt whether that was true.
Verse 6: "So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was." If I came to you and I told you your child, in a different city, in a different town, is ill and it’s serious, you would drop everything you were doing, get in a car, get on a plane, whatever it took, and go. Wouldn’t you? That’s what we would all do.
Jesus is different. Well, does that mean he doesn’t love them? No, verse 5 says he does. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." So when he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed. Oh, of course he did. It doesn’t make sense to us.
There’s a television show I liked to watch—it’s since been canceled, not due to me; due to others who didn’t watch it—a television show I liked to watch, and one of the characters is talking about a man who was supposed to be going to see his girlfriend in the hospital but he stopped to hang out with some buddies and grab a drink real quick before he went to see his girlfriend who was in the hospital. And one of the characters says, if you were in the hospital, I would never stop to have a drink with my buddies. And the character who he was talking to says back to him, if you were in the hospital, I wouldn’t stop for red lights. The idea being nothing would stop me from getting to you.
And that resonates with us. We know that feeling as parents, grandparents, friends. Anybody we love, if they were in trouble, we will be there. Right? And I wouldn’t advise going through red lights. There’s a reason even ambulances slow down a little bit. You need to get there safely. But the idea is, if someone we love is in trouble, we will go to be there. Maybe just to comfort, maybe there’s something we could do to help.
Jesus loved but he stayed. Why? Because he knows exactly what’s happening. And he’s got the best in mind for Lazarus and the people who will see what he’s about to do. Because his love includes sovereignty over everything, he’s on a different timetable.
Now, today, how does this affect your life today? Have you ever been in a difficult situation and you don’t know what Jesus is doing? And you maybe even question his love for you. Lord, why have you given me this to bear? Lord, why did you not give me this job? Lord, why did you not give me this person? Lord, why are you doing this or that? And sometimes we think that because he does something different than we’d expect him to do, maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he’s not sovereign. And the fact is, both are actually true. He cares and he’s sovereign and he wants us to trust. Trust.
In Isaiah 55, Isaiah—if you ever read through the book of Isaiah, there’s a lot of judgment in Isaiah. A lot of judgment toward God’s own people, the nation of Israel. But starting in chapter 40, you start to see promises of restoration and redemption and salvation. In Isaiah 55 there’s a prophecy where Yahweh says to the nation, I’m going to restore you and I’m also going to make a great name for myself and it’s going to be by including the Gentiles in salvation.
Now when the Israelites heard the term "Gentile," they thought wicked, evil, horrible people. And so they’re kind of scratching their head thinking, you’re going to make a great name for yourself and show yourself to be righteous and a savior by bringing them in? I don’t get it. To which Yahweh says, "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 than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
Let me say this to all of us: Be careful of judging Christ’s love for you based on the difficulty of your trial. Be careful of judging Christ’s love for you based on the length of your trial. Be careful of judging Christ’s love for you based on the lack of answers that you have about what’s going to happen in the future of your trial. Trust in Christ. Two reasons: Because he is sovereign over all things and because he loves his own. He does. He loves his own.
And so when two sisters whom he loves and a sick man whom he loves are languishing, he doesn’t immediately go. And that does not show his lack of love. It shows his sovereignty and his love, because he will go and he will take care of this.
I think there’s a simple prayer to pray in light of this truth, this imperative to trust in his sovereign love for you. The simple prayer is simply this: Think of your trial. Think of what you’re anxious about. Think of what you’re going through. And can you pray from the heart: Lord, you are sovereign and you love me. I trust you. Really easy to say but I pray that your heart can get there in whatever it is you’re going through today because of these verses. The character of God has been revealed in these verses. This is who he is.
2. Imitate the Sovereign Confidence of Christ.
So, first lesson: Trust in sovereign love. Second lesson: Imitate the sovereign confidence of Christ. Imitate sovereign confidence. I love these verses. Verse 7 says this: "Then after this, he said to his disciples"—after this, and the "this" is two days. So after he stayed for two days, after knowing his friend was sick to the point of almost dying, after this, after waiting around for two days, he said to his disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."
Now the disciples probably didn’t expect him to say that after two days. Oh, a messenger came two days ago and told Jesus that Lazarus was ill and it was evidently so serious that Mary and Martha sent him all these dozens and dozens of miles to get Jesus, and Jesus says this illness is going to be for the glory of God and he just stayed there. So, we’re just going to stay here and Lazarus may die; he may be healed; we don’t know. The disciples wouldn’t have expected after two days Jesus to say, "Let us go to Judea again." But he did, to which the disciples say, verse 8: "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?"
