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“A DISPLAY OF DIVINE GLORY”
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2021:
COMMENTARY (THE UGP CURRICULUM)
Lesson: John 11:33-44; Time of Action: 30 A.D.; Place of Action: Bethany
Lesson Text: John 11:33-44
King James Version (KJV)
I. JESUS’ DISPLAY OF SADNESS (John 11:33-38)
33. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.
34. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35. Jesus wept.
36. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37. And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
38. Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
II. JESUS’ INSTRUCTIONS (John 11:39-40)
39. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
III. JESUS’ DISPLAY OF DIVINE POWER (John 11:41-44)
41. Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
III. JESUS’ DISPLAY OF DIVINE POWER (John 11:41-44)
41. So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
42. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43. When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
44. The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Golden Text: “Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
I. INTRODUCTION. One of the most difficult situations to cope with is the death of someone dear to us. We know death is inevitable and when a believer dies we know he or she is with the LORD. But the separation creates a huge void, and sometimes we may ask questions about God’s sovereignty, goodness and love. This week’s lesson concerns the seventh and final miracle recorded by John. It provides an ultimate demonstration of Christ’s mastery over human problems and a convincing proof of His claim to be the resurrection and the life.
II. THE LESSON BACKGROUND. Two months before the time of our lesson, during winter while the Jews were celebrating the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:23), one day Jesus went to the temple to teach. While there, He was confronted by the religious leaders who demanded that He plainly admit that He was the Christ, or the Messiah (see John 10:22-24). After a lengthy back and forth, Jesus proceeded to tell them who were His sheep and that the religious leaders were not among them (see John 10:25-29). But when He said “I and my Father are one” (see John 10:30), that was more than these Jews could take, so they tried to stone Jesus, accusing Him of blasphemy (see John 10:31-34). As He had done earlier, Jesus escaped out of their hands (see John 8:2-59) and went to Perea, beyond or east of the Jordan (John 1:28; 10:40) and spent some time there (see John 10:39-42). Perea was about twenty miles from Bethany. While in Perea, Jesus received word from Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha that His friend Lazarus, who Jesus truly loved (see John 11:3, 5; 11:36), was sick. When the messenger arrived with the sisters’ message, Jesus told His disciples that “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (see John 11:4). But Jesus waited two more days before He finally suggested that He and His disciples go back to Judaea to Bethany (see John 11:6-7), the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus wanted to comfort them for He knew that Lazarus had died by the time He received the message that he was sick (see John 11:11-14). Jesus arrived in Bethany and found that Lazarus had already been dead and in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to greet him, but Mary stayed home. In her conversation with Jesus, Martha said to Him, “LORD, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you anything you ask.” Then Jesus said, “Your brother will rise and be alive again.” Martha replied saying, “I know that he will rise to live again at the time of the resurrection on the last day” (see John 11:17-24). Of course, Martha was only thinking about the future resurrection. She had no idea that a resurrection was about to take place that day. To test her faith, Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Everyone who believes in me will have life, even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never really die. Martha, do you believe this?” Martha answered, “Yes, LORD. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. You are the one who was coming to the world” (see John 11:25-27). At this point Martha went back to her sister Mary and spoke to her privately telling her that, “The Teacher is here and He is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she stood up and went quickly to meet Jesus who was waiting for her outside the village at the place where Martha met Him. The Jews who were in the house comforting Mary saw her get up and leave quickly. They thought that she was going to the tomb to cry. So they followed her to where Jesus was. When Mary saw Him, she bowed at His feet and said: “LORD, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (see John 11:28-32). This is where our lesson begins.
III. JESUS’ DISPLAY OF SADNESS (John 11:33-38)
A. Jesus’ deep concern (John 11:33-34).
1. (vs. 33). Our first verse says “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” Jesus finally arrived in Bethany and when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him (see John 11:20). After her conversation with Jesus, she went and told her sister Mary that Jesus wanted to speak with her, so she quickly ran to where Jesus was waiting. When she left the house, the mourners thought she was going to the tomb, so they followed her as she came to Jesus. When she saw Jesus, she bowed down before Him and repeated the same words her sister had spoken to Jesus: “LORD, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (see John 11:28-32). It was at this point that “Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her.” The LORD saw all the sadness and grief that Lazarus’ death had caused. As a result, Jesus “groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” The Greek word translated “groaned” means “to murmur against someone or something” and the word “troubled” has the idea of “being utterly bothered by someone or something.” In essence, Jesus became angry in “spirit” and very agitated. From Jesus’ reaction, the Jews correctly thought that He was mourning the death of His friend (see verse 36). Of course He would be. Jesus was human, so He was showing compassion and deep concern for His friends and those who were mourning with them. The use of the words “groaned” and “troubled” indicates that Jesus was more angry than He was mourning Lazarus’ death. Jesus knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, so it’s unlikely that He would be so deeply mourning a friend that He would soon see again. We can understand Him showing sorrow, but why anger? The answer is simple. Jesus “groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” by the effects of sin and death. Jesus is angry at death itself and the pain and sadness it causes which was evident in the “weeping” and wailing of the mourners. The LORD was emotionally overwhelmed when He came in direct contact with the consequences, or the wages of sin which is death (see Romans 6:23). As a result of Adam’s disobedience, sin entered the world and its consequences which is death (see Romans 5:17-19). The grief that death causes is one facet of death’s evil that caused Jesus’ anger. He is angry at death and saddened at the mourners’ grief. In both cases the reason is the same, namely, Jesus’ love for His friends.
