Calvary Road Baptist Church

“POWER, PLOTTING, AND PIETY IN BETHANY”

John 11.1-12.11

 

Departing from my usual practice of preaching from a passage that describes a single or a couple of episodes of a solitary encounter with the Savior, we will consider encounters in the lives of several people at a single location that unfolded over what might have been a month’s time. My text is sixty-eight verses long, far too long for us to read at this time, but far too important a passage for you not to read when you get home. If you have children still living at home, I would hope you will gather them and read the passage to them, beginning at John 11.1 and concluding at John 12.11.

The center of our attention concerns several events related to a span of time, a particular location, and named people. The span of time covers about a month, from roughly five weeks before the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ to roughly a week before the crucifixion, or the Sunday before if John 12.1 is understood correctly: 

“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.” 

The particular location of interest to us is the village Bethany, located two miles Northeast of Jerusalem where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. This is also where Lazarus died, where he was then entombed, where family and friends came to memorialize him, and where the Lord Jesus came four days after Lazarus died to raise him from the dead. The named people involved are, most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ, the three siblings He seemed especially close to (Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus), Judas Iscariot, and figuring in the events while likely never actually there was the high priest Caiaphas.

Over this large text that I will draw my consideration for comments from we will take note of three things: First, the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, the plotting of the Jewish religious leaders to put the Lord Jesus Christ to death. And, finally, the piety of a woman named Mary contrasted with impiety. Grant that I cannot deal with our text finely, but can only resort to broad comments and observations in the time that we have: 

First, THE POWER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST 

Before you draw conclusions about the existence of God and the necessity of embracing the claims of Jesus Christ, consider the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. His power is evident in the record of events written by the Apostle John in John 11.1-44. The power of the Lord Jesus, if I may use the word loosely, is suggested in several ways, with only one of the demonstrations of power being at all obvious:

First, we see evidence of our Lord’s power (if we can refer to it like that) of omniscience. Verses 1-15 reveal several aspects of the Lord Jesus Christ’s knowledge of all things: When the Savior was informed that Lazarus, who the Savior loved, was sick one should not think that because He was informed He did not already know of Lazarus’ illness. I point this out because of our Lord’s comment in verse 4: 

“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” 

However, we note from verse 6 that He did not respond to the notification that Lazarus was sick, but delayed His departure to Bethany by two days. Then, in verse 11, our Lord informed His disciples, 

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” 

But they misunderstood Him, so He clarified in verse 14 by saying, 

“Lazarus is dead.” 

After Lazarus had died the Lord Jesus Christ signaled that it was time to go to Bethany. While our Lord seemed to behave as though He was not mindful that the Jews sought to stone Him to death, verse 8, the reality is that He not only knew of the intentions of the Jews but He was also fully aware of Lazarus’ condition, both his illness and his death, and the underlying reasons for what happened to him: 

“for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”[1] 

Next, we see evidence of our Lord’s power (if I can so loosely describe it like that) of love. Verses 17-38 provide a great many details, but among those details are two that are profoundly important as they relate to God’s purpose of glorifying Himself and His Son through the no doubt difficult experiences of Lazarus: First, a prominent feature of this passage is the Lord Jesus Christ’s love. The apostle acknowledges the sisters’ confidence of the Savior’s love for their brother in John 11.3 when they convey their message that he is sick. In verses 33-38 we see three pieces of evidence of the Savior’s love for Lazarus that drives the conclusion found in verse 36: 

33  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

34  And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.

35  Jesus wept.

36  Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!

37  And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

38  Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 

Our Lord’s love is mentioned in verse 36, but it is in verse 33, where “he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,” in verse 35, where we read “Jesus wept,” and in verse 38, where “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself,” that we see the apostle’s description of His love for Lazarus: 

“Behold how he loved him!” 

