The Seventh Sign
Jesus Speaking Scripture
A friend of mine tells of a Persian migrant who arrived at a refugee center at 6 a.m., visibly upset. He told his story to a Persian pastor: During the night he saw someone dressed in white raise his hand and say, “Stand up and follow me.” The Persian man said, “Who are you?” The man in white replied, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I’m the way to heaven. No one can go to the Father, except through me.”
He began to ask the Persian pastor: “Who is he? What am I going to do? Why did he ask me to follow him? How shall I go? Tell me.”
In response, the pastor held out his Bible and asked, “Have you seen this before?”
“No,” he replied.
“Do you know what it is?”
The pastor then opened to the Book of Revelation: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The man started crying and said, “How can I accept him? How can I follow him?” So the pastor led him in prayer and peace came over him. The pastor then gave the man a Bible and told him to hide it, since the Muslims in the camps could cause him trouble.
But the man replied, “The Jesus that I met today, he’s more powerful than the Muslims in the camp.” He left and an hour later returned with 10 more Persians and told the pastor, “These people want a Bible.” No one had to teach him an evangelistic strategy.
Man in White
Another friend of mine had heard the gospel in Athens, but she struggled to believe. One day she went home despondent, and hid behind the couch in her family’s apartment. She began to pray:
You know what, God? Since I have absolutely no excuse, absolutely none, I have run out of excuses. I don’t know what to do, but following you means I have to deny everything I have believed and everything all of my family, generation after generation, believed. I can’t be in the middle. I have to either follow you or not. I can’t do it myself. It’s just hard to make that step. I need you to help me.
After she prayed, she did not know whether she was awake or asleep, but a man in white walked into the room. Her reaction was to blurt out, “Don’t come close to me. You are holy, and I am a sinner. Do not get close to me.” The man replied, “[Name], I told you, and I tell you again, I am the way and the truth. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That day she believed the gospel and was saved.
Walked on Water
There was a family on a boat with other migrants traveling from Turkey to Athens. On the way they lost their 7-year-old daughter into the water. Everyone in the crowded boat was looking for her but couldn’t find her. Suddenly, she appeared on the other side of the boat, saying over and over, “A man who walked on the water took me and brought me to the other side of the boat.” The parents dismissed her words as silly.
Upon arriving on the island of Lesbos, they met a Christian who made a fire and offered to talk to them. That day, without knowing what happened, he asked if they would like to know about a God who walked on water. They started crying.
The man had never used that illustration in evangelism, but that morning he felt like he had to. They asked him, “Who are you?” to which he replied, “I’m a Christian.” They said, “What do you mean ‘walk on the water’?” He opened the Bible and read the story of Jesus walking on the water. They continued crying. “Our daughter fell off the boat,” they explained. “We thought she was crazy because she was dry on the other side. We didn’t understand it. But she kept saying, ‘It was a man who walked on the water that took me to the other side.’”
Call to enter Pastoral ministry
Praying on the way to work one day, asking the Lord what He wanted me to be doing
He answered, “I already told you.” (I knew it was pastoral ministry)
A week later, the assistant to the President of Every Generation Ministries (EGM) told me she was having a time of prayer with the Lord and the Lord asked her to ask me if I had ever considered being a Pastor
I shared this calling with my pastor at the time and he encouraged me to start leading a discipleship group, which I did
The President of EGM held me accountable each week to sending out resumes and applying for pastoral positions
Perhaps most of us can recall a time when we heard the voice of God or had a vivid dream about God or Jesus
Some of us can point to a time when we’ve experienced the supernatural power of God
Both of those experiences probably strengthened the faith of those who went through it
While we are very familiar with John 11:38-44, which is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, sometimes we focus more on Lazarus and what he might have been thinking and feeling. But the true focus of text is on Jesus. In fact, the word believe is used twice, once in verse 40 and a second time in verse 42. The purpose behind the raising of Lazarus is really the focal point of the passage. God allowed Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, so that the Jews would believe in Him. This takes us back to the theme verses for the book of John, Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31). Our big idea today is that . . .
BIG IDEA – Belief comes from witnessing the power of God.
While we won’t see the belief of the Jews until next week, we’ll see the power of God through the raising of Lazarus this week.
