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Do you know anyone who is prone to exaggerating facts? You know, someone who always follows your story with an even more amazing story, one that sounds very similar to your story, but everything is on a grander scale?
Or maybe you find yourself doing this? I know I’ve been guilty of telling a story or two in an inflated way. I suppose we’re all guilty of exaggerating things to some degree.
But exaggerators the world over must beware. For there are lurking among us people who are just waiting to call our bluff. People waiting to say, “Prove it.”
You’re not afraid to jump off the high dive? Prove it.
You can dunk a basketball? Prove it.
When Jesus walked this earth, he made some pretty astounding claims about himself. He claimed that he was the Son of God. That he had existed from eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That he had been made man in order to be the world’s Savior from sin and hell.
When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, one of the things Satan did was ask Jesus to “prove it.” If you’re the Son of God, make these stones into bread. Let’s see it right now. If you’re the Son of God, jump off the top of the Temple. God will send his angels to catch you right? Prove it.
Jesus wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t take Satan’s bait. Not because he wasn’t the Son of God. Not because he was exaggerating. Jesus told Satan “no” because he would prove his identity in his own way, and in his own time.
One of the ways that Jesus proved that he was from heaven, was through his teaching. As the eternal Son of God, he perceived and understood spiritual things like no one else. He knew the Word of God, because it was HIS Word.
When he taught crowds of people about spiritual topics, he often used things that the people could see, to educate them about things they couldn’t see. He told stories about farmers planting seeds to teach about faith, and how it grows. He told stories about fishing to teach about the kingdom of God and how people are gathered into it. He told stories about shepherds, to teach people about how God tends and cares for his people. Jesus used things the people had seen, to teach them about things they couldn’t see.
Jesus used his miracles in the same way. One day Jesus was teaching, and a huge crowd had gathered around the house where he was. All the sudden, the ceiling tiles overhead were removed, and a group of men lowered a paralyzed man down in front of Jesus.
Jesus could see that this man had come out of faith in him. He trusted that Jesus could make him walk again. So, the first thing Jesus said was, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2:5 NKJV).
But there were certain men in the crowd who took offense to this statement by Jesus. They thought, “Only GOD can forgive sins. This man is blaspheming.”
Jesus knew what they were thinking. So, he turned and said to them…
“…Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Mark 2:8-11 NKJV).
The paralyzed man immediately got up, picked up his mat, and went home. Jesus used the VISIBLE miracle of healing this man, to prove the INVISIBLE miracle of forgiving his sins before God.
Now, miracles can stand as PROOF of things, but miracles in themselves cannot create faith. Only the Holy Spirit can create faith, and he does so through the Word of God. Specifically through the message of sins forgiven through Jesus. So, the doubting men of the crowd, even though they saw the miracle, refused to believe. But others got the message, and trusted in Jesus as their Savior from sin.
In our sermon reading for today, Jesus once again uses what the people could SEE, to reveal things they COULDN’T see. Here Jesus uses the miracle of raising a man from the dead, so that sinners might believe that he is the resurrection and the life—the way to forgiveness, the way to peace, the way to eternal life with God.
John 11:1-7, 17-27, 38-45 (NKJV)
11 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. 19 And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.
Look at verses 4-7 once again. These verse show how Jesus deliberately set up for this miracle. It says…
“4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again” (John 11:4-7 NKJV).
Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew his friend Lazarus would die of this sickness. He deliberately stayed away so that nature would take its course, and Lazarus would die. Jesus did this BECAUSE he loved Martha and her sister Mary. He also did this because he loved all people, and wanted the people of the city of Bethany to have saving faith in him. The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead would show that Jesus was from God beyond a doubt. And with that door open, the Gospel of Jesus could be heard, and believed.
The apostle John records details for us that establish the definite nature of this miracle. When a stage magician wows the crowds, he depends on distraction to make the ordinary seem miraculous. Birds tucked into your sleeves and a bunny under your hat aren’t really that amazing. But a good stage magician makes the ordinary look magical.
Jesus was the opposite of a stage magician. There was no slight of hand here, no trick.
First of all, Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sickness had been well known, and that he was close to death was also well known. The situation was so desperate for Lazarus that they had sent someone to go and get Jesus to help.
But he had died. They and mourned and wept. They had prepared his body for burial. They had wrapped his lifeless corpse in scented linen, and covered his face one last time with a cloth. They had carried his lifeless corpse to the burial caves outside of town. They had sealed the tomb against scavenging animals.
The people who saw Lazarus come out of the tomb at Jesus’ command remembered all these things. They had witnessed a miracle on this day. The dead raised to life. There was no questioning their mind how this had happened. Jesus was who he said he was—the very Son of God. Only God could raise the dead like this.
And even Jesus’ enemies agreed. They admitted the validity of his miracles—but they did not put their faith in Jesus. Just a couple verses after our reading, the Pharisees find out what Jesus had done. So, they call a meeting to discuss this newest development. And at that meeting someone says…
“What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47-48 NKJV).
Instead of trusting in Jesus and becoming HIS followers, the scribes and Pharisees made the decision that they would silence this Galilean prophet by murdering him. John 12 informs us that many people were believing in Jesus because of Lazarus. And so the scribes and Pharisees also decided that Lazarus would need to die also.
That Jesus had performed this astounding miracle was fully admitted, but sadly, many refused the truth that it pointed to.
The key passage in this account is found in verse 25-26. There Jesus tells Lazarus’ sister Martha the following. He says…
“…I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b-26 NKJV).
Remember how I said that when Jesus walked this earth, he made some pretty astounding claims about himself? Well this is one of those claims. He says that there is a resurrection from the dead, and that HE is that resurrection. He says that there is LIFE beyond this one, and that HE is that life.
Jesus says, if you believe in him, don’t worry about death, because he has the power to raise you from the dead.
On the same day that Jesus made this claim, he proved it. He raised Lazarus from the dead. And Jesus did this visible miracle, so that people might believe the invisible one. Jesus talks about that one next. In verse 26 Jesus says that if you have faith in him, you’re spiritually alive, that is, you are united to God in a restored relationship. And no one will be able to take that away from you.
We can’t SEE this miracle. The miracle of full forgiveness before God, and restored unity with Him. But we can BELIEVE it.
The people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus couldn’t see their sins lifted. But they trusted in Jesus all the same. And by the grace of God, so do we.
Out in the wilderness so long ago, Satan told Jesus to “prove it.” Prove you are the Son of God. And in his teaching, Jesus did. In his miracles, Jesus did. At the tomb of his beloved friend Lazarus, Jesus did. And Jesus would prove that he is the Son of God and the Savior of the world in the grandest fashion with his own crucifixion, death, and resurrection. He predicted his suffering, death, and resurrection, and then he made it all happen.
What else does he really need to do to prove who he is?
Nothing for us. We believe. This is the God we worship. The loving God who became one of us to remove the stains of sin from our lives forever. This is the God we depend upon. The God who has proven again and again that he WILL NOT LEAVE US nor forsake us. This is the God that we now LIVE to serve.
He has proven his power to save, let us continue to trust in him.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.