Sunday 30th June, 2019
Series: I AM
Preacher: Phil Swain
Bible Reading: John 11:1-6, 17-27,38-44
Last week we started a series in which we are looking at seven key statements that Jesus made about himself … the I AM statement. In these seven statements we have a glimpse into the person and character of Jesus. But they are more than this. In my sermon last week, I said an idea over and over again … can you remember it?
Jesus in these statements was saying to the people of the time (and also to us), “Do you understand who I am and what I can offer you”.
So when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” he is saying that he is the one who can satisfy the hunger in your soul. When Jesus described himself as the light of the world it was so that we might understand that he can bring spiritual sight so we can really see – see who God is, to see the right path to walk on, etc. It was all about helping us to understand who Jesus in and what Jesus can offer us.
And it is the same with today’s I AM statement .. I am the resurrection and the life.
Now I need to add, that for me, this passage raises a lot of questions … and I am going to be exploring some of these questions this morning. And I can’t guarantee that all the questions will have clear cut answers … but in the midst of it all, I really do believe that we can grasp who Jesus is – the resurrection and the life – and through this what Jesus can offer us.
Let’s start with some context…
John 11 begins with Jesus and his disciples travelling in the wilderness area of the other side of the Jordan River. Why were they all the way over there? The answer depends on who you ask.
If you asked Jesus … he would have said that he was ministering to the people of this region. That they took needed to hear the good news of the kingdom of God.
If you asked the disciples, they thought that they were hiding from the authorities in Jerusalem. You see, Jesus had stirred up the religious leaders and authorities with his teaching and we read in both John 8:59 and John 10:31-32 that they had tried to kill Jesus. So they thought that they had gone to this wilderness area to stay away from trouble.
Whatever the reason, Jesus and the disciples were far from Bethany when they got the message that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus was sick. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary (as in tell Mary to help me with the work story). Jesus would often stay with Mary, Martha and Lazarus whenever he was visiting Jerusalem (as Bethany was only a short walk from Jerusalem).
So Jesus get’s the message that his good friend is sick but we read in verse 6-7, “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
OK, the first of many questions I have … They were already probably 1 to 2 days walk from Bethany … why the two days wait before leaving? It doesn’t make any sense … Why the wait?
The common answer is that Jesus waited so that he could do the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead … but we read in verse 39 that Lazarus has been dead for 4 days when Jesus got there … meaning that Lazarus would have mostly likely died before Jesus even got the message that he was sick. Even if Jesus left straight away, Lazarus would have already been dead for 2 days. So … why the wait? Is raising a person who has been dead for 4 days more impressive than someone who has been dead for 2?
I will come back to this .. but it is more important what happens when Jesus gets to Bethany.
When Jesus was almost there, Martha goes out to meet him on the road. … and gets angry with Jesus. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha knew who Jesus was and what he could do … and she knew that if Jesus had been there before Lazarus died, then he could have healed him. So … why didn’t get the timing right?
Anger is one of the natural responses to grief. Why did this happen? Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why? Martha was angry … but Jesus wanted her to understand in the midst of her grief who he was and what he could offer…
“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.”
Jesus is clear … I am the resurrection and the life … your brother will rise from the dead! Amazing words … and Martha gets it. I love her response… “Yes, Lord… I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” I believe that you are who you say that you are … and even in my grief and anger and hurt … I believe that you are the one who can bring resurrection and life.
So Martha goes back to the family home … and Mary, the other sister, goes to see Jesus – supported by a whole crowd of grieving friends. And just like Martha, Mary asks the obvious question, “What took you so long, if you were here my brother would not have died” but this time Jesus response is totally different. Jesus was deeply moved by grief. He accompanies Mary to the tomb and together they weep. Just doesn’t say much, just cries … and the crowd are moved by his compassion (although some are still asking the question of why he didn’t turn up earlier and stop Lazarus dying in the first place).
It is almost like Jesus responds to each sister in the way they need the most. To Martha, Jesus talked faith … I am the resurrection and the life. Your brother will rise to life again. Those who believe in me will never die. To Mary he just cries with her. Jesus shows compassion and love and just sits with her in her hurt and loss.
When I was at bible college and I did an assignment on pain and suffering. In the midst of it, I stumbled across this old Jewish imagery of God’s spirit which was not just glorified in the heavens but was also a “God that could be found in the dust” … that when you were crushed and collapsed on the ground with nothing more to give … you discover God’s spirit is there with you … in the dust.
