“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.’ 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.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 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. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ 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. 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.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ 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.’”
Through Lazarus’ death that is so vividly described in today’s Scripture passage, the Lord is saying the following to us: Every human being, no matter how meritorious he may be is limited in his faculty; therefore no one can be saved on his own without knowing and believing in the Word of God.
What Is the Lord Trying to Teach Us?
When Jesus was still on this earth, He displayed a special fondness to three siblings mentioned in today’s Scripture reading namely, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—therefore He used to visit their hometown Bethany quite often during his travels. One day while Jesus and His disciples were far away from Bethany, an urgent message was delivered to Jesus. It was a request from one of these siblings asking the Lord to urgently return to Bethany because Lazarus whom Jesus loved was very sick. However even after hearing this urgent message, Jesus tarried there for a further two days and did not return to Bethany right away.
Only on the third day He said to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” The disciples misunderstood the Lord’s words and thought that Lazarus had literally fallen asleep and they were going there to wake him up. It is quite clear to witness the disciples’ ignorance of Jesus. Contrary to the disciples’ interpretation of the words of our Lord when He said, “Lazarus is asleep,” what He really meant was that Lazarus was dead, and that He was going to Bethany to resurrect him. When the Lord finally told them that Lazarus was dead, Thomas one of Jesus’ disciples said, “Let’s also go and die with the Lord.” Since Jesus said to the disciples that He was going to Bethany to wake up Lazarus even though he was already dead, Thomas thought that Jesus was going there to face His own death, and so he thought that the disciples should also go there and face death together with their teacher. Here we see that Thomas was a loyal disciple. When viewed from the human point of view, Thomas was truly loyal, brave, innocent and worthy of emulation. But when we look at the faith of the disciples of Jesus from a spiritual viewpoint, we can see that they had as yet not matured spiritually.
Although the disciples followed Jesus to Bethany thinking that they were going to face their deaths, but Jesus went there to raise Lazarus from the dead. When someone is fast asleep; it would imply from a human prospective that he will wake up eventually. It’s because the Lord was going to resurrect Lazarus from the dead that He drew an analogy to sleeping when He spoke about Lazarus’ death. My fellow believers, you should all realize that this applies not only to Lazarus but to us as well. Like Lazarus, you and I and everyone else will not simply cease to exist when we die, but we will be raised from the dead by the Lord. That’s because one day the Lord will come back to resurrect us perfectly from the dead. This passage where Jesus expressed death as ‘sleeping’ holds a profound implication concerning the resurrection.
When Jesus arrived at Bethany with the disciples, Martha, Lazarus’ sister ran out to Jesus and fell down at His feet. And she said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus then said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” to which Martha answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Through the death of Lazarus Jesus wanted to make it known that He was the Lord of the Resurrection.
After this Jesus remained where He was and called for one of Lazarus sisters, that being Mary. Hearing that the Lord was looking for her, Mary rushed to the Lord hurriedly and said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We can see Mary’s heart while wailing at the feet of the Lord, probably with mixed emotions that included some resentment towards the Lord for showing up so late. She was able to say this because she clearly had the faith that the Lord could have saved Lazarus. Everyone around that village wept, not just Mary and Martha but also all the Jews who had come to pay their respects. The Bible says that Jesus was moved to tears when He saw them crying.
The Bible records no less than three instances when our Lord wept while living on this earth. He wept once over the death of Lazarus. And He wept while praying to God His Father on the Mount of Gethsemane. It is written in Hebrews 5:7-8, “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”
The Lord also wept when He entered Jerusalem this was to lay down His life knowing that Israel would be destroyed. He wept over the fate of Israel, foreseeing how it would be completely conquered and destroyed, and how its people would all be taken into captivity and slavery. It’s written in Luke 19:41-44: “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’”
As we can see from this passage, our Lord was deeply saddened that people refused listen to His Word even though He had personally had come to this earth. It hurt His heart tremendously to think about the coming woes that these people would soon face. That’s why He wept when looking at the city of Jerusalem and its people who were destined for destruction. We need to remember although the Lord is God Himself; we can see here that He has warm human feelings just like us.
