ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 25, 2020
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
— John 11:45-57, ESV
The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead is the perfect vindication of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The miracle emanates from the power of Jesus’ short sermon, “Lazarus, come forth.” Furthermore, the episode aptly illustrates the irresistible grace of God in salvation when one is called from spiritual death unto everlasting life.
How could one have witnessed this seventh of seven signs in the Gospel of John and not become a believer in Jesus Christ? “Many ... did believe in Him” (vs. 45). Praise the Lord! But most did not, and still do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unbelief is not neutrality. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30). Unbelief is enmity (ref. Romans 8:7). Unbelief is the natural condition of an unsaved human being (ref. 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1). Unbelief, often cloaked in garments of faith, eventually exposes itself in obvious ways. We see some of these enemies of the gospel in the aftermath of the resurrection of Lazarus.
Legalism Without Grace
Ungodly unbelief, masking itself in godliness, often reveals itself is in a legalistic view of salvation that pledges no allegiance to the grace of God. It is any sort of salvation by works, or salvation by superiority, that mistakenly thinks it merits favor with God. It is actually unbelief, and its poster child, once again, is the Pharisees. Boo!
After the resurrection of Lazarus, after a few more people professed faith in Jesus, the unfaithful made a fast track to the Pharisees. The Pharisees had already set themselves up as superior to Jesus, adversaries of Jesus, and therefore enemies of God and the gospel. Christ’s message, announced in the seven “I Am” statements and illustrated in the seven signs (most notably Lazarus’ resurrection), offered the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Him, in Christ, alone. The Pharisees begged to differ, and poor beggars they were.
Works righteousness is a false gospel touted by religious legalists that seeks to legislate a person into Heaven. Whether it be keeping the Pharisees’ meticulous Sabbath rules, or keeping off of alcohol and caffeine, or even keeping actual Scriptural commandments, any attempt to treat salvation like a prize for keeping rules is an enemy of Jesus and the gospel. As is moral superiority, which the Pharisee played to the hilt when he prayed with the tax collector (ref. Luke 18:9ff). Just because you are morally superior to others does not make you acceptable to God, and feeling morally superior to others usually indicates a total absence of grace.
Jesus’ true gospel of salvation is for sinners, for those who know they are sinners, and for those who are sick and tired of their sin. It is grace, God’s grace, that makes us aware of sin’s estrangement and enmity, and grace gives us the desire for making a place for Jesus, first place, in our lives.
Legalism runs and tells the Pharisees. Grace runs as fast as it can to God. Which way are you running?
Religion Without Faith
Though the Pharisees were the populists in Jesus’ day, they did not sit on the top of religious power in Jerusalem. The high priest’s office was held by Sadducees, Annas and his son-in-law and successor, Caiaphas. Unbelief ran to legalism, and legalism ran to religion, religion without faith, which is another arch enemy of the gospel.
The Sadducees liked the pomp and circumstance of religion, but without the dogma. They did not want to be bogged down in beliefs, doctrines, truths. They did not believe in the supernatural, in persons and powers you cannot see, so they really did not believe in God, at all. So when Jesus came, claiming to be God, the Sadducees teamed up with the Pharisees to ensure the deluded Jesus would be destroyed.
There are beautiful religious edifices, Christian church buildings, that I have seen all over America, eastern and western Europe, and both sides of Russia. Their steeples are gold, their architecture is ornate wood, their facades are beautiful brick and stone, their chancels or altars draw your eyes to astounding crosses. But inside there is no faith. There is ritual, moral instruction without biblical standards, and therapy for the parishioners. But there is no belief in the authority of Scripture nor the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, there are trendy megachurch warehouses franchising themselves all over the world now, offering rock music, amusement park amenities for kids, social justice coffees for millennials, smooth marketing, and state of the art technology. What they don’t have, however, are orthodox statements of faith, pastors who’ve taken a class in systematic theology, verse by verse Bible study, and reverent prayers and hymns that honor God.
Today’s world is long on religion and short on faith. It sells out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, or political prestige, or merely a big crowd. It makes even spiritually dead people feel good about themselves, and the pomp or pop music is so loud, they cannot even hear if Jesus should come calling.
It is tempting to give lip service to the gospel. It is easy and personally beneficial to join most churches, where the perks and programs are many and the demands of discipleship are null and void. Christianity is more of a passing culture today than a primary faith.
