Who Can Raise Lazarus from the Dead?
February 14th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
WHO CAN RAISE LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-14-88 10:50 a.m.
And God bless in a marvelous way the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled Who Can Raise Lazarus From The Dead?
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 11. And in chapter 11, I read verses 14 and 15, and then 21 to 25 [John 11:14-15, 21-25]; verse 14 in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John: “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]. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” [John 11:21]. There is no death in the presence of our Lord:
If You had been here, he would not have died.
But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee.
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith to Him, I know that he shall rise in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die.
What an amazing avowal! Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? The first one who would avow his omnipotence and omniscience is the proud and boastful pseudo-scientist: “I can raise him from the dead. I have all the answers.” He comes forward with supercilious scorn, despising those who believe in God. “Religion is a superfluity. It is a crutch for the weak and the trembling and the untaught. But we are the learned. And I am coming with my sacred cow, and with my golden calf, before which the throngs bow down in worship. And I can raise Lazarus from the dead.” So, the supercilious and scornful and superior and omniscient pseudoscientist comes to the tomb. He brings with him his anatomical charts, his chemical formulae, his physical graphs and equations.
And walking into the tomb, he surveys the dead cadaver, Lazarus. There is his cranium. And here are his clavicles, and there his coronary conduits. Here is his vertebrae, his ribs, his sternum; there are his viscera and the organs and the nerves, the femurs, the tibia, the fibula, the tarsals, the metatarsals, the tensor fascia latae and the semimembranosus, all in perfect accord, checked out. He is there. Then he stands with grandiloquent rodomontade, and he speaks from his textbooks of omniscience and omnipotent power, “I say unto thee, rise from the dead!” And I am astonished; he who scorns God and looks upon us who are religionists as being weak in mind and heart and life. He, he, he cannot raise Lazarus from the dead. And I press him, “What has happened? What is death? What is life? What is soul? What is spirit? What has happened?” And he cannot answer. He cannot answer any of the vital things that concern life and death, and purpose and meaning, and God and eternity; nothing! And I look at him in amazement, and his golden calf, before which the throngs of the world worship, falls in dust and in ashes to the ground. How could I find hope, or meaning, or life, or promise, or resurrection in someone who knows so very little, yet claiming to be an omniscient pseudoscientist?
Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? Behold, here come two cousins, false philosophers. The first one introduces himself. “I am a modern existentialist. There is no truth that is not truth for you. There is no reality that is not reality for you. There is no experience but what is experienced for you. There is no such thing,” he avows, “as propositional truth, stated truth, universal truth, revealed truth. And it is just your opinion that he is dead. My opinion is that he is alive. Rise from the dead,” the existentialist avows and says. And the dead is still dead.
Then speaks up his first cousin, the spiritual sophist. To him all sickness and all death are just figments of the mind. They are just things in the thoughts, and if we will change our thoughts and change our minds, we will change sickness and hurt and sorrow and death; one of the strangest philosophies, one of the strangest aberrations of religion I ever heard of. My first pastorate; in the town, the county seat town, was a very large college. And in the college was a gifted teacher, and she was one of those spiritual sophists. Her mother, who was very large, fell down the long steps into the basement and terribly hurt herself. “Mother, mother, you’re not hurt.” No doctor sent for. Don’t believe in the doctor. Don’t believe in the medicine. Don’t believe in the healing. “You’re not hurt. That is just in your mind—just a figment of your imagination.” And I went to see that poor mother, just bruised and broken all over, and suffering terrible pain—but just in her mind, just in her head. I think of that little girl who came running into the house and said, “Mother, mother, mommy, mommy, you know that woman who is so sick down the street?” And the mother said, “Now, listen child. She just thinks that she is sick.” And the little girl replied, “Well, mommy, now she thinks she is dead.”
“No such thing as death. Lazarus is alive.” But he is dead! He is a cadaver. He is decaying and corrupting before our very eyes. Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? In walks the evolving evolutionist. “We are on the way upward. We are evolving upward. We will see that Lazarus is raised from the dead—coming up, rising up. Soon we will be evolved into angels, and maybe archangels.” And I asked him, “You say to me that nothing created something, and that nothing that created something, became a speck. And it fell in the ocean, and in the ocean it became vibrant and alive, living. And it became an amoeba, and a paramecium, and a coral, and a fish, and a fowl, and a marsupial, and anthropoid, a simian, an ape, a Homo sapiens, a man. And now, raised, going to be an angel, evolving upward?”
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, according to the latest research and the finest scientific evidence. Yes, going to evolve out of death and out of the grave, and upward into the angelic personal glorified beings themselves.”
“Wonderful. Now let me see you raise him from the dead.”
“But you have to remember, we have to wait ten million years.”
“Oh, have I not cause to believe that you are teaching me an empty, vain, sterile hypothesis?” If he is honest, he will say, “I am.” What could an evolving evolutionist do in the presence of death?
Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? There come to us four learned theologians like Job’s comforters—three of them; Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar [Job 2:11], and finally the fourth, Elihu [Job 32:2]. And they say, “We will raise Lazarus from the dead.” And the first one comes forward—Eliphaz [Job 4:1-5:27]. And he is the epitome of the eminent divine who delivers his message on social responsibility. To him, salvation is always collective. It is political. It is social. It is civic. It is governmental. And he comes forward and says, “I will raise him from the dead. I have here this bowl filled with the salt of social consciousness. And I will rub him, and I will make him aware of his social responsibilities and duties.” And this emminent theologian, who gives himself to social awareness, tackling the problems of the day—governmental, political, civic—a great concept and a great idea. And he rubs him and he rubs him and he rubs him. And he speaks to him, and he tries to awaken him to his social duties. But after he is rubbed and rubbed and rubbed and spoken to of his social responsibilities, is there life? Is there resurrection? Does he live? No. He doesn’t live. He is dead. Lazarus is dead.
“Get thee out,” says the second, Bildad [Job 8:1-22]. “Come thou out and let me enter, and I will raise him from the dead.” And in walks the second theologian. He is the paid professional religionist. He is dressed in his gorgeous robes. He wears his embroidered surplices. And he comes with holy water and with perfume and with incense. And he goes through all of his litanies and all of his genuflections. And after he has done his multitudinous utmost, Lazarus is still dead—dead.
Then comes the third, Zophar [Job 11:1-20], and he says, “I thought your doctrine of a social conscience would not raise him from the dead. Come out now and let me enter in.” And he comes in. He’s an auditory manipulator. He knows how to get the audience into it. He brings with him his band. He brings with him a jive quartet. He brings with him tenerific connotations and incantations, and all kinds of jive and tambourines and timbrals and dancing. And speaks to him in words and syllables he himself does not understand, much less the cadaver, much less the dead. And he says to his fellow instruments and fellow jive artists with their dancing shakes, “Let’s get with it. Let’s get with it.” And after they have got with it, and after all of their words and all of their incantations, he is still dead. He is still dead.
Finally comes the fourth, Elihu [Job 32-37]. He is the summation of what it is to be a theological cadaver. He is like those worms that bore through books. He is dead and dry and boring himself. He approaches religion intellectually. He approaches the faith with askance, with equilibrium, with judgment, with all kinds of critical equations. And he looks upon the Bible in the background of what he thinks is the unbelievable sources that cannot be identified. And it is just a collection of legends and myths that came out of an uneducated and untaught people. And he comes forth with his fine language and his beautiful speech and his learned nomenclature. And he stands there as a form of godliness but denies the power thereof [2 Timothy 3:5]. And he speaks in language to the dead. And you overhear him and say, “What did he say? What did he mean? What was it he was speaking about?” Nobody knows. That is your cadaverous preacher. And Lazarus is still dead.
Who can raise Lazarus from the dead? A humble disciple of the Lord Jesus. “Sweet, dear,” he says to those grieving, Mary and Martha. She says, “I am going to invite the Savior to come” [John 11:20]. And Jesus comes and He stands before that tomb and before the cadaverous dead, corrupting body—dead four days [John 11:38-42]. He stands there—Jesus. He spoke these worlds into existence. He created these orbits of universes. He made this world, and He created us [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. He stands there, Jesus does, the Lord of life and the conqueror of death [Revelation 1:18]; Jesus stands there [John 11:38-43].
I think of the sainted apostle John, remanded to the isle of Patmos. He wrote:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End . . . .
And I turned to see the voice that spake unto me. And being turned, I saw a seven-branched lampstand;
And in the midst of the seven-branched lampstands—a picture of His church—I saw . . . the Son of God . . .
And when I saw Him, I fell down at His feet . . . And He put His right hand upon me, and said, Fear not . . .
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. And I, I have the keys of Life and of Death.
He stands there. And our Lord raises His voice and says, “Lazarus, come forth” [John 11:43]. And that dead, cadaverous, corrupting body is instantaneously instant with life. And he comes forth bound hand and foot with the grave clothes of the tomb [John 11:44].
You know the oldest story that I have ever heard in my life is right there. Somebody said, “Why did the Lord say, ‘Lazarus, come forth?’” And the answer: if He had not said, “Lazarus,” the whole cemetery would have arisen to come to meet Him. Standing there alive; raised from the dead. All of this, all of this is a picture. It is a parable, it is a type, it is a promise, it is a harbinger, it is a portent of what Jesus will do at the consummation of the age. You see, Lazarus raised, went back into the dust, back into death, back into the tomb, back into the grave. But the picture, the parable, the type is for our assurance, our conviction, our hope, our blessedness of what God is yet to do; that “better thing” He has promised for us [Hebrews 11:40]. What is it?
