Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
John 11:17-46; Remsen Bible Fellowship
You might remember that woven through the sermon last week were the lines of William Cowper’s poem, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” In this poem, Cowper urges his reader to Judge not the Lord by feeble sense/but trust him for His grace/behind a frowning Providence/He hides a smiling face. Last week we examined the frowning face of Providence, where we were told in v5 that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, and yet this love was of a sort that allows brothers to die, sisters to linger in despair, and leads disciples into harm’s way. It’s a very strange sort of love when judged by human standards. And yet today we are going to see the reason Jesus works so strangely in the lives of this family: he is about to put His glory on display.
The best outcome for any human being, in any circumstance in life, is that they might see and savor the glory of God. In our text this morning we will see Jesus working in the lives of these three siblings. In his interaction with Martha we will see that Jesus’ Promise is the Source of Our Hope. In his dealing with Mary we will see that Jesus’ Presence is the Source of Our Comfort. And as we turn to Lazarus, the brother who had died, we will see that Jesus’ Power is the Source of Our Life.
Jesus’ Promise is the Source of Our Hope, v17-27
- V17, By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus had been buried four days
- He would have been buried the same day as death; washed, wrapped in spices and linen, placed in the tomb
- There was a belief in later centuries, perhaps current in Jesus’ day, that the soul lingered for three days post-mortem (unbiblical, but an idea that was out there). Perhaps this is part of why Jesus lingers. It needs to be clear that Lazarus is real dead.
- V18-19, because Bethany is near Jerusalem, we see many coming out to console Martha and Mary from the city. This may point to them being a well connected family.
- V20, we again see the contrast in the two sisters, Mary remaining in place, Martha on the go. She hears Jesus is coming and she heads out to meet him.
- V21, what are we to make of Martha’s statement? Rebuke, trust, sorrow?
- I think, as noted last week, that there are notes both of confidence (she believes he has the power to prevent death and bring healing) and disappointment (he chose not to; he wasn’t there).
- This is neither a request to bring him back (which some read into v22), nor rebuke as to his operations. It’s a grieving sister coming out to meet the Teacher.
- V22, she continues to have confidence in his connection with the Father.
- V23, here Jesus speaks for the first time.
- What he says is fairly ambiguous: we know what he means, because we’ve heard this story before, but for Martha is just sounds like a nice piece of piety. Good graveside theology.
- V24, Martha affirms this doctrine. Belief in a final resurrection was a commonly (though not universally) held doctrine in Jesus’ day.
- That’s because it is firmly rooted in the Old Testament. Daniel 12:2. Isaiah 26:19
- Martha’s belief is correct; but it also seems pretty at-arms-length: yes, Lord, I know one day there will be a resurrection, and at that time Lazarus will be raised by God.
- How often are we like this with Biblical truth: responding with a weary, I know. We know what God has to say, but we’re more interested in how we’re feeling than what he is saying.
- V25-26, Jesus engages with Martha’s good theology. He takes it as his starting point, and it is a necessary starting point: you can’t appreciate and apply the truth until you know it. But Jesus is going to go deeper.
- The resurrection that had been seen as some distant and far off, end of the world, type of event, Jesus says has arrived in his person. I am the resurrection and the life. Let that sink in.
- Is Jesus being redundant when he says that he is both the resurrection and that he is the life? Or is there something else happening?
- It seems that this is an encapsulation of what he says in slightly more detail in the second half of v25 and into v26.
- First Jesus says that he is the resurrection. This is further explained when he says that, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.
- There is a day coming when Jesus will come to receive his own, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16
- Those who die, if they believe in Jesus as their only Savior, will receive their bodies back in a glorified state, and enter into a fully consummated, eternally bodily existence.
- This is guaranteed to us because Jesus has purchased it for us on the cross, and received his own glorified body as a firstfruit as the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20.
- Second Jesus says that he is the life. This is further unfolded by the phrase, everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
- In the first part of the statement, when Jesus points to his being the resurrection, what we see is a focus on the body. This body will rise again.
- But here Jesus promises that those who believe in him will never die, which the string of Christian corpses stretching back for a couple thousand years now would seem to contradict.
- Jesus is talking about a different quality of life; the eternal life promised in 3:16 to whoever believes in him. They shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
- Why? Because they have come to Jesus, who is life. In him was life, John 1:4a
- Jesus then moves from the realm of truth outside and turns it personal: Martha, do you believe this?
- Jesus is not content just lay the truth out, he presses the question: do you believe?
- He offers hope in the midst of Martha’s bleak circumstances, and the hope is wrapped up in the truth of who he is: he is the resurrection and the life, but that truth is of no use to her unless she believes it for herself. And it is of no use to you unless you personally trust in Jesus as your only hope for resurrection, your only hope for life.
- V27, how does Martha respond? Marvelously.
- Her confession really goes beyond what he’s asking. He asks if she believes what he says, it seems that she is saying, yes, and here’s what’s more: I believe what you’re saying because I believe in who you are.
