John’s Gospel told us last week that the reason Jesus did not go to heal Lazarus when he heard he was sick was because he loved him and his sisters Mary and Martha. He would stay where he was, and let Lazarus die, because he loved them. Verses 5–6: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [therefore!], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
And the explanation that Jesus gave for how letting him die was love came in verse 4: “This illness does not lead to death [though he will die, that’s not the goal or the point]. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In other words, it was more loving to put Lazarus through death and his sisters through grief, if that would reveal more of God’s glory to them and more of the glory of Christ. Jesus loves us by showing us himself.
Receiving Grace in Seeing Jesus
“Jesus loves us by showing us himself.”
This is absolutely fundamental to the main purpose of this Gospel — and the whole Bible. In John 1:14–16, John writes, “The Word [the eternal Son of God] became flesh [became human] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then in verse 16, he relates the demonstration of that divine glory to us. Verse 16: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” So the pattern is this: Jesus reveals his divine glory — glory as of the only Son from the Father — and we behold it, and from its fullness we receive grace.
So the incarnate revealing of the glory of God in Christ, climaxing with the cross and the resurrection, and our seeing it is the way we receive grace — that is, the way we are saved and receive all the promises of eternal life.
How Jesus Loves Us
So this whole Gospel is built around revelations of the glory of God in Jesus. And what we saw last week is this new emphasis that this is the way Jesus loves us. He does not mainly love us in this life by sparing us suffering and death. He mainly loves us by showing us and giving us himself and his glory. God loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that he is for us in Jesus. Jesus loves us mainly by giving us himself and all that God is for us in him.
Don’t measure the love of God for you by how much health and wealth and comfort he brings into your life. If that were the measure of God’s love, then he hated the apostle Paul. Measure God’s love for you by how much of himself he shows you. How much of himself he gives you to know and enjoy.
God’s Love in Giving Himself to Us
Before we see all this worked out in Bethany (verses 17–44), consider two confirmations from two other texts. For example, someone might say: but when I think of the love of God I think of John 3:16. Me too. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is the gift of eternal life at the cost of his Son. Yes. Yes. Yes!
But what is the heart and essence of eternal life? Jesus tells in John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The essence of eternal life is the never-ending knowing of God the Father and God the Son. For God so loved the world, that at the cost of his Son’s life, he brought us into an everlasting knowing, admiring, loving, enjoying of himself and Jesus. The love of God is the gift of himself. And the greatness of that love increases in proportion to the greatness of his glory.
Jesus’s Love in Manifesting Himself to Us
And here’s a second confirmation that we are on the right track. In John 14:21, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” What a wonderful statement! “I will love you, and manifest myself to you.” That is how I will love you.
“The love of God is the gift of his glorious self.”
Oh, how many of us can testify to this reality with thankfulness and joy. In the days of suffering and loss, in the days of darkness, and when it seemed that all around our souls would give way, Jesus loved us — not first by taking away the suffering or the loss or the darkness, but first by giving us himself in ways that could not have been ours without this painful season. If you demand that God love you the way the world expects to be loved in this life, you won’t know what it is to really be loved by God. The love of God is the gift of his glorious self.
Because he loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha, he stayed two days longer and let them walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and then went and showed them his glory.
So let’s go with him.
Invincible Until the Cross
In verse 7, he says, “Let’s go.” And his disciples remind him in verse 8 that just a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to kill him. Are you sure? After last weekend’s message, several of you have asked me about Jesus’s strange answer in verses 9–10. He says, “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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
What’s he saying? They say, “If you go to Judea, you’re going to run into a mob and get stoned.” And Jesus says, “No, I won’t. There are twelve hours in the day, and I am going to walk in the light of that day. And so I won’t be in the dark, and so I won’t stumble into a stoning mob. I will arrive at my appointment with the cross exactly when I intend to — at the end of that day.”
Not Before His Appointed Time
He had said this before in John 9:4: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” The “day” Jesus has in mind is the period of time in which God’s providence and favor are surrounding Jesus with the light of extraordinary protection and power until he reaches his appointed task when all protection will be removed. There are twelve hours in this day, which means: It will be a complete day, and nobody can cut it short. So let’s go. We’re not going to be stoned.
Thomas is not so sure, but rallies with courage (verse 16): “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Or maybe he sensed exactly what Jesus meant.
Questioning Jesus’s Love
What happens now just outside Bethany, near Jerusalem, is that three different people confront Jesus by questioning his love for Lazarus. Verse 6 said, “When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Everybody knew that’s what he did. There was time for him to come, and he didn’t come. It didn’t look like love. And now he is going to hear about this three times — from Martha, from Mary, and from the mourners.
And each time it is a thinly veiled questioning of his love — a suspicion, a doubt. And I think this repeated and uniform suspicion shakes Jesus, even visibly. He even weeps. Let’s look at these three instances.
Martha — verses 20–21: “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
Mary — verse 32: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
The mourners — verses 36–37: Jesus had just wept. “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’”
Jesus had chosen to love Lazarus and his sisters by not coming immediately. And now his not coming is being used to question his love. If you had come right away, nobody would be crying.
How Jesus Responds
Now how does Jesus respond? He responds:
- with profound truth about himself,
- with strong emotion from himself, and,
- with powerful action by himself.
