I AM the Resurrection and the Life
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I AM the Resurrection and the Life: An Exposition of John 11:1-45 John’s gospel is a dramatic portrayal of the person of Jesus whereas truth is portrayed in extended story and narrative. This does not mean that John avoids propositional truth, but even these propositional truths are illustrated by these long narratives. God’s approach to presenting the Good News is expressed in different ways by writers of the New Testament. It is the same truth, but some relate to story and narrative, and others to deductive and propositional statements about Jesus. What God wants us to do is to come to the knowledge of the truth which is expressed by the words of Scripture interpreted by the help of the Holy Spirit as well as in the person of Jesus Himself. Today’s passage for the gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent comes from the 11th Chapter of John’s gospel, a part of which is often quoted and preached upon at funerals. It is a very long passage to preach upon, so detailed exegesis of the passage would make it a very long sermon. It will be long enough as it is, but I will only bring out the major themejs. A detailed study of the passage will add additional light, so I would recommend your following up on this sermon. At the end of the 10th chapter, the Jews tried for a second time to stone Jesus while he was at the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah). So this passage today happened somewhere between the end of December and Passover which would have been around he 1st of April. The memory of this incident would have been fresh on the mind of the disciples when news of the sickness of Lazarus of Bethany came to Jesus. We know that Jesus spent the last winter of his life around Jericho from the other gospels. Bethany was perilously near Jerusalem and would be a dangerous journey to take, at least in the eyes of Jesus’ disciples. We should realize that Jesus knew there was no immediate danger. He knew that He was not appointed to die by stoning but rather the more extreme death of crucifixion at the next Passover. If the disciples had only listened, they would have realized this as Jesus had plainly told them. But they did not want to listen. John records the message coming to Jesus and adds additional detail that it was the brother of Mary who anointed Jesus for burial. This incident does not happen until the next chapter, so it seems to be an explanatory gloss added by John afterward in order to clarify which of the many Mary’s it was. The sisters reminded Jesus of His love for Lazarus. They had probably offered hospitality on several occasions for Jesus when He came to Jerusalem. Verse 5 shows that this was the case. Jesus loved them. He responded by saying that this sickness was not going to end in death but would be used to glorify God. Then comes the very odd statement that He remained in place for two days. It was a day’s journey to Jerusalem, so adding the travel day, this means he came to Bethany three days later. But Lazarus had already been dead 4 days. Lazarus must have already been dead by the time the news came to Jesus. The text later explicitly says that Jesus knew Lazarus was dead. Jesus was using this as a teaching moment to His disciples. So when after two days, Jesus announces that He was going back to Judaea, the disciples were well aware of the danger of such a journey. Perhaps they thought this is why Jesus had waited for 2 days. They warned Him of the recent danger in Jerusalem. Jesus now teaches them that nothing will happen to them on this journey. The hour of darkness had not yet come. As long as Jesus was in the world, He was the light of the world. The disciples would be kept, for now. There is an ominous warning that the disciple of Jesus will always be safe. Most if not all of the disciples would die horrible deaths. It was not Jesus’ hour. Neither would it be theirs. Jesus adds the statement that Lazarus had fallen asleep. The disciples, like they often did, drew the wrong conclusion. They thought that Lazarus had fallen into a natural sleep. Being able to rest from sickness is a good thing and is a sign that the person is recovering. If He was going to recover, then maybe this dangerous trip was unnecessary. Jesus did not need to heal him then. But Jesus nowexplicitly answers that Lazarus was dead. They knew that Jesus was an extraordinary man who had performed many miracles of hearing. They also knew that He did not need to get a tweet or e-mail to be informed about what was going on elsewhere. Jesus had told them that He is the light of the world. Yet their eyes only could see the natural things. They were all too often in the dark. This is why Jesus makes the cryptic statement that he was glad Lazarus was dead. This is hardly the statement that someone makes when a loved one has died. At least it should be tempered with the words “under the circumstances.” Jesus would later weep at Lazarus’ tomb. He loved Lazarus. This was not an insensitive statement. He goes on to explain that He was not there for the disciples sake, so that they might believe. He knew what He was going to do. When Jesus tells them that they are going to see Lazarus, we hear the response from Thomas. It was the kind of statement Peter would make when he said that he was willing to die for Jesus. Thomas only speaks in this gospel, and this is the first time he does. He was encouraging the others to go