- Her confession can be broken into three pieces:
1) You are the Christ; that is, you are the promised savior of our people
2) the Son of God; that is, you enjoy a unique relationship to the Father unlike any other human being
3) who is coming into the world; promised from the time of Adam forward, there has been a rescuer promised who would come in to save the people of God.
- Martha believes that Jesus is all of these things. She can take hope in him ,she can trust him, because he is the resurrection and the life.
Jesus’ Presence is the Source of Our Comfort, v28-37
- V28, after Martha’s confession of faith, she goes to get her sister.
- Jesus’ request is not recorded for us by John, but we can infer it from what Martha says to Mary.
- V29, how does Mary respond to the call of Jesus?
- She knew Jesus was present in a general sense. But Martha has brought her a message that Jesus wants to see her. Jesus does not simply stand outside town waiting to see if Mary eventually shows. He calls her.
- Jesus has comfort to offer you this morning, in whatever trial you may be going through. It is the comfort of his presence. But how will you respond to his call? Will you hurry to meet him as Mary did, or will you resist or put it off for another day?
- V30, Jesus is still waiting outside the town, note that Martha had gone to Mary privately. Jesus probably isn’t seeking to draw a crowd to himself just yet.
- V31, We see this further confirmed in the fact that the crowds don’t know where she is headed, so they are obviously unaware of Martha’s message to Mary.
- Because they don’t know that she is going to see Jesus, they make the reasonable assumption that she is headed to the tomb to weep, and thus they follow her to weep with her there.
- V32, Mary comes to Jesus, and she falls at his feet. It has been noted by some that nearly every time we encounter Mary in the Gospels she is at the feet of Jesus. She sits at his feet to listen in Luke 10, she falls at his feet to weep here, and in the following chapter she will be anointing his feet with anointment and wiping them with her hair.
- As Mary falls, what does she say? She repeats the statement of Martha in v21. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
- As with Martha, I don’t think we find any rebuke in these words. Just the brokenheartedness of one who has faith in Jesus’ power, but who is perplexed by his absence at their time of greatest need.
- V33, Notice here how Jesus does relate differently to the two sisters. Martha comes with good theology held at arms-length. Mary comes falling at Jesus feet. And where with Martha he helps her see that theology is more than true in the abstract, but something -someone- she can trust personally; here with Mary, Jesus simply sees her weeping, and the weeping of those around.
- The end of this verse is the source of much debate among commentators, and the debate enters around the word translated in the ESV as deeply moved. The Dictionary of Biblical languages list the meanings of this word as insist strongly; scold, rebuke harshly, exhibit irritation; or to feel strongly.
- Which is to say, when we read deeply moved here, we probably shouldn’t read an overflow of compassion or brokenness on the part of Jesus into this text. Jesus actually seems to look at this situation, the weeping of these people, and to have anger swell within his spirit, and to be greatly stirred, greatly troubled.
- What could Jesus be angry about? Many ideas have been suggested, but I think the clearest and most natural to the context is that Jesus is angry about sin and the death that results from sin.
- Death is the last enemy to be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26), and Jesus feels righteous indignation toward the results of sin in the world which he, in the beginning, made good.
- V34, we find Jesus asking the question, Where have you laid him?
- Again we note his silence toward Mary, as the question seems directed toward those with her, since it is they, plural, who answer him.
- V35, is the shortest verse in the English Bible. But few are more profound or weighty.
- Jesus, stirred deeply with anger toward sin, is not cold or distant or cynical as a result of that anger. He still feels the emotional rending that comes from the presence of death. And he weeps.
- There is no incongruity, nothing incompatible, between righteous anger and deep sorrow. In point of fact, the two must often be combined in this world if we are to understand God’s take on a situation.
- The God who in Psalm 78:49 let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels; is the same God of whom we read in Psalm 56:8, You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book.
- When evil or tragedy enter your life, when you experience injustice or abuse, no one sees that injustice more clearly than God himself. And he has more anger, more wrath, toward that injustice than even you do.
- But he is also there. He sees your sorrow. He records it. We have a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
- This is also instructive for Christians as to how we ought to respond to the suffering we see around us.
- Very often we simply default to the angry mode. And that can be right. But we want to be more like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, than Jonah, the reluctant and hateful one. They both carried God’s message and understood its importance. One was deeply troubled when people didn’t accept the truth. The other felt hurt and threatened when they did respond.
- Hate the sin and love the sinner has become something of an overused cliche, but it became one because it’s a simple summary of precisely what God calls us to.
- God is deeply angry with the sin-soaked nature of this world. And he poured that anger out on Jesus so that he might forgive the rebels who are responsible for it. He’s angry with you-yet he loved you in such a way as to send his Son to bear the weight of that anger.
- Jesus knows our sorrows. Jesus is present to comfort. Jesus weeps with those who weep. Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- v36-37, that comfort is conditional, isn’t it? Some see Jesus’ presence here, and his tears at the tomb, as evidence for Jesus’ love. But other’s just see Jesus’ failure to show earlier. Couldn’t he? Why didn’t he?
- Remember how Mary responded when she heard Jesus had come? She ran out to him.
- Jesus only consoles those who come to him by faith.
- Jesus would console you this morning, he would offer you the comfort of his presence in whatever trial you are walking through. But you must be willing to come, fall at his feet, and trust him. He is worthy of that trust.