But gospel faith holds the whole counsel of the word of God to be true, and preaches the Lord Jesus Christ as the only one who can take away our sin and impute His saving righteousness, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, all false-hearted or half-hearted attempts to follow Christ are enemies of the gospel.
Politics without God
So what did the legalistic Pharisees and faithless Sadducees do when they got together to get rid of the Lord Jesus Christ? They turned to the greatest worldly power and enemy of the gospel. They played politics.
Politics is the governing of a people. When informed by God and God’s word, like the experiment that became the United States of America, it can make a nation a city on a hill, a bright beacon of hope, an arbiter of justice. Without God, like atheistic communism or secular socialism, it becomes immoral, tyrannical, unjust.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus led directly to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The miracle performed at Lazarus’ tomb was the last straw for the unbelievers, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. It was at this moment that the high priest, with ironic credit from John, decided to mix the politics of Jerusalem with the power of Rome and hatch the plot that would punish the Lord Jesus Christ with crucifixion.
Jesus would duck it for a few days by leaving Bethany and taking cover in nearby Ephraim. But as this central chapter turns to the second half of John’s Gospel, Jesus will go from Ephraim, to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to the Passover, and to the cross.
At the cross, Jesus faced the enemies of the gospel: legalism without grace, religion without faith, and politics without God. We must face them today.
Face them squarely by asking a few questions:
Are you saved because of what you’ve done for God, or because of what God has done for you? Are you trusting in your own goodness (ref. Romans 3:10), or the atoning death and imputed righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-10)?
Do you abide by the external etiquette of a religion you’ve mostly made up for yourself, or is your conscience held captive by the word of God? Is faith simply your personal interpretation of select Bible verses (ref. Deuteronomy 12:8; 2 Peter 1:20), or is the faith the cardinal and systematic doctrines presented in the inspired pages of the word of God (ref. Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16ff)?
If you could only devote yourself to one cause, the success of your particular political party, candidate, or cause; or, the cause of Christ expressed by regular worship, responsible church membership, and world missions, which would you choose? Is politics your god, or does the true and living God reign over your politics and every other area of your life?
These questions, and the answers you give, will determine whether you are a friend of God or one of the many enemies of the gospel.
I AM LAZARUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 18, 2020
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
— John 11:38-44, ESV
In the seven signs recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus turned water to wine (ch. 2), healed an official’s son from a distance (ch. 4), healed a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (ch. 5), fed the five thousand (ch. 6), walked on water (ch. 6), made a blind man see at the pool of Siloam (ch. 9), and raised Lazarus from the dead (ch. 11). Each miracle is also a parable that points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
The same can be said for the seven “I Am” sayings. Jesus is the bread of life (ch. 6), the living water (ch. 8), the door (ch. 10), the good shepherd (ch. 10), the resurrections and the life (ch. 11), the way, the truth, and the life (ch. 14), and the true vine (ch. 15). Each metaphor bears witness to the miracle of God coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save us. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
Only one scene in the Gospel powerfully couples both a saying and a sign in one capsule. It is the funeral of Lazarus, where Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” then proceeds to resurrect and give life to her previously deceased brother. This event caps the first half of the book, and provides the impetus for the drama played out in the second half, the final week of Jesus’ life, which ends in His own death and resurrection.
Please pay close attention to what we are about to see in this scene in Scripture. It is supremely important. It is central to the gospel story and it is central to the gospel itself. It is a miracle and it is a parable. It is a physical (and temporal) resurrection of a body being raised that points to the spiritual (and eternal) resurrection of a soul being saved. He was Lazarus, He is Lazarus, and in the end, you will want to say, “I am Lazarus.”
He Was Lazarus
He was Lazarus. He was the brother of Martha and Mary, a good friend to all, and a very close confidant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was devout in his faith, diligent in his work, delightful to be around. Now he was dead, gone, buried in the tomb, his body decaying for four days. Many had gathered around the grave. Many tears were shed. The mood was extreme sorrow, which was about to turn to shock and awe.
Because Lazarus was, Jesus was. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was there, right by the family’s side, bunkered in the safety of Bethany for a moment before making the Passover trip to hostile Jerusalem. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was grieving, even unto His own tears. Jesus love him, this we know. Because Jesus loved the man so, He hated his death. John writes that the Lord was “deeply moved” (vs. 38).
This is an unusual and very descriptive New Testament term, used only five times, three of which occur in the Lazarus narrative. It speaks of someone who is upset, agitated, tinged with anger. Jesus is well known for His righteous indignation. He called unbelievers dogs, He called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes, and He literally whipped the tar out of money changers and others who were profaning the place and time of holy worship.
