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A Picture of Regeneration

Curtis Pugh

Poteau, Oklahoma


            John records the miracle of the resurrection of Christ which, incidentally, was witnessed by no man. In addition he records one post-resurrection miracle, the miraculous catch of fishes. Aside from those two, John was moved by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel around seven miracles performed by the Lord Jesus. He was led by the Holy  Spirit to arrange all that he wrote to suit his purpose. The Spirit of God even moved him to use a special word in describing the miracles about which he wrote. This word is found in John 2:11 where John speaks of the Lord's first miracle: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”  The word translated “miracles” here is the Greek word “semeion.” Out of the 77 times the Greek word “semeion” appears in the New Testament, it is translated 50 times as “sign” in our King James Bibles. A closely related word is translated “signifying” when the Lord said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me, This he said, signifying what death he should die,” (John 12:32-33). The Lord signified what death He would die – He taught them by telling them He would be lifted up from the earth. A kindred word is found in Revelation 1:1 where it is stated how Christ communicated the Book of Revelation. He “sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” That is, Christ communicated that book through signs.

            It is evident that John was moved to select specific sign-miracles which are also teaching-miracles. They serve as lessons or illustrations as to God's ability and His purpose. Often we see miracles as only demonstrations of Christ's power, but they are more. They are signs! They are “sign-miracles” and illustrate God's working. Therefore we can rightly conclude that the raising of Lazarus, for example, is not just an accounting of bare facts. That Lazarus died and was resurrected by the Lord Jesus is not the question. Most certainly this event took place. But what was it designed to illustrate? What was it designed to teach us? Are we only to see the power of the Lord Jesus in the account or is there more? Was God in the order of events and the details recorded for us so that we can understand more than just the power of God and Christ's love for His friend?

            We think there is more in these miracles than just demonstrations of God's power. When we come to the last miracle – the raising of Lazarus – we have come to the high point in John's series of sign-miracles. The infusion of life into the dead body of of Lazarus restored him once again to the life he had lost. It involved not only his body, but also his personality. After he was called forth from his tomb Lazarus was lacking nothing that he had been previously. This physical raising of the dead teaches us many things about the spiritual infusion of life that we call regeneration or the new birth. When we speak of the new birth or being born again, it is important that we understand that this is not something that a sinner accomplishes. Nor is a person born again because of something he does. This is clear in that the two marginal notes in the King James Bible for John 3:3 & 7 (“born again”) read thus: “again: or, from above.” These two notes make clear the source of regeneration. Regeneration is a birth from above. It is a work of God alone. 

            Let us look at the sequence of selected main events recorded for us in John chapter eleven. (For all the details read John 11:1-44.) Verse 1 says: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” Upon hearing of the sickness of His friend, the Lord Jesus did not do what we would expect Him to do. He did not do what Mary and Martha expected Him to do. They sent for Him. But He did not come to them as expected. Notice that we are told in verses 3-6: “Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.   When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” The Lord assured His traveling congregation that this sickness would not ultimately lead to the death of Lazarus, knowing full well that He would raise Lazarus back to life. We are assured of the Lord's love for Lazarus and his sisters. In spite of this – or rather because of His love for them all, we are told that the Lord did not rush to his aid. He did not go to comfort the sisters, but rather stayed two days more where He was.

            Next the Lord directed the group to return with Him to Judea. They remonstrated with Him against such a trip since the Jews there wanted to kill Him. Then the Lord tells them that Lazarus was asleep. This they misunderstood. They thought Lazarus must be getting better and was now able to rest. But in verses 14 and 15 we read: “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; nevertheless let us go unto him.” Next we learn: “Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already,” (v.17 ).

