There is much of what Jesus did and said that earned him the dislike of the Religious Elite in Jerusalem. But the three most condemning words that Jesus spoke were these: “Lazarus, come forth!”
Beginning in the John’s gospel the 11th chapter, John introduces us to three episodes in Jesus’ life that are closely tied together in Jesus’ journey to the cross. These three events are not exclusive but they stand together as the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Normally I’m drawn to a much closer view of the scripture verse by verse but this morning I want to step backwards and take more of a birds eye view of these three events.
And by parallel I think we can see for our own sake three corresponding events in our own life which a godless culture hates but which we who know and love Jesus Christ ought to love and of course pursue. But just a the events form the trigger mechanism which leads to Jesus’ death – they will also set us up to suffer with Christ.
God’s Irrefutable working in us
We begin first with the story of Lazarus raised to life, in John 11. The whole chapter lays out the sequence of events. Lazarus becomes sick and a messenger is sent to get Jesus. But Jesus waits for two more days before the journey to Bethany. When he finally arrives, Mary stays in the house while Martha goes to meet Jesus and accuses him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21). Jesus then calls for Mary who comes to him and falls at his feet with the same accusation, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32). And again the crowds who see Jesus moved accuse Jesus again saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
Do you see the repeated conflict? Time after time the statement is “if only you’d been here earlier…) But the unspoken rest of the thought is, “but it’s too late now.” What they didn’t realize is that Jesus had a bigger plan.
Now then Read with me, John 11:38-44.
There lay Lazarus. First he was sick, then he was dead – but throughout it he was loved by Jesus. Finally Jesus comes into the graveyard and with the command of authority that breaks the stronghold of death, Lazarus obeys the command of Christ, “Lazarus, come forth”. Awakened from the grave, the once dead man comes struggling out still bound hand and foot with covered face.
It’s an amazing story with an incredible finish. The only problem is, that’s not the end of the story. This single event sets in motion the death of Jesus. Look down at the next few verses and read them with me. Read John 11:45-53.
As far as the council of the chief priests and pharisees is concerned here’s only one punishment suitable for a man who brings men back from the grave: Death. And if that isn’t enough look forward and read John 12:9-11.
Ultimately they want to kill Lazarus too. It’s one thing if it can be claimed that Jesus is not responsible for a miracle but to have the obvious effect of the Lord’s work sitting in front of you as a testimony to God’s handiwork is more than the enemies of Christ can stand.
And this is the point of application: Aside from Jesus’ own resurrection the resurrection of Lazarus who had been dead and buried for four days is the single greatest miracle of Jesus’ earthly career.
In Mark 5:41 (Luke 8:54, Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter back to life but she had only been dead a few minutes. In Luke 7:11 Jesus raised the dead and only son of a widow back to life as he was being carried to the graveyard – but this is a man who had only been dead perhaps for a day. But Lazarus had been dead four days and due to the expected stink there was no mistaking he was all the way dead.
For all practical purposes, Lazarus is just along for the ride on this one. He didn’t choose to get sick and die, and he didn’t choose to get resurrected. But everything that he stood for simply by existing as the man raised back to life was a testimony to the power, the glory, the authority and the deity of Jesus Christ.
Nobody looking at Lazarus after the resurrection and knowing about it could legitimately miss God’s work in Him. But God’s work in Lazarus was more than the enemies of Christ could handle. How are we who follow Christ to expect less than hatred and separation from the world if we dare to labor to bring men out of the jaws of hell and into saving faith in Jesus Christ?
When we let God work in us to craft us in his image and show off his glory – our obedience to the command to walk out of the grave of sin and death is a testimony that the rest of the world can’t stand.
From the resurrection of Lazarus we pass into an unidentified stretch of time in which Jesus didn’t stay out in the open – because as yet his time hadn’t come. So Jesus went off and stayed in Ephraim until the Passover approached. Of course with the Pharisees and company having decided that Jesus must die, the question of the hour is, “Will Jesus show up at the passover?” (John 11:56).
