"Jesus - The Resurrection and The Life"
John 11:25-26 Theme: All our hope for resurrection and eternal life is found in Jesus Himself.
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
You might have expected that on Easter Sunday, we would look at a passage of Scripture that tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus.
But I have felt led this Easter Sunday to look at a passage that tells the story of how Jesus raised someone else from the dead. Certainly, Jesus'
own resurrection from the dead is the great theme of it all. But I believe
God wants us to see that His resurrection is the substance of our own experience of hope as well. Jesus told His disciples, "Because I live, you will live also" (John 14:19).
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There are certain truths God presents to us in the Bible that are central. They are so crucial, that every aspect of our spiritual well-being depends on our believing them. I like to think of them as "trickle-down truths". Your orientation toward them will trickle down to every other area of life. The Bible's teaching about the hope of the resurrection is one of those truths. Everything else in your life depends on how you are oriented to the hope of the resurrection. If it is true that we can hope, as the Bible teaches that we can, in one day being resurrected from the dead, then the the fear of death is ultimately conquered in us and we live a life fundamentally characterized by confidence, peace and joy. We can rejoice in hope just as King David prayed in Psalm 16:9-11;
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. For you will not leave my soul in Sheol [that is, in the abode of the dead], nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:9-11).
By contrast, if your heart is not gripped by that hope -- if you are like so many today who simply believe that, when you die, you just die and that's the end of it -- then that orientation to the Bible's teaching about the resurrection will trickle down into every area of life as well. As the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests, the man or woman who has no hope of resurrection is no better off than an animal.
For what happens to the sons of men also happens to the animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, the all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).
How grim! And if this is true of a man or woman who simply lives for their own pleasures and lusts; how much more true is it of those who live a sacrificial life of obedience to Jesus Christ!! As the apostle Paul said, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Cor. 15:19).
I don't believe that it can be stressed enough! The great proposition of Easter isn't something insignificant and of mere sentimental value only. It's everything!!
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We've gathered together today to affirm that, because Jesus rose from the dead, we live in hope. Our whole lives are characterized by hope because Jesus' tomb is empty and He is alive today. He Himself is our living hope. This morning's passage of Scripture teaches us that because He is alive today, He Himself is to be the substance of our own personal experience of hope. Jesus said, in John 11:25-26;
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).
Jesus didn't speak these words during a lecture in philosophy. He didn't write them in a book of poetry. He spoke them to people just like you and I -- people who lived, and worked, and enjoyed being with their loved ones; people whose lives were suddenly and abruptly interrupted by the great enemy death. He spoke these words in the context of real sorrow; in the hearing of people who were feeling the painful loss of someone that they loved. He spoke these words to people whose souls were deeply thirsty for the hope of eternity. He spoke these words of victorious hope in order to directly address the loss felt by real, hurting people like us.
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The Lord Jesus wasn't an aloof and detached philosopher and teacher. He was a great lover of people. He had special friends; and He loved being with them and having fun times with them. And this story involves three such friends that Jesus loved very much: Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus.
We don't know too much about Lazarus; but there's much from the Bible that we can know about his two sisters. You might characterize them this way: Martha (probably the eldest of the three) was the "in-charge" type. She would be the one who would put on the big meals that everyone loved to go to. And because this was true of her, she tended to be a "controller". She had to have her hand in everything. She was "practical."
Her sister Mary, on the other hand, was the quiet, sensitive type. She was given to times of moodiness; and sometimes did things that her friends considered to be anything but "practical." Once when Jesus was staying in Bethany, Mary came to where He was, opened a very expensive bottle of fragrant oil -- costing as much as three hundred days wages -- and poured the entire contents of it on Jesus' head to prepare Him for His burial. Jesus approved of her action; but others who saw it said that she was extremely wasteful. Martha tended to think that she had to "take care of" Mary.
Sometimes the differences between these two women generated conflict. You might remember the time that Jesus came to their home, and how Martha slaved and fussed over the meal. She was angry with her sister, because Mary wasn't helping with the chores. Instead, she was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him teach. In fact, I think Mary was "at the feet of Jesus" more often than anyone in the Bible.
Martha was pretty upset about this; and she came to Jesus, complaining that He must not have cared very much about how she had been left to do all the work. She demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help. But Jesus didn't. Instead, He simply said:
Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)
I suspect that people who knew them and heard that story said, "Yep; that's vintage 'Mary and Martha'. But oh, how Jesus loved them! These friends lived in a city called Bethany -- just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem.
