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The Life that Keeps on Living

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Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

            If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.

            How many of you learned that prayer as a child? How many of you taught this prayer to a child?

            I never liked this prayer. My mama taught me to say every night. The first was the Lord’s Prayer. The third was the “God Bless prayers. The second was the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer.

            I always cringed inside when I prayed this prayer, because of that awful line, “If I should die before I wake…” I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to talk about dying, especially to God, since He’s in charge of who dies and who lives. Death was a fact of life I just didn’t like to face. I can’t remember a single funeral my mom and dad took us to growing up. I probably went to more funerals the first six months I was a pastor (I was 37 years old) than I’d gone to in my entire life up to that point. I was kind of like Dear Abby

Dear Abby: Do you think about dying much?—Curious

Dear Curious: No, it’s the last thing I want to do. [i] 

            I suspect there are a lot of people who don’t like to think about death much. We keep death at a safe distance. We can watch people die on TV or movies and it’s entertaining. We can hear about hundreds of thousands dying in that earthquake in China and it really doesn’t faze us much. Usually when somebody close to you dies, when somebody you love dies, you start thinking about death, you start to face some scary questions.

            What does it feel like to die? Does it hurt? What goes through your mind as you take your last breath? What happens to you after you die? Where do you go? Do you go anywhere?

Is there anybody who can give us any assurance that we will go on living after we die?

            There is one Person Who can give you some concrete answers about life and death. One Person Who reached into the dark maw of death and snatched brought people back to life. There is one Person who can show you and I how to receive a life that keeps on living—even after we die. I invite you to come and see how Jesus does this in John 11:1-44. Let’s begin with vs. 1-32.

PRAYER

            This passage begins by stressing the hard cold reality:

I. YOU HAVE NO PROMISE YOU WILL ESCAPE PHYSICAL DEATH. (v. 1-32)

            Death is a universal face of life. The death rate for the human race is 100%.  

Heb 9:27 …it is appointed for men to die once…

     In this story we discover even Jesus’ friends must keep this appointment.

John introduces us to a fellow named Lazarus, who lives with his sisters Mary and Martha in the town of Bethany. V. 5 tells us Jesus has a close relationship with this family (v. 5)--an especially close friendship with Lazarus described as the one You love (v. 3.)

It’s only natural when Lazarus becomes ill they send word to Jesus. They send word because they expect the Lord to come and heal his friend. Surely if Jesus can heal strangers, He will make a special trip to heal Lazarus.

But Jesus doesn’t come—at least not right away. He waits two more days before He says Let us go to Him (v. 7, 14) The disciples aren’t too keen on this plan. Lazarus’ home is in enemy territory, where vs. 8 tells us there are folks who want to kill Jesus. When the Lord insists on going, Thomas sums up the disciples’ attitude: let’s all go and die with Lazarus!

As Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, He is met separately by both grieving sisters in vs. 21, 32. Both gently scold Him. Lord, if You would only have come sooner, our brother would still be alive! Why, Lord? Why didn’t You come sooner? Why didn’t You heal Him? Why didn’t You come and save him from death?  

Many have echoed this haunting question throughout history

Broken hearted parents cry, “If You’d come, my child wouldn’t have died.”

Broken hearted children cry, “If You’d come, my dad/mom, grandma/grandpa wouldn’t have died.”

The history of humanity adds their voices to the chorus hurled up to heaven:

“Why Lord—why didn’t You intervene? Why didn’t you heal them? Why didn’t You keep them from dying?”

So often the sky is silent. Jesus doesn’t answer this question for Mary and Martha, and He probably won’t answer it for you and I. His silence doesn’t mean there is no reason, because our Lord does nothing without purpose. But so often His only answer is: you must trust Me. Death is a certain reality, and Jesus never promises to save us or our loved ones from death.

 Heb 9:27 …it is appointed for men to die once…

But even though death is certain, death doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t care. He loved Mary and Martha, and Lazarus very much, even though He didn’t stop Lazarus from dying. He loves you, even when He doesn’t keep your loved ones alive.

It is true that the Bible promises there will be those who will not die, but will instead be caught up in the air with Christ when He returns.

