Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 23, 2000
None of us like getting sick, unless we are not miserable, but just sick enough to have a legitimate excuse to not go to that meeting or take that test we want to avoid. We all understand that sickness and disease are our enemies. Consider all that we do to avoid being sick and trying to recover if we do get sick. We spend billions and billions of dollars per year trying to maintain our health and getting cured if we do get sick.
Sickness, disease and death are enemies that came with Adam’s fall into sin. The first animals died when they became the clothes that covered Adam and Eve’s shame. The result of fall into sin was God’s curse on the serpent, on Eve, on Adam and on the Earth. We live on an Earth polluted with sin that has affected everything. The world of tooth and claw, of predators, parasites and prey came into being. A lot of diseases are caused by micro-organisms that invade out bodies and attack our cells.
The environment changed too from the wonderful garden of Eden to a land cursed with weeds and where man would have to live by the sweat of his face. In addition, we live post-flood and the soils themselves have been mixed, stirred and leached. Some soils lack enough minerals for growing plants that will supply us with what we need while other soils are too high in some elements and are unhealthy for us. Our bodies become unhealthy because we lack for one nutrient while we have reached toxic levels of another. Man himself pollutes the environment with wastes and chemicals that harm his body. Then there is genetic decline resulting in congenital diseases. Our bodies do not work properly because they lack the proper genetic information to do so. Some of these are minor and some are severe.
Some diseases and sicknesses are caused by our own sin. When we expose our bodies to the wrong things, they can be overwhelmed. This can be seen in nausea and headaches caused by fumes from solvents. We can eat the wrong things and also suffer. Most of us have seen the results when someone abuses alcohol or drugs and their bodies start breaking down from those chemicals.
Some diseases are caused by the sin of other people. Some of the genetic diseases are caused because the parents did not take proper care of themselves resulting in a child born with birth defects. There are the diseases spread by other people, like the cook whose careless preparation gives his guest getting food poisoning, or the wife who receives a STD because of her husband’s unmentioned adultery.
There are also diseases that are simply a result of living in a sin fallen world. Lyme disease and West Nile Fever would be examples of those. You do not get them as a result of some particular sin you did or someone else did. You get them because they are in our environment and you are subject to being bitten by a tick or mosquito. The world does not work according to God’s original design. That is why in Romans 8:21,22 we find creation itself longing to be free from its current corruption and being remade.
Some weeks ago we broached this subject when we examined John 9 and the story of the man born blind. The common view of the day was that any physical disease or handicap was caused by sin, usually that of the afflicted individual. In case of the man born blind the question on the disciples minds was how could the individual sin while in the womb? Was it then, therefore, the sin of his parents? Jesus took that opportunity answer their theological dilemma by correcting their false premise. Jesus answered, “[It was] neither [that] this man sinned, nor his parents; but [it was] in order that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3).
This morning we are going to see an expansion of this idea as we see God’s working in the case of Lazarus. God does not work according to our own ideas of good, bad, right and wrong. God knows what He is doing and is powerful enough to use things like disease, regardless of whether the cause is the individual’s sin, someone’s sin or just the results of sin in our fallen world, to bring glory to Himself. We must always keep in mind that God has made us for His purposes and not we Him for our purposes.
Turn to John 11:1. The exact timing of this passage is uncertain, but it is not hard to figure out the general timing. Chapter 10 closes with Jesus in Bethany beyond the Jordan following the Feast of Dedication which occurs in December (John 9:22,40). Chapter 12 begins the week before Passover which was in April. This even occurs sometime between, and due to the fact that the Jews had been seeking to kill Jesus during the Feast of Dedication (John 9:31,39) and that the disciples are afraid that the same will occur upon their return (John 10:16), it is safe to conclude that this was recently after those events. Most likely late January or February.
1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
Lazarus, Martha & Mary were all good friends of Jesus. They had hosted Him on previous occasions (Luke 10:38f). John makes sure the readers understand exactly whom he was talking about for Lazarus (short for Eleazar) and Mary were common names. This is specifically the Lazarus of Bethany and his sisters including that particular Mary that anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair (John 12:3).
