Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 September 4, 2016
“Jesus: The Resurrection and the Life”
Text: John 11:1-44 (esp. 11:25-26)
(An earlier version of this sermon was preached at Sylvania Presbyterian Church [EPC] on Sunday morning, October 24, 2004.)
We come to the fifth of Jesus’ I AM sayings, and that saying lies embedded in Jesus’ climactic sign in John’s Gospel. This final, most stupendous sign from Jesus points to a staggering, glorious reality—eternity with Him. John relays this sign and attending reality by a narrative involving three siblings.
In John 11:1-16 we read of Lazarus’ death. The previous chapter ends with Jesus ministering with His disciples beyond the Jordan River. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, send this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus tarries there two days—an occurrence pleasing to the disciples, for they have no desire to be near the center of animosity toward Jesus. Then after the two days Jesus says, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples object—likely in horror.
Jesus informs His disciples that He goes to Bethany to awaken Lazarus. The disciples do not understand His figure of speech, and they betray the same by saying, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus then explains that Lazarus has died, saying, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Likely they do not understand Jesus’ implication, namely, that He goes to raise Lazarus from the dead. They understand without a doubt the considerable risk involved: His life, and perhaps their lives too, hang in the balance. Bethany lies less than two miles from the seat of hatred directed at Jesus. Thomas, of undeservedly sullied reputation, expresses a steadfast faith in Christ as he speaks, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Being with Christ—even dying with Christ—beats being apart from Him in any condition by a wide margin.
Hence Jesus goes with the Twelve to Bethany and arrives four days after Lazarus’ death. Martha hears that Jesus draws night to their home and goes to meet Him. She presses in His ears a mixture of complaint and faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Even the complaint expresses faith. Martha confesses that Lazarus would be alive—and fully healed—if Jesus had been there. The conversation continues.
Jesus reminds Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” This truth Martha applies correctly, but incompletely. She confesses that indeed her brother shall rise again—at the last day, in accord with Jesus’ earlier teaching. Then Jesus springs from her statement to His case-closing declaration: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Not only does the substance of the saying strike, but the revelation of Jesus’ essence strikes as well. Martha cannot fail to see that this Man her family loves—this Jesus—is God in flesh. God speaks unfathomable truth to her raw soul. Then He asks the pivotal question: “Do you believe this?” Martha responds with glowing faith, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Jesus, His Lordship both asserted and trusted, now moves toward his chief sign—the raising of Lazarus from the grave. Jesus calls for Mary, who comes quickly to Him saying only, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Those mourners consoling the two sisters come running behind Mary—supposing that she races to weep at the tomb. Tears run everywhere now: from Mary, from the mourners, and—after learning of Lazarus’ place of entombment—from Jesus Himself. Love, compassion, grief at the power of death over people—all these flow down Jesus’ cheeks. Then comes the thrilling moment no one expects.
Jesus addresses some unnamed parties, “Take away the stone.” Martha raises polite objection in view of biochemical fact. Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Hence, some folks removed the stone. Then Jesus addresses His Father. He thanks His Father for hearing Him, and adds, “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then He addresses the tomb’s occupant in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
To the assembled throng’s great amazement and joy, Lazarus comes out of the tomb. His feet and hands bear the linen placed there by others. He has a cloth about his face. Yet he strides out of the tomb in full view of all. Jesus commands, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Hence, Lazarus enjoys glad reunion with his sisters and with his friends. Jesus yet again displays His power, thus revealing His glory, and many place their faith in Him. He earlier declared Himself to Martha to be the Resurrection and the Life. He demonstrates the same at Lazarus’ tomb.
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life today. Many in our world cannot accept such a notion—because their minds cannot comprehend it. To these folks, if their minds cannot comprehend it, then it cannot occur. How trifling would be a god who cannot act beyond our finite comprehension. Jesus is greater than our ability to understand Him. He even stands greater than those who live to debunk Him. Jesus never fails to be the Resurrection and the Life for the elect. He has not failed His own, nor will He at any time.
This came home to me one night on GA 17. Several difficulties hounded my life at the time: miscarriage four months earlier, pneumonia two weeks after that, and long-term discouragement in my supply pastoral work, to name but a few. I perceived in this season an attack from the evil one upon my faith, and the attack centered upon the Lord’s promise of eternal life. That night, in January 1995, I traveled home to Karen after officiating a high school academic competition in the afternoon. I had the finale of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto in the cassette player. At the point of the flute solo accompanied by soft, tranquil piano, the Lord began to move in my soul.
I sensed God pressing a question to my soul: “Has My Word failed at any point to you?” I answered, “No.” Then, inductively, He made His point to me, “Then I will not fail you at this point, either.” Immediately something released in my soul. I knew again in the depth of my being that God’s Word on eternal life is true—something that for many months eluded my inner self though not my mind. I enjoyed the rest of the concerto, arrived safely at home, and began to heal from a long evil attack on my soul.
I came to treasure this I AM saying of Jesus above the others during this time. I have seen these verses do God’s people great good over the years in many situations. I pray they do you great good both today and long after this day. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. If we be in Christ, then He assures our eternity with Him. Life changes as a result. We live with purpose, we live with hope, and we live with joy that transcends every adverse circumstance. Is He yours today? If so, then you are His forever. Rejoice and live in His exceedingly precious life.