The Claims of the Christ: I Am The Resurrection And The Life
Today, I wish to tell you a story and I wish to send you a message. Start with the story…
Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
After that, what else is there to say? The worst of all happenings has happened. The grimmest of all grim tragedies has been played out. There’s nothing left to say. There’s nothing left to do. It’s all over. It’s finished. It’s kaput.
“Lazarus is dead.”
Medicines and ministering hands are no longer needed. Doctors and nurses can move on to other patients. Family members can go home.
“Lazarus is dead.”
It happens all the time. It’s so commonplace that when the funeral procession passes us on the street we hardly even turn our heads to notice and we scarcely give so much as a fleeting thought to those poor souls huddled in that procession toting some loved one and a load of grief out to some nearby cemetery. It’s so usual. It’s so ordinary. Ordinary, that is, until it strikes close to home, until it strikes at our home. Then it is ordinary no more. Then it explodes upon us with a pain and a despair of absolutely frightening intensity. Then it comes roaring into our experience like some great runaway freight train.
That’s the way it came to Mary and to Martha. Theirs had been the happiest home in all of Bethany. It was a place of such uplifting warmth and attractiveness that even Jesus Himself loved to go there every chance He got. But then they had the two ingredients which make for happiness in any home, happiness in every home—they loved Jesus and they loved each other—two sure ingredients which will make for happiness in your home. And theirs was the happiest, brightest, and sunniest home in all of Bethany. Notice I said “was.” It is no longer. For in a moment, in the time it takes to draw a breath, or fail to draw one, suddenly their home was transformed into the darkest, gloomiest, saddest place in all of Bethany.
“Lazarus is dead.”
We are not told what illness took him. We are not told how much he suffered. We are not told how long he lingered. What we do know is that from the very first moment he was taken ill, his two sisters first thought and then later said, “If only Jesus would come.” Time passed and Jesus didn’t come. So they decided to send Him a message—a simple message: “Lord, he whom You love is ill.” That’s all they said; and knowing Jesus, they felt that’s all they needed to say. No demands. No ultimatums. No suggested plan of action. Just “Lord, he whom You love is ill.”
Then they waited. We do not know how many times they must have gone to the front window to look out of the house to see if He was coming to the door. We do not know how many times they must have gone to the crest of the nearby hill to look out to the horizon to see if He was on His way. But what we do know is that they waited. And what we also know is that death came before Jesus did. Why hadn’t He come? They had sent Him a message. He knew their plight. He had had plenty of time to get there. Why hadn’t He come?
We begin to frame the answer when we look at the fifth and sixth verses of John 11; at first glance, two of the most baffling verses in Scripture. Listen to what John writes: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so when He heard Lazarus was ill He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Wait, is that what that said? “He stayed two days longer.” That’s not the Jesus we have come to know and love, now is it? Our Jesus would have rushed to help them in their hour of need. Yet, this is our Jesus, and it says that He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Why?
We do not know for sure, and I can only tell you what I believe. I believe that Jesus saw this moment as being the most crucial moment in His entire earthly ministry. I believe that this encounter with Lazarus became nothing less than the linchpin for His entire earthly ministry. I believe He saw it that way.
Let’s remember, please, that He had been under constant attack from the religious leaders of that day because He claimed to be God. And up to this point in His ministry, He had been very careful to limit His revelation of Himself. When He worked miracles, He said to those nearby, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen.” When He healed the daughter of Jairus, bringing her back to life, He first pushed the people out of the house, so they would not see Him work that miracle. You see, Jesus knew that the people were not yet ready for who He really was. He knew that they would be drawn like ants to syrup by His spectacular supernatural power. He knew that they would be more attracted by His wonder-working deeds than by His amazing, saving, forgiving grace. He knew that the people would follow Him as some great superstar magician, but He had come to be the Dying Saviour of the world. And He had dropped a veil over His identity as divinity.
Until now. Now He knew the end was near. Calvary was just weeks away. And I believe that Jesus decided that He would use the illness and the death of His friend Lazarus to confront humanity’s greatest enemy, to teach us His greatest lesson, to deliver the truest revelation of who He is, and to demonstrate once and for all His unconquerable power. I believe that this moment was like a magnifying glass—you know how a magnifying glass, when properly held, takes the vast light of the sun and focuses it down to one single burning point. I believe that this encounter with Lazarus took the whole vast ministry of Jesus and focused it down to one single burning point. It was all or nothing. It was do or die. It was now or never. Here at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus would match wits with humanity’s greatest enemy, death, and He would do it for all the world to see. I believe Jesus saw it that way. It’s like we say down south: It was time to fish or cut bait! Jesus saw it that way. I want to tell you something. You can almost feel the tension in His words as He says to His disciples: “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake I am glad that I was not there so that you may believe. But now let us go to him.”
