John 11:17-44

            We are completing today an exploration of Jesus’ “I AM,” statements with Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  This claim by Jesus is key to a faith journey.  It was and remains a dividing point between those who know about Jesus and those who know Jesus.  Those who know about Jesus see him as a historical figure who lived a simple life and was a great teacher of ethical living.  These folks know about Jesus’ teachings that life is lived to the fullest with expressions of mercy and being a peacemaker.  They know that Jesus taught not to judge others, but instead people should feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, care for the sick, and comfort to those imprisoned.  Those who know about Jesus enjoy life lived in such a manner because it is honorable, and they would be correct. 

What then is the difference between those who know about Jesus and those who know Jesus?  The difference lies in whether one believes Jesus when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  These words are difficult for many to accept because Jesus is saying, “I am in both realms of existence.  I am in the realm of the living upon this earth and I am in the realm of life after death.”  We must let that sink in for a moment.  “I am in the realm of the living upon this earth and in the realm of life after death.”  This is not a moral teaching, it is claim of being God.  This means Jesus either is God, or he is out of mind.  

  Christian author C. S. Lewis said it well, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Therefore, to believe Jesus when he says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is an act of great faith propelling a person from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus.  In that knowing Jesus, in believing he came to realm of earth from the realm of heaven as God’s Son, is to know Jesus not as a moral teacher but to know him as savior.  To know Jesus as savior is know and experiencing personally God’s love.  It is to know within our being, peace.  It is to know within our being, mercy.  It is to know grace.  When we know Jesus as savior, then we know love, peace, mercy, and grace deep within us because Jesus is with us.  He is with us in this realm of living on earth and we will remain with him in the realm of life after death.  Neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus because in Jesus’ own words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

I invite you to turn with me to Jesus’ most powerful words found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11.  We will start at verse 17.  This is one of the more famous stories in all the Gospels.  The story centers on a family of two sisters and a brother; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  The family lived in Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem.  The family was financially secure and were known to the religious elite of Jerusalem.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were very close friends of Jesus.  While Jesus was elsewhere, Lazarus became deathly ill.  His sisters saw Jesus as a healer of those living in the realm of this earth and so they sent word to Jesus to come quickly and heal Lazarus.  By the time the messengers found Jesus, Lazarus had died.

Verse 17, “On his arrival [in Bethany], Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.”  Verse 20, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’  25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”  We see most clearly that Jesus’ words are not an ethical teaching.  Instead, his words are about faith.  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Jesus was saying to Martha that he had authority in the realm of the living upon this earth and in the realm of life after death.  While death moved the soul, the spirit, from one realm to the other, Jesus had the power of resurrection, that is to return that person’s spirit and life to the body in which they previously lived and died.  Jesus words means that those who believe in him never die, there are always alive.

Jesus finished his words to Martha with, “Do you believe this?”  Indeed.  This was and remains the fundamental question of faith, “Do you believe this?”  Do you believe in what Jesus said?  If you do, then everything Jesus said about Christian way of life takes on far greater significance because it is no longer a lifestyle choice from many to choose from.  It is the only way of life to be lived in this realm and the next.  Suddenly, Jesus teachings to his disciples carries tremendous weight.  He said to them, “27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  We must then cling to a savior of the body and soul.  Who is that savior?  The man who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

Each of us must answer that question for ourselves. In verse 27, Martha answered, 27 “Yes, Lord.  I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  Martha had spoken her mind, but I am not sure her words reflect a heart that yet fully knows Christ.

The story continued, “28 After she [Martha] had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’”  It is curious that Martha in Jesus’ presence called Jesus the Son of God but now after walking home in grief she tells her sister Mary, Jesus, the teacher, is here.  She says nothing of Jesus’ being the resurrection and life or that Lazarus would live again.  Grief is our emotional response to death; to the death of a loved one, death of marriage, death of position in life.  Grief is powerful because it consumes our thoughts, both awake and asleep.  Grief relentlessly causes us to question everything thus making us certain of nothing.  Martha’s grief was profound and singularly focused on the absence of her brother and she seems at the moment to be unaffected by her encounter with Jesus.

 “29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.  32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”

Mary lands on Jesus the very same statement with which Martha greeted Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”  The response this time from Jesus was different.  “33 When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”  Mary, unlike Martha, was not alone.  She was accompanied by others and all were crying and wailing at Lazarus’ death.  The scene was loud and chaotic.  It represented the best of the tradition of that time.  The sound and noise of the mourners proclaimed, “All is lost.  Lazarus is no more.”  The scene effected Jesus.  John said, “Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”  What did that mean?  The Greek words John used here meant a deep anger welled up inside Jesus.  A deep anger because people were grieving?  I do not think so.  It seems more likely Jesus was angry that people grieved without hope; that his message of the resurrection and life he shared with Martha had gone nowhere.   

Jesus reply was swift and pointed.  34 “‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.”  The deep inner emotions coursing through Jesus could no longer be held in and they became visible to all.  John wrote, “35 Jesus wept.”

A few minutes pass as the mourners and Jesus’ disciples made their way to the cemetery.  Martha had joined the group.  As they arrive at the cemetery, we pick up in verse 38, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.”  Again, the expression, that Jesus was “deeply moved,” in the Greek words that John used meant a deep angry welled up inside of Jesus.  This is an intensely emotional scene pitting the belief that death was final against life eternal.  Verse 39, Jesus said, “‘Take away the stone.’  But, Lord,” said Martha, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’  Jesus replied, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’”  Martha was struggling.  She knew about Jesus.  She could recite words about him, but in that moment, she did not truly know Jesus in her depth.  She still believed more in the power of death than in the power life from God.

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’  43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”

While I can create in my mind a movie of this scene, I cannot fully bring into that experience the mixture of intense emotions among those present at the cemetery.  The sounds of weeping and wailing over the death of Lazarus ended abruptly and was replaced by stony silence.  I can imagine Mary and Martha looking at their brother being let loose from his bindings with overwhelming joy that he is alive and then turning, looking at Jesus, with overwhelming fear.  I can imagine the sisters hugging their dear brother with tears of relief flowing down their faces and then turning toward Jesus with mouths open and falling at his feet with tears of worship and a song upon their lips, “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, His name is called Emmanuel.  God with us, revealed to us, His name is called Emmanuel.”  This is such an intense scene.

Returning the living spirit of Lazarus to the dead body of Lazarus was the powerful sign that Jesus is a personal savior for those who love him.  Jesus words and actions showed that he has dominion over the body and the spirit.  He is in the realm of the living upon this earth and he is in the realm of life after death.  Jesus encourages us to know him deeply as a personal savior.  Someone who brings into the core of who we are God’s love, mercy, peace, and grace.  Yet, if we reject knowing him, and only know about him, we will face a Jesus just judge, with an anger welled up within him.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’”  Do you call Jesus your Savior?