Returning to today’s Scripture passage, we read how the Lord groaned in the spirit and was greatly troubled over Lazarus’ death. Distressed to see how His loved ones were weeping in despair, He also wept in his heart. Of course when Jesus said earlier that He was going to Bethany to wake up Lazarus, He meant that He was going to resurrect him, but Jesus experienced grief in His heart over the sadness of the people He loved. It’s written, “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone’” (John 11:34-39).
We can clearly see from this passage had Jesus been with Lazarus, he would not have died. That’s because Jesus is the Almighty God with the power to raise the dead to life and heal the blind and the sick. However Jesus had not been in Bethany at this time, and even when He heard that Lazarus was critically ill, He deliberately stayed for another two more days before finally coming. My fellow believers, what do you think was the reason for this? It was for the glory of God.
Does the Word of the Lord Have Power?
Having shared with the people’s grief, Jesus now sought to raise Lazarus back to life, and so He asked, “Where have you laid him?” He then was led to Lazarus’ stone tomb and said, “Take away the stone.” Then Martha, Lazarus’ sister said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” The people there were thinking, “There is already a foul smell as it’s been four days since Lazarus’ dead. It’s an impossible task, no matter how powerful the Lord really is.” Herein lies the reason why our Lord had put off coming to Bethany for these two days after He heard that Lazarus was so very ill. It’s here that we can solve the puzzling question as to why Jesus had not come before Lazarus’ had died. It was the Lord’s clear intention to manifest the glory of God to us through this incredible incident. He said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Jesus then prayed to God the Father and then afterwards said in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” Then Lazarus, who had been dead, walked out of the grave with his hands and feet still wrapped in linen.
My fellow believers, we need to examine carefully here what the Lord is trying to say to us. Our Lord is telling us that human beings are fundamentally incapable of solving the problem of their sins on their own. In other words, no one can save himself from sin no matter how virtuous and decent his character may be. That’s because unlike God, human beings are insufficient and their faculty is limited. The Bible therefore says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is no name other than Jesus Christ that can grant true salvation to mankind. This is what the Bible is telling us.
For you and me gathered here today; it is only by faith and our belief in the God given gospel of the water and the Spirit that we have been saved from all our sins? Yet despite this fact are there not countless people still trying to solve the problem of their sins through their own efforts? Don’t many Christians expect that once enough time has gone by since they had believed in Jesus, their characters would somehow change and they would not commit so much sin? But we need to remember there is nothing good that man can expect from within himself. Our only hope is found in Jesus Christ, the Almighty who came by the gospel of the water and the Spirit. No matter how well we know the righteousness of the Lord and no matter how we have received the complete remission of sins, our flesh is still flesh and the Spirit is still the Spirit. Just because we have believed in Jesus for years, are our characters changed so much that when someone strikes our left cheek we can somehow turn the right cheek and ask him to strike that side as well? That is certainly not the case. Our insufficient flesh still remains insufficient. We must therefore always trust in the righteousness of the Lord and rely in it until the day the life of our flesh expires. Only then can we live by faith until the end of this world.
Here lies the very reason why it is so absolutely imperative for us to continue to rely on the righteousness of the Lord. Through our own human righteousness we can never be saved from our sins nor be perfected. No matter how long we may have led our lives of faith in Christ, we must continue to trust and rely on the righteousness of God, and we must keep our hearts sinless by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. If we fail to hold onto the power of this gospel even for a moment, then we can never say that we are righteous people.
We must realize that through today’s Scripture passage, our Lord is telling us that salvation from the sins of the world is neither attained by trying to keep the Law nor reached through human virtues or willpower. Therefore we should not rely on our own righteousness. If you rely on your own righteousness, then no matter how hard you try to be morally upright, you will falter and will only stress you out even more. In other words, trying to be saved from your sins through your own effort is all in vain. It is nothing more than a misconceived notion for us to think, “I’ve been saved from sin by believing in the righteousness of the Lord, but even so, would not my life somehow be better off if I just tried to be more virtuous with my acts?”