            Upon the approach of Jesus and His disciples to Bethany, one of the sisters, Martha, goes out to meet Him and said: “...Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee,” (vs. 21-22). Following this, the Lord enters into a discussion with Martha about the resurrection, stating that Lazarus would rise again. She naturally thought of “the resurrection at the last day” as she believed, (v. 24). Next we have Martha going to her sister, Mary, Mary's walk to where Jesus was and then Mary's conversation with Jesus. We are told of the weeping of the Lord and the words of the Jews who agreed with Mary. They, too, said that if Jesus had been there He could have saved Lazarus from death. It seems everyone except Martha assumed that the Lord had come too late. They thought there was no hope for Lazarus since the Lord had not arrived before he died. How little they understood about the power of the Son of God! But let us not judge them unjustly for are we not also lacking in understanding and weak in faith? And do we not see sinners around us and sometimes think that there is no hope even in God for such a depraved individual?

            Going on in our brief look at the main events in this incident, we come to these words: “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go,” (vs. 38-44). In this portion we have a narration of the things that transpired that day. But we are also taught what takes place when a spiritually dead sinner is made alive. Consider the following five things, please.

            First of all note that there is no doubt as to this fact: Lazarus was dead. He had been dead so long that his body had begun to decay. There was no life in him. He was hopeless and helpless in himself. Neither could his sisters or other kinsfolk restore him to life. If Christ could not or would not raise him from his stinking dead condition, his body would continue to decay and would remain so until the future resurrection. So it is with those who are spiritually dead. If Christ does not infuse life into them they will remain spiritually dead! And sinners are dead spiritually. Their spirits – that part of man which when alive can know God – cannot resurrect themselves. Paul wrote of the grace of God which quickens those whom God will save, saying, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;),” (Ephesians 2:5). In passing, we point out that this is where the fundamental difference lies between those who believe that God saves sinners by grace and those who believe that sinners do something to cause God to save them. Here is the difference between sovereigntists and the varieties of Arminians that plague the world today. If a sinner has a part in his quickening or regeneration Paul would have written, 'Even when we were almost dead in sins, by an act of our wills in believing, we pleased God and motivated Him to quicken us (by human works and God's grace together ye are saved.' But Paul did not write that! And those who are familiar with the Book of Romans know that God made it very clear there that there can be no combination of works and grace in any part of salvation. To attempt to compound works and grace together results in a destruction of the nature of each one. Paul wrote: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,” (Romans 11:6). It is impossible to mix works and grace! Each is contrary to the other. If the new birth is by obedience (works) it is not of grace! On the other hand since the  new birth and all of salvation is by grace, then works/obedience/baptism/man's will, etc., all have nothing to do with it. Being dead, only the power of God could raise Lazarus.

            The grave of Lazarus was a cave. A stone covered the opening. So the second thing we call your attention to is this: the Lord Jesus instructed that the stone be removed by human power. The Lord Himself could have spoken and the stone would have been removed. He could have called for angels to remove the stone, but He did neither. Those disciples with Him were able to do that and He told them to do it. What happened when the stone was removed? Nothing. Nothing happened to Lazarus: nothing at all except that light flooded his tomb. And that light did him absolutely no good because he was dead. He was unable to see. He was blind and his face was wrapped about with a cloth. All the light in the world will not help a blind man. What is signified by the removal of the stone on Lazarus' grave? What is the light that must shine upon a spiritually dead sinner before life is infused in him? If we may borrow from Paul, it is “... the light of the glorious gospel of Christ...” of course! It is that light which must “...shine unto them” if they are to be saved (2 Corinthians 4:4). The light of the gospel does not shine into a spiritually dead sinner for he is blind. The humanist/Arminian thinks his preaching of the gospel shines into the lost sinner. It does not! It never enters beyond the mind of the sinner. And that sinner's “...mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” (Romans 8:7). Knowing the gospel in the mind does no good! The experience of God's grace in regeneration does not take place in the mind.

