Although the priest argued for forgiveness, the message was lost on students
The Archdiocese of Boston forced Daniel Moloney to resign from his chaplain role at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after students and alumni complained that Moloney brought up George Floyd’s past criminal history in an email to students.
Although Moloney, a Catholic priest, was making an argument that Floyd’s past should not justify his death, the fact that he brought up Floyd’s rap sheet at all prompted some to protest the chaplain’s message to campus officials and file bias complaints over it.
“George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and shouldn’t have been,” Moloney wrote in his June 7 email to the Tech Catholic Community, a group of Catholic students on campus.
“He had not lived a virtuous life. He was convicted of several crimes, including armed robbery, which he seems to have committed to feed his drug habit. And he was high on drugs at the time of his arrest. But we do not kill such people. He committed sins, but we root for sinners to change their lives and convert to the Gospel,” the priest wrote.
“ … In the wake of George Floyd’s death, most people in the country have framed this as an act of racism. I don’t think we know that. Many people have claimed that racism is major problem in police forces. I don’t think we know that.”
The e-mail was republished in its entirety by New Boston Post.
Although Moloney’s argument aimed to promote justice and forgiveness, that message seemed lost on many of its readers.
An article in The Tech campus newspaper reports that MIT’s dean for student life, Suzy Nelson, said administrators and the bias response team received reports about Moloney’s email.
In an email to student and faculty leaders June 12, Nelson wrote Moloney’s message “contradicted the Institute’s values” and “was deeply disturbing” and that “by devaluing and disparaging George Floyd’s character,” Moloney did not “acknowledge the dignity of each human being and the devastating impact of systemic racism” on “African Americans, people of African descent, and communities of color,” The Tech reports.
The Archdiocese of Boston told Moloney to resign from his role as chaplain at the school on June 9, according to the Boston Globe. The move came after more than 60 people attended a forum hosted by Tech Catholic Community on June 9, according to the school newspaper.
Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told WBZ-TV “While Fr. Moloney’s comments should not reflect on the entirety of his priestly ministry, they nonetheless were wrong and by his resignation he accepts the hurt they have caused.”
Moloney told the Boston Globe on June 16, “I regret what happened, I regret it was misunderstood, I regret that [it] became difficult for me to be a voice for Christ on campus.”
Moloney is a published author at First Things, The Wall Street Journal and National Review. He used to work at the Heritage Foundation as a senior policy analyst for the DeVos Center for Religion and Society. His doctoral dissertation focused on justice and mercy, the subject of a recent book he published as well. He also maintains an active Tumblr page but has not explicitly addressed the controversy on it.
On Monday, April 12, 2021, both chambers of the Arizona Legislature passed bills that would legalize sports betting in Arizona.
– On Thursday, April 15, Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill to allow sports betting to become legal in Arizona.
– During the event, Ducey also signed a new gambling compact agreement with the Tribal Nations which the governor and the tribes called a historic agreement.
The Diamondbacks, Suns, Cardinals, and Coyotes will all have licenses to operate on-site sports betting at their arenas.
– The Phoenix Open and NASCAR will also have sports betting available at tribal casinos.
We’re not talking about $10’s of millions. We’re talking about $100’s of millions according to State Representative, Jeff Weninger, of Chandler District 17.
Arizona joins 25 other states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico in legalizing sports wagering.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed state lawmakers to decide whether or not it would be legal in their specific states.
The Federal Government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs still need to sign off on the bill, but it’s thought that’s just a formality.
– The whole process could take as little as 90 days.
The Phoenix Suns announced Thursday, they have partnered with the sports betting app, FanDuel, which will have a luxury sportsbook retail location inside the Suns arena.
Legalizing sports betting will forever change the sports and entertainment landscape in Arizona and, I feel, opens a Pandora’s Box for crime and all kinds of corruption.
– We already have big problems with the Cartel. This will just open other avenues for them to operate.
Today the State of Arizona and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are pleased with their decision to open sports gambling State-wide.- It’s going to bring so much more revenue to their coffers!
– I think the day will come when they’ll question if that was such a great decision.
Speaking of gambling caused my mind to race back to the biggest gamble to have ever happened in history.
– The gambling that was done at Golgotha over 2000 years ago.
I realize Easter is over and most pastors have moved on to other topics, but I want to explore this topic of the Crucifixion at least one more time before I move on to other things.
The Crucifixion is the darkest moment in the history of the world.
– This was the day that man nailed God to an old rugged cross.
God sent His Son to save Adam’s descendants from the penalty of sin — man rejected God’s Son and murdered Him on a Cross!
Crucifixion was grizzly enough with all the shame, pain, bloodshed, and terror involved, but man was turning his back on God’s Love!
It’s strange in the gravity of such a gruesome situation that anyone could be so calloused and unfeeling as to sit and gamble at the foot of the Cross.
– But that’s exactly what happened! — Matthew 27:35–Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
What a horrible commentary on society!
– So hardened that there’s little compassion left…………..
– These men gambled as if nothing else mattered — however, they weren’t the only gamblers at the Cross!
Look through the crowd—many were engrossed in this morbid scene — people with much at stake in this bloody drama of terror.
1. THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS WERE TAKING A GAMBLE THAT DAY.
Annas, Caiaphas — all the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin — they hated Jesus!
– He was destroying their comfortable religious system that served them so well!
The Pharisees and Sadducees had never gotten along.
– They disputed religion, politics, theology — every issue.
The main difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees was their differing opinions on the supernatural aspects of religion.
– The Pharisees believed in the supernatural–angels, demons, heaven, hell, the after-life and so on–while the Sadducees did not. That’s why they were SO-SAD-U-SEE.
– There was no love-loss between the two factions.
– Now, they were suddenly united in their common hatred of Jesus! — He had to go!
It’s odd how common hatred can bring former enemies together.
– There were two old ladies in Grand Coulee who couldn’t stand each other and were always at each other’s throat.
– One day they discovered that neither of them could stand me and somehow this common hatred of the young preacher brought them together………..
– Islam has a teaching: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend!.”
The brains of the “Let’s Murder Jesus Movement” were the priests — they found allies in the Pharisees who eagerly threw their influence with those who wanted to crucify Jesus.
The Pharisees lit the fire under the mob’s emotions causing them to boil forth with the cry, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
The Pharisees hurled arguments at Jesus while the mob howled for His destruction.
– There was a herd-mentality.
– People weren’t interested in right or wrong.
– People ran on raw emotion with no thought or facts to back their actions.
THEY DIDN’T NEED REASON! — They were controlled by emotions which blazed into fury.
We see it today!
– People following the herd — not caring what’s right or wrong, just caught up in what everybody else is doing.
– The “protests,” actually riots, that are being staged over “police brutality.”
Coca Cola used to have the slogan, “Ten million people can’t be wrong!”
– They are if they’re on the wrong path!—the majority of the world’s population’s going to Hell!
Matthew 7:13-14–“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.
14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
The Jewish leaders didn’t want Jesus upsetting their system and gambled they could get rid of Him so they could continue their worship of self and selfish ambition.
People gamble today.
– They know they need Jesus, but their plans seem more important right now!
– If they can silence Jesus He won’t bother them so much.
The Jews gambled they could reject and destroy Jesus, but the Jewish Leaders lost their gamble and the stakes were high!
Everyone who gambles on pushing Jesus away and remaining selfish and sinful will lose.
– The stakes are just as high today. — Mark 8:36–For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
2. PILATE HAD A LOT AT STAKE TOO. HE GAMBLED THAT HE WAS IN CONTROL.
– Funny! Things were more crucial than he’d first thought.
– Jesus didn’t seem like someone who’d work the crowd into this frenzy.
He seemed quiet, not at all a trouble maker.
He had no money — He was homeless.
– His followers were fishermen, tax collectors — very simple men.
– They didn’t seem a threat to anybody — especially Rome.
Why were the Jewish Leaders so bent on killing Jesus?
– He felt Jesus’ calmness.
– He heard the mob outside — they were about to riot!
He knew Jesus was innocent.
– He’d tried to avoid the issue by sending Jesus to Herod — Herod sent Him back!
Pilate’s wife had dreamed about Jesus and sent word to him to have nothing to do with this man!
Pilate compromised and had Jesus flogged — hoping to satisfy the blood lust of the mob — that wasn’t enough! — The mob demanded crucifixion!
Finally, because he didn’t know what to do — and he feared the crowd — Pilate sent for a basin of water.
– Matthew 27:24–When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”
The Jews answered — Matthew 27:25–And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
In one bold stroke they called the wrath of vengeance down on themselves and their children.
That was the cry which wrote the bloody history of the Jews through the centuries.
– That cry stained the Jewish path through hundreds of years with blood.
– Destruction of Jerusalem. A.D. 70
– Spanish Inquisition. 1478-1834 (up to 130,000 people were tortured and executed.)
– Nazi Germany. 1933-1945 (6 million perished)
The Jews have paid dearly as the result of that horrible cry for Christ’s Blood.
– I’m not anti-Semitic, but I see these people got what they asked for.
– Parents and grandparents need to be careful for their children’s sake………
Pilate thought he’d side-stepped Christ.
– Pilate couldn’t side-step Jesus
– NEITHER CAN YOU………………………….
3. JUDAS PLAYED A GAMBLE!
– Judas had been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry — 3 years!
– He had plans and aspirations about who Jesus was and what Jesus could do for him.
– Judas had gotten greedy and critical.
– Judas wasn’t serving God — he was serving self.
– Like people today who whine, “The Church isn’t meeting my needs.”
– That’s not the Church’s goal — we’re to meet God’s needs………….
– Judas could’ve met Christ’s needs by being faithful and obedient.
– Judas never grasped the truth that “God’s ways are best ways.”
– He betrayed innocent Blood.
– Couldn’t stand the guilt and hung himself.
– Judas gambled and lost—“Be sure your sins will find you out!”
4. MEN ON THE OTHER CROSSES.
2 other men were dying beside Christ on crosses that day — Luke 23:39-43–Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus invited both to join His Kingdom.
– One thief gambled that Jesus was who He said He was and accepted the invitation.
– That was the best decision of his life…………
– Like most dying men this thief prayed.
– He reached the place where even in his unbelief he called for redemption from the curse of hanging on the cross.
The other thief railed and cursed at Jesus echoing the mocking mob.
– Like men in tragedies of sea, storms, avalanches or other sudden accidents, he called for help which could only come from God.
– But look at his prayer—selfish, packed with doubt — Luke 23:39–Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
– No repentance, no godly sorrow, no sign of change of attitude.
– He filled his voice with the railing accusations of the mockeries being hurled at Jesus.
– God doesn’t listen to prayers like that.
– He wasn’t sincere about turning to God—just desperate to get relief………….
– His voice dripped with doubt as he prayed, “If Thou be!”
– He heard the crowd and gambled they were right — this dying man couldn’t help him.
– So close! — But he gambled with the majority and missed the “sure thing.”
– He should’ve listened to the man on the other cross—he’d be in Paradise with Jesus instead of eternally damned in Hell.
5. THERE WERE OTHER GAMBLERS THERE TOO:
– John and Mary
– They chanced being arrested — it might have meant their lives.
– They loved Jesus too much to dessert Him.
– They were willing to stand and be counted for Christ — US TODAY?
– Peter was afraid to take a chance.
– He hid (broken hearted) — Peter lost out — Christ later forgave him.
6. IT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU, BUT THE BIGGEST GAMBLER WAS JESUS!
– He gave up everything with no guarantee anyone would respond.
– He left Heaven!
– He became a man — John 3:16–For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The only convert He knew for certain would be in Paradise was the thief who accepted His invitation.
He suffered, bled and died — not knowing if anybody would pay attention.
– We’re free-moral agents — He had no guarantee we’d respond.
Jesus died on that old rugged cross because He loved you and me — when we were unlovely!
– We were lost and on our way to Hell!
He had to offer us a chance at Heaven — forgiveness—Sonship — Eternal Life.
GOD RISKED IT ALL BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU!
– WILL YOU LET THAT LOVE GO UNNOTICED?
Are you like those calloused soldiers—gambling at the foot of the Cross while the most important event in history was taking place?
Maybe you’re one of those people who know you need the Lord, but you want to wait for a more convenient time to accept Him.
YOU ARE GAMBLING YOUR SOUL, HOPING YOU DON’T DIE AND GO TO HELL BEFORE YOU GET RIGHT WITH GOD.
THERE’S A SAYING THAT SAYS, “THOSE WHO WAIT UNTIL THE 11TH HOUR TO REPENT USUALLY DIE AT 10:30!”