Although you do rely on the righteousness of Lord, I can sometimes see that some of you still cannot rely on it 100%. This is because there still is some righteousness of your own flesh remaining in you. It is because you rely on the righteousness of God only to the extent that your own righteousness is not undermined, and you still want to live on your own. But make no mistake: This is a completely flawed thought of the flesh. When we rely 100% on the righteousness of the Lord, it’s not enough to rely just to a certain extent. We must rely on it entirely for 100 percent. This means that we should continue to abide by our faith in the righteousness of the Lord. If you live even just for an hour without being mindful of the righteousness of the Lord, then you will fall into your own carnal thoughts and end up living your life with a great deal of regrets.
A life like this cannot be said to be a proper life of a righteous person. Unless we rely on the Lord’s righteousness every minute of the day, we cannot call ourselves as those who follow the light illuminated by the Lord. Yet there are times when our carnal thoughts arise unconsciously in us which makes us think, “I am now sick and tired of this life of faith. I’ve been a good Christian all this time, and so I think I can now stop living out my faith. From now on I will lead my life the way I see fit!” So there will be times when some of us will end up leading this kind of life, but this is foolishness. Why is it foolishness? It’s foolish because it is an attempt to serve God with one’s own carnal efforts. When this happens we end up living a life that hides the glory of God rather than glorifying Him. We have received the remission of sins by believing in the righteousness of the Lord, but in our flesh we are still imperfect and not strong enough, therefore we feel the limits of our insufficient selves. Isn’t this true? But this is only natural. Although we have received the remission of sins by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, it does not mean that our flesh has been changed, that is why there is all the more reason for us to rein in our own thoughts by trusting in the righteousness of God. In our flesh we are always insufficient, always weak and always wicked. It’s because that is the fundamental nature of the flesh of man.
Fellow believers I am now going to speak to spiritual people. It’s a known fact that those who are physically healthy are also mentally healthy. Amongst our organs it’s the liver that helps us to diffuse stress, and healthy people have a healthy liver, and so they can cope with stress better and their minds are more relaxed. Since they can manage themselves quite well, they have enough room to be more understanding of others. But what about those whose health is not so good, and whose livers are failing them? When they get stressed out, their bodily organs become dysfunctional and even their mental health deteriorates. They want to be more understanding of others, but their tolerance levels are very limited, and so when they face even the slightest outside pressure or annoyance, they crumble. After all how could anyone be sympathetic to others when he is struggling with his own physical ailments?
Whilst on this subject, the so-called sages or the so called virtuous of this world must have had quite healthy livers. They were after all so patient and understanding that they were called “sages.” However fellow believers, these people neither knew nor believed in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, and therefore they cannot be called ‘truly righteous people’. Even these so-called sages must have had human limitations; it’s just that we are not aware of them. There must have been some stress that they could not resolve even with their healthy livers, and their minds probably were not that relaxed. Everyone is the same; the sages of the world are no different from you and me.
In our flesh we all are imperfect. We are nothing unless we rely on the righteousness of the Lord. If we don’t trust in His righteousness even for a moment, then we cannot call ourselves righteous people before God, nor can we stand unashamed before Him, that is why we must always believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit and rely on it all the time. If we know ourselves well and recognize the righteousness of God before His presence, then we will always remain righteous.