1 Corinthians 15:51 …We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—

            But you and I have no way to know when that will happen. We all must face the fact that as much as Christ loves us, He never guarantees that you will escape death. Even if you’re a good person, even if you’re a spiritual person, even if you are a friend of Jesus, you will die.

            The story is told of a little girl stood outside the bedroom door as the doctor visited her mother. She overheard the doctor say, "I will be frank with you, Ma’am. You don’t have very long to live. Before the last leaves have gone from the trees you will die."

  Sometime later the father walked out of the room and noticed his little girl had gone outside. After searching for her he saw her out in the front yard. His heart was broken as he watched her picking up leaves, using thread to tie them back onto the limbs of the tree.[ii]

            You cannot stop death, any more than this little girl could stop death. It is part of living in a sin-cursed world. You and I have no promise we will escape death. But we do have a promise found in the next episode in this story.

II. YOU CAN FIND COMFORT THAT JESUS SHARES YOUR GRIEF OVER DEATH. (v. 32-38)

     Death is not pretty. It’s ugly, cruel, and heartbreaking. Death snatches our loved ones from us, and leaves us with nothing but a cold, lifeless shell. Death is the well from which a thousand and one tears flow like a river.

            But have you ever asked yourself: how does God feel about death? You can find answer in the eyes of Christ as He stands at the tomb of His beloved friend.

            Vs. 35 tells us Jesus stands there weeping. Knowing everything He’s about to do, knowing everything that God knows, Jesus still weeps. Lazarus’ death breaks His heart.

            But something more unusual is going on in vs. 38 where Scripture says Jesus is groaning (= snorting in anger like a horse) in Himself. Jesus stands at Lazarus’s grave angry at death. He’s angry that death separates families, and friends, and loved ones. He’s angry that good people must endure the pain and suffering of death. This is not how it’s supposed to be! Jesus says in His anger, I created people to live forever!

            You might say, Bro. Mike, how could Jesus be angry at death? Death infected this world because of Adam’s sin.  As surely as Jesus hates sin He hates death because God did not create you and I to die. By His weeping at Lazarus’ grave, He is telling us it’s OK to weep, it’s OK to be angry about death.

            I’ve had the privilege of preaching and attending many funerals, and these are 2 of the most common emotions I see among grieving: sadness and anger.

            The grief over death can be almost overwhelming. You cry and cry until you think you can’t cry any more. A smothering numbness covers your heart.

            When you and I weep at the grave of those we love, remember your Christ weeps with you. Remember that death breaks His heart, too.

            But He also shares your anger. When someone you love dies, your heart cries out, “This is not how it ought to be!” Jesus agrees. In fact, He hates death so much He came to earth to destroy the power of death once and for all.

Jesus knows what’s like to lose someone you love. Because He’s experienced this pain and anger, He can comfort your grieving heart.

In his autobiography the Scottish NT scholar William Barclay recounts the tragedy of losing his 21-year-old daughter and her fiancée who were drowned in a boating accident. He writes, "God did not stop that accident at sea, but he did still the storm in my own heart so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet." [iii]

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart…

            When your heart is broken, He will be near you, too. He weeps with you over the sorrow and tragedy of death.. But He does something else that nobody else can do

III. CHRIST ALONE HAS THE POWER TO GIVE LIFE THAT KEEPS ON LIVING. (v. 39-44)

     In 1992 a letter from the Dept of Health and Human Services was delivered to an address in Greenville County, South Carolina: "Because we have received notice that you have passed away, your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992. However you may reapply if your circumstances should change." [iv]

            Dead people’s circumstances don’t change—do they? When you’re dead you’re dead, right? Unless, of course, you find a life that keeps on living.

            Standing before Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus orders the stone to be removed. He says a brief prayer. Then He calls out loud and clear into that deep, dark pit of death Lazarus! Come out!

            Every eye in the crowd stays glued to the entrance of the tomb. They’ve never heard anybody talk to dead people. Surely this Man doesn’t think He can bring the dead back to life?

            Then they hear a rustling in the tomb. The crowd starts to quickly shuffle backwards. Somebody screams.  You can hear a pin drop when suddenly, they watch a dead man, wrapped up like a mummy, walking out of his grave. Lazarus is alive!

            Now you and I need to stop and think about this thing.

