First Mennonite Church
April 7, 2019
I Am the Resurrection
Every time I officiate a funeral service, I quote the words of Jesus from two verses of this story. As we can see, the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is both a story of grief and exceeding joy, of love and empathy, and of death and life. In other words, it is a story very much representative of life as we know it. But it is a story in which Jesus makes the difference in the lives of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.
There are certain rehashed elements in this story. When Mary and Martha notify Jesus about Lazarus’ condition, they never make the specific request for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. They simply inform Jesus that the one he loves is sick. However, when Jesus arrives after his deliberate delay, the sisters sort of give Jesus a guilt-trip. “Had you been here, my brother would not have died,” the two sister tell Jesus. For Mary and Martha, Jesus arrives too late. In Jewish tradition, the spirit of the person hoovers over the corpse for three days before it truly departs. Jesus arrives on the fourth day after Lazarus died. There is nothing anyone can do with a corpse, much less so, with a decaying one, but to leave it in the grave. Yet, as John’s gospel typically presents Jesus, he always has a panoramic view of all things. He sees everything from God’s perspective, not human’s. Lazarus’ death is for God to be glorified.
I believe one of the unsolved mysteries many have, is what is there after death? If there is something, what could it be? Many who claim to have had near-death experiences talk about seeing something beautiful during their experience. But, there is no way to verify their claim. They are the only ones who can tell.
The story of Lazarus is a very interesting in many ways. There are things we wish Lazarus would have said about his own experience with death. But there is no record of him saying anything about it. Yet, it is in the context of Lazarus’ death that we have one of the greatest claims Jesus makes about himself in verses 25 and 26. And that claim is what I would like for us to reflect today.
The apostle Paul says that the last enemy Christ Jesus will destroy is death (1Corinthians 15:26). Hebrews say that we all have an appointment with death and after that, judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Death is a sure thing in life. We can delay it, fight it, deny it, but it will come someday. We can conquer many other enemies, but death will win in the end. And, that is the reason Jesus’ words become supremely important. Jesus said to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” And that is the good news. Jesus solves the mystery about death for the believer.
When death takes a loved one, there is nothing wrong with grieving and mourning our loss. We will never see the one who is gone. It is hard not to miss those who raised us, if it is one of our parents who have died. It is not easy to forget the good times we had with our siblings, if it is a sister or brother who we have lost. Grieving is an essential aspect of the healing process when we lose someone dear to us. John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus; thus, when Jesus saw Mary, Martha and the other mourners, he wept too, even when he knew what would happen in the end. Jesus grieved in empathy with his grieving friends. He did not say to them, “Ah, shut up! Stop crying. Just see what I am about to do.” No, he grieved with them the loss of their loved one. And until the day comes when Jesus finally destroys the last enemy, which is death, he will continue grieving with everyone who mourns the loss of a loved one. Jesus grieves with the parents of a child who dies young. He grieves with the mother whose son or daughter falls in the battle field. The Lord mourns with the family of the one who takes his or her own life.
It is only in light of the larger picture that we can begin to understand why Jesus delayed coming to see Lazarus. Mary, Martha and Lazarus know Jesus loves them, so they are intrigued by his delay. The lament of the sisters is, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In moments of crisis we wish Jesus were literally present with us. The lament of Mary and Martha might echo our lament sometimes and the lament of many today. If Jesus had been here, I would not be in this problem, or my marriage would have been saved, or my children would not have been misled, and so on. But despite Jesus’ loving Lazarus, Mary and Martha, he delays his visit until it seem too late to do anything about his friends’ problem.
So when Jesus is confronted with that sort of accusation by Mary and Martha, he speaks the words that for centuries have brought comfort to the mourning. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26). At a first look, these words might seem to be contradictory. What does Jesus mean when he says if someone believes in me will live, even though he dies? What does he mean when he says, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die? What kind of death is Jesus speaking about?
By Jesus being the resurrection imply that he has the power to give life to those who have already been claimed by death. We should remember the very words of John when he introduces Jesus in chapter one. John writes: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people (v. 4). Jesus is the source and power of life. Jesus is the reason, cause, and energy that keep all things alive. For in him we live and move and have our being, declares the apostle Paul (Acts 17:28). Jesus is the resurrection for those who have died, because he is life. Again Paul writes, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Out of pure love God resurrected us with Christ who is the resurrection and the life. Death of any kind is not death before the presence of the Lord. That is why when Jesus said he was going to wake Lazarus up, his disciples said, “Lord if he is asleep, he is fine.” The disciples took Jesus’ words literally when Jesus told Lazarus was asleep. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, he again said she was not dead but “asleep” (Luke 8:52). You nor I call 911 when we see our child or spouse sleeping in the couch. We know that he or she will wake up, once has rested for a moment.
When Jesus says that he is the resurrection and the life, we are reminded of the words of the apostle Paul who said,
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus, the Resurrection, is the promise to those who have died. He will raise them up in the last day. I do not know the details of how that will happen, but I do trust the words Jesus says. Therefore, to the question: what is there beyond death? The answer is, it is Jesus who is the Resurrection. When we die, we may be in a long nap, but that is simply what it will be. We will be asleep waiting for the day Jesus calls our name. He might delay as he did for Lazarus, but he will surely come, because he loves us too.
As for us who are alive and believing in him, Jesus’ promise is that just as he faced his own death, trusting in the Father to raise him, so are we. Death will come, there is no doubt, but we will not remain in the tomb forever. Death does not have the last word, because Jesus is the resurrection and life. And we who live and believe in him, will not be forgotten. When we die, Jesus will weep with those we will leave behind. Humanly speaking death is real. We will face it individually. We might fake our religion, but we will not be able to fake it when we stare death cold in the face. In that moment Jesus makes all the difference in the world, not only for the one who is dying, but even for those staying behind. In the saddest moments I have seen the light of God on the faces of those who have lost their loved ones. Even when there are tears rolling down their faces, you can see the confidence they have. They know Jesus and they know that he makes all the difference in life and in death.
When D. L. Moody lay dying, he exclaimed, “Earth is receding; heaven is approaching. This is my crowning day.” Many have felt that way as they came to the end of life. Our death will only be going to sleep in the dwelling of the Lord. This truth is beautifully presented by the psalmist when closes the shepherd song in Psalm 23.
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Jesus makes all the difference, whether we live or die. He is the resurrection and the life. Amen!