Sickness for the Glory of God – John 11:1-16

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 7, 2017

Sickness for the Glory of God
John 11:1-16

Introduction – Reasons for Sickness

Why do people get sick? That is one of the great questions of mankind, and something everyone has questioned God about on occasion. “Lord, why did you let me get sick?” Perhaps it may continue in a pursuit of wanting to know His will. “Lord, what value can this sickness have? How do you want me to respond?” More often it takes a line of reasons why He should make you well quickly. “Couldn’t I do a lot more for You if I were healthy?” “God, You could demonstrate Your power and mercy if You would heal me right now!” “Lord, You would even demonstrate more of Your power and mercy if You never let me get sick again, especially if You let me remain healthy when all the sinners around me at work get sick.” So it is that we will seek for what we think is our own best interest and reason that it must be in God’s best interest too.

None of us like getting sick, unless of course it is just sick enough to have a legitimate excuse to avoid something you do not like such as a particular meeting or taking a test, but not so sick you are miserable. We all understand that sickness and disease are our enemies. That is why we work hard to avoid getting sick and work even harder trying to recover if we do get sick. Expenditures on maintaining health and getting cured if you do get sick take up a large portion of the budgets of most people.

Sickness, disease and death are enemies that came with Adam’s fall into sin. The first animals died when they became the clothes that covered Adam and Eve’s shame. As a result of the fall into sin, God cursed the serpent, Eve, Adam and the Earth. We live on an Earth polluted with sin that has affected everything. The world of tooth and claw, of predators, parasites and prey came into being. A lot of diseases are caused by micro-organisms that invade our bodies and attack our cells.

The environment also changed from the wonderful garden of Eden to a land cursed with weeds and where man must live by the sweat of his face. In addition, we live after the flood of Noah’s time and the soils themselves have been mixed, stirred and leached. Some soils lack enough minerals for growing plants that will supply us with what we need while other soils are too high in some elements and are toxic for us. Our bodies become unhealthy because we lack for one nutrient while we have reached harmful levels of another. Man himself pollutes the environment with wastes and chemicals that harm his body. Then there is genetic decline resulting in congenital diseases. Our bodies do not work properly because they lack the proper genetic information to do so. Some of these are minor and some are severe.

Some diseases and sicknesses are caused by our own sin. When we expose our bodies to the wrong things, they can be overwhelmed. This can be seen in nausea and headaches caused by fumes from solvents. You suffer if you eat something that is poisonous, or something to which you are either intolerant or allergic. Consuming too much also causes problems. Most of us have seen the results of alcohol or drugs abuse when a person’s body starts breaking down from those chemicals. Gluttony leads to all sorts of health problems.

Some diseases are caused by the sin of other people. Some of the genetic diseases are caused because the parents did not take proper care of themselves resulting in a child born with birth defects. There are the diseases spread by other people, like the cook whose careless preparation gives his guests food poisoning, or the wife who receives a STD because of her husband’s unmentioned adultery.

There are also diseases that are simply a result of living in a sin fallen world. Lyme disease and West Nile Fever would be examples of those. You do not get them as a result of some particular sin you did or someone else did. You get them because they are in our environment and you are subject to being bitten by a tick or mosquito. The world does not work according to God’s original design. That is why in Romans 8:21-22 we find that creation itself is longing to be free from its current corruption and being remade.

As I have explained in the past, the common view among the Jews of that day was that any physical disease or handicap was caused by sin, usually that of the afflicted individual. In case of the man born blind described in John 9, the question on the disciples’ minds was how could the individual sin while in the womb? Was it then, therefore, the sin of his parents? Jesus took that opportunity to answer their theological dilemma by correcting their false premise. Jesus answered, “[It was] neither [that] this man sinned, nor his parents; but [it was] in order that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:3). (See: Receiving Sight & Exposing Blindness)

This morning we are going to see an expansion of this idea as we see God’s working in the case of Lazarus. God does not work according to our own ideas of good, bad, right and wrong. God knows what He is doing and is powerful enough to use things like disease, regardless of whether the cause is the individual’s sin, someone’s sin or just the results of sin in our fallen world, to bring glory to Himself. We must always keep in mind that God has made us for His purposes and not we Him for our purposes.