Let’s return to today’s Scripture passage. Lazarus was laid to rest in a cave carved out of the rock and the entrance was blocked and sealed with a large boulder. It was customary for Israelites to carve out a cave out of a rocky mountain to bury their dead, and seal the entrance with a boulder. The dead body was then protected from scavenging animals and went through the natural decomposition process inside the hot cave. It’s because of this Jewish custom that the entrance to Lazarus’ grave was blocked and sealed off. When the people removed this boulder as instructed by the Lord, He said in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
What happened then? Lazarus who was dead got up and walked out of the grave, all wrapped in linen cloth. The Lord had told the people clearly that they would see the glory of God if they believed in Him, and at that moment they indeed saw God’s glory. Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead was to the glory of God. On the last day God will also resurrect our dead bodies just like this. And we know that if anyone believes in the Word of Jesus Christ right now, God the Father will resurrect both his soul and body and clothe him in His glory. I give all my thanks to God for this.
Legalistic Faith That Is Not Placed in the Righteousness of God Cannot Be the Real Faith
Today the Lord is telling us that no life can be saved through the Law or anything else. He said that salvation is possible only by His power, and the Lord did in fact save a life. When the Lord said, “Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus came out of the cave grave wrapped in linen cloth. Our Lord has such power.
My fellow believers and me included, it is only by the righteousness of the Lord that we have received salvation from sin, not by anything else. It is because the Lord has raised us back to life by His power of salvation that we have obtained our salvation from sin. In other words, the Lord has brought back to life our souls that had been dead because of our sins, and He has given us this new life. It is the Lord who has brought us back to life, which neither the Law nor any good deeds of our own could ever achieve. Our existence is such that without the righteousness of God, we can never be saved from sin, and even if we were saved, we could not be made perfect unless we believed in the Lord. Our righteousness is imperfect, but the righteousness of the Lord is perfect and everlasting.
What would happen if we did not believe in this righteousness of God to the end? We would then always remain imperfect; and will be nothing more than piles of sin. That is why we believe that the righteousness of the Lord is far greater than our own righteousness. We trust in the Lord’s righteousness every single day, every hour, every minute and every second. We are now living before God having been made perfect and have attained new life by believing in the righteousness of the Lord. You and I are such people, those who believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit.
As human beings we often find ourselves bound by our own weaknesses. Even though we have received the remission of sins through the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we still tend to tie ourselves down with our own thoughts. This is likened as to how Lazarus’ dead body was tightly wrapped with linen cloth. When Lazarus died he was wrapped in bandages from his head to his toes. That’s why when Lazarus walked out of the tomb when the Lord called him out; he walked out alive still wrapped and bound in linen cloth.
What do you think the Lord is trying to teach us about this incident? The implication here is that even if you are brought back to life, unless you remove that which binds you, you will not be able to lead your life properly. That is why the Lord told the disciples to unbind Lazarus and let him go free, so that he would live a new life.
Spiritually speaking fellow believers, we were exactly like Lazarus. Just as the Lord raised Lazarus back to life with His Word, so He has also raised us back to life with the gospel of the water and the Spirit. He has saved us perfectly not by the Law but by the forever-unchanging righteousness of God. However not everything ends with this. We have been saved from sin, but the next important step is to be freed from what binds us, just as Lazarus could live normally only when the bound linen around his body was unbound. Only then can we lead our lives properly as righteous people. We need to know this, it does not matter just how we are saved from sin and have become righteous people if you still have many ties around you that bind you then you cannot possibly fulfill your role as a righteous person. By our faith in the Lord, we must set ourselves free from whatever binds us i.e. from our weaknesses, our wickedness and our shortcomings etc.
We must continue to meditate on the righteousness of the Lord and believe in it with our whole hearts. Although the power of our faith will last forever once we believe, but as human beings we are still at times prone to be bound by ourselves, and therefore as often as we are bound, we have to untie ourselves by trusting in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. I therefore ask you to examine yourself carefully to see what it is that binds you down now. If you are bound by legalistic beliefs or fleshly thoughts, then you must set yourself free from them as soon as possible. That’s because only then can you live an upright life abiding in God.
