English service - October 17, 2021
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
“I AM the Resurrection and the Life”
Good morning again, everyone here at Open Door Chapel and those joining us online. We are continuing today our journey through the Gospel of John, finding Christ there in seven particular names He gives Himself, all beginning with the name of God, I AM. So far they have all been metaphor names: “I AM the bread of life,” “I AM the light of the world,” “I AM the gate,” and “I AM the good shepherd.” But in the story we will explore today, Jesus gives two more abstract names, ideas that show great truths about Himself: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”
Today’s Bible story brings up the question that people of every age have always asked, (Job 14:14a), “If a man dies, will he live again?” John 11 takes us to some of the most basic questions about our lives as human beings. Is life in this world all there is? What happens when our bodies die? Can we really live here and now with a hope for life that goes beyond physical death?
We have struggled for over a year and a half to find something of value and meaning in the COVID-19 pandemic, together with all the fear, delays, isolation, and uncertainty. One of the good things that can possibly come out of this very bad situation is the chance it gives us to face up to the reality of death. As people of faith, we accept that God is in control of all, even this pandemic. He was not shocked to hear that it had begun, and He is not going through it with us without any purpose or plan. If we are willing, He can use this time to teach us to actively seek and find a hope that can help us live as people prepared to deal with death when it comes. As followers of Christ, we are intended to be people who live in the hope of the resurrection. John 11 presents us with a key opportunity to learn how to live here and now in this world as people empowered by the hope of eternal life.
We are hearing quite a lot these days about the desire to live forever—at least much longer than people do now. For example, the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, after leaving his work at his company, Amazon, began funding a new one—Altos Labs. Bezos is hiring big-name scientists to discover ways to use technology to reprogram parts of the human body to make them younger. They hope to cure aging, in other words. Among the people working with him is Yamanaka Shinya (the Nobel Prize winner). The company is opening branches in major cities, including Tokyo. Other famous people such as Larry Page of Google and Elon Musk of Tesla have been involved similar projects in recent years, as well.
So once again the Bible, though old, has a lot to say about a key part of our lives today. Besides the matter of death, it presents people in grief and followers of Jesus who still struggle with their faith in the face of life’s troubles. It presents an example of answers that the God of Bible gives when we ask, What is real love? And arching over all these are again our questions, Who is Jesus, what is He like, and how can we come to know Him more completely?
To people with these concerns in our hearts, how does Jesus respond? John shows Him responding with (1) truthful words, (2) powerful emotions, and (3) life-giving actions. Let’s look at the resurrection of Lazarus in more detail. The story is long and not the easiest in many ways, but I am confident it will be worth the effort if we will hear it with open minds and hearts.
Before we get into that, I feel I have to point out the motivation Jesus has in this story for all His words, emotions, and actions. When He first receives the message that His friend Lazarus is sick, we might think He’ll go straight to him. Yet John writes (vv. 5-6), “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. But after he heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.” (In Greek and most of the major English translations, it’s not “But” but “So” or similar wording—He loved these friends, so He stayed two more days.) It probably takes one day for the messenger to make the journey to Jesus, then another to go back after the two-day “delay.” In Jesus’ culture, there is the idea that the spirit might stay around the body for up to three days, and they don’t have ways to confirm death as clearly as we do today. But after four days, there will be no question in the mind of anyone that Lazarus is dead.
Christ chooses not to help quickly and directly, and this allows Lazarus’ physical death, as well as great grief for everyone who loves him. Yet all this happens while Jesus’ love for his friends remains as firm as ever. They struggle greatly to understand Him, and we do, too, when our lives bring us troubles, struggles, and disappointments of many kinds. Yet our Lord knows what He is doing in taking His friends through this terrible time. We get an idea of this from His words in v. 11:15a. He says, “For your benefit, I am glad I was not there. Now you will believe.”
He is seeing things that they cannot see. And they all will work together for good for those friends who love Him and find God calling them according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)—not in spite of their grief but in and through it. He resurrects not only Lazarus’ physical body but His friends’ weak, sick faith and understanding of Him. Precisely because they go through this gut-wrenching time of grief, it is possible for God to lead them to a deeper, more life-giving knowledge of Himself and His salvation.
That is what He wants to do in our times of struggle, as well. Remember, this story is about how much God loves you and me. So let’s be sure not to miss that basic message in all the confusion and drama of John 11. My appeal to you is, please, do not try to measure the love God has for you by how much health, wealth, comfort, and ease you have. He allows hard things to come to those He loves, but He will never do so without giving you the strength you need to go through them as you trust Him for it.
Jesus’ mysterious and sometimes (to us) frustrating ways are also how He shows His glory to us and, through us, to many people. And these are the larger purposes He has in mind for all of the events around Lazarus’ death, as Jesus says in v. 4. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory. God's Son will receive glory because of it.” Does that sound familiar? It is in line with what He says in John 9:3b about the man born blind. This condition is not God’s judgment of sin. No, “This happened so that God's work could be shown in his life.”
Now, with those key thoughts planted firmly in our hearts, let’s move ahead to see how Jesus responds to the people who come to Him needing His help.
