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I AM, Part 4
The Resurrection and the Life
Bruce A. Hess
If you would this morning, please take out the word of God and turn in it to the gospel of John and chapter number 11.
You know, death is a very intriguing subject. All of us are aware of it. Certainly, I think we would prefer to avoid thinking about it and generally we try not to talk about it. But the statistics are overwhelming—I mean one out of one people die. Eventually, we will come face-to-face with death no matter how old we may be right now. For some people, especially those who try to avoid it at all costs, at certain times when they see death, it hits them even harder because they have been so trying to avoid it.
The London Times put out an article a few years ago, it was an article about the most famous author of the 1930’s. His name was William Somerset Maughham. He was a novelist and a playwright, the most famous one in the world. One of his novels was the novel Of Human Bondage and three different movies were made of that novel.
In 1965, there was an interview done with him when he was 91 years old. Now, he was immensely wealthy. He was widely admired and, in those days, he received 300 snail mail [slang term for the regular postal service implying that it is a lot slower than e-mail] letters from his fans every week. So, that was a lot. This article and this interview were done by his nephew, by the name of Robin, before his death. It was held at his fabulous villa on the Mediterranean.
Here is part of what Robin wrote in that interview. He said, “I looked around the drawing room at the immensely valuable furniture and pictures and objects that Willie’s success had enabled him to acquire. I remembered that the villa itself—a fabulous setting on the edge of the Mediterranean—was worth, and he quotes this in English pounds but an amount that would be worth today, $15,000,000 U.S.” That was his house. “He had eleven servants, including his cook, Annette, who was the envy of all the other millionaires on the Riviera. He dined on silver plates, was waited on by Marius, his butler, and Henri, his footman. But none of those things any longer meant anything to him.”
“The next afternoon,” Robin says, “I found Willie reclining on a sofa, peering through his spectacles at a Bible which had very large print. His face was somewhat grim. He said to me, ‘I’ve been reading the Bible you gave me and I’ve come across the quotation: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.” He went on to say, ‘Robin, I must tell you that text used to hang opposite my bed when I was a child. Of course, it is all a lot of bunk. But the thought is quite interesting all the same.’”
Later that evening, after dinner, Willie went on to say this to Robin, ‘Oh, Robin, I’ve been a failure the whole way through my life. I’ve made mistake after mistake; I’ve made a hash of everything.’ Robin said, ‘I tried to comfort him. You’re the most famous writer alive, surely that means something. He replied back, ‘I wish I’d never written a single word; it has brought me nothing but misery. Everyone who has got to know me well has ended up hating me. My whole life has been a failure and now it is too late to change. It is too late.’
He was, at that point, beginning to tighten his grip on my hands,” Robin said, “And he was staring towards the floor. His face suddenly was contorted with fear and he was trembling violently. He went on to then stare at the horror of death that was before him and he began to shriek, ‘Go away!’ he cried, ‘I’m not ready… I’m not dead yet…I’m not dead yet, I tell you.’” Robin said, “I looked around and of course the room was empty as before.” And he said to his uncle, “There’s no one there, Willie.” Sometimes you just really get a glimpse of what is coming, when death comes.
Fifty plus years later, actor, Jack Nicholson, just as his movie, The Bucket List, was coming out, said this in an interview, “I used to live so freely. The mantra for my generation was, ‘Be your own man.’ I always said, ‘Hey, you can have whatever rules you want—I’m going to have mine. I’ll accept the guilt. I’ll pay the check. I’ll do the time. I chose my own way. That was my philosophical position well into my fifties,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to adjust.” Then, he says this interesting statement, “We all want to go on forever, don’t we? We fear the unknown. Everybody goes to that wall, yet nobody knows what’s on the other side. And that is why we fear death.”
Apart from Christ returning, your life and my life, is going to end in death.
I was reading this week about a farmer who took his young son out to the barn one day. He wanted to educate his son in the ways of the world, so he grabbed a chicken and he laid the chicken’s head on the chopping block and he took the chicken’s head off with his hatchet. The chicken, then, took off and ran around without its head. The young son looked up to his dad and he said, ‘Daddy, that chicken is dead and doesn’t even know it.’
In some ways that is true of us when it comes to the inevitability of death. It is THE most inevitable experience that we share as human beings. And we like to avoid it. You know, one way that we like to avoid it is we like to use euphemisms for death. We don’t like to say, ‘Well, he died, or she died.’ In English, we might say things like this, ‘She passed,’ or ‘He expired,’ or ‘They slipped away.’
