Who Can Raise Lazarus?
April 27th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
WHO CAN RAISE LAZARUS?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-27-80 10:50 a.m.
The sermon this morning is addressed to our modern world. It is a very, I pray, pertinent message to us who live in so difficult and so trying a time. It is entitled Who Can Raise Lazarus from the Dead? And as a background pericope in this story, in the eleventh chapter of John, I read these verses from 14 to 17 [John 11:14-17]: “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe…” [John 11:14-15]. Verse 17: “Then when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had lain in the grave four days already” [John 11:17]. And who can raise him from among the dead?
Our world is like that. We live in a world where the ravages of sin and death overwhelm the nations of the earth. There are seemingly insoluble problems, and the over sowing of Satan in every area of human life. Our problems are multiplied: they reach as high as heaven; they are as low into the abyss as hell. They are international in scope, they are national, they are domestic, they are civic, they are personal, they are collective, they are individual. Our problems and the over sowing of Satan is universal.
Typical of the ravages of wrong and sin is the corpse of Lazarus in the grave, and typical of our sorrowing world are the tears of Mary and of Martha. Who has an answer? Who has a solution to the insoluble? Who can raise Lazarus from the dead?
There are many who purport and propose to do so. We therefore stand aside and let them announce their purpose, and watch them in their progress. In the face of the ravages of sin, and the over sowing of Satan, and the corpse that is left behind, first appears the pseudoscientist. And with boast and bombast, and ridiculing the Christian faith as being extraneous and superfluous, and announcing his omnipotence and invincibility, he brings his sacred cow: pseudoscience, and around that golden calf, the thousands and uncounted thousands of modern worshippers. And he announces, “I have the answers, and I can raise to life this dead corpse.”
So the pseudoscientist enters into the tomb with his chemical formulae, and with his physical graphs, and with his anatomical sketches and equations, and he examines the dead corpse lying before him. And he sees there the brain, just in place, perfectly made, and there is the heart, and here are all the organs of the body. They’re all there, perfectly arranged before him, and he examines each one. There is the cranium. And here are the vertebrae, and here are the clavicles, and here’s the rib cage, and here’s the pelvis, and there is the femur, and here is the tibia, and there is the fibula, and there are the tarsus, and the metatarsus. Here’s his semimembranosus, and there is his tensor fasciae latae, all of it there before him.
And having examined in minute detail the entire anatomical structure of the corpse, we wait in breathless expectation for the pseudoscientist to raise him from the dead. But instead, the corpse is more decadent than ever before, and we finally ask him, “What is death? What has happened?”
And he replies, “I don’t know.”
We ask him, “What is spirit?”
And he says, “I don’t know.”
And we ask him, “What has departed from the body? What is this change?”
And he says, “I don’t know.” And he leaves crestfallen, and his worshippers fall to the dust around his golden calf. There is no answer to any really significant and human problem in pseudoscience, none at all. There’s not a real question I want answered that they can answer. Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going, and what is my destination? They have no idea, and they leave shamefacedly and embarrassed. Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? And who has the answers for our modern problems?
Next comes the sophist philosopher. And he says, “I have the answers. I bring all truth into great generalizations, and I can raise the dead.” We take the modern philosopher, the existentialist. This is a philosophy that has swept the entire world, including the theological world. The existentialist appears before the dead corpse and he makes his profound announcements, saying, “There is no truth except what is truth to you. There is no propositional truth. There is no experience except what is experience for you, and it is just in your opinion and in your idea whether he is dead or not. In my opinion, and in my idea, he is alive!”
The existentialist philosopher is the first cousin, and the nearest of kin, to the so-called Christian Scientist. There’s not any sickness; it’s just in your head. There’s not any death; it’s just in your mind. And if you can get rid of the drag of the sickness and the death, in your mind, you have eliminated it from the earth. What a magnificent approach! Just hide your face from it. Just stick your head in the sand. Just don’t think of it or believe it and it will go away.
I was pastor, my first pastorate out of the seminary was in a town that has a university in it. And one of the women professors belonged to that persuasion. She had a very devout mother who belonged to our First Baptist Church. And this dear mother fell down the steps of the basement and nearly broke her body in pieces. She was black and blue and broken all over, all over.
But no doctor was called, and no medicine was offered. And the daughter, picking her mother up, said, “There, there, Mother. You’re not hurt. You’re not hurt. You’re not hurt.” And I went to see the poor mother, she was a sweet member of our church, and I felt so sorry for her there, black and blue and bruised and broken all over, and all of it, just in her head. It was just her opinion. It was just her idea. Oh!
