Oh grave where is thy victory. 1Corinthians 15:55. Death Is An Unexpected Event.
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According to an old fable, a man made an unusual agreement with Death. He told the grim reaper that he would willingly accompany him when it came time to die, but only on one condition--that Death would send a messenger well in advance to warn him. The agreement was made. Weeks winged away into months, and
months into years. Then one
Bitter winter evening, as the
man sat alone thinking about
all his material possessions,
Death suddenly entered the
Room and tapped him on the
The man was startled and cried out in despair, "You're here so soon and without warning! I thought we had an agreement." Death replied, "I've more than kept my part. I've sent you many messengers. Look at yourself in the mirror and you'll see some of them." As the man complied, Death whispered, "Notice your hair! Once it was full and black, now it is thin and white. Look at the way you cock your head to listen to my voice because you can't hear very well. Observe how close you
must get to the mirror in
order to see yourself clearly. I've
sent many messengers through
the years. I'm sorry you're not
ready for me, but the time has
come to leave."
Is your fear of dying robbing your joy of living? Jesus came to "deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying" (Heb. 2:15).
Death is getting steadily closer to you every minute of every day. Someone has mathematically calculated a schedule that compares the average lifetime with a single day, beginning at 7 a.m.
15, the time is 10:25 a.m.
25, the time is 12:42 p.m.
35, the time is 3:00 p.m.
45, the time is 5:16 p.m.
55, the time is 7:34 p.m.
65, the time is 9:55 p.m.
70, the time is 11:00 p.m. Please notice that it is always later than you think it is!)
A mother was answering her young daughter's questions about her daddy's death. "God sent for him," she explains. "And someday He will send for you and me. Nobody knows just when." Thinking about that for a moment, the child said, "Momma, if we don't know for sure when God is going to send for us, we might not be ready. We'd better start packing!" She
was right. No one knows when
God is going to "send for us,"
but we do know how to wait for
that day. Whether He calls us
through death (Psalm 23:4) or
when Christ returns to take us
home (1 Thess. 4:17), we should
always be ready.
Do not be guilty of letting death sneak up on you and catch you unprepared. There is a great need for being ready, and there is no excuse for not being ready - Pro. 27:1; James 4:14.
No time outs!
In this lesson, Lazarus becomes the “critical man” to John’s thesis “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” John 20:31
Not only was he criticallyill, he is also critical because he's going to manifest the glory of God. He is critical because he's going to strengthen the testimony of doubting disciples. He is critical because he is going to provide the object for a miracle that leads to the cross.
1-3 A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.”
Jesus spent many hours resting from the terrible pressure of all that He faced in Jerusalem at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus loved them in a deep and genuine way. And they loved Him the same way.
1. When death began to threaten, Mary and Martha immediately thought of Jesus.
In their message to Jesus, they did not include a request for Him to come to Bethany, they knew that wasn’t necessary.
C.F. Andrews tells of two friends who served together in the First World War. One of them was wounded and left lying helpless and in pain in no-man’s land. The other, at peril of his life, crawled out to help his friend; and, when
he reached him,
man looked up
and said simply:
“I knew you
Immanuel— “God With Us”
2. Mary and Martha went right to the source. They didn't fool around, they knew where to go.
When the people were murmuring in the wilderness, the Bible says Moses went and cried before the Lord. He didn't call a committee, he didn’t call his friends, he simply told the Lord.
I wonder if we do that?
Truth: God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble - Psalm 46:1.
This simple statement doesn't ask the Lord to do anything. It's a surrender of love. It just says, “Here's my need, Lord. I'm just going to leave it with You.”
How do we approach God
with our problems?
Truth: Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries - 1 Peter 5:7 (The Voice).
They don't say, “Lord, You know that guy that really loves You, he's sick.” Instead they say, "Lord, You know the one You love, he's sick."
If Christ operated in our lives on the basis of our love for Him, we would be in sad shape because our love is inconsistent and is very self‑centered.