But we really, deep down, want to lessen the bite of death so we come up with other phrases that seem to have a little humor to them. Maybe, it makes it a less ominous to us, I don’t know. We might say, ‘He danced the last dance,’ or ‘He kicked the bucket.” As I was researching this week, I came across a new one. I’ve never heard this one before: ‘He bought the big Twinkie.’ I don’t even know really what that means, but you know, when you’re really facing death, there’s really nothing funny about it, is it? Even though we try to make it kind of light-hearted. Our time here is limited and death is a fierce, relentless foe.
I’ve shared with you before my favorite quote from a human being. It is by Canadian scientist, G.B. Hardy. He said, basically, “I only have two questions. When you boil it all down, I have two questions. Number one, did anybody conquer death? And number two, did he make a way for me to do it, too?” Really, those are the most important questions I think a human being can ask.
We are in our series of messages we have entitled, ‘I AM,’ where we are unpacking who Jesus really is. We’ve looked at a number of His ‘I AM’ statements.
First, we looked at His statement where He said, ‘I AM the Bread of Life. I am the satisfier of your soul.’
Then, we looked at ‘I AM the Light of the world. I am the illuminator of your heart.’
Then, we looked at the statement last time, ‘I AM the Good Shepherd. I am the caretaker of your life.’
Today, we come to a fourth one, which is, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life. I am the ultimate life-giver,’ says Jesus.
If you have your Bibles open to John, chapter 11, I want to read verses 25 and 26. I invite you to follow along in your Bible, as I read it. Jesus speaking to Martha here, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
So, as we begin to unpack this statement, ‘I AM the Resurrection and the Life,’ our plan is to look at four things today. First of all, we are going to look at the dramatic background of this statement. It is very dramatic. Then, we are going to look at the dynamic event that occurs in chapter 11. Then, we are going to unpack Jesus’ bold claim, because this is a bold claim. Then, lastly, we are going to draw some life lessons from this section of the word of God.
Let’s begin by looking at the dramatic background of what is happening in John, chapter 11. If you would, go back to the beginning of the chapter and look at verse 1. It tells us there that, “A certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” Verse 2 tells us that this Mary, by the way, “was the one who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair.” Of course, her brother was Lazarus and he is sick. So, the sisters send word to Jesus and they say, “Lord, behold, He whom You love is sick.”
Then, look at verse 5. It says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister, Mary, and Lazarus.” Now Lazarus is seriously sick. They send word to Jesus, who is a day’s travel away. It is interesting, that it goes out of its way to say that He loved these people. He loved Martha, He loved Mary, and He loved Lazarus. Even though He loved them, His plan for them did not make them immune from pain and sorrow, immune from sickness and death. We know that He loves us too, which means His plan does not make us immune from pain and sorrow and sickness and death.
What does Jesus do? Well, look at verse 4. “When Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
Look down at verse 6. “When He heard that he (Lazarus) was sick,” what did Jesus do? “He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” You don’t think that would be the normal reaction, but that is what He does. He stays two more days where He was, because God’s glory needed to have some advertisement through the event.
Do you ever notice that God’s glory supersedes our preferences? Do you ever notice that God’s glory supersedes our choices of circumstances? It does. We must acknowledge that, because He is King.
Well, look down at verses 11-15. There is actually a little bit of humor here. Jesus is speaking to the disciples and He said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” I just love the disciples! They said to Him, ‘Lord, don’t You understand how this works? “If he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” He will wake up. They weren’t getting the message so, verse 13, “Jesus had spoken of His death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So, Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Hey, guys, Lazarus is dead, and I am glad,” that would be a weird phrase to come out about someone that you love, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
Look at verse 17. “So, when Jesus came,” to Bethany, and “He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” Now, if you’ve been dead for four days, decomposition has been occurring in a significant manner by that time.
The first one to greet Him is Martha. Verse 20, “Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming in the area, she went to meet Him. But Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus,” verse 21, notice this, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Then, He goes on to say, in verse 23, to her, “Your brother will rise again. Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” She is thinking that when He says that ‘he will rise again’, that Jesus is referring to the future, final resurrection day, way ahead.
Down in verse 28, Martha goes back to Mary and says, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
Look at verse 32, “Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was,” on His journey in, “she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord…” notice the parallel here, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Interesting response to all of this in verse 33: “when Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” What really deeply moved Him and troubled Him? Well, part of it was just the sorrow of His friends and He felt that. I think part of the reason why He was deeply moved and troubled is He knew that death, as a consequence of sin, was never part of the divine design. He knew it was never the intention that people would experience the consequences of death.