My fellow believers, to be freed from our bondages we must look toward the righteousness of our Lord. The Lord saved you and me because we believed in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. This righteousness of God is the forever-unchanging Truth of salvation. The Lord said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). As this passage makes it clear that the Lord is the only God of salvation who never changes from the beginning to the end. This Lord has saved us from sin. Believing that the Lord has saved us from sin through the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we must surrender ourselves into God’s possession forever. The only way for us to escape from sin, our weaknesses, and our insufficiencies is to live righteously and to believe in the righteousness of the Lord and trust in the Lord.
The Lord’s Word is indeed right when it says that no one can be saved from sin through the Law. We can never attain our salvation from sin by keeping the Law. That’s because it’s impossible for anyone in this world to keep the Law to perfection. Yet even as we realize this we still allow ourselves to be bound by the Law. We think to ourselves, “How can I lead a life of faith when I cannot even keep this one little commandment? When I am so insufficient, my circumstances become so very challenging, and I feel an abject failure, therefore it too preposterous for me to even try to lead a life of faith?”
My fellow believers, whenever you have thoughts like this, I admonish you to remember what our Lord said in today’s Scripture reading: “Take away the stone.” The stone implies our old faith. We are now new creatures in Christ because our old faith was removed. The Law is definitely not the way to reach salvation from sin. Just as the stone was removed, so must you also remove your legalistic faith and believe in the righteousness of God. It is only by the righteousness of God that we have been saved, not by anything else. The gospel Truth of the water and the Spirit teaches us that it is the righteousness of God that has brought us back to life, and that the salvation of God is what has delivered us. I admonish you all too once again believe in this gospel Truth at this hour and to thank God for it. And I ask you to look toward the Lord’s righteousness. You will then begin to experience a renewal of your heart, new strength springing forth, and the God of Truth being with you, as though your liver was restored to health and all your stress was removed.
It is by the grace of the God-given salvation that we gain new strength and live once again. That we are actually serving the Lord and even alive now is all thanks to the grace of God. Were it not for the grace of God, how could we who were all sinners, have ever become the Lord’s sheep? Unless we believe in the gospel of the water and the Spirit, we could never ever practice the righteousness of the Lord, and could not ever follow Him? If we can barely cope with our own lives, how is it that we could ever save other souls? The very fact that we believe in God’s righteousness and we now abide in God is itself all due to God’s grace. That is why today as always, we admit in our hearts that it is by the grace of God that we are alive, and we live forward by trusting in this. Were it not for the grace of God, we would have all perished in both body and spirit by now. We were all sinners destined forever to wander lost in sin.
We often come across people who are strong-willed or those who have accomplished a huge amount of virtuous deeds, all rejecting the righteousness of God. These people are the foolish ones. I am absolutely convinced without a doubt in my mind that it is fundamentally impossible for any human being to perfect himself no matter how hard he tries in his flesh. One could try all his life, but it’s simply impossible and a waste of time. Many people think, “If I reach a certain point in my efforts to escape from evil, I should be ok.” But this is completely misguided. Man’s flesh is unchangeable. That’s why it is important to remember to always live in the grace of God. Never forgetting the Lord, we must always abide in His redemption and look toward the Lord who has saved us from our sins; made us His children and His people, and has become our own Shepherd. You and I must live a life like this without fail.
My fellow believers, we can have true faith only if we look toward the righteousness of the Lord in our lives. From the account where Lazarus was raised from the dead, what spiritual lessons have been able to learn there from? Our lessons are the following: “Salvation can never be reached through the righteousness of man. There is no one in this world who can keep the Law to perfection, nor anyone who can live by the Law. Salvation can never be attained through this Law.”
It is this truth of salvation that the Lord is teaching us at this hour. Our Lord said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and Lazarus was indeed raised back to life. It is no one else but the Lord who saved Lazarus and it is also the Lord who has saved you and me from sin through His Word. It’s because the Lord loved you and me that He saved us from all the sins of the world through the gospel of the water and the Spirit. Let us then always remember that we must rely on this righteousness of Lord, and let us all live by faith.
May God bless you all! Halleluiah!