The Situation – John 11:1-3

Turn to John 11:1. The exact timing of this passage is uncertain, but it is not hard to figure out the general timing. John 10 concludes with the Feast of Dedication, which occurs in December, and Jesus traveling to Bethany beyond the Jordan to the place where John had first been baptizing (John 1:28; 9:22,40). John 11 begins with Jesus in an undisclosed location from which He travels to Bethany where Lazarus and his sisters live, and then closes with Jesus in the city of Ephraim, which is on the southern border of Samaria, a short time before Passover. This indicates the timing of these events is probably March. It is soon enough after the threats made at the Feast of Dedication that there is still great concern that the Jews were still seeking to murder Jesus. It is generally thought that at the beginning of John 11 Jesus was somewhere in Perea or possibly Galilee if that is indicated by Luke 13.

1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

Lazarus, Martha and Mary are siblings who are all good friends of Jesus. They had hosted Him on previous occasions (Luke 10:38f). John makes sure the readers understand exactly whom he was talking about for Lazarus (short for Eleazar) and Mary were common names. This is specifically the Lazarus of Bethany and his sisters including that particular Mary that anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair (John 12:3).

We do not know what sickness Lazarus had, but it was serious enough for his sisters to send a messenger to let Jesus know about it. Bethany beyond the Jordan is more than 20 miles from Bethany of Judea, and Galilee is more than twice that distance, so it would have been more than a day for a messenger to get there. The sisters do not demand anything of Jesus, but simply let Him know that Lazarus, “whom you love is sick.” They rest completely in the knowledge that Jesus will do what is right because of His love for them. The particular love mentioned here (filevw / phile ) is the love of close friendship.

Perhaps this is the first lesson for us in this chapter. For most of us, if someone we love is sick, our tendency is to complain and demand. Often that tendency is even stronger if we are the one sick. They simply informed Jesus.

The Example of the Sisters – John 11:3

The example of these two women is a good one to follow if we truly desire to come to God properly with the requests that are on our hearts. First, they acknowledged whom they were sending the message to, “Lord.” Some would want to reduce this to the equivalent of “sir” since the word lord here (kuvrioV / kurios) can be used in that sense, but I have a hard time believing that is what they meant. They are good friends with Jesus and call His attention to the love of that friendship. That would indicate a more likely informality, not formality. But more important than that, Mary and Martha are followers of Jesus that believe that He is the Messiah. The term “Lord” here would be in acknowledgment of that. Jesus is the promised anointed one, God in human flesh, who is fully capable of healing Lazarus instantly. They are appealing to the one they acknowledge has control over everything including Lazarus’ sickness.

That is the best place to start when making an appeal to God. Recognize first and foremost to whom you are bringing your request and His capability in dealing with whatever problem you may be facing. God does not exist for our pleasure. He is the Creator who brought us into existence for His own purposes. Therefore, we ought to approach Him with a proper reverence toward Him and submission to Him. Mary and Martha indicate this by addressing Jesus as Lord.

Mary and Martha also recognize Jesus’ love for them and they make their appeal based on that love. This is another example for us to follow. They have a confidence that they can trust Jesus. They do not tell Him what to do or how to do it. They simply let Him know the situation with a a full expectation that Jesus will respond to the information they sent and act in accordance to His love for them. “The one whom you love is sick.” We can come to God the same way.

Do we know that God loves us? Yes. He has declared it over and over in the Scriptures. It is declared again in Romans 5:8 while pointing to the act that proves that love. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for us in proven in Jesus Christ, and so we can come to Him confident of that love. People are fickle and change, but God never changes. God has the same love for us now that He had when Jesus Christ bore our sins on Calvary. We do not need to nor should we tell Him what to do and how to do it. We need only let Him know of our need. He will care for us.

Initial Hope – John 11:4

Jesus initial response and the message that would have gone back by the messenger to Martha & Mary is recorded in verse 4, But when Jesus heard it, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Jesus is fully aware of what the future will hold and why things happen as they do. We are not aware. He knew that Lazarus was going to die and then He would raise Him from the dead and through that the Father and the Son would be glorified. Jesus’ meaning here then is that Lazarus would not stay dead.

