The Lord’s Control (John 11:1-16)

By Andrew E. Courtis

John chapter 11 is a climactic chapter in the Gospel of John. It not only contains the seventh of the seven miraculous signs, but the miracle is the most impressive. In this chapter, after being in the tomb for four days, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. What makes this so amazing is that we see our worst enemy and greatest hope come together in one narrative – death and resurrection.

Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Losing a loved one is a horrible tragedy. The excruciating experience of loss will result in grief, which is that normal process in which an individual displays sorrow and anguish as a result of loss. It is a painful experience that tears someone apart emotionally. Death is something that touches us all, be it through the loss of a loved one or one day our own death.

Death is in Existence
Death came into existence as the result of the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The punishment of this sin was death (cf. Rom. 5:12, 6:23). Because of sin, death is in existence and is a normal part of life (cf. Heb. 9:27).

Death is an Enemy
Though death exists and is a normal part of life, death is a not a natural part of life. Death is the consequence of sin. Death is an ugly and horrible experience. The apostle Paul wrote, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). It is an enemy and it really provides us a picture of how despicable sin is.

Death is an Entrance
Despite the terror that death is, for the Christian, death is also an entrance to glory. How does a believer go from life here to life in Heaven? With the exception of Enoch, Elijah and those alive at the time of the Lord’s return, death is the entrance to glory.

So in this chapter, Jesus is going to talk about death. But in the midst of such a dark and depressing occasion, He shines the blazing light of hope on the situation. Jesus provides His people with their greatest hope, and that is the promise of resurrection. Before we work our way through this narrative, it is important to note that the Lord Jesus Christ was not insensitive to those who were grieving. Interestingly, our Lord demonstrated amazing care in different ways to those who were grieving or affected by this tragedy. He taught His disciples that He is in Control, He showed Mary and Martha who were grieving that He is Caring, and He showed all looking on that He is Commanding over death.

Sermon Summary: In this message we will observe the first of the three actions that Jesus demonstrated at a time of grief and sadness - His Control.

In these opening verses we are introduced to the scenario. Here Jesus shows His disciples that in the midst of this sad occasion He is in control. This truth of His control has two purposes – His glory and their growth.

THE LORD'S CONTROL IS FOR HIS GLORY

The first thing that we learn from this passage was that regardless of what was going on, Jesus remained in control of the situation. The narrative begins, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha” (11:1). John adds that this was the same “Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair” (11:2). Now we won’t learn about that story until chapter 12, but John mentions it here because John was written after the synoptic Gospels (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9) and his readers would have already heard the story.

These two sisters sent a message to Jesus informing Him, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (11:3). This reveals that this family was close to Jesus and it also grants us insight into His care, something that will be developed in 11:17-37. Jesus calmly responds to this news, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). That is not a cold and callous statement to the sad news. Rather, this is an indication that despite the sad circumstances (which are about to get worse), the Lord Jesus is in complete control of the situation. This is an important truth for us to take hold of. The Bible tells us concerning the Lord, “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isaiah 14:24).

This is the first truth we learn about our Lord’s sovereign control; it is ultimately for His glory. The illness of Lazarus is going to be an occasion in which God will be glorified. So as to prove that Jesus was not being cold and calloused in His response, John adds, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (11:5). You need to understand the significance of that statement. If you are a believer, your Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ loves you with an eternal love! No matter what happens in your life, He knows you and He loves you. Paul asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35). He answers this by saying,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39)

Mary and Martha are about to experience the sorrow of death as Lazarus’ illness worsens. But this text reminds us that no matter what happens, our Lord Jesus Christ knows the situation and loves us.

THE LORD'S CONTROL IS FOR HIS DISCIPLES GROWTH

Now notice again the control Jesus has over the whole situation. After receiving the news of Lazarus’ illness we read, “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (11:6). It is likely that Lazarus has actually died at this point. Instead of rushing to Bethany, Jesus demonstrates His complete control of the situation. After two days Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go to Judea again” (11:7). Remember, at the end of chapter 10 Jesus had just escaped another stoning while in Judea last, and the disciples reminded Him of this (11:8). In response to their hesitation Jesus says,

“Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (11:9-10).

Now Jesus reminds them that He is operating according to the Divine timetable and nothing will get in the way of what He is going to accomplish. The night of His ministry is fast approaching (crucifixion), but until then it is still day (opportunity). John adds,

11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Notice that these verses tell us that Jesus was fully aware of the status of Lazarus even though He was not there. He had no live updates, no phone calls, no status updates, He just employed His omniscience. This amazing truth again affirms that He is in complete control. After He let them know that Lazarus was sleeping (which was a way of saying he had died), the disciples were excited. No doubt they would be happy for Lazarus, but this meant they would not have to go through Judea. Jesus then tells them plainly “Lazarus has died” (11:14).

This statement of Thomas is very interesting. He says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Firstly, it is not very optimistic. He knows that Jesus was almost killed on the last few occasions while in Judea, so he is resolved that it is going to happen to them too on this occasion. Secondly, it shows amazing courage. Knowing that they are going to go into Judea he has counted the cost and is prepared to die.