John was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry. When he wrote his little letter that we call First John he described his relationship to Jesus as, being from the beginning that he had heard, and had many vivid memories. John the Baptist had a special place where he preached and baptized people on the east side of the Jordan River. Jesus called his first disciples at that place. It was called Bethany but it is not the same as the home of Lazarus and his sisters. John recalled the threats being made to Jesus that could cause him to step aside. Because it was not time for him to be crucified. Luke had recorded Jesus’ words at about the same time frame that John is talking about. Jesus said, it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. Luke 13:33.
The Pharisees and priests had been attempting to kill Jesus for most of his ministry. The truth is Jesus came into the world for the very purpose of being killed by the religious leaders of the day. Wherever he went people followed him. Many of them believed the words of John the Baptizer who had told the truth about Jesus. You don’t have to have much talent to tell the truth. That’s exactly what John did! He did no miracles he just told the people to repent and believe in Jesus who would come later. Now we come to the end of Jesus’ public ministry. But not to the end of John’s Gospel. We are actually very near the middle of the gospel.
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
This place must’ve been important to Jesus because he himself was baptized there. It was there that men began to recognize who Jesus really was. Remember the words of John the Baptizer, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28).
Now Jesus arrives at the place where he began his public ministry. While they are waiting out their time a messenger arrives from the village of Bethany that was near Jerusalem. The message was simple esus’ friend, Lazarus, was sick and near death. Jesus assured his friends, probably including the messenger, that this sickness was not going to end in death. Instead, it was going to glorify God. That which was about to happen would be the seventh “sign” in John’s gospel. The six previous “signs” included turning water into wine; healing a nobleman son; healing the invalid at Bethesda; multiplying loaves and fish; walking on the water; and, curing a man that was born blind.
Upon receiving the message Jesus intentionally waited two more days. During that time frame Lazarus died. Before this event, Jesus had brought people back to life. The widow’s son at Nain and Jairus’ daughter. Both of these occurred immediately after death. What Jesus was about to do was much more dramatic. He was going to bring someone back to life after natural decomposition was well on its way.
Lazarus must’ve died immediately after the messenger was sent to Jesus. One day’s travel would have been involved both ways and two days Jesus waited made the process four days. This was pointed out by Martha when Jesus ordered the stone to be moved from the tomb. Even with the spices that had been wrapped around Lazarus’ body there would be a strong smell. We are not told how strong the smell that lingered was but I like to think the odor was pleasant. After all the creator of the universe, the one who had called everything into existence, spoke the powerful words, “Lazarus, come out!”
When the dead man did come out Jesus told the crowd around, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
In a metaphorical sense this pictures a lost person coming out of the tomb of sin into the light of salvation. When that happens those who already have seen the light, Christians, need the make a part of their ministry unbinding them from whatever holds them back.
How might that work out? People who come to faith in Christ have lots of spiritual and social baggage. The opinion of most people, especially the “good” people in the community, is that lives cannot be changed. Repentance should lead to redirection. When a person repents the church should provide support and deliverance. Undoubtedly there will be relapses. Addicts will be drawn back toward their addiction. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the problem of breaking addiction. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11). After pointing out a list of sinners that the church might not want to be identified with Paul blew me away with “and such were some of you.”
Praise God just because a person commits sin they do not need to stay in that dark world. These changed people are commended a few verses on with, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) The price that purchased these people who had all kinds of publically known sin in their lives was the blood of Jesus. We must remember that we are not our own. We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The road to the cross that Jesus was walking would without a doubt lead to changed lives. We can help new believers by welcoming them into our lives. Of course, we must recognize the need to not be taken in by the world’s ways that remain in the lives that God is in the process of changing.
Jesus’ disciples understood the danger they had put themselves in. While still in Bethany beyond the Jordan Thomas, who was a twin had said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16). Had the Pharisees had their way that is exactly what would’ve happened. When someone in the crowd reported Lazarus’ resurrection to the Pharisees they called a council to consider their problem. If they let Jesus go on the way he was there would be many thousands following him. If that happened the Romans would come and take away their limited freedoms. John’s comment on the problem was found in verse 54.
Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.
The leaders of the opposition – priests and Pharisees – issued what amounted to an arrest warrant with the addition that anyone who knew where Jesus was must turn him in. Six days before the Passover he surfaced in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. A dinner was prepared with a large turnout to see Lazarus as well as Jesus. Because of the presence of Lazarus many people repented and trusted in Jesus.
The next day Jesus found a young donkey and rode it into the city. The prophet, Zechariah, had written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”. (Zechariah 6:6). That was hardly what would have been expected by the people. The priests and teachers would have been aware of this promise.
His path into the city was through the Tyropoeon Valley. It was also known as The Valley of the Cheesemakers. If you have ever smelled Cheese being made you will understand that this is not the high rent district.
There is a model of the city of Jerusalem at about AD 45. I believe that the Jews did not want to present the city as it was at the time of Jesus’ ministry and especially at the time of his death.
In 1985 Cherlyn and I were there. As our guide explained the layout of the city he came to the Tyropoeon valley he told us that this was the district where most of Jesus’ followers lived and worked. Jesus certainly lifted up the poor and needy.
Some of Jesus’ greatest teaching was done in the last 6 or 7 days of his life as the Messiah. In John 12:44-50 Jesus assured his disciples, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
Jesus saw the end coming and he urged the disciples to unify after Judas left.
(John 13:31-35) “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus promised help to live the life. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)
He concluded those teachings with a prayer. (John 17:1-5) “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
He even prayed for us – all believers through the ages. (John:17:20-23)
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
It is amazing to me that while facing his trial and death Jesus took thought of the future believers. All of those who would recognize that all have sinned and need to repent. Because sin pays its wages – death. But God showed his love for those who will come to him by sending his son to take our sins on his body and nail those sins to the cross. So that those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead can be saved.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.