Walking with Christ in Suffering
Topic: English Passage: John 11:1-16
John chapter 11 is significant for a couple of reasons. It is the true story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. But beyond that, in the gospel of John, it is the bridge between the first half of the book and the second half.
Our sermon haven’t been studying John for 3 months now, so I think it would be helpful for us to step back one more time and remind ourselves about the flow of John’s gospel.
The second half of the gospel is focused on the more private events of Jesus life, especially the week leading up to his death. The first half, however, primarily focuses on Jesus’ public ministry. And in writing the gospel, John, being moved by the Holy Spirit, decided that he was going to have a very specific focus in the book. He had a purpose in mind.
That purpose is stated for us very clearly in John chapter 20. Go ahead and skip over there with me one more time. John 20, verses 30 and 31. Here’s what it says: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
That’s a verse you should be very familiar with as we study this gospel. John’s purpose in writing this book is that his readers would believe that Jesus is the Christ—the Anointed One of God, God’s perfect representative upon the earth. And if you have that faith, you have eternal life in His name.
Now, in order to push us toward faith in Jesus, you’ll notice in verse 30, John points us to the signs that Jesus did. That’s John’s preferred word for Jesus’ miracles. They are signs that point us to the truth about Jesus. They have a significance. And if you notice, the first four letters of the word “significance” say “sign.”
Jesus’ miracles aren’t just acts of kindness. They are like signposts pointing us to the truth of who He is. He is the Christ. He has been sent from the Father to the earth to do His perfect will. And in connection with Jesus’ identity, John places Jesus’ signs next to Jesus’ speeches.
That’s basically the first half of John’s gospel. It’s signs and speeches, or works and words, or miracles and messages.
Going back now to the beginning of John’s gospel, you might remember that the first sign Jesus did came to us in chapter 2. You can go ahead and turn there if you like. Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and in a moment of crisis, when the wine runs out, He turns about 150 gallons of water into delicious wine for everyone.
And notice verse 11 of chapter 2. This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
Wine was equated with joy and triumph, and the provision of abundant wine was part of the new covenant. So I think John used this miracle to hint, not just at Jesus’ power, but at His identity as the one who will bring in God’s joyful kingdom. That’s the significance here.
In the second half of chapter 2, we get another sign. It’s the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple. And John uses that story to teach us that the true Temple, the true connecting point between God and man will no longer be a building. It will no longer be a place; it will be a person. Jesus is the New Temple.
And notice, once again the response. This is verse 22—When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Now, those accounts get followed up with the message of John chapter 3. It’s a discussion with Nicodemus about the new birth. Even the most religious Jew isn’t qualified for heaven unless he is born again, born from above. And we know he’s not born again because he doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Christ.
In chapter 4, we get a discussion with a Samaritan woman. And Jesus tells her about living water, and about true worship. And then He plainly tells her: “I am the Messiah. I am the Christ.” And the response is faith—in that woman and in many others from the same Samaritan village. They believed in Him because of His miracles and because of His message.
At the end of chapter 4, we read about Jesus healing an official’s son. At first, Jesus says to him, verse 48, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
And then Jesus goes on to heal his son simply by speaking. And verse 53 again, tells us the response. The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.
So again, Jesus’ signs are connected with faith, with belief. Sign number 1, turn water into wine. Sign number 2, cleanse the Temple. Sign number 3, heal the official’s son. Sign number 4 is the healing of a lame man. This comes in chapter 5.
This man was disabled for almost 40 years. And one Sabbath day, Jesus heals him. Why? What’s the significance? That’s what the rest of chapter 5 tells us. It points to Jesus authority as God. He is Lord of creation. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He is Lord. Period.
And Jesus tells the crowd, “The works I do bear witness that I have been sent by the Father. Believe in Me.” And some respond with faith, but many more respond with unbelief and hatred.
Well, in chapter 6, Jesus leaves Jerusalem and, when a large crowd gathers, He miraculously provides them with food. It’s 5,000 men plus women and children, and Jesus feeds them with just 5 bread rolls and 2 fish. But everyone gets to eat until they are stuffed.