We’re going to look at the three commands that Jesus gives in verses 38-44
GOD (John 11:38-44)
Command #1 (vv. 38-42)
Jesus’ emotional state
The same Greek word is used here as in verse 33
Jesus isn’t just deeply moved, but rather He is angry, outraged, and disgusted by the events that have unfolded
He is angry about the effects of death on His close friends
Jesus comes to the tomb where Lazarus had been laid
John then gives us a description of the tomb
Description of the tomb
This is helpful for us from a modern western culture, because this is not what we would naturally think of as a burial place
We’re used to cemeteries with row after row of headstones and burial plots
In some cemeteries there are Mausoleums that stand as a memorial to an individual or a family and can house one or more individuals
This is perhaps the closest thing, in our culture, to the 1st Century tomb
The description is simple, but adequate
It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance
These tombs would have been “formed from hollowed out caves” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 361]
There would have been multiple vaults on multiple levels, meaning that more than one person (family member) would have been buried in each tomb
There was perhaps a main horizontal vault where the recently deceased person would be laid
Eventually, the bones of the deceased person would be piled up in another vault
The stone that covered the entrance could be “four or five feet in diameter and several inches thick” [Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, John, 219]. It would roll back and forth in a stone trough
VIDEO – “Experience Bethany” (rightnow Media) [https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/VideoElement/231088]
This sets the stage for Jesus’ first command
Command – “Take away the stone”
It’s unlikely that Jesus is talking to Martha and Mary at this point
Jesus is probably asking some of the Jews, probably the men, to go up to the tomb and roll the stone in the trough so the tomb will be opened
Before the men have a chance to obey Jesus’ command we see Martha objecting to the command
She is simple stating the obvious
Decomposition would have started after four days, which means that Lazarus’s body would be stinking
Opening the tomb now would expose everyone to the intense smell of death and decomposition
Illustration of stray cat trapped under the enclosed porch
We have a stray cat hanging around our house that was living under the crawl space below the enclosed porch
The foam insulation board had fallen down on one side making a perfect ramp for the cat to climb up into the batt insulation
I bought new batt insulation and some plywood to repair the entire section under the enclosed porch
We made sure to fill in the holes where the cat was getting into the crawl space
The day that Alger and I finished closing up the underside with plywood, I was certain that the cat was not up in the floor joists
I was wrong, because Judy heard the cat meowing a couple of days later, but couldn’t find where it was at
A week later, I was cleaning up where we had been working, and I heard the cat meowing – sure enough I saw a little face peeking out from a crack between the repaired section and another section that I hadn’t replaced yet
I knew I had to open up the next section and let the cat out or otherwise we would eventually smell the awful smell of a dead animal
Now both sections, under the enclosed porch, have new batt insulation and plywood, and everything is sealed up
The cat now lives under the neighbors shed, but still comes over to share breakfast, lunch, and dinner with our two cats
While Martha is objecting to opening up the tomb, Jesus reminds her of something He had told her earlier
Jesus’ response and prayer
Jesus asks Martha a question
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
This takes us back to John 11:4, When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (this was the message that Jesus sent back to Martha and Mary)
Read John 11:25-27
Martha had already expressed her belief in Jesus as the resurrection and life
She is about to see the glory of God revealed, right in front of her
PRINCIPLE #1 – God’s desire is that His people see His glory.
“We do not simply want to see glory; we want to be a part of it. When we lived in Chicago, a friend of ours regularly gave us Bulls tickets. Every year I would take my son, Johnny, to a game. The seats were located alongside the tunnel at the United Center, so when the Bulls ran out on to the floor, when Michael Jordan would run through the tunnel, everybody nearby wanted to give him a high five. They wanted to share his glory.
We all want to touch glory. We want to connect with it. We want to be a part of it, even though we know we are not worthy.
The Bulls had a reserve player named Stacey King. During the 1990 season King only started six games and averaged 15 minutes per game. But one night, during an overtime game against Cleveland, he contributed to an important victory. He said it would always be the greatest memory of his life: the night he and Michael Jordan scored a combined total of 70 points in a NBA playoff game. Michael Jordan scored his career-high 69 points, but King shared in the glory.”
John Ortberg, from the sermon "For the Glory of God Alone"
We can see the glory of God, since we have believed in Jesus
Perhaps we miss it sometimes, because we aren’t focusing on Jesus or on what God is doing
We can so easily focus on all the things that we think are going wrong or are bad
It’s in our human nature to focus on the bad instead of the good – to allow the bad to consume our thoughts
It’s in those times that we need to begin listing everything good that God has done recently and in the past
That will help to change our focus and perspective
While we’re facing the payroll tax debt, God is doing so much good
We are doing well as a church right now (in 2019 to present, we have paid all of obligations including payroll taxes and have some money in the bank – we have plans to begin again some other financial things we used to do in the past)
We served 15 families through the New Hope Mobile Food Pantry on Feb. 20, which was up 11 families from January
The Thursday evening discipleship gathering is growing
Attendance on Sunday mornings has been improving
We’ve had some guests on Sunday morning in the last month
Giving has been strong
Individuals are asking about baptism
We are seeing answered prayer
We have much to praise the Lord for and we are seeing His glory revealed through each of these things and many other things
Perhaps we all need to change our focus and perspective away from the negative to the positive
My Next Step Today Is To: Change my perspective and focus on the glory of God.
This is God’s desire for His people
As believers, we can see the glory of God, and that’s what Martha was about to see
Jesus had dealt with Martha’s objection, so the men rolled the stone away
Jesus looks up and begins to pray out loud
I’ve always taught children that the position of prayer is to have their eyes closed, head bowed, and hands together
I do that to help children focus in prayer
Here, Jesus looks up, presumably with His eyes open
It was not uncommon for Jews to stand and lift their eyes and hands up when they prayed
Jesus’ prayer has three important aspects [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 319 and Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 418]
Jesus uses the direct reference to God as Father, which shows the intimate relationship He had with Him – Jesus isn’t doing this by Himself, but through the power of God
Jesus is thanking the Father for already hearing His prayer for Lazarus’s life – it wasn’t a last minute request, but something that was planned, for God’s glory
Jesus’ prayer is audible and out loud so that the people standing by the tomb would believe that Jesus was sent by God – He is the Messiah! (Jesus wouldn’t have needed to pray out loud for the miracle to happen)
Belief comes from witnessing the power of God.
