Studies in John's Gospel -- Part 16
The Final Sign
By: A.J. Higgins, M.D.
Passage: John 11
All who are acquainted with the Gospel of John recognize that it is built around seven sign miracles that the Lord Jesus performed. The eleventh chapter of John relates the final sign: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The lessons contained in the chapter before us are worthy of special note. Notice first of all,
The Mysterious Delay
The town of Bethany was a very special place to Christ. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, two sisters and their brother. Word was sent by the anxious sisters in Bethany to the Lord Jesus beyond Jordan that Lazarus was sick. Rather than immediately going to heal His sick friend, the Lord waited two days where He was. The delay was intentional. From the passage we learn that delays are Permitted by divine love (vs. 5, 6). The inspired writer very carefully assures us that Jesus "loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." We see also that delays are Purposed for divine glory (vs. 4). The delays of God are not failures or oversights. What we count as delays are frequently but the ripening of His plans.
In vs. 14, 15 we learn that delays are Productive of divine blessing. Lazarus, his sisters, friends, and family will all be the better for the delay.
But delays are also Proof of human frailty. How did various groups respond to the delay? Some tried to interfere (vs. 7-10) for selfish reasons. Ignorance of divine purpose was evidenced by their inability to grasp its true meaning (vs. 11-15). Impulsiveness is seen in Thomas’ remark which only revealed his failure to grasp the purposes of God (vs. 16). But by far the most common response to divine delays is that evidenced by the crowd: "could not this man...have caused that even this man should not have died?" (vs. 37). Criticism of God’s ways has always been "in season." Men view the world with its moral, political, economic, and nuclear chaos and criticize God for not intervening. They relegate God to an international policeman who must become involved when their rights and freedoms are being threatened, but not when they are guilty of personal sin.
While it would be futile to suggest that anyone has the final answer for divine delays, this chapter does afford us some insight into the moral problem. God is frequently working something of far greater proportions than our finite minds can grasp.
The Marvelous Disclosure
In the next section, vs. 17-32, we learn that Christ is Greater than Martha’s theology. Her philosophy seemed to hold up until tragedy struck. Amidst the confusion and sorrow of the death of her brother, she can only repeat well worn phrases and tenets, basing her hopes on a future resurrection. She must learn from Christ that He is greater than doctrine. The One Who in Himself is the Resurrection and the Life was before her. But we also see that Christ is Greater than Mary’s tears. Despondency replaces doctrine. Philosophy has given way to pathos. Martha came with her doctrine; Mary comes with her tears. Christ is greater than both. He will replace doctrine with Himself; He will remove tears by His power.
But Christ is also Greater than the thoughts of men. Their theory was that His power extended only on this side of the grave (vs. 37). Once death had claimed its victim, He was helpless. He will disclose that He is greater than death.
The Mighty Deliverance
In the final section, vs. 33-44, the Lord Jesus raises Lazarus and restores him to his sisters. In this section we are privileged to see His compassion for men. He weeps at the graveside and groans over the sadness death has brought to this family; no indifferent observer is He. Next notice His command to men. He instructs those who were there to roll away the stone. Later He will tell them to loose the graveclothes and free him. Finally we see His control over men and death. For four days the body had been entombed. Decay had begun its work. At the command of Christ, Lazarus comes forth still enshrouded by graveclothes. The commands and control of Christ symbolize the life and liberty He gives.
In our next article, the response of the leaders to the final sign miracle will be considered.