I think of the little girl who ran into the kitchen, where her mother was busy preparing dinner, and said, “Oh, Mother, Mother, you know the old lady who was sick down the street?”
And the mother rejected it and said, “There, there, child. She’s not sick. She just thinks she’s sick.”
And the little girl replied, “Well, Mama, now she thinks she’s dead.”
These problems don’t go away because we hide our faces from them. And the harsh, stark, rude, crude realities of wrong, and injustice, and judgment, and death are ever present with them, and we face them every day of our lives. There is no answer in the existentialist or in any other sophist philosopher.
Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? Who has an answer to the apparent insoluble problems that overwhelm human life? Comes the revolving, evolving evolutionist, and he says, “I have the answer. We are moving upward, and inexorably and inevitably upward, and always upward, higher and higher and higher. Thus we progress until finally, we shall reach angelic life and immortality, maybe being archangels. And sin and death are nothing but the drag of our bestial ancestors. I have the answer,” he says. So, he enters the tomb and stands there before that dead, decaying, decadent corpse. And he says in all of his assured wisdom and learning, he says, “You see? Dead, inert, inanimate matter suddenly turned into a living cell, and this living vegetable cell turned into an animalcule, into a living animal cell. And this animal cell became an amoeba and a paramecium. And the amoeba and the paramecium turned into a tadpole cell. And the tadpole cell turned into a fish cell. And the fish cell turned into a serpent cell. And a serpent cell turned into a bird cell. And a bird cell turned into a marsupial cell. And a marsupial cell turned into a simian and anthropoid cell. And the anthropoid cell turned into a Homo sapiens cell. And we just go on up and up and up, and the Homo sapiens cell shall inevitably turn into an angelic cell, and we have reached immortality, and the dead corpse is forever alive.”
And I look at him in astonishment, “You teaching that for the truth of God? You telling these kids that in the universities? That’s what your explanation of the inevitable rise and progress of life is, that?”
“Yes, sir. We all believe it. Yes, sir. That is what it is to be intellectual.”
“Well,” I say, “that is so strange. I never see dead, inanimate matter, a rock, a piece of dirt—I never see dead, inanimate matter turn into a living cell. I’ve never seen it. And these coral cells—why, my brother, there are coral reefs that are thousands of feet high, from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the water. And those coral cells that lived fifty million years ago, down there on the bottom of the ocean, are just like those coral cells that are working today on the top of that coral reef. And these amoebas, they’re still there. And these paramecium, they’re still there.
“I looked at a piece of amber that they said was thirty million years old, and on the inside of that amber was stuck a mosquito, and he was the same sorry, no-count, dirty, filthy specimen as I see today biting me on the arm in the summertime. He hasn’t changed at all. He hasn’t changed at all.
“Yet you announce to me with great authority that, just give us time and this corpse shall rise and enter angelic immortality.” So we wait, and we wait, and we wait, wait, wait, and the millenniums pass, and millions of years pass, and the corpse is still dead. And finally, the evolving evolutionist comes out of the tomb, saying, “I cannot raise Lazarus from the dead. And what I have thought, and taught, and said is an empty, and sterile, and hopeless hypothesis.”
We stand there before the dead corpse. And look, here come four strong, enthusiastic theologians. And they come with the heavenly and holy announcement, “We can raise Lazarus from the dead.” Glorious!
We welcome the first, and the first of the theologians is eminent for his messages on social redemption. He believes not in personal regeneration, but in collective, social gospelizing. “What we need,” he says, “is the regeneration of the fabric of society, all of the approaches, and methods, and mechanisms of social interchange and social life. We have a social gospel to present. And this will raise Lazarus from the dead.” And this social gospeler says, “See, I have brought this bowl of social life, and social regeneration, this bowl of salt with me. And I am going to rub the dead corpse, and make him conscious of his social and collective responsibilities. And he will quicken, and he will be alive, and he will be regenerated when he is sensitive to all of the social implications in the gospel of Christ.”
So the social gospeler, with his collective redemption, enters into the tomb and he starts his rubbing operations. And with his bowl of salt and the saline solutions, he rubs and he rubs and he rubs, and we watch, and we watch, and we say, “My brother, is there any evidence of life? Are there any symptoms of resurrection? Does he breathe?”
