Overcoming the Violent Tyranny of Death – John 11:17-44

In John’s narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, a gnawing statement surfaces not once, twice, but three times. “Jesus, if you’d been here, this would not have happened!” Couldn’t Jesus have prevented the death of his friend, Lazarus? The neighbors mumble: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Could he not have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache we see in front of us? Mary and Martha both lament Jesus’ delay in coming to heal their brother.

Dios Escondido! Literally, “A Hidden God!” At times God does seems so hidden that it appears that He doesn’t care at all. The world seems so inhospitable. Despair is a natural result of divine hiddenness. What are you presently enduring and you are wondering why God seems hidden… silent to your cry for help?

In the Gospel of John, chapter 11, we notice three things about Jesus: We have a Savior who challenges our faith, who shares our grief, and who triumphs over the violent tyranny of death!

  • A Savior who challenges our faith (vv.17-27)

How does he challenge Mary and Martha’s faith? Two primary ways. Jesus initially appears indifferent and unconcerned about the violent tyranny of death.

He challenges their faith by His scandalous delay… (vv.15 and 40).  It leads to greater blessing. “I was not there so that you may believe.” “To see the glory of God”

He challenges their faith by His outrageous claim (v.25-26). That the life that comes through believing in Christ is not interrupted by physical death.

Two groups of believers are mentioned here.

First, “He who believes in me, though he dies…” Here Jesus refers to those who have already died. What about those who have died, those whose bodies are now dissolving in the dust? All of us have relatives and dear ones who are in that category. This is a word of hope addressed to those left behind: “He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”

D. L. Moody once said, “One day you will hear that D. L. Moody of Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Don’t you believe it! In that day I will be more alive than I have ever been before.” That is what Jesus is saying here: “Though he dies [death seizes someone you love], if he believes in me, yet shall he be living.” What a hope that brings!

Then the second group: “Whoever lives and believes in me…” That is talking about us. We are not dead; we have not yet passed from this earthly scene; what about our future? The word of Jesus to us is, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Actually the Greek phrasing here is very strong. It literally says, “He will never, ever die forever.” He will pass from this scene, yes, through what to all appearances looks like death, but there will be no darkness, no loneliness, no separation; he will pass immediately into life.

Why does Jesus do this? – Two purposes… The stated purpose of Lazarus’ sickness – to reveal God’s glory (vv.4, 40). God’s glory is thus seen in his victory over death–indeed, it is “possible only through death–first the death of Lazarus, and then the death of Jesus himself!”

To stimulate faith in His followers – Martha’s confession (vv.14, 27)

What do I need to confess?  Our tendency to doubt and challenge Jesus and His plans and ways.  “If you would have been here, this would not have happened.”  Remember the lament of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings:  “I wish the ring had never come to me.”

  • A Savior who shares our grief (vv.32-37).

Jesus rails against the violent tyranny of death and grieves with his friends. He groans because “the violent tyranny of death which had to be overcome stands before His eyes” (Calvin 1959:13).

How does Jesus grieve?  Jesus’ grieves like we grieve. He is  simultaneously mad and sad.Jesus immersed himself in the grief that death brings.

Notice his sharp anger…Verse 33.  He was “deeply moved in spirit” is a word that is associated with a sense of indignation, of anger. It is a word that the Greeks used to describe a horse snorting with anger. Jesus is indignant, he is moved with anger.

See his profound grief.  Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” However, there surely is a connection between 11:35 (“Jesus wept – burst into tears”) and Rev. 7:17 (“God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes”): because of his tears ours shall be wiped away.

Why?  He is angry at death and saddened with grief. In both cases the reason is the same, namely, his love for his friends. The love of God for us and his wrath toward that which corrupts and destroys us are two sides of a single coin.

He had come for the express purpose of turning their tears into joy.  He wept in sympathy for human sorrow.  He groaned as he beheld the evidences of death’s grim power.  See how he loved him.” I think they misunderstood. It is true Jesus loved Lazarus, but he is not weeping for that. He knows he is on his way to raise him from the dead. He knows that in a few minutes this whole weeping crowd will be transformed into rejoicing people who can hardly believe what has happened; and that Mary and Martha are going to have their dear brother back again in their arms. No, he knows that. He is weeping because he is sharing their heartache.

Can there be anything more beautifully descriptive of the nature of our God than this? He sympathizes with us. It is a precious thing to have someone sympathize with us.

Where do you go in the midst of your pain and grief? In coming to Jesus in the midst of suffering, the sisters provide a model for all believers.

What is the traditional approach to dealing with grief? Stoic, bite your upper lip.  Show no emotions.  What is the liberal approach to dealing with death and grief? It’s a natural thing… the circle of life.  Flippant, casual attitude…NO! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that death is the last enemy that will be destroyed.

What are we to do when our friends and family experience grief like Mary and Martha? Move humbly into the situation not with answers but with God’s presence and with your prayers. Weep with those who weep. Provide a ministry of tears!

He does not sympathize as a spectator who is powerless to do anything to reverse the situation. “Christ does not come to the grave as an idle spectator, but like a agitated wrestler preparing for a contest because the violent tyranny of death which He had to overcome stands before His eyes” (Calvin 1959:13)

  • Our Savior triumphs over the violent tyranny of death by restoring life (v.38-44). He restores our lives.

We read in verse 43: “Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” At the sound of that voice, the king of terrors at once yielded up his lawful captive, and the insatiable grave gave up its prey. At once “He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes.”

A life which knows no death.  John 8:51 – Anyone who keeps my word will never see death.  He tasted death for us (Hebrews 2:9).

The Irony –  Jesus is the one who gives life. The irony, of course, is that he gives life by giving up his own life on the cross. A further irony is that by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus sets in motion his own death (See John 12)

  • How shall we now live?  So what?

Has what happened to Lazarus physically, happened to you spiritually?  John 5:25 – “An hour is coming and now is…when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear (in faith) will live.”

Have you come to a point where you have and are trusting in Jesus as your resurrection and as your life?  If you do, you will receive the life that is no longer subject to the power of death.  The life that comes through believing in Jesus is not interrupted by physical death.

Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrection and the life brings freedom from fear, especially our fear of death (cf. Heb 2:14-15). The call to loose Lazarus and let him go picks up “the biblical imagery of `loosing’ for victory over death and the powers of evil.  As such, this story speaks to all Christians bound by the fear of death and, on another level, bound by various sins. The Christian is in union with the one who himself is resurrection and life and if the Son will unloose you (set you free) you will be free indeed!

Prayer: O Father, may your salvation surround us who live and walk under the shadow of death. Draw near to your dying children. By simple faith in your undying grace may they have peace in the hour of their departing. Draw near to those caught up in the rawness of a new grief. Enable them to weep well, free from bitterness or despair.

Empower by Your Spirit all who care for the dying; in hospitals or at home, in a hospice or on a battlefield; give them your quiet strength. Be close to those who fight against untimely death – those who spend their days working for the elimination of cancer, AIDS, and other diseases; the carnage on our highways, and the butchery of warfare. Empower all of Your preachers of the gospel of grace and peace. By your tireless Spirit, may inadequate words take flesh and become powerful agents in helping people to begin living eternal life now. Through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

One thought on “Overcoming the Violent Tyranny of Death – John 11:17-44

  1. Pingback: Death of a Kings Love « Elizabeth17peters's Blog

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