We do not know what sickness Lazarus had, but it was serious enough for his sisters to send a messenger to let Jesus know about it. If Jesus is in Bethany beyond the Jordan, then it would be about a two-day trip for the messenger to get there. The sisters do not demand anything of Jesus, but simply let Him know that Lazarus, “whom you love is sick.” They rest completely in the knowledge that Jesus will do what is right because of His love for them. The particular love mentioned here (fileV/phileis) is the love of close friendship.
Perhaps this is the first lesson for us in this chapter. For most of us, if someone we love is sick, our tendency is to complain and demand. Often that tendency is even stronger if we are the one sick.
The example of these two women is a good one to follow if we truly desire to come to God properly with the requests that are on our hearts. First, they acknowledged whom they were sending the message to, “lord.” Some would want to reduce this to the equivalent of “sir” since the word lord here (kurie/kurie) can be used in that sense, but I have a hard time believing that is the sense they were using it. They are good friends with Jesus and call His attention to the love of that friendship. From that standpoint they would have been more likely to have been informal. But more importantly, Mary and Martha are followers of Jesus and they have already come to believe that He is the Messiah who is fully capable of healing Lazarus instantly. I believe the sense of “lord” here is that of “master.” They are appealing to the one they acknowledge has control over them and whom they want to follow.
That is the best place to start when making an appeal to God. Recognize first and foremost who you are bringing your request to and His capability in dealing with whatever problem you may be facing. God does not exist for our pleasure. We exist for His. Therefore, we had better approach Him with a proper reverence and submission to Him. Mary and Martha do this in their approach to Jesus by calling Him Lord.
In addition, Mary and Martha recognize Jesus’ love for them and they make their appeal based on that love. This is another example for us to follow. We do not need to beg or plead as if somehow that will better gets God’s attention. Neither do they need to tell Jesus exactly what to do or how to do it. The message they sent has a full expectation that Jesus will responsed to the information they sent act in accordance to His love for them. “The one whom you love is sick.” We can come to God the same way.
Do we know that God loves us? Yes. He has declared it over and over in the Scriptures. It is declared again in Romans 5:8 while pointing to the act that proves that love. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God’s love for us in proven in Jesus Christ, and so we can come to Him confident of that love. People are fickle and change, but God never changes. God has the same love for us now that He had when Jesus Christ bore our sins on calvary. We do not have to beg from Him. We do not need to nor should we tell Him what to do and how to do it. We need only let Him know of our need. He will care for us.
Jesus initial response and his message back to Martha & Mary’s recorded in verse 4 But when Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Jesus is fully aware of what the future will hold and why things happen as they do. We are not aware. He knew that Lazarus was going to die and then He would raise Him from the dead and through that the Father and the Son would be glorified. Jesus’ meaning is that Lazarus would not stay dead.
However, what Jesus said would more than likely initially be received by Martha and Mary as an indication that Lazarus would not die. When Lazarus did die, they had to rethink through what Jesus said. The last two phrases indicate that Jesus was looking to what was going to happen in the future and not the immediate present. It was not a statement that Lazarus would not die, but rather that death would not conquer him, for God intended to be glorified through it in some way. If we jump ahead to Martha’s statements in verse 24 we can see that Martha understood this in terms of the resurrection that will occur on the last day as spoken of in Daniel 12:2 – A resurrection of the righteous to everlasting life and of the wicked to everlasting contempt. Martha would not have guessed what Jesus was about to do.
Verse 5 & 6 tell us more about Jesus’ relationship with Mary, Martha & Lazarus and His response to their message. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days [longer] in the place where He was.
John uses a different word for love here (agapaw /agapao), and thus comments that Jesus’ love for them was more than that of friendship (filew/phileo) that Martha and Mary had spoken of. Jesus’ had the committed love that will sacrifice itself for the best interest of those so loved. That is the same love that He has for us. Often we may not feel that He loves us so much because our tendency is to judge love by our own standards and expectations, yet the truth is still the same. We do not always understand what God is doing or why, but for us, Jesus’ death on the cross proves His love for us for all time and eternity. Jesus need not do anything else to prove it, yet His mercy, grace, and goodness continue as active examples of His love.
At first glance we may not understand Jesus’ delay in verse 6. If Jesus loved them so much, why didn’t He go to them right away and heal Lazarus from his sickness or at least command him to be healed as He had done early in His ministry with the Galilean official’s son (John 4:46f). Jesus could heal from a distance as well as He could if personally present. Yet we find here that Jesus purposely waits for two days. Then He acts.