This time, the Lord was angry at the corruption of the world by sin, the fallenness and frailty of human flesh, and that old slewfoot the devil, too. He was angry that Satan had lured all mankind into sin, that sin had made man selfish and separated him from God, and the curses of infirmity and mortality had finally tagged someone Jesus particularly loved, the man named Lazarus. At least, he was Lazarus.
Lazarus was, so Jesus was about to do something astounding to reverse Lazarus’ curse, and give gospel hope to sinful people everywhere.
He is Lazarus
No one expected what happened next, except Jesus, who was about to change Lazarus from a “was” to an “is.”
It is important to understand and believe that Lazarus was stone cold graveyard dead. He was not asleep. He had not fainted. He was dead, and long enough so that his sister Martha knew “an odor” would be released if they rolled back the gravestone.
I was once told, “All you preachers know how to do is just preach.” Well, all dead people know how to do is be dead. They cannot see, hear, walk, or talk. They cannot take the first step and let God take the rest.
When Jesus raised the Nain widow’s only son from the dead (ref. Luke 7), He touched the casket and spoke to the dead, and he arose. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed (ref. Mark 5; Luke 8), He touched her hand and spoke to her, and she arose. To raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did not touch a thing, but once again He used words, “Lazarus, come out.”
These are three different people, in three different places, with three different means of handling, but one consistent thing. Jesus spoke and the word of God, literally, was heard by the dead and the power in those words raised the dead to life. It was the word of God that quickened Lazarus’ heart and lungs, jumpstarted his brain, reversed his rigor mortis, enabled him to rise and walk, and out of the grave he came.
Lazarus was, now Lazarus is. He was dead, now he is alive. And Jesus did not charge him a penny. “Mercy there was great and grace was free.”
Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus was a miracle that overcame Lazarus inability to raise himself, unconditionally preferred Lazarus to other dead people in the world, was limited to raising Lazarus from the dead, irresistibly enticed Lazarus to come out of the grave, and kept Lazarus alive until God was ready to call him to his permanent home.
The miracle of Lazarus is also a parable of saving grace. I know. Because, I am Lazarus.
I Am Lazarus
There is a captivating scene in the movie “Spartacus,” near the end, when the hero played by Kirk Douglas and his fellow freed slaves have failed in their final revolt against Rome. The survivors of the battle faced the penalty for rebellion, which was death by crucifixion. However, the Romans promised to let the survivors live, albeit in slavery, if they would simply identify and turn over the leader of their army, Spartacus.
One by one the men stood and spoke. “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” They loved Spartacus, they experienced life with Spartacus, they identified with Spartacus, and did not want to live without Spartacus and the freedom they enjoyed together. In the end Spartacus was crucified, then symbolically resurrected, as his only son was smuggled out of Rome to freedom. I am Spartacus, no I’m not. But let me tell you who I am.
I am Lazarus! I was dead spiritually because of my sinful nature, choices, and acts before Jesus came to me and gave me eternal life (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff). Being dead, I could not seek Him or reach for Him (ref. Romans 3:10ff), but He sought me and bought me.
I am Lazarus! I do not know why, but He chose to save me before I was born again, before I was even born, before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4). He did not choose me because of anything He saw in me (ref. Romans 9:10-18), but because He sovereignly chose to love me and save me.
I am Lazarus! I am a member of a short list of the world’s population to receive the benefit of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death on the cross (ref. Romans 5:8). Not a drop of Jesus’ blood will every be wasted, and one of those drops hit me.
I am Lazarus! When I heard the word of God effectually (ref. Romans 10:17), I irresistibly repented (ref. Acts 11:18) and believed (ref. Ephesians 2:8) and followed the Lord. I could not have remain lost and unfaithful any more than Lazarus could have remained dead and camped out in the tomb.
I am Lazarus! I stand here now, spiritually and eternally alive, and will still be standing for the Lord until the day I die, by the Spirit and the word of God (ref. John 10:28; Philippians 1:6).
I am just one example of how this great miracle, the seventh sign in John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, is also the greatest parable of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And Scripture reveals God saves by sovereign grace so that He alone with get the glory. Remember that “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’”
So “come out” and experience the glory of God in the grace of salvation. Hear the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Climb out of the tomb you have built with your own sin and rebellion against God. Breathe the spiritual air of the Christian life. Follow the Lord in this life until in the next you see Him, face to face. When you do, just tell Him, “I am Lazarus!”
