Theme: Moving from Spiritual Death to Spiritual Life
In this week’s lessons on the raising of Lazarus, we see that it points to Jesus as the only one who can take us from the state of spiritual death and make us spiritually alive.
Scripture: John 11:1-44
Now we come to chapter 11, and here we’re getting to what Jesus’ signs are really all about. What is essential above everything is that we be made alive by Jesus Christ. So when he calls out to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come forth!” what that is doing is showing us in graphic ways what has to happen when Jesus calls to those who are spiritually dead to believe in him and come to life forever. Now let me spell some of that out in terms of the theology of regeneration from spiritual death to spiritual life.
First, it teaches us that apart from Christ, we’re all as spiritually dead as Lazarus was physically when he was in the tomb. We don’t only find that in John’s Gospel; we find that elsewhere in the Bible. Perhaps the most well-known passage is in Ephesians 2, where Paul writes of people being at one time “dead in trespasses and sins.” It’s a strange kind of death because in the very next phrase he says that these same people go about walking according to the prince of the power of the air. The picture is that of a corpse that’s walking around. That is precisely what everyone is like, spiritually speaking, apart from the regenerating grace of God in Jesus Christ.
That’s what John is saying in the eleventh chapter in his own way. He’s not spelling it out theologically as the Apostle Paul is. John is not writing a letter where he is giving doctrinal teaching; he’s writing a Gospel, where he recounts this story of what happened to Lazarus. Nevertheless, he, too, is saying that you and I left to ourselves, in our natural state, are spiritually dead. In our spiritual death we have no more hope of responding to or coming to Jesus Christ than Lazarus did as he lay there bound in grave clothes within the tomb.
The second thing this teaches us in spiritual terms is that apart from Christ, our position is hopeless. That of course is wrapped up in the first point. If we are spiritually dead, we obviously are spiritually hopeless. And yet, people have a hard time admitting that. I suppose this is one of the great faults of the theology of the evangelical church in America today, which is largely Arminian in its thinking. What I mean is that it wants to retain for human beings some small ability to do something for ourselves spiritually, in the name of the need for a human response to the offer of the gospel. Most of the evangelical church, because it believes the Bible and certainly knows what Paul has written in Ephesians, will acknowledge without any question at all that we’re dead in trespasses and sins. Nevertheless, they would maintain that when the gospel is preached, what separates the saints from the sinners—that is to say, what makes one a Christian—is some kind of ability by this dead spiritual corpse to somehow reach out and believe or respond to the gospel when it’s preached.
But even though it might seem that way to us in our experience, that’s not the way it is. In the final analysis, we are not saved because we made a decision of our own free choice to follow Christ. No, we were saved because the Holy Spirit did a work within us, making us spiritually alive so that we would then want to believe on Christ and repent of our sins. If you and I are spiritually dead, as the Bible clearly teaches, we can’t do any more to save ourselves than a corpse can do to bring itself back to life. That’s why Paul writes as he does in Romans 3: “There’s none good, no not one. There’s none that understands, there’s none that seeks after God.” It’s a way of saying that we’re spiritually dead. On our own, we do not seek after God.
The third thing this teaches us in terms of the theology of salvation is that the call of Jesus Christ gives life, and it’s only the call of Jesus Christ that gives life. You see, if Martha had come to that tomb and had called out to her brother, “Lazarus, come forth,” nothing would have happened. She might have said, “Lazarus, you know how much I love you. I want you to come; I don’t want to lose you.” Still, Lazarus wouldn’t have come. Mary could have gone to the tomb, and called out as well. They could have gotten a whole crowd together, all of the mourners, and they could have said, “Together, now, let’s call out for Lazarus. ‘Lazarus, come forth!’” Lazarus would not have come. When the Lord Jesus Christ came, and he called Lazarus, calling one of his own sheep by name, Lazarus came forth.
What does it mean to be spiritually dead? How does Paul work with this same idea in Ephesians 2?
Why is our spiritual condition hopeless apart from Christ? What must he do for anyone to be made spiritually alive?
Application: How does knowing that only God can call a sinner out of spiritual death help you in your evangelism?