Every believer understands the frustration, confusion, and doubt caused by our sin after we’re saved. We know we’ve been transformed through the power of God’s redeeming work. He’s changed our nature and set us free from the dominion of sin and Satan. But we don’t always live in the reality of that freedom. In fact, we sometimes get the sense that we’re still wicked sinners, and that nothing has changed at all.
That angst over remaining sin is probably best described by the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25.
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage has puzzled scholars and theologians throughout the history of the church. Is Paul describing himself before Christ, or is he talking about someone else—perhaps someone with very little spiritual maturity, or a believer still caught in sin’s grasp? Or is this passage an indication that Paul was mentally unstable, as he seems to drift between two contradictory mindsets? The mind that has not been illuminated by the Holy Spirit likely cannot make any sense of Paul’s confessional self-description.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
In his book The Gospel According to the Apostles, John MacArthur helps us answer some of those questions and understand the inner conflict Paul describes.
This is no carnal Christian or someone with a low degree of sanctification. Paul’s repeated use of the personal pronoun in this context emphasizes that this was his own personal experience. The verb tenses show that he did not consider himself past this stage. The conflict that he describes here was one he knew well—even as an advanced Christian. God’s sanctifying work in his heart is clearly evident. He says he hates his sin (v. 15). He loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21). He delights in the law of God from his heart (v. 22). He thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are all responses of a mature Christian, in this case as seasoned apostle; not someone floundering in the throes of a desperate state of established carnality. In fact, it is the description of a godly man whose occasional sin feels like a constant thing when set against the backdrop of his holy longings.
Romans 7:14-25 thus describes the human side of the sanctifying process. We must not set it against Romans 8, as some do, imagining that these chapters describe two separate stages of Christian growth. They simply give two different perspectives on sanctification. Romans 7 is the human perspective; Romans 8 is the divine perspective. Romans 7 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, spiritually grounded believer. He loved the holy law of God with his whole heart, yet he found himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wanted to. Are there Christians anywhere who are so spiritual that they can testify to a life lived above this level? 
For believers, the push and pull the apostle describes is a common, even frequent occurrence. We understand hating sin even while we’re sinning. We recognize the compulsion to return to the very sins the Lord has saved us from. And we can appreciate how the remaining stains of our sinful past cause us to question whether we’ve truly been transformed at all.
An Unlikely Source of Assurance
But in the midst of that frustration, John MacArthur says we ought to find encouragement and assurance.
All true believers should be living at precisely this level, struggling with the tension Paul describes between an ever-increasing hunger for righteousness on the one hand, and a growing sensitivity to sin on the other. Though the degree of sin will vary depending on one’s level of spiritual maturity, sin in the genuine believer should always make him or her feel the conflict Paul describes in these verses. 
In a slightly ironic twist, the believer’s frustration over his sin and lack of spiritual growth is a strong indication that he is growing spiritually. In fact, it’s the believer who doesn’t have this inner struggle who needs to be concerned.
Though some have tried to claim they live above Romans 7, they only reveal their own insensitivity to the pervasive effects of sin in the flesh. If they would honestly measure themselves against God’s standards of righteousness, they would realize how far they fall short. The closer we get to God, the more we see our own sin. Only immature, fleshly, and legalistic persons can live under the illusion that they measure up well by God’s standards. The level of spiritual insight, brokenness, contrition, and humility that characterizes the person depicted in Romans 7 are marks of a spiritual and mature believer who before God has no trust in his own goodness and achievements.
So Romans 7 is not the cry of a carnal Christian who cares not of righteousness, but the lament of a godly Christian who, at the height of spiritual maturity, nevertheless finds himself unable to live up to the holy standard. It is also the experience of every genuine believer at every stage of spiritual development. 
We need to take great comfort in the fact that the struggle against our flesh is an indication of victory over the flesh. Paul was no ordinary believer—he encountered Christ face-to-face; he was whisked away to see the glories of heaven; he witnessed and performed miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. In spite of all that, he still struggled with sin, and longed to be free of the fleshly shackles of his former nature, crying out, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).
That was not a helpless exclamation—he already knew the answer, as he immediately identifies His Savior: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 7:25). Paul’s confidence was not in himself or his righteousness, but in God’s triumph over sin, producing a settled hope of heaven’s glory. He made that clear just few paragraphs later in Romans 8:18-19.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
His assurance was rooted in the character and promises of God, and he knew that the Lord would not abandon His transforming work in His people before it was completed. “These whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
He made the same reassuring point in his epistles to the church at Corinth. He wrote, “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 57). “While we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4).
The struggle against sin is a good thing, so long as you continue to struggle. It’s a lifelong battle, but as John MacArthur points out, one that bears significant fruit.
Yet for now the battle goes on. Full deliverance awaits glorification. Victory here and now is only possible bit by bit as we mortify the deeds of the body through the power of the Holy Spirit: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
We are bound to be frustrated by our inability to experience holiness to the degree we desire. That is the inevitable experience of every true saint of God. Because of our flesh we can never in this life achieve the level of holiness to which we aspire. “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). But that hope further inflames our aspirations to holiness. 
In The Gospel According to the Apostles, John closes his chapter on Romans 7 by quoting 1 John 3:2-3. It’s a good reminder that while the holiness we long for sometimes feels a long way off, it is never in doubt.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
Next time we’ll bring our discussion of sin, grace, and righteousness full circle, as we consider the believer’s adoption into the family of God.
Just in time for Easter, Emmy-nominated actress and producer Roma Downey is rolling out a new movie she produced with her husband Mark Burnett called Resurrection, telling the story of what happened after Jesus’s crucifixion.
During a recent interview with CBN’s The 700 Club, Downey said she is overjoyed that the film will make its debut ahead of Easter, the holiest day of the year for Christians, also known as Resurrection Day.
Downey explained that the time frame for the film takes the audience through the gospel and into the book of Acts, by focusing on the death and resurrection of Christ.
“The movie opens up at the crucifixion of Jesus and we wanted to tell the story from the point of view of the disciples,” Downey emphasized. “They scattered when He was murdered, they’re heartbroken, they’re afraid. In those few days, they wait to see if He will come back or not. In that time in Jerusalem, there’s so much going on.”
“The drama plays out like a triangle because we have the oppression of the Romans and they were ruling with an iron fist,” she added. “We have the Temple authorities led by Caiaphas and they’re very anxious about Passover and keeping peace in the city which is why they tried to kill Jesus off so quickly. Then we have the disciples who have just lost their beloved teacher, their leader, their Lord, and they’re unsure what to do next.”
And the producer noted that viewers will be able to sympathize with Jesus’s disciples.
“The way the disciples are presented, there’s such a humanity in them that we the audience are able to relate to them,” Downey said. “We are able to identify with the variety of emotions that they’re going through and we will see that fear and that grief turn to joy and elation when on the third day as promised Jesus does rise again.”
The movie is a production from MGM and LightWorkers. But Downey explained that Discovery+ was the best outlet for the March 27th release of Resurrection due to theater closure during the pandemic and because the platform is interested in offering family-focused entertainment.
“It became clear to us around Christmas time that we weren’t going to be able to show this film in theaters as we had originally planned. We looked around to see what platform we might be able to stream the film on. We are so grateful that Discovery+ boldly stepped up and said that they would love to have the film over Easter.”
“They are a very family-friendly platform so we thought if we were inviting our audiences in to watch Resurrection, we wanted them to come into a place where they knew there would be value for their money and that it would be a place they could trust.”
She added that if the film performs well with audiences, Discovery+ will create space to make more faith-based content available to viewers.
“It’s harder and harder to find places that will take faith content so we’re really hoping that the Christian audience will mobilize and come check out the movie. It’s a beautiful movie. It’s the cornerstone of our faith. It’s uplifting and empowering and we really hope that the audience will step up and come in so we can continue to produce Christian content of quality.”
Additionally, Burnett and Downey have produced a variety of television series through MGM’s LightWorkers group, including the recently released series “Country Ever After” for Netflix, “Messiah” for Netflix, “The Women of the Bible” for Lifetime, “The Dovekeepers” for CBS, and “Answered Prayers” for TLC.
These 51 Easter quotes will help you stop and reflect on this holy season of Easter. Each Easter quote comes from a meaningful Easter sermon on SermonCentral.com.
“Jesus could have been satisfied with giving the world bread and water. He could have given them a healing clinic in every town. A leprosarium. School of exorcism. No. He gave himself. Spiritual sacrifice to God. Broke the bond of sin and death and set us free forever. He left for us an empty tomb.” Eldon Reich in Easter: What God Gave to Us
“Muhammad died, and was buried. His faithful followers take pilgrimages to visit his remains, the same is true of Buddha and other religious leaders. But it is not true of Jesus. You cannot visit His remains; you can only visit His empty grave, because He isn’t there. He Arose!” James Wilson in Easter: Jesus Arose!
“The empty tomb tells us of God’s ultimate power. A power that points to an ultimate purpose. Throughout His suffering, many times Jesus was told to show His power to escape His suffering and His death…but He knew that beyond all demonstrations of power and miracles…it was the ultimate power over death which had to be revealed.” Brad Bailey in Easter: A Tomb Tells All
“For the separation of humanity from God is depicted way back in the garden…We have a broken relationship with God, both in the depths of our souls and the actions of our hearts. This is precisely the reason Christ came. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.He bore our cost.” Brad Bailey in Easter: Rooted in Time and History and Yet Timeless in Its Impact
“An event can be thrust upon you and it takes you by surprise; you never would have predicted it in a million years. Now here it is – staring you in the face. What will you do? You can’t stay the same, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. You may not know what to do, but this much is certain, you have to do something. This is the Resurrection.” Ken Sowers in Easter: Grave Robbers Didn’t Rob the Tomb; God Did!
“When it comes to believing in the resurrection of Jesus, we cannot simply seek knowledge; instead, we must seek faith. Nobody comes to faith in Jesus because of knowledge of Him. Even Satan has knowledge of Jesus, only he doesn’t believe in Jesus.” Michael Deutsch in Easter Sermon
“If you were to return to the scene of Christ’s execution that Sunday morning, you’d find relics of his death: A braided crown with scarlet tips. Three iron nails covered in dirt and blood. And an empty cross tinged red with the blood of God.” Scott Bayles in Easter: Empty Promises of Easter
“Perhaps the message this angel spoke was the most important one in Scripture. The message of the angel is still true today ‘don’t be alarmed – He is risen! He is not here; you will see him again.’ Jesus is alive!” Andy Barnard in Easter Angel
“Easter is the focal point of all history–because Jesus Christ is the focal point of all human history. Every time you date a check, print a calendar…every time this unbelieving world puts a date on a newspaper or magazine they are bearing witness to Him. History just cannot get away from Him.” Steve Malone in The Easter Door
“These angels are involved in our lives for several reasons, but one of them is to learn about God’s grace by watching us. When you study the Bible or reflect upon the person and work of Christ, you are joining in the curriculum of the angels; you are on holy ground.” Ed Vasicek in Easter Angels
“Jesus knew His followers were confused and frightened. They had hit rock bottom. And so He says, ‘Peace be with you.’ This is not simply a salutation; it’s the first application of Easter—peace.” Robert Leroe in Easter Qualities
“Jesus had power over death. Death was no match for him. People had feared for centuries that death was a stone cold grip from which no one could escape. And Jesus very calmly asserted His authority over it.” Matthew Rogers in He Defeated Death
“Do you want to live life to its fullest? Then aim higher. Don’t set your sights too low. Determine to become all that God created you to be. Give yourself to Christ, follow Him completely, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Because of Him!” Ryan Johnson in Because of Him
“Think about the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty. An empty cross, an empty tomb, and empty burial clothes. It is the very fact that each of these is empty that assures us that God’s promises are real.” Steven Kellett in The Empty Promises of Easter
“But with the gospel also comes a call to live a holy life, a life of spiritual depth and growth. This is what we mean by nurture, being nurtured in the life God calls us to. Although we do not contribute anything to our salvation, once God saves us, he calls us to live differently. He calls us to a life of transformation, a life where we grow and mature. He calls us to put down deep spiritual roots that are nourished by the truth of God. He calls us to nurture a holy life.” Timothy Peck in Renewing Our Vision
“When Jesus came into our world, He revealed not only Himself but He revealed the very nature and personality of God. So there is a part of God that we can see because of Jesus. And in the same way, God wants others to be able to see Jesus in us.” Melvin Newland in He Is the Root and Morning Star
“To do something in the name of Jesus is to ‘act consistently with who He is and what He wants.’ It is to do all that we do for the glory of His name. The more that I wear Jesus’ clothes, the more that people will think they are seeing Jesus coming when I’m on the way.” Chris Talton in Hand-Me Downs
“Beyond our greatest fear is his hand reaching out to us, beckoning us to come with Him, to believe, to know that God is with us at all times and in all places. We do not have to fear.” Kyle Blanton in Easter Sunrise
“Jesus’ resurrected body was a real body…He didn’t return as a ghost or a mist…He told his followers, ‘Look at my hands and my feet, it is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ “ Rick Burdette in The Mystery of Easter
“The Scriptures tell us that on the first Good Friday, darkness came over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. The earth itself was mourning and protesting the death of its Creator. And you have the great symbolism of the Light of the world being extinguished and the world being plunged into darkness.” Claude Alexander in Jesus and Easter
“What we find inside this Holy Book is the greatest gift given to the world. Through the power of a simple empty tomb, our wealthy heavenly father has given us a great fortune that leads us to an eternal home.” David Trexler in Easter Message
“Jesus becomes human. 100% Human. 100% God. Lives, dies, is able to rise up, overcoming death….Spiritual death. The Bible does not simply mean physical death; it means spiritual death as well which is separation from God.” Peter Loughman in Easter: Fear This
“Jesus is not resuscitated; He is resurrected. He is raised by the power of God into a new way of life, a new existence. The power of Easter comes as the resurrected Lord is raised to a new way of life, and then, in a miraculous fashion, shares with us that new way of life.” Gregory Neal in An Easter People
“However you see Jesus, He is my Savior! He died for me. He paid the price for my sin, and the historical, proven fact of His resurrection has influenced the lives of millions upon millions.” Oris Hubbard in Easter’s Influences
“The tomb of Jesus also told a story. But it was not what was inside his tomb that told the story, it was what was NOT in his tomb. There was nothing there. The tomb is empty — and that tells it all. The angel said to the women at the tomb, The bones of the Buddha are on display. The tombs of world leaders are full of the remains of death. But the tomb of Jesus is empty because he is not there. He has risen — just as he said.” Rodney Buchanan in Easter’s Surprises
“The things He said were so preposterous and dangerous. He claimed that the Scriptures were all about Him and that the prophets spoke about Him. He had the audacity to state that He was the only way to God. Not that He knew the way, but that He WAS the way. He claimed that no-one could come to God except through Him!” Bramwell Hayes in Easter Is Dangerous!
