Death and the Authority of Christ

I sit in awe of this morning’s text in John 11. It is absolutely gripping, because Jesus confronts with stunning power the most feared enemy on the planet, death. Jesus receives a message out in the wilderness that will ultimately draw him back into Jerusalem, where he has narrowly escaped death a number of times, but where he will not escape it again. His hour has come, and he knows it. So he resolutely leads his trembling disciples into the roar like a general into battle, or perhaps more like a shepherd going to lay down his life for his sheep of his own authority. There is business he must attend to, and it is lying cold in the grave. “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” (John 11:11) 

When he arrives in Bethany, and Martha laments his late arrival, he tells her that Lazarus will rise again. She holds a vague hope for some sort of blessed afterlife, but like so many of us, she has no idea how this hope is connected to the ultimate purposes of God. Jesus tells her to look away from conjectures and abstract theories, and to look at the one speaking to her. The resurrection is a person. Life is a person. All those who cling not to dead works or superstition, but to Jesus, though they may die, will live. (John 11:23-27) The mourners at the tomb do not even have the faith of Martha, and their lack of faith moves Jesus not simply to grief, but outrage. (John 11:33,38) They think that death has the final word. They think it represents the final authority. So Jesus demands to be taken to the tomb, to show them what real authority looks like.

The scene at the tomb is remarkable. When Martha tries to give Jesus a biology lesson about decaying bodies, he reminds her of her earlier confession and reveals her remaining unbelief. (11:27, 40) And then he lifts his eyes to Heaven and says, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me. (11:41-42) And then this one whose voice the Father always hears, this one whose voice brought forth out of nothing a universe bursting with life (John 1:3-4), this one who has promised a day when those in the tombs will hear his voice and come out (John 5:28-29), this one whose voice his sheep hear and follow (John 10:4, 16, 27) . . . speaks: “LAZARUS, COME OUT.” And as the tense silence hangs in the air around the tomb, we read The man who had died came out. Jesus doesn’t even blink. He says simply, Unbind him, and let him go. (John 11:44) 

This life-commanding voice of Jesus is what spoke to this dead man with resurrection power and brought him forth. (Ephesians 2:1-7) And as Paul tells a congregation of grieving Thessalonians, it is this voice that I will hear again.  For the Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these things. (1 Th 4:16-18)

May our churches hear His voice this Lord’s Day and live. Amen.

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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