Next, far less obvious than His love for Lazarus, we see evidence not noticed by those there at the time of our Lord’s providential work to accomplish God’s purposes. Many Jews, verse 19, came to comfort Mary and Martha, likely including many who were not kindly disposed toward the Lord Jesus Christ, including those who might have come to secretly delight that this Jesus fellow from Nazareth let the devoted Lazarus die of his illness. The point being, a large number had assembled who became an audience for what the Lord Jesus Christ was going to do who would not have assembled for Lazarus’ illness and therefore would not have witnessed the Savior healing him. Thus, the Lord loved Lazarus so thoroughly that He made wonderful use of both the illness and the death to assemble a large number of unbelievers who would not have otherwise gathered. Would to God you and I will take steps while we are still alive to plan our memorial services for maximum effect, so the largest possible number of friends, relatives, colleagues, and who knows who else will have been gathered to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at your funeral and mine.

Finally, we clearly see our Lord’s power over death. I quickly pass over the Lord Jesus Christ’s conversations with Martha and Mary, each of them in their way questioning the Savior’s wisdom for not healing their brother and preserving his life. But those conversations were mostly private and not published to most in attendance, the Apostle John including them in his Gospel account written a half century later. After the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to Martha and declared to her that He is the resurrection and the life, Mary was summoned to Him, and the Jews in attendance followed her to Lazarus’ tomb thinking she was headed there to mourn. Little did they realize the Lord Jesus Christ would be there when they arrived. What a surprise it would be for them. Verse 34 informs us the two sisters showed the Lord Jesus Christ where their brother was buried. The crowd could not but acknowledge His obvious love for Lazarus, verse 36. Of course, some present questioned His motives and wondered why He had not arrived sooner to heal Lazarus, so he had not died verse 37. Standing before the tomb, the Lord directed the stone to be rolled away, verse 39, with Martha predictably protesting. Some people always take issue with something. He responded to Martha, prayed to the Father, and then 

“cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth,” 

verse 44. Think of it. Four days the man had been dead, as everyone present could attest. And they all saw the Lord Jesus Christ raise Lazarus from the dead by a simple command, showing one and all His power over death. What astonishing power the Lord Jesus Christ displayed over those several days about a month before His crucifixion, culminating in the raising of Lazarus from the dead just outside Bethany in front of so many witnesses, some of them no doubt hostile witnesses. 

Next, THE PLOTTING OF THE LEADERS TO PUT CHRIST TO DEATH 

Three observations in connection with John 11.45-57:

First, many witnesses react with belief. Notice those who gathered at Mary and Martha’s home to mourn the loss of Lazarus, who then followed Mary to Lazarus’ tomb only to find the Lord Jesus Christ there, where they saw the Lord’s profound love for Lazarus and his two sisters, before He amazingly and indisputably raised that dead man back to life. Verse 45: 

“Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” 

Although faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, God from time to time shatters the house of cards doubters erect to justify their unbelief. So it was in this case when deniers could deny no longer, as a man who stank from four days dead was with an astonishing display of power brought back to life. Therefore, they believed on Him.

But not all who were present that day to witness the event responded with faith. Consider the reaction of some who acknowledged the miracle, but without faith. Verse 46 shows that some who witnessed the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection went to tell Christ’s most strident adversaries: 

“But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.” 

Notice, next, what the Pharisees did with the report of Lazarus’ resurrection, verse 47: 

“Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.” 

Pharisees were for the most part antagonistic toward the priesthood, which they considered being compromising and ungodly. Nevertheless, they met with the chief priests in what was probably the Sanhedrin, all the while acknowledging the miracle-working power of Christ. No surprise, since even natural enemies will align to oppose the plan and purpose of God.

Third, the resulting conspiracy to commit murder. Verses 48-53: 

48    If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

49    And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,

50    Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

51    And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;

52    And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

53    Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. 

Three things led to the conspiracy to bring about the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ: First, they feared that multitudes would flock to Him unless prevented, provoking a hostile reaction from the Romans. They feared men because they did not fear God. Second, Caiaphas, the high priest, reasoned that one man should die for the entire nation, not realizing that his wicked reasoning would serve God’s intentions precisely. The wicked are so foolish to think by their schemes that they can defeat God. Third, from that day their hostile intentions toward the Lord Jesus Christ coalesced into a plot to put Him to death. Before moving on to the third main point, may I mention a glaring logical inconsistency on the part of those wicked men who plotted the Savior’s death? They acknowledged the raising of Lazarus from the dead, did they not? Think about it. They are planning the death of someone with the demonstrable power to overcome death. They are scheming to put to death the One who has power over death. So much for the spiritual blindness and irrationality of unbelievers. 