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 again?” 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 This He said, and after that He ^said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples therefore 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 was speaking of literal sleep. 14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him. “
Now before I make comment on these verses, notice very clearly that Jesus purposely waits for two days until Lazarus is dead before He starts on a journey to Bethany. From the immediate human standpoint this seems almost cruel. Martha and Mary will both comment to Jesus when He does arrive, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you think their initial response might have been if they knew that Jesus had purposely waited the two days until Lazarus had died? What would your response have been? What has been your response when you have not understood what God was doing and tragedies have overtaken you that do not make sense and you know could have been avoided? Has God lost control? Was He indifferent to you? Has He left you alone? Is He Cruel? No, No, No, and NO!
God does not act in accordance with our desires, but according to His own will for His own purposes. His will and His purposes are never cruel, though at times they may seem that way to us because of our narrow perspective and limited knowledge.
Jesus waits two days after receiving the message from Martha and Mary, and then calls on His disciples to go back with Him to Judea (vs. 7). The disciples question the wisdom of this in view of the fact that it was not long ago that the Jews there had tried to stone Him and as far as they know they will try again (vs. 8). Does Jesus really plan to go back there so soon in view of the danger?
Jesus’ comments in verses 9 & 10 are figures of speech used to illustrate a beautiful and comforting spiritual truth. Jesus takes the journey they are about to take in walking to Bethany to illustrate a truth. Jesus has used this figure of speech before in John 9:4 so the disciples understood it. The light of day refers to the length of life. We walk and work while we have life. When death comes there is no more light in the life and the work ceases. Jesus was going back to Judea where people were seeking to kill Him, but Jesus’ work would not be over until the full length of day (length of life) the Father had determined for Him would end. and this was not that time. Jesus is not fearful of the danger in Judea. The disciples need not worry.
After this Jesus was more direct with the disciples about the reason for His return to Judea, but the disciples did not understand the euphemism of sleep that He used for Lazarus’ death (vs. 11). The scripture often uses the euphemism of sleep to represent death (Dan. 12:2; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 18:15; 1 Thess. 4:14, etc.). We still do that today along with using many other euphemisms.
However, the Bible does not teach the idea of “soul sleep” for those who belong to Jesus Christ as is believed in some churches. The soul does not remain in a state of unawareness until the resurrection. Paul is clear that for the believer, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-24). A dead body may appear to be like someone asleep, but the body is just a hollow shell for the soul has already departed. The corpse no longer has any awareness and will decay to be eventually resurrected, but the soul remains aware.
Now if the disciples had thought about it a minute, they would have realized what Jesus was saying, but they, like we, often jump to conclusions without listening closely and thinking through what has been said. It was a two-day journey to Bethany and if Lazarus was really going to be sleeping that whole time until Jesus arrived to waken Him, then that sleep was not an indication of his impending recovery. People do not sleep for two days unless they are in a coma.
Jesus is even more direct with them in verse 14 telling them plainly that Lazarus was dead, but He adds 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Jesus is starting to explain to the disciples why He did not go earlier and the purpose for Lazarus’ death. It was for “the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (vs. 4). Jesus wanted them to believe.
What did He want them to believe? That He is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). They had seen Jesus do many miracles including raising people from the dead before (Luke 7:14,15), but this miracle would both be dramatic and involve someone they knew. By the time of their arrival, Lazarus would have been dead four days and his body would have begun to stick from the decay. In the earlier resurrections that Jesus had performed, the individuals had been dead only a very short time and there could it be the claimed that the person was just asleep or in a coma and just been awaked by Jesus. In the case of Lazarus, that would not be possible. Their noses would confirm the reality that Lazarus had died. Raising Lazarus from the dead would be for the glory of God and the Son and the benefit of the disciples and others who would be encouraged in their belief in Jesus.
Yet, even after being so direct, the disciples did not really understand what was going to happen. Verse 16 adds, Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to [his] fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
John again makes it clear exactly who is being referenced. This is the Thomas who is called Didymus, which is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic, “Thomas.” Both mean “twin” in their respective languages. Thomas is the disciple who is both devoted and despondent. He is completely committed to the Lord. His first thoughts are not of Lazarus or Himself, but of the danger the Lord would face in Judea. In his devotion to Jesus he proclaims his readiness to die with Him, but in saying that he also shows his despondence. He is the pessimist.
