This story about Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha has been, for the last four days, a remarkable anchor in this family’s life. It originated down in Chicago, I believe, and then Evan brought it up and delivered it to the family. I heard Barbie take wings on this text on Tuesday, and they have chosen this text, not I, but I am very glad they did because it’s so rich for their situation.
Six Observations on the Story of Lazarus
To begin with, I have six observations on why and how this text is incredibly relevant for this moment.
1. Lazarus was ill — he was mortally ill. John 11:1 says, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” Both Lazarus and Luke Anderson were ill. We’re not told what Lazarus’s illness was, and we cannot fathom Luke’s.
2. Lazarus’s family sent for help from Jesus. “So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill’” (John 11:3). The Andersons have done the same, and hundreds of us for months have done the same, saying to Jesus, “Come. If you don’t come, he’s going to die.”
3. Jesus intentionally did not come as they asked but let Lazarus die. “So, when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). He did not go as asked; he stayed, and Lazarus died, and Luke died. Jesus did not come the way we asked. He withheld his mighty healing hand.
4. Shockingly, Jesus calls this behavior of his love. Notice the connection between verses five and six. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [Therefore] when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6). He delayed because he loved them — it’s precisely what the text says. You don’t have to make it up or do any kind of fancy footwork here.
Let me read it again. Most of you do not have Bibles in your laps, so you need to hear the word of God. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore when he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was and let him die.” It was love. The risen Almighty Christ did not come the way we asked because he loves you. How can that be? The next two observations will help.
5. In verse four, Jesus said that this sickness was for the glory of God. “When Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (John 11:4). Now, that must mean that the manifestation of the glory of God is the all-satisfying treasure of our faith — a greater act of love than preventing Lazarus’ death. Jesus did not come because he loved them, and he said the aim of not coming was the glory of God.
Luke Anderson has not died in vain. Others have said it, and they were right. The glory of God is being seen, and it will be seen in more ways than any of you or I know.
6. In spite of Jesus’s choice to let Lazarus die, he wept. Jesus is not a simple person.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33–36)
He chooses to bring about an unspeakably painful situation, and then he walks into it and weeps. He’s a very unusual person. That’s why Luke couldn’t let him go. These paradoxes are very gripping if you have eyes to see. Today, our sovereign Christ is a sympathetic High Priest in this room and in our lives. He knows our grief. He is not a hard master. Ross read this to us on Monday morning:
Though He giveth or He taketh, Christ His loved ones ne’er forsaketh; His the loving purpose solely To preserve them pure and holy.
So, it is not hard for you to see why this text has been an anchor this week. But there are problems and questions that seem to threaten the usefulness of this text. This text makes us strong. It’s an anchor. It’s powerful.
But there are counter-observations. I’m sure Luke had the kind of mind that saw these. Some people see counter-observations and get stuck on them. “There’s no one there.” “Get them through.” Or they try their hardest and still can’t get them through. There are counter-observations in this text that seem to nullify everything I just said and make it useless at first. Let me mention two counter-observations.
1. Counter-Observation: Lazarus Did Not Take His Own Life
Lazarus did not take his own life. Does this difference undo the relevance of this text and its anchor for our souls? The answer is no. If I had time, I would give you many deep reasons why it doesn’t, but I’ll briefly give you a few. I want to drive a biblical stake into the ground here. It has been mentioned, and I am going to drive it clearly, and then put a banner of hope for Luke on it.
The stake in the ground is this: Christians can commit suicide. Let me say it two other ways: There is nothing unique or peculiar about the final act of life that makes it determinative and validating concerning the nullification of our faith. There’s nothing unique in the Bible about the final act over against all the other acts.
Or to say it one other way: the final season of faith, with all its battles, weaknesses, and failures (just picture senility), is not the only season of faith that will bear witness at the last day to the truth that we were born again. For example, suppose that tonight, in my physical weariness, I come home and all the remaining corruption in my heart rises up in pride, self-pity, and arrogance, and I say something truly ugly to my wife. Then, in a great self-justifying huff, I walk out of the house, slam the door, get in the car, recklessly run the stop sign at 18th and 11th, and am broadsided by a pickup truck, and die.
Now, the question is, would I go to heaven? I died because of my sin, and I was in the middle of a great ugliness. The answer to that question depends on this observation. My answer is yes. I believe I am born again. I believe I am a Christian. I believe that I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ, sinner though I be.
The question the speaker at my funeral would have to ask is, “Were the 55 years since he was saved have been hypocrisy?” And if not, if there were some evidences of real grace, then probably the preacher would likely say to my wife, “He wishes he could do it over again, but he’s home.”
So, my stake in the ground is that we are justified by faith alone, through grace alone, on the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone. The seasons of faith differ, with some being bright and others dark, but the last season is not uniquely determinative as evidence of our new birth. So I’m flying a flag of hope for Luke here.
2. Counter-Observation: Lazarus Was Raised from the Dead
Lazarus was raised from the dead. Luke is right there in his body, and we pray in heaven. He wasn’t raised from the dead. “This story doesn’t work for you. This story’s no good for you. Look, why are you using this story? It doesn’t apply.” Be careful. Be very careful. Things are not so simple.
Let me ask you a question: Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe that heaven is the happiest place in the universe because of fellowship with God? Do you remember that Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”? (Luke 23:43). And do you recall that Jesus told a story about a filthy, wicked rich man and a helpless poor man, and they both died? One went to the torments of hell, and the other went to the side of Abraham in joy (Luke 16:19–31).
Do you agree with Jesus about heaven and paradise? If you do, you have a problem on your hands with this text. That’s where Lazarus was. No sickness, no sadness, no depression, no loneliness, no sin. That’s where he was when Jesus arrived on the scene.
The Bible says that for love’s sake, for Lazarus, for Mary, Martha, for the watching Pharisees, for every unbeliever in this room, for love of you, God stripped him of his heaven and made him come back. He made him get sick again, made him get lonely again, made him face death again — this horrible, horrible satanic enemy for you, me, and this family.
In the greatest love to the greatest number, Jesus manifested the glory of God and raised Lazarus from the dead. He brought him back from heaven, from infinite joy, back to a life fraught with sin, from infinite joy to sickness, from infinite joy to stress, from infinite joy to frustration, from infinite joy to a second death.
Displaying the Preciousness of Christ
If you believe that love triumphed for Lazarus and not for this family, here’s the question you must answer: Which is more painful, leaving heaven to show the power of Christ over death, or losing Luke to show the preciousness of Christ over life? My conclusion is that God loved Lazarus and his family and took him out of heaven in order to show the power of Christ over death.
God loved Luke and his family and took him out of the world to show the preciousness of Christ over life. Luke has not died in vain. The glory of God is being revealed. There are some in this room, I say it with all my heart, who will mark this day forever as the day of awakening to the glory of Christ and give thanks for this moment.
Ross, Barbie, Evan, Catherine, Carrie, Robert, Seth, Stephanie, Grandma Westman, your deepest prayers are being answered. The anchor of this text holds.