The Witness of Lazarus

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

John 12:9 – 11

For those who live in America in the post-Watergate era there is no novelty at all in the idea of people trying to destroy evidence. The Watergate tapes are themselves an example. Perhaps you remember the famous “eighteen-minute gap”. Or, what about OJ’s bloody glove, if they hadn’t discovered it he most surely would have been acquitted. In conversational language we even speak of burying the evidence. If one is innocent, there is no need to destroy evidence. If one is guilty, this is at least one way of trying to avoid conviction and maintain a facade.

In our story, we find here a biblical example. “A large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him”. These verses tell us that as a result of Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus had become important as evidence that Jesus was right in his teaching and that the rulers of the people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, were wrong. The Pharisees and Sadducees were, therefore, seeking to destroy the evidence by killing Lazarus.

 

It is a sad picture in some ways, yet humorous too when we remember that the decision to start killing people was reached after Caiaphas had first argued, “It is better for us that one man die for the people”. [1]At that time it was one. But now the rulers are finding out that one will not do. Jesus is not enough. Now it is “Lazarus also.” In time it will be Stephen and James and Peter and then the many other martyrs. Such is the course of trying to cover up evidence for a truth. It is as if the truth were a well or spring. A person can try to hide it if it is a tiny stream. But sooner or later the water will come bubbling through, bearing dirt with it. The efforts to cover it up, no matter how great, will be wasted.

 

G. Campbell Morgan writes on this point, “Hostility to God as manifested in Christ, has been the characteristic of the world ever since the days of Jesus and Lazarus, and it has ever been trying to get rid of him. How many have they put to death in the endeavor? Pilate probably thought he had done the business presently when he put Jesus on the cross. When he handed him over it was with a sort of sense of relief that it was done with. Little did he know, within a couple of generations the power he represented had to repeat the martyrdom of Jesus ten thousand times in Rome itself.”1

“Not only must we put Jesus to death—but we also must deal with Lazarus,” concluded the Jewish leaders, “because he’s a testimony of Jesus’ power.” They would have to keep going; however, for they would have to not only silence Jesus, Lazarus, and the disciples—but all of the believers. In the days of the early church, six million Christians were killed in an effort to stamp out Christianity. The more Christians killed, however, the stronger the church became.

According to the Gordon – Conwell Theological Seminary, 2006, there are an average of 171,000 Christians worldwide who are martyred for their faith per year. Yet where the church is persecuted, the church is powerful. Truly, the blood of the saints is the seed of the church.

That is the point, or at least one of two points: the evidence for the truth of Christ’s teaching and of his power to change lives is undestroyable and therefore inescapable.

 

The other point is that those who are Christians are the evidence and should therefore be equally undestroyable and inescapable. Are you evidence of Christ’s claims? If so, you should be like Lazarus, whom we find in this story, and should share his experience.

 

What do we know about Lazarus? The first thing we learn is that he had become an irresistible attraction. Jesus had raised him from the dead; now people were coming to Bethany, not just to see Jesus (whom most had seen before) but also to see Lazarus and hear his story. The text says, “A large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and they came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead”. [2]

 

I wonder if we are irresistible as evidence of the truth of Christ’s teaching. I wonder further if we are really an attraction by which men and women are finding him. Are you good bait? Has your life been made so delicious by Jesus that others cannot resist biting and thereby getting caught by the greatest of all fishermen?

 

If the answer is no and you’re concerned about it, let me point out the two things that made Lazarus attractive and show how they apply to you. First, Lazarus had been brought to life by Jesus. He had been dead. He had no hope of making any physical recovery. Others, even his own sisters, Mary and Martha, had no hope of reviving him. But Jesus came and raised him from the dead. Granted, none of us have ever been physically dead. We cannot say that we have been brought back to physical life by Jesus. But we have been dead spiritually. The Bible teaches this when it declares that we “were dead in transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Being dead, we were without hope of recovery, just as Lazarus was. Then Jesus came and called us, as a result of which we were made alive and rose at his voice to follow him. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means to have been made alive by Jesus. Consequently, we too can be an attraction by which others find Jesus, if we have really been made alive by him.