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 11, 2020
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
— John 11:23-27, ESV
Central to the Gospel of John is the story of Lazarus. Central to the story of Lazarus is the fifth of seven “I Am” statements given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all seven, this “I Am” decree proves and preaches. It proves Christ’s claim of being essentially equal with Almighty God. It preaches the gospel, extolling the benefits of bodily resurrection and eternal life to the one who believes.
Furthermore, this particular proclamation provides us with perhaps the finest funeral sermon ever preached, given as it was at the graveside service of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. It was brief (no amens, please), God-centered, and brimming with hope. On day, all funerals for followers of Jesus will end up like this one.
Life and Death
As far as we can tell throughout human history, everyone who has ever lived has died. Exceptions should be made for a couple of Old Testament dudes named Enoch and Elijah, and maybe a few folks out west who were allegedly abducted by aliens. Those of us who are living now have to face the fact that we too are likely to die, which brings us to the age old question. Is there life after death? The answer coming from every corner seems to be yes, according to people of all faiths and even those with no faith.
That is why the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids of great treasure, for they thought they would somehow take it with them or come back and get it. That’s why radical elements of Islam blow themselves up, for the sexcapades and extra-planetary pleasures promised in the next life. Mormons follow a dreamer named Joseph Smith who schemed a similar heavenly scenario. Even secularists who practice no religion at all speak of death as a passage to a so-called better place to meet the anonymous man upstairs. It seems everybody is working for a never ending weekend to enjoy after our workaday lives are through.
Why is this, that everyone seems to have some belief in life after death? It is because the eternal God has made all of us, faithful and faithless and even those of false faiths, in His own image (ref. Genesis 1:26). God is eternal, and “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out” (ref. Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, the human race strongly suspects there is life after death, we just can’t see past the finish line. The great prophet Jackson Browne sums it up:
“I don’t know what happens when people die,
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try,
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, that I can’t sing,
But I can’t help listening.”
Lazarus’ family and friends, including Jesus, were all devout Jews. They had a bedrock belief in life after death. The Psalmists (ref. Psalm 49:15, 71:20), the author of Job (ref. Job 19:26), the prophets Isaiah (ref. Isaiah 26:19) and Daniel (ref. Daniel 12:2), and others taught the grave is not the end.
Martha reflected this belief in her first exchange with the Lord on this matter: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know.”
Jesus did not say anything new to Martha, yet. After all, she was Jewish, and the majority of the Jews of her day did not follow the Sadducees on this subject, the sect who did not believe in resurrection or life after death (which is why they were sad, you see?). The Pharisees laid out the majority Jewish position of an afterlife (so don’t boo them in this case).
Most Jews believe. Most Christians believe. Most Muslims believe. Most everyone believes in some kind of life after death. This time the majority is right.
Resurrection and Life
Long before Lazarus’ funeral, Jesus had promised a resurrection for everyone. This Gospel of John recorded it: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (ref. John 5:28-29).”
Based on Christ’s prior teachings, everyone will experience one of two types of resurrection. One of them results in life, eternal life. The other is for judgement, resulting in an eternal death sentence and permanent separation from God. Jesus now makes a bold claim which guarantees a good resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus says seven times in John, including here, “I Am,” ego eimi, YHWY, the name of Almighty God. This means Jesus is speaking for God, as God’s Son and essential equal with God. We believe the God of the Scriptures is almighty, sovereign, eternal, powerful, and truthful. What He promises He provides, on His terms.
Jesus is not promising a resurrection, but the resurrection, one of the two. His declaration should be interpreted as the one for the good and godly that leads to life with Him, forever. He had already proven His power to resurrect, with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s only son, and He was about to prove it again with Lazarus. Christ's soon coming death would liberate five hundred more from the tombs, and His own bodily resurrection on the third day would crown the promise.
But who can claim this gospel promise? Who gets in on the good resurrection and life, and who gets the evil resurrection and judgment? It is a matter of good works verses a lack thereof? Sort of, but remember something else Jesus had said well before the funeral: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ref. John 6:29).
Belief and Unbelief
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Life after death is not dependent upon race, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. Life after death is not guaranteed by baptism or church membership, either. You have to “believe,” and you have to “believe this,” and this is the gospel.