Now, the Jews were seeking to stone him a few months earlier. There would have been a few months’ time. But what they’re saying here is, this is still fresh in their mind, Lord. If you go back, they were just now talking about stoning you. They know that if he goes back, it’s likely to be the last time he goes back. And, by the way, it would be the last time he’d go back to Judea, to Jerusalem. The threat may be months old, but it’s still real and hot.
Verse 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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’" Jesus teaches them something here. When they say, Lord, they’re going to get you if you go back. They’re waiting for you. Are you seriously going to go back? Jesus—surprise, surprise—teaches them a lesson. And it’s a rather obvious one.
If you walk around in the day, you won’t stumble, but if you walk in the night, you’ll stumble. To which they might be thinking, okay, what does that have to do with anything? Well, here’s what it would have to do with something. They would have known a little bit about what Jesus was saying because he uses similar language in other places in John. He’s told them similar things in his earthly ministry. He talks about light quite often. In fact, just a few months before he said, I’m the light of the world.
But when Jesus first came in his public ministry, he said this to the crowd that was listening to him: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:14-16). Jesus is making an obvious statement here in John 11. If you walk in the day, you can see. If you walk at night, you’ll stumble.
This time period where Jesus has been told by a messenger that Lazarus is ill and he’s going to go to his friend in the most dangerous place in the ancient Near East (Judea, Jerusalem), because he says he’s going to go, he’s saying, this is time for me to work. It’s daytime. I know it’s dangerous there, but it’s daytime. I’ve got to work. What he’s also saying is that if I do what I’m supposed to do according to the Father in daytime, nothing can touch me. Nothing can touch me until the darkness comes. That would be the time of his crucifixion.
So Jesus knows when exactly he’s going to die. Remember earlier in John he said that no one takes my life from me; I lay it down on my own. Jesus is sovereign of when he’s going to die. And he says now’s not the time. It’s daytime, time to work. I’m going, as they’re nervously shaking. It’s time to work. He can’t stumble, because he’s the light of the world and he walks in the light of the Father.
John 9—go back to John 9 one more time. John 9:3-4. When he answers their question about who sinned, Jesus says this: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." And then Jesus says this—he doesn’t say I must work the works of God—he then says, "We"—me and you guys—disciples, followers. "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day [notice similar language]; night is coming, when no one can work."
Jesus does this. Jesus came as the light of the world to be a light to the nations so they would find salvation. Salvation and light go hand in hand. So they would find salvation. And he brings his followers with him to say, you are walking in the light. You are to work in the light. You are to bring the light to people just as I am bringing myself, the light, to people.
So this is a common thing that Jesus does. He says, I’m on a mission; and guess what, because I’m on a mission and you’re with me, you’re on a mission. That’s what Jesus is teaching these disciples who are nervous about going back to Judea, the area where Jerusalem was in. So he’s teaching them something. It’s daytime, time for me to work; and guess what, guys, time for you to work also. That’s what he’s saying.
At the end of John, after the resurrection, in John 20, Jesus says to the disciples again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I’m sending you" (John 20:21). Jesus is always telling his disciples, you’re going to engage in the mission just like I’m engaging in the mission from heaven. I’ve been sent from heaven; guess what, you’ve been sent as well by me. Go. And this is what Jesus is teaching. Guys (verses 9-10), it’s time to work; it’s daytime. That’s what he’s saying.
Today, for us, a disciple of Christ knows that they are here to engage in the work the Lord has sent them to do. This comes at a risk though, doesn’t it? The disciples faced death. If we go with him and he dies, what’s going to happen to us? It comes at a risk. What are some of the risks today for us as we engage in his work of spreading the gospel? Lack of popularity, criticism, hatred, false accusations, persecution, people avoiding us, people thinking we’re fanatical. I mean, there are all sorts of risks to telling people about the light of the world, to telling people they’re in darkness and can come to the light of Christ. There are all sorts of risks.
But our Lord did what the Father had told him to do and he entrusted his life to the Father. And he’s basically calling on the disciples to do the same thing. Guys, it’s time to work. It’s time to work.