Jesus however had a plan, and had already set his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51,53). So six days before passover, he left Ephraim and he journeyed to Bethany and he stayed with Mary Martha and Lazarus. I would have loved to hear the conversation around the dinner table that night! In the midst of their time together Listen to what happened: read John 12:3-8.
Mary – probably moved even more so because of a convergence of events. (1) She had questioned Jesus before he raised her brother. (2) She stood there and wept while Jesus raised her brother back to life. (3) and now she was doubtless aware as anyone was that the Pharisees were looking to arrest Jesus.
She takes her most expensive possession and pours it out in an act of lavish worship. This is no holds barred devotion. But it’s a devotion that can’t be stood by wicked men. Over in the corner stands Judas and he launches into a tirade against Mary for this waste. Almost a years wages were now wafting through the house. Can you imagine it? Mary’s worship was unreserved – and Judas couldn’t stand it, not because it was worship but because he could have gained from her holding back.
How much longer do you honestly think the government will allow a tax write off for charitable donations to the church? The way things are going I would expect that to go away.
I have a theory – though I’m not sure I could prove it. But I highly suspect that just as Lazarus’ resurrection was the final straw for the Pharisees, this lavish worship was the final straw for Judas.
Already we see two events that the world can’t stand. (1) God’s work in us and (2) Lavish worship. And there’s one more this morning, and it too is tied to Lazarus’ resurrection.
Embracing Christ as Messiah
John 12:12-19 brings us to today’s celebration of Palm Sunday: The triumphal entry. Once again we see the large crowd that we’ve been seeing, outside of Lazarus’ tomb, outside of Mary’s house and now on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem.
Jesus is coming – and they believe he is the Messiah they’ve always wanted. So they run and grab Palm branches and they run out to meet him Crying HOSANNA!
The word Hosanna means “Save, I pray” And the Phrase is a direct quotation from Psalm 118:25-26
“Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. ” (Psalm 118:25–26, ESV)
The praise of the people was a living, breathing, out loud and unabashed praise of Jesus because they believed him to be the Messiah. In a word, as Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, palm branches waving in the air, and coats laying on the road in a sign of submission, and all the crowds shouting “Save us we pray, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people were embracing Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah.
True, they didn’t yet know what that really meant but the Pharisees at least didn’t miss what the people were doing. Look at verse 19, “You see,” they said to one another, ‘that you are gaining nothing, Look, the world has gone after him.”
But did you see the reason why the crowds followed Jesus? It wasn’t because they were convinced he was the Son of God / God in the flesh. It wasn’t because they wanted forgiveness and cleansing – it was because of Lazarus.
See John 12:17-18. The reason the crowds danced around Jesus that day as John points out to us is all because of Lazarus.
As our Lord entered Jerusalem on that day the worship of the crowds like the anointing he received from Mary (John 12:2-8) and the following he gathered for raising Lazarus from the dead prepared Him for the cross. It prepared him for the cross by pushing the pharisees and Sadducees over the line.
The praise of Jesus that morning, like the resurrection of Lazarus and the confrontations with the men who had set themselves up as the enemies of Christ all fell into place preparing Jesus for the cross of suffering. For us, worship does the same, as we worship our eyes are drawn upwards toward God and our lives are readjusted to live according to His purpose.
Altered lives irrefutably touched by God will inevitably draw criticism dislike and even violence from those who do not worship him.
Lavish worship that spares nothing for ourselves and gives everything to Jesus will draw criticism, hatred, mockery and more from those who would rather keep the gains of this world than the gains of the next.
Embracing Christ as savior means rejecting all other gods and religions in this world – and that kind of devotion will mark you as narrow minded and ignorant, like the crowds that danced around Jesus crying “Hosanna!”
Back in the beginning of our section we saw Jesus waiting to go to Bethany while Lazarus died – in preparation for the unveiling of Christ’s glory. When Jesus spoke of going back at last the disciples tried to stop him but Thomas said to his fellow disciples (John 11:16), “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
The worship of Palm Sunday prepared Jesus for the cross . For us, worship does the same.