So, that is the dramatic background of all this. Let’s look at the dynamic event that occurs in chapter 11, which is going to be the resurrection of Lazarus. I don’t know if you know it or not, but resurrection, in the Bible, physical resurrection, is a relatively rare thing. We only have it recorded three times in the Old Testament.
- You have the widow’s son resurrected by Elijah in 1 Kings 17.
- You have the Shunammite’s son, resurrected by Elisha, in 2 Kings, chapter 4.
- You have, an interesting situation it is, a dead body falls on top of Elisha’s bones in 2 Kings 13:21. The body falls on Elisha’s bones and he is resurrected physically.
It is a relatively rare thing. It only occurs really–in essence apart from Christ, (remember He was resurrected) and then when He was resurrected some other bodies were resurrected. Matthew, chapter 27 talks about that. But, apart from what was related to Christ’s resurrection, you only have three resurrections in the New Testament.
- You have the son of the widow of Nain in Luke 7.
- You have Jairus’ daughter, in Luke 8
- And then you have this event, which is the resurrection of Lazarus, in John, chapter 11.
I’m a little bit of a ponderer. Those of you who know me, know that. I often think in my brain about things and ramifications of things. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but have you ever thought about—if you could take a time machine and go back and choose one event in Biblical history, which one would you choose to be present at? Think about that. I mean, apart from Jesus’ resurrection, which one would you choose?
Maybe you are thinking, ‘You know what? If I could, I would go back to the parting of the Red Sea. Man, I would love to have been there and watch that happen and watch the whole Egyptian army destroyed.’ Or, maybe, you might be saying, ‘You know what I’d like to have seen? I’d like to see David and Goliath. You know, that giant Goliath and the smaller David, taking him out with that rock.’ Or, maybe you would say, ‘If I could go back, I would want to go back to Mount Carmel and see Elijah versus the 450 prophets of Baal, maybe that is what I would like to go back to.’
But, you know, I know we can’t do that, but this is one of the ones I would seriously consider. I would seriously consider, ‘Hey, if I could go back, this is the one I want to watch. I want to watch how a guy dies, decomposes for four days and Jesus says a couple of words, and he comes back from the dead.’
Look at what happens, beginning there in verse 38. It says, “So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave,” usually they buried people above ground, “and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench.” It is going to stink when You move the stone, “he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So, they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and He prayed, He said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’”
Verse 43, “When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus,’” …good thing He identified one person or there could have been many… “He said, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’”
Verse 44, “The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings.” That is what they would do, they would wrap the body with these spices and things so that it wouldn’t smell as much. “His face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Now, that is a dynamic event!
But, you know, leading up to this, and we’ve been seeing this in the study of the gospel of Matthew with Pastor Mark, and also as we’ve been looking some in the gospel of John, you notice this conflict going on with the Chief Priests and the Pharisees, right? They don’t want to believe in this Jesus. They want to get rid of this Jesus. They want to argue with Him; they want to disprove His claims.
Notice the response that happens in verse 45, “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Jesus.” What does the next verse say? “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.”
You know what this is? This miracle is the tipping point. THE, not a, THE tipping point with the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. THE tipping point. Because, they realized—you can’t argue with this one.
Look at verse 53, “So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.” This was such a dynamic event; they couldn’t deny that it happened. So, they planned from this moment on to kill Him.
So, the third thing we want to do, having just looked at the dramatic background and the dynamic event is, we want to unpack Jesus’ bold claim. Let me read it again. It occurs in the middle of all these events, in verses 25 and 26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Again, sometimes we don’t put ourselves into the atmosphere of Scripture. It is important that we put ourselves right in the atmosphere. Can you imagine that you are at a funeral and people are grieving over someone who has died and maybe you are in that sharing time where they pass the mic around, can you imagine what would happen if they passed the mic around and I said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even if he dies.’ I mean that is just a startling claim to make. But that is what Jesus does.
Let’s look at it again. Verse 25, He said, “I AM,” there’s that phrase we’ve seen before, ego eimi. That little name that stands for the God of creation, the sovereign God of the Old Testament. “Ego eimi, I AM the first and the last, the living One, I was dead and behold I am alive forever more.” That goes back to the book of the Revelation in chapter 1, verses 17 and 18. He says there, also, as He says here, “I AM the resurrection.” He says there, “Ego eimi, I AM the first and the last, the living One, I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” Notice this claim from Revelation, “I have the keys of death and Hades.”
“Ego eimi, I AM the resurrection.” Then, He says this, “I AM the life. I AM the life.” We see that theme working its way through the New Testament. In John, chapter 1, verse 4, it says, “In Him,” in Jesus, “was life.”
