I am the Resurrection and the Life


October 3, 1999 ~ Ivanhoe Standard Church


Let us take a journey to Bethany, a small village in Judea situated on the south eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, just three kilometres east of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is described by the Bible scholar Alfred Edersheim in the following manner:


Olivet was always fresh and green, even in earliest spring or during parched summer--the coolest, the pleasantest, the most sheltered walk about Jerusalem. For across this road the Temple and its mountain flung their broad shadows, and luxuriant foliage spread a leafy canopy overhead. They were not gardens, in the ordinary Western sense, through which one passed, far less orchards; but something peculiar to those climes, where Nature everywhere strews with lavish hand her flowers, and makes her gardens--where the garden bursts into the orchard, and the orchard stretches into the field, till, high up, olive and fig mingle with the darker cypress and pine. The stony road up Olivet wound along terraces covered with olives, whose silver and dark green leaves rustled in the breeze. Here gigantic gnarled fig-trees twisted themselves out of rocky soil; there clusters of palms raised their knotty stems high up into waving plumed tufts, or spread, bush-like, from the ground, the rich-coloured fruit bursting in clusters from the pod. Then there were groves of myrtle, pines, tall, stately cypresses, and on the summit itself two gigantic cedars. To these shady retreats the inhabitants would often come from Jerusalem to take pleasure or to meditate, and there one of their most celebrated Rabbis was at one time wont in preference to teach. Thither, also, Christ with His disciples often resorted.

Alfred Edersheim, The Temple - Its Ministry and Services


The name Bethany itself meant "House of Dates." It was in Bethany that Jesus friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived, and it was in Bethany that Mary and Martha lost their brother to death and received him back again. We will concern ourselves today with Martha, a woman of practical nature who, according to the testimony of Luke could be seen as a woman of little spiritual understanding:


Luke 11:40 - But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"


Based on this passage many Christians have come to the understanding that Martha was not a spiritual person, after all, her main concern when Jesus was visiting with her and her brother and sister was not that she couldn't pay attention to His words but that her sister could. But in our passage this morning we see a different side of Martha:


John 11:17-27 - On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 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. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"


"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."


Whether or not she was not entirely spiritual at this time it is clear from reading this passage that she either was or had developed into a woman of great faith. Think of the situation for a moment. Her brother had been desperately ill, so ill in fact that his sisters had sent word to Jesus that "the one you love is sick," essentially letting Him know that time was running out and if He wanted to do anything about this sickness He had better get a move on before Lazarus actually died. Yet Jesus stays where He was, presumably on the far side of the Jordan river from Bethany, for another two days. This is hardly the response one would expect from Jesus and it would seem to be a little careless for the life of a dearly loved brother. But it gets much worse. Jesus does not actually arrive in Bethany until Lazarus has been buried four days. Now in North America, where we can see death in the newspapers or on TV on any given day, we may understand death as death, but to the Jews of Jesus' day four days after death was a significant period of time. It was a common belief in that time that the spirit of the dead person remained near the body for a span of three days and that once this time was past the spirit went where the spirits of the dead go not to return until the resurrection. So from Martha's point of view Lazarus was not only dead, he was really dead and she would not see him again in her earthly life. He was gone forever from her until she too would die and join him in eternity.


We do not know what thoughts were going through her mind during this time and to put any there would be utmost speculation, we can but read the words of the apostle John who tells us that when Martha heard that Jesus was coming to Bethany she went out to meet Him and her only words that could even be remotely seen as an accusation were:


John 11:21-22 - "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."


Yet these words, when understood in the light of those that follow, were not an accusation but an affirmation of the power Jesus held even over sickness and death and the expression of her belief that even now, with her brother dead these past four days, Jesus could make things all right.


Jesus response to her is somewhat testing. I am sure that if I were mourning the loss of a close loved one and someone came to me at the wake of the funeral and said these same words that I would consider them somewhat callous. Yet Jesus says them and these same words cause Martha to embark upon a path that will come to an astounding destination. Jesus said:


John 11:23 - Your brother will rise again.