PRINCIPLE #2 – God is pleased when His people recognize His power and authority through prayer.
Jesus knew that His power came from God and He recognized that by communicating with Him continually
The memory verse for February is an incredible reminder of God’s desire for His people to communicate with Him
2 Chronicles 7:14, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Power comes from God
We do not have any power of our own
We have to turn to God in prayer, if we want to see the glory and experience the power of God in our lives and the lives of those around us
Perhaps we’ve been trying to accomplish things in our own power and for our own glory?
We have to submit to God and call out to Him, recognizing His power and authority
My Next Step Today Is To: Recognize God’s power and authority in my life by turning to Him in prayer.
We see the power and glory of God displayed through Jesus’ second command
Command #2 (vv. 43-44a)
After Jesus had prayed, thanking the Father for hearing His prayer, He calls out in a loud voice
Jesus didn’t whisper this command or even give a firm request, but rather He shouts it with raw authority [Burge, 320 and Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 345]
The authority with which Jesus makes this command perhaps comes as a result of His anger at the effects of sin and death
He shouts with an authority that proves He has “supreme power over death” [Borchert, 362]
PRINCIPLE #3 – Jesus has power over death, through God.
Command – “Lazarus, come out!”
Köstenberger cites Morris when he says “The command is ‘wonderfully succinct: ‘Here! Outside!’’” [Köstenberger, 345]
The power of God is revealed, because Lazarus comes out of the tomb with his hands and feet wrapped with the burial linens and the burial cloth around his face
“A long, narrow sheet was folded in half, and the body was inserted between the folded halves. Then the wrap was bound together, and the body was thus secured. The head was wrapped separately, which explains the note both in the Lazarus situation (11:44) and the separate head wrapping in the case of Jesus’ grave clothes (20:6).” [Borchert, 362]
The cloth around the face was intended to keep the deceased’s mouth closed
Jesus has one more command for the people gathered there
Command #3 (v. 44b)
Command – “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
“This practical command brings to mind Jesus’ promise to ‘the Jews who had believed him’ at the Tent festival that ‘you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (8:32), free from the prospect of dying in their sins (see 8:21, 24). ‘So if the Son sets you free,’ he had added, ‘you will really be free’ (8:36).” [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of John, 646]
Lazarus was set free from sin and death and was guaranteed eternal life
PRINCIPLE #4 – Jesus sets us free from the bondage to sin and death.
Paul explains this when he writes to the Ephesian believers
Read Ephesians 2:1-10
“Lazarus was dead, and all sinners are dead. He was decayed, because death and decay go together. All lost people are spiritually dead, but some are more ‘decayed’ than others. No one can be ‘more dead’ than another. Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all who trust Christ have been given new life and lifted out of the graveyard of sin (see John 5:24).” [Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Volume 1, 337]
My Next Step Today Is To: Ask God to set me free from the bondage to sin and death by trusting in Jesus by faith.
We’ll see next week that belief comes from witnessing the power of God. (the Jews witnessed the power of God)
Do you need to change your perspective so you are focusing on the glory of God?
Do you need to recognize God’s power and authority in your life by turning to Him in prayer?
Do you need to be set free from the bondage to sin and death by trusting in Jesus by faith?
We have a responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ to tell those who don’t believe about Jesus and teach those who have recently believed
“Although it was Jesus alone who could bring the dead to life, he delighted to involve the bystanders in the miracle. First, they were told to move the stone. Then, after the miracle, they were told to unbind Lazarus. True, we cannot bring the dead to life. But we can bring the word of Christ to them. We can do preparatory work, and we can do work afterward. We can help to remove stones – stones of ignorance, error, prejudice and despair. After the miracle we can help the new Christian by unwinding the grave clothes of doubt, fear, introspection, and discouragement (Boice, p. 278).” [Gangel, 220]
During his pastoral ministry, Augustine came to know a woman in Carthage named Innocentia. A devout woman and highly regarded, she tragically discovered that she had breast cancer.
A physician told her the disease was incurable. She could opt for amputation and possibly prolong her life a little, or she could follow the advice of Hippocrates and do nothing. Either way, death would not be put off for long.
Augustine reports: Dismayed by this diagnosis, "She turned for help to God alone, in prayer." In a dream, Innocentia was told to wait at the baptistry for the first woman who came out after being baptized, and to ask this woman to make the sign of the cross over the cancerous breast.
Innocentia did as she was told, and she was completely cured. When she told her doctor what had happened, he responded with a contemptuous tone, "I thought you would reveal some great discovery to me!" Then, seeing her horrified look, he backpedaled, saying, "What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer? He raised a man who had been dead for four days."