"The Resurrection and the Life"
(Delivered Resurrection Sunday, April 8, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Ordinarily, on Resurrection Sunday, you would expect me to preach from a passage about Jesus' resurrection. And to be sure, Jesus' own resurrection is the theme this morning. But today, I ask that we look together at a passage that tells the story of how Jesus raised someone else from the dead. It shows us how Jesus' resurrection is to be the substance of our own hope in everyday life—and of the truth of Jesus' words to His followers; “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”. Our 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 “trickle-down” truths. Everything else in our life will depend on how we are oriented to the hope of the resurrection.
If it is true that we who are in Christ can expect—as the Bible teaches—to one day be resurrected from the dead, then the the fear of death is ultimately conquered in us; and we can go on to 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;
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 lack of faith in 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;
How grim! And if this is true of a man or woman who spend their whole lives pursuing their their own pleasures and and interests; how much more true is it of those who would give ourselves in sacrifice to the concerns and interests of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ! As the apostle Paul said of Christians, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19).
But 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 a 'living hope'. And 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 in the midst of all the challenges of daily life. Jesus said, in John 11:25-26;
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Jesus didn’t speak those astonishing words during a lecture in philosophy. He didn’t write them in a book of poetry. He spoke them in "the real world," and to people just like you and me—people who lived, and worked, and enjoyed being with their loved ones; people whose lives were suddenly and abruptly interrupted by the great enemy of death. He spoke those words in the context of real sorrow; in the hearing of real people who were feeling the painful loss of someone that they loved. He spoke those words to people whose souls were starving for the hope of eternity. He spoke those words of victorious hope in order to give an answer to the loss felt by real, hurting people like us.
The Lord Jesus was a great lover of people. He had special friends; and He loved being with them and having fun times with them. And the story in which these words were spoken involved 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. 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 little bit of a “controller”. She was the kind of person who had to have her hand in everything. If you had asked her to characterize herself, Martha would probably have said that 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 “eccentric”. Once, when Jesus was staying in Bethany, Mary came to where He was, opened a very expensive bottle of fragrant oil that may have cost 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. I suspect that Martha tended to think that it was her job to “take care of” Mary.
Sometimes the differences between these two women generated conflict. You might remember the story of the time when 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. That was Mary's favorite place to be— “at the feet of Jesus ”.
Martha was pretty upset; 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,
I suspect that anyone who knew them and had heard that story would have said that it was vintage ‘Mary and Martha’. But Jesus loved them both. And He loved Lazarus too.
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Now, as it turned out, Lazarus became gravely sick. Jesus was several days’ journey away at the time; and Lazarus’ two sisters sent a messenger to Jesus to tell Him, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (John 11:3). They believed that Lazarus was about to die; and they expected that Jesus—who had healed so many sick people—would come right away and heal His dear friend.
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, Jesus 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! It was then that Jesus said something very remarkable—something that would be amazing to hear from a friend. He said, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad . . .”
Taken by itself, what an odd thing to say! But that's not all Jesus said. What He goes on to say indicated His sovereign purpose in all that was going on. He said,
By the way; do you notice a continual theme in all this? Jesus kept letting everyone know that there was a purpose in the sickness of Lazarus—and even in his death. Jesus asserted that it was for the glory of God “that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4), and “so that you may believe” (v. 15). 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 pause here for a moment; there’s a lesson for us in that. Sometimes, the things that seem so tragic and pointless to us are, in reality, the appointed means that our sovereign God uses to demonstrate the greatness of His wonderful Son, Jesus. It may seem to us at such times that God isn’t listening to our prayers, and that He’s being insensitive toward us—making us wait for no reason; when 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—in some of the difficulties and trials we face in life. We should learn to trust Him, wait on His perfect timing, and watch for the display of His glorious power. As Jesus says later in this passage, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40).
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And so, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Bethany. And when they arrived a few days later, they 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, no doubt, 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” (v. 4). And as Jesus drew near, I believe she felt a mix of emotions all at once—comfort at Jesus’ presence; grief over her brother’s death; disappointment because of Jesus’ delay; confusion about His promise; and—with it all—hope over what He might even still be able to do for her brother. 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 now 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 really understand what Jesus meant by those words. 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, Martha thought; Lazarus will “rise” on that great day—just as the Scriptures that all Jewish people read had promised. Martha was being what she always was: “practical”.
