John 11 is one of, if not the longest single narrative in the New Testament. In it we find the story of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, and a dear friend of Jesus. If you remember the story, then you know that Lazarus gets sick and dies while Jesus is away ministering in another city. You will also remember the end of the story, when Jesus miraculously raises Lazarus from the dead.
Every time I have heard this passage preached, the one preaching has emphasized the issue of why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, namely, so that He could display His great power over death. This is a glorious truth to remember, but every time I read this story, something else grabs my attention.
As Jesus approaches the tomb, He asks for the stone to be rolled away, and once it is done, Jesus calls out to Lazarus, actually He yells:
“Lazarus, Come out!”
Now, just imagine that you were in the crowd that day. What would you have though if you saw a guy yelling into a dead man’s grave? What would you think if you saw that now? If you were to drive by a cemetery this morning and find someone yelling into an open grave, “Hey, come out of there!” what would you think?
The word crazy comes to mind.
Jesus, however, is not crazy. He is powerful, awesomely, matchlessly powerful. And when He speaks to dead people, they respond.
In the very next verse, the very next words of the passage actually, Lazarus comes out. Look at verses 43 and 44:
43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus comes out as if he were walking from one room to the next. But he wasn’t. He was dead before Jesus said anything, and then, after Jesus spoke, He was alive!
This is what we mean when we talk about the irresistible grace of God. When God calls us out of death and into life, we will respond, not because we are some sort of puppets, but because God’s grace is so wonderfully powerful and infinitely attractive that we cannot help but respond.
Ephesians 2 makes this point very clear:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…
And in the words of the great hymn writer, Charles Wesley:
He speaks, and listening to His voice
New life the dead receive.
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice
The humble poor believe.