However, what Jesus said would more than likely initially be received by Martha and Mary as an indication that Lazarus would not die at all. When Lazarus does die, they have to rethink through what Jesus said. The last two phrases indicate that Jesus was looking to what was going to happen in the future and not the immediate present. It was not a statement that Lazarus would not die, but rather that death would not conquer him, for God intended to be glorified through it in some way. If we jump ahead to Martha’s statements in verse 24, we can see that Martha understood this in terms of the resurrection that will occur on the last day as spoken of in Daniel 12:2 which is a resurrection of the righteous to everlasting life and of the wicked to everlasting contempt. Martha would not have guessed what Jesus was going to do.

Jesus’ Love – John 11:5

Verse 5 & 6 tell us more about Jesus’ relationship with Martha, Mary & Lazarus and His response to their message. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

John uses a different word for love here (ajgapaw /agapao), and thus comments that Jesus’ love for them was more than that of just friendship (filevw / phileo) that Martha and Mary had mentioned. Jesus had much more than just fond feelings of affection. He had the committed love that will sacrifice itself for the best interest of those so loved. That is the same love that He has for us. Often we may not feel that He loves us so much because our tendency is to judge love by our own standards and expectations, yet the truth is still the same. We do not always understand what God is doing or why, much like a child does not understand the love and actions of parents, but for us, Jesus’ death on the cross proves His love for us for all time and eternity. Jesus does not need do anything else to prove His love, yet His mercy, grace, and goodness continue as active examples of His love.

Jesus’ Delay – John 11:6

The delay described in verse 6 is not understandable at first glance. 6 When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days [longer] in the place where He was. If Jesus loved them so much, why didn’t He go to them right away and heal Lazarus? Or since Jesus can heal from a distance as demonstrated early in His ministry with the Galilean official’s son in John 4:46-54, why not just command Lazarus to be healed from where He was then? Yet what this verse states without explanation is that Jesus stayed where He was at for two days longer. We don’t like it, but we often find ourselves having to wait wondering what God will do and when He will do it. But God acts in His timing, not ours, for His own purposes.

Returning to Judea – John 11:7-10

7 Then after this He ^said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples ^said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “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. 10 “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

Now before I make comment on these verses, notice very clearly that Jesus purposely waited for two days until Lazarus was dead before He starts on the journey to Bethany. He knew Lazarus was dead because of His omniscience, not because a messenger came to tell Him. From the immediate human standpoint this seems almost cruel. Martha and Mary will both comment to Jesus when He does arrive, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” What do you think their initial response might have been if they knew that Jesus had purposely waited the two days until Lazarus had died? What would your response have been? What has been your response when you have not understood what God was doing and tragedies have overtaken you that do not make sense and you know could have been avoided? Has God lost control? Was He indifferent to you? Has He left you alone? Is He Cruel? The answer is No, No, No, and NO!

God does not act in accordance with our desires, but according to His own will for His own purposes. His will and His purposes are never cruel, though at times they may seem that way to us because of our very narrow perspective and limited knowledge.

Jesus waits two days after receiving the message from Martha and Mary, and then calls on His disciples to go back with Him to Judea (vs. 7). The disciples question the wisdom of this in view of the fact that it was not long ago that the Jews there had tried to stone Him, and as far as they knew, they would try again (vs. 8). They question Jesus’ plan to go back there so soon in view of the danger.

Jesus’ comments in verses 9 & 10 are figures of speech used to illustrate a beautiful and comforting spiritual truth. Jesus takes the journey they are about to make in walking to Bethany to illustrate a truth. Jesus has used this figure of speech before in John 9:4, so the disciples understood it. The light of day refers to the length of life. We walk and work while we have life. When death comes there is no more light in the life and the work ceases. Jesus was going back to Judea where people were seeking to kill Him, but Jesus’ work would not be over until the full length of day (length of life) the Father had determined for Him would end, and this was not that time. Jesus is not fearful of the danger in Judea. The disciples need not worry.