and die with Jesus. Thomas is called “the twin” in the gospel, but we know him as “the doubter.” Thomas was in a sense the seeker. He wanted to understand. He still needed to come to the full assurance of faith. His statement of faith here is that they were all going there to die. Jesus had just said that they were going to Lazarus so that they might believe. We see the lack of spiritual sight in Thomas in John 14 where he calls on Jesus to show the Father. Let me see this once and it will be enough. He needed evidence to believe. Then in chapter 20, after he told the excited disciples that had just seen the Lord that he would absolutely not believe until he could feel his wounded hands and side. When he sees Jesus, he falls prostrate before him and exclaims “My Lord and my God!” Jesus confirms the reality of Thomas’ faith but commends those who have not seen and believed. Then John adds that “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you might have eternal life. This whole Lazarus statement points to this statement. So what Thomas says here is as important as what Jesus tells Martha and Mary. When Jesus and his disciples came to Bethany. Martha and Mary were entertaining the mourners who had come to console them over Lazarus’ death. But someone saw Jesus coming to town and alerted them. Mary atays put while Martha the doer goes out to meet Him. Lazarus had been dead 4 days. According to Jewish tradition, the spirit hovered over the body for 3 days. Perhaps some people had been mistakenly thought of as dead and revived. But there was no record of that ever happening after the 4th day. So in her thought, Jesus had come too late. Even He could not do anything. In this, Martha was looking through earthly eyes. Martha acted out and confronted Jesus with the words. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Perhaps there was a tone of anger as though she was thinking “What took you so long? It was only one day back. The people I sent came back two days later. I know Lazarus died just after I sent notice, but you have healed others from a distance like the Centurion’s servant. But it is now four days, and all is lost. Jesus tries to calm her down. She does not know that Jesus has the power over death, not just after 4 days, but at the last day as well. He tells her that Lazarus will live again. Martha gives the standard answer we give: “I believe that on the Last Day.” We would use the words “in the sweet bye and bye.” This puts the day of resurrection off at a comfortable distance. It makes for the right blend of hope and not having to think about the death too much. At least this is our blend for it. But this is not enough. Jesus confronts her feeble faith that sees too much with human eyes and too little faith and perception. He replies with “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” This is one of the eight I AM statements in John. One of the statements in John 8 is the simple “I AM.” The other seven statements come with descriptions. 1. I AM the Bread of Life. 2. I AM the Light of the world. 3. I AM the Good Shepherd. 4. I AM the Door. 5. I AM the Resurrection and the life. 6. I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life. 7. I AM the True Vine. The “I AM” statements reflect Yahweh speaking to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses wanted to know who was sending him. He wanted a name, but all He got was “I AM that I AM. It was no ordinary mortal who stood before Martha. It was the LORD who spoke to Moses on the mount. It is the eternal Word of whom it is said “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The one to whom Mary was speaking to was the One who had made man from the dust of the earth. And He could recreate the same man again from the dust if necessary. This is the same Lord who will raise the dead at the last day. There are not restrictions of time. He could raise the dead, whether on the 4th day or the 40 millionth. He tells Martha that even if one is dead, they shall live again. The second statement is a little more difficult in that Lazarus would die again at a later date. Many others in Christ have fallen asleep in death. Yet they are not dead. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, of whom we know Moses died because the Bible says so. Pau; adds that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD.” What Jesus confronts Martha with is His own person. Martha realizes that Jesus is claiming divinity. One must either believe and prostrate one’s self before him in worship or disbelieve and take up stones to stone a blasphemer like the Jews had previously tried on at least two occasions. But to those who do not believe, they shall be prostrated, but on their backs with the king’s foot upon their necks. They will become His footstool. It is important to come from the quasi belief of skepticism to a true and living faith. In fact this is what some scholars think is in the case in John 20. John is not necessarily saying that he wrote to total unbelievers that they might believe. I would not deny the truth of such. Rather, he it trying to take people of imperfect faith and make them stand firm. There can ultimately be no “Doubting Thomas’s.” Nor can there be secret disciples. Jesus drew true faith out of another skeptic named Nicodemus. He came by night and left by night. There was no indication of a change. Later, He at least tried to defend Jesus But this was as a lawyer. He asked for due process. But when the lawyer loses