The Gospel of John is the Gospel of faith, but not just any faith. It has to be a faith in God as God has revealed Himself in the person and work, the resurrection and the life, of Jesus Christ. And it cannot be a simple faith, as in simply believing the facts about Jesus. Yet it is not overly complex, either.
To teach on true faith, The Apostle John consistently prefers the verb “believe.” Almost always it is in the present tense. So what Jesus and John taught is that simple, saving faith in the gospel must have some complex layers. It must be a deep, abiding, active, and ongoing faith conjoined with faithfulness. The faith God requires and the faith God gives must first convince the mind of the historical facts in question about Jesus Christ. Faith must move the heart with the anguish of of sin and love for the One who forgives. Faith must temper the will to be conformed with God’s will, forged by the Spirit and the word. Only then can a person really say they “believe” in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Take Martha, for example.
Present and Perfect
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus demanded faith in the present tense. Martha’s response was literally and literarily perfect. She called upon the name of the “Lord” and said, “I believe.” She professed her belief in the perfect tense, which speaks of a past action with present evidence and future consequences.
Martha had been justified by faith, as indicated by her great confession, a conclusion she had come to even before Lazarus’ death and resurrection. She was being sanctified by faith during the dramatic events at the tomb, for she was leaning on the Lord and being led by the Lord Jesus Christ in the present moment. Therefore, she was assured of being glorified by faith, of her own future experience of resurrection and eternal life in Heaven.
This is a picture of perfect faith. You do not have to be perfect to obtain faith. You will not be perfect when you have faith, until its final stage. But you have to have a perfect faith, a complete faith, a valid past profession, a present proof of a spiritual life, and a future hope of resurrection and life with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.”
The Bible has much more to say on this subject, and Jesus did not address the resurrection of the evil and faithless here. It is true that all of mankind will experience a resurrection before God, be judged by God, and consigned to an eternity with God, or without Him. The difference will be faith, its object, and its genuineness. Please believe Him, presently and perfectly.
The stage has been set by Lazarus’ death. Crying time is about to be over. Jesus has seized the day by preaching the gospel of who He is and what He offers to those who truly believe. Now He is about to show off, and show us, in the most dramatic illustration of faith and its rewards found anywhere in Scripture.
SOMETIMES I NEED TO CRY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 4, 2020
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
— John 11:17-37, ESV
In this part of the Lazarus story we come to terms with our tears. We don’t talk about them often, as sadness and its subsequent shedding of tears is a difficult subject to address. We’d rather avoid it altogether, having inherited a stiff upper lip from our British ancestors and adopted the American adage that big boys, and in this egalitarian age big girls, don’t cry.
Music helps and hurts. Roy Orbison made a big hit out of “Crying” in 1961. Much later, lesser know recording artists Homer and Jethro made a mockery of tears with their infamous “I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back Crying Over You.”
So should we hold our tears back, let them flow, or laugh them away? Why don’t we let Holy Scripture decide for us?
Sometimes I Need to Cry
I’d already been a parent for fifteen years when my fourth daughter came along. I didn’t know I was doing it all wrong. When Christie, Ashley, or Emily got hurt and cried, my response was typical. “There, there, don’t cry,” I would say. That didn’t work on Courtney Grace. She began speaking her mind as soon as she learned to talk. If you tried to comfort her by telling her not to cry, she’d stomp her feet and look you in the eye and say, “Sometimes I need to cry!’
She was right. I think Lazarus’ sisters and the Lord Jesus Christ would agree. Just look at all the tears in this text. Martha’s words can only be interpreted through tears. Mary, the more emotional of the two sisters, went to Lazarus’ tomb “to weep there” (vs. 31) and “Jesus saw her weeping” (vs. 33). “The Jews who had come with her also [were] weeping” (vs. 33), a rare sympathetic thing for the Jewish John to write about “the Jews,” opposers to Christ during His ministry and a diaspora people by the time the Gospel was written.
And finally, in the shortest verse in Scripture, one memorized by all former students of the late, great Dr. Gray Allison who required a hundred memorized verses written verbatim on his mid-term and final exams, “Jesus wept” (vs. 35). The word translated wept is unique, used only here in the New Testament, and means that Jesus cried, and cried, and cried. Weddings and funerals lasted for days, not minutes, in the old world, and this funeral for Lazarus was soaked in tears from beginning to abrupt end. Sometimes, even God needs to cry.