            The sinner has not the capacity to receive light. And so the gospel must be proclaimed unto spiritually dead, blind, stinking, hopeless, helpless sinners. And that is the first part of the three-fold commission given to the Lord's congregations. Only when Christ regenerates a sinner can the light of the gospel shine into him! Only then can it reach his heart – his innermost being and spring up in that ground made good by the indwelling Spirit of God. Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Just as the original creation was a direct act of God, so also is regeneration. And it is regeneration which enables man to receive the light of the gospel. Only a born from above person is able to have a “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

            Third, we notice that Lazarus lies there still. He is dead even though the light has filled the place where he lay. Still he is dead! Only when Christ calls him to come forth does he live! The Lord Jesus, after praying to His Father said, “Lazarus, come forth.” The call uttered by the Lord Jesus was personal, specific and effectual (effective). The call of Christ did what the light could not do! And the effectual call spoken by Christ does what the gospel cannot do. Christ's words gave life to Lazarus. Somebody objects saying, “But the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Is that not true?” Our answer is that such a partial quotation is a distortion of the truth. The gospel is not the power of God unto salvation! It is the power of God unto salvation only to those that believe (see Romans 1:16). And there lies Lazarus, dead, unable to do anything. And just so, dead sinners are unable even to “hear” the gospel, let alone believe it. Paul wrote about the inability of lost sinners to hear/receive the Word of God. He wrote: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Not only will a spiritually dead sinner not receive the things revealed by the Spirit – that is the Word of God. He is not able to do so. He cannot know them because he does not have the Spirit. He does not have the equipment, if you please. Dead sinners are unable to believe! Faith is a gift. It does not exist in the natural man. If it did they that are in the flesh could please God. But they cannot according to Romans 8:8. This preacher is always harping on those Scriptures that teach total-hereditary-depravity-inability. This preacher admits that he does that very thing. And why does he attempt to drive that nail again and again? Because that important basic truth is denied or ignored by most professing Christians today. Most people are being fed the lie of human ability and so their confidence – their faith and trust – is not in Christ alone. Instead, their faith is in what they were able to do for themselves. Oh, perhaps they had a little encouragement from God, but they obeyed God and thus pleased Him – they think! But they think wrong! A rotting corpse, spiritually speaking, has no faith. And so it is that Lazarus remained dead until he was infused with life at the spoken word of the Lord Jesus. Until the Lord called him, he remained as he was. The light had shone all around him, but it did him no good. And so it is with spiritually dead sinners in their spiritual tombs, basking in the light of the gospel without believing that gospel. To them – since they are unbelievers – the gospel is not the power of God.

            Many sinners never heed the general call of the gospel. They have sat under gospel preaching and it has done them no good. They need the effectual (effective) call which comes from God. That call produces God's desired effect in them: life! The Lord Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live,” (John 5:25). He was speaking of living spiritually as a result of dead men hearing. But Jesus did not speak of hearing the gospel. He said that it was the “voice of the Son of God” that infuses life into the dead! Only the power of God can make a hearing ear out of a deaf one and a seeing eye out of a blind one. Have you enough understanding to see that God spoke also of spiritual things when He said, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them,” (Proverbs 20:12). Why is it that we assume that Christ no longer speaks just because He is in heaven? God spoke in creation. Hebrews 11:3 says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God...” That word of God was not the Bible! It was the spoken word of God. Genesis 1:3 records: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” God spoke in the garden and cursed His creation. And God speaks in the effectual call in a manner above our understanding. But when He calls in the person of His Son, “the dead shall hear.”