Just a week ago I found out another wonderful reason I love being pastor of this church. There are a lot, by the way. I was told of a lady in our church who was at women’s Bible study and she had been determining for some time to write out her testimony, her gospel testimony, what happened in her life because of Jesus Christ and to send it to a number of family and friends. She was telling her table this, and some of you were at that table and you know who I’m talking about. She was at that table and saying, I need to do this; I want to do this.
And this is a lady who is out of her teenage years. She’s a little older than that. But a young college student at her table said, well then, I’ll help you do that. I’ll type it up. I’ll help you. So they got together and the college student typed it up and there was the testimony and she said that she had plans to send it to 50 friends and family. It turned out being 60; and actually, there’s 70, so she’s got to make some more copies.
But this last week she was going to send it out and a couple ladies in the church got together with her after church last Sunday and prayed over these letters that their impact would be strong for Christ. That’s a lady right there in our body who gets that it’s time to work. It’s time to work. It’s time to spread the fame of Christ and to tell people what he’s done for you, what he can do for them.
I asked her—I called her on the phone just to verify the story, so I would get all the facts correctly, and I asked her about this—and she said this: I know a few people might not like it but it’s what Jesus has done in my life. That’s a person who’s willing to maybe be unpopular to some, because this is what Jesus has done in my life and I’ve got to say it.
In the words of verse 9, our Lord—it’s time to work. It’s daytime. It’s time to do what he says. If you are more like the disciples in this verse, like I can often be, than Jesus—Jesus is saying, hey, it’s time to work. I’m going to the hottest place and I could die for it. I get it, time to work. The disciples are saying, Lord, not only if you go back there, but if we go back there, we’re dead meat.
I wonder if that fear has ever gripped you in thinking about sharing your faith, thinking about telling people about Christ. If that fear has been true or is true in your life, I would say, preach God’s sovereignty to your fear. Christ is in charge of what happens to you. Yes, you may be less popular, criticized, hated, have false accusations levied against you, maybe even experience persecution, people leaving you.
But trust in the resurrection. Why the resurrection? Because what’s the worst that can happen to you? And I doubt it will happen, by the way. We’re in America; it doesn’t happen too often. If you preach the gospel to someone and they execute you for it, okay, the resurrection is true, is it not? Or is it just something we celebrate once a year? The resurrection’s a real thing, so preach the sovereignty of God and the resurrection to your fear.
But also preach that Christ is one who gives rewards for those who are faithful to him. Preach that. He said that if you will follow him, and whatever you lose, he’ll pay it back. He’ll give you eternal rewards. Paul says this. He knew this at the end of his life. 2 Tim. 4:6-8, he said:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul preached the sovereignty of God even over his own death, because he knew what was coming: a resurrection and reward. Jesus knew what was coming when he went preaching the gospel in the most difficult part of the battle. He knew his own resurrection was coming and his own reward was coming. You can see that in 1 Corinthians 15.
It’s the same thing that we need to be equipped with when we go to preach the gospel to a neighbor who might not talk to us anymore. We know the resurrection’s coming and we know that eternal rewards are coming. It’s daytime. Time to work. Imitate sovereign confidence. Evangelists need to be confident, not in their own wit, not in their own rhetoric, not in their own intelligence, but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in his plan.
3. Believe in Sovereign Power.
Here’s the third lesson Jesus teaches in these passages: Believe in sovereign power. Believe in sovereign power. Verse 11: "After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’" Now remember, Jesus still hasn’t left yet. He’s still miles and miles and miles from Bethany. And he says, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. So earlier he knew that he was ill; now he knows that he’s fallen asleep, which Jesus is talking about he’s dead. Jesus knows this from far away. "But I go to awaken him."
Verse 12: "The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’" The thought back then—and it’s still true today—the thought back then is, rest is good for the body, right? Doctors may prescribe you, take these pills and rest. Rest is good for the body.
We have some young, little people in our home and they often at bedtime all of a sudden come up with the craziest ailments that they didn’t experience earlier in the day. They have these ailments and they come out of their bedroom, and my chin itches and all sorts of medical problems. And we have a saying—it usually starts off with, you’re in luck; it’s bedtime and sleep is the best thing for it. Sleep is the best thing for it.
And I don’t know what they’re thinking when they come out of their room. Like, because their chin itches, we’re just going to break out the finest desserts and let them stay up ‘til midnight. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but do you know how many times we said, sleep is the best thing for it? I mean, you think they would get the message by now. But it seems to be new to them every time. And you can see them hang their head in disgust, turn, walk down the hall, and ahh, foiled again.
