These morning hours we have been looking at certain Bible characters together. These Bible stories as many of you have discovered are never merely stories. From our youth we have been enjoying these wonderful Bible stories, exciting tales of intrigue and adventure, romance, but they’re not merely stories. We’ll discover that each Bible story is also a picture or perhaps more accurately, a mirror in which we see ourselves, and this is what makes them so eternally fascinating. For in these stories we see reflected by divine intention aspects and characters of ourselves, and learn lessons from them. This makes them fascinating to trace out and most rewarding to apply.
Last week we looked together at the story of a man in the Old Testament whose history began with his birth and what his mother named him when he was born. But today we are moving to the New Testament and looking at the story of a man whose history begins not with his birth, but with his death. And it can hardly be accident or coincidence that the matters related about this young man trace for us the development of Christian experience from the beginning until the end. The young man is Lazarus, and his story is found in the 11th and 12th chapters of John’s gospel. The first fact that faces us in the life of this man Lazarus is the somber truth that Lazarus is dead. Jesus himself declared it in the 11th chapter of John, verse 13. We read,
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly,Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there so you may believe. But let us go to him.Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples,Let us also go that we may die with him.(John 11:13)
You will remember the simple story that’s recorded here of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, the little family in Bethany outside of Jerusalem with whom Jesus loved to be. And we are told here in John’s account that Lazarus was very ill. Jesus, with his disciples, was down in the Valley of Jordan some forty or fifty miles away, and when Mary and Martha saw how desperate Lazarus’ case was they sent word immediately to Jesus. It took perhaps a day or so for the message to reach him, and we read Jesus received the news that Lazarus was ill. John says when he heard that he was ill He stayed two days at the place where he was, one of the most startling verses in the New Testament. When we receive news that some dear one is ill, this to us is an emergency condition. It involves flashing red lights and screaming sirens and we hasten to be there. But when Jesus received the news, he waited deliberately two more days. Then he announced to his disciples that Lazarus was asleep and they misunderstood him and thought he meant he had fallen into a refreshing sleep. But in order to correct them he said to them plainly
Lazarus is dead.
The fascinating thing about this account is that it is evident that Jesus deliberately waited knowing that Lazarus was dead. Or as you put the pieces of this story together it is evident that Lazarus was already dead when the news arrived to Jesus that he was ill. Somehow by the revelation of the Father, by some sixth sense or whatever it may be termed, Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead, even at that moment. And instead of going back to Mary and Martha to comfort them in their anguish, he deliberately waited two more days and then announced that he was leaving. Now there is no possible explanation for this delay except that our Lord was waiting to make it clear that Lazarus was absolutely, unquestionably dead. In other words that he was not in a trance, he had not entered into a coma, that there was no possibility of doubt that he was dead. And you remember as the story goes on, when he did come, Martha, in her blunt fashion summed the whole thing up unmistakably when she said,
Behold, he stinketh. He’s definitely dead.
Now it’s exactly at this point that the story of redemptive love begins in human life, for the scriptures announce to us that this is the condition of mankind in his fallen condition. In his fallen state he is dead in trespasses and sin. You know that pronouncement by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians where he says that very statement.
We who are dead, he says,
in trespasses in sin. I find that many people have difficulty at this point. How can this be?
I remember when I was a boy up in the remote section of Montana where very few strangers ever came, one day a man appeared on our doorstep in the remote ranch up there with a little phonograph tucked under his arm. We didn’t know who he was, and he gave us his name and announced that he would like to play a phonograph record for us. Well, even the phonograph was a novelty in that section of the country so we all gathered about to listen. We discovered later that this man was a Jehovah’s Witness and he had a phonograph recording of a message by Judge Rutherford, who was at that time the leader of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has since been relegated to the forgotten places by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He played this record for us, and the title of it, I’ve never forgotten, was Millions Now Living Shall Never Die. We listened with eagerness and excitement to this strange recording and this announcement that millions now living shall never die. I don’t remember what the record said, I only remember the title. But since then in reading through the scriptures I’ve been impressed by the fact that though that title is not necessarily true, it is true that millions now living are already dead. And that’s what Lazarus’ death pre-figures for us here.
I wonder to how many who say something like that, Millions Now Living Are Already Dead, it’s obvious that we are using ‘dead’ in two different, but related meanings. You cannot, of course, be physically dead and physically alive at the same time, one excludes the other. But you can be physically alive as far as experiencing the full intent of human life, as far as enjoying the presence of God, which makes life rich and full and satisfying, and fulfilling all the possibilities that God had in mind when He created humanity. However, it is possible to be physically alive, but as far as these things are concerned to be absolutely dead, and this is the sense that the scripture uses that phrase, to be dead in trespasses and sin.
