(Message by Kobus van der Walt, Three Rivers Baptist Church – Sunday, 10 March 2019)
So many times, when attending a funeral service of a friend or a family member, we hear beautiful tributes about the deceased and empty and even insincere, comforting words directed to the next of kin, but seldom do you hear anything about God’s sovereignty; about the Gospel; about everlasting life in Christ Jesus; about the resurrection; about God’s glory. Is the reason for this, because there is no hope in and through death, or is it because people don’t know anything about God, the Gospel, eternity, sin, salvation, righteousness and judgment? In today’s Scripture reading we will see that there is indeed hope in death – BUT with one or two conditions.
During the previous 5 Sundays, we’ve been looking at five “I AM”statements by Jesus, namely:
- “Before Abraham, I AM”
- “I AM the Bread of Life”
- “I Am the Light of the World”
- “I AM the Door,”and last Sunday we’ve been looking at the statement,…
- “I AM the Good Shepherd.”
This brings us to the sixth statement, namely, “I am the Resurrection and Life.”
- SCRIPTURE READING:
John 11:17-27 ~“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
About fifty to fifty-five years after Jesus’ crucifixion, John wrote his Gospel and in John 20:31 he cites the purpose of the writing of this Gospel ~ “…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Unlike the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), John’s purpose is not to present a chronological narrative of the life of Christ but to display His deity. John sought to strengthen the faith of second-generation believers and bring about faith in others, but he also sought to correct a false teaching that was spreading in the first century. John emphasized Jesus Christ as “the Son of God,”fully God and fully man, contrary to a false doctrine that taught the“Christ-spirit”came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and left Him at the crucifixion.
In today’s message, we will look at our topic according to the following three main points:
- Martha’s Loss (11:17-19).
- Martha’s Frustration (11:20-21).
- Martha’s Faith (11:22-27).
- MARTHA’S LOSS (11:17-19):
In chapter 11 we read about the raising of Lazarus. The persons involved include Lazarus, Mary and Martha, the disciples, and friends of the family who happen to be present on this occasion. Each has a part to play in the ongoing story of Jesus revealing Himself as the Word made flesh, who came to redeem us from the curse of physical and spiritual death. This is the seventh and final miracle listed in the Gospel, and is also the climax of them all. The previous six miracles mentioned in this Gospel were the water turned to wine (demonstrating Christ’s control of nature); the healing of the nobleman’s son (showing His power over disease and sickness); the healing of the paralytic (showing that Jesus is able to deal with the ravages of Satan); the feeding of the 5,000 (showing how man lives by more than bread alone); Jesus walking on water (showing how Christ has all nature under His control and command); the raising of Lazarus (revealing Jesus as the author and “Giver of Life”) and 7th, the resurrection of Jesus.
The signs and wonders performed by Jesus, brought His disciples to faith and then continued to strengthen their faith. It also intends to do the same for the reader of John’s Gospel. The people gathered in Bethany however, were now more concerned about Jesus’ care for those who have trusted in Him, than for the strengthening of their faith. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was sick. Word reached Jesus in time for Him to travel the brief distance in order to arrive in time to heal Lazarus. Instead of going, Jesus purposely waits until Lazarus has died (11:1-6).
About fifteen years ago, my wife was involved in a motorcar accident and when a friend of mine phoned me, informing me about the accident, I couldn’t get to her fast enough. The reason was simple: I love my wife and her well-being would be of paramount importance in that moment. Was the fact that Jesus did not go to Lazarus immediately, because He did not care? We will see the answer to this question later.
We see in verse 19 ~ “…and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.” The family of Lazarus must have been well-known in Jerusalem, since many “Jews” (not followers of Jesus) came to comfort Martha and Mary (both followers of Jesus) over the loss of Lazarus. Usually sympathisers would come to the bereaved family for some time in order to comfort them and to attend the funeral by forming part of the procession going to the grave. These processions composed of relatives, friends, and sometimes hired mourners who accompanied the body to the grave; and mourning usually lasted for several days afterward.