These words are true, each one who dies will rise again and those who are saved will rise to an eternity of communion with God Himself, yet they do not fully address the pain that someone is feeling when a loved one is no longer alive in the here and now. Here again Martha shows an unexpected level of faith, she responds to Jesus' words by saying:


John 11:24 - Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."


This is not the statement of a person who is not a believer, this is not the time for it for at no other time than mourning can statements such as this be made in utter honesty. Her hope was that at the resurrection of the dead her brother would also rise and they would be reunited. She believed what we believe, that death is not permanent and that the sadness does eventually go away and that at the final day all sadness for those who love the Lord will be removed forever. The events that would follow this statement indicate the depth of faith in Jesus that both Martha and her sister Mary had but we must now take our attention from Martha and place it upon Jesus Himself for His next statement contains all the hope that any of us would need:


John 11:25-26 - Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."


We all too often read these words and overlook their significance but Jesus is saying more than we at first understand. He is telling a grieving woman who is mourning her brother's death that she does not need to wait till the final day for her brother's resurrection but that One who has power over death is with her that very day. Jesus is saying to this woman, and to all of us, that the resurrection is not a consequence of the end of time, that it is not the result of the beginning of eternity, but that it is the result of His personal power over death itself. Jesus the man who is also God is personally the resurrection, He Himself is life. The apostle John begins his gospel with this very message:


John 1:1-4 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.


And the apostle Paul extends this to the very continuance of our lives here Earth:


Acts 17:26-28 - From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'


We breathe today because God wills us to. Were God to remove His care from us for but an instant we would cease to exist just as smoke disappears after a fire. We are alive because God wants us to live and we die because God as determined the end of our days, as we read in the following verses:


Job 14:5 - Man's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.


Job 30:23 - I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.


That Lazarus had faith in Jesus cannot be doubted, that his sisters had faith in Jesus as well is also beyond question. Jesus did not call Lazarus from the tomb simply to restore him to his family, though that was certainly part of it, but He raised Lazarus to show all who saw this wonder and who like us have heard of it that death was powerless before Him. Standing before Martha that day on His way to the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus confirmed that all who die in the Lord will live again through His power.


But Jesus is not only the resurrection, He is also the life, and there is a difference between the two. All who die will be resurrected, not all who are resurrected will have life. There is implicit in our resurrection the truth of ultimate judgement and the possibility of life everlasting:


Hebrews 9:27 - Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.


In this verse the connection is very clearly made between Jesus, resurrection, and life for those who love Him. But this connection is also made clearly exclusive. Those who will receive His salvation are those who are waiting for Him. The idea conveyed by this verse, and those that support it within the Bible, is that those who are waiting for Jesus are doing so with joy and longing, desiring that He return and fulfill His promises to His people. The corollary of this is of course that those who are not waiting for Jesus return will not receive salvation and will not share in the eternity of fellowship with God that we can only receive through Jesus for He is exclusive.


John 14:6 - Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."


Lazarus was not raised from the dead to eternal life at that time but to show two things. The first, as Jesus said, was for:


John 11:14 - God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.


This was truly achieved for we read that many put their faith in Jesus because of this miracle and it was because of this the Pharisees feared the impact that Jesus would have on their position and made their final decision to put Jesus to death. But there was more to this miracle than to bring glory to God and God's Son, the second was to show that even death, the one thing in the world that we all fear, was a defeated foe through Jesus Christ. If death is vanquished then the resurrection and the judgement are unavoidable realities, no matter what man may say. If Jesus truly defeated death then our deaths are temporary and we will either gain or lose the gift of eternal life that He can give to us. What you need to do is to decide if you love Jesus or not. If you love Him heaven and an eternity with God awaits you, if you do not love Him hell and an eternity of anguish are your reward. Only you can make the choice and you have only this life in which to make it. Do not let man's foolish arguments take away the chance you have to receive eternal joy. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, live for Him, die in Him, and live forever.