I’m sure you recognize that in this sense
dead really means futility, emptiness, meaninglessness, life without life, shallow, frustrating, boring. In this kind of living, pleasures give no real pleasure at all. Riches are merely another form of poverty, power becomes a major weakness. Life is a living wasteland in which we simply hope to get through the hours the best we can. And I don’t need to point out to you that there are thousands, millions who live exactly at this place in this day. When they wake up in the morning instead of
Good morning, God, it’s
Good god, it’s morning! Happiness is always around the next corner. The good ole days are always in the far distant past. The present is nothing but frustration and toil and anxiety. This is a living death, alive but dead as the Bible declares. And people who are in this condition have two unmistakable marks of death continually evident about them.
There are two signs that mark death: helplessness and corruption. These are the signs that are so vastly evident in our day in so many lives. These people discover that no matter what they try, nothing basically changes the pattern of their life. Adventure, romance, power, wealth, education, service, whatever it may be, it seems to work for a while. There’s the excitement of something new, something different, but sooner or later it begins to wither and die and life goes dead on their hands once again. They are simply helpless to change their condition; that’s the first mark of death, helplessness. Nothing seems to change the basic pattern. The second one is corruption. It’s evident in the lives of such that there is a moral deterioration going on. They find themselves doing what they once swore they would never do as they look back on their early ideals of youth. Those ideas and ideals have long since faded and died. And they have become cynical and distrusting, even perhaps bitter and hard. Sometimes the moral stench of their own lives becomes more than they themselves can bear.
Now is this your life? It could well be. For millions exist in this condition today, exactly as the Bible describes it, dead as far as all that life really means, and was really intended to be for them, and they have sunk into the meaningless routine of filling their bellies three times a day and going to work and eating and sleeping, and that’s the whole of life. As someone once put it,
Into this world to eat and to sleep,
And to know no reason why they were born,
Save to consume the corn, devour the cattle, flock and fish,
And leave behind an empty dish.
Is this your life? Then you need to look at the second fact that we have pictured for us here about Lazarus. Not only was Lazarus dead, but the story is here in our Bibles only because of the great fact that Lazarus was raised. Look at verses 38 through 43.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said,Take away the stone.Martha, the sister of the dead man, said,Lord by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead for four days.Jesus said to her,Did I not tell you that if you believe you would see the glory of God?So they took away the stone and Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said,Father I thank thee that thou has heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I said this on account of the people standing by that they may believe that thou hast sent me.When he had said this he cried with a loud voice,Lazarus, come out!And the dead man came out.
I think it was St. Augustine that said first that if Jesus had not called him by name,
Lazarus, he would have emptied every graveyard in the vicinity. Wherever the spirit of Lazarus was, having fled from the body four days before, he heard the voice of Jesus and returned into his body. The great infidel lecturer of a previous generation, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, standing by the body of his brother whom he loved very dearly said these words. Gathering up his own philosophy of life, he said:
Life is a cold dark veil. Between the ice clad peaks of two eternities we strive in vain to see beyond the heights. We cry out loud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry.
But when Jesus of Nazareth stood at the tomb of Lazarus and cried out loud with a great voice, there was no mere echo. The dead man came forth! He that was dead was made alive. Now this is precisely what happens when a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, is converted to Christ. He is made alive; there is an impartation of life that can be explained in no other terms than a startling instantaneous resurrection, an impartation of life to one who is dead. There is a totally new dimension given to such a person. In a moment, the Bible says, he is passed from death into life, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His Love. Many of us here have experienced this, we know how real this is when there is the commitment of the will to Jesus Christ, the surrender to Him as Lord, the recognition that He has come to do this very thing, that marvelous transformation which gives unto us a new love and a new purpose, and a new outlook on life.
This last week or so I received a copy of a letter written by the daughter of an American Airlines pilot, a man who had never given much thought to Christian faith. He had busied and lost himself in his work, and he felt religion, as such, had offered him nothing. He’s one of the senior pilots of American Airlines. But a few weeks ago he was up at Mount Hermon with a gathering of Christian people, and for the first time in his life he heard the radical, revolutionary message of Christian faith, and he believed. His daughter writes this letter and says this about her father and her mother. Her mother had been a Christian for some time. She said,
As I mentioned before my parents are like two different people, and their letters are such an inspiration to me that I save them and read them over and over. In their last letter they marveled over their newfound happiness and peace, and stated that even though their salvation had come late in this life that they both felt that their lives were just beginning and the happiest years are yet to come.
There are millions who can give testimony to that, that when they met Jesus Christ, this was the beginning of life, they were made alive from the dead, they had a new purpose, and a new outlook. I think Horatius Bonar sums it up so wonderfully, that in Him we sometimes sing:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,Behold I freely give
The living water; thirsty one stoop down and drink and live.
