I Am the Resurrection and the Life
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Both now and forever
Both now and forever
Let’s capture some of the themes that have been taking shape in this series. Over the summer, we have been looking at the seven different ‘I am’ statements of Jesus that appear in the Gospel of John. For those of you keeping score, we are up to number five today. So, we have come far enough to begin to see patterns in the way John weaves these actions and teachings of Jesus into his writing. From John’s point of view, the actions and the teachings do fit together. When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he said it to the same crowd of people who had eaten the bread from the miraculous breaking of five loaves which fed 5000 people. When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” it is followed by Jesus restoring sight to a man who had been blind since birth—in darkness all his life.
Today’s story also displays a pattern of teaching and action. Look a little more closely at the conversation which takes place between Jesus and Martha. Catch the setting here. In fact, back up one verse to what the disciple Thomas says before they travel to the town of Bethany. Jesus has had what looks like a few close calls with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. In fact, a few times now the religious leaders have tried to have Jesus stoned to death. But each time, Jesus slips away. When the word comes that their friend Lazarus is sick, it raises some anxiety among the followers of Jesus. Lazarus, along with his sisters Martha and Mary, live in the town of Bethany which is about two miles from Jerusalem. Bethany is located just on the other side of the Mount of Olives directly to the east of Jerusalem. It is close enough that if Jesus were to go to the home of Lazarus, word of his presence would surely reach the religious authorities who are trying to have Jesus killed. Thomas captures this sentiment in one statement in verse 16. Let us also go with Jesus, that we may die with him.
That we may die with him. Thomas meant those words quite literally given the danger involved by going that close to Jerusalem. John latches onto this scene as a way to begin setting up the theme of death and resurrection. The death of Lazarus is the event that Jesus uses to connect action to his teaching.
Now then, as Jesus approaches the village, Martha comes out to greet him before he even enters the town. This is not surprising. Martha is assumed to be the older sister, which meant she took on the customary role of hostess. It is not at all unusual that Martha would leave the company of all the other Jews gathered to mourn for Lazarus in order to greet and attend to guests. But this also gives us the setting in which Jesus and Martha have this quiet conversation just between the two of them before anyone else even knows Jesus has arrived.
Jesus comforts Martha with these words: Your brother will rise again. Look at how Martha interprets these words from Jesus: I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Martha responds in faith to Jesus. Martha believes the power of God. Yet she does not grasp the immediacy of what Jesus is saying. She does not comprehend how these words of Jesus are going to impact that very moment right in front of her.
This is where Jesus gives the reply, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is introducing a new idea here. Resurrection is not just for the last day, Jesus is about to unfold a piece of resurrection right now before their very eyes. Jesus is breaking into their world and bringing with him the assurance that resurrection is for both now and forever.
Of course, the scene of Lazarus’ resurrection has an immediate implication to the scene in which it takes place. Jesus is ultimately using the resurrection of Lazarus to point forward to his own resurrection which will take place after Jesus is executed by crucifixion. All resurrection is intended to point to this one event. After all, if it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no other resurrection. All resurrection is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.
The apostle Paul talks about it this way in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that the resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus is the very first and the very best of the resurrection harvest. Paul goes on to say in that same passage, for as in Adam all die, so in Christ will be made alive.
Now then, even though we have not yet reached the last day of Jesus coming again to make all things new, even though we still await that day of second resurrection with a new heaven and new earth, even though we wait for that day, the first and most important resurrection has already happened. We celebrate that event every year on Easter Sunday.
The computer that I have at home is several years old. And so, it is one of those kinds of computers that take a while to boot up when it is first turned on. In fact, the usual routine for Laura or me is to press the power button, then walk away and do something else, and come back after a few minutes. Maybe some of you have computers like that too. The power is on, but it has not yet reached the point where you see the full functioning display in front of you.
On Easter Sunday at the resurrection of Jesus, the power came on; the switch has been flipped; the button has been pressed; the new creation and final resurrection are booting up; paradise is in startup mode right now. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the redeemed recreation is already warming up. And nothing can turn it off or stop it from happening now. Resurrection is both now and forever.
The part we love and the part we hate
The part we love and the part we hate
Awesome! Who wouldn’t love that? Everyone longs to see a day when there is no more sickness or pain. Everyone longs to see a day when we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone to glory ahead of us. I love the idea of a perfect recreated world where I am actually decent at golf, the Colorado Rockies baseball team never loses a game, and bacon grows on trees. Resurrection sounds phenomenal. Who wouldn’t love that?