2. (vs. 34). This verse says “And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, LORD, come and see.” At this point, Jesus, being all-knowing asked a question that we would not expect from Him. He said, “Where have ye laid him?” Or where is Lazarus’ tomb? Of course, Jesus knew where he had been “laid,” or buried, but by asking the question Jesus was showing that He was a man, He was human. He did this even though He was going to exert the power of God. It was important that the Messiah be a human being, so Jesus, being found in the fashion of a man (see Philippians 2:8) often responded after the manner of men. Yes, Jesus knew that Lazarus had died (see John 11:11), but He had to ask where he was buried. The reason is because our LORD never used His divine powers when normal human means were enough. In response to Jesus’ question, “They said unto him, LORD, come and see.” So they led Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb.
B. Jesus’ deep compassion (John 11:35-38).
1. (vs. 35). This verse says “Jesus wept.” As the mourners led Jesus to the tomb, we are told that “Jesus wept.” It’s interesting that earlier the wailing of the mourners had triggered anger in Jesus (see verse 33); but now their invitation to come with them to Lazarus’ tomb triggers weeping in our LORD. Jesus had not yet come to the tomb (see verse 38), so He is not weeping over Lazarus. Since Jesus would see him soon there would be no reason to do so anyway. It’s their invitation that tears at Jesus’ heart, so He “wept.” As He was earlier (see verse 33), He’s not at this point in anguish over the death of Lazarus, instead He is saddened by the pain and sadness the mourners felt including Mary and Martha. Jesus is weeping with those who weep (see Romans 12:15) because He loves them. The words “Jesus wept” show His true humanity. He has shared all of our experiences and knows how we feel. In fact, being the perfect God-man, Jesus experienced these things in a deeper way than we do. His tears also assure us of His sympathy. Even though He knew that in a few moments He would bring Lazarus back to life, Jesus still burst into tears. When we consider that God gets no joy when wicked people die (see Ezekiel 33:11), it’s easy to understand the depth of Jesus’ sorrow over someone He loved so much. Note: Even though this is the shortest verse in the Bible, it teaches us some useful lessons. First, it teaches that Jesus Christ was really and truly man, and shared with humanity flesh and blood, and also a human soul, which was susceptible to anger, joy, grief, and other emotions. Jesus gave proof of His humanity in that as a man He could weep even before He raised Lazarus as proof that He was divine. Second, this verse teaches that like many humans, Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (see Isaiah 53:3). It’s interesting that in the Bible we never read that Jesus laughed, but here and elsewhere we see Him in tears (see Luke 19:41). Third, it teaches that when Christians shed tears of compassion, it makes us resemble Christ. I believe that we all can agree that it’s a relief for those who are in sorrow to have their friends sympathize and empathize with them, especially a friend like the LORD Jesus.
2. (vs. 36). This verse says “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” When the mourners, here called “the Jews,” saw Jesus weeping, they said among themselves “Behold how he loved him!” In other words, “See how much He loved Lazarus.” This response from the mourners may even indicate that they were amazed that Jesus had such a strong affection for someone He was not related to, or hadn’t known for a long time since Jesus spent most of His time in Galilee, a great distance from Bethany. Like the example of Jesus, we need to show our love to our friends. Jesus’ tears were indications of His special love for Lazarus, but He has given even more proof of His love for all the saints when He died for us. Yes, Jesus wept great tears over Lazarus causing the Jews to say, “Behold how He loved him!” But those of us for whom Jesus laid down His life have much more reason to say: “See how He loved us!” For “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (see John 15:13).
