We come now to the beginning of the finale. The "stone" had to be "taken away" before the miracle could be performed on Lazarus. This, again, has multiple truths attached to it.
In order for Jesus to look upon Lazarus, obviously the stone covering the cave had to be removed. And Martha, in characteristic, double-minded fashion, reminds Jesus that her brother had been dead for "four days"; long enough for Lazarus' body to have decayed sufficiently to "stink". In other words, Martha's humanness prevented her from believing that even Jesus could do anything about Lazarus' condition at this late date. Let's face it, four days of death is devastating to the human body.
In our day, typically, the deceased are kept from burying no more than three days. Have you ever looked intently, at close range, on a person after he has been dead for even a little while? Well, I have. Many years ago, when I was attending the University of California, I also worked as an orderly at a local hospital. And part of my duties was to prepare and transfer dead bodies from hospital beds to a "cold storage" room. The whole procedure took quite a while to perform and, let me tell you, that sort of thing leaves quite an impression on you. All your natural instincts are screaming that there's just no way you're going to see that body alive again. That's what must be kept in mind as we judge doubting-Martha.
But we must also keep in mind Who was commanding "Take away the stone". He was none other than the one who breathed life into Adam's body on Creation Day. (See Colossians 1:16.) If He was the same person and could do it before, then why not again?
Let's look also at a deeper meaning here. I think that the phrase "Take away the Stone" also alludes to Jesus being taken away to return to the heavenly Father at the end of His first advent. He had to be taken away in order for the completion of the whole plan of God to occur.
But there's another side to this. In the Nestle's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, I found something which brings this verse to life even more dramatically. A literal rendering of the text in verse 39 says, "Lift ye the stone." What does this suggest to you? I was prompted to recall: "Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)
Jesus stands at the door of every "spiritually asleep" (i.e., unsaved) individual as he contemplates the Gospel message. In order to become saved and receive new life, one must reflect (and believe) on the Stone who had to be lifted up and made a curse in his stead. This same Gospel message that applies today to all Gentile nations, individual by individual, will someday apply also to all Israel. This is symbolized by our friend Lazarus in the cave-tomb which had a "stone" covering the door that had to be lifted before life could be restored to him. What a beautiful, spiritual picture we have here!
(Incidentally, I do not in any way mean to imply that a Jewish person cannot be saved today by
simple faith placed in Jesus as their Savior. But, as a nation, Israel remains in spiritual darkness.
We must read Romans 11 very carefully to make this distinction. Admittedly, it's somewhat of a
mystery, but is the clear Biblical position.)
And Martha (thinking now of Great Britain), making the comments that Lazarus "stinketh" after
"four days" of death, refers to two major concepts:
(1) There has been a belief(1) which has lingered in many British' minds throughout their historythat the mantle which was upon Israel had been permanently taken away and given to England. I believe this has manifested itself by Great Britain's obsession to set up her flag all over this world. It was a misinterpretation of her role. England was related to Israel (by being one of the two witnesses during the Church age), but she (nor any others) most certainly did not take Israel's position. Israel will remain Israel, forever.
(2) As has already been shown, Great Britain was very much involved in the re-establishment of Israel. But history also shows that she was torn between seeing it done and the urge to herself control the land of Israel. The sensitivity depicted by General Allenby's work and the Balfour Declaration was correct and honorable; but in the wake of that, all sorts of bureaucratic nonsense resisted and delayed the finalization of Great Britain's original intent. There were, and are, in Great Britain (as in most of us), "pigs in the parlor", so to speak, which tainted their perfection. And for this reason, it's sometimes difficult to see the good that is done because of the blurring created by these misfits.
Another double inference here is to see that, like Martha, Great Britain stood at Israel's "tomb"
nearing the end of a 4,000-year period, during which time unbelief had continually plagued Israel.
And England, like her prefigured counterpart, Martha, demonstrated her double-minded ways: on
the one hand, holding to the shallow hope that God could do something for Israel; but on the
other hand, having lingering doubts because it just wasn't logical. Remember, Martha knew
Lazarus had been dead long enough to smell bad; to bring life back into her brother's body just
didn't seem reasonable to her. This pictures the mentality of the Church in Great Britain, that
Israel had so-long-rejected God's blessings designed for them (four thousand years), that there
would be no possibility of Israel's restoration. By now, Israel stinketh, thought the British. [But
England had not read Romans 11 carefully enough, had they?]
"Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see
the glory of God?"
Jesus here reminds Martha of the fact that He had already told her that if someone died believing in Him that he would someday live again. (See verses 25 & 26.) She was slow to grasp the point: "if thou wouldest believe".
Seeing the coming glory of God is conditional. It's called belief(2). Martha was the historical individual who got the brunt of Jesus' admonition. But the fact is, this message is to all of us who say we believe in Jesus. We all need to work at increasing the intensity and dedication of our belief in Christ. Jesus was always trying to move people to a deeper level of consecration; even in the midst of the critical juncture of the story of Lazarus, He continued teaching the importance of this Biblical truth.