“Easter in us is the resurrection power of life that God desires to place in every Christian’s heart. God generally doesn’t do this unless we are open to it. Let us pray that God puts Easter in each of us, and through His presence in us, may God’s glory be revealed in the world. In the words of the poem, ‘let Him easter in us.’ “ Anthony Seel in Easter in Us
“If you can think in computer terms, He has downloaded our sins upon Himself. Now if you know anything about downloads, a lot of them are free, but in order for them to be free, someone had to do the work earlier to make the download possible. That is what God has done for us. He has made forgiveness possible; He has done the work for us. As a result, He downloaded our sins and took them upon himself and went to the cross.” Richard Pfeil in Experiencing Easter
“God threw open the doors of heaven. He invited all nations, tribes and languages to Himself. Jesus doesn’t separate the believers. He does the opposite. The blood that He shed sanctified us and made us one. And one day, one sweet day – we’ll all be privileged to see that around God’s throne.” Eloy Gonzalez in Easter–For Whom?
“Christianity alone possesses a founder who transcends death and who promises that His followers will do the same.” Dan Cormie in Hope at Easter
“Whatever you face, whether it’s today or tomorrow, the promise of Jesus to everyone who puts their trust in Him. In this there is hope, even when it feels like ‘Checkmate.’ Because…THE KING STILL HAS ANOTHER MOVE IN YOUR LIFE. You might feel like you’re in checkmate, but Jesus says that if you believe in Him…HE WILL SAVE YOU.” David Kinnan in Easter: Hope
“We are embraced by God. That means all that we are, including our wounds, our sins, our sorrows – is embraced, accepted completely by the everlasting God. This is the beginning, because forgiveness is just a beginning. Then God sends us out to live as free people, ever thankful for the freedom Christ won for us on the cross. We’re sent out as free people to be agents of His love, to be ministers of reconciliation, to be people through whom God’s best intentions for this planet and every soul on this planet are made to happen, made real, made manifest.” Matthew Parker in The Easter Continuum
“Whether one believes nothing yet or has come to a partial understanding, believing is a process of uncovering errors and weaknesses and coming to a deeper, more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God. This process is furthered only by one’s own experience of the Word; no one else’s experience can be a substitute.” Paul Andrew in Easter Impact
“Forgiveness is powerless unless it comes from one who has the power to forgive. Unless it came from one who had the power to say, defeat death. Without the resurrection, that forgiveness would have been worthless, simply more words from a prophet proved wrong by his death. But when He stepped out of the tomb everything he said, everything he taught was proved to be right. And His forgiveness became a certainty.” Denn Guptill in Rediscover Easter
“People are brought back to life everyday in emergencies rooms across the country. That is not resurrection – that is resuscitation. The people who are given a second chance at life by resuscitation – will eventually die. That is not what we are talking about with the resurrection. If you are in Christ, you will be given a heavenly body. You will be given an imperishable body. You will be raised in glory. You will be raised in power. You will have a spiritual body and you will never, never, never, die again. You will live forever with an imperishable body.” Tom Shepard in The Arrival of Easter
“The Risen Lord actually lives, is alive, and is present today in our testimony of his Gospel. In a very real sense, our lives should be a ‘5th gospel.’ “ David Rigg in An Easter Message
“No other holiday is as critical to the Christian faith as Easter. The very foundation of Christianity stands or crumbles on the truthfulness of the assertion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Easter is not about religious ritual or tradition. It is about the resurrection of the Son of God, an historical event. It is significant because of what the resurrection of Jesus validates.” Jerry Flury in The Importance of Easter
“Paul speaks of salvation. Jesus speaks of loving God with all of our hearts and our neighbors unconditionally. Timothy speaks of the importance of order in our lives. Jesus speaks of the importance of a relationship with Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. David speaks of repentance; Jesus speaks of forgiveness. Joshua speaks of obedience, Solomon speaks of trust, Isaiah speaks of hope, Jeremiah speaks promise and Jesus speaks of finding the Glory of God through a relationship with Him.” Rich Anderson in The Heart of Easter
“We have a God who knows, not just theoretically but experientially what it feels like to suffer, to have pain, to be betrayed, to be ignored, to be forgotten, to die. That means we can share our pain with God. We can draw near with a confidence that He knows and He understands and yet He tells us He still loves us.” Nathan Eyland in An Easter Message
“Death couldn’t hold Him. The resurrection proves that Jesus was who He said He was. It proves that Jesus did what He said He was going to do… and it proves that all who put their faith and trust in Him as Lord and Savior will be forgiven of their sins, granted eternal life, and be made right with God!” Ken McKinley in Easter 2017
“Bad news? Death is our enemy; good news? Death is defeated! Jesus died the death; Jesus took all of the pain; everything that you and I deserved He paid for on that cross.” Bud Rose in Easter Sunday
“In a very real way, God’s kingdom could not have come unless Jesus was willing to do the will of the Father. But also we should not expect God’s kingdom to come, to transform our lives, our neighbors’ lives. We shouldn’t expect to see healings and answered prayer unless we are willing to seek the Lord’s will. I fear that far too often we expect God’s kingdom to come and great things to happen to us in our church and our lives without submitting to the will of God.” James Tetly in Preparing for Easter
“Faith is shaking hands with God and getting right with Him. Faith is putting our hands up and surrendering our lives to Christ. Faith is raising your hand and saying, Here I am Lord, take me in Your loving hands.” Ross Cochrane in Hands of Easter
“And then there are those who truly get it. They know the resurrected Jesus and He lives strong in them. They pour out their compassion and love, their mercy and grace, which is only through the power of Christ inside of them.” Mark Engler in The Wonder of Easter
“Faith begins with knowledge, which is where the intellect is involved. Then it moves to the emotions where convictions are developed. Saving faith must then move to the will, where a commitment is made. True saving faith involves appropriating what Christ has done for us.” Brian Bill in Easter Comeback
“Death is not the end for Christians, it is only the beginning. the beginning of a life spent in Heaven with our Creator and our Savior. As Jesus now lives forever, we also can live forever … with Him, because we have true hope.” Bruce Ball in The Proof of Easter
“For the disciples it took only three days. On Friday they are in deep despair, but by Sunday night they’re on top of the mountain because of the resurrection. So sometimes things can be quickly reversed.” Melvin Newland in Easter: At the Tomb
For now, we open our Bibles to John 11. The whole chapter is about one event, and that is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was a member of a little family. We only know three members of the family; Lazarus and his two sisters. We don’t know anything else. We don’t know a lot about them except that they were a host family to Jesus and that He had come to know them very well to the degree that He not only loved them with a spiritual and divine love, but He loved them with a personal affection because the Greek verb, phile is used to describe His affections for that family, and in particular, for Lazarus.
So He had gotten to know them. They were a group of believers who believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. They believed He was the one who had come down from heaven. Martha gives testimony to that in the chapter verses 25 and following. So this is a family that He had come to know and for whom He not only had divine love, the love that He has for His children, but for whom He had personal affection. That drew out of Him, a very painful experience when He came to the tomb and stepped into the situation of all these people who had come around to mourn and weep and wail over the loss of this family. Mary and Martha were weeping and sorrowful over the loss of their dear brother.
Jesus stepped into that situation, and it wasn’t just them weeping; it was a huge crowd, chapter 11 tells us, of mourners there. There would always be professional wailers, people who did that very well and sort of ignited the wailing. Then there would be the legitimate weepers and wailers and mourners who were sorrowful. They apparently came from many, many places. In verse 19 it says, “Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.”
This particular initial sadness lasted seven days in the Jewish tradition, and then they would kind of go back to their own homes, but sort of commit themselves to being available for comfort and consolation for a period of at least 30 days. This is a community event that is going on, and Jesus steps into it. Lazarus has been in the ground four days, and by 72 hours complete decomposition has set in, as I laid out for you in our last discussion about it.
Jesus arrives, and He comes to the tomb. He is sorrowful. He is sad. There are verbs here that describe a kind of sorrow that’s really almost abnormal. It isn’t just that He’s weeping because He lost a friend. It isn’t just that He’s weeping because He sees the pain of these two ladies over the loss of their brother. He’s not weeping because the community feels bad about it. It is a kind of agony. It is a kind of wrenching experience for Jesus that comes because He collects all the data that is visible in this event.
He not only loses a friend in this; He not only sees that sorrow, but He’s able to process immediately the sorrow of every death in every human relationship in every human family. He can project His omniscience to grasp all of human sorrow and suffering in the face of death. Not only that, He’s surrounded by unbelief, a whole nation of unbelievers and even by the tomb and in the home there, a group of unbelievers. So He’s literally engulfed in unbelief. He also grasps the reality of death and eternal punishment and eternal judgment.
So this is an agonizing moment for Jesus, matched only by His agony in the garden where He comes into a face to face confrontation with sin, which He Himself will bear. This takes His horror to another level, but here I think is the greatest agony in the life of Jesus up to this point as He faces the deadly reality and the eternal consequence of death and how far-reaching it is. In the agony, He comes to the tomb and in verse 43 He says, “‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’” And the curtain falls. We don’t know anything more about that scene. We have no further information.
Tradition says he lived another 30 years. Maybe that’s true. Certainly, he lived for a while. This was not a temporary resurrection in that sense, in a human sense. We don’t know anything about the reunion of Mary and Martha. We don’t know anything about the shock and awe that must have just literally roared through the mourners. We don’t know anything about that. We don’t know anything about the conversations that Lazarus had after this. You can imagine the questions. “Lazarus, where were you? Can you tell us where you were and what was it like?” Maybe, maybe he had the same response that the apostle Paul had when he had his trip to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12. He was caught up into the third heaven, you remember, but he said, “I saw things too wonderful to speak of, and it’s not profitable to speak of them anyway.”
