The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of
the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 11:1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and
her sister Martha. 2 And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and
wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 The sisters therefore
sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus
heard it, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the
Son of God may be glorified by it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and
Lazarus. 6 When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer
in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to
Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to
stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve
hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the
light of this world. 10 “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the
light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend
Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The
disciples therefore said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal
sleep. 14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am
glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also
go, that we may die with Him.” 17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had
already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now 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 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was
coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. 21 Martha therefore said
to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 “Even now
I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your
brother shall 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; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and
believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord;
I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the
world.” 28 And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister,
saying secretly, “The Teacher is here, and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard
it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the
village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 The Jews then who were
with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and
went out, followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32
Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying
to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When
Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He
was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid
him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.
36 And so the Jews were saying, “Behold how He loved him!” 37 But some of
them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept
this man also from dying?” 38 Jesus therefore again being deeply moved within,
came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said,
“Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this
time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her,
“Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 And so they
removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank Thee that
Thou heardest Me. 42 “And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the
people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me.” 43
And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come
forth.” 44 He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his
face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him
go.” 45 Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had
done, believed in Him. (NASB)
I have been storing Rieve’s tool collection in the attic for a couple of years
now. He recently asked me to box them up and ship them to him in New Orleans.
By the time I collected everything up, a big tote box, a saw, a drill, a tool box, a
level, and some other items, I needed a pretty good sized box, but I didn’t have
one handy. I tried several boxes and tried packing things in different
configurations to get it all to fit. There was only one way around the problem. I a
big box. Eventually one was obtained and off the package went.
We live in a world that is governed by measurements. A house has so many
square feet and so many rooms. The engines of our cars are measured by cubic
centimeters and liters. We have been measuring time since the introduction of the
sundial in Egypt around 1,500 B.C. Cities, towns, counties, and states have limitsboundaries.
Medicine, fuel, money, you name it, we measure it and measurements
means beginnings and ends — limits.
God even put limits on how long human beings live. That number is around
120 years, give or take a few. We are told in Job that the days of a man are
numbered. Job 14:5 “Since his days are determined, The number of his months
is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.” Psalm 90:12
teaches that knowing our days are numbered is the heart of wisdom. “Teach us to
number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” So when we run across
“ideas” that seem limitless and infinite, we start to run into problems.
The Scripture teaches us (philosophy does too in some schools) that God is
a being that has no limits. God is all knowing, all powerful, omnipresent, and
eternal (that is without the limit of a beginning and ending). Those are truths we
believe, but they are also truths that create problems for finite, limited, and sinful
Add to this the fact that the limitless God with no beginning and no end, the
One that is omnipresent, became a man, an infant in a womb and grew up in the
ordinary course of the limited human existence. That is by the way why many
people, Jews included, have rejected the doctrine that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God. The infinite God cannot be contained in something that is finite.
Today we have a few examples of a devout Christians, who while believing
that Jesus was the Christ of God, couldn’t help but impose on Him limits of time,
space, and circumstances.
The outline of the events recorded in John 11 are as follows. By John 11,
Jesus is approaching Holy Week. He had returned to the place where John the
Baptist had originally began his ministry of preaching and baptizing. So Jesus and
the disciples were outside Jerusalem when a message concerning Lazarus reached
Him. “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were very close to Jesus. They had become a
part of Jesus’s extended family. When Lazarus had fallen ill, Mary and Martha
sent a messenger to Jesus. “‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ When
Jesus heard it, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of
God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’”
Remember in last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus told His disciples that the
man had who had been blind from birth was not blind because of some sin that he
or his parents had committed. The man was blind so that God could demonstrate
His gracious power and mercy.
The same kind of dynamic is going on here. Jesus was telling His disciples
that Lazarus was going to die, but only for a moment so that the power, glory, and
mercy of God could be seen in the resurrection of Lazarus. Of course, the disciples
don’t understand. They think Jesus has just told them the Lazarus was going to
recover and since Jesus stayed put for two more days His delay confirmed their
On the third day Jesus decided it was time to go. “Let us go to Judea
again.” The disciples liked the original plan of staying put. They didn’t like this
change of mind. There were Jews in Judea who wanted Jesus dead and besides,
why go? In their mind, Jesus had already told them that Lazarus was going to
recover. So why take the risk?