Here’s the part we often forget. Jesus had to travel through the path of the cross in order to arrive at resurrection. Everyone loves the idea of resurrection. No one likes the thought of dying in order to get there. But resurrection cannot take place unless death takes place first. Way to kill the mood. I was still thinking about the awesomeness of bacon that grows on trees. Can’t we just jump right ahead to that? Can we somehow skip forward to glorious resurrection, and skip over the death part?
I understand it. Death only came into the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Death was not a part of the good and perfect world which God originally created in Genesis one and two. It makes sense that we would rather not have to deal with death. We love resurrection. But we do not love death. In fact, we hate death. We would rather have it be that there would be no death at all. We would rather avoid death altogether.
Keep that as the backdrop. We do not love death; we hate death. And yet we hold up resurrection and must accept that the ugliness of death becomes for us a necessary part to reaching resurrection. Any and all parts of our sinful nature and our broken world must be completely cut away in order to rise into a new life in which there is no sin. Our sinful natures must die in order for Jesus to bring our coming resurrection.
Baptism reminds us of this. Baptism is one of rituals we see in the New Testament which still takes place in the church today. The picture we see of baptism in the Bible is a scene along the Jordon River. When Jesus was baptized there by his cousin John, he went down into the water and then came up again. The symbol of baptism is one of dying and rising. It is a picture of death followed by resurrection. We still use the sacrament of baptism as instructed by Jesus for the church. When we see baptism, we are reminded that each and every one of us is born with a sinful nature that is put to death together with the death of Jesus. And every single one of us is then given the righteousness of Jesus by which we are resurrected to new life together with resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is about both dying and rising. And there is no rising without the dying.
Bringing back what has been lost
Bringing back what has been lost
Let’s take it back to the conversation between Jesus and Martha in John 11. Jesus does not just give resurrection. Jesus does not just dispense new life. Jesus himself is our resurrection. Jesus himself is our new life. The switch has already been flipped. The power is already on. The process has already begun. We are already right now ‘resurrection people.’
This means that there is already within the people of God today a work of the Holy Spirit sparking within us the beginnings of dying and rising. We absolutely know from the Bible that this process which has already begun in us will reach its full completion at the second coming of Jesus when all creation is given its fully complete resurrection in Christ.
Yet we see sparks of that resurrection already. Christ has defeated sin in his death and resurrection. And we in the church are the resurrection people of Jesus. Even now the Holy Spirit is working out this process of dying and rising in each one of us.
This story from Jesus today reminds us about resurrection. We pray for God to raise up his church to share the gospel and seek the ministry of reconciliation he has given to us. We pray for God to use the gifts and talents and abilities of his people to do his will in this world. We pray for faith to grow and for those who follow Jesus to become more and more conformed into the image of God and the Holy Spirit sanctifies his people to holiness. All of these things are sparks of resurrection that flow from the resurrection of Jesus and point us ahead to day of complete restoration.
But let this story from Jesus today also remind us about all that it is in our own world and in our own lives that must first die in order for resurrection to happen. A first glance at this might be appealing. Yes, God, take away my pain and my brokenness. Put to death all those pieces of my world which cause anxiety and stress. Take away cancer and food allergies and depression. Take away hatred and greed and fighting.
But what about when it gets a little more personal? God, put to death the idols that I cling onto in my life; the idols that I admit I love and don’t easily want to give up. Because those things have to die in order to resurrect new life. God, put to death the inequality which allows me to live in wealth and privilege at the expense of billions of people who struggle to live on less than two dollars a day. Because those things have to die in order to resurrect new life. God, put to death the fear and selfishness and racism which leads us build bombs and walls which kill and isolate people I don’t like. Because fear and selfishness and racism have to die in order to resurrect new life. God, put to death the choke-hold I keep on all my possessions which consume all my time and all my resources while the needs of others around me go ignored. Because those things have to die in order to resurrect new life. God, put to death the convenience we find in aborting unwanted babies and caging unwanted refugees because we find them to be a nuisance to our way of life rather than humans created in your image. My sin of entitlement has to die in order to resurrect new life.
It gets messy, then, doesn’t it? Maybe it is not quite so easy to let all those ugly little parts of my being die, because somewhere deep inside I am not quite ready to let go of it in order to bring back all that has been lost in this world. But listen, here is the point. I am not my own resurrection. Jesus is my resurrection. Jesus is my life. Jesus has begun a process of cosmic resurrection according to his good and perfect will. And nothing can stop it.
May God grant the wisdom to see what needs to die in every one of us so that the sparks of his glorious resurrection begin to show up even now in our lives. And may we declare along with the apostle Paul in Philippians 1 “being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”