Paul had been to heaven, and nobody could get out of him what that was like. We have no information. Why not? Because this isn’t about the psychology of reunion. This isn’t about the rest of Lazarus’s life. This isn’t about our curiosity of heaven. What is this about? Verse 4 says, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
All we’re interested in is the glory of the Son, and when He said, “Lazarus, come out,” and in a moment Lazarus was standing there, that’s the point of the story. The rest is irrelevant. In fact, in verse 40, Jesus says to Martha, “Didn’t I say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” and they did. The purpose of this was to bring glory to God, and glory to God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So when the curtain fell last Sunday for us at the end of verse 44 and the scene ends. So we pick it up in verse 45. This is an important final section, final scene in this incredible drama. But before we look at it, I’m going to tell you, this is the aftermath. This is the effect. Here come the responses, and they are predictable. They are predictable because we’ve seen them all through the gospel of John and we see them all through the other gospels.
But before we look at that, I want to remind you about a statement made by Peter. Peter was preaching in Jerusalem in the temple, in the temple courtyard with the masses of Jewish people there. It was his second sermon after the ascension of Christ, after the Day of Pentecost, after the birth of the church, the second great apostolic sermon. He indicts the Jews with an astonishing accusation, paradoxical, ironic. He says to them, “You killed the Author of life. You killed the Author of life,” Acts 3:15. Some translations say the Prince of life. That’s the old traditional one, but it’s the word archgon and that means, “the author.” That means, “The founder.” That means, “The source.”
How ironic. You killed the life giver. We learned that from John 1, “In Him was life.” John 1, “Nothing was made without Him because He made everything that was made.” He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He doesn’t give life. He is life. You killed the Author of life. More ironically, Peter said, “And you desired a killer to be released to you. You killed the Author of life, and you gave life to a killer.” How bizarre. That’s the nature of unbelief, and the crime has no parallel really. It is without equal in its heinousness.
It had been the desire of the religious leaders in Israel and all who followed their lead to kill Jesus for a long time. They’d been wanting to do that for years, a couple of years. It now reaches a point where they cannot let Him live any longer. This miracle is the final boiling point. They can’t let it go any further, and so this raising of Lazarus, perhaps the week before the Passover, that close, triggers their desire to kill Him now and not wait, which is in perfect accord with God’s plan; because God wants Him to be the sacrificial Lamb the next week on Friday at the Passover. They don’t know that, of course, but they’re not operating on their schedule. They’re operating on God’s. They had tried to kill Him many times before that unsuccessfully, but now after this miracle, which is the seventh great miracle that John chronicles in his gospel, after this, they can’t wait any longer.
In fact, it’s all sort of summed up as you note down into verse 47 when they call a counsel and they say, “What are we doing? We’ve got to act. We cannot let this man – ” verse 48, “ – go on like this.” Completely oblivious to the fact that He raised a dead man on top of everything else. Now remember, it is a radical claim for someone to say He is God and is to be summarily rejected no matter who says it with one exception – that’s Jesus.
He said He was God, and then He demonstrated the truth of that claim. Now, you have two choices. You can believe or not believe. When He said He was God, He was either telling the truth or lying. You can look at the evidence and there’s plenty of it in the four gospels and the testimony of the rest of the New Testament and the testimony of the Old Testament leading up to it, and the testimony of the living church ever since. There’s plenty of evidence that what He claimed is true, and there is no indication that what He said is false. You can look at the evidence, but you only have two options. You believe or you don’t believe. There’s no third possibility. There’s no safe middle ground.
Luke 11:23 Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is – ” what? “ – against Me.” And all the evidence demands belief, belief; all the evidence of Scripture. Still, no matter what He did, no matter what He said, no matter how the evidence made the case clear, unmistakable, undeniable, they hated Him, the leaders did. It was an aggressive kind of unbelief. It was a hostile kind of unbelief. It was a violent kind of unbelief. They tried to stone Him to death in Nazareth after one sermon in His own hometown.
They accused Him over and again of being demon-possessed, of being under the power of Satan. They said He was a violator of the Law of God and a violator of their religious law and tradition. They said He was a blasphemer. They said He was a drunkard. They said He was a friend of sinners, the low-life crowd who were outcasts. They said His teaching was unacceptable, His authority was self-invented. Everything that they viewed Him as being led them to the need to kill Him. That’s the hostile unbelief.
There’s another kind of unbelief. There were a lot of people who followed Him because of His miracles and they were curious and they were fascinated, and they were interested, and they even were healed and fed, but it was superficial. They’re like the ones in John 6, who when He started speaking very clearly and very demandingly, it says that, “Many of His disciples walked no more with Him.” There was that kind of unbelief that isn’t hostile. It isn’t violent. It isn’t angry. It isn’t murderous. It’s just indifferent. It was that kind of attitude to which our Lord spoke in Matthew 11:20-24 when He said, “You’re in some serious trouble, you folks around Galilee because if what had been done in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and the cities around Galilee had been done in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have repented. You’ve seen enough to have a very high level of accountability to God. You are in serious trouble.”
It’s not a safe place to be curious. It’s not a safe place to be a nominal believer in Jesus, to feel sentimental about Him. That’s a very dangerous place. You might as well be hostile. But there are those who were hostile, and those who were just curious or indifferent.
Thirdly, there were those always who believed, who believed. They were the few who found the narrow way. They were the ones Jesus called, “the little flock.” They were the 12 minus Judas, who left everything to follow Him. They were those like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus who confessed that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the one who came down from heaven.
There were those who repented like Zacchaeus, like the Samaritans in the village of Sychar, like the royal official and his household in John chapter 4. They were like the blind man in John 9 who believed, and then many in chapter 10, across the Jordan where Jesus went with His disciples and proclaimed His messiahship and many believed. There were others.
There definitely was a little flock of believers. So these were the responses that we’ve seen in the gospel of John and they’re in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as well. There is belief and unbelief, and two kinds of unbelief. I guess maybe unbelief on a spectrum all the way from being extremely hostile to being only marginally curious, but it’s still unbelief. As we come to verse 45 then, we leave the scene behind us. The curtain falls, as I said, and we now meet these three groups. We meet the believers. We meet the violent haters, and then we meet the indifferent people.
So we have here at the end of this chapter, a microcosm of what you see through the whole ministry of Jesus and actually what you see even today. There are people, of course, now and you’re among them who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are people who are violently hostile to Him, violently aggressively hateful toward Him. Then there is that massive people who have some sort of marginal, sentimental attitude; equally damning.
Let’s meet group one, verse 45. “Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He had done, believed in Him.” Here is the “many.” Let’s just call them the “many.” They believed in Him. Who are these “many”? Back to verse 19, which I read earlier. “Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.” Now, I told you this is a fairly substantial family. They live in a town called Bethany two miles east near the Mount of Olives, around the side of the Mount of Olives. Folks from Jerusalem can easily come. They are sort of on a highway from Jericho to the city, which is traversed a lot, so they’re easy access. People knew them. They knew who they were.
You’ve got not only villagers in Bethany, but you’ve got people coming out of Jerusalem to visit with them. The indication is they were a relatively substantial family. They show up later and show that they have some means. I don’t know what the number is. Maybe it’s dozens. Maybe it’s multiple of 20. Maybe it’s 100 or more. I don’t know what the “many” is, but many mourners came, and they have been there now four days already, filling up the first seven days when everybody would be there. Now the resurrection has happened, and the mourners are still there. They have known the family. They have known Lazarus. They know he was dead. They know he’s been in the grave four days. They know what that means because Jews don’t embalm. They get it.
He comes out of the grave. The miracle is so clear, unmistakable, undeniable. Their hearts open to the reality that this is truly who Martha said it is. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who came down from heaven, God incarnate. They also believe the way she believed. We have to assume that theirs is a genuine belief because that’s what’s indicated in verse 26. “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha says, “Yes, I believe,” and here we find in verse 45, “Many of the Jews believed.”
We assume that the verb in the same context has the same significance and the same meaning. They believed. They believed, and rightly they should believe. What would you believe if you saw that? Clearly, they believed. They had seen the glory of God. They had seen the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, if you will, to borrow Paul’s language. They’re convinced. Now, not all believing is legitimate, but genuine belief is mentioned in chapter 1, verse 12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even those who believed in His name.”
They believed and they were given the right to become children of God. Their sins were forgiven. They were redeemed. They became the children of God. They ceased being the children of the devil. They are the believing many, many in a relative sense. Many of the number that were there; not many of the nation. Many of the number that were there. They believed.
There is a kind of believing that doesn’t save. If you go back to chapter 2 of John, you will remember this. In John 2:23, He was in Jerusalem at the Passover. This is the beginning of His ministry, and many believed in His name. Many believed in His name, “Observing His signs, His miracles He was doing. But Jesus on His part was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men and because He didn’t need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
He knew that the kind of believing that was in them was not sufficient to save them. It wasn’t sufficient to make a genuine connection, and it’s illustrated in the next two verses. “One of those who believed was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night,” and he tells Him what they believed. “Rabbi, we know you’ve come from God as a Teacher, for no one could do the signs unless God is with Him.” They believed He was a Teacher. That’s true. That’s not sufficient. That’s true. That’s not enough. He didn’t say, “You’re the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who came down from heaven,” like Martha did.
So there’s a kind of faith that is superficial. It’s not enough. It’s not sufficient. We see it again in chapter 6. Disciples following Him, listening to Him, who turn and go the other way and walk no more with Him, a superficial, temporary kind of belief, like the seed sown in the rocky soil and the weedy soil. It never produces fruit and it dies. In chapter 8, you see this same kind of thing again. This may be more characteristic of the superficial indifferent group that we’ll see in a minute than anything.
John 8:30, “Many came to believe in Him.” Many. Well, what kind of faith is it? What does it mean to believe? Jesus said to them, the Jews who believed Him, “If you continue in My Word, then you’re truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” You’re not free from sin. You’re not free from judgment. You’re not free from everlasting punishment yet, but if you continue down this path, you will come to the knowledge of the truth that saves. So there is a kind of faith that can be only initial, only a kind of beginning faith that isn’t sufficient to save.
But in the case we have here, I think we have to interpret the believing here in the context of the believing that our Lord spoke of and saw illustrated in Martha early in the chapter. There is here a wonderful thing going on. Now, mark this. We’re maybe the week before the death of Christ, and there’s a flurry of things happening to the souls of people. Before Jesus came, a week before that, He had been beyond the Jordan and many were believing in Him there. That’s what we saw at the end of chapter 10.
So in the last weeks of His life, as He preaches the gospel and puts on display His sovereign power, many are believing. Here, there’s actually a great encouragement of conversion and regeneration at the funeral of Lazarus. That’s group one. Throughout all of the history of the gospel and the proclamation of Scripture and the reading of Scripture, there will be those who believe. The Lord has His people everywhere in the world. He’ll draw them out of every tongue and tribe and people and nation.
Group two is the murderers. Group one is the “many.” Group two is the murderers. They take up the bulk of the rest of this section, verse 46. The Pharisees were very powerful. They basically were the architects of Judaistic synagogue religion. They had the power over the populous. They had the control over the people. They dominated the people with their laws and rules and Sabbath restrictions and restraints. The people pretty much knuckled under the Pharisees. If you didn’t do that, you got thrown out of the synagogue, and if you got thrown out of the synagogue you were a pariah. You were cut off from all social contact. You might as well be a leper.
So everybody sort of took whatever abuse the Pharisees laid out in order to stay in the system. Some of those people, some of those Pharisaical sycophants are there mourning at this event. When they see what’s going on, they decide to report to the Pharisees. So, verse 46, “Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.” What did they tell them? He raised the dead. It’s what He did. He went to the tomb. Gave them the story, He raised this guy who had been dead. He was really dead. We know he was dead. He raised him from the dead. They gave the report.
They are concerned more about the Pharisees than they are about their own souls. This is what false religion does. False religion allows you to give up your own soul to please somebody who is the destroyer of your soul. That’s what false religion does. So they report. They saw the miracle. They described the miracle. With a sinister intention, they tell the Pharisees. Knowing how much the Pharisees hate Jesus already, and knowing that this is going to enrage them even further, but they’re complicit with the Pharisees because they’ve sold their souls to the devil.
This is the hardness of the human heart in the face of literally overwhelming evidence. Evidence means nothing. Evidence means nothing. Why do they hate Jesus so much? Jesus said that in John 7, “The world hates Me because I testify to it that its deeds are evil.” They hated Him because He told them they were evil, not evil in their sin, but evil in their religion. Sure, evil in their sin. Sinners can usually take that. If you tell them they’re evil in their sin, they can handle it, but you tell them they’re evil in their righteousness, and they’ll hate you for it.