Jesus’ Power is the Source of Our Life, v38-44
- V38, Again we find this term, deeply moved. This is more than mere sentimentality.
- If we are right in understanding Jesus as being angry toward sin, and angry toward death, then we can see Jesus coming here toward the tomb as one might imagine a warrior walking toward the battlefield, ready to vanquish his foe.
- V39, This was a very common style of tomb in that time and region, there would have been a cave, either naturally occurring or chiseled, which would have had a shelf made for the body or bodies laid therein, and sealed with a stone to keep out wild animals and grave robbers.
- Jesus gives orders for the stone to be moved, and Martha, again the practical sister, objects.
- Four days of decomposition in a warm climate without embalming would not have been kind to dead human flesh. So her concern over stench is reasonable.
- V40, Jesus isn’t real concerned with reasonable objections at this point, though. Did I not tell you?
- Now, we don’t have Jesus saying these exact words anywhere. So either he could be referring to an unrecorded conversation, of which he had many, or he could be summarizing their discussion in v21-27.
- I tend to think the latter. Which means that statement that seemed so ambiguous in v23, your brother will rise again, comes into much clearer view now.
- The glory of God is going to be put on display, and this is going to happen through the resurrection of a man whose been dead for four days.
- V41-42, they obey Jesus, and the stone is moved.
- Then, Jesus prays what seems to be an awfully weird prayer.
- Notice first that it is a prayer of thanksgiving. We might expect Jesus to be asking for the life of Lazarus, but instead he simply assumes that God has already heard and answered that part.
- Second, he notes that he already knew God listened to him, but that he was praying aloud for public benefit.
- What do we make of this? First, I think it is important to note that Jesus had first received news of Lazarus state 3-4 days earlier. So at the least he’s been praying about this for several days; and at the very beginning of that time (v11) he’s already telling the disciples that they are going back that Jesus might awaken him. Jesus is not wondering what will happen next. He knows.
- But he prays aloud because he clearly wants the crowd to connect what he is doing with the work of God. 5:26, 28
- Everything in this story, including this prayer (42b) is geared toward displaying God’s glory that the onlookers might believe.
- V43-44, after Jesus’ prayer he does what surely no one expects him to do: he cries out to the dead man. “Lazarus, come out.”
- Pause for a minute to think how crazy this must seem. Imagine you’re one of the disciples, you have to be thinking he’s lost his marbles. Between the pressure, the death threats, and now the grief, he’s lost his grip on reality.
- But Jesus isn’t crazy. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus is the Lord of all the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all human life. And when this One calls forth to Lazarus, the dead man listens. He is given life by the authoritative word of the Master.
- Jesus speaks, and the dead man walks. He gets up, and exits the tomb.
- Do you see what’s happening here? This story first of all has its place in time and history: Jesus really did raise Lazarus, a man four days dead, and restored to him physical life. He did this in such a way as to highlight his connection with God the Father so that those who witnessed might trust in him as the Messiah.
- But this story also serves as a frame, a lense through which we are to see our own lives. First, of spiritual life. Do you know and trust in Jesus? If so, it is only because he spoke to your dead soul, a soul dead in tressspasses and transgressions, a soul at enmity with God; and he said “come forth!” If you have been born again, it is not through your own work, not through perishable seed, but imperishable: the living and abiding word of God breathing life into your soul.
- If you have not yet trusted Christ, then the invitation is clear: heed the voice of your Maker. Come forth. Leave the bondage of sin and walk into the life of trusting Jesus. If you will do this, Jesus words about Lazarus, Unbind him, let him go, will not be in reference to physical rags bound round your body, but the spiritual chains of sin which bind every one of us apart from Jesus.
- Furthermore, Jesus’ raising of Lazarus demonstrates his power to raise the body. Though this is not the final body Lazarus will enjoy in the last day-the poor guy had to die twice!-what Jesus offers a glimpse at here is his ability to the decomposed and make it whole.
- He will one day take many bodies that have turned totally to the dust from which they came, and reform them into glorious resurrection bodies in which we will dwell forever.
- Jesus demonstrates his power to do just that when he raised a decomposing man back to life. He demonstrated it even more thoroughly when he laid down his own life on the cross and took it up again three days later.
- Jesus power is the source of all life, both physical and spiritual. But this life will only be abundant life, eternal life, life characterized by hope and comfort and joy, if we are trusting in Christ.
Conclusion: Do you believe? V45-46
- All of this is only good news for those who trust in Jesus. And this what our last two verses show us.
- V45, Many see, and seeing, believe. They saw not only with their physical eyes, but with the eyes of their hearts.
- V46, But others don’t. And unlike chapter 9 where they just go to the Pharisees because it seems like the thing to do, John paints this as an intentionally malicious action. Those who go to the Pharisees are held in contrast with those who believe. They saw, but didn’t see. Seeing Jesus’ power to raise a man from the dead did them absolutely no good because they refused to come to him.
Come to Jesus this morning. Place your hope in his promise, find your comfort in his presence, and receive life from his all-sufficient power. Trust in him.