This morning, I used a creative approach with some other believers to help them understand better how many believers have not rightly understood why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead the way that He did. I believe that a vast number of believers need to understand this key point and then use that understanding to adjust in a very important way their use of John 11 in evangelizing people.
An Imaginary News Report of Jesus’ Raising Lazarus from the Dead
Imagine that a news crew from a leading TV network is able to go back in time to videotape one key Bible event, and they choose when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This crew has the ability to record what takes place without any of the people even seeing that they are present.
As they watch Jesus and others coming to the tomb, they choose to begin recording only at the exact moment when He actually commands Lazarus to come forth. Getting what they want on tape, they return to the present to share their highly selective eyewitness account with the world.
On a prime time news program, they present the stunning video, which instantly creates a worldwide sensation. As teams of news reporters and analysts all around the world go back and forth discussing the remarkable footage, leading news anchors here in the US carry on a torrid debate about what the world should make of this miraculous event.
The Internet explodes with a never-before-seen deluge of discussion on social media. Many bloggers chime in with their take on what significance the world should attach to seeing Jesus do something that no one else had ever been recorded doing—raising a person back to life who had been dead for four days!
Everywhere, people fiercely dispute why Jesus did what He did the way that He did it and what His doing so reveals about who He was. An endless stream of world leaders, political and religious, gives their opinions on whether they believe that the video proves that Jesus was God.
All too often, many Christians have evangelized people by using the account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead in a very similar way to what I concocted in this hypothetical story. By focusing on a very small portion of the Bible record about this event, they have in many cases not given people a right understanding of why Jesus raised Lazarus the way that He did and what His doing so shows about who He was.
The Foreground Significance of Jesus’ Raising Lazarus the Way That He Did
An examination of the Holy Spirit’s inspired report of what happened shows clearly how this has been the case. When John relates to us what happened immediately before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, he says,
Joh 11:38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 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.
42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
Only after relating these events does John tell us the very selective part that the fictitious news story I gave above provided:
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Had the Spirit only inspired John to write verses 43-44 after he had given enough preceding material to give the basic information about the setting of this event, the news report would have been a more valid representation of what took place on this occasion. John, however, provided vital information in the verses immediately preceding verses 43 and 44 that the news report failed to provide.
Right before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, John says that Jesus lifted up His eyes and talked aloud with God the Father (John 11:41). In this conversation, Jesus thanked the Father for hearing Him and for His always hearing Him. These statements show that Jesus communicated that He had prayed to the Father just before His raising Lazarus from the dead and that the Father had heard His prayer, just as He always had done before this event!
Moreover, John then recorded that Jesus then remarked to the Father, “But because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 11:42). Here John reports from the mouth of Jesus Himself what is the key to understanding why Jesus raised Lazarus the way that He did—He wanted the people to believe the vital truth that the Father had sent Him!
Saying this, Jesus told all those who were present on that occasion that the foreground significance of His raising Lazarus the way that He did was that people would believe that God the Father had sent Him! What He Himself said prior to what He was about to do thus made known that His intent through this miraculous event did not have proving His own deity as its foremost significance.
Yes, what He did testified to His deity but that clearly was not the sum total of what this event testified about Him. In fact, by Jesus’ own statement that John relates, we know that His own deity was not even the foremost truth to which His raising Lazarus the way that He did gave witness to His original audience.
How We Must Use John 11 Properly in Evangelism
As we have seen, this conversation between Jesus and the Father about His hearing Jesus’ prayer was a vital facet of this miracle that the news report completely left out. What Jesus testified about His purpose for doing this miracle the way that He did it is also a vital facet of this event that many, many believers do not account for when they use this account to witness to people.
In using John 11 in evangelism, we must not use this “news report” approach to sharing this glorious event with lost people. We must rather faithfully tell them that Jesus raised Lazarus the way that He did so that they will believe that the Father sent Him!