You see the depths of unbelief, the profound fortress of anti-God ideology and ideas in religion. God had put His glory on display through His Son. They didn’t see it. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, verse 47. They called together either a sort of a quorum of the Sanhedrin or the Sanhedrin itself, which was the religious tribunal, the ultimate supreme court of Israel. They called together a meeting of the chief priests. They would be the Sadducees and the Pharisees. This is made up of the religious elite, people with money and power and influence convening a council, and this is where they say, “What are we doing? We have to stop talking. Why – ” as they say in verse 48 “ – are we letting this man go on like this? We’ve got to stop Him.”
Do they fear the political implications? Not in reality. They just hate what He says. They just hate what He says. “What are we doing? We have to stop talking. We have to act.” So, as John Calvin puts it, they come up with a plausible disguise. They create a theoretical, imaginary disaster because they want Jesus dead. They don’t believe this, but they invent it. This is it: “For this man is performing many signs.” Now, there you have it folks. The testimony of the people who hated Jesus, that what He was doing was miraculous.
Why are there liberals living now who deny the miracles when the enemies of Jesus who were there don’t even deny them? Nobody denied them. He’s performing many miraculous feats. “If we let Him go on like this – ” here’s their thing “ – all men will believe in Him.” That is political hyperbole. That sounds like a politician to me. Everybody will believe, and the Romans will come and take away both our place, and our nation will lose our position, will lose our power, will lose our nation. Talk about a doomsday scenario. This is the end of everything. We can’t allow this to go on. We’ve got to stop. We’ve got to act or we’re going to lose it all. This is an idea concocted as a pretense to kill Jesus for His teaching, which tore at the fabric of their system.
By the way, this is the same exact thing they say to Pilot later. “Well, if you don’t crucify Jesus, you’re no friend of –” who? “ – Caesar,” because Jesus is going to lead a revolution, and it’s not going to make Caesar happy. The apostles went to Thessalonica in Acts 17, and Paul and Silas are preaching in the synagogues, and Jews are believing and believing. But some of the Jews didn’t believe, and they’re furious about what’s going on. This happened in the synagogue with the Jews in Thessalonica. They’re furious, so they start to go after the Christians. They go to the house of Jason, and they drag him out of the house, and they’re starting this persecution, and how do they defend this bizarre behavior? They defend it with these words: “They all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there’s another king.” They stirred up the crowd.
The Jews doing the same thing long after this in the book of Acts saying the Christians are going to start a revolution and the Romans are going to come, and there’s going to be a huge conflict, and we’re going to lose our freedom. They knew Jesus wasn’t a revolutionary. What did Jesus say? “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.” Jesus never picked up a sword. Jesus never started a revolution. Jesus wasn’t anti-Roman. Jesus didn’t try to free the slaves. Jesus didn’t try to balance economics. Jesus didn’t get caught up in social justice. Jesus didn’t start an army. He didn’t call people to defend Him. He was meek. He was gentle. He was compassionate. He didn’t go around killing people. He went around making dead people live.
They knew. They knew, but this was a ploy. We’ve got to create a massive potential scenario here so that we can justify killing Jesus, or else everybody is going to believe in Him, which again is another testimony to the validity of His miracles. His worse enemies, the very people who really crucified Him using the hands of the Romans, believed in His miracles. They had no other choice.
So, Caiaphas steps up. Caiaphas, despicable guy, who was the son-in-law of Annas. Annas had previously been the high priest. Caiaphas is in that office because Rome allowed him to be there. He knows that. Rome has the power to depose any high priest. Now, if you go to the Old Testament, you can go back into instruction in the Old Testament Mosaic Law about the high priest. It was an office for life essentially. There are comments made in the Old Testament about what happens, certain things happened when a high priest died. It signaled a significant event. So the office of high priest in its primal sense was to be for life. It didn’t always work out that way, but that was the ideal.
Contrast that with the fact that Josephus tell us from the time of Herod the Great, just around the time we move from B.C. to A.D., Herod the Great comes in. Between Herod the Great and 70 A.D. when Jerusalem is destroyed, less than 100 years, there are 28 high priests, 28 high priests. This is a revolving door. This is a power position. This is a political position. People are vying and buying and selling this position. You even have references in the New Testament to Annas and Caiaphas both being high priest at the same time.
It was supposed to be much more strict than that. Caiaphas, as I said, was Annas’s son-in-law. It sort of stayed in the family at this particular point. But Caiaphas, this guy who was there because he’s not a threat to Rome, knows his position is only his as long as he pleases Rome, uses that as a ploy. By the way, I think it’s interesting that it mentions a little later – I’ll comment more on that – but in verse 51, being high priest “that year.” It’s just something about that “that year” that grabbed because “that year” was the final year of any legitimate high priest or any illegitimate high priest. Why? Because it was a week later or so that the veil was shredded and the priestly system was null and void. He is the last of, I guess you could say, somewhat official high priest.
Now, this shows up as we follow the history that the office sort of declined and continued to drift and be bought and sold. By the time you get to the 23rd chapter of Acts, the apostle Paul is called before the Sanhedrin. It was many years later and he is confronted in this council. It’s worth reading this. “Paul looked at the council – ” Acts 23, “ – and said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God to this day.’ The high priest Ananias commanded those standing by to smack him on the mouth.” Wow, whack him on the mouth. For what? For saying, “I’ve lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God until this day.”
So this guy whacks Paul in the mouth. Paul responds. “God’s going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” You know, honestly, there’s something about that I like. I just have to confess that. “‘God smite you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the law and in violation of the law order me to be struck?’ But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ Paul says, ‘I wasn’t even aware he was the high priest.’” Now that will tell you what the high priesthood had descended to. He didn’t even know who it was. He didn’t even know who the high priest was. There shouldn’t even have been a high priest. So whatever this thing was, it was high priest with lower case “h” and a lower case “p” and high only in the mind of whoever bought the office.
So that kind of corruption starts with Herod, who appoints three or four of the early ones, and then the Romans appoint the rest. One of them Caiaphas says, “You know nothing at all.” That’s autocratic speech at its best. You’re all ignorant. Aren’t you glad I’m here? “You know nothing at all.” I’ve got the answer to everything. “Nor do you take into account that it is expedient.” He’s talking to the Sanhedrin, the elite. “It is expedient – ” not just, not righteous, not correct, not right, but expedient, beneficial “ – for you that one man die for the people and that the whole nation not perish.”
“Don’t you get it?” he says. It’s beneficial. Under the guise of being a noble politician, under the guise of Jewish nationalism and patriotism, this unscrupulous man is trying to get rid of the biggest obstacle to his own power, popularity, and theology, and that is this Jesus Christ. He wants him dead, and he says, “Don’t you get it? If we don’t kill Him, we all die.” Again, more political nonsense and hyperbole. Either one man, Jesus, perishes or the whole nation perishes.
So, the conclusion of the council is follow the wishes of the high priest. Follow the wishes of the high priest. That’s going to be the plan. We’ve got to kill Jesus to save the nation or we’re going to have a revolution, and the Romans are going to come. We’re going to lose our power. We’re going to lose our nation. They’re going to massacre us.
So, look at the words again. Verse 50, “It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Jesus must die to save the nation. Jesus must die to save the nation. If we kill Jesus, we save the nation. How strangely true is that statement? But not in the way that he thought. The words of Caiaphas have a deep resonating reality of truth that he never even understood. But notice the next verse, verse 51, “Now, he didn’t say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Do you know what this man did, this autocratic, self-exalting, dictatorial, brutal, sly, corrupt man? He gave a clear statement on the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He talks about substitutionary atonement. He has no idea what he’s saying. Not surprising. God used the mouth of Cyrus to give a prophecy. God used the mouth of a false prophet Balaam. God used the mouth of Balaam’s jackass to speak for Him. There are no limits to what God can do. He had no idea what he was talking about. He meant one thing, but God meant something different.
“There are many devices,” says Proverbs, “in a man’s heart, nevertheless, the council of the Lord shall stand.” Or Joseph’s word in Genesis 50, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” This is a divine irony. By the way, nothing in Scripture says that the high priest had any prophetic gift. Nowhere, no. This isn’t an actual prophecy that he gave. This is not that at all. This is not a power that belongs to the high priest. He said what he said. It just so happened that God ordered every word and gave it a completely different meaning, but every word was correct. This is a backdoor into understanding verbal inspiration, verbal inspiration.
An illustration, by the way, of how Scripture is given. When the Bible writers write, they write their own words, but God controls their own words just as in this bizarre sort of almost anti-illustration. He says his own words, but God orders every word. So Caiaphas’s ignorant words, God declares the true impact of the death of Christ. He will die to save the nation, but not physically, not physically. Why? In 70 A.D., they’re all going to perish in the Roman holocaust. But spiritually, He will die for the salvation of that nation, and not that nation only, “But that He might father together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad in every nation.” He died for the sins of His children all over the globe.
Caiaphas’s ignorant, hateful, vengeful, trumped up words are absolutely true. This gives us a foretaste of what it’s going to be like when we go through the rest of the Passion Week, how every single detail no matter who is doing what for what reason fits into God’s purpose. He’s just a link in the chain begun by divine decrees until God fulfills His purpose.
So, verse 53. “From that day forward, that day on, they planned to kill Him.” Apparently, unanimous vote. We have to kill Him, save the nation. Caiaphas’s speech worked. They decided to kill Him from then on. Didn’t take them long. Really didn’t. They were amped up to put it mildly, and at the end of the next week, they were able to accomplish it in the purpose of God.
There’s a final group to add to these murderers. The end of the meeting, what’s the final minutes? What do they write? Death to the life-giver. Death to the life-giver. What a climax. “Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews.” He becomes an outlaw, has to escape at least for a few days until He comes back in the next week. Went away from there to the country near the wilderness into a city called Ephraim. It’s probably Ephron, which is a town mentioned in 2 Chronicles 13, about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. So He got about 12 miles walk away, and He went there with His disciples for the days between that day, the raising of Lazarus and the day He came back to the house of Simon and met back with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and came into the city.
That brings us to 55, which is the final group, the multitudes. They were stirred by Him, but indifferent. Verse 55, “Now the Passover of the Jews was near. Many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves.” The Levitical law laid out in the book of Leviticus, laid out in 2 Chronicles 30 requires all kinds of ceremonial cleanings before you can do Passover. So they all come pouring in to do this prior to the actual Passover itself. So they’re pouring into the city.
They’re gathering in 56 as they were seeking for Jesus. Why? Because He was the focal point of the previous two Passovers. He as the focal point of the previous Passovers? Where is He? He was the topic of conversation through the whole nation. They were saying to each other as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That He will not come to the feast at all?” They know how the leaders feel. They are very clear about that. They know He’s hated. Of course, verse 57, “The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it so that they might seize Him,” arrest Him.
What can I say about the crowd? Curious? Sure. They knew about Jesus? Yeah. Fascinated with Jesus? Right. Where is He? They want to see Him. They want to see His miracles. Do you think He’ll show? He did show. What happened when He came? What happened? Chapter 12 tells us what happened. They shouted at Him in verse 13, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” Wow, triumphal entry Monday. By Friday, what were they crying? “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” We’re going to live through all of that.
Those are the only options really when it comes to Christ. You believe and all the evidence supports that you believe or you reject. You reject with hostility and animosity and anger; or you reject with superficiality and indifference. But there’s only heaven and there’s only hell. Whether you reject Jesus with hatred or reject Him with sentimental good feelings, you end up in the same hell. “You will die in your sins,” Jesus said, “And where I go, you will never come because you believe not on Me.” Either you believing savingly on Christ or you will perish. The question is the same question that Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” That’s the question.
Father, we thank you for the time that we’ve been able to look at this really amazing chapter, and again end up where we always end up in the gospel accounts, facing the decision of all decisions, the choice of all choices; to believe or not believe. I pray, Lord, that you will produce faith. We know that faith is a gift of God. It comes from heaven. Lord, would you be gracious and grant life and belief to those who are dead in trespasses and sin? May the realities of the claims of Christ and the evidence come to life so vividly and with such compulsion, and may the reality of heaven and all its joys and hells and all its horrors become real as well.
May you open minds and hearts to go from either animosity toward Christ or indifference toward Christ to full faith in Him as the only Savior, the only hope of heaven.
Thank you for the power of your Word. We are told in the Scripture that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit convinces us of the truth of Scripture, that the Holy Spirit testifies that we are yours. And He testifies not above the Scripture, beside the Scripture, but through the Scripture. We thank you again that the Holy Spirit testifies to the veracity of Scripture through the Scripture itself, through its self-evident truthfulness. Again, we have seen that today. Take your truth and pour it into us, and then out from us and use us for your glory. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Open your Bible to John chapter 11. When Lazarus died, he was in the grave for four days. But in this sermon series, he’s been there 21, and we need to get him out. We’ve got to get him moving, actually, so he’s exhibited immense patience.