The confusion continued. Jesus told the disciples that it was time to go
because Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” They took Jesus literally. “Lord, if he has
fallen asleep, he will recover.” They are a bit daft so Jesus just tells them the
truth in such a way they can understand it. 14 “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad
for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to
Bethany is less than two miles away from Jerusalem. The historic site of
Lazarus’s tomb is 1.5 miles east of Jerusalem. Jesus was never more than an hour
or two away. Yet, He waited and didn’t go to Bethany until the third day.
When Jesus gets there and orders that the tomb be opened, Martha tells
Jesus that Lazarus had been dead four days and the stench would be too
overwhelming. That means Lazarus likely died shortly after the original message
had been sent to Jesus.
Throughout the entire story, everyone around Jesus assumes and tries to
impose limits on Him.
When news reached Jesus that Larazus had died the disciples don’t want
Jesus to go to Bethany because He might end up dead. They think men can
override God’s plan. They had seen Him walk on water, heal the blind and the
crippled, and even raise three dead children during their time with Him. Yet, they
still think and act as if Jesus is limited by the same cause and effect, time and
space they are subject too. They don’t understand that Jesus has been appointed to
die in only one way, for one purpose, and at a specified time.
Mary and Martha do the same thing. “Lord, if You had been here, my
brother would not have died.” They had seen Jesus heal the sick. But even Jesus,
at least in their thinking, has got to have limits too. Surely at some point even
nature’s laws must be more powerful than Jesus. Lararus has been dead four days,
not just a few minutes. There’s no CPR that works after four days.
In her mind and in the mind of everyone else, its too late. Jesus waited too
long. Sure He raised the widow of Nain’s son, the Roman’ soldier’s son, and the
synagogue’s official’s daughter, but that’s because Jesus was “Johnny on the
spot.” He was right there in real time when they died.
Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise from the dead and Martha
responds, 24 “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
He’s too late for Lazarus and Lazarus will have to wait just like everyone else for
the last day when the new heaven and new earth will become a reality.
Some of the people who came to comfort Mary and Martha also said,
“Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this
man also from dying?” They all had a small Jesus. They all believed that Jesus
could have cured Lazarus when Lazarus was still alive, but now that Lazarus is
dead, dead four days in the tomb, it is hopeless and it was Jesus’s fault to taking
That’s how we tend to be. We don’t see our lives and the individual things
in them in against the backdrop of a God Who is without limits, but not without
His own plan. He acts according to His time line, not ours.
Yesterday, I did the funeral for Marianne Meinders. He body had reached its
limits. It had run it course in the allotted days given to her in this sinful world. The
only person and message that breaks through those limits is the proclamation of
the Man who stood at the entrance of Lararus’s tomb and cried out with a loud
voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
The wind and waves obeyed Him. The demons obeyed Him. Blind eyes
obeyed Him. Crippled legs obeyed Him. Now death too is made to obey Him. Job
11:7 “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the
Almighty? 8 “They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than
Sheol, what can you know?”
The One Who called Lazarus from the grave tells how it is that He can
command even death to die. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes
in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me
shall never die.” These are words that overcome a dead body in that casket, or
urn, or in a tomb. These are words that give comfort in the face of death to family
and friends who mourn.
From here, Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus heads back to Jerusalem to die. He
allowed His enemies to put Him to death and because He was and is God, without
limits, death could not hold Him and He used His death to conquer sin, death, and
the power of the devil.
The devil, Pilot, the Jews, even Jesus’s own disciples thought that Jesus had
hit His limits and the number of His days run out on Good Friday. They had
forgotten what Jesus taught them. John 10:18 “No one has taken it away from
Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I
have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My
Then came Easter. He then demonstrated His victory and His limitlessness
by rising from the dead. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate power over death by
allowing death to take Him and then returning life to His own lifeless body.
Each of us will face death many times in our lives. There will be the deaths
people we know, of people we love, and eventually, we will all face our own
physical death when the allotted number of our days have been reached.
But then, what is true of Jesus will be true of you. You will break through
the limit of your days. Jesus has taken hold of you and will pull you through the
door to heaven and will keep you there in spirit until the day of the resurrection.
Bo of good courage at the time of your own death that Jesus is the one who
conquered death with His death and resurrection and He has promised never to
leave you or forsake you. He has promised to raise you to eternal life. He keeps
His promises because He is the God without limits. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and
minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of