Christian Witness

Devotion Threatened – Richard Phillips

This account of Jesus’ anointing provides a model of devotion and answers a challenge against devotion to him. [In addition, it demonstrates that] devotion to Jesus is also threatened with deadly violence: “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

If devoted Mary threatened Judas’s conscience, resurrected Lazarus threatened the hostile Jewish leaders far more. Her devotion offered a lasting memorial to the divine glory of Christ, but Lazarus’s witness offered a memorial to the divine power of Christ. Indeed, as people learned that Jesus had returned to Bethany, they were just as fascinated to see Lazarus as they were to see the Lord. John states: “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9).

Lazarus was an unlikely “star witness” for Jesus as the Messiah. Nothing outstanding about him is ever recorded in the Gospels, and he never says anything worth recording. So what is it about Lazarus that makes his witness so powerful? “The answer is not in what Lazarus did for Jesus,” writes Kent Hughes. “It is in what Jesus did for Lazarus.”

The same is true of every Christian. “If we were dead in our sins, and if over us a voice has cried, ‘Come forth, and if we have risen to newness of life and the Master has said, Unbind him, and let him go,’ so that now we are free, then we have become unanswerable arguments for Jesus Christ.”

Lazarus was a threat to the rule of the leaders who hated Jesus, as well as to the fragile peace they sought with the Romans. For this reason, the fact that he had so publicly died and been raised by Jesus was a serious problem for them. J. C. Ryle writes: “They could not deny the fact of his having been raised again. Living, and moving, and eating, and drinking within two miles of Jerusalem, after lying four days in the grave, Lazarus was a witness to the truth of Christ’s Messiahship, whom they could not possibly answer or put to silence.” For this reason, “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well” (John 12:10). Matthew Henry observed, “God will have Lazarus to live by a miracle, and they will have him to die by malice.”‘ Caiaphas had begun by declaring that it would be better for one man to die for the nation (11:50), but already there would be two. Before the Caiaphases of history are finished, millions of Christ’s followers will die for their witness to Jesus, yet not one Christian death will effectively stop the spread of the gospel.

Christians should not be surprised to be similarly threatened for their Christian witness. Burying the evidence is a tactic as ancient as Caiaphas and as modern as the daily newspaper. But realize that it is only the guilty who take such a course of action. And since Satan wants above all to bury or at least obscure the evidence of God’s saving power at work in the world, Christians not only should be zealous to give their witness but should feed their own faith on the proofs for the claims of Christ, both those in the Bible and those living among us in the church today.

So does your faith in Christ challenge others to consider the gospel? Is your godly life threatening to unbelief? Are you able to tell people they should believe on Jesus, and are they able to find convincing proofs of salvation in your conduct? If we continue in the noble line of Mary and Lazarus, we can be certain that others will see the truth of Jesus in our lives, and what was said of Lazarus will be said of us, too: “On account of him many … were … believing in Jesus” (John 12:11).

-Richard Phillips, REC, John, Vol. II. “Devotion Threatened”