But as we come to the text for today in John 11, verses 37 to 44, we’re going to be looking at it. So let me read it to you: verse 37, “Some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?’
“So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
Throughout the text of John’s gospel, we repeatedly discover that the intention of everything that he records is to demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ. And pointing to His works are the proof. In chapter 5, you’ll remember some familiar words. Chapter 5 and verse 36. Our Lord says, “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John the Baptist; for the works, the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish – the very works that I do – testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” The very works that He did had no other explanation than that He was divine, and had indeed come from heaven, as He claimed. In chapter 10 verse 25, “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.’” Verse 37. “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
We will find this same emphasis in the 14th chapter of the gospel of John. Verse 10. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”
John the Baptist’s disciples had some questions about whether Jesus actually was the Messiah, because things weren’t going the way they expected them to go. John was imprisoned and Jesus wasn’t setting up the kingdom, and so they came to Jesus in Luke chapter 7 and they asked Him, “Are You the expected one, or do we look for someone else? Are You the Messiah, or have we to wait for someone else?” Jesus said this: “Go and tell John this: ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them.’” You go tell John about the works, the miracles.
In the gospel of John, there are seven major miracles that John lays out, out of three years of massive miracles in the thousands, certainly. In fact, at the end of the gospel of John, we’re told the books of the world couldn’t contain everything that Jesus did. But John picked seven that are unmistakable, eyewitness accounts of the deity of Christ as demonstrated in His miracles. None is more powerful, compelling, and memorable than this raising of a man named Lazarus. What you see here is divine power on display, creative power, supernatural power, cosmic power, power that belongs only to God. God is the creator. Christ is the creator. God creates, in Genesis 1. The Lord Jesus creates in John 1. He is the one who made everything that has been made. John says about Him, “In Him was life.” About Himself, He says, “I am the life.”
That is on display here in a way that is really beyond any of the other miracles that John knows. But all of the miracles of Jesus and all the ones that John chronicles are for the purpose that you might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have eternal life in His name.
Now, if you go down to verse 25, you have the declaration from the lips of Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Not that I give resurrection or do resurrection. Not that I give life. I am the resurrection. I am the life. He who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? And Martha said, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
What led her to believe that? The words of Jesus supported by the works of Jesus. He claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ. He claimed to be the Son of God, deity in human form. He claimed to be the one who came down from heaven and supported it with powerful, miraculous works, impossible for humans to do. In fact, the works that Jesus did were unique to Him, and He empowered His disciples for a short period of time, the apostles, to do those same works, giving testimony to the fact that they were the true apostles of the Savior Himself.
In the issue of John 11, the raising of Lazarus, divine power is don display. Remarkable divine power. The kind of divine power that stops the progress of decay. Divine power that reverses rigor mortis. Divine power that pours new life into rotted organs, starts a bloodless decomposing heart, beating and pumping fresh new blood to every organ and every limb. The kind of power that creates a brand new body, that creates blood out of nothing and makes it flow fast and fresh. The kind of power that takes sightless, decomposed eyes and gives new tissue, new nerve, and new vision. The kind of power that takes a non-functioning, decomposed mass of brain tissue and recreates it so it can think, and feel, and move, and speak. It’s a staggering of power, of a man four days dead. And as I’ve told you before, there is the record in the gospels of two other resurrections: one of Jairus’ daughter, who had just died; and one of the sons of the Widow of Nain who was on his way to the funeral, which would happen immediately after his death.
So, somebody might say: well, they maybe weren’t dead. This was so close to the fact that they had been ill. Maybe they weren’t really dead. But in the case of Lazarus, he was four days dead. Four days, and is noted by this time, there is a stench coming from his decomposing flesh.
Jesus steps into that situation and raises that man from the dead. Only God has the power to give life. It is ludicrous to imagine that people have that power. There are some bizarre, self-proclaimed healers who want you to believe that they can raise the dead. That has never, ever even been close to being verified. Why does He raise this man from the dead? Why does He do that? To strengthen the faith of His disciples in Him, and they were always struggling with their weaknesses to produce faith in unbelievers who could have no other explanation and would come to the conclusion, hopefully, that Martha came to, that based upon what He did, you have to believe He’s Christ, the Son of God, the one who came down from heaven.
He also did the raising of Lazarus to give a preview of His own resurrection, which would come only in a few days. We can assume, probably, that Lazarus may well have been raised, at least in one timeline, on the Wednesday before Passion Week. So it would’ve been a week and a half before He had raised Himself from the dead. He also did the resurrection of Lazarus to demonstrate a promise He made in John 5:28 and 29 that He had the power of life and one day would raise all the dead in all the graves of the globe; all the people who’ve ever lived will be raised, some under the resurrection of life, some under the resurrection of condemnation or damnation. He is displaying divine power for all those reasons. And by the way, this is in some ways, a demonstration of the power that He will use to raise your body and mine, which will be, if He doesn’t come soon, if He doesn’t come in years and years, worse shape than Lazarus’. Whatever is left, and even if nothing is left, He can create, and does create, ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Now, we’ve noticed that John takes a great amount of detail to tell the story, running all the way from verse 1 to verse 57. That’s the aftermath, which we’ll look at next week. We’ve already seen the preparation for the miracle in the opening 16 verses, which of course was the story of Lazarus and his sisters living in the town of Bethany two miles east of Jerusalem, around the Mount of Olives, village, really Bethany means house of the poor. Kind of a non-descript little place, but they must’ve been a prominent family there because so many people showed up for the prolonged funeral.
So we saw the opening of his illness and death, and then from verses 17 on down to about verse 36, where we ended last time, we finally saw the arrival of Jesus. Now remember, when Mary and Martha sent messengers, the one whom you love, the one who’s your friend, you have such great affection for, is sick unto death, Jesus delayed long enough for him to be dead and buried. By the time He took a day’s journey back to be in the grave four days, and He did it, He tells us why He did it in verse 4. “This sickness is not to end in death.” That’s not the end. “But for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.” He wants Lazarus good and dead and everybody to know he’s good and dead so that when He raises him from the dead, it’ll bring glory to Himself as well as to the Father. Mutually.
Well, we finally come to verse 37. And here, in this very brief account, we see the resurrection itself. There are no pathological descriptions. There is no attempt to describe any of the phenomenon going on in Lazarus’ body or inside the tomb. In fact, everything about this is a very kind of human thing except for one element. There’s a lot of people there. Jesus asks them to roll the stone away. When Lazarus comes out of the grave, He asks them to unwrap him. And as you go through this story, it has to strike you that the Lord has always done that. He’s always used people to do what people can do. They can’t raise him from the dead, but they can unwrap him. They can’t steal him out of the clutches of the king of terrors, death, but they can roll the stone away, and that’s how the kingdom of God works in the world. God does what only God can do, but what you can do and what I can do, He always enlists us to be involved in, and that’s how we work in the kingdom, and we see that here.
There’s something very, in a sense, normal about it. There’s something very natural about it. There’s something very human about it, as caring people do what caring people can do. But only God can do what God can do. You can see in this, kind of an analogy of salvation. Somebody can, I suppose to say, analogically roll the stone away and let the light of the truth in. Somebody else can kind of unwrap the person who’s newly given life, but only Christ can give life. He does the same thing in salvation that you see Him doing here. Maybe that’s an analogy that helps enrich it a little bit.
So we come to verses 37 to 44. And again, like so many of these massive, just staggering, stunning miracles, it is understated. There isn’t any fanfare here. No angels show up. No trumpet blows. There’s not an orchestra. It’s not drawn out. Basically, Jesus says two words: the name of the man, and a verb. And it’s a command. That’s it. And that, that very statement, two words, a name and a verb, literally unleashes the same power that created the universe.
Now, the whole miracle, again, is to confirm the statement of Jesus in verse 25. “I am the resurrection. I am the life.” Again, to affirm what He said in chapter 5. “God has given to Me the power of judgment and the power of resurrection, and I will raise all the dead of all the ages to the final judgment.” Jesus makes statements of spiritual reality, and then illustrates them in a physical way. “I am the resurrection. Here’s a resurrection to prove it.” On another occasion in the gospel of John, He said, “I am the bread of life,” and then created a meal to prove it. On another occasion, He said, “I am the light of the world,” and then healed blind eyes to prove it. Here, He is the resurrection and the life, and He proves it by putting His resurrection power on display.
So let’s look at this miracle. It’s pretty straightforward and simple, and as you pick up the story, and you remember that when Jesus arrived, verse 17, He found that Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. And Mary and Martha were there. They were brokenhearted and they were sad, and they loved their brother, and it was a terrible loss. Martha, when she hears Jesus is coming, runs out to meet Him. Mary, who is the melancholy one, stays home, and all these people are surrounding her, consoling her, and Jesus has a little conversation with Martha in which He declares to be the resurrection and the life, and you remember all of that. And then He asks for Mary. And so Martha goes back to the house, verse 28. “The Teacher is here and He is calling for you.” And she heard it, and she got up quickly and was coming to Him.
She didn’t come alone. All the people who were with her in the house consoling her, verse 31, got up, thinking she was going to the tomb so she could weep there. When she arrived, of course, she runs into Jesus. They haven’t quite come to the tomb yet. Jesus sees her weeping, sees the Jews who were with her weeping, and I told you funerals lasted seven days, and people came over and cried. There were professional weepers, and then there were people who cared, and they would weep. There were professional mourners and wailers and all of that. Then there were the people who really cared. I pointed out: there’s something beautiful about, not the professional side of it, but the caring side of it lasting as long as it did. And actually, it went on for 30 days after the initial 7 days.
But Jesus sees all this weeping, and He tells us in verse 33, is deeply moved. Deeply moved in His spirit and troubled. And the language is extremely strong. He is profoundly agonizing because He’s lost His friend, yeah. There’s the reality of that. He has lost His friend. Someone for whom He had affection. Phile, back in verse 3. But He sees far more than that. He sees sin, death. He sees the reality that everybody’s going to die. Every family’s going to have a loss. Every relationship is going to be broken up. This is what sin has done not just to this family, not just to this city, not just to this time, but throughout all of human history. The powerful weight of sin. And you’re surrounded by people who have rejected Him and do not believe in Him. Not Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but the rest of the crowd, surely. He sees the impact of sin, and it’s really overwhelming. I would say that this is the closest to His experience in the garden of Gethsemane of anything in the Bible, anything in the gospels. ‘Cause He feels the power of sin on display in this devastated family, and the extent of the realities of death. And He knows that surrounded by unbelieving people, all are going to die, all are going to suffer the loss of people they care about and they love, and most of them are going to be catapulted into eternal hell. This is a massive burden for Him to bear, and that is why the language is so graphic, as we pointed out last time. He’s deeply moved, and He is seriously troubled. So much so that He bursts forth into tears that He can’t restrain in verse 35.
So that people say, “See how He loved him!” They can only read it as: this is a profound love for this man. This is an outburst of weeping, and sadness, and sorrow that is cosmic. This is not just limited to the loss of a friend. We understand that. We see that all the time. But this is something way beyond that, and they’re trying to figure out what this is. So, they say, “See how He loved him!” A kind of love that they’re not used to seeing, perhaps. Not understanding the full reasons for His agony.
Now that gets us to verse 37, and let’s look at the perplexity. We’ll give you a few P’s as we go through here for a few minutes. The perplexity. So, if this is the case, if He is so shattered and so devastated and so broken that He’s in the condition that He is in, and it is a serious condition, couldn’t He, He who opened the eyes of the blind men have kept this man also from dying? I guess the word has circulated by now. Certainly, these are people who have been there for four days, that they sent a messenger to Jesus at the very time Lazarus was sick, and He didn’t come, and He waited two days, and then there’s a day back, so a day for the messenger, two days waiting, a day back. That’s four days. If He really loved as much as it looks like He loved, and if He has the power that He displayed in chapter 9, the healing of the man who’s in his 40’s who had been blind and sitting at the beautiful gate. Everybody knew him, and He gave him sight, and he was a stranger. If He could give sight to a stranger that He didn’t know, He had the power to do that, couldn’t He have healed whatever this illness was, and if He loved him as much as He loved him, then why didn’t He do that? Why didn’t He come?