Truth: Jesus is not motivated to come to our aid because we love Him; He helps us because of His unconditional love.
So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles,
hunger, poverty, danger,
or even death? The
answer is, absolutely
Nothing - Romans 8:35-39
4 When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”
That’s not an easy assignment to swallow. Think back a couple of weeks:
As He [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor
his parents; but
it was so that the
works of God might
be displayed in him."
Born blind. A lifetime of darkness. Never saw a mother smile or a sunset fade. Who did this? the disciples wondered, anxious to blame someone. Such a bad plight can be traced back to a bad deed. Right?
Wrong, Jesus replied. Don't search the family tree. Don't request a copy of the man's rap sheet. Blame this blindness on a call from God. Why was the man sightless? So "the works of God might be displayed in him."
Odds are, he would have preferred another role in the human drama. Compared to others, the blind man’s assignment held little glamour, i.e.
"Mary, be a mother to my son.“
"Peter, you'll be my first preacher.“
"Matthew, the first gospel? It's all yours.“
“You'll be blind for my glory.”
“I'll be blind?”
“For your glory?”
“But I don't understand.”
The blind man wasn't the only candidate for a complaint. Consider the case of Martha and Mary. Personal friends of Jesus. He stayed at their house and ate at their table. And when their brother, Lazarus, became ill, the sisters blitzed a message to Jesus. If the Nazarene would heal anyone, it would be Lazarus.
Wrong again. “But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it’” (John 11:4).
Feverish, clammy, knocking on the door of death-why? Because he ate the wrong food? Didn't guard his health? Drank too much? None of these. He was sick for the sake of God.
Have you ever considered that your pain, problems, struggles, heartaches, and hassles may have a purpose and cooperate toward one end--the glory of God.
“Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory” (Psalm 50:15 NLT).
Death may happen but death isn't the end result. The end result is the glory of God.
Even today somebody might get sick, God may heal him so we can give Him glory. Other times, somebody gets sick and God doesn't heal them
but still gets the
produces a stronger
5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
Can you imagine love on the basis of time? “God, You have 20 minutes to fulfill my need...” 20 minutes pass with no response…. “Oh, God doesn't love me, God doesn't care.”
Love can’t be measured on the basis of time.
Jesus knew the delay would bring more glory to God, more joy and faith to the lives of Mary, Martha and the Disciples, more fantastic testimony to the people around. The delay was important.
God loves us so much He may make us wait for something much better than we ever dreamed we were going to get in the beginning. The Lord knows what's best and He knows the right time.
We often want to run ahead of God because He doesn't seem to be working fast enough for us.
Godtakes the time to do everything right—everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones. Isaiah 30:18
When we pray about something, do we believe that God will answer. Do we give Him time to respond according to His plan. Do you remember ever remember getting impatient while waiting for an answer only discovered it was actually a blessing that your prayer wasn't answered when and how you had expected?
Psalm 37:5 says, "Commit
thy way unto the LORD;
trust also in Him ...."
8 They said, “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?”
In John 10:42it states"Many believed." The disciples thought, you know we've got a good thing going. Let's get this ministry built up, Lord. No sense in going back to Jerusalem and getting stoned, that's ridiculous. Lazarus isn't even sick enough to die. Jesus, himself, said that his illness wasn’t fatal.
9-10 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in daylight doesn’t stumble because there’s plenty of light from the sun. Walking at night, he might very well stumble because he can’t see
To the Hebrews, every day was arranged around 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Jesus was telling His disciples, "Don't you realize that a day can't finish until it's over with? God has prescribed the bounds of My life. By all your concern for My safety, you can't lengthen it for the same reason the rejection of the Jewish leaders can't shorten it.
God has also set the boundary on our lifetime; we'll not live a minute after or die a minute sooner. If a man is serving God, he must utilize the prescribed bounds that God has allotted for him.