But we know that rest is good for the body. And so the disciples say to Jesus, who says Lazarus is asleep, they think, well good. That’s good. He can rest. His body can heal itself.
Verses 13-14: "Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died"—guys, he’s not asleep. Lazarus is dead. And verse 15—remember how earlier in verses 5 and 6 we learned that Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha, and then verse 5 is kind of an oddball statement—so then he stayed where he was. Same thing here—guys, Lazarus has died. Verse 15: "and for your sake I’m glad I wasn’t there."
Hey, hey, hey, wait. What? You love him. You love his family. Why are you glad that he wasn’t there? You healed the royal official’s son before he died. Why aren’t you glad that you quickly got there and healed him before he died? Why isn’t that what you’re excited about? Why are you glad that he’s died? "[A]nd for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you [guys] may believe."
So Jesus can find joy even when one who he loves dies, because the death isn’t the end. And he wants his disciples, he wants people to believe in that, to trust in that message, to bank on that message. So Jesus says, "for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Let us go to him. Now, you’d expect, at this point, you’d expect the disciples—I mean, they’re processing a lot. Lazarus whom Jesus loves. And they probably loved him also. They would have known Lazarus. They might have been fearful of what was happening to Lazarus. They’re going through these emotions just like Jesus is. They don’t know what’s going to happen. Jesus does.
Then he says, we’re going to go back to Judea, and they’re thinking, oh, no, now I’m sad that my friend is dying and now I think I might die, if I go back there. All these emotions are happening in these disciples, and Jesus says, "for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him" again. Jesus makes this bold declaration that there could actually be some joy because of what he knows that they maybe don’t know. And Jesus kind of sets out on the road—let us go to him. And you would wish, you would wish the disciples would say, you know what, guys? He’s right. He’s right. Look at all he’s done. What do we have to fear? Let’s go.
Verse 16: "So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’" Now, there is debate over whether this is Thomas saying, guys, let us go with him so that we will die also, in some sort of Braveheart moment. Most commentators don’t think that’s what’s happening and I don’t think that’s what’s happening as well. I believe this is Thomas being the skeptic of the party, being the pessimist of the party, saying, let’s go, let’s go die. That’s what I believe is happening here.
Why do I believe that that’s happening? Well, because Thomas—and by the way, John is the only one that fleshes out the words of Thomas. The other guys just mention him in lists of the disciples. John talks about what he’s like. Thomas, after the resurrection before he sees Jesus, is skeptical. You guys believe it? I won’t believe it until I can see the nail holes. I don’t believe it. What does Jesus do? Shows up, shows him the nail holes, and Thomas falls down and says, my Lord and my God.
John then is setting us up to understand what Thomas is experiencing. And right after that, by the way, in chapter 20, John tells us the theme for his book. I’m writing these things to you so that you know that Jesus is the Son of God and by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). Following Thomas’s confession of, Lord, you are God, and I know it now, John says, that’s the whole reason I’m writing this book to you.
So I don’t think Thomas’s high point, high moment is here in John 11. It’s in John 20. Thomas is skeptical. Thomas is pessimistic. Thomas needs to have more signs. Thomas isn’t the great, confident leader here in chapter 11. He would be later in his life, after he saw the resurrected Lord. But this isn’t Thomas making some bold statement. This is Thomas saying what probably the rest of the disciples were thinking. Oh, my goodness, we’re dead. That’s what’s happening.
Jesus is teaching his disciples that they should be amazed at his power, to the point of complete trust in him, because he alone can raise the dead. That’s what Jesus is teaching. He has power. Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep and Jesus meant dead. Our friend Lazarus has died but I will go to awaken him. And Jesus wants them to believe that.
By the way, notice what Thomas is doing. Thomas is allowing the cares of this world—death—to keep him from truly and confidently trusting in Christ. Now that hits a little closer to home. We say we believe the resurrection but how many of you are anxious today? That’s Thomas. So far he’s believed all six signs that Jesus has done. Jesus, my rabbi, is powerful, unlike any other rabbi. And Jesus says, let’s go to the most difficult part of the battle; and Thomas says, oh, my gosh, we’re going to die.