There’s a perplexity here, and it’s an understandable perplexity, given what they have seen. Of course, from Jesus’ viewpoint, He operates within the Father’s purpose, doesn’t He? He knows exactly what’s going on. The timing is absolutely perfect. As Ephesians 1 says, you know, God essentially does all things after the counsel of His own will. And in Job 33:13, we read, He gives no account to any of His matters. He doesn’t have to tell us the plan. He doesn’t have to tell us the duration. In John 13:7 on another occasion with the disciples, Jesus said, “What I do now you do not realize, but you will.”
They lived in that but-you-will world. They couldn’t figure out almost all of what Jesus was doing, at least in His unwillingness to take over and set up the kingdom. But the time would come when they would understand, when He instructed them after His resurrection.
So it’s a matter of divine timing. He knows that. He already knows that this is for the glory of God, verse 4. God’s going to be glorified. He’s going to be glorified, so He knows a resurrection is going to happen. The Father has disclosed that to Him. He knows that is the plan. They don’t, and they are naturally perplexed.
Well that then leads to, I guess what you’d call a problem. There is a problem. Verse 38. So Jesus, again being deeply moved within. I just need to stop again and say: here’s a different word than the deeply moved in verse 33. And troubled. This is a different word. This is a very odd word to use here, ‘cause it means to snort like a horse. You have all seen that or experienced when a horse raises up under some agitation and lets out a fierce snort. What a strange word to use. Sometimes it’s translated “shuddered.” It’s some kind of total shaking. Shattering emotion has gripped Him, an indignation over death and sin, and its sorrows, and its realities, which are both temporal and eternal. He stands there in the presence of this reality of death, stands there coming to the tomb in verse 38. And He just shudders, just lets off some kind of snort, some kind of gasp, releasing the agony that He feels.
This is an insight, folks, into the true heart of God toward unbelief and judgment. Verse 38 again. He came to the tomb. It was a cave, as it often was in that part of the world. You go there even today. You will go to a cave that is identified as Lazarus’ tomb. When traditional places go back far enough, we say they’re probably accurate ‘cause somebody actually knew where he was buried and told the next generation, and they told the next, and if it goes back far enough, it’s a pretty good idea. If the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church invented in the 13th century, it’s probably not. But if it goes back far enough, I have no idea about this in particular, but it seems to have been a pretty legitimate place. If you go there today, you’ll be introduced to this place. You can go down deep into this cave. And typically in those caves, they would put slits in the wall, soft enough of stone there that they can carve flat places where they can lay bodies, and that would be a typical way to do it. No door, so a stone is lying against it. They would have a groove, and they would have a circular stone that could be rolled over, much as we’re familiar with in the tomb of our Lord.
So that’s what He found. Verse 39. Here comes the problem. Jesus had removed the stone. Now, the stone served a purpose. It served a purpose to keep out animals and people who might, I don’t know, be grave robbers and plunder whatever might’ve been in there. But it also kept the stink in, because the Jews did not embalm, as we have told you. You could compare it, for example, to the Egyptians. The Egyptians literally sucked all the internal organs and tissue out of a body and then soaked it in some kind of liquid combination, and then wrapped it, and that’s what we call mummification, which made the body last longer than any other process. But the Jews did nothing at all like that. They just wrapped the body, wrapped the hands, wrapped the feet, wrapped the head in a cloth, and sprinkled spices on it, got it in the grave. And decomposition, as I pointed out last week, happened very, very rapidly, and within four days, it would’ve been serious, and it would’ve been oozing green liquid, and the stench would’ve been nauseating. This is a problem. This is a problem.
By the way, this would’ve been outside the village some distance for the simple reason, if nothing else, that in Numbers 19:16, it says that if you touch a dead body, you’re unclean ceremony, unclean for seven days, and so the Jews didn’t want to get anywhere near a dead body. That’s another reason there was a stone over the front, and it would’ve been placed somewhere outside the village.
She’s not eager to have that stone rolled away. So Martha, the sister of the deceased says, “By this time, there will be a stench for he’s been dead four days.” She is naturally doubting. He told her, “Your brother will rise again,” back in verse 23. She said to Him, “If you’d have been here, he wouldn’t have died.” Mary said, “If you’d have been here, he wouldn’t have died.” They both gave the same speech ‘cause they’ve been talking about it. He said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” She said, “I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Her eschatology was correct. There is a future resurrection. I know that. He says, “I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about that. Your brother will rise again now, is what I’m talking about.” Verse 40. “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” This isn’t something future. You’re going to see it, if you’ll just believe. You said you were a believer. You believed in Me.
But listen, this is a leap, wouldn’t you say? You’d like to say: I know You’re the resurrection. I know You’re the life. I know You’re the Son of God. You’re the Messiah. You’re the one who came down from heaven. But it’s a big jump from that to seeing this corpse walk out of that grave. We can understand that. We would like to think that if we were there, we might’ve risen to great heights of faith and never had a question about it. But her problem is: she’s got her thoughts on the corpse, rather than the Christ, I guess you could say. So that’s the problem, and she just doesn’t want any unnecessary desecration to take place of his dead body, and certainly nobody to touch it in that condition.
But Jesus says, “Have you forgotten what I promised you?” That’s the promise. So you see the perplexity in verse 37, the problem, he’s so far gone. The promise, verse 40, I said to you, did I not, that if you believe, you’ll see the glory of God? I told you that. You will see a revelation of God’s excellencies. What does it mean you’ll see the glory of God? You’ll see the manifest nature of God. How did you see the glory of God in the garden? Shekhinah glory. How did you see the glory of God in the wilderness of Israel in a pillar of fire and cloud? God manifested His glory. God’s glory came down and the tabernacle entered into the holy of holies. God’s glory came down to the temple. God’s glory was manifest in a number of ways throughout the history of the Old Testament. And then in the New Testament, the glory of God came in a body, the person of Jesus Christ. And on the Mount of Transfiguration, He was transfigured, and they saw the glory of God shining through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ineffable reality of His excellence reduced to light.
Well, God is going to put His glory on display here, only this is going to be by miracle power. You’re going to see His glory not as a shining light; you’re going to see His glory as life itself. The excellencies, the visible display of His invisible perfections, the visible display of His invisible powers. The fullness of His attributes are going to be put on display. Moses says in Exodus 33:18, “Show me Your glory.” What did God show him? Showed him Shekhinah blazing light veiled behind a rock. Here, He’s going to show His glory not in light, but in life, in life. I’ll show you the glory.
You say you believe. If you believe, you’re going to see the glory. Get your eyes off the corpse and on the Christ. Set your heart on the Lord. Wait to see the glory revealed. We need to live in that kind of expectancy. We’re not looking for miracles, but I will tell you this, folks. When you really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you see Him display His glory throughout all of your life. I tell people all the time: I live in the middle of a glory display all the time. I’ve never seen a miracle, but I live in the middle of a glory display by the amazing, astounding, incomprehensible providence of God by which He orders every circumstance, every day of my life to reveal His purposes and His will. The complexity of it is more staggering than if He interrupted natural law and did a single miracle. How many miracles does it take to create a complex reality out of all kinds of contingencies of the non-miraculous? It’s what He does every day.
My whole life is a glory display. I just go from one day to the next, to the next, to the next. And if you’re looking and believing, you will see the same thing. You will see God in your life. You will see God in circumstances. You will see God working His purposes. That’s what He called upon her to look for.
Well, perplexity, then a problem. Then He reiterates a promise, and then there’s prayer, verse 41. So they remove the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. He didn’t have to say that to the Father. The Father knew His relationship with the Son. He’s not asking the Father to do anything. There’s no petition there. Some people miss that and they say, well, He asked the Father to give Him the power to, no He didn’t. He didn’t ask for anything. I thank You that You have heard Me, that You have heard Me. About what? Letting My glory be put on display. I knew that You always hear Me, just in Romans 8, as the Holy Spirit always prays according to the will of God, so the Son always prays according to the will of God. He knows what the Father will do. He knows it’s for His glory. Not because of You. I’m not saying this for Your sake, O God. I’m not saying it for Your sake. I’m saying it that You and I are in agreement on this display of heavenly glory. I’m saying this for the people around, that they may believe that You sent Me. Again, the whole point, as always in the gospel of John, is that we understand by these works that Christ has come as God incarnate.
And it’s loud. It is loud. He speaks loudly so that everyone can hear. He identifies God as He always does, as His Father. The only time He didn’t do that in talking to God was on the cross when He was alienated and sin-bearing and said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that, You always hear Me. But for the peoples’ sake standing around, I said that we are in agreement on this display of power and glory, that they may believe that You sent Me. The people all know only God can create. There are no evolutionists in first century Israel. No atheists. They all believe in God. They believe in the true God. They believe in the Creator God. They know that He made everything. The fact that Jesus can give life is clear evidence that He is, in fact, God.
So, He’s praying, in a sense, publically for the benefit of the people, not for the benefit of God, who is already in perfect agreement about what is going to happen. If He hadn’t said these words so everybody could hear, the crowd would not have been able to give God and Christ the appropriate glory for this event. They weren’t going to be able to attribute this to any other power.
That leads us to the power at the final two verses. “When He had said these things, He cried out.” This is a very strong statement. “He cried out with a loud voice.” If you were reading this in the original language, it would read like this: “He yelled in a loud voice with a loud voice.” Why the double statement? He is literally at the pinnacle of His voice, and He had a powerful voice, you can be certain. He was a teacher. He taught every day. He taught in the open air, no amplification, except that which was natural. He could speak to crowds of 20,000 people and be heard. A powerful voice. I’m convinced that probably was the most melodious voice ever created. How could it be anything less than that. And with that loud, commanding voice, maybe like the voice of many waters in the imagery of Revelation chapter 1, He yells at the top of His voice without distorting His words and says, “Lazarus, come forth.”
There’s no possibility of attaching this miracle to anything other than His words, right? No possibility of attaching this miracle to anything other than His will, than the Father’s will, than the perfect agreement. Nobody can create. They’re creating, in unison. This resurrection comes as an immediate response to His words. He says two words: Lazarus, and come out, and the miracle happens.
Now listen, He had power. He had so much power He could, He will raise all the dead of all the ages. So if He had just said, “Come forth,” that might’ve been the final resurrection. So He had to put a limit on it. “Lazarus. The rest of you, stay where you are.”
“Lazarus, you come out.” Can you imagine the pounding hearts? Trying to look in the darkness of the tomb? Verse 44. “The man who had died came out.” Talk about an understatement. Man, that just needs some fanfare or something. “The man who had died came out.” That’s so matter-of-fact. That’s so simple and straightforward. But this is God, and for Him, a resurrection is easy. The man came out. It wasn’t easy for him to come out. When he was hit with life, and created, the power of that creation surged in his body. He was like an athlete who is just catapulted. Because it tells us, he was bound hand and foot with wrappings. Now, how do you come out if you’re bound hand and foot with wrappings and your face is wrapped with a cloth? What do you do? Was he hopping? How did he get out of there? He had the power to be where he needed to be. He came out. The grave had been plundered. The king of terrors had yielded up his lawful captive. The insatiable grave had given up its prey.
We could say with the apostle Paul, “O grave, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?” Captivity was led captive. Christ stood as the conqueror of sin, death, and Satan. He, Revelation 1:18 says, has the keys to death and Hades. And He unlocked it for this man, and He will one day unlock it for every man, every woman.
As I said, they were wrapped, and so there he comes out, perhaps each leg was wrapped separate so that he could move. And there standing there stunned out of their minds, as this package stands in the door. And He says, “Untie him, and let him go. Loose him. Let him go.”
There’s no explanation of anything there didn’t need to be. It would’ve been kind of interesting to volunteer for that assignment, just starting to see what’s under there, maybe. And again, He used the people to do what people can do after He’s done what only He can do. You remember, He created food, but the disciples passed it out. Here, He creates life, but the people do what they can do. He alone can save sinners. But we can roll away the stones to let the truth in. We can unwrap the new believer. No higher privilege this side of heaven than to be used to roll away gravestones and unwrap grave clothes when He gives resurrection life. Incredible privilege for us.
So there He stands. There He stands. Verse 45 says, “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.” Good, huh? Wonderful. How could you not? They believed. That’s the whole point of this.