I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived and now I live in Him.
Here’s a man made alive from the dead, and this is possible as an experience in life today.
Now the third fact that immediately confronts us is that, though he was raised, yet it is also evident that Lazarus is bound. Look at verse 44.
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages and his face wrapped with a cloth. What a sight that must have been! Unquestionably alive, but unmercifully bound, he couldn’t walk; he evidently had to hop along like a contestant in a sack race, out of the tomb. He couldn’t see clearly; his face was still swaddled in bandages. He was no longer corrupt but he was still hopeless, and do you recognize there are thousands of Christians still in this condition today?
Perhaps this is describing you? There are unmistakable marks of new life in Christ in your experience, but you are still so unmercifully bound, you cannot see well, you are very confused about matters of guidance and how to walk with the Lord and you can’t much distinguish between good and error. You cannot walk very well, you stumble and fall all the time, up and down, up and down. Is this your experience? It may be. There’s so much potential evident in your life but you are still so pathetically hampered by the grave clothes of the old life, the same jealousies, the same frustrations, the same old lusts, the same bad habits, the same worries and fears that were in your heart before you knew Christ. You can’t deny that you know Him, you know there’s been a change, but the grave clothes are still there. It is quite possible to experience this. For Lazarus it was only a few minutes. For you it may have already been a few years, or even a few decades that you have been in this experience. What a pitiful existence it is, especially when a fourth fact is imminently possible in your life.
The fourth thing about Lazarus we’re told, is that Lazarus is loosed. Look at the latter part of verse 44:
Jesus said to them, You’ll notice this takes a second command of Christ. Here he enlists the aid of others. He alone can give life, but others can help in the matter of this gift of liberty in the Christian experience.
Unbind him and let him go.
If you have read the New Testament at all, you’ll recognize that this is that second view of the cross in which we see that Jesus Christ not only died for our sins, but that, as Paul puts it,
we died with Him. And therefore sin shall not have dominion over us; we’re no longer to be bound by these things. The basis of our activity, we discover, is no longer
I’ll try, as so many of us say, but
I’ll trust. No more self-effort now, but His activity in us. We learn the great truth in Romans 7 and 8, as we sang this morning
Not I, but Christ, instead of that futile, pathetic, pitiful struggle of so many Christians to make it
Christ and I, partners together, which will never work. It’s not
I, but Christ, no longer a struggle, but rest; no longer my efforts for Him, but His efforts through me; no longer a failure, but a triumph. As Paul says,
Thanks be unto God who in Christ always, always leads us in triumph.
Have you discovered this yet? Have you moved into this area of Christian living? For this is as much a part of God’s intention for you as that you should have been made alive from the dead in the first place. It was never the intention of Jesus Christ to raise Lazarus from the dead and leave him stumbling about, bound in the grave clothes of the old life. Never! A woman sat in my study this last week and with an almost visible light on her face, she said
Oh what a relief to discover, after years of Christian frustration, bound by fear, to be set free at last. She said,
All my Christian life I have been so troubled by fear that I couldn’t even drive a car by myself. I didn’t dare stay in a room alone by myself. Everything was a problem to me, everywhere I went I was filled with anxiety and fear. But she said,
To be able to get in a car and drive to Monterrey as I did yesterday, and back alone, is simply glorious. Set free, because she had discovered the full intention of Jesus Christ for her Christian experience of life, unbinding and letting go.
But there’s still more. In Chapter 12 you’ll get another glimpse of Lazarus in the first two verses. We here see Lazarus is feasting:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper. Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those at the table with Him. You remember that great invitation verse in Revelation 3:20, where Jesus says,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, that’s the beginning,
and will sup with him and he with me. That is, we will feast together. We’ll eat together in fellowship.
You see the Gospel not only includes the promise of life in Christ, and liberty in Christ, but also liberality, enrichment, the joy of unbroken fellowship with Jesus Christ. Now let me immediately add that this is not mere theological talk. This is not simply
preacher talk that you get on Sunday. This is an actual practical experience, quite possible in every Christian life. And spelled out in the simplest of terms it means such things as comfort in sorrow, insight in perplexity, joy through a veil of tears, courage in danger, light in darkness, beauty rising up from ashes. A mellowing, broadening, deepening walk in the faithfulness of God, where you discover His mercies are fresh every morning and His word is like manna to the soul. This is feasting with the Lord Jesus Christ!