I think of it in three ways. Number one: this demonstrates the power of our Lord to open for us the vistas and the gates of heaven. Paul himself wrote, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” [1 Corinthians 15:50]. As long as I am in this house of flesh, I cannot see God, and live. I cannot walk those golden streets [Revelation 21:21]. I cannot look into the face of my Lord, and live [Revelation 21:3-5]. I have to go through that valley of the shadow of death to reach Him and my home in heaven [Psalm 23:4]. And Jesus is there to guide me and to help me and to befriend me, to receive my spirit and to open for me the gates of glory and the entrance into the heaven [John 14:2,3; Revelation 21:1-3]. This He has promised to do. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” [John 14:2, 3]. And this is a type and a picture of that great, glorious, triumphant hour when Jesus opens for us the gates into heaven [John 14: 3].
Second: it is a type of parable, a picture, a promise of that day when our Lord will speak life to us from the grave. All of us face that ultimate and final enemy called death. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” [1 Corinthians 15:26]. And we all face that ultimate and final and dark and terrible hour. But if I fall into the grave, He is able to speak life and resurrection to my fallen frame. First Thessalonians 4:13-18:
My brethren, I would not have you without knowledge, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain . . . shall not precede them which are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ—these who sleep in Jesus—will rise first, the first to meet Him:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the air, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
“God having provided some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40]. If I am alive when He comes, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye . . . I shall be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:52]. But these who have fallen asleep in Jesus will rise first [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16]. They will be the first to meet Him and to greet Him. Whether I die and am awakened, or whether I live until He comes and I am immortalized, changed—whether in life or in death, we are with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. He is able. And this parable, this story is but an affirmation of that conviction. Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, and He will raise us [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Third: the meaning of this parable, of this story. He is the resurrection, and the life. And we who believe in Him shall never, ever die [John 11:25, 26]. We are raised to a new life in Christ [Romans 6:4]. When we accept Him as our Savior, when we trust Him as our Lord, when we open our hearts to Him, He gives to us eternal life—one that shall never, ever die [John 3:16; John 10:27-30]. Not someday a possession, but a possession now. Not some day to be blessed, but blessed now; not some day to rejoice in hope, but to rejoice in our Savior now. Nothing in human experience is as sweet and as dear as to believe and to trust and to accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Nothing like it.
And that is the invitation we press to your heart today. “Pastor, this is God’s time for me, and I’m on the way. I accept the Lord for all that He promised to be and to do. I open my heart heavenward, and Christ-ward, and God-ward, and here I stand in the midst of the family of God.” In a moment when we sing our song, down one of these stairwells, from these throngs in that balcony, or down one of these aisles from the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, today God has spoken to my heart. I believe Jesus is able, and I am coming. I believe He is able to give me a new heart, and a new soul, and a new experience, and a new life; resurrected life, eternal life [Romans 10:8-13]. I believe He is able to raise me if I fall into the grave. And I believe that He will keep me into the forever and the forever; joyously, triumphantly, gladly, and I am coming, pastor. This is God’s day for me.” A family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], or to answer some call of the Spirit of God in your heart, in a moment when we sing this hymn, come, and welcome. Now may we pray together?
Our Lord, what an incomparably glorious gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God; He who made heaven and earth, all things made by Him [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. He can remake us, recreate us, give us a new heart, a new house, a new home, a new life [2 Corinthians 5:17]. O God, the blessedness, infinitely precious, are the promises we have in Thee. And now, our Lord, as we sing our hymn of appeal, please God, send us these Thou hast chosen to eternal life and elected for a life in heaven that shall never end. May they come today, dear God. Make this a triumphant hour. We shall praise Thee for it, in the Lord’s dear and saving name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.
RAISE LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD?
I. The pseudo-scientist
A. Avows his
omnipotence and omniscience, ridicules religion
B. Enters the tomb and
speaks with grand language to the body
C. Lazarus does not
rise; he cannot answer why
II. The two cousins – false philosophers
existentialist says nothing true except it be true for you
B. Spiritual sophist says
sickness and death illusions of the mind
III. The evolving evolutionist
A. Believes we are
B. Lazarus will rise
from the dead, but we have to wait ten million years
IV. Four pompous, learned theologians like
A. Eliphaz the eminent
divine delivers message on social responsibility
B. Bildad the paid
professional religionist comes with holy water, incense
C. Zophar an auditory artist
brings a band and words to stir the crowd
D. Elihu a theological
cadaver approaches faith with intellect, judgment
V. A humble follower of Jesus invites Him to
A. He comes and stands
at the tomb (Revelation 1:10-18)
1. He calls,
“Lazarus, come forth.”
B. Raising of Lazarus a
picture of the consummation of the age
of God to open for us an entrance into heaven (1
Corinthians 15:50, John 14:2-3)
type of that day when He awakens our sleeping bodies at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:26, 52, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,