Ah, some of them, though, “went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” They reported a resurrection to the Pharisees. Amazing. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, as we think about this, we’re just in awe of the realities that fall upon our minds, that one day we will inherit eternal life in a resurrected, physical, bodily form. Lord, how wonderful to think about that, that You put on display here what You will do for each of us who love You and know You. You will give us new life. And all of this is because You died. How amazing it must’ve been for You, our Lord Jesus, there, at the tomb of Lazarus, with Your glory on display, in stunning form. Very soon, to be nailed to a cross, humiliated, rejected, murdered like a common criminal, and even abandoned by Your Father. But You did that so that You could die in our place and rise in our place, to die our death and provide our resurrection. We’re so thankful that You have loved us like You loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and You have made us Your family, and You have given us life, and one day, a full resurrection. And all of this is only possible because our sins have been paid for in full by Your death. That is why we remember the cross. It is there that forgiveness was made. Keep us pure. Use us for the events of the gospel. For Your glory we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Oh, what we miss out on when we rush past the cross of Christ. Oh the richness and reward when we stop to linger before it, when we take the time to “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself” (Heb. 12:3). In a culture where crosses have become commonplace as architecture and jewelry, how we need to truly gaze upon the cross of Christ in all of its ugliness and beauty, in its death and in its healing, in the painful price paid there, and in its free gift of grace. Jesus, keep us near the cross. — Nancy Guthrie, from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
We Shall Be Like Him
We have an example in Scripture of what a resurrection body is like. We’re told a great deal about Christ’s resurrected body, and we’re told that our bodies will be like his. The empty tomb is the ultimate proof that Christ’s resurrection body was the same body that died on the cross. If resurrection meant the creation of a new body, Christ’s original body would have remained in the tomb.
When Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection, “It is I myself,” he was emphasizing to them that he was the same person—in spirit and body—who had gone to the cross (Luke 24:39). His disciples saw the marks of his crucifixion, unmistakable evidence that this was the same body.
Jesus walked the earth in his resurrection body for 40 days, showing us how we would live as resurrected human beings. In effect, he also demonstrated where we would live as resurrected human beings—on Earth. Christ’s resurrection body was suited for life on Earth, not primarily life in the intermediate Heaven. As Jesus was raised to come back to live on Earth, so we will be raised to come back to live on Earth (1 Thessalonians 4:14; Revelation 21:1-3).
The two told what had happened … and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them. … He said to them, “Why are you troubled … ? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” Luke 24:35-36, 38-39
Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27—Excerpted from Life Promises for Eternity by Randy Alcorn
Rejoice, O Christian—He Is Risen
“Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” with joy and gladness. He does not lie there now. Weep, when ye see the tomb of Christ, but rejoice because it is empty. Thy sin slew him, but his divinity raised him up. Thy guilt hath murdered him, but his righteousness hath restored him. Oh! He hath burst the bonds of death, he hath …come out more than conqueror, crushing death beneath his feet. Rejoice, O Christian, for he is not there—he is risen. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. — Martin Luther
Two historic women, one old and one young, were the first to welcome and praise the Savior of the world. And two glorious paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events.
Dec 23, 2019
If quizzed “Who was the first person to welcome Jesus and announce his lordship?” how would you answer? It’s an important question when we consider that this man from the nowhere town of Nazareth is the most consequential individual ever.
His teaching and followers across the globe radically transformed world culture, toppled great powers without ever firing a shot, established the world of humanitarianism and accessible medical care for commoners, inspired the scientific method, and enlivened the world movements for justice, human dignity, and individual freedom. He literally divides history and is responsible for the founding of the largest, most diverse collection of people around some basic ideals.
This all started with two women no one had ever heard of, whose life-altering experiences are now illustrated in two exquisite works of art. Mary, a humble, young virgin, by tradition about 14 years old at the time, is told by an angel she will give birth to the very Son of God. At this striking news, she “arose and went with haste” to see her cherished relative, Elizabeth, some 90 miles away.
Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her own miraculous pregnancy, for she was well past child-bearing years. Of course, her baby was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
The beauty of this part of the Christmas story is the miracle that happens the moment Mary enters Elizabeth’s home. Christ is recognized, received, proclaimed, and worshiped, and Mary and Elizabeth are not the only two involved in the divine drama here. We read in Luke 1:41-44:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
This is a major event in Jesus’ story and thus the Christian church, but we seldom appreciate it as such. It is the first time Jesus is both proclaimed and worshiped as God! This was done, we are told, “in a loud voice.” And Christ the Lord is worshiped by two people at the same time — one very old, one super young.
The First to Proclaim Jesus’ Lordship
Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness of Jesus and his mother. The simple but world-changing confession, “Jesus is Lord,” was the first and most basic way Christians began to proclaim their faith and greet one another in the church’s early years. It was the first Christian creed, and Elizabeth was the first to proclaim it, long before Christmas morning. Think on that for a moment.
The second greeting is even more incredible and speaks to an intimate relationship in the Savior’s life. Baby John leaps for joy, literally, at the coming of the Savior. He does so as a child in the darkness of his mother’s womb. (Yes, Christianity has profoundly strong words for the humanity and dignity of the unborn child in John and Jesus’ remarkable in utero contribution to the good news.)
John did not start serving as the forerunner of Christ when preaching about his coming in the desert. It was here, in the womb. And it was two very common mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, who experienced this remarkable, history-changing event. It happened in distinctly womanly interiors of their hearts and wombs, and in the humbleness of Elizabeth’s home. Humble motherhood and the intimate bond only mothers can share is the human font of the Christian story.
To be sure, the Christian church, which is often incorrectly charged with being sexist by people who know little of its actual story, is founded upon two women being the first to welcome and praise the Savior. (Remember as well, it was a small group of women who announced the “second birth” of the Savior, if you will, at his resurrection.) What other major faith or philosophy has women playing such a significant role in its founding? I cannot think of one.
Two famous paintings communicate the beauty of these wondrous events, “The Annunciation” and “The Visitation.” The first African-American painter to achieve significant critical acclaim, Henry Ossawa Tanner, created both. He is a remarkable man and one of my favorite artists.
One of the things I like best in Tanner’s two works here is that he shows us the simple humanness of Mary and Elizabeth. They are not supernatural, other-worldly, saintly subjects in the typical sense. Tanner’s images show us the regular, everyday women they were.
He will not allow us to miss the youth, innocence, and commonness of our Mary. Tanner doesn’t give her a facial expression communicating anything obvious. Is she scared? Stunned? Joyful? Solemn? His Mary is more complex than many artists’ as is undoubtably true of the actual event. Tanner has her communicating all these feelings and struggles at once.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with this most startling news, he found a teenage girl living a typical teenage girl’s life. The greatest royal announcement in the history of the universe takes place in this teen girl’s humble bedroom, illuminated by the majesty of God’s oracle. That is precisely what Tanner gives us, and it’s just stunning. Also, his technique in presenting the folds and flow of her gown and bed coverings is nothing short of magnificent.
As wonderful as Tanner’s “Annunciation” is, his “Visitation” is even more striking.
Just look at it and consider what’s happening here.
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Tanner allows us personally to witness this event. Elizabeth most likely did not have any notice that Mary was coming or the grand news that prompted the visit. She sits at the table on an ordinary day, when she hears Mary possibly utter what any of us likely would as she comes to the door, “Liz, you home?”
Elizabeth’s divine surprise and wonder is dramatically communicated simply in her uplifted hands. It’s a glorious device. Are they hands of praise or surprise? Certainly both at the same time.
This simple scene of a surprise family visitation and domesticity is the first scene of Jesus being worshiped. Reflect on this a moment. The event we are witnessing right here in this kitchen is the initiation of what the rest of history and eternity will be about, the worship of the second person of the divine Trinity: Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son.
The interchange between these two women in this domestic setting is unspeakably profound. We typically move over it far too easily, wanting to get onto what we see as the center of the Christmas story, the manger.
This exchange is also vitally important because it is the first revelation of Christ beyond Mary’s heart and womb. It is the precise second and scene that commenced the worship of the Son of the God that will continue without end into eternity, the story that encapsulates a Christian’s whole reality.
P.S. Tanner Lived in Philadelphia
I knew Tanner lived in Philadelphia for some time, so on a business trip there some years ago, I wanted to see if his house was discoverable. It was, and I found it, right around the corner from John Coltrane’s home. How cool is that?
Glenn T. Stanton is a Federalist senior contributor who writes and speaks about family, gender, and art, is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and is the author of the brand new “The Myth of the Dying Church” (Worthy, 2019). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most important biblical truths there is. Next to the crucifixion, it is the most significant event in church history. It isn’t a peripheral issue; it’s foundational. It’s bedrock. It’s the bottom line.
Not only does the resurrection tell us that we will live beyond the grave, but it also tells us there is hope beyond this life.
In fact, the Bible says, “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22 NLT).
Yet inevitably, we have those who offer up their liberal concepts regarding what took place as they try to discredit the resurrection and the message of Scripture.
One of the most commonly held theories, for example, is the swoon theory, which proposes that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. Rather, proponents of this theory assert that He went into a deep coma, or so-called swoon, from the severe pain and trauma of the crucifixion. Then, in the cool atmosphere of the tomb, He supposedly revived.
Now, keep in mind that the Roman guards were the first to report the death of Jesus. They were experts at execution, and they would be put to death themselves if they allowed a condemned man to escape death. It clearly was in their best interest that someone in their custody would be unmistakably dead.
So when they went to Jesus as He hung on the cross and prepared to break His legs (which would hasten his death), they didn’t do it. Why? Because He already was gone (see John 19:31–33). The Scriptures had prophesied that the Messiah would not have one of his bones broken, and this fulfilled that prophecy (see John 19:36).
Then they thrust a spear into his side, and out came blood and water, which occurs when the heart stops beating. This gave them the final proof they needed.
For the swoon theory to be valid, Jesus would have had to survive the massive blood loss from scourging, the nail wounds, and the spear thrust. And in His impossibly weakened condition, He would have had to endure 40 hours without food or drink, manage to unwrap Himself from the burial cloths, single-handedly roll away the massive stone that sealed the tomb, and then convince His followers that He’d risen from the dead.
Additionally, He would have had to travel countless miles in that condition to make numerous appearances to His disciples over a period of 40 days and also delude His disciples into thinking He could simply appear in a room without using a door. Still, there are people today who hang their doubts on this absurd assumption.
Another idea is the no-burial theory, which suggests that Jesus was never placed in the tomb to begin with. Instead, this theory proposes that Jesus was put into a mass grave that was reserved, according to Roman customs, for criminals.
It’s true that the Romans would throw the bodies of the deceased into a large heap. But if this were true of Jesus’ body, then neither the Jewish leaders nor the Roman soldiers would have bothered to seal the tomb.
Not only that, but to disprove Jesus’ resurrection, they only would have needed to retrieve His body and put it on display.
Another suggestion is the mass hallucination theory, which maintains that everyone who claimed to see the risen Jesus was hallucinating as a result of their earnest desire to see him alive again.
However, the resurrection of Jesus came as a shock to his disciples. Though he spoke of it and his impending crucifixion repeatedly, somehow it went right over their heads. In addition the Bible tells us that on one occasion at least 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at once (see 1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
Probably the oldest assertion of all is that the disciples stole his body. This is what they were saying in the first century. Yet claiming that the body of Jesus was stolen actually proves His resurrection.
His friends couldn’t have taken it, because they left the scene and were convinced that Jesus was dead. And when the women reported His resurrection to the 11 apostles, the Bible says their words sounded like nonsense to them (see Luke 24:11).
And most importantly, if the resurrection were a lie, how could all the apostles go to an early grave saying so? Whenever there’s a conspiracy, someone always breaks, especially when the indictments start flying.
As we look over church history, we know that Matthew was martyred by being thrust through with a sword in distant Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria after being cruelly dragged through the streets of that city. Luke was hung on an olive tree in Greece. John was put into a cauldron of boiling oil, but, according to church tradition, he didn’t die. So he was banished to the island of Patmos.
Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. James the greater was beheaded in Jerusalem. James the lesser was thrown off the temple and then beaten with a club. Bartholomew was flayed alive. Andrew was bound to a cross, where he preached to his persecutors until he died. Thomas was thrust through with a lance in the East Indies. And Jude was shot to death with arrows.
If their lives would have been spared, don’t you think at least one of them would have suddenly exposed such a lie—if it were a lie? But none of them did, because they couldn’t deny what was true. Christ is risen. He is alive.
Yes, there is life beyond the grave, even for the nonbeliever. Life doesn’t stop here on this place called Earth. The real us, our soul, will live on. And according to the Bible, the soul will go to one of two destinations: Heaven or Hell.
The last thing God wants is for any person to face eternity in Hell. That is why Jesus died and rose from the dead for you and me.