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10.16.16 Dying to Live John 11:17-27, 38-44 Sermon Summary

by on October 17, 2016

I think most of us would like to hear from Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead. But John doesn’t let us. The reason provides an excellent example of how to read the Bible.

Summary Points

  • What happened to Lazarus after being raised from the dead?
  • The role of Lazarus in the bigger picture of John’s Gospel
  • How to apply this story to our lives today

The raising of Lazarus had become a very popular topic among both the common people and the religious elites, though they were saying very different things. The commoners marveled at this amazing sign of Jesus’ power, while the elites made plans to assassinate Lazarus.

Lazarus only shows up again one time—at a dinner thrown by his sisters Martha and Mary. Even there he is upstaged by Mary, who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and some expensive perfume. She is preparing him for his own burial.

For all the excitement we might have to hear from Lazarus, in the Gospel of John, he is just a talking point.

John knows that we are like the multitudes who appear earlier in is gospel. Like they, we want more of that “miracle stuff.” We would follow Jesus anywhere for some more, but in chapter six Jesus turns to the crowds and says, “You follow me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your full of bread.”

That crowd missed the sign because of the bread. John wants us to see that, as amazing as it is, the raising of Lazarus is also just a sign. John doesn’t want to let the spectacular distract us from the point. And what is the point? What is John trying to tell us in chapter 11?

Is it that there is life after death? Probably not. There were plenty of Jews in Jesus’ day who already believed in life after death. Plus, John is writing to a post-resurrection community. They have already heard of and believe in Jesus’ resurrection. So life after death can’t be John’s point.

It’s just the opposite, actually: The point of raising Lazarus from the dead is that there is life BEFORE death. John 11 is a parable. Lazarus is a symbol. He’s a promise. He’s a testimony in a worship service. He’s like an illustration in a sermon. And what is the point of John’s sermon: That in Jesus, we have life before death.

Martha understood it. From her mouth we hear the testimony: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Mary understood it. It’s why she anoints his body for burial. She understood that Jesus would “give his life for the life of the world.” (see John 6:51)

Disciples did not get it. On the way to Bethany Jesus challenges them to realize Lazarus is dead. “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Jesus’ own prayer makes the point: “I have said this, Father, for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that you sent me.”

And in case we might miss it, John tells us explicitly at the end of his gospel. “These words are written so that you may believe, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”

If life before death is the point of John’s Gospel, of John’s sermon, and Lazarus is a sermon illustration, what do we learn in this depiction of Lazarus? It is that sometimes we have to die in order to live. We have to enter the dark places of our lives, enter the tombs where we have buried some loss, some part of us that we’ve had to let go. There we surrender to God’s total care, completely dependent upon God. It is in this place of ego-diminishment (remember, John the Baptizer, only in the Gospel of John, says of Jesus, “I must decrease and he must increase”) where we can listen for Christ’s call. There we will hear Jesus cry our name and command us to “come out.”

And Jesus doesn’t stop there. Next he says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are things that bind us in this life, that bind us TO this life. They keep us from being born again (another phrase unique to John). They keep us from being truly alive. They bind us to death before death. They could be painful memories from our past, or anxious thoughts about our future. These bonds are anything that keeps us from living in the present.

And for John, life in the present is the point. Jesus says, only in John, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Or in other words, “I have come to unbind them, and to let them go.”

If we were to talk to Lazarus, he would urge us to identify the things that bind us. He would tell us to surrender to God’s care in prayer. He would obey Jesus command to unbind us. And he would let us go.

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