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!”
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