For the unsaved, this message is crucial. You can put off paying taxes, changing your oil, but the unbeliever needs to realize that time is extended for no man. God has set boundaries on our lives too. There's just enough time
no time to
11 He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.”
12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.
14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”
16 That’s when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions, “Come along. We might as well die with him.”
Gilbert Frankau tells of an officer friend of his in the 1914-1918 war, an artillery observation officer. His duty was to go up in a captive balloon and to indicate to the gunners whether their shells fell short of or over the target. Because the balloon was captive, there was no
way to dodge; he was a
sitting target for the guns
and planes of the enemy.
His friend said, “Every
time I go up in that balloon
I am sick with nerves, but I
That is the highest form of courage. It does not mean not being afraid. If we are not afraid it is the easiest thing in the world to do. Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that
can happen, being
sickeningly afraid of it,
and yet doing the right
thing. That was what
Thomas was like that day.
Are we as willing to die for Christ as Thomas was? Most of us haven't even been willing to live for Him. Most of us live for ourselves--for pleasure, possessions, or physical cravings.
17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.
21Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
She had confidence in Christ, yet she limited His power. She believed no illness could kill her brother when Jesus was there, but once her brother died, she thought even Jesus couldn't change that.
Too often we are like Martha.
We may claim to believe the Lord,
but then walk around like we're not
too sure. We say, "Lord, I know all
things work together for good,
so I trust You," yet we doubt and
are filled with anxiety. It's easy to trust God when everything is going well.
Our faith can be very practical as long as we're not in a situation that is out of our control. When we really have to trust God, we find out the measurement of our faith.
If Jesus was equal to God, why
did He have to ask the Father for
When Jesus came to this earth, He wasn't powerless; He restricted the use of His power as an act of humility. He submitted in obedience to the Father's will in every situation.
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”
There's inconsistency in Martha's response. She felt Jesus could raise Lazarus at the last day, but she couldn't believe that He, as the Son of God, could raise him after he had been dead only four days.
We say, “Someday, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but when we run into a problem today, we have an anxiety attack because we fail to realize that God can also work in the present.
trust God in the
future, you can
trust Him in the
power does not
25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”
Jesus was also saying there is more than physical death, there is spiritual death as well. A man can become so selfish that he is dead to the needs of others. A man can become so insensitive that he is dead to the feelings of others. A man can become
so involved in the
And disloyalties of
life, that he is dead
to honor. These
people can be
resurrected as well.
28 After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29-32The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In Palestine, because of the climate, burial followed death as quickly as possible. The body was wrapped in a simple linen dress which was sometimes called “the traveling dress.” As many as possible attended a funeral. Everyone who
could was supposed to, in
courtesy and respect, join
the procession on its way
to the tomb. One custom
was that the woman walked
first, for it was held that
since woman by her first
sin brought death into the
world, she ought to lead
the mourners to the tomb.
On the return from the tomb a meal was served, which had been prepared by the friends of the family. It consisted of bread, hard-boiled eggs, and lentils; the round eggs and lentils symbolized life which was always rolling to death. In honor of the dead, the furniture was
reversed, and the
mourners sat on the
ground or on low
Deep mourning lasted for seven days, of which the first three were days of weeping.
It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honor it paid to the dead.
During these seven days it was forbidden to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to engage in any kind of study or business, and even to wash. The week of deep mourning was followed by thirty days of lighter mourning.
It would be to a household crowded with sympathizers that Jesus came that day.
Jesus summoned Mary to come to Him, knowing her mourners would follow her to the tomb. He had everything planned: He brought everyone connected with Lazarus out of the house and down to the tomb so they could all see the display of His glory.
33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”
34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.
36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”
37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”
Jesus was torn by grief, knowing that the consequences of sin had caused death and brought sorrow into the lives of people He loved.
He's a sympathetic Savior, the opposite of how the Greeks pictured their gods. They believed the gods were characterized by a total inability to feel any emotion.
If one could feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect over us. If a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us, and no one can have power over God.