Verse 40 is another one of those beautiful microcosms of the Gospel. "Said I not unto thee..." infers that Jesus wanted it understood that what He had previously said was already the same as reality. After God speaks, there may be a delay, but the outcome is assured. And even if He does choose to delay, there is always a special reason for it. However, a delay should never weaken our trust in the Lord. When Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit says something, They mean it. God does not need to repeat Himself [as if to build up His power to accomplish His will]. If He does speak a second time, it's to get through our thick heads. Thus, "Said I not unto thee..?" should be interpreted as an affirmation rather than a question.
Personalizing this, if you believe Jesus tells you something, depend on it. We need to learn to be quick about falling on our faces before the Lord as soon as He has instructed us about anything, either through the Word or via the Holy Spirit. Once we know it, just believe it. It's done. Let "Said I not unto thee...?" ring inside your heart every time you see and understand a promise in God's Word. It'll change your life.
And "if thou wouldest believe..." is the other side of this spiritual coin. The principle arises again---that God's promises are conditional. Invariably we find the word "believe" attached, or implied, to the promise. God says. We believe. Realizing this simple, profound order is the key to the entrance into the kingdom of God.
Finally comes the promise---"...thou shouldest see the glory of God." Man! You talk about the
Gospel in a nutshell! Jesus taught it all in one verse: first, there is God's Word; then man
responds by faith in that Word; and the benefit of seeing it come to pass is guaranteed. Jesus laid
all this before Martha there at Lazarus' tomb (and to the others too, of course, for they had all
expressed their doubts in some way). And, I'm glad to say that the teaching is just as applicable to
us today as it was to them then.
Verse 41 & 42.
"Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, 'Father I thank thee that thou hast heard me."
"And I knew that thou hearest me always; but, because of the people who stand by I said it,
that they may believe that thou hast sent me.'"
You talk about drama. God is the ultimate staging expert! I can almost hear the drums rolling
here, can't you? But let's calm our anticipation a little and analyze some of the truths presented
The translation that "they took away the stone..." accurately describes what occurred, from a
plain-sense perspective. But it doesn't as clearly reveal the double-referenced information as does
a more literal rendering of precisely what Jesus said. Again allow me to share from Nestles'
Greek-English New Testament:
"They lifted therefore the stone..."
Surely, to take the stone away, adequately explains the straight-forward story as it related to
Lazarus' tomb. But when we see the words that Jesus actually said, another truth is uncovered.
This is a repeat of what we discovered in verse 39. And implied again is the crucifixion of Jesus.
The word "lift" and "lifted" are very prominent words in the Bible, especially-so in John. If you
have access to a Strong's Concordance, look up all the references to "lift" and "lifted". You'll be
amazed that many of them refer to Jesus' on the cross. Let me include two examples here:
"And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
You may be wondering why I keep harping so much on this point. Many things could be said in defense of my position, but there are two main reasons:
(I) I'm trying to show that, throughout the Bible, God superimposes different meanings with one
set of words. God obviously has His own reasons for this, but I can think of at least two of
importance to us: 1/ to emphasize and clarify information, and 2/ it reflects omniscient
(non-human and all-knowing) wisdom. Both of these have a drawing power to Scripture, and
that, I think, is what God wants to achieve. The multiple meanings and multiple applications
found in the language of God's Word is one of the characteristics which sets it apart from all other
writings. Man, though, does have a problem here. We tend to think only of the plain-sense'
message wherever we read. In fact, I've heard great [so-called] theologians say that we should
look only for the obvious sense of any Scripture, and having found it, leave it alone and move on
to something else! Well, if this kind of theology was true, why did Jesus do so much teaching in
parables? And how, for example, does this theology fit with Isaiah 53, which virtually all today
agree is a picture of the suffering Messiah. What's the conclusion? Those that are fearful of
seeing allegory are simply wrong.
The fact is, discouraging the search for 'hidden manna' is of the devil. Satan tries to keep God's saints from seeing double-referenced truth. Sure, there is a lot of satanically-inspired mumbo-jumbo going around, so we must be discerning of what? and who? we read. But we must not ever let the evil one get the upper hand and prevent us from delving into the deeper things of God.
(II) The other main reason I keep "harping" is that I want the reader to see the beautiful picture Jesus is painting in John 11. When John said, "They lifted therefore the stone", he was indicating that it would be the lifting up of Jesus on the cross, where He would become a "curse" in man's behalf. This would be the ultimate act which would satisfy God's requirement for sin's debt. And secondly, Jesus' being "lifted" up became the spark which loosens the power of resurrection for all that lie in "tombs" of unbelief. Lazarus, in the natural, lying in that tomb with the stone at its opening, is a God-given metaphor of each of us in our fallen, spiritual condition before salvation. It is as Jesus said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." All this, I'm convinced, was in Jesus' mind when "They lifted therefore the stone" from Lazarus' tomb.