a case, he gets to go home to his family at night while his client goes off to punishment. But when He and Joseph of Arimathea publicly come to asks for the cursed body of Jesus who has died on a tree, it indicates that something was different. He had the faith of a true disciple. Martha responds to Jesus with a true statement of faith, one of a very few made on the other side of the cross. She believes like the Samaritan Woman, Peter, and the man who had been born blind. She exclaims: “I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world. This matches the goal that John had for the readers of his gospel. Martha now summons her sister Mary who comes and repeats what Martha had said when she came to Jesus. She, too, had imperfect faith. We don’t know when she came to this perfect faith as she makes no statement here like Martha. But she demonstrates her faith at Bethany when she anoints Jesus for burial. Perhaps this is why the explanatory gloss occurred earlier in the chapter. With her came the company of mourners, some of which were neighbors and perhaps others who were paid to mourn. She came with a group of skeptics and some downright unbelievers. Jesus could see their lack of faith and was deeply troubled. Even raiding Lazarus from the dead would convince these. He asked which tomb was Lazarus’s. He already would have known this but gave them a chance to respond. They invite Him to come and see. These words appear in the beginning of John in which Phillip encourages the skeptic Nathanael to come and see Jesus for himself. Bu these skeptics wanted to show Jesus a dead body. Like at som many other times some of them wanted to believe and asked good questions. They say that Jesus wept at the tomb. Weeping is the sign of despair and not hoped. It is a human emotion. Yes, Jesus was human, but perhaps there is more here than His showing His humanity. Some were touched at this sign of love. But sharper skeptics were saying: “Surely, this man who opened the eyes of the blind, would have prevented this man from dying.” The twofold use of the pronoun “this” without even adding the word “man” puts them at a distance from both Jesus and Lazarus. It was not a loving response at all. It shows that they did not believe. So some saw Jesus as a good and caring man who was unable to help Lazarus and the others simply mocked. Jesus now snorts in anger at them. It is much stronger than the translation “groaned.” It only occurs one other time in the Gospel of Mark where he had just cleansed a leper who had asked for healing. First he showed compassion,but afterward it reads that Jesus snorted with anger and threw him out. He could see that the leper was only interested in his physical well-being and could care less about his spiritual. He shows this by immediately being disobedient to the charge Jesus gave him. So here, Jesus bristles with anger at the unbelievers. There is hope for the skeptic, but this skepticism must be adequately dealt with or it becomes unbelief. The last time Jesus was in the Temple,the tried to stone Him. Now Jesus comes to a cave which was sealed with a stone, not unlike the tomb that Jesus Himself would soon be buried. He then commands the stone be rolled away. Everyone knows that Lazarus had started to decompose. He would smell awful. Martha reminds Jesus of this. Jesus tells Martha: “Did I not just tell you (and you confirmed) that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” After the stone was rolled away, Jesus lifted up His eyes cand cried out with a loud voice: “Lazarus come forth!” The term “loud voice” (Qol Gadol in Hebrew) is used of the voice of God. And this is exactly what we see here. The God who spoke the Word at creation made man out of the dust. This same voice now stood before the tomb of Lazarus to sound the word of resurrection. Lazarus obeys and comes forth still bound in grave clothes. Jesus commans to free him from them and let him go. The result of this great miracle was that many of those who beheld it came to believe on Jesus. But not all. The Pharisees were hardened even more in unbelief and counseled with others to kill both him and Lazarus. One must either come to belief when confronted with Jesus and his words and works or else die in unbelief. We do not have the opportunity to physically see, hear or touch Jesus according to the flesh. We have to be of the group who reads the accounts in Scripture. However, we are assisted in the gift of saving faith by the presence of the Holy Spirit who convinces us of the truth of Jesus. We are still drawn to Him. We are still convinced. We have our questions of course, and God is patient to answer them. Perhaps they are answered in unexpected ways, but they are answered, nonetheless. We must be able to answer the questions that skeptics ask. You can convince these if the Lord help. There is of course on convincing of unbelief once they have been hardened. Maybe there might be a few miracles here,but that is entirely in the hands of God, Instead we are, as Peter notes, called to give an answer for the hope that is within us. We must be thoroughly convinced of the truth of the Resurrection if we will stand the questions of persecutors and their attacks. We remember that Jesus said to work in the daylight because the time would come that it would be dark. After the ascension of Jesus, the church would be sorely persecuted. And this can happen to us as well. So we need to be strengthened in our faith even as we strengthen others.