There Are Good Reasons to Cry
Sometimes we need to cry because sometimes there are good reasons to cry. A loved one’s death is at the top of the list. Lazarus, the godly helper, must have been greatly beloved by all. His sisters, his Bethany neighbors, even the Lord Jesus Christ wept profusely at his funeral. Death is not final for Christ followers, but death is still a proper, legitimate, and biblical reason to cry.
The is a good reason why we cry at deaths, even though death is not the end for a Christian. The separation caused by death, albeit temporary, is very real and painful. People cried over Lazarus, not knowing at the time he would be raised again on the fourth day. Devout Jews cried over Lazarus, even though they affirmed the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine championed by the usually annoying Pharisees. We cry when we lose someone we love, because of the unspecified lost time we will experience without them. We miss their smile, fellowship, giftedness, good works, and more. These are good reasons to cry.
Death and lost time hurt. The pain is real, and pain is the thing that produces the tears. Physical pain can make you cry. Emotional pain can make you cry. Spiritual pain, knowing that all suffering and death is ultimately caused by our collective sin against God, can make you cry.
And here is what the pain, the loss, and the tears are all about. Life and death are about relationship, covenant, community. God did not create us to be alone. He created us for a covenant with Him, relationships with one another, and fellowship together on earth, as it is in Heaven. And when that relationship is broken, even temporarily for true believers, it is a sharp pain, it is great loss, and it is crying time, for good reasons.
Consider the odd truth that the Bible says plainly in the Old and New Testaments that God hated a man named Esau. Do you know why? Esau thought little of, actually despised, you could even say hated, the covenant relationship between a son and his earthly and heavenly fathers. God hates that which, and those who, destroy godly covenants and important relationships. That’s why God is on record for hating divorce, because it is the destruction of a covenant and the collateral damage of broken relationships ripple abroad. Death can break covenants and relationships, too, which is one of the many good reasons God wept at the death of Lazarus.
So while there are good reasons to cry, and to observe why even God cried in this episode, there is also a reminder while we are living to cherish our God-ordained relationships, for this is what we are made for. Hold on to the Lord, your church family, your family and friends. Be true to covenant and relationship, so much so that it will hurt deeply if they are broken, even temporarily, by death. And know that when death happens, God is there.
God’s Responds When We Cry
We need to cry because there are good reasons to cry, especially when a relationship is broken into by the uninvited guest of death. But through eyes of tears there is wonderful news to read in this story. When we cry the most, when we hurt the deepest, God is always there to help, comfort, and guide us.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His presence. He did not send flowers or a card, as appropriate as that might be in certain circumstances. He did not video chat, since Covid-19 was not the culprit that took Lazarus. He showed up, in person, as befits the close, covenant relationship He enjoyed with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. What a difference it made when the family saw Jesus’ smiling, and crying, face! Good relationships can be maintained and broken hearts can be mended when we show up for one another, the way God does for His children. It’s well over half the battle in victorious marriages, families, friendships, churches, and any relationship oriented entity.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His word. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That’s where Job’s friends blew it, they should have shown up and shut up. But Jesus shared vital, gospel words with Lazarus’ family even before the big event of the resurrection. They constitute the fifth of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, and the next sermon will be devoted entirely to them. But for now, suffice it to say that the greatest words you can ever share with anyone anytime, especially in times of death and sorrow, are words that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His actions. He took the bull by the horns, the body by its death, and with His presence and with His word Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We will say much more about this in the following studies, but for now observer Jesus’s pattern of comfort: presence, words, actions. You and I cannot heal on demand nor raise the dead at a funeral, but there are plenty of other actions we can take to comfort and support those who are hurting. Let God show us the way.
As far as Lazarus is concerned, not many in history have experienced an earthly resurrection like his. There are only a very few cases in the Bible. Some say the rarity of resurrection is happening today, where the light of the gospel is going to the darkest places on earth. But by grace through faith, all of God’s people are privy to the promises Jesus spoke at Lazarus’ funeral. Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25), and all who enjoy a covenant relationship with Him will never die. Earthly death is just a door that leads us from the lesser to the greater, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earth of pain and sorrow to the Heaven where tears will flow no more.
But for now, there are times when we need to cry. When we do, God is there, in Spirit and in word. So when someone you love is crying, don’t be the dumb parent I once was. Go to them, tell them it is okay, say “Sometimes I need to cry,” and keep it up until the promise of the Lord is fulfilled:
“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes … death shall be no more … Amen … Come, Lord Jesus” (ref. Revelation 21:4, 22:20), especially when we need to cry.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org