But there is yet a final scene here about Lazarus in this 12th chapter, verse 9,
When the great crowd of the Jews learned he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. Here is a scene that pictures Lazarus being used, mightily used. Here is a great crowd that came out to see Lazarus. They not only came to see Jesus, they came to see Lazarus. They didn’t come to hear him because the interesting thing is Lazarus never told a thing about what his experience was beyond the grave. Whether he didn’t remember it, or whether he was simply, as Paul said about himself, forbidden to speak about these things. Paul said it’s not lawful for a man to utter these things. Whatever it was Lazarus, evidently never said a word about what conditions were like beyond the grave.
But these people didn’t come out to hear that, they came out to see this man, this remarkable man who was raised from the dead. In other words, in this little insight we gain here, Lazarus has become what every Christian can be. A disturbing element which men can not ignore, they can never leave him alone. He upsets them; they have to make a decision about him, one way or the other. Contact with Lazarus here meant either they believed or they belittled, one or the other. Did you notice that there were some that came to believe? Many of the Jews were going away and believing on him. But there was that crowd that wouldn’t believe and they planned to put Lazarus also to death. Imagine putting a man to death that had just been raised from the dead! But so vicious is this hatred, awakened by the testimony of a man standing before them, that they intend to put him to death again. And you can see here what a vital, unforgettable impact Lazarus is making on the people of his day. They couldn’t leave him alone; they had to make a decision. What a disturbing man he was!
Are you praying that God might use you like this? Let me make something very clear. I hope you don’t gather from this that you have to wait until you have gone through all the preparatory stages of Christian experience before God can begin to use you. This is not true. The preparation of Jesus Christ in the human life is an in-service training. It begins immediately, to use His disciples and send them out even though they’re woefully ignorant. They have much to learn, as He Himself tells us. It is quite possible, and I hope it is your experience that God has begun to use you already. Even if you are a newborn babe in Jesus Christ, you can be used. But that use is always limited and will never come to its full manifestation of possibility and potential until, like Lazarus, you have passed through these intervening stages and come to what Paul calls
maturity. Then once we learn the great basis of Christ life in us, and we cease to depend on our own self effort in this respect, we move into that place where we become the instruments of God’s use. And almost every action, every word, every circumstance we enter becomes by our very presence there, a challenge to those around about, where they have to make a decision one way or the other, where the life itself is the challenge, as Lazarus was the challenge here in this scene in Bethany.
Let me ask you to do this: first of all, find out where you are in this panoramic view. We have in the life of Lazarus a Christian experience. Where are you there? Are you still dead in trespasses and sins? Have you been born again? Have you never come to Jesus Christ and received life? Or have you come and you are still bound? Are you still under the same domination of power and habits and thoughts that you always have been? You are still struggling with the same old routine of evil things in your life that hamper you and fetter you and hold you in demand. Or having passed beyond that, have you yet entered into the stage of feasting with the Lord? Where you have not only discovered how to walk with him but you are daily experiencing Him in every way you move and everything you do? If so then you are very close, of course, to this place of being widely used by the Lord in unmistakable impact upon those all around. But first find out where you are.
Have you noticed that this is the first question in the Bible? When God came searching for man in the Garden of Eden, the first question was,
Where are you? Where are you? You will never make any progress in your spiritual life until you answer that question. If you were a stranger on your way here to church today and you got lost and didn’t know how to get here, and in order to get help you called the church and someone answered the phone. And you said,
I’m lost and I’m trying to find my way to Peninsula Bible Church, can you help me? What’s the first question they would ask?
Where are you? If you couldn’t answer that question, they couldn’t do a thing to help you. If you could not say to them
Well, I’m at the corner of such and such street. If you said to them,
Well I don’t know where I am, I’m in the phone booth, they could do nothing to help you, see? All progress in your spiritual life must begin with an honest appraisal, where am I? Where am I? And as you face that, you’ll discover that beginning where you are, there is in Jesus Christ all that you need to take you to the next step. The answer in every case with Lazarus was Christ, wasn’t it? Christ is the answer. Beginning where you are, come to Him acknowledging where you are, telling him what your need is, asking Him to make clear to you how it is to be met in your life. And then, looking to Him, expecting Him to lead you as you begin the search for whatever it takes to move into that next step that will bring you at last to this place of abiding truthfulness, a tremendous impact in your Christian experience. So we bow together in prayer.
Holy Father, what wonders are recorded here in this word to encourage us and strengthen us. To make us see that thou has come into our lives for a specific purpose, not merely to take us to heaven when we die, not merely to deliver us from some of the more odorous aspects of our past. But rather to fill us Lord, as vessels in which there is hidden a great treasure that the excellency of the power may not be of us, but of thee and that we may be, as Lazarus became, a disturbing element so that no one contacting us can go away without either being challenged to believe or belittle. We pray in Christ’s name.