It’s a lot like us, isn’t it? We’ll sing, "Christ the Lord is risen today," later on in April; but today in November, we’re really anxious about a lot of things. Resurrection and anxiety don’t fit together. The resurrection of the dead and anxiety do not fit together. Listen, death is the worst thing that can happen to us. Take the fear that you have, take the anxiety you have today and play it out and have its end be death. Well, if I do this, and he says this, and she goes there, and they do this, and then I might die. Play that scenario out, and if you’re a believer, then play it out even further: And then I live again, and I have no more pain, no more suffering, no more fear. Play that all the way out to the resurrection and don’t put the period at death; put the period at resurrection.
Thomas is letting the cares of this world keep him from truly and confidently trusting in Christ, the one who has power over death. The Lord has said it. He said that he’s going to go to awaken Lazarus. D. A. Carson says, "I’m not suffering from anything a good resurrection can’t fix." And that’s the truth, isn’t it? I wonder if you believe that. Let me ask you, do you believe that? You’re not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix.
There are two times we often think of the resurrection: Easter (Resurrection Sunday) and when someone is dying. I think the resurrection should be thought of every single day. The resurrection should be preached to every single trial, every single ailment of the body, every single fractured relationship. The resurrection should be preached to that pain and suffering. The resurrection should be the lens we see everything through.
And you know the church meets on Sunday. It didn’t follow what the Jews once did and meet in the synagogues on Saturday. It meets on Sunday. Why? Because the Lord rose on Sunday. We’ve always got something to celebrate—week after week after week and moment after moment after moment. The resurrection should change the way we see the world and change the way we see all of our problems.
Hey, this world is just cursed. The hip’s going to hurt. The relationship’s going to suffer. It’s just a horrible place in that sense. Thank God for his common grace which makes it not as bad as it could be. We got a lot of things to enjoy here. But we don’t hope in better from this world. We trust in better from the next—the new heavens, the new earth where there is no more curse. The resurrection should frame the way we think.
So, do you believe in the sovereign power of Christ? And if you do, then it should lessen your anxiety, lessen your fear, lessen your concerns.
I want to finish by asking you this question and I’ll explain what I mean by it in a moment. Do you have hope like Larry King or like a first-century Christian?
You know who Larry King is—the man who famously interviewed many people on CNN until his show was canceled. Larry King has a fixation with death. He’s not a Christian. He has a fixation with death.
One New York Times reporter talked about how King views death and is obsessed with it, and he says this: "To move against age and death, he [King] takes hormone pills for human growth, four of them each day. He plans on his body to be frozen so that someday he will live again." The New York Times writer reports: "‘It’s nuts,’ concedes King, but at least it gives him a shred of hope." Those are depressing words: a shred of hope.
There’s a first-century Christian named Ignatius of Antioch. He was born just a couple years after our Lord died and rose again and went to heaven. Ignatius of Antioch was the third bishop of Antioch. You can read more about the mission to Antioch in the book of Acts. But Ignatius of Antioch became a Christian and he was discipled by someone. You know him: John. The gospel writer, the apostle John, discipled Ignatius of Antioch.
Ignatius of Antioch was eventually martyred, threatened, and there’s a reason that he went forward and was a minister for Christ. It’s because of the resurrection. He says this: "As for me, my charter is Jesus Christ. The inviolable charter is his cross, his death, and his resurrection and faith through him."
You see in the gospels and in Acts—you see this more fully in Acts—the resurrection launched the church. The resurrection made timid people bold, because they knew what would happen even if they were martyred. The resurrection changes everything. And Jesus, in John 11, for the first time is showing us that he is sovereign over death and we can trust and put all of our hope in him.
May we, Canyon Bible Church of Prescott, be like our first-century brothers and sisters who banked everything on the fact that Jesus Christ is sovereign over death.
Father, we praise you because you have determined to make your Son not only the life giver but also the one who defeats death, the very thing that takes away life. We can have confidence beyond the grave. We can have confidence beyond what this world fears the most—death. Lord Jesus Christ, we’re talking to you, the same one who taught your disciples these lessons. We pray that you would speak these lessons to our heart, that we would have a confidence, that we would engage in your work knowing that you are sovereign over anything that can happen to us. We pray that we would trust your love for us. We know you love us. We know you’re sovereign. May we believe that from the heart. Lord, may these words and these verses encourage us in how we see everything happening this week before us. We pray this in your name. Amen.
More in The End of Death
January 8, 2017John 11:38-44 | The Sovereign Raises the Dead | Andrew Gutierrez
January 1, 2017John 11:28-37 | The Sovereign's Emotions | Andrew Gutierrez
December 18, 2016John 11:17-27 | Something Better Than the Resurrection | Andrew Gutierrez