            We sometimes hear today of what are called “medical miracles.” They tell us doctors can bring people back to life after they die. They use those electric paddles and shock people back to life. They use this treatment or that treatment which they claim brings people back from death. It sounds pretty impressive, unless you compare it to what Jesus does here.

            Doctors claim they can bring people back almost 20 minutes after they lose a pulse. But Jesus calls a man back to life after he’s been dead 4 days! Ask any doctor if they can do that!

            Jesus doesn’t use any electric paddles. He doesn’t even need a hospital. All He does is holler Lazarus, come out! And this dead man comes walking out of his tomb.

            You see a doctor has skills and equipment and knowledge, but one thing he doesn’t have is the power—the power Jesus has—the power to give life to a cold, dead corpse—the power to give life that keeps on living.

            I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

            But Jesus adds another phrase to His statement. He adds another phrase in vs. 26 because He knows there’s more to life than just a breath and a heartbeat.

Jn 11:26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.

            Our Lord isn’t talking about your physical body here, because we’ve already seen the Bible says nobody escapes death. What He’s promising us here is not that our bodies won’t die but that we won’t die.

            There is more to you than just your body. Aren’t you glad of that? You live in that body, and it’s part of you, but it’s not the most important part of you. The most important part of you is the invisible part of you—the part of you that thinks, and feels, the part that loves and rejoices. This body you are living in can’t last forever, but the inside part of you—your spirit---is eternal. It will exist forever, either in heaven or in hell.

            This is what Jesus is talking about  when He says whoever lives and believes in Me shall

never die. The Bible tells us in Eph. 2:5 we area all dead in trespasses until we are made alive

together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). In other words you can be alive

physically, but dead spiritually, separated from God’s life and God’s love. Jesus says when you

believe in Him, you experience a resurrection in your spirit, that you receive from Him life that

keeps on living.

            The word believe here is very important. It means to trust not just a set of facts, but to trust a Person. It is a word of personal relationship and commitment.

            Jas 2:19 … Even the demons believe—and tremble!

            Truly believing in Jesus involves committing yourself to a personal relationship of trust and surrender, to turn from sin and self to Jesus as your Savior and Lord. This is the only way you can possess a life that keeps on living.This is how a dead person’s circumstances change—by believing in Christ.

            Now here’s the really weird thing: some people would rather stay in the grave than come to life.

            It’s true. Through the Gospel, Jesus calls all of us to step out of the deep dark grave of sin and into the bright beautiful life that keeps on living. Yet so many—too many—refuse to come and truly believe in Christ.

            That might not seem weird to you because you might be still stuck in the tomb. If they took you to the hospital right now, they’d find your pulse, heartbeat, blood pressure—all the signs your body is alive. But deep inside, you know you are dead spiritually. Jesus Christ is calling your name right now to step out of the darkness of death into the light of life, to take that all-important step of believing in Him. Will you do it? Will you receive the life that keeps on living?

            Professional golfer Paul Azinger had just won a PGA championship and ten tournament victories when, at age 33, he was diagnosed with cancer. He writes, "A genuine feeling of fear came over me.  I could die from cancer.  Then another reality hit me even harder.  I'm going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else.  It's just a question of when.  Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me.  All I wanted to do was live." Then he remembered something a Bible teacher had recently said to him.  "Zinger, we're not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying.  We're in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."

     Those words stuck with Azinger as he recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. He eventually committed his life to Christ, and he would later write  "I've made a lot of money…and I've won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary.  The only way you…ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I'm not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don't have problems, but I feel like I've found the answer to the six-foot hole."[v]

     Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep If I should die….

            Forget the if. You don’t know how long you will live, but you do know you will die. You and I must at some point seek the answer to the 6 foot hole. Facing death can be scary and heartbreaking, but Jesus Christ can bring comfort and courage to our hearts. He conquered death forever when He walked out of His own tomb.

Jn 11:25-26 I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?

            This is the question I want you to answer for yourself in this invitation: do you believe this?


----

[i]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed.,

[ii] Rex Humbard

[iii] Marlin Vis, "The Blame Game," Preaching Today, Tape No. 114.

[iv] S. Bowen Matthews, Wilmington, Delaware.  Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3

[v] Contributed by Todd Randolph

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