Now, as it turned out, Lazarus became gravely sick. Jesus was several days' journey away at the time; and Lazarus' two sisters send a messenger to Jesus to tell Him, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick" (John 11:3). They suspected that Lazarus was so sick he was about to die. They expected that Jesus -- who had healed so many sick people -- would surely come right away and heal His dear friend Lazarus.
But the amazing thing is that Jesus didn't come. Instead, He sent the messenger back with the strange message: "This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (v. 4); and then, He stayed right were He was for two more days.
Finally, after two days, Jesus suddenly told His disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." He told them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up" (v. 11). Perhaps it was because His disciples remembered that He had said that the sickness wasn't unto death; but for whatever reason, they didn't understand. They said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." They thought it would be a little like going to wake Lazarus up to give him his sleeping pill. But Jesus told them plainly -- and in a way that indicated His sovereign hand on all that was going on:
Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him (vv. 14-15).
By the way; do you notice a continual theme in all this? Jesus kept letting everyone know that there was a purpose in this sickness -- and even in the death. Jesus asserted that it was for the glory of God "that the Son of God may be glorified through it;" and "so that you may believe." Jesus was testifying that God was going to demonstrate something significant about Jesus in the events that were about to take place.
If I may, there's a lesson for us in that. Sometimes, the things that seem so tragic and pointless to us are, in reality, our sovereign God's appointed means of demonstrating the greatness of His wonderful Son, Jesus. And sometimes in such circumstances, it seems to us as if God isn't listening to our prayers, and that He's being insensitive toward us and making us wait for no reason. But in reality, God is waiting for just the right moment to display His glory to us during those times of trial. Such was certainly the case here; and I suspect such is very often the case for us without our realizing it. We should learn to trust Him, wait on His perfect timing, and watch for the display of His glorious power.
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Jesus arrived at Bethany a few days later; and when He arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Many of the people from the city of Jerusalem had come to comfort Mary and Martha over the loss of their brother. And perhaps we aren't too surprised to find that, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, Martha couldn't even sit still and wait for Him to arrive. She left Mary sitting at the house and ran off to meet Jesus on the road.
Martha's heart was full of all sorts of emotions at that moment. I believe that she remembered what Jesus said -- that "this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." I believe she felt everything all at once -- comfort at Jesus' presence; grief over her brother's death; disappointment because of Jesus' delay; and hope over what He might still be able to do. I can't help but picture her in tears as she said, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even know I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You" (v. 22). I also imagine Jesus being very tender toward her. I can imagine Jesus holding her by the shoulders, looking gently into her eyes, and saying, "Your brother will rise again" (v. 23).
Martha didn't understand Jesus meaning. She thought He was simply saying one of those kinds of things that people say at such times when they just don't know what else to say. And even though I believe her heart sank in despair for a moment, she wiped her tears away, nodded and said, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (v. 24). Yes; Lazarus will "rise" on that great day -- just as the Scriptures that all Jewish people read had promised. Martha was being practical.
But that's when we hear those all-important words from Jesus. Martha was right to believe that Lazarus would be resurrected. But she didn't understand that the only One who had the power to raise the dead -- whether on the last day or at any other time -- was standing right before her. She thought that "the resurrection" was something that somehow stood independent from Jesus; and Jesus asserted to her that the resurrection was inseparable from Himself. Still looking her in the eyes, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" And she said to Him, "Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world." (vv. 25-27).
And before we go on, I'd like to suggest to you that that is the main point that this story is seeking to bring home to us. On another occasion, He said,
Most assuredly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, becasue He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of lif, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:25-29).
Jesus is the Son of God. All authority rests in Him. The great hope that Easter presents to us -- that of the fact of the resurrection -- is never to be seen as something that is somehow apart from Him. He Himself is the resurrection and the life.
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Martha -- ever the controller -- ran back home and secretly called on Mary and said, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you." Perhaps Martha did this secretly because she wanted their time with Jesus to be private. But God had other plans; because it was His purpose in all this to display His glory before their eyes. When the Jewish people who were there to comfort the two sisters saw Mary jump up and run away, they thought that she was going out to the tomb of her brother to weep there. They, no doubt, thought that they needed to take care of Mary too; so they followed her out to find her fallen on the ground at the feet of Jesus.
"Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died," she said -- in the very same words that Martha spoke to Him. But interestingly enough, Jesus didn't say the same thing to her as He had said to Martha. Instead, He looked upon her as she wept; and then He looked upon the Jews that came with her as they wept too. And the Bible tells us that "He groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (v. 33). "Where have you laid him?" Jesus asked; and after they said to Him, "Lord, come and see." That's when we find those marvelous words, "Jesus wept" (v. 35).