Remember the whole goal of coming late is to reveal more of his glory. And that is what we are going to see. Let’s look at each of these three responses.
1. Profound Truth
Martha says, in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She questions, but she hasn’t given up on him. Verse 22: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus answers (verse 23), “Your brother will rise again.” Verse 24: Martha says to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus says to her (verses 25–26), “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Here Jesus reveals his glory with his words — with the truth. He says, “you believe that there is a great and glorious day of resurrection coming at the end of the age, when all believers will be raised bodily from the grave. You are right. And here’s the mystery: I am the arrival of that day. You thought that day would come with the Messiah. I am the Messiah. It has come.”
“I am revealing my power and my glory to you, because I love you.”
And further, he is saying, “let me be specific, Martha. I am exactly what Lazarus needs, and what you need. He is dead, and you are alive. So listen. ‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’” (verse 25). That’s for Lazarus. And “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (verse 26). That’s for you. “I will rescue Lazarus, body and soul, from the grave, and when I do it doesn’t matter. And you. You live, and believe in me, and so you will never die — there will never be one millisecond when you are out of saving fellowship with me. And do you know what this means, Martha? It means I love you. And I love your brother. I will not abandon his soul to the pit or let his flesh be destroyed. I will raise him. And I will keep you in everlasting fellowship with me. I am telling you this. I am revealing my power and my glory to you, because I love you.”
2. Strong Emotion
At the end of verse 32, Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And as she said this, she was weeping, and those with her were weeping, and “Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping.” So now this questioning, “Where were you when we needed you?” is not just words. It is sobs. “Where were you!”
And Jesus’s response this time is not words, but strong emotion (verse 33). And when they start to take him to the grave (verse 34), he weeps (verse 35).
Most preachers that I have heard on this text seem to read into the text whatever emotions they think are appropriate in the presence of grief. I’m not sure what Jesus’s emotions were, or what he was responding to. Besides weeping, there are two words at the end of verse 33 that describe his response: “He was deeply moved (Greek enebrimesato) in his spirit and greatly troubled (etarazen).”
Emotions of Jesus
The first word (deeply moved) is used again in verse 38 and three times outside this Gospel. It is never a word of compassion but a word of rebuke or warning. And the other word (greatly troubled) signifies being shaken or agitated. It’s the same word for the waters in the pool of Bethesda being stirred up (John 5:7). And it’s the word Jesus will use in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” It’s not positive emotion. Jesus was shaken, and he was upset and disturbed.
I won’t be dogmatic here, but I don’t think these are emotions of empathy and tenderness. I think Jesus is disturbed at the way his motives are being questioned. With emotional forcefulness, Mary had said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (verse 32). Something about this was deeply disturbing to Jesus. And when he wept (verse 35), I suspect his emotions were very deep and very complex, not simple.
This strong emotion is going to rise again in Jesus. It happens again in response to the third instance of people questioning his motives and power. In verse 37 some looked at his weeping and said, “could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Surely he could have. And he didn’t. So they question and they are suspicious of his motives or his power.
Now Jesus is going to act. But before he acts, there is this emotion again. This strong word for feeling rebuke or warning in verse 38. And this time it is connected even more explicitly with the suspicion and skepticism of the crowds. They have just questioned his love and power, and John writes, “Then [literally, therefore] deeply disturbed again, Jesus came to the tomb.”
Jesus’s Glory Revealed in His Emotion
I’ve heard pastors preach on this and say that Jesus is angry at his great enemy death. I don’t think that is what John is saying. Jesus planned this death. What John says is, because they question his love and his power in verse 37, “therefore, he was deeply disturbed in his spirit, and came to the tomb.” The whole story, and the specific grammar, point in another direction: Jesus is deeply disturbed that his motives and his power (that is, his love) are being questioned.
Whether I am right about that or not, these emotions too are a revelation of his glory. He was not a stone. As the great God-man, he had deep, strong emotions that always accorded perfectly with every situation. And this revelation, too, is an act of love. Even anger at unbelief and suspicion and questioning is an act of love, because these are the very things that keep us from seeing the glory of Christ in our pain.
3. Powerful Action
But now, finally, it is time not merely for profound truth (in response to Martha), or strong emotion (in response to Mary and the crowds). It is time for powerful action. Verse 39: Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” One last time Martha resists. Evidently she is not completely confident he can do it: “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
And now, finally, in response, Jesus makes the connection between what he is doing and what he said back in verse 4: “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.” So Jesus says to Martha (verse 40), “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” That is, I am the resurrection. That is part of my glory.
He prays in verses 41–42 so that all can see he is one with the Father, and then (verse 43), “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’” Verse 44: “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
“Jesus raises the dead because he is the resurrection.”
This is the glory of Jesus. Jesus raised Lazarus because he is the resurrection. He is the arrival in history of God’s final, glorious renovation of all things, including our bodies. Believers, you will be raised from the dead and shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father. Lazarus is a preview of your resurrection. Jesus is coming back to this earth in power and great glory. And this event, and this story, and this sermon is window onto that glory.
And therefore it is God saying to you in this service: “I love you. My love for you is not sparing you suffering and death. It is the gift of myself. My glory. Do you see me? Do you see me for who I really am? Come to me. I have much more to show you.”