3. (vs. 37). This verse says “And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” Although many in the crowd of mourners saw Jesus weeping and commented that He truly loved Lazarus, we are told that “some of them” wondered aloud saying “Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” Some of the mourners thought that if Jesus loved Lazarus so much, since He had “opened the eyes of the blind,” referring to the man who was born blind that Jesus healed (see John 9:1-7), couldn’t He have also prevented Lazarus from dying? Perhaps they were thinking, “Jesus is weeping because He was unable to do anything. They are tears of deep regret.” They were puzzled. To them, it looked like death was stronger than Jesus despite what His healing of the man born blind might imply. They considered the healing of the blind man to be clearly supernatural (see John 9:3). So, the question being asked was really what kind of power did Jesus have and when would He choose to use it. In God’s sovereign will, Lazarus was allowed to die and the sisters to mourn in order that God’s glory might be manifested (see John 11:4).
4. (vs. 38). This verse says “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.” As the mourners led “Jesus” to Lazarus’ tomb, we are told that “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave.” As the LORD had earlier “groaned in His spirit” (see verse 33), now He came to where Lazarus was buried “again groaning in himself.” So once “again” we find Jesus “groaning” inwardly. His emotions were heartfelt and “again” He was “groaning” in grief and anger at death, the tragic result of sin. Jesus is angry at death and its challenge to Him as life-giver. Death is foreign to Jesus’ divine nature and He despises it. So He “cometh to the grave” in a state of anger, ready to demonstrate His power over death. In the last part of this verse, John describes Lazarus’ “grave.” He said that “It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.” The burial chamber was either a natural cavity in the rocks or it had been carved out for use as a grave. We really don’t know if it was lower than ground level outside or on the same level with the ground, but “a stone” was used to seal the opening.
IV. JESUS’ INSTRUCTIONS (John 11:39-40)
A. A divine command (John 11:39). This verse says “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, LORD, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” In a brief, pointed command, Jesus ordered the men nearby to “Take ye away the stone.” The onlookers were probably baffled, for rarely if ever did Jews tamper with tombs. According to the law, just touching a tomb made a Jew unclean (see Numbers 19:18). Jesus’ command brought an objection from “Martha, the sister of him that was dead.” In voicing her objection, “Martha” said to Jesus, “LORD, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Undoubtedly, “Martha” didn’t think what Jesus was telling them to do was a good idea. She was afraid that her brother’s body would “stink” from decomposition because he had “been dead for four days.” Note: Under normal circumstances “Martha” would have been right about the smell. Unlike the Egyptians and some other peoples in the Middle East, the Jews didn’t embalm their dead. They simply anointed the body and wrapped it in strips of cloth (see verse 44) and sprinkled spices between the layers of cloth to cover the unpleasant odors (see John 19:38-40; 20:5-7). After four days, decomposition would already have begun. This was all that the practical Martha could think about. She still didn’t grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ power. A spectacular miracle at the tomb was about to surprise the mourners and glorify the God-Man (see John 11:4). It wouldn’t be physical death that would end Lazarus’ sickness; it would be restoration to life.
B. An exhortation to faith (John 11:40). This verse says, “Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” In response to Martha’s objection, “Jesus” had to stop and remind her that she needed to “believe.” So, “Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Jesus had challenged Martha to “believe” that He was the resurrection and the life (see John 11:21-25). He had also spoken of God’s power to make the dead alive (see John 11:26). Jesus was once again trying to raise the level of her faith. So, with His words, “said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Jesus was summarizing the entire conversation He had with Martha earlier, reminding her that if she “believed” everything that He had said (see John 11:23-26), she would “see the glory of God.” Martha sincerely “believed” in “Jesus” even though she had a somewhat limited understanding of His power. Note: Our own faith often is no greater than Martha’s when we face adversity. Like Martha’s faith, our faith may be in the formative stage. We can grow stronger in the LORD as we experience more of His love and power. Each spiritual giant in church history whom we have enjoyed reading about once had smaller faith. To hesitate to keep God’s Word when adversity strikes is human (see Mark 4:35-41); but a sincere believer will obey Jesus’ command to open the tomb, so to speak. That believer will look forward to seeing a manifestation of God’s glory.
V. JESUS’ DISPLAY OF DIVINE POWER (John 11:41-44)
A. A prayer (John 11:41-42).
1. (vs. 41). This verse says “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” At this point in the narrative, the men followed Jesus’ command and “they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid.” In other words, they moved “the stone” from the opening of Lazarus’ tomb. Then “Jesus,” most likely turning away from the on-lookers addressed His “Father.” John tells us that “Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” He didn’t ask for anything, but He thanked God “that thou hast heard me.” Jesus thanked the “Father” for already hearing Him. The words “thou hast heard” are in the past tense, indicating that God had “heard” a specific request from Jesus in the past. This implies that the communication between the “Father” and the Son regarding Lazarus had taken place much earlier, since Jesus had already said what would happen when He received the news of Lazarus’ sickness (see John 11:4). Besides, the relationship and fellowship between the “Father” and the Son was so close that there would never be any disagreement (see John 17:11, 20-22; I John 5:7).