I have not forgotten about Lazarus also being a picture of the whole nation of Israel who rejected Jesus at His first coming, nor of those who today remain just as blind as they were then. The composite of all unbelieving Jews throughout the ages, up to and including those at Jesus' second coming, are also represented by Lazarus lying in that tomb two thousand years ago. And the way out for them when Jesus returns [just as for us now, spiritually speaking] is by way of the "stone" which was outside that tomb they would later "lift up...". What a marvelous truth we find here.
The second lift was that "Jesus lifted up his eyes" and prayed to the Father, thanking Him for
hearing Him, and making the statement that everything which He had been saying was for the
benefit of those looking on the scene. In other words, Jesus' main intent was that all these things
would be recorded for the benefit, not only of those looking on then, but for all who would read
about this in the future. The whole purpose was "...that they may believe that thou hast sent me".
Dear reader, I believe that the Father sent the Son. Do you?
COME UNTO ME...
"And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!'."
We're now on page 103, commenting on less than two pages of Scripture! Do you see what I meant way back on page (1) of the introduction, concerning how God can incorporate so many truths in such short space? And, as I said then, I doubt that we have scratched the surface of all the implications of this wonderful passage. But we have now reached the grand crescendo of John 11.
We don't read about Jesus raising His voice very often. But when the occasion called for it, He did. And no other place would it be more important as here. We must remember everything covered up to this point in order to fully appreciate the concluding event. If Jesus' words are as reliable as the God of Genesis, Lazarus was as sure to respond to the voice of Jesus as light was sure to come forth when God spoke in the Genesis account of Creation Day. And just as surely, when every unsaved person hears, understands and receives the central truth of the Gospel, and Jesus says to your spiritually-asleep inner man, "Come forth, " (your name goes here), then your spirit will come forth and receive Jesus as eternal, life-giving Redeemer. There will be no stopping this transaction once the prerequisites are correctly in place: God speaks---the confessing-sinner believes---and then he/she sees and experiences the glory of God. Praise the Name of Jesus!
Have no fear, I'm not forgetting national Israel for a second. At the proper time and place, when
God has everything completed relative to the plight of the Gentile nations (see Romans
11:25&26), then Jesus at that time will again say in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" Now
you tell me, dear reader, what will happen? Well, let's see what happened in the tomb of Lazarus,
"And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes; and his face was
bound about with a cloth, Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go."
In olden days, they prepared the dead for burial by wrapping them tightly round-and-round from head to foot. I'm sure all of us have at least seen movies which simulated the way Lazarus' probably looked. The dictionary defines them as mummies. I'm not exactly sure why they did this, nor is it really all that important relative to our discussion here.
We don't know how [physically] Lazarus' body came out of that tomb, because he surely couldn't walk out. The Scripture is clear---he was "bound hand and foot...", but he came out, nevertheless! The point is, once belief has truly entered one's soul, a reaction is going to occur in response to God's command for something to occur. I'm reminded here of Jesus' words in Luke 19:40:
"And he answered, and said unto them, I tell you that, if these (i.e., those disciples worshiping
Him at the time) should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
Jesus is saying that even the rocks on the ground would start praising Him if no other did. Why?
Because it was in the sovereign will of God that praise would issue forth at that particular point in
time. There's no stopping the plan of God. The sooner we get that message down deep inside
our spirit and mind, the better off we'll be. And once inside, it will tend to cause us to desire to be
at Jesus' feet---where believers belong. The end result is that God's blessings will then flow more
naturally in us, producing the benefits of God's grace.
"...LOOSE HIM, AND LET HIM GO"
Now this is very interesting. Jesus had just called out a command for Lazarus to come before Him, and he did. And yet, then Jesus tells the others to do the unwrapping! How come? Why didn't Lazarus' bindings fall off him automatically? Well, it could have happened that way...if... God had desired and planned it that way.
Here we have another image emerging from God's 'darkroom'. You see, Jesus did all the work
Himself during His first advent---i.e., His birth, life, death, resurrection, etc.,---in terms of
establishing the power of salvation being extended to mankind. But once Jesus did what He was
sent to do, He then included saved man in the process of reaching out to the rest of lost mankind.
In the above scene, Jesus is picturing for us the Great Commission. Jesus provided the life; but it is the Church's responsibility to do the "loosing" of people bound up in their sins. Jesus was still standing there at the scene as the disciples removed the bindings from Lazarus. Likewise, He is standing behind you and I every time we plant the seeds of the Gospel in someone's mind. The resurrection of the "spiritually asleep" is a past event; and Jesus will be just as faithful today to put new life into the new believer as He was to put new life into Lazarus' body 2,000 years ago.
Every Christian has a role to play. The world stands now before us in "graveclothes" waiting to be unloosed. The question is, how do you and I see our part in removing the bonds? It may vary from individual to individual, but the primary responsibility of each of us is to move in the direction of whatever is necessary to "loose him, and let him go". Find your niche, fellow believer, and be about your business. The consequence? There is a double bonus: we have the privilege of participating in the greatest work going on in the universe, and also, we get to see the glory of God manifested right before our eyes. Is there anything better than this?