After he rubs, and rubs, and rubs, and rubs, he says, “He is still dead. He’s still dead. He is as dead as he ever was. Social collective redemption does not reach the human heart. He’s still dead.”
So the second one says, “Well, come out, my brother. Come you out, and let me enter into the grave.” So the second theologian enters into the grave where Lazarus lies as a corpse. And he enters with the gospel of hysteria, of the dancing shakes of the second blessing. And he says with great announcement, “I will raise Lazarus from the dead by the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” And he addresses that dead corpse in tenebrific incantations, and he speaks in languages and tongues and utterances that nobody understands, and least of all does he. And finally he rolls on the floor, and after all of his gibberish, and after all of his incantations, and after all of his unthinkable things that he does, he finally turns and says, “He is still dead. He is still a corpse. I cannot raise him from the grave.”
The third theologian says, “Well, come out, my brother, and let me enter in. I can raise him from the dead.” So the third theologian enters into the sepulcher, and he is arrayed in gorgeous and flowing robes, with gold chains and incense burners, and all kinds of perfume, and everything flowery and beautiful. And he addresses the corpse. He even anoints him with holy water. And he, in beautiful litanies and genuflections, he bows and scrapes before the corpse, raising Lazarus from the dead. And after all of his beautiful rituals, and all of his flowery liturgy, and after all of his perfume, and incense, the man has had to confess, “You know, I have to say the smell is getting heavier down here. He’s still a corpse. He’s still dead. I can’t raise him from the grave.”
The fourth theologian arises, and he says, “Come out, my brother. Come thou out, and let me enter into the tomb. I can raise Lazarus from the dead.” And he enters in with the hottest hip tunes, with the Hollywood cadences, with a jive quartet, and he starts his resurrection ceremonies with all kinds of rock and roll, rot and roll persiflages. And he is there, swinging with the latest tunes, with the timbrels and the tambourines, with the kettledrums, and all of the noise that goes on in these jive joints that have been taken over by some of the churches.
That’s the beatenest thing that I have ever witnessed in my life, is rock and roll in the church. I can’t conceive of such stuff, but that’s the thing that modern people think, in some places, will raise the dead. But after they have had their jiving, and their rock and rolling, and all of the other loud noise, off-beat music, he’s still dead. He’s a dead corpse. It hasn’t regenerated him, and raised him out of the grave.
Finally, after all have failed, there appears a humble, sweet follower of the Lord Jesus. And he says, “I’m going to get the Savior and bring the Savior, for He is the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]. And he brings, from over on the other side of Jordan where He was with His disciples, he brings to the grave the Lord Jesus Christ; the great, mighty, omnipotent One; He who flung these planets into space by the word of His mouth, by fiat [Genesis 1:14-16; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]; He who said, “Let there be light: and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. And the Lord Jesus stands before that corpse, at the head of that sepulcher. And in the same voice that spoke these worlds into existence, in the same tone by which He created life and all that there is, He lifted up His mighty, omnipotent voice, and He said, “Lazarus, Lazarus, come forth from the dead” [John 11:43]. And he that had lain in the grave four days already, he who was bound in grave clothes, he stood up alive, instantaneously instinct with life [John 11:44]. And he walked out of that grave, healed and whole, and raised, and resurrected at the voice of the Son of God [John 11:43-44].
Somebody said, “Why did He say, ‘Lazarus, come forth’?”
And a man replied, “Had He not said ‘Lazarus,’ the whole cemetery would have stood up and gone out to meet the Lord Jesus.”
All of that is introduction. This is my sermon: this marvelous, incomparable, and wonderful story of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, written in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, is a type, it is a parable, it is an earnest, it is a harbinger of the great, mighty, climactic triumph of our Lord at the end, at the consummation of the age [John 11:32-45].
First: it is a parable of, a promise of, a harbinger of, an earnest of the resurrection of the dead. When the trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised incorruptible, at the voice and at the command of the Son of God [1 Corinthians 15:52]. He is the victor over sin, and death, and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. He is the omnipotent and invincible Lord of life. Not forever will sin and death reign in this world. At the end of the age, in the elective purpose of God, the time shall come when death shall be no more: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” [1 Corinthians 15:26]. “And these who have fallen asleep in the Lord Jesus,” in the beautiful passage that you read from the fourth of 1 Thessalonians, “these who have fallen asleep in Jesus, will rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16]. They will see our Lord first, in His coming.
Ah, could such a thing be? Many times am I asked, “Pastor, how many people have you laid in the grave? Over how many have you spoken words of comfort and assurance?”
