Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
These well known words have been uttered over many a graveside. It is no surprise to say that death will eventually come to us all. It's a topic that many shy away from, and don't want to hear for obvious reasons. However, we will all at some time in our lives witness and be deeply affected by the death of a close friend, work colleague, or a much-loved family member.
In John's gospel, we encounter a family that has gone through such times. They have felt the tragic suffering and death of a dearly loved family member who was taken ill and then cruelly snatched away from them. This dashed all their hopes and livelihood, for there was no state benefit or insurance premiums in those days. The two sisters Mary and Martha are in deep shock and grief. Then, 4 days after their brother Lazarus is buried, Jesus arrives and says those incredible words to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” There is hope!
What a simply astounding statement to make! Lazarus lies dead and buried! Are these meant to be words of comfort and reassurance? Or are they the words of a madman? Martha didn't think he was joking, or mad as we shall see. What are your views of Jesus, and the implied meaning of these words?
It's very interesting to learn of the events leading up to the arrival of Jesus in Bethany to the home of Martha and Mary. For when Jesus first heard the news concerning the death of his friend Lazarus, he made no special effort or attempt to hurry back to the concerned family. Instead, we are told (John 11:3) that he loved Lazarus! So why the deliberate delay of a further two days? Jesus gives us the answer, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
The explanation is this, although Lazarus would die, his death will not be final. It will not be the end of his life upon this earth. Instead, Jesus would use this tragic incident to display his power over death and be praised and glorified by it. Furthermore, many would be eyewitnesses and come to believe in him.
So when two days had passed, Jesus tells his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” (John 11:11) When the disciples didn't understand him, Jesus plainly tells them “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Jesus knew, despite the fact no news had yet reached them. How did Jesus know? Because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
1. Death is decreed
Why did Lazarus die, why does anyone die? Because God has decreed it. Listen to what God says: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Notice the certainty summed up in the words “You will” given to Adam. God gave life to man in the first place, and he will remove it in due time. Why? God's word is very clear. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
The bad news of the bible is this. We are all sinners! How do we know that? Because everyone dies! But the good news of the gospel is that God doesn't want death to be the end. God sent his Son into the world, to take the sin of his people upon himself. He died the death we all deserve. He did it in order to save us!
The lesson we learn from the death, and the bringing back to life again of Lazarus, is to show to us Jesus alone has the real power over death, and the curse common to us all. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Only in him, there is hope of a bright future.
2. The faith of Martha
When Jesus arrives, Martha greets Jesus with these incredible words. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:21)
What faith! “Lord”, she is respectful. She is not angry or resentful, she just accepts what has happened, but she couldn't help but repeat – probably what she had been saying for the last four days - if Jesus had only been here, things would have gone differently. There was no doubt in her mind. Yet even now she trusted in Jesus! Was this a false hope? No.
Jesus reply seems to test her faith further. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’” (John 11:23) Was it to encourage her dwindling faith? She is in a deep emotional state. She had just lost her close brother. What did the future now hold for the two girls in that society? Did Jesus say this to fan the flickering flame in her heart that had almost gone out? Was it to point Martha to the fact that death is not the end? It seems that was Martha's understanding, for she said: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) She knew her Bible and the many promises given in the Old Testament.
Martha held onto the belief in the general resurrection of the dead and expressed her belief. But did she dare hope Jesus would indeed bring back Lazarus from the dead – here and now? Is it possible? Her previous words showed she had absolute faith in Jesus. Surely anything is possible for God, he gives life and he takes life. And she believed God listened to him. Bearing this in mind, Jesus' reply takes on whole new meaning: “Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha's reply has a stunning impact for us all “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world“ What incredible words spoken by Martha! Jesus teased out her belief into an open confession of his true identity! What faith! She might not have made the connection until right now, at this very moment. He might have been a great teacher, a much-loved prophet. But now she understands Jesus’ words, and the meaning behind them, the implication of them. She thought only God can raise the dead. So, Jesus must be the Messiah, he is the Son of God!
And Martha's measured reasoning begs the fundamental question, what do you think of Jesus? Notice Jesus didn't say anything back to her, he was silent and didn't deny it or reprove her. He didn't need to say anything else. Martha had worked it out for herself. Have you?
“Lazarus, come out.”
Jesus then speaks to Mary and was so deeply moved by her words that he weeps. He then moves on to where the others grieving by the tomb of Lazarus.
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)
What do you think of this? Whoever heard of a mere man raising someone 4 days dead by just saying a few words! But that is exactly the point! The natural process of decay would have already started. A bad odour would fill the air! But at the voice of Jesus, the smell of decay disappeared in an instant! “Lazarus come out!” The creator and author of all life demanded it. Flesh was instantly made whole again! Muscles, bones, sinews, organs were re-built. His spirit returned! And out he walks! It's incredible! It’s just like he just woke up 4 days later!
The effect this had on those that were there and witnessed this miracle was astounding! “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.” (John 10:45)
Can you imagine the scene! Place yourself there, you turn up to a funeral, to a burial. Perhaps you may have seen the corpse of Lazarus with your own eyes and seen him carried and laid in a tomb. And while you stand there mourning, the stone is rolled away from the tomb. The smell is overpowering, and then to your astonishment, Jesus calls the person by name, and he comes back to life! Out he walks, complete with bandages, and grave clothes! Their mouths must have dropped open in complete disbelief and utter astonishment! How is this possible! And then those alongside you, take a good, new look at Jesus, and believe in him. Again I ask, what of you?
Sadly, even though everyone saw it. Not all ended up trusting in Jesus. “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” The inference is that they didn't believe. How could they after witnessing such a miracle? It just shows you how hard hearts are to Jesus and the gospel; even if a miracle is done right in front of their noses. They had no excuse! It's unthinkable! They were right there! The evidence was overwhelming, but they stubbornly refused to believe.
Man's hearts have not changed over the years. The words of Jesus still divide. Jesus says to you “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha didn't need proof. She believed the words Jesus spoke even before Lazarus was before Lazarus was returned to her. Her faith is a great example and encouragement to us all. Do you believe?
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