2. (vs. 42). This verse says “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.” This verse indicates that Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all the witnesses at the tomb. Jesus’ words, “I knew that thou hearest me always” reveal the uninterrupted communion that Jesus had with the Father as a result of their unity, equality, and unique relationship as Persons of the trinity (see John 10:30; 17:21-22). The only interruption in Jesus’ normal communion with the Father took place on the cross when Jesus became our sin-Bearer and cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (see Matthew 27:46). Jesus said that He prayed out loud, not because He didn’t think the Father heard Him, but “because of the people which stand by I said it.” Since God the Father had already received His request, Jesus prayed out loud to instruct the believers who were present. They needed to know that the sign He was about to perform was a work of the Father and the Son together. So by hearing Jesus’ prayer, He said that they would know or “believe that thou hast sent me.” If these on-lookers actually heard Jesus talking to His Father, then they would know that Jesus was the Son of God who was “sent” to reveal God to the world. Note: The raising of Lazarus happened not only for the benefit of a grieving family or for the benefit of Jesus’ immediate disciples’ faith. It also happened for the benefit of all who saw it, heard about it, and still hear about it today. They would know that it was an act of the Father. They would recognize the Son whom God had sent. They would believe on the Son, and by believing they would have eternal life (see John 20:31). The tragedy of all this is that the miracle of the raising of Lazarus convinced so many people of Jesus’ Messiahship that the Jewish authorities determined that something had to be done at once to stop Him from causing a division among the people (see John 11:47-48, 53).
B. A command and a response (John 11:43-44).
1. (vs. 43). This verse says “And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.” The words “he thus had spoken,” mean after He had finished praying. Then with the crowd now prepared, Jesus “cried with a loud voice” or shouted words that only He could speak: “Lazarus, come forth.” Jesus didn’t have to speak “loud” to penetrate the realm of death, for He didn’t do that on the occasions of two other resurrections (see Mark 5:35-42; Luke 7:12-15). He probably raised His voice so that everyone would know precisely what was commanded and who commanded it.
2. (vs. 44). Our final verse says “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” At the LORD’s command, Lazarus, “he that was dead came forth.” This must have been difficult for Lazarus to do since he was “bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.” When “Jesus” arose from the dead in the first resurrection body, He left His graveclothes in the tomb (see John 20:5-7). Unlike the risen LORD, Lazarus still wore his graveclothes. This has caused some scholars to wonder how he “came forth.” Did he hobble out? Was he carried by divine power to the entrance of the tomb? Actually, none of this really matters. All that matters is that “Jesus” called out to a dead Lazarus, who came out of his grave a living Lazarus. The “graveclothes” and the “napkin” were now inappropriate to say the least. So Jesus ordered some who were present to “Loose him, and let him go.” Jesus could’ve removed the stone and freed Lazarus from his “graveclothes” Himself, but Jesus followed His usual procedure of allowing others to do the things they could, while He did what was humanly impossible (see verses 39, 41; Mark 5:43). Note: With this, John ended his account of Lazarus’ resurrection, and we have to be amazed at how John was able to restrain himself from the temptation to record the crowd’s emotions, the reunion of the family members, or any further words Jesus had for Lazarus and his sisters. John focuses on one goal—showing that Jesus verified His claim to be the resurrection and the life. Men could not ignore the evidence. They had to decide what they would do with Jesus (see John 11:45-53).
VI. Conclusion. It’s not unnatural (or un-Christian) to fear the experience of death. Death is much like anything else we have never done before. Uncertainty brings anxiety. But the Christian has no need for anxiety regarding the certainty of life after death. God’s promises have been recorded and He keeps His promises (see Numbers 23:19). Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we can be assured of life after death, and through faith in Him we are also assured of spending eternity in God’s presence (see John 14:1-3).
PRACTICAL POINTS FOR DISCUSSION:
1. Because he was human, Jesus has experienced our grief so He understands it (John 11:33-35: Hebrews 4:15).
2. The way we treat people will let them and others know how much we love them (John 11:36).
3. We can experience victories in our lives when we obey God’s instructions (John 11:37-39).
4. When God answers our prayers, we should not forget to thank Him (John 11:40-42).
5. When we are dead in trespasses and sins, only Jesus Christ can give us life (John 11:43-44).
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***