            The fourth thing we see is this: instantly upon the spoken call of the Lord Jesus, Lazarus  “came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.” Lazarus came forth by no less power than God's power! He was wrapped similarly to an Egyptian mummy. He could not move about of his own power or ability. Christ's power brought him out of his tomb. He was alive! Although he could not see because of the napkin, he was a new man – but he was still tied up. The napkin binding his face kept him from seeing and fully understanding what was going on. So it is in regeneration. As some Baptist confessions have it, regeneration or the spiritual birth is accomplished “in a matter above our comprehension.” It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit for “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” (John 3:6). Jesus, speaking of the wind as a picture of the work of the Spirit in regeneration said, “thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” (John 3:8). The experience of Lazarus pictures the experience of grace. Without this experience of grace religious people are still lost. Without the experience of grace, professing Christians are merely empty professors. Without the experience of grace, baptized men and women are just wet lost sinners. Without the experience of grace, folk who try to obey the Bible are just spiritually dead works mongers involved “ will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body...” (Colossians 2:23). Such may rein in their baser lusts, but remain dead in their sins. Such a religion does nothing to change a person from being in the flesh to the realm of the Spirit. (See Romans 8:8-9).

            Finally, the fifth thing to note is that once again the Lord Jesus assigned work to the disciples – his traveling church. There was something else that little bride was to do. Just as He had instructed them to remove the stone from Lazarus' tomb, so He instructs them to “Loose him, and let him go.” Jesus could have spoken and the bindings would have immediately fallen from Lazarus body. He could have caused that to happen the moment life came into the body of Lazarus. But He did not. What are we to learn from the command of the Lord to the disciples to unbind Lazarus? What parallel is there between the disciples loosing Lazarus and those things that are to follow a spiritual resurrection? We ask, what is it that makes us free? The Lord Himself said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32). Lazarus was alive, but needed to be set free. He needed the napkin removed from his face. And so it is that babes in Christ – yea, and all the children of God - need to hear the truth. They need to hear the gospel explained more fully though they had it preached to their deaf ears prior to their new birth. After all, it is Christ “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Timothy 1:10). It is the gospel that is the means of bringing these two things to light! God's children are to be fed with both milk and meat - the truths of God's Word. Angels were not given this work. Christ does not do this work. It is to the Lord's congregations that He gave commission to make disciples, baptize them and teach them to observe all His commands. That is how those raised from spiritual death are loosed from their grave clothes! And those grave clothes are the worldlings'  ignorance and philosophy and attitudes – all those ideas that are contrary to the Word of God. Mere evangelistic preaching or witnessing will not remove the graveclothes from the raised sinner, though it may help some. Adding baptism to evangelism will not take the graveclothes off the raised sinner. It takes the whole of the great commission – including teaching obedience to the commands of Christ to do that job. That is why the Lord's churches need to be involved in the whole work of the gospel ministry – all three parts of the commission.

            Surely the order and detail of the raising of Lazarus portrays to us – signifies to us – just how the Spirit of God infuses life into spiritually dead sinners. This incident teaches us that those who have already experienced regeneration have a part to play – work to do – in the salvation of sinners. Christ's churches are to be busy preaching to dead sinners and baptizing and teaching “as many as the Lord our God shall call,” (Acts 2:39). And so it is that the Bible will not allow us to be fatalists or “hardshells.” Rather, as faithful members in a congregation of Christ's, we are to be actively involved in carrying out the commission left to us by the Lord Himself. Every regenerated man and woman ought to live so as to be qualified to be a member in good standing of one of the Lord's churches. And every one of the Lord's churches ought to be involved in making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey the Word of God. There is a danger here: if we ourselves and the preachers whom we support do not understand how God saves sinners the message will be unclear. Let us make sure we give forth a clear call upon our gospel trumpets! “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). All of us must be diligent, studious and careful to make sure we understand the gospel. We must not only understand it, we must give it out clearly, subtracting nothing and adding nothing to it.

            A final word to any reader who has not been infused with spiritual life by Christ. You must have such an experience of grace. You cannot earn it. It will do no good to pretend to have it. Only, “If the Son... shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,” (John 8:36). Your self satisfaction with your religious works and human goodness are evidence that you have not had the infusion of spiritual life – the experience of grace – by which spiritually dead sinners are made alive. Never forget! Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” (John 3:6-7). Have you been born from above? Your only hope is in Christ!


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