First, it is with truthful words. Martha comes to Him, confused and in grief over losing her brother. She says, “Lord, I wish you had been here! Then my brother would not have died.”
Jesus gives her the answer she wants so deeply to hear (v. 23b): “Your brother will rise again.” But Martha does not seem ready to receive the great news. It sounds too good to be true, at least in this world here and now. So Jesus tells her in words no one who is truly listening can miss (vv. 25b-26a): “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And those who live and believe in me will never die.” He does not say, “I know about the resurrection and the life” or even “I can give you the resurrection and the life.” Life no matter what—
the resurrection—is so much at the heart of who He is that he identifies Himself with it. “I AM the resurrection and the life.” This is a lot like John’s saying in I John 4:16b, “God is love.” God and love, Jesus and the resurrection and the life, are so tightly bound together that they cannot be separated. Jesus is also showing us here already part of what He means when He later says (John 14:6), “I AM the way and the truth and the life.”
Many of the earliest Christians were willing to die for their faith. How could they actually do that? That willingness was based on their deeply held belief that God would raise them to life again, just as Jesus promised. The Bible teaches that we, as human beings who choose to sin, as a result do not live in peace with God. Divisions between people also grow out of this broken relationship. We can never be satisfied until we are at peace with the God who made us. Until then, we remain enemies, at war with life itself. Even if we could live forever in this condition, it wouldn’t be something great. It would be a nightmare. So I don’t blame Jeff Bezos or others for trying to live forever (though it’s scary to think of what could happen when some people have enough money to buy “eternal life technology” and others don’t). But there are bigger problems that just more of this world’s life cannot solve.
Jesus’ words, “I AM the resurrection and the life” can give us an understanding of the old Genesis story, too. It tells us (Genesis 3:22-24) that, after people sinned, God kept Adam and Eve from the Garden in order to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life.
The LORD God said, “The man has become like one of us. He can now tell the difference between good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and pick fruit from the tree of life and eat it. If he does, he will live forever.” So the LORD God drove the man out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground he had been made out of. The LORD God drove him out and then placed cherubim on the east side of the Garden of Eden. He also placed a flaming sword there. It flashed back and forth. The cherubim and the sword guarded the way to the tree of life.
At this point, people have sin in their hearts, so even if they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever, they will not be happy, fulfilled, or pleasing to God. When you see
this, you notice that God’s keeping the people out of the Garden then was not only judgment of them but mercy and protection, at least as much.
Human beings are created for eternity. Ecclesiastes 3:11b (New International Version) says about God, “He has also set eternity in the human heart. . . .” C. S. Lewis put it this way: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The desire to live forever is a natural part of being human. In the end, it points us to God and can only be satisfied by Him. Trying to fill the God-shaped hole inside us with Netflix or more time on social media or work or alcohol or whatever else just isn’t enough to meet our deepest needs. He made us to live forever. He is life itself. The eternal life we seek, including both why and how, is only found in Him.
Second, Jesus responds to people in need with powerful emotions. After Martha, Mary comes to Him, like her sister struggling with her faith in the face of overwhelming grief. “Lord, I wish you had been here! Then my brother would not have died,” she says (v.32). To get the scene in mind, understand that in this culture, when someone dies, there are seven days of mourning, more than many of us are used to in our cultures. Family, relatives, and others from the community will often be there, and often professional mourners are called in. They will make a wailing or crying sound that will make a sorrowful atmosphere, with the idea of assisting in expressing grief. Some of the people crying in v. 33 when Mary and they reach Jesus outside the village may be the professional mourners. There is a longer season of mourning beyond the more concentrated 7 days, which is supposed to go on for 30.
When Jesus sees all this happening, something happens inside Him. It’s different from when Martha said almost the same thing. This time (v. 33b) “His spirit became very sad. . . .” Soon v. 38a will use nearly the same words and tell us, “Once more Jesus felt very sad.” We need to talk a little about the words “felt very sad” to get closer to the real meaning. The King James Version has “groaned in the spirit” (v. 33) and “groaning in himself” (v. 38). The New International Version translates it “deeply moved in spirit” and “deeply moved.” The verb they translate here is not used in New Testament to describe compassion or tenderness. It is used when someone is giving a stern warning, for example. There is more anger in it than soft kindness. For example, it’s the word used in Matthew 9:30 when Jesus has healed some blind men. “Jesus strongly warned them, ‘Be sure that no one knows about this.’” The same word describes God taking His anger out (Daniel 11:30b in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and people finding fault with a woman who has used a lot of expensive oil instead of giving it to the poor (Mark 14:5). In fact, the verb is from a word that literally means to snort with anger as a horse would.