Sometime we are like that too. We can only see the dark side and expect the worse to happen. Even though we have the benefit of the completed New Testament and know better than even the disciples the loving character and power of Jesus Christ, if we are not careful we can become gloomy and despondent. That can be especially true when we or a loved one is sick – or may have even died – but we do not yet know what purpose God has in it. We are instead living in the midst of the hurt, pain and grief. For us, Lazarus is still dead and Jesus has not yet arrived to raise him from the dead. Those can be tough times, but that is when faith is most needed, even if it like that of Thomas.
Thomas did not understand what was going to happen, in fact he expected worse things to occur including the death of Jesus and himself, yet he never wavered in his trust of Jesus. His faith in Jesus was unshakeable.
How can you have such an unshakeable faith? By going back to what you do know to be true even when everything else seems confusing. Personally, I like going to Romans 5 to remind myself of basic truths when I do not understand what God is doing.
What Paul says may seem extreme, but it really is not once you get to the foundation of his argument.
1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5).
When all else is confusing and I don’t understand, I can come back to this one basic truth. Jesus Christ loves me and He proved it on the cross. I am saved from God’s wrath and have been reconciled to Him through Jesus. I will always have hope because I will always have His love, and hope is the basis persevering through trials and gaining a proven character. Because of Jesus’ love, I can exult even in tribulations and sickness and thus God is glorified.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “sickness” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents why people get sick and how you can trust God when you are sick.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Was sickness part of God’s original design? What are the three reasons people get sick? What attitude toward God do you have when you are sick? What did Jesus say was the reason the man was born blind in John 9? Where is Jesus in John 10:1? What was Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus & his sisters? Where did they live? What message did his sisters send to Jesus when Lazarus became sick? What did you learn from their example about how you should pray to God? Why do people (you?) blame God for sickness? Why did Jesus wait for two days after hearing Lazarus was sick? Was this cruel? How would you have felt if you were Lazarus’ sister? What kind of love did Jesus have for Lazarus & his sisters? Was His delay in coming in keeping with that love? What message of hope did Jesus send to the sisters? What was the disciples concern about Jesus returning to Judea? How did Jesus finally tell them Lazarus was dead? What about this made aJesus glad? How is God’s perspective different from yours? How can you know that God will always love you? Can you glorify God even when sick?
Sickness, disease and death are enemies that came with ______________________________________
Disease and sickness are cause by _____ ________ sin, __________ __________ sin, and as the consequence of living in a sin filled world.
God does not work according to ________ ___________ of good, bad, right and wrong. God knows what He is doing and is powerful enough to used things like disease . . . . to bring glory to Himself
The Setting (vs. 1,2)
The Location & Timing
Lazarus, Martha & Mary
The Sister’s Example (vs. 3)
Recognizing Jesus as Lord: The sense of “lord” here is that of _____________
Recognition of Jesus’ Love: The love mentioned here (fileV/phileis) is the love of close friendship.
The Nature of Their Appeal :
God does not exist for our____________. We exist for His
Initial Hope (vs. 4)
Martha understood this in terms of the resurrection on the last day as spoken of in ___________
Jesus’ Love (vs. 5)
A different word for love is used here (agapaw /agapao) meaning:
Delaying Until Death (vs. 6-15)
Waiting Two Days (6)
*We may not feel God loves us because our tendency is to judge love by our own standards and expectations, yet the truth is still the same. His love was proven ________________________
*God does not act in accordance with our desires, but according to His own will for His own purposes. His will and His purposes are never cruel, though at times they may seem that way.
Heading to Judea (7-10)
“Walking in the day”
( No Soul Sleep – 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil 1:21-14)
Announcing Lazarus’ Death (11-14)
The Purpose in the Delay (15)
Raising Lazarus from the dead would be for___________________________ and the benefit of the disciples and others who would be encouraged in their belief in Jesus.
An Example of Devotion (16)
When all else is confusing and I don’t understand, I can come back to this one basic truth. Jesus Christ __________ me and He proved it ________________________ Romans 5:8
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