The time between Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ arrival in Bethany was four days. Presumably the time required for the journey of the messengers and the time needed for Jesus’ return to Bethany would be approximately the same. Also, two full days intervened between their arrival where Jesus was and His departure for Bethany (11:6). After three days all hope of the resuscitation from a coma would be abandoned; and in the hot Palestine climate, decay would have begun.
As already mentioned, Jesus intentionally waited for two days, before He went to Bethany and John tells us in vs.6 why Jesus did that. The answer lies in the word “so” at the beginning of 11:6. This little word presents us with cause and effect. What follows the word “so” is the effect and what precedes it, is the cause. In this context, the cause before the “so” is to be found in 11:5, namely ~ “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”His love for these three family members caused Him to wait for His friend to die, instead of rushing to his sickbed. At first glance, this does not make sense. Let’s look further to the context – look at 11:4 ~ “But when Jesus heard it He said, ‘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.’”Jesus knew that his friend’s illness would result in death, but not end in it. That is because Jesus also knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead and that he would be filled with life again. This is why He waited. He wanted Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and His disciples to experience something that would completely change them for the rest of their lives.
Jesus’s disciples, and most probably Lazarus and his two sisters as well, had seen Jesus heal plenty of people and that is most likely the reason why Martha asked Jesus to come quickly so that Lazarus could be healed.
Jesus however, wanted them to experience something much more. He wanted them to see that He has power over death because that is what they would need to know about Him when they would witness His death on the cross and His body lying in the tomb. Jesus knew that when they experience Lazarus’ dead body coming to life again, they will grow spiritually in leaps and bounds and that they will develop saving faith in Him.
Further down in 11:15, Jesus tells His disciples the following… ~ “…for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”Jesus’ delay leads to His disciples’ faith, which in turn will lead to God’s glory – 11:4 ~ “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.”
The resurrection of Lazarus is a wonderful demonstration of the power of Jesus, foreshadowing His resurrection, and the recreation of us into a new life in Jesus ~ “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”(Ezek.11:19).
- MARTHA’S FRUSTRATION (11:20-21):
According to 11:20 it seems as if Martha was cross with Jesus, because He was notified in time of Lazarus’ sickness in order for Jesus to come to Bethany and heal Lazarus, but Jesus only turned up, two days after Lazarus’ burial.
When Jesus eventually arrived in Bethany, Martha the elder sister and sometimes more, blunt and confrontational than her sister Mary, went and met Jesus outside the village (11:30), whilst her sister Mary was quiet and contemplative (Afrikaans: “nadenkend”)and staying inside the home. Although Martha was very polite by calling Jesus, “Sir” one can detect an undertone of frustration and even reproach, when she says in 11:21 ~ “…if you had been here…”
The problem was that Martha’s faith was imperfect. She thought Jesus could only heal Lazarus if He was bodily present. She did not realize that He could heal a man from a distance, still less that He could raise the dead. Often in times of sorrow, we talk like Martha. We think that if such and such a drug or medicine had been discovered, then this loved one would not have died. But all these things are in the hands of the Lord, and nothing happens to a person (especially with God’s children) without God’s permission.
Not only was Lazarus and his sisters a close knitted family, but he was the sole bread winner of the family and without him the two sisters would suffer. In all circumstances we must know and believe that God loves us especially in difficult circumstances. Those who are part of the family of God can claim the promise in Rom.8:28 ~ “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We can rest in the fact that our God is actually able to work all things for our good, even when we cannot readily see how that may happen and even if our “Lazarus dies.”.
- MARTHA’S FAITH (11:22-27):
When Martha met Jesus outside the village she sounded frustrated, but she completes her sentence now with words of faith… ~ “…my brother would not have died.” This is an affirmation of her faith in Jesus’ healing ability. This is emphasized in 11:22 when she said ~ “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She has however, definitely not expected Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, since in 11:39 she objects when Jesus wants to roll open the tomb. We can paraphrase Martha’s words as follow: “If You had been here, You, could have healed my brother. Nevertheless, I still believe in You, that God works through You mightily.”Jesus however, does not keep quiet and He forces Martha into an even deeper conversation by responding in 11:23 ~ “Your brother will rise again.”