I think that this imagery of Jesus in John 11 is the same. Mary is heartbroken, grieving, lost … and Jesus comes alongside her and weeps with her. I think that Jesus knows what Martha needs – words of assurance to give her faith – and knows what Mary needs – compassion and the sense of Jesus sharing her grief – and responds accordingly.
So, in verse 39 we find Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus and he calls to the crowd to roll the stone away. Martha points out the obvious … Lord, it will stinketh … he has been dead for four days remember. Four days. It took you four days to get here!
Ok … lets get back to this question of the four days. Why did Jesus take so long to get around to getting to Bethany? Have you got any ideas or theories or suggestions to the four day dilemma? It seems sort of planned … but the reasoning seems unclear. You can google … John 11 why did Jesus wait and see lots of different ideas, theories and angles on this question, but I want to share one idea that I found that sort of resonated with me. It has to do with the difference between resurrection and resuscitation. Resuscitation is to be brought back to life … as in bring in the crash cart and zzzzippp … be brought back to life. Resurrection – to be changed to a new life in Christ … a everlasting, eternal life.
Jesus in his ministry had already preformed two resuscitations. Mark 5:35-42 and Luke 8:49-55 both tell of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from her death-bed. Luke 7:11-15 records Jesus interrupting a funeral outside the city of Nain when He raised a widow’s only son from the dead. These resurrections occurred right away before the bodies had time to decay. It was Jesus preforming 1st Century resuscitations.
BUT the raising of Lazarus was different. Lazarus had not just died but rather had been dead for four days. In the Talmud (the additional writings about the Jewish law) there is a assumption that the deceased’s soul is present for quite some time after its death – certainly until the burial and quite possibly until its body starts decomposing. So for Jairus’ daughter and the widow son … their resuscitation was a little easier to understand as their soul was still there. However … Lazarus had been dead for four days, and was buried, and had started to decompose. In the Jewish understanding, the soul had already gone to heaven. So maybe, two days was not enough for Jesus to reveal a deeper truth … maybe Jesus needed four days … enough time for the assumption that the soul had departed so that Jesus could reveal that he was not just a good doctor who could resuscitate … but that he was the resurrection and the life.
And you can tell that this distinction made a difference. Jesus brings Lazarus back to life and we read in verse 45 that many of the mourners who were there saw what Jesus did and “believed in him”. They had a glimpse of who Jesus was – the resurrection – and what Jesus could offer them – life – and they believed.
You can also see that this distinction made a difference because the raising of Lazarus particularly upset the chief priests and the Pharisees. We read in John 11:52 that “from that day the authorities made plans to kill Jesus”. This was the incident which ultimately lead to the cross. And they also made plans to kill Lazarus (John 12:10-11) because of how more and more people were believing in Jesus because of this incident.
And the crazy part is that although bringing a person back to life after four days is mind-blowing … the real profoundness in this miracle is actually much more than physical resuscitation. It is about resurrection. Lazarus did come back to life but at some point years later eventually died again. Jesus said … I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live and whosever lives and believes in me shall never die.
Jesus was trying to help Mary and Martha and the other grievers understand who he was … Jesus is the one who is greater than death … and what he can offer … LIFE, a resurrected life, eternal life. And this resurrected life that Jesus was offering was more than just something that happens after we die. This eternal life is something that can start right now and physical death does not impact on it at all – to those who believe in Jesus, this eternal life never dies.
I said last week that these statements of Jesus should impact upon us personally – and that these statements should be something that we are sharing with the world around us.
So I ask you to consider, what does it mean for you for Jesus to say to you, “I AM the resurrection and the life”
- Are you like Martha and hear and embrace the affirmation that death is not the end, that in Jesus we can have the assurance that the things we value, our spirit, our relationships, love … that in Jesus these things will never die.
- Or are you like Mary … and need to feel the comfort and presence of Jesus with you. Maybe you just need to not say or do anything and experience Jesus weeping with you.
- Or maybe you are like the crowd – and when it click for them who Jesus was and what he could offer … they believed and wanted others to believe as well. They were so passionate about sharing this good news and life that Jesus brings that it was stirring up the powers that be.
Jesus said … I AM the resurrection and the LIFE
Jesus is who he says he is.
May we experience the fullness of Jesus today.