That is a confidence that you can also have, even though you do not have the knowledge like Jesus did of the length of your life. The confidence is not in having that knowledge yourself, it is in God who determines it. From our perspective, we say those who die before they are old die early, but the truth is that they died right on time even when the cause of death is tragic. God appoints our death (Hebrews 9:27). Job said that God determines the number of months and limits the length of life (Job 14:5). I can therefore be confident that I will not die until then. I will finish the course God has set for me (2 Tim. 4:7).

A Purpose in Lazarus’ Death – John 11:11-15

11 This He said, and after that He ^said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples therefore 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 was speaking of literal sleep. 14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him. “

Jesus was now more direct with the disciples about the reason for His return to Judea, but the disciples did not understand the euphemism of sleep that He used for Lazarus’ death (vs. 11). The scriptures often uses the euphemism of sleep to represent death (Dan. 12:2; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 18:15; 1 Thess. 4:14, etc.). We still do that today along with using many other euphemisms.

However, the Bible does not teach the idea of “soul sleep” as is believed in some churches. The soul does not remain in a state of unawareness until the resurrection. Paul is clear that for the believer, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-24). A dead body may appear to be like someone asleep, but the body is just a hollow shell for the soul has already departed. The corpse no longer has any awareness and will decay to be eventually resurrected, but the soul remains alive and aware.

Now if the disciples had thought about it a minute, they would have realized what Jesus was saying, but they, like we, often jump to conclusions without listening closely and thinking through what has been said. It was a two-day journey to Bethany and if Lazarus was really going to be sleeping that whole time until Jesus arrived to wake Him, then that sleep was not an indication of his impending recovery. People do not sleep for two days unless they are in a coma.

Jesus is even more direct with them in verse 14 telling them plainly that Lazarus was dead, but He adds 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Jesus is starting to explain to the disciples why He did not go earlier and the purpose for Lazarus’ death. It was for “the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (vs. 4). Jesus wanted them to believe.

What did He want them to believe? That He is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). They had seen Jesus do many miracles including raising people from the dead before (Luke 7:14-15), but this miracle would both be dramatic and involve someone they knew. By the time of their arrival, Lazarus would have been dead four days and his body would have begun to stink from the decay. In the earlier resurrections that Jesus had performed, the individuals had been dead only a very short time, so it could be claimed that the person was just asleep or in a coma and just been awaked by Jesus. In the case of Lazarus, that would not be possible. Their noses would confirm the reality that Lazarus had died. Raising Lazarus from the dead would be for the glory of God and the Son and the benefit of the disciples and others who would be encouraged in their belief in Jesus.

Thomas’ Pessimism – John 11:16

Yet, even after being so direct, the disciples did not really understand what was going to happen. Verse 16 adds, Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to [his] fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

John again makes it clear exactly who is being referenced. This is the Thomas who is called Didymus, which is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic, “Thomas.” Both mean “twin” in their respective languages. Thomas is the disciple who is both devoted and despondent. He is completely committed to the Lord. His first thoughts are not of Lazarus or himself, but of the danger the Lord would face in Judea. In his devotion to Jesus he proclaims his readiness to die with Him, but in saying that he also shows his despondence. He is the pessimist.

Sometime we are like that too. We can only see the dark side and expect the worse to happen. Even though we have the benefit of the completed New Testament and know better than even the disciples the loving character and power of Jesus Christ, if we are not careful, we can become gloomy and despondent. That can be especially true when there is sickness, tragedy or death, but we do not yet know what purpose God has in it. We are instead living in the midst of the hurt, pain and grief. For us, Lazarus is still dead and Jesus has not yet arrived to raise him from the dead. Those can be tough times, but that is when faith is most needed, even if it is like that of Thomas.

Thomas did not understand what was going to happen, in fact he expected worse things to occur including the death of Jesus, himself and the other disciples, yet he never wavered in his trust of Jesus. His faith in Jesus was unshakeable.

An Unshakeable Faith

How can you have such an unshakeable faith? By going back to what you do know to be true even when everything else seems confusing. Personally, I like going to Romans 5 to remind myself of basic truths when I do not understand what God is doing.

What Paul says may seem extreme, but once you get to the foundation of his argument, you understand it is reasonable.

1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5).