Why did Jesus weep? Wasn't He about to raise Lazarus? He certainly wasn't sorrowing for despair as they were. There can only be one reason. As it says in Hebrews 4:15-16,
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Can you see now how, when Jesus said that He was the resurrection and the life, He didn't speak as if He were merely giving a lecture in philosophy? He spoke those words as a loving friend who felt very much the pain of the people around Him, and sought to give substantial hope and comfort to them. They weren't mere platitudes. They were words that were real!
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Jesus not only made it plain that He knew the pain of Lazarus' loss; He also made it plain that He is the only One who can do something about it.
Still groaning in His heart, the Bible tells us that he came to the tomb. The tomb was a cave with a large stone rolled in front of it to close it off. It must have looked very final. He said, "Take away the stone" (v. 39). That's when Martha just had to get her hand in again. "Lord," she said, "by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days." Like we said before: Martha is practical. But note what Jesus said in response. "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (v. 40)."
The Bible is breathtakingly plain in the way it described what happened next. It says;
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me." Now when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go" (vv. 41-44).
And don't miss the result:
"Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had sent the things Jesus did, believed in Him" (v. 45).
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Jesus, it seems, went to great lengths to repeatedly affirm God's purpose in all this. He was wanting to display His glory through Jesus. We find it repeatedly. Jesus had said that "this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (v. 4). He even told His disciples that He was glad for their sakes that He was not there to save Lazarus' life, "that you may believe" (v. 15). He told Martha, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" (v. 40). When He prayed, He even told the Father that it was so that those standing around would believe that the Father sent Him (v. 42).
This whole event was for far more than Lazarus' sake alone. It was so that our attention would be drawn -- not to the event itself -- but to the One who performed it. So now; let's go back and look again at Jesus' words. As we do, we find the following principles:
1. Our hope lies in Jesus Himself.
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." He didn't simply say what the Jewish people had known from the Scriptures -- that there is a resurrection of the dead. Rather, He made Himself the central focus of that hope for resurrection. In fact, His original words as they're found in Greek are emphatic: "I -- I am the resurrection and the life."
This is the first great lesson that we should learn this Easter Sunday. There is no hope for resurrection apart from Jesus Christ. He isn't just simply passing on the hope of a future resurrection. He isn't even just holding Himself out as our example of what resurrection will be like. It's true that He is those things; but He's much more. He said that He Himself is the resurrection and the life. The dead man could not walk out of the tomb until, Jesus, the Son of God who is the resurrection and the life, said, "Lazarus, come forth!"
The apostle John was an eyewitness of these events. He later wrote, "And this the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12). Resurrection and life are not found just anywhere. They are exclusively found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone; because He alone is the resurrection and the life.
2. Because of Him, there is hope.
Because Jesus Christ alone is "the resurrection and the life"; and because He Himself tasted death for us, bearing our sins on the Cross, and because Himself is alive forever more -- having been raised from the dead on Easter morning -- now we have hope in Him! If we have placed our trust in Him, then the great "trickle-down" truth of the resurrection should permeate our lives, and change everything about us. Our whole lives can be characterized by hope.
Jesus Himself said that He presents hope to us in two ways:
a. Hope for those who have died.
He said, "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." This is a hope that comforts us with respect toward those who have passed on before us.
Our sorrow when someone we love has passed on before us is real. We miss them; and we long for their fellowship again. We genuinely grieve; but because of Jesus, we grieve in great hope. The apostle Paul wrote to his fellow believers in the city of Thessalonica, because many of their loved ones had died for their faith through persecution. He told them;
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
b. Hope for those who live.
Jesus not only meant for this hope to be a comfort to us when we lose a beloved brother or sister in the Lord by death. It's meant to give us, who are living, hope even while we live. Jesus said, "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." Literally, He used an emphatic negative construction that would read something like this: "... he shall in no way die unto eternity." As Christians, we live our lives with the recognition that death may come to us; but we also live with the recognition that death is in no way permanent. We will in no way die unto eternity. Death, for us, is only temporary; and so, we live in hope.
The apostle Paul lived very much in that hope. He said,
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1).
We can know this too, because of the glory that God has revealed through His Son Jesus Christ.
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Today, we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior from the dead. But in our celebration, let's make sure that we don't miss one of the great lessons God wants us to learn about the risen Savior. Our celebration of His resurrection isn't meant to be something distant and lofty -- somehow separated from our everyday life. God wants us to see that He Himself is the substance of the resurrection hope of everyone who has placed their trust in Him. "I am the resurrection and the life", He said. "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
He asked, "Do you believe this?"
Well ... do you?
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