Martha was right to believe that Lazarus would be resurrected. But what she didn’t understand that the only One who had the power to fulfill the promise of the Scripture and raise the dead—whether on the last day, or right then, or at any other time—was standing right before her. She thought that “the resurrection” was—somehow—some independent event; and yet, Jesus asserted to her that the resurrection was inseparable from Himself. Still looking her in the eyes, it's then that Jesus uttered those important words; “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, Jesus said,
Let that sink in. The resurrection is not just an event. It is a Person. Jesus is the Son of God. All authority rests in Him. “Resurrection” is His initiative. The great hope that on this holiday is never to be seen as something that is somehow distinct from Him; because He Himself IS “the resurrection and the life”.
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Now, Martha—ever the high-controller—ran back home, secretly called 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 whatever the motivation was for the secrecy, God clearly had other plans. It was His purpose in all this to display His glory before the eyes of all. 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—only 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 also wept. 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,
When Jesus said that He was the resurrection and the life, He didn’t speak as if He were merely giving a lecture in theology. He spoke those words as a loving friend who felt very much the pain of the people around Him, and sought to set substantial hope and genuine comfort before them. As He went to the tomb weeping, Jesus not only made it plain that He knew what it felt like to lose someone through the great enemy 'death'; He also made it plain that He is the only One who can conquer it.
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Still groaning in His heart, the Bible tells us that Jesus 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 had a very 'final' look to it. And yet, Jesus commanded, “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 have said before: Martha is “practical”. But note those important words that Jesus spoke 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;
Some say that Jesus had to call Lazarus out by name; otherwise all who were dead would have come out! 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).
Jesus went to great lengths to repeatedly affirm God’s purpose in all this. It was the Father's plan to display His glory through His Son Jesus—the One who is “the resurrection and the life”. We find this purpose stated often in this passage. 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 affirmed to the Father that it was so that those standing around would believe that the Father had sent Him (v. 42). And when it was over, many who saw did believe in Him (v. 45).
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This whole event, then, was for far more than Lazarus’ sake alone. It was so that the attention of you and me today would be drawn—not to the event itself—but to the One who had performed it. So now; let’s go back and look again at Jesus’ words in verses 25-26. As we do, we find the following principles.
First, we see that . . .
1. 'RESURRECTION' AND 'LIFE' IS FOUND 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 promised resurrection of the dead. Rather, He made Himself the central focus of that resurrection hope. In fact, His original words as they’re found in Greek are emphatic: “I—even I—am the resurrection and the life.”
This is the first great lesson that we should learn on this Resurrection Sunday. There is no hope for resurrection—no hope for victory over death—apart from Jesus Christ. He isn’t simply passing on the hope of resurrection to us. He isn’t even just our example of what resurrection will be like. 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 the Son of God 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 found in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone; because He alone is "the resurrection and the life".
Second, we see that . . .
2. BECAUSE HE IS 'THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE', WE HAVE HOPE.
Because Jesus Christ alone is “the resurrection and the life”; and because He Himself has tasted death for us—bearing our sins on the Cross; and because Himself now lives forever more—having been raised from the dead three days later; we now have hope in Him! If we have placed our trust in Jesus, then the great “trickle-down” truth of the resurrection can permeate every area of 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. First, He presents hope concerning those who have died in Him. He told Martha, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (v. 25). This is a hope that comforts us with respect toward those who have passed on before us.
When death has taken away someone we love, our sorrow is real. We miss them; and we long for their fellowship again. We genuinely grieve. Jesus Himself knew what that grief felt like. But because Jesus Himself is "the resurrection and the life", our grief is experienced in the context of future joy and victory. 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 acknowledged their sorrow; and he then told them;
And second, Jesus presents hope concerning those of us 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 also meant to give us, who are living, hope even while we live.
Jesus also told Martha, “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (v. 26). 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 at any time; 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,
We can "know" this too, because of the glory that God has revealed through His Son Jesus Christ—who is "the resurrection and the life".
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So then; 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, life-impacting lessons God wants us to learn about the risen Savior.
Our celebration of His resurrection isn’t meant to be something distant and lofty—something somehow separated from our everyday experience. God wants us to see that Jesus Himself is the substance of real hope for 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."
After He made that affirmation, He asked, "Do you believe this?”
Well? Do you?
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