What is in Jesus’ heart and mind and these moments? Different preachers describing this tend to be all over the map, and we may simply not be able to understand Christ’s feelings at this moment very well. Not only is it not written in detail, but as the Son of the almighty, all-knowing God present all places, He may just be feeling more than our minds have the capacity to grasp. It does seem clear, though, that He is feeling the human emotions that you or I would feel if our friend died. He is demonstrating here what the writer of Hebrews 4:15a means: “We have a high priest who can feel it when we are weak and hurting.” But there is probably more going on here in Jesus’ emotions. He appears to be taking in the reality of what sin has done to our world. It has left everyone there before Him broken and helpless in the face of death, as the result of sin being all around and inside us. He knows deep in His heart that on the most basic and important level, death is not a natural part of life. It is the violation of the life God has created and sustained up to the point of death. He can’t just sit by and watch that stoically. He hates sin and the destruction it brings. To borrow a phrase from theologian Neal Plantinga, death is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” But He loves people as His own Father’s creations, the bearers of His own image. So when He sees this death’s effects, snorting like a horse in anger seems to be His natural reaction.
It’s a lot like that also in v. 35, when “Jesus sobbed,” though a different word is used. Here, too, He may be feeling more than we do in our life experiences. Remember, as the all-knowing Lord, He of course realizes that He is going to perform a miracle and raise Lazarus from death very soon. In a matter of minutes, people are going to feel more like a party than a funeral. That is a big part of why He is there this day. Yet with that knowledge, He still is filled with grief and anger and perhaps other feelings, as well. The word for His sobbing is a different one from what professional mourners do—an outburst of emotion in Jesus’ case. That’s His response to people in need at this point.
Third, Jesus responds with life-giving actions. This is very much in keeping with the pattern of behavior He has shown throughout His work with people. He speaks, but He also acts in ways that demonstrate what He is saying and the power He has to put it into practice in real life. Jesus speaks about being the bread of life (John 6) but also actually makes and gives bread to hungry people. He speaks about being the light of the world (John 8) but also actually opens the eyes of a blind man and helps him see the light of day. Christ speaks about being the gate and good shepherd (John 10), but he also actually guides and protects and cares for the man born blind (John 9). In today’s story, too, Jesus not only says He is the resurrection and life—He demonstrates this by resurrecting Lazarus. Not only the words but also the works of Christ give proof of who He is.
The Lord has responded with teaching when Martha was struggling with her faith and emotion when Mary was. Now when some in the crowd struggle to believe, He moves to action. In v. 37, some of the people with Mary and Martha, apparently religious leaders, say, “He opened the eyes of the blind man. Couldn't he have kept this man from dying?” Jesus’ feeling “very sad” (maybe snorting like a horse) comes directly after this, probably at least partly in response. But soon He is moving to the cave where Lazarus is buried, ordering that the stone over the entrance be taken away, thanking God in prayer for what He is about to do, then commanding that Lazarus come out. He does—obviously something that no human should be able to do without God’s help. It is clear to many of the people who actually see this miracle that Jesus is who He says He is. For others who will not believe, the words of Abraham in Jesus’ story about a beggar named Lazarus come true: “. . . They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:30).
This demonstration of the power of the love of God fits naturally with the other stories of the life of Christ and the whole Bible. It sets the stage for the drama of Easter Week, with the religious leaders now more determined than ever that Jesus must be killed. That leads, of course, to the cross and then Jesus’ own resurrection. But the one we celebrate at Easter is not an isolated happening. Even before it and before Lazarus’ story, in the gospels, Jesus is raising people from death to life at least twice. He brings back to life the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7) and the daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus (Luke 8).
When Jesus brings Lazarus back to life in John 11, He is keeping a promise He has made in John 5. There, He has healed a man so that he can walk again. Christ says to him, “Yes, you will be amazed! The Father will show him even greater things than these. The Father raises the dead and gives them life. In the same way, the Son gives life to anyone he wants to.” He continues soon after that (5:25), “What I'm about to tell you is true. A time is coming for me to give life. In fact, it has already begun. The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. Those who hear it will live.”
Also, beyond the demonstration of power, Jesus’ work of resurrecting people is a just a beginning and a sign of much more of the same type of thing to come. Technically, we could call His raising Lazarus to life a resuscitation because Lazarus will later die again. But God will one day resurrect His people to life that never ends. And that is the greater message Christ gives in raising Lazarus to life. In 5:28b-29 He says, “A time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice. They will all come out of their graves. Those who have done good will rise and live again. Those who have done evil will rise and be found guilty.”
So do you see what that means for you and me? This story is a window into your resurrection and mine. This is what will happen at the end of this age, Jesus is telling us. Lazarus’ return to life is a picture of your future if you are a Christ-follower. This is what waits for every person who is a child of God. When will it happen? On the most fundamental level, that’s beside the point. In the most basic sense, it doesn’t matter. As people who have placed our lives in Jesus’ hands, we will all die, of course. But we also will be resurrected. That is the reason we give God glory. That is the hope that keeps us moving toward that goal, that prize, the call of God to heaven and eternal life (Philippians 3:14).
God, we pray to you today as the giver and protector and restorer of life. Thank you for the deep love you have for us and all your creations, which makes our lives and even eternal life possible. Lord, always, but especially when we are weak, afraid, in doubt, and feeling small before the power of death, help us to make the choice to place our trust in you and live by the power of your love. In this way, help us to see, and be amazed by, then show through our lives each day, the glory which you deserve to receive. In Christ’s name, amen.
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Piper, J. (2013, March 31). Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Desiring God. Retrieved October 9, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywP8t 7e4h0U&t=1486s
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