When Martha says in 11:21-22 ~ “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” and in 11:24 ~“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,”it is clear that she believed in the Word of God and she based her believe on the words in Dan12:2 ~ “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”She however, misses the point that Jesus hinted that He is going to raise Lazarus from the grave shortly. But even more significant is the fact that she accepts Jesus’ statement that He is the resurrection and the life (11:25-27).
Jesus continues and explains what it means that He is the life. “And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”(11:25b). When a Christian is spiritually brought to life, he will never die again – his body might die, but it also will be raised again. His soul will live forevermore in fellowship with God. This second phrase confirms the first. What is the best evidence that you have been “spiritually resurrected”? You are “spiritually alive”.
When we die now in this life, our body goes to the ground and our soul goes to heaven. Our souls are conscious, fully sanctified, and in the presence of God. This time is called the intermediate state. We are awaiting the final state, when the body will be resurrected and united to the soul and will be transformed like Christ’s glorious body, to inhabit the new earth. This is what Martha first had in mind in 11:24. But Jesus isn’t talking about the final resurrection. He is saying that He Himself is the resurrection and the life.
Apart from Jesus’ third I Am” statement (“Before Abraham, I am” – John 8:58) this now is the third time Jesus spoke an “I AM” statement in the presence of a miracle. He was the bread of life after He fed the five thousand. He was the light of the world after He healed the man born blind. Now He is the resurrection and the life as He raises Lazarus from the dead. The implication of the others was, if you believe, you won’t be hungry, you won’t be in the dark, but now, you will not die.
The Father has bestowed on Him the power to have life in Himself, and to bestow resurrection life on whomever He will ~ “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it…. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”(5:21, 26)- (another prooftext for election).
But Jesus doesn’t just say that He gives resurrection and life! He is so closely associated with resurrection and life that He says “He IS” the resurrection and life in His own person. The power that will grant resurrection and life on the Last Day is resident within Jesus’ person now! (Theologians call this “realized eschatology”). When we believe in Jesus, we are united with Him; we are “in Him.”And so His resurrection power and life power become ours when we are saved. The result is eternal and spelled out in 11:25b-26a ~ “…Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…”
In His conversation with Martha, the Lord said to her ~ “You do not understand Me, Martha. I do not mean that Lazarus will rise again at the last day. I am God, and I have the power of resurrection and of life in My hand. I can raise Lazarus from the dead right now, and will do it.” Then the Lord looked forward to the time when all true believers would be raised. This will take place when the Lord Jesus comes back again to take His people home to heaven. At that time, there will be two classes of believers. There will be those who have died in faith, and there will be those who are alive at His return. He comes to the first group as the Resurrectionand to the second as the Life. The first group is described in the latter part of verse 25 ~ “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”This means that those believers who have died before Christ’s coming will be raised from the dead.
- CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:
Essentially there are two “I am”statements in our text: “I am the resurrection,”and “I am the life.”Christ proclaims this and then explains what they mean ~“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”(11:25b).
Jesus uses this sad event of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. to overview the purpose for His earthly ministry.
- The first purpose of Lazarus’ sickness and death was to glorify God (11:4). We need to learn that we are not the centre of the universe – nor is our home, our church, our children, etc. Everything is to be for God’s glory.
- The second purpose of Lazarus’ sickness and death was to show Jesus’ great love (11:5). He loved Lazarus and his sisters and He went to them and raised Lazarus from the grave. We must remember that God is love – also in the hour of our crisis and need ~ “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you”(Jer.31:3 NKJV).
· The third purpose of Lazarus’ sickness, death and resurrection is to show us the necessity for waiting upon God (11:6). We cannot dictate to God when to act, nor how to act.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and if we believe in Him, not only will we live forever – but we will also begin to live the life of Jesus now. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (11:25).
This is the great message of joy that we anticipate when we believe in Him, we areguaranteed everlasting life, but not just later – now already. We begin to live the life of Jesus, the moment we believe.