When all else is confusing and I don’t understand what God is doing, I can come back to this one basic truth. Jesus Christ loves me and He proved it on the cross. I am saved from God’s wrath and have been reconciled to Him through Jesus. I will always have hope, which is the basis of persevering through trials and develop a proven character, because I will always have His love. Because of Jesus’ love, I can exult even in tribulations and sickness and thus God is glorified.

Sermon Notes – 1/7/2018
Sickness for the Glory of God: John 11:1-16


Sickness often causes people to _____________ God

Sickness, disease and death are ______________ that came with Adam’s fall into sin

Sickness comes from our own sin, the sin of others and living in sin __________ world

The Jews of that time believe sickness as ____________ for the individual’s sin

God does not work according to our ideas and is powerful to work _____________ for His purposes

The Situation – John 11:1-3

This event probably occurs in ______________ when Jesus was either in Perea or Galilee

Lazarus, Martha and Mary are siblings who live in _____________ and who are all good friends of Jesus

Lazarus’ unknown sickness is ____________so his sisters sent word to Jesus because He loved (phileo) him

The Example of the Sisters – John 11:3

They address Jesus as “Lord” because they believe He is the promised ___________who can work miracles

When petitioning God, recognize who He is and approach Him with proper _____________and submission

Because they know Jesus _________Lazarus, they are confident He will act in accordance with that love

God has proven His love for us (Romans 5:8), so we can trust Him to ___________ for us

Initial Hope – John 11:4

Jesus is aware of all that would happen in the __________, but we are not

Lazarus and his sisters would have initially taken Jesus statement as indicating he would ___________at all

Jesus’ Love – John 11:5

Jesus’ _______is more than fond feelings of affection (phile ), it is sacrificial for their best interest (agapa )

You may not understand or like what God is doing, but His love is ________________and proven in Christ

Jesus’ Delay – John 11:6

People often question God because they ___________they know better than Him what should be done

We may wonder at what God is doing, but we must patiently ________for Him to do things in His timing

Returning to Judea – John 11:7-10

Jesus is _______________and purposely waited until Lazarus was dead before going to Bethany

God acts according to His own will and purposes which confuses us because of our ___________knowledge

The disciples question going back to a place where the Jews were seeking to __________ Jesus

Verses 9-10 are figures of speech referring to work accomplished during the length of __________

You can also be confident that God __________the length of your life to finish the course He has set for you

A Purpose in Lazarus’ Death – John 11:11-15

Jesus had to be direct and explain His _______________that Lazarus was asleep meant he was dead

The Bible does not teach “soul sleep” for soul remains alive and _________after physical death

Jesus purposely waited until Lazarus was dead so that God might be _________by what He was going to do

Jesus wanted them to believe in Him, and there could be no question Lazarus was _____when He raised him

Thomas’ Pessimism – John 11:16

Thomas = Didymus = ___________

Thomas is completely devoted to Jesus, but he is also _____________

Faith must push us forward to trust God even when we are ______________ over our circumstances

An Unshakeable Faith – Romans 5:1-10

Faith remains unshakeable even when everything is confusing by knowing and holding to the _________

God’s love proved in Jesus Christ is a foundational truth that provides persevering ____in all circumstances

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “sickness” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents why people get sick and how you can trust God when you are sick.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Was sickness part of God’s original design? What are the three reasons people get sick? What attitude toward God do you have when you are sick? What did Jesus say was the reason the man was born blind in John 9? Where is Jesus in John 10:1? What was Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus & his sisters? Where did they live? What message did his sisters send to Jesus when Lazarus became sick? What can you learn from their example about how you should pray to God? Why do people (you?) blame God for sickness? Why did Jesus wait for two days after hearing Lazarus was sick? Was this cruel? How would you have felt if you were Lazarus’ sister? What kind of love did Jesus have for Lazarus & his sisters? Was His delay in coming in keeping with that love? What message of hope did Jesus send to the sisters? What was the disciples’ concern about Jesus returning to Judea? How did Jesus finally tell them Lazarus was dead? What about this made Jesus glad? How is God’s perspective different from yours? How can you know that God will always love you? Can you glorify God even when you or someone you love is sick?

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