Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on September 11, 2016
Open your Bibles to John 11:17-37. Today we find ourselves in the midst of the story regarding the resurrection of Lazarus; a very familiar story to some of you, but not to all, which is a good reminder to us all. We are a collection of new, middle and old believers. We are One Body with a variety of people. In this room sits people who have heard a sermon on John 11 a dozen times, and also in this room are those who have never heard a sermon on John 11. My daughter, Alexandra being one. At ten years of age, this will be her first time hearing John 11 preached. Yes, we have read it at home, but she has never heard is exposited proclamation. It is my job to preach Alexandra, Bruce, Jes, Lori, James, Cade, Marc, Kim, and so on and so forth.
With that in mind, let us begin today by reviewing what we talked about last week, for some of you in this room were not able to join us last week and missed out. Last week, we saw in in verse 5, that because of Jesus’s love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (and I would add the disciples in their due to verse 15) he delayed in responding to their cry for help.
As we discussed, this is a strange way to love someone, to lengthen their pain, but that is what the text tells us. So the question becomes, how is allowing them to remain in their pain, an act of love? The answer is found in verse 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 reason that Lazarus became sick was no accident. The reason he died was no accident. It had a purpose to it. What was that purpose, to display or show or manifest the Glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
How is seeing the Glory of God in Christ love? Because when you love someone you give them something that is good, something that is valuable, something beneficial, and there is nothing in all the universe that is better, more valuable, or more beneficial than seeing and treasuring the Glory of God. The greatest glory produces the greatest joy. And this is true even in the midst of sorrow.
That truth is the greatest truth you will ever hear. That the greatest gift that you could ever be given is the display of the Glory of God. It is in seeing and savoring the Glory of God found in Jesus Christ that everything good flows. So with that foundation, let us continue on by reading the next section.
John 11:17-37 – “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. 28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
The Stench of Death
To begin, I want to draw your attention to verse 17, “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” What is the significance of four days? The primary significance is to prove that Lazarus was really dead. Prior to these events, Jesus had already raised two people from the dead: the son of the Widow of Nain found in Luke 7:11-17 and the second was Jairus’ daughter found in Luke 8:52-56. Both of these resurrections were done relatively soon after their deaths. People could have potentially argued that they weren’t really dead, but that they were just close to death. However, after four days that argument could no longer be made.
In addition, the Jewish belief or custom was that the Spirit of a person after death hovered over a body for three days, but on the fourth day the Spirit left for good. Obviously that is not true, it is a Jewish myth, but the fourth day would remove the argument that the Spirit of Lazarus decided to return.
Over those four days things started to happen to the body of Lazarus. In fact, if you look down to verse 39 you can see a hint of this when Jesus commands them to role the stone away. Martha says ”Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” What is she talking about? She is talking about what happens to all living things that die, they start to break down.
Genesis 3:19, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And how this this occur? It has to do with blood. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” And you can really understand that passage just by understanding what happens at the first moment of death.
At the moment the heart stops beating, blood stops flowing. When blood stops flowing, cells stop getting oxygen. Because of this lack of oxygen the cells start to break down. Along with this the body temperature starts to drop due to lack of blood flow and rigor mortis sets in. Because the cells begin to breakdown, bacteria that lives in your body starts to take over. It is no longer kept at bay, and begins to destroy the tissues of the body. It is the break down of these tissues that causes gases to be released, methane, hydrogen sulphide and ammonia. Hence why Martha said, “Lord by this time there will be an odor.”
And this is everyone's destiny, death, to return to the dust. Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” You and I have an appointment with death. Someday my heart and your heart, and everyone's heart will some day stop beating, and slowly our body's will return to the dust.
Why do we have this appointment with death? Because of sin. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and Lazarus was a sinner. And as it says in Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” This earth is full of graves. Why? Because we are all sinners.
And by four days, everyone would know and agree that Lazarus was dead, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind. The stage to display the glory of God was set.
The next thing I want you to see is not only was the stage set, but the audience was set as well. Verse 18, “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.” It was customary at the time that funerals would last up to seven days. During that time people would come and mourn with those who were left behind.
In this context it says that may of the Jews had come. It is implied that the Jews were from Jerusalem due to the close proximity. It is also believed that Martha, Mary and Lazarus must have been well known due to many Jews coming out of the big city to come to the funeral.
How many? We are not sure. But the word is the same word that was used in John 5:3 to describe the multitude of invalids that surrounded the pool of Bethesda. And again in John 6:2 when a great multitude was fed by Jesus with five loaves and two fish. This multitude in John 6 was said to be 5,000 men, therefore with women and children it would have been around 15,000., perhaps.
Now, was their this many Jews at the funeral of Lazarus, we don't know. But make no mistake that there were many. Who knows, perhaps the Apostle Paul made an appearance. This was going to be a big event. In fact, this miracle of Jesus was the last major public miracle performed by Jesus before his death. The resurrection of Lazarus happened about one week before the Christ was crucified. Because of the publicity and the power, some commentators like to say that this was the resurrection hat lead to the crucifixion. For the Jewish leaders, believed Jesus was getting way too powerful.
This may be why Martha, upon hearing that Jesus had finally come, came out to meet him. She knew, as well as the disciples, that the funeral of Lazarus was going to be point of tension between the Jews of Jerusalem and Jesus.
I Am the Resurrection
And now, let us turn our attention to the conversation between Martha and Jesus, for this conversation plays a vital role in how Jesus loved her. Verse 21, “Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Remember, what Jesus said in verse 4, the reason for the sickness and the temporary death of Lazarus was for the glory of God in Christ. If Larazus would have been healed and not died, this conversation between Jesus and Martha never would have happened. But because Lazarus died, and only because Lazarus died does Martha run to Jesus and speak of his death. His death provided the context to a conversation that Jesus wanted to have Martha. And this is not just true for the death of Lazarus, it is true for many of us. It is the trial and the tribulation that force us to run to Christ for comfort.
So what does Jesus say to her? “Your brother will rise again.” In this short sentence we get a sense of the authority of Jesus when he spoke. He has total command over every moment. He knows how everything is going to play out. He does not have to calculate any variables, he merely declares the future.
For Martha, this short statement, draws her in deeper to where Jesus wants to take her. And what does she say, ““I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Where does that comment come from? It comes from her Pharisaical teaching.
Their were two main groups within the Jewish ranks, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, the Pharisees did believe in the resurrection. And if I were to guess, the resurrection of the last day had been uttered dozens of times to her at the funeral. “He will rise again at the resurrection.” “He will rise again at the resurrection.” “He will rise again at the resurrection.”
If I were to guess, many of the Jews that came from Jerusalem would have come from the Pharisaical branch of the Jewish tree. And most likely they were attempting to comfort her with an event. Perhaps they were using verse like Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” This was a future event that Martha was looking forward to. It was a future event that she had placed her hope in. However, she was missing something fundamentally important, and Jesus was going to correct her.
Verse 25, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” What Martha was not seeing was who was going to supply the power of the resurrection. Who was the catalyst of the resurrection? The answer to that question is Jesus. He is the resurrection.
Her hope should not be in an event. Her hope must be in a person, the person of Jesus Christ. Her focus in this time of pain and despair should be on Jesus, not a moment in time. Her vision is misplaced. This is why so many of us say, it is not about a religion, it is about a relationship. Your religious beliefs will not save you, your relationship with Christ saves you. Jesus with this declaration makes it personal. Once again he makes it all about himself.
And notice how Jesus declares it, “I am the resurrection and the life.” By now we should be very familiar with this form of statement, “I am.” So far we have seen him say, “I am the bread and the life,” “I am the light of the World,” “I am the door of the sheep,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” and now “I am the resurrection and the life.”
So what does Jesus meany by declaring that he IS the resurrection? Perhaps the best way to understand it is to think about Noah's ark. During the flood, who lived? Those inside the ark. Who died? Those outside the ark. The ones who lived, only lived because the Ark floated. They were not given some special powers to swim for 150 days. They had to abide in the ark.
It is the same with Christ. Those who will be resurrected to eternal life do not live because God gives them special powers to live. It is because those who are resurrected to eternal life are found in Christ. Christ is the one who carries us through the waters of death and to the eternal shores of God. If we are not in Him, we will die in our sins.
When Christ died, he died for sinners. When Christ arose, he arose for sinners. His resurrection is our resurrection. The tomb of Jesus is empty, and so will ours be. This is where our comfort comes, not in some event, and not in some place, and not in some religion. Our hope is in the power of Christ to overcome sin and overcome death and defeat Satan and his accusations and be victorious over this fallen world.
Do you believe?
And the question that I have for you is the same question Jesus had for Martha? Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection? Do you believe that he is able to pay for all your sins? Do you believe his blood is sufficient to pay for your sins? Do you believe that it is only in Christ, the Son of God, that can defeat your greatest enemy...death. No one and no thing in this universe has power over death, except Jesus. This is why he is the only way. As John said in John 1:4, “in him was life.” If you do not believe in Christ as the resurrection and the life, then you will die in your sins, you will be judged for your sins, and then you will pay for your sins in Hell.
Faith in Christ, is like the door into the ark. If you believe, then welcome aboard. Yes, rain will come, but you will not die, you will live. Christ has born the wrath of God's anger in your place. He has already paid for everyone one of your sins on the cross, and died in your place. He has overcome sin and death, and because he is resurrected, if you believe, so have you been.