And I reply, “When I was a young man, seventeen years of age, and began this pastoral ministry, I used to keep record of all of these that I have buried, but they have become so numerous, so many thousands and thousands, I have no idea how many I have lovingly and prayerfully and tenderly laid away.”
But that is just until then. That is just for this present moment. For the time shall come when the strong angel shall put his foot on the land and on the sea [Revelation 10:2], and lift his hand to heaven and say, “Time shall be no more” [Revelation 10:6]. The dead shall be raised incorruptible [1 Corinthians 15:52] at the voice of the Son of God. And the raising of Lazarus [John 11:43-44] is but a harbinger, it’s but an earnest, it’s but a type, it’s but a parable of the day of triumph for us all [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. All of us shall be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51].
Number two: This marvelous story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44] is a type, and a symbol, and a picture of the regeneration, and the resurrection of our own spirits, our own souls, our own hearts. Paul says in the first verse in the second chapter of Ephesians—he says, “For we were dead in trespasses and in sins” [Ephesians 2:1].
All of us are typified in the corpse named Lazarus. We are dead before God, dead under the judgment of sin: “For the soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20], and “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23], and all of us have sinned, and come short of the glory and expectation of God [Romans 3:23]. And as such, we are corpses in His sight. We are dead in the presence of the Lord, dead in our sins, dead in our trespasses, dead in the judgment of God upon the wrongs of our life [Colossians 2:13].
But the ableness, and the glory, and the might of the omnipotent and invincible Lord, He speaks peace in His grace [Ephesians 2:8] and forgiveness in His love [John 3:16], and His regenerating Spirit borns us anew into the kingdom of everlasting light and life [John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:3-4], and we are raised, we are resurrected into the likeness of the glory of our Savior [Romans 6:5, 2 Corinthians 4:14]. We become Christians. Christians of the radiant face, of the shining face, of the triumphant life, Christians of hope and victory, who can smile through our tears, who see an answer in Him to every human problem; who find, in the pilgrimage journey with our Lord, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother walking daily by our sides [Proverbs 18:24]; a new people, regenerated, born again [John 3:5]. That hath Christ done for us in His grace, and goodness, and mercy; raised us spiritually, inwardly from the dead [Ephesians 2:5-8].
And oh, what a glorious prospect that the Lord lays before us. In the last chapters of the Revelation, “I heard a great voice from the Lord, saying, Behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. “All things new”: we shall have a new body; we shall have a new home; we shall have a new fellowship; we shall have a new heaven; we shall have a new earth; we shall have a new and glorious city [Revelation 21:1-3]. And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for these things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4]. The raising of Lazarus [John 11:43-44] is but a harbinger, a type, a symbol, a parable of the triumphant victory of our Lord in our hearts now, and in that world new that is yet to come.
Bless His able and saving name! And what a holy and heavenly privilege, to call upon Jesus, in this hour of our desperate need. He has an answer, and He is mighty to save [Zephaniah 3:17]. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord of all creation; the God of life and light, who holds the nations of the world like the fine dust in a balance in the palm of His hand; who elects, who chooses, who guides, who rules from heaven; our omnipotent and mighty and invincible and glorious, triumphant, victorious Lord: O Savior, if ever we are discouraged or downcast by the darkness of the hour, help us to look up and see Thee, the light of life and the hope of the world. And our Lord, not only the answer for the troubled earth, but the answer to all of the problems we know in our lives. Jesus saves. Jesus is able. He is mighty and willing; full of grace and love, goodness, pity, tenderness. What an amazing thing, that He who created the earth [Colossians 1:16] and raised Lazarus from the grave [John 11:43-44], stood there and wept human tears of sympathy with Mary and Martha [John 11:35]. And He weeps with us in our trials, and His heart is moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]; “wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find grace for help in time of trouble” [Hebrews 4:16].
In this quiet moment when we stand before our living Lord, in the balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you:, “Pastor, today we have decided for God. We are putting our lives in this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “We are coming to be baptized” [Matthew 28:19-20]. Or, “We are coming to accept Jesus as our Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the answer now, answer with your life. And in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I come, pastor. I am on the way.” And our Lord, grant that mercy and that boldness of open confession to our people now. And we shall love Thee for the harvest, in Thy saving name, amen.
Now while we pray and while we wait and while the choir sings, from the balcony, from this lower floor, somebody you: “Here I come, pastor. I am on the way.” God bless you and welcome.