When Jesus then arrived at the Bethany home of His dear friends, Martha said to Him: “Lord, what about my brother?” And Jesus replied: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha then said: “Oh, come on Lord, I’ve heard all of that stuff. I go to church. I’ve heard what the preachers say. I know all about those ideas of rising at the last day. But all of that is so vague and hazy and uncertain, how can I know for sure?” Jesus then delivered to her what is His most astonishing claim of all. He said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And Martha replied: “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
Jesus then walked over to the tomb of Lazarus. He stopped, bowed His head, and prayed. Did you ever stop to think that this is the only time in Scripture where it is recorded that Jesus specifically prayed for God’s power before working a miracle? This was the most critical moment in His entire earthly ministry and He knew it! So He prayed: “Lord, this is the moment. Let your power fill Me so that these people will believe and know that you have sent me.” And the power came. Then Jesus, in a voice so loud that it cracked open that grave and every other grave that has ever been or ever will be—Jesus cried: “Lazarus, come forth!” And the Bible with its exquisite economy of words, says so simply, but so powerfully: “The dead man came out.”
That’s the story—and what a great story it is! But now the message…
The very mention of the word “death” wraps the cold chill of fear about our hearts. We are afraid of death. Oh if with some, false bravado we say that we are not afraid to die, down inside we are all afraid of how we might die. And, of course, one of the ways we deal with that fear is to laugh about it. That’s not all bad.
I, for one, love the story about the minister who was counseling a woman in the midst of marital problems. The minister asked: “Does your husband believe in life after death?” “Nah,” the woman replied, “he doesn’t even believe in life after supper!” Then I heard about an inexperienced young preacher who was conducting his first funeral. He solemnly pointed to the body in the casket and declared: “What we have here is only a shell. The nut is already gone!” This is a true story: Each year at the January meeting of the Presbytery of Atlanta, they have a service of remembrance and they read out the names of all the elders in the various churches who have died in the previous year. Just before last January’s meeting, the Presbytery newsletter carried the following announcement: “Only a small number of deceased elders has been sent to us. You can just bring yours with you to the meeting when you come!” But maybe Woody Allen captured it best. He said: “It’s not that I am afraid to die, it’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens!”
Laughter in the face of death is all right, but faith is even better. That’s what Easter is all about. Marianne Sawicki writes: “Resurrection on Easter is a teaching about the meaning and the fate of the human body. Easter shows us what God plans to do for us. The doctrine of resurrection declares that the body, while biodegradable, is not disposable. Though broken, flawed, or worn out, each human body continues to be precious to its designer. God will not throw my body away like a banana peel or a poly-vinyl chloride bottle. God plans to keep the whole thing, the whole me.”
Remember Lazarus. The Bible says “The dead man came out.” Let those five words forever dispel your doubt. “The dead man came out.” Jesus had said it and He meant it! “I am the resurrection and the life.” He said it. He meant it. He claimed it, and then He proved it. “The dead man came out.” That’s what Easter is all about. The power of God in Jesus Christ is stronger than the power of death.
I am much strengthened by the testimony of Dr. A. D. Sanborn, who was a Methodist minister in Wilton, Iowa. One day he was called to the home of a child who was dying. When he got there, the child was already delirious and in the throes of death. Sanborn sat down beside the bed, with the members of the girl’s family. The child began to talk, not to the family, just talking. She said: “Oh, look! They are coming for me now. They are going to open the gates. But wait. It’s not for me. It is for Grandpa. Grandpa is going in before me. But they will come again for me.” There were a few minutes of silence. Then the little girl’s face brightened: “They’re coming again. Maybe it’s for me. No, it’s not for me. It’s for Little Mamie. Little Mamie is going in before me. When will it be my turn?” Once more there was silence. Then once more that little face brightened with a trace of a smile. “I see them coming,” she cried, “and they are calling my name. This time it is for me.” With that she died.
Dr. Sanborn was so moved by what he had witnessed that he asked the family: “Who is Grandpa? Who is Little Mamie?” They replied: “Well, they used to live in this neighborhood a few years ago. There was a man that everybody called ‘Grandpa’ because he was so old. And there was a little girl down the street we called ‘Little Mamie’ because she shared the same name with her mother. But those families have long since moved away and we don’t know what happened to them.” But Dr. Sanborn was curious, so he spent the next several months trying to locate those two families and contact them. When he did he asked about Grandpa and Little Mamie. He received a letter from each family. The first letter told him that the man the people used to call “Grandpa” had died on the previous September 16. The second letter indicated that the girl known as “Little Mamie” had died on September 16. And the girl at whose bedside Dr. Sanborn had sat also died on September 16—and all three deaths occurred within the same hour.
There is no way to explain that, and I wouldn’t even try. But it reminds me that we are the children of God. We are the heirs of the eternal. The same power that raised Lazarus and the same power that raised Jesus will be ours as well. That means that we can speak of our loved ones who have preceded us in death as being my husband, my wife, my father, my mother, my child, my brother, my sister, my friend, because they are still alive and they are still ours. It may be beyond the bounds of our vision. It may be beyond the bounds of our understanding. But they are still ours—and one day God will give them back to us in the glory of a life that shall never end.
That’s what Easter is all about. That’s what this faith we cherish is all about. “The dead man came out!” Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” He said it. He claimed it. He meant it. He proved it. Do you believe that? Say it with Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe…”