Well, what’s the point of that sign? What’s the significance? Jesus tells them the following day, after He walks across the sea. He tells them: “I am the bread of life. Don’t seek the sustenance and the satisfaction that this world can offer. Seek after the sustenance and the satisfaction that only God can offer. And He offers it in Me.”
Well, that split the crowd almost immediately. Some believed. Some responded in faith, but most of them, and particularly the Jewish authorities only hated Him more.
Well, Jesus comes back to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, and despite the growing opposition, He continues teaching the people. “I am the light of the world. I am from above. My word is the truth, and the truth will set you free from your bondage to sin.”
The people think Jesus is crazy, but He responds by driving the truth even deeper. He says to them, “Before Abraham was, I am.” And for that, they try to stone Him.
Well, that brings us to chapter 9, which is the sixth sign in John’s gospel. This is the healing of a man born blind. Just like Jesus is the Light of the world, He brings light to this man’s physical eyes.
And so, Jesus uses that incident to highlight the difference between Himself and the Jewish leaders. Rather than turn up His nose to the disabled, like the Jewish authorities did, Jesus shows them compassion.
They are selfish. They are thieves. But Jesus, according to chapter 10, He is the Good Shepherd. He gives His life for His own. He is God in human flesh. He is the embodiment of God’s power and God’s compassion. He and the Father are one.
And for that statement, the Jews pick up stones one more time in an attempt to put Him to death. And we find out at the end of chapter 10 that Jesus leaves Jerusalem one more time. They reject Him, and so He leaves.
That’s the contrast between those who receive Jesus and believe in Him, and those who reject Him. You are either moving closer to Jesus or further from Him. And the closer you get to Jesus, the more intense the differences become the two groups. You either love Him more or hate Him more.
Well, now we come to the climactic sign in the first half of John’s gospel. This is sign number 7. And it far outweighs any other miracle that we’ve read about so far in John’s gospel.
Jesus isn’t going to heal a sick person. He’s going to raise a man from the dead. And He’s going to do it as a demonstration that He, as the Son of God, is the resurrection and the life.
Before we get to that miracle, though, we’re going to sit down this week and just look at verses 1-16. This is the time before Jesus and His disciples head back to Jerusalem.
What we get in these verses is an insight into the character of Jesus, how he thought about things, particularly how he thought about suffering. And for us today, it’s gonna help us respond to suffering, not just in the same way Jesus did, but to endure suffering alongside Jesus. If we truly understand who Jesus is, then our suffering will look different than the world’s.
Verses 1-16 basically have two sections: “Jesus knows” and then “Jesus delays.” Jesus knows and Jesus delays. Let’s start with the first section.
Verses 1-4 tell us about how the message of Lazarus’ sickness came to Jesus. Let’s look at it. Verse 1—Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
There are a couple different Bethanys in the gospel of John. The first one appeared in chapter 1, and it was a place on the other side of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was ministering. This is a different city.
This Bethany is only about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mount of Olives. If your Bible has maps in the back, it might not even be included there. But this Bethany would be along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
And we’re told that in that city, a man named Lazarus is sick. His name, by the way, means “he whom God helps,” which is obviously appropriate here. We don’t know what kind of sickness it is, but apparently it’s serious enough for his sisters to know that he is going to die.
Now, the sisters would have been fairly well-known to the original audience of John’s gospel. They would have heard about Mary and Martha. And verse 2 confirms that for us—It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.
If this is your first time reading through John, you might not know the story. The story of Mary and Jesus doesn’t come until chapter 12. But John’s original audience, it seems, would have known about it. So John wants them to make the connection. This is the brother of that Mary. This is a family that had a close connection to Jesus.
And we get to see that closeness in the message that the sisters send to Jesus. This is verse 3. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
It’s such a humble message, isn’t it? They’re not begging. They’re not even asking. They’re just trying to inform Jesus. And they’re reminding Him of His love for Lazarus. “He whom you love is sick, Jesus.”
Now, just to step back for a second, we have to recognize that Jesus didn’t need a message sent to Him to know that Lazarus was sick, right? Jesus is omniscient. He knows everything. He knows about Lazarus’ sickness. He knows the past. He knows the present. And He knows the future.
And in His omniscience, and in His desire to teach His people, Jesus responds. Verse 4. But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.”
What is Jesus talking about? What’s He saying to them?
On the surface, since we know the end of the story, we know how this will be applied in Lazarus’ case. Whatever this severe illness is, the story isn’t going to end with a dead Lazarus. How’s it going to end? It’s going to end with God being glorified through His Son.
What does that mean, though? What is glory? And what does it mean to glorify something?
The word “glory” is almost always used in a positive sense to talk about something’s nature, the way something is. We can talk about the glory of a athlete, or the glory of the sun, or the glory of God. That’s talking about His majesty, His beauty, His impressiveness.
But not everyone sees God’s glory, right? And even we don’t see it all the time or recognize it. Well, the solution to that is to have God be glorified.
We can’t make God or Jesus any more glorious than He actually is. Just like we can’t make the sun shine any more brightly. But what we can do, if you’re trapped in a cave, is pull you out of the darkness and out of the shadows, and let you see it for yourself. Do you understand the analogy?
I’ll give you one more. Let’s say you watch a movie about a famous athlete whom you didn’t know a lot about. What does the film do? It exposes you to who the person was. And if it portrays him/her in a good light, you are impressed by what you see. You know more about them and it impacts you. That documentary was glorifying the person. And so are you when you watch it or tell someone else about it.
Well, we need to realize that what God has done in and through all of creation is act in order to glorify Himself. God’s goodness and His greatness are being expressed through His attributes so that we can respond to them with praise and worship and awe. That’s why He made us. Everything in life is intended for God’s glory. So that He would be known. Everything exists for Him.
And the focal point of God’s glory is the man Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
If you want to know what God is truly like, you need to look at Jesus Christ. He is God in human flesh. You either believe that or you don’t. And becoming a Christian means that you recognize the glory of God in Jesus Christ. You don’t see that glory perfectly. But by faith, you embrace it as the purpose of the universe.
Just to say it another way, and to continue with the movie analogy, it’s as if God wrote and directed a film for His own glory. And He is the main character. And He has cast Himself in that role. Everything is supposed to point to Him. Everything is supposed to showcase who He is. That’s the ultimate purpose of life. Everything is for the glory of God.
And Lazarus’ sickness is going to play a role in showcasing God through Jesus Christ.
But here’s another question: How is Jesus’ response a comforting message? Why would Jesus say that to people who were about to lose someone they loved?
He’s not saying that He doesn’t care about Lazarus. What He’s saying is that His greatest concern is the glory of God.
Here’s how we can apply that to our own situations. Whenever you’re sick, or whenever you’re suffering from any kind of distress, whether that’s physical or financial or emotional or relational or whatever. Whatever your suffering is like, what is your preoccupation? What do you want?
Ordinarily, we want relief. We want to feel better. We want healing. We want something to be fixed.
That’s not inherently a sinful desire. And that’s not necessarily something that God opposes. It is not, however, supposed to be our greatest desire. Our greatest desire should be the glory of God.
If our concern for God’s glory is greater than our concern for personal comfort, then we are approaching suffering in the same way Jesus did. We are walking through suffering in the footsteps of Jesus, if His glory is our priority.
That’s how Jesus minister to those around Him during this time. He elevates their eyes to the glory of the Father.
If we’re honest, then we would all recognize that God’s glory many, many times is not our primary pursuit. And because of that, we confess. We ask for forgiveness. And we ask for God’s help to walk by faith.
Listen, what if you were offered a proposition. You could agree that for one day this week, you would get very sick. Fever, chills, digestive issues, the whole deal. But, in exchange for that, on the following day, you would feel 100% better, and you will receive an all-expenses paid vacation with whoever you want, wherever you want for two weeks. That’s the trade.
Would you make that deal? And if you did, do you think that would affect the way you go through your sickness? I think so. In your mind, it would be worth the pain. That’s because you value what’s on the other end.
Well, if you believe in Jesus Christ, it means that you recognize that eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. And knowing that He will be glorified and that you get to take part in that is an immeasurable joy, resulting from faith.
But many times, that joy gets obscured when we suffer. It fades away. It moves out of the front of our mind. And Jesus is reminding us this morning that His glory is worth the pain. And by faith, that’s what we need to remember.
This doesn’t mean we don’t do what we can to fix a situation. But it means that in all of it, even if relief doesn’t come, we know that it will work for God’s glory. Someway, somehow, even if we don’t see it, Christ will be glorified.
He may be glorified as our Healer, if that’s God’s will at this time. But He can also be glorified as our Sustainer and our Protector and our Provider, and ultimately as our eternal Savior. We and others will get a chance to know Jesus more intimately.
That’s the attitude the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 1:21—For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
He’s saying, all this is worth it because I will get to see Jesus more clearly. Later in Philippians 3:10 he expresses it like this: [I want to] know him and the power of his resurrection. [I want to] share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
Again, he’s saying: the pain is worth it, if it means I and others get to see Jesus more clearly. If God is glorified, then I will endure this.
It’s like Romans 8:18, which many of you know—For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Or verse 28—We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
And God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son. To help us see and express the glory of God.
That’s Christ’s encouragement for those who came to Him. “This will all work out for the better because I will be glorified.” Jesus knows that. He knows it.
Jesus identifies with our pain. And He promises us that our pain has a purpose. It is for the glory of God, which is why we exist.
Now, if we understand that, then the second half of today’s story won’t be so shocking. Remember, part 1 was “Jesus knows.” Part 2 is “Jesus delays.” Jesus delays.
Let’s continue the story in verses 5 and 6—Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John keeps underlining the fact that Jesus loves this family. He loves them. And so we can’t let what is happening to Lazarus cause us to doubt that. And we can’t let anything that happens to us in this life make us doubt Christ’s love for us either. That needs to be fixed in our minds.
I don’t get it. I don’t have the big picture. I don’t know why this is happening. But I know that Jesus loves me. God gave His Son for me. He loves me.
That’s why Paul could say, again in Romans 8: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.
Cling to that. Cling to that. Jesus loves His own.
Instead of seeing Jesus rush to Lazarus’ side to heal him, the disciples just see Jesus wait. He stays two more days. And in verse 6, that word “so” links Jesus’ love with Jesus’ delay.
He waited because He loved them. What? He waited because He loved them? The greatest expression of love is to know Christ more. And by waiting, Jesus is going to increase and strengthen their faith in who He really is.
If Jesus would have healed Lazarus while He was sick, the sisters would have been grateful, but it also would have been something they expected. No, Jesus loves them too much to give them something they expected. He's going to give them something new. Something that will confirm His identity to them and His love for them and their faith in Him. So, He waits.
As one commentator put it: “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Things might get worse, but don’t interpret that to mean God has turned His back on you. Sometimes, God waits. He delays. That’s what Jesus does in this instance.
And during that time, maybe even before the messengers made it back to Bethany, Lazarus dies.
Verse 7—Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
Remember, Jesus is operating on a divine timetable. And now it’s time to go back toward Jerusalem. Well, with that suggestion, the disciples speak up. Verse 8—The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”
They don’t want to go. They’re scared. Last time He was there they tried to stone Him. That kind of hatred doesn’t just disappear. Jesus, what are you thinking?
Verse 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. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
This is not an easy statement to immediately understand. What is Jesus saying?
Well, first there’s that rhetorical question about 12 hours in a day. In that culture, daylight always lasted 12 hours. You might get more or less daylight total, but there were always twelve hours of it. That was their custom. The length of an hour would fluctuate. But the number was fixed. There were always 12 hours of daylight. Everybody knew that.
And so, part of what Jesus is communicating to His disciples is that just like the number of hours in a day is fixed, so is the amount of time we have to minister. God’s timetable is fixed. And worrying about an untimely death isn’t going to add or subtract any hours from the time God has ordained for any of us.
Do you get that idea? Jesus is saying: “Look the days of your life are already numbered. Nobody dies late. And nobody dies early. You will not die one minute earlier than what God has ordained for you. He’s watching over you.”
So there’s an element of protection in the message. But there’s also an element of urgency. Protection and urgency. Time is fixed, but it’s also limited. There are only twelve hours in the day.
Daylight runs out, right? Every worker of that day knew it. Time is limited. And the specific time Jesus is talking about here is time with Him. Because He is the Light of the world.
They are not going to be able to walk with Jesus forever. He is going to die and then resurrect, and then return to heaven. And right now, Jesus is calling them to go with Him back to Judea.
“You can walk with Me,” says Jesus, “or you can walk in the darkness.” And walking in the darkness, Jesus says, leads a man to stumble.
Physically, we know that walking around in the dark can be dangerous. Ask any parent with little kids with toys all over the house. That’s dangerous.
But spiritually now, stumbling has the idea of sinning, which is a spiritual danger, right? We are told in the Bible not to cause others to stumble, to endanger themselves by sinning.
So, I think the urgency in Jesus’ response comes by telling His disciples: “Look, you think it’s dangerous to go back toward Jerusalem. But I’ll tell you what’s even more dangerous: refusing to walk in the light, refusing to walk in obedience to Me.” Do you get that message?
Eternally more hazardous than walking into a dangerous situation, is failing to walk in the light of Jesus Christ.
Those people who reject Jesus, no matter how pleasant their life looks, will stumble because they walk in darkness. The light is not in them.
That’s an amazingly practical truth for us in times of suffering. Because the temptation is to abandon Christ’s law or Christ’s commands if it will relieve our suffering a little bit.
So, if you’re single, and you feel the pain of singleness, and you long for a certain kind of intimacy with another person, you might walk away from Christ’s commands for purity, in exchange for some relief.
Or if you’re finances are dwindling, and you’re not sure if you’ll be able to make it, you might be tempted to cheat a little at work to make some extra money. Just so you can protect yourself. Just to get yourself out of danger. But what you really did was place yourself in greater danger. Because you stopped walking in the light.
And if that happens, Jesus call us to repent. And to come back to Him. And He’ll receive us in His grace.
But no matter how frightening things might seem, we need to continue walking with Christ. There is not greater danger than failing to walk in the light of Christ. That sets us on the road to eternal death. And that’s not what Christ wants. So he graciously warns us.
And then, continuing to press His disciples that it’s time to go, Jesus goes on. Verse 11—After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”
One more time, they’re saying: “Lord, we don’t want to go! Lazarus needs his rest.”
Verse 13—Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.
Jesus was using sleep as a metaphor for death. That’s common in the Scripture. The soul doesn’t sleep. It goes to be with God. but the body stays here, sleeping as it were.
Verse 14—Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
This is so gracious of Jesus. His disciples don’t get. He wants them to exercise faith, but they’re so scared. And in His grace and in His patience and compassion, He just comes right out and tells them. “I’m going to do something that is going to amaze you. We’re going to leave, and what you’re about to see, will lead to a new faith.”
They already believe in Jesus. But there’s always more to know about Jesus. “You’re going to believe new things. Your faith is going to be stretched and grown and strengthened. Let’s go to Judea. Step out in faith, and step out for faith.”
And in verse 16, John records for us the response of one disciple. Thomas is his Hebrew name. Didymus is his Greek name. Both of them mean “twin.”
Thomas look around at the other disciples, and he says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas isn’t much of an optimist. And he normally isn’t much of a leader. His expectation is that all of them would die along with Jesus. But his faith is greater than his fears. His devotion is greater than his dread. And he helps convince the disciples to walk in the Light. To walk in obedience to Jesus, even if it would mean dying.
Thomas was living out what Jesus demands from all who would follow Him. He was willing to deny himself, possible even deny his unbelieving twin brother, and take up his cross, and follow Jesus.
May God grant us all at least this kind of faith, when hard times come.
We’ll continue the story next week.