Finally, THE PIETY OF THE WOMAN NAMED MARY CONTRASTED WITH OTHERS 

Verse 55: “And the Jews’

“And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.” 

It suits John’s purpose to completely omit everything that took place between the raising up of Lazarus and Christ’s return to Lazarus’ home a month or so later. This Gospel account does not record the cleansing of the ten lepers, the parables on prayer about the persistent widow and the Pharisee and the publican, the Lord’s instruction about divorce, His irritation that the children were not suffered to come to Him, the encounter with the rich young ruler, another parable, and the episodes with blind Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus in Jericho. We are told that the Passover was near, but it has not yet arrived. The reason Jewish men came early to Jerusalem for Passover was that ceremonial cleansing sometimes took as long as a week. Therefore, those Jews living near Gentiles arrived early to purify themselves from various kinds of defilement. What is tragic is that people who were so meticulous about the externals of ceremonial purity and outward cleansings and washings would typically be so unconcerned about the defilement of their heart and soul that could not in any way be cleansed by rituals. 

Verse 56: “Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?”

“Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?” 

I suspect the reason John’s narrative is so indistinct at this point, not telling us if those who sought for the Lord Jesus were among His followers or His enemies, is because both His followers and His enemies would be curious about His actions at this point. Somewhere along the way the large crowd that was both following Him and making their way from Jericho to Jerusalem for the Passover lost sight of Him. Did they continue while He remained at Zacchaeus’ house? Did they walk alongside Him up the Wadi Qilt and then continue to Jerusalem when He tarried at Bethany in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha? It is likely that by this time everyone knew the Jewish leadership was determined to see the Lord dead, so everyone wondered if He would show Himself in Jerusalem for the Passover. Of course, His closest followers had been told by the Lord Himself of His impending death, if they had the ears to hear Him. 

Verse 57: “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he

“Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.” 

This verse confirms what everyone knew to be the case. Since wanted individuals were so frequently not recognized by officials before pictures were available, to capture a wanted man you had to put the word out that a reward was being offered for his arrest. Since those who ordered His arrest are described by John as “the chief priests and the Pharisees,” we would be safe to take this to be the Jewish Sanhedrin, that official group of religious leaders who spoke with the voice of authority on matters civil and religious. 

Verse 1:

“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.” 

This verifies the day the Lord Jesus left Jericho and arrived in Bethany, to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. How do we know the Lord Jesus traveled the distance from Jericho to Bethany in one day? Two reasons: First, the distance is only fifteen miles.[2] To be sure, it is a rugged fifteen miles, but that is still only a day’s walk. The other reason is that the most direct route, through the Wadi Qilt, was not a route where stopping to spend the night was an option. 

Verses 2-3: 2      There they made him a

2  There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

3  Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 

You remember Lazarus’ sister Mary as the devotional one, with Martha being the busy one who tended to fret about things. It seems that Mary’s focus was typically on the Lord Jesus, for which she should attract our special attention. Mary was the worshiper. Mary was the giver. Mary was the one who listened to her Lord’s words. Mary is the woman who grasped the significances of the events unfolding around her. Mary seized upon both the opportunity and the assets at her disposal to glorify her Master in the best way possible at the moment it was possible. She is a remarkable contrast to others mentioned in this narrative. 

Verses 4-5:

4  Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

5  Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 

It is not unusual for those contemplating the needs of a Gospel ministry to focus their attention, not on the glory to God and the exaltation of the Savior that will result, but to the social benefit of the gifts given. Such givers can rest assured in the knowledge that they would not be the first to either give only when social benefits accrue or hold back their gifts when no visible social benefits accrue as a result of their giving. Mary’s costly act of adoration and worship toward her Savior was a reflection of her devotion to Him and will be commented on by the Savior to show the value of her approach to giving by His evaluation. 

Verse 6: 

“This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” 

Here John exposes the underlying reality of Judas Iscariot’s spiritual corruption. It is clear that the motives of those who are outspoken for the poor are not always those who care anything about the poor. As an aside, I find it astonishing the predictability of the giving habits of those most likely to demand taxpayer money for the poor. Those who most insistently demand that your tax money is given to the poor without your permission, and contrary to your wishes are too often those who give to charities almost nothing themselves.[3] We see what kind of man Judas Iscariot was, publicly sounding very pious, while privately a completely different sort of character. 

