Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:28-44
In John 11:25, Jesus made His 5th “I am” statement: “Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Last week we had the chance to look at the setting of this 5th “I am” statement. It is the death of a dear friend of Jesus, Lazarus of Bethany. I like how Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” So Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where He was. When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
The Shocking Reality and the Good News
As we looked together at this statement last Sunday, I highlighted what I called “The shocking reality”, yet, there is some good news involved in our story as well. The shocking reality is that we are all dying. Every man, every woman, every child is dying. Whatever differences may exist among us, this one thing we share in common with one another: we are all dying. I know this truth is depressing, but the fact remains. At some point or another, we will have to face that enemy, that giant, we call death. Yet, as I pointed out last week, if this is the reality, here is the good news: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. I would like us this morning to capture some important scenes of this powerful sign.
Jesus Arouses Martha’s Faith
The first scene is Christ’s encounter with Martha. Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus calls forth faith from Martha. Not that she didn’t have it already. I believe she did. She tells Jesus, “I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And that’s true. That is Martha’s faith in what God had promised, even in the Old Testament: the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But Jesus wanted Martha to see what’s standing right in front of her eyes: The Lord of Life is right there.
In His conversation with Martha, Jesus wanted to divert Martha's focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in Him. The focus of our faith must not be in a principle or object, but in a person. There is and will be a resurrection because there is and always will be a person named Jesus Christ who Himself has conquered death and is Himself life and resurrection!
Jesus challenged Martha, Mary, the disciples, and all the people who were there that day – and us, we who are here on this day – to take our faith to the next level. Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we need to put our faith in Him, believe in Him, trust in Him, for He is the one – the only one – who can and will raise you up on the last day and give you life now in these days and for all the days to come, even life everlasting. John writes in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Jesus Raises the Dead: “Lazarus, Come Out”
The second scene I would like us to capture today is for Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. So now Lazarus is dead. Jesus goes to Bethany. Four days Lazarus has been dead now. No question about it. No one can dispute that he was really dead. He was not just unconscious or something. The body is already starting to decay. Martha tried to convince Jesus not to go. She thought the odor from a dead body would be too bad. “What if Jesus failed to get Lazarus back to life?” Mary and Martha would’ve asked. “How are we going to face the mockery of the people in Bethany if it doesn’t happen?”
Jesus insists and He goes to the tomb. There’s a large stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone.” Then Jesus calls in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus’ word does what it says, and so Lazarus does come out, looking a little like the Mummy, I suppose. But this man is alive, his flesh is restored. Take off the grave clothes! Life comes walking out of that tomb. Life called forth by Jesus, the Son of God. This reminds us of the scene we see in Ezekiel 37.
“Lazarus, come out!” You know, Jesus is going to say that again someday–only this time, with your name on it! And the name of your loved one who has died in the Lord. All those who die in the Lord, who die in faith–Christ will raise their bodies from the dead at the last day. Christ will raise your dead body when he comes again. Take comfort in that! Rejoice in that! Death is not the end. These mortal bodies that we lay in the ground will be raised immortal, glorified, no longer subject to death, whole and restored, in an even better state than they ever were before. The raising of Lazarus signals this. It is a sign of the resurrection to come.
Opposition is Roused
There is one last scene that I would like to bring to your attention before we wrap up our study of this story. It is the increased opposition and plot against Jesus. New life comes at a cost.
Toward the end of this story, we see the rising tide of opposition to Jesus. His enemies are being roused to action. This miraculous sign, done right outside Jerusalem, is the last straw. Jesus is a threat to their system, to the religious industry they had built up for themselves. He’s a threat to their power. They’ll have nothing more of it. The chief priests and the Pharisees call a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we doing? Here is this guy, doing all these things. We can’t let him go on like this. We’ve got to stop him. Too many people are going his way. He’s stirring up too much trouble. The Romans may come in and shut us all down. We don’t want to risk losing our power and position.” So, under Caiaphas, a plan to get rid of Jesus is being made.
Did Jesus know what was going to happen? Did He know that raising Lazarus would stir up such opposition? Of course, He did. The last time He was in Jerusalem, they tried to stone Him. When Jesus got the news about Lazarus and said He was going to go there, His disciples objected, “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” Yes, Jesus would go there, knowing what lay in store for Him. Jesus is telling us today that He was willing to die for our salvation. He willingly, knowingly, would go to Jerusalem – He would go to the cross–for us. Opposition is expected when new life is lived, yet the power of this new life working in our lives will always bring peace in the midst of a tragedy, strength in the midst of weariness, clarity in the midst of confusion, affirmation in the midst of doubt, and trust in the midst of disbelief. Remember always, your Lord and Savior is alive. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, August 18, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor