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Sovereign Purpose and Saving Power in John 11

Someone asked what my points would be if I could only teach one lesson from John chapter 11. My answer:

As the story begins to build, Jesus’s words indicate that Lazarus’s illness has a sovereign purpose; it is intended to bring glory to God and to highlight the Son, Himself (vs 4). Lazarus’s illness (and ultimately his death) are purposed to encourage belief (vs 14). As we learn from Joseph’s story in Genesis or the story of Job, God uses--indeed purposes--many unfortunate-seeming circumstances to glorify Himself and save His people. Most ultimately, we see this later in the very death of Christ, of which Lazarus’s own death and resurrection foreshadow.

Although Lazarus’s friends and family were grieving, Jesus’s confidence in verse 15 (“for your sake I am glad I was not there”) is rooted in the knowledge that their belief and joy will be greatest not because He made it in time to heal Lazarus, but because after he had been dead four days (and by now stunk!), Jesus was able to revive him still. That Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead demonstrates the power of the Creator, but that He allowed him to die in order to maximize His own glory and the belief of the witnesses, teaches us that God is sovereign and wise in His purposes--and that we can trust God to work for His glory and our good regardless of our circumstances.

[On the side, I would note the tension created by God’s sovereign purpose in Lazarus’s death, and the strong emotional reaction Jesus has in verses 33-36. Far from a stoic, detached presence, the Son of God was fully and emotionally human. He wept with his friends. His emotions may have even been heightened as he grieved at the reality of death, but pondered the nearness of the coming time when He would defeat all of death in His own. The humanity of Jesus we see here encourages us that we have a Savior who sympathizes with us in our suffering (Hebrews 4.14-16).]

Before actually resurrecting Lazarus though, Jesus proclaims His saving power to Martha (vs 25-26). He is the resurrection and the life, and spiritually we live in Him--united with Him in His own life and resurrection. To physically demonstrate this spiritual reality, he calls forth a dead-for-four-days-and-stinky Lazarus. And at the very word of Christ, Lazarus walks--or shuffles--bound out of his tomb. And, as much of the New Testament expounds later, we’re left with a very clear picture of God’s saving power, His giving life to the dead. We see how He causes us to be born because of His word and His work, not our own (Ephesians 2.1-10). Like Lazarus, we are dead and unable to give ourselves life. When God gives life to His people, every time He saves someone then, it inspires awe and worship, and results in joy and celebration. (And encourages a servant's posture--like the one taken by Mary in the following chapter.)

So while John 11 is a diamond we might spin forever to take in all the dazzling angles, God's purposes and the gospel of Jesus giving life to the dead are my main points. What else do you see? Where would you spend time if you could teach this chapter only once?