38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
The sister of the
dead man, Martha,
said, “Master, by
this time there’s a
stench. He’s been
dead four days!”
40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”
Some of us are like Martha: We go through life and only see the problems. We end up with ulcers and gray hair.
But as Christians we are to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, then we can see more than the solution; we can see the glory of Christ.
As a result, we will be changed into His image--His glory becomes our glory as we become more Christlike and manifest His attributes.
They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”
43-44 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.
Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
Can we try to picture Lazarus as he hears those words? Heaven-sent Lazarus. Heaven-happy Lazarus. Four days into his measureless days. By now he's forming fast friendships with other saints. King David shows him the harps. Moses invites him over for tea and manna. Elijah and Elisha take him for a spin in the fiery chariot. Daniel has promised him a lion of a Bible story. He's on his way to hear it when a voice booms through the celestial city.
"Lazarus, come out!
“Everybody knows that voice. No one wonders, Who was that? Angels stop. Hosts of holy-city dwellers turn toward the boy from Bethany, and someone says, "Looks like you're going back for another tour of duty."
Lazarus doesn't question the call. Perfect understanding comes with a heavenly passport. He doesn't object. But had he done so, who could have faulted him? His heavenly body knows no fever. His future no fear. He indwells a city that is void of padlocks, prisons, and Prozac. With sin and death nonexistent, preachers, doctors, and lawyers are free to worship. Would anyone blame Lazarus for saying, "Do I have to go back?"
But he doesn't second-guess the command. Nor does anyone else. Return trips have been frequent of late. The daughter of the synagogue ruler. The boy from Nain. Now Lazarus from Bethany. Lazarus turns toward the rarely used exit door. The very one, I suppose, Jesus used some thirty earth years earlier. With a wave and within a wink, he's reunited with his body and waking up on a cold slab in a wall-hewn grave. The rock to the entrance has been moved, and Lazarus attempts to do the same. Mummy-wrapped, he stiffly sits up and walks out of the tomb with the grace of Frankenstein's monster.
In the commands for the bystanders to roll away the stone and unwrap Lazarus we learn that although only God can raise the dead, He still uses men to do the things they are capable of doing.
We play a part
in what He does.
The ministry we
do for the Lord
is an honored
What a privilege we have as servants of the Lord! We may not be involved in a visible dynamic ministry, but that doesn't necessarily reduce its importance in the overall divine plan. God uses people who are available. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus enlisted some men to roll away the stone and remove the grave clothes from Lazarus. If you saw a need you could meet, and
sensed the Lord's leading for you
to meet it, would you be available
to serve the Lord in that capacity?
Or would you be so busy, it would be
easy for you rationalize that someone
else would do it?
The story is told of a family that moved into a new community. They were promptly visited by two elders and the pastor of a nearby church who cordially invited them to attend the services on the Lord's Day. The man assured them that he would come just as soon as he got straightened out. Several months passed, and he still hadn't put in an appearance, so the minister called again and repeated his invitation. But he received the same reply. The fellow hadn't yet gotten everything straightened out. A few weeks later he died, and his widow asked to have the funeral services in the church. The preacher graciously agreed. It was indeed a sad affair. Later when a member of the congregation asked the pastor if the man was a Christian, he answered, "He never attended services here, and no one can recall ever hearing him give a testimony of his faith in Christ, so I can't say. I only know he was a man of his word. He promised to come to church just as soon as he got straightened out - and he did!"
The final proof of Christianity is the sight of what Jesus Christ can do. Words may fail to convince, but there is no argument against God in action. That is what lays so tremendous a responsibility on the individual Christian. The design of God is that every one of us should be a living proof of his power.
Lazarus means “one whom God helps.”
Interesting isn’t it?
John McArthur: Sickness for the Glory of God
The Resurrection and the Life
Lazarus, Come Forth!
Max Lucado: When Death Becomes Birth
Ray C. Stedman: God's Strange Ways