Verse 7:

“Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” 

It seems our Lord Jesus is sticking up for Mary, does it not? Seems as though He approves of her decision to glorify and worship Him in this manner, rather than doing something that would garner public praise. He knows that she knows what is going to happen to Him. When not even His twelve apostles seemed to pay much attention to His actual words predicting His approaching death, we know this woman listened and learned. 

Verse 8:

“For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.”

Our Lord does not suggest that people should not give to the poor. Not at all. Methinks there are two things to take away from His comments in this verse. First, there will always be poor people. That is a simple statement of fact. What does that tell us, then, about the so-called War on Poverty?[4] It was doomed to failure from the start. Not that individuals should not be generous. However, when a government begins to steal from one portion of the population to give to another portion of the population, corruption will be the result, keeping the poor always poor by cultivating an entitlement approach to life. Also, there should be thoughtfulness involved in all giving and worship. Mary had a unique opportunity that she correctly seized upon, rather than adhering to a mindless and thoughtless approach to personal stewardship and piety. She was a woman we would do well to emulate. 

Verse 9: 

“Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.” 

It may also be that John wants us to see that sinful man’s desire is ever to see the spectacle, to be attracted to the carnival atmosphere, without being exclusively interested in the Lord Jesus. “Let’s go see the man raised from the dead, and oh yea, also the one who worked the miracle.” 

Verse 10:

“But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death.” 

Of course, Lazarus would have to die, as well. A living Lazarus was proof that Jesus Christ could raise the dead, so he had to die. Imagine the corruption of the Sanhedrin being so complete that they are determined to slay a man who has done nothing more than be on the receiving end of Lord Jesus Christ blessing him with the gift of life. Die he must for their plans to reach fruition. Lazarus, you see, does not fit the narrative. 

Verse 11:

“Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” 

Lazarus seems to have been a faithful witness of Jesus Christ, simply telling everyone who would listen what the Lord Jesus did for him and to him. Is this not the essence of personal evangelism, just telling folks in humble fashion what the Lord Jesus means to you, what He has done for you, what He has done to you, and what He is presently doing in your life? Go through the Gospels, and you will see that with the man born blind, with Lazarus, and with others, the essence of personal evangelism is just telling folks what Jesus Christ means to you, what He did for you, what He did to you, and how He is presently working in your life. Simple. 

Of those mentioned in our text, the most wonderful are the Lord Jesus Christ. The most worshipful have to be Mary. The most despicable are either Judas Iscariot or Caiaphas, but probably Judas because he was witness to so much of the Savior’s ministry, while Caiaphas spoke of matters he did not personally witness. Both men’s eternal damnation is assured.

Where are you in all this? Are you a Lazarus, someone to whom the Savior has given life where no life was before? Are you a worshipful Mary or a fretting and worrisome Martha? Are you a money-grubbing Judas Iscariot, or a scheming Caiaphas? Perhaps you are like one of the unnamed ones, which gathered only to be so impressed by the Savior that you became a believer. I certainly hope so. After all, someone who has conquered death can certainly address your issues, provide forgiveness for all your sins, and impart to you eternal life.

The smoldering resentment and opposition to Christ that began just after Lazarus was brought back to life continued to fester for a month and ended with Christ’s crucifixion, only to be thwarted by the One Who had power even over death. Amazing, is it not, that some are so foolish they think they can prevail over the Son of God, Who Himself has prevailed even over death?

But some who did not initially favor the Savior were nevertheless impressed by Him; their hearts softened as they witnessed His love for Lazarus and their faith then kindled by His power to raise up Lazarus. Perhaps that is you today. I hope so. I pray so. I urge you to trust my Savior, my miracle-working Savior, my loving Savior. Trust Him now.

__________

[1] John 11.4

[2] Shepard is cited in J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), page 370.

[3] https://downtrend.com/robertgehl/republicans-most-generous-people-in-the-world-democrats-not-so-much

[4] http://www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/commentary/the-war-poverty-50-years-failure

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org