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The Resurrection and the Life

The Gospel of John has two resurrections. The raising of Lazarus is really the lower resurrection event in John’s Gospel. The resurrection of Jesus in chapter 20 is obviously the higher one. But I have chosen to preach on this event in John 11 to lead us into a series of sermons on what are sometimes called Jesus’ “I AM” statements. There were seven of them, all of them in the Gospel of John, and each one tells us something about the Lord.

On this Day of Resurrection we hear Jesus say “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Jesus is called to come to the home of Lazarus who is sick. Our Lord says that this sickness is for God’s glory and that God’s Son will be glorified through it. But Lazarus dies.

Martha was Lazarus’ sister. She says to Jesus that if he had been there when Lazarus was so sick her brother would not have died. Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. Martha answers that she knows he will rise at the last day.

That’s what Jews living in that time believed. People died and went to kind of an intermediate place of rest. Then on the last day when God brought all things to do end he would resurrect everyone all at once, and give them new bodies. To them “resurrection” did not mean primarily “life after death” or “going to be with God”.

Ezekiel 37 and the prophet’s vision of a valley of dry bones coming back to life through the Spirit of the Lord provided the scriptural foundation for this conviction. In that vision the Lord says, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them…”[1]

Jews in Jesus’ day believed that God would raise the righteous dead simultaneously in one grand resurrection at the end of time.[2] Martha believed this.

That is when Jesus speaks one of the strongest statements that ever came from his mouth, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though that person dies; and all who live and believe in me will never die.” Martha thinks of the resurrection as a particular day in time. Jesus says something else.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t point her to doctrine or even to Scripture. He points to himself.

I am the resurrection.

Our faith is not about a moral system or even a religious system. It is about a person who is the Son of God. Many people have fine morals or belief systems that are well thought out but they miss the person of Jesus Christ. Christian faith is about the personal God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and centering our lives in him.

By saying, “I am the resurrection” Jesus is saying that the door for resurrection is him, and him alone.

Jesus acknowledges that those who believe in him will die a physical death. But when he says that those who entrust their lives to him will never die he means “will never ever die in the age to come”, or “will never die an eternal death” or “in respect to the next world”.

Jesus then asks Martha, “Do you believe this?”

These words are often left out when we quote Jesus but the question is key. Do we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?

Belief in the resurrection is essential for saving faith. Paul writes in Romans, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”[3]

Belief doesn’t mean total understanding. It doesn’t mean we have no questions. The Gospel writers tells us that Jesus’ disciples experienced doubt even as they saw Jesus alive and speaking to them.[4] There is a lot about resurrection that is hard to believe or that we can’t get to or see now. But Jesus never requires perfect or completed faith. He takes even faith the size of a mustard-seed.

Martha acknowledges what she does believe though she still struggles through the death of her brother.

One of the poignant parts of John 11 is how Jesus is so deeply moved by the death of Lazarus and the grief everyone in this scene is feeling. When Jesus gets to the scene Jesus also cries. Jesus is touched by the pain of death. Death hurts. It steals. It takes. And Jesus breaks down.

When they lead Jesus to the tomb he tells them to take away the stone. Now, Lazarus has been dead for four days, buried in a cave in the warm, dry Middle Eastern climate. You do the math. Martha knows it is not going to be pretty. In fact, the stench is already coming out of the tomb.

She tells Jesus about “the bad odor”. That’s how the New International Version puts it. The good old King James Version gets to the point and in that version Martha says, “Lord, he stinketh”. It is exactly in this stinking world of death and decay that the power of the resurrection is let loose.[5] It is precisely because death stinketh that the resurrection is so wonderfully amazing.

Is there something that stinketh in your life right now? Maybe something you have been ignoring or you’ve buried it in some tomb and rolled a stone in front in hopes of not having to deal with it. Unresolved grief? A bad relationship? Forgiveness? Anger? Pride? Something else? Jesus says, remove the stone and let me deal with it. Martha does not want to deal with it.

Jesus tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” And then he prays out loud so that all can hear him. He says he does this so that people will believe that he was sent from the Father.

Jesus ends his prayer, and then shouts in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” He speaks Lazarus’ name. Jesus said he was the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name. Jesus also said “…a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out…”[6] John 5:28-29

John writes that the dead man came out, although I suppose he isn’t a dead man if he is walking, heh?

Jesus works resurrection in Lazarus’ life. He can and will in ours.

If you believe and belong to our Lord Jesus Christ the tomb is not your home. Death does not own you, nor control or reign in you. You are not dead but alive. You are alive to God in Christ. Maybe you can’t see it all right now but we live not by what is seen but by what is unseen. Whenever we choose to live in dark thoughts and moods, self-pity, resentments or participate in whatever is against God’s reign and light it entombs and buries us.

If Jesus calls you out of the tomb then come out. You don’t belong there.

Jesus’ orders them to take off Lazarus’ grave cloths, literally “unwrap him”, and let him go.

Those of us who come out of our tombs and come to new life in Christ need unwrapping of all the things that have bound and held us for so long. I am still being unwrapped. We can still be held by doubts, fears, impulses, and struggles. And just like Lazarus, we need others to help unwrap us. We need pastors, teachers, friends, encouragers, spiritual directors, friends, and mentors to get us unwrapped.

Unwrapping can take time, and probably most of our life. But if we place our trust in the One who is the resurrection and the life and rely on what he has done then though it may be ever so slow at times, we are coming to life.

Here’s the thing: Lazarus was raised from the dead, but eventually he dies again and this time for good. He doesn’t solve the problem of death. This event was just a preview, an appetizer, and foretelling of something greater to come. This is the last time we hear about Lazarus because this event is really all about Jesus. Jesus just uses this sickness to bring glory to God.

“I am…I am, in myself…the resurrection and the life, and death will not be ultimate for you in the life to come if you believe that I am this.” We will die and sleep the sleep of death, but we will awake to life forever with God.

Max Lucado said that if God is going to be God anywhere he has to be God in the face of death because death is our ultimate problem.

Depression can be helped with psychology and medication. Social problems helped with education and money. Physical problems cured with doctors and medicine.

But only God can deal with death.

“And only the God of the Bible has dared to stand on the canyon’s edge and offer an answer. He has to be God in the face of death. If not, he is not God anywhere.”[7]

This event points to God’s ultimate victory over death in Jesus Christ. It is also the final sign that Jesus does in John’s Gospel setting up the ultimate event of the cross and resurrection to come.

It is Jesus who this is about, and whom we must come to,

…who was crucified, killed and buried in a tomb, and on Sunday was alive, seen, touched and heard by many,

…who broke out of death and the tomb to cement his claim to be the resurrection and the life.

The Lord’s Supper is an exclamation mark to the resurrection of Christ and the new life we have entered. We need to see this table more from a Resurrection standpoint than we often do.

This is not a funeral meal or a time for mourning. This is an anticipation of the marriage feast of the Lamb! This is a table of joy!

Jesus said, that if anyone eats of the bread that is him, they will live forever. And he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Let’s prepare to come to Communion.

Alleluia. He is risen, indeed.

[1] 37:12 [2] See The Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright, pp.134-35 [3] Rom. 10:9 [4] Matthew 28:17 [5] The People’s Commentary [6] John 5:28-29 [7] God Came Near, pp.69-70

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