 

Ultimately it is not we who are attractive; it is Jesus. Therefore He must be in us if He is to attract others to himself through us. Is Jesus in you? Are you a thoroughly converted person? If not, remember what Jesus said to Peter shortly before his crucifixion. He said, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers”. [3] This meant that Peter was in no position to help others until he had himself—after his cowardly denial of Jesus—turned again to Jesus and been changed by him.

 

The second thing we notice about Lazarus is that he was with Jesus. The apostle John points this out when he writes that the dinner given for Jesus was in Bethany, “Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him”. [4] I can imagine Lazarus being constantly by Jesus in those days, so that those who came to see Jesus saw Lazarus and those who came to see Lazarus inevitably saw Jesus. Put yourself in the place of Lazarus and then conclude: I will help others to see Jesus to the degree that I spend time with him.

There is a second characteristic that we learn about Lazarus from these verses. He was a threat to unbelievers. In this case the unbelievers were the chief priests. We read of them, “So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him, many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus”.

 

There were two ways in which Lazarus was a threat to these men. First, they were threatened politically. The chief priests were the wealthy, aristocratic rulers of the Jewish people. They were not particularly religious, but they were successful. They were at the top of the social heap; they had much to lose. In Roman times a conquered people were often permitted great freedom in governing themselves, as the Jews were. But let an insurrection start, even a small civil disobedience, and at once the Roman armies cracked down. Usually they executed the insurrectionists and removed from authority those who had been responsible for keeping the peace. These were the days of Passover. Excitement was running high. The chief priests saw Jesus as the leader of a potential rebellion. Everything he did inflamed the situation, so they believed. The raising of Lazarus inflamed it most of all! So they determined to remove Lazarus as a political factor.

 

Lazarus was a threat to the chief priests in another sense also. He was a threat to their beliefs or theology. We must remember that the chief priests were all Sadducees and that, unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It was the Sadducees who tried to trap Jesus with a problem regarding the seven brothers who had each been married to the same woman. They had asked, “Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection?” Here were Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Suddenly they are confronted with this unknown man Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. What were they to do? The irony of the situation is almost humorous, and John does not miss it in telling the story. For he refers here just to the Sadducees and not to the Pharisees and the chief priests as he had in recounting the results of the council earlier. These men were threatened politically, and they were threatened theologically. So, there was only one course for them to follow. Since they would not believe in Jesus, the only thing they could do was seek to eliminate Lazarus.

 

Have you become a threat to anyone because of your testimony? If you have, you will soon know it; for it is likely that you will soon be threatened. Does your life challenge anyone through its Christlike character? Then prepare to be defamed. Does your testimony with its clear logic and blameless experience strike home to the hearts of those who hear you? Then be prepared to be called a fool for your testimony. Does your love for the lost expose, as it must, the great hate and selfishness of the world around you? Then be prepared to be hated for Christ’s sake. Do not be under an illusion as to what it means truly to follow Jesus, for Jesus himself did not allow anyone to be deceived on that subject. He told his disciples that following him meant a cross. As someone has said, “He never hides his scars to win disciples.” On the other hand, you can know that to be with him in his suffering is to be identified with him and to allow him to bring glory through you to his own name.

 

There is one final thing that we learn about Lazarus from these verses. It is for this perhaps above all that Christ’s enemies wished to destroy him. He was a blessing; for many we are told, believed on Jesus because of Lazarus. Here was a man so much alive because of Jesus and so identified with him in discipleship that others believed on Jesus just because of him. The application is obvious. Can this be said of me or you, “On account of him [or her], many put their faith in Jesus”?

 

[1] John 11:50

1 Morgan, The Gospel according to John, 209.

[2]Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John : An expositional commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

[3] Luke 22:32

[4] John 12:2


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