In John, chapter 6 and verse 68, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, You have words of eternal life.”
“I AM the resurrection and the life.” When He talks about being the life, He is talking about more than a state of being, a physical condition. He says, “I AM the life.” Do you see here that life, ultimately, more than just a physical condition or state of being, is a person? Jesus says, “I AM the life.” That is why Paul says in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 4, he says, “Christ is our life.”
“I AM the resurrection and the life.” Back to verse 25, He goes on to elaborate, He says, “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” I think we could add the word, in parenthesis there, “physically.” That is what Jesus is saying, “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, (physically).” You know, physical death is a separation of our body from the real me, the real you. He is saying, ‘He who believes in Me will live even if he undergoes physical death.’ Then, He goes on even further in verse 26 to say, “And everyone,” who is included in that? Who is included in ‘everyone’? Help me out here. What? Everyone! Okay, good! Just seeing if we’re all awake this morning.
“And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Again, we have that special construction that you can do in the original language, so we could translate this phrase this way: ‘Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never, absolutely never, ever die.’ I think we could put behind that statement, in parenthesis, the word ‘eternally.’ See, eternal death is a separation of us from God for eternity.
So, what Jesus is saying is this: ”He who believes in Me will live even if he dies (physically). Everyone who lives and believes in Me will absolutely never, ever die, (eternally).” That is encouraging to hear! By the way, this whole idea of believing in Jesus, believing in Me, is a clear emphasis in the gospel of John. It over and over and over and over again is said. For example, John 6:47, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” remember, that is that little phrase that you lead in with, ‘Hey something really important is coming next. Listen, listen, listen, closely’ “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” John 6:47.
John 17:3, “This is eternal life.” How do you get eternal life? “That they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” John 17:3.
Then, if you go to the very end of the gospel of John in chapter number 20, verse 31, it actually gives the whole purpose statement for why the gospel of John was written. It says there, in chapter 20, verse 31, “These have been written so that,” this is the whole purpose of it all, “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God,” and here we go, “and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, over and over and over and over again. What does that word mean? Does it kind of mean that you sort of accept some fact way out there in the stratosphere? Here is what believe means. It means to lean your whole weight on His claim. Your whole weight. You trust in that. You entrust yourself to that. You believe in that.
“Jesus said to her, “I AM, (egoeimi), the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never, (absolutely never, ever) die (eternally).” Then, He asks the most important question, ever. “Do you believe this?” Why is it the most important question, ever? Because our eternal destiny hinges on our answer. “Do you believe this?”
There are two core elements in Jesus’, “I AM” statement I want to review back through. The first core element is the necessity of personal faith. See, it’s not a matter of our parent’s choice. It’s not a matter of our spouse’s choice. We must make this choice ourself.
Flip over a couple of chapters to the left to John, chapter 5. I want us to look at a few verses in John, chapter 5. First of all, verses 28 and 29. There, Jesus says this, in verse 28 of chapter 5, He says, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” In other words, Jesus says, there are two destinies. Everybody who is in this room, everybody that is in this state, everybody who is in this country, everybody who is alive in the world, everybody who has ever lived, just two destinies.
What determines which destiny we partake in? Well, back up a couple of verses to verse 24, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” here it comes again, here comes the bottom line, “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has…” what?…“eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” And, it means not only transforming our bodies for the future, but He desires when He brings us life, to transform our lives in the present. Not just the future, but for now.
In 1 John 5, verses 11 and 12, the apostle John, same author, writes this, he says, “The testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life.” Notice that is a past tense reality; it is a past tense verb; it is a past tense event. They had already experienced eternal life. “And this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
See, Jesus’ desire, men and women, for each one of us, is to change our eternal destiny; yes but also to transform our life. If we had the time, we could tell our stories, couldn’t we? I could tell my story to you; you could tell your story to me about how He has transformed our lives. So, the first core element is, the necessity of personal faith.
The second core element is, an extraordinary promised future that we have. Again, we read this verse earlier from the Revelation, chapter 1. “When I saw Him,” John says, same author, by the way, “I fell at His feet like a dead man.” He saw God in His glory, Jesus in His glory. “And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid.” Again, “(Egoeimi) I AM the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” It is interesting to come to know someone who has the keys to death and Hades.
That hope that we see there is what helps us to fight through the daily battles that we have. That hope is what will keep us going when life is confusing and life is hard. That hope will help us to focus on eternity.
Remember G.B. Hardy? Two questions: Number one, did anybody conquer death? Not Buddha. Not Confucius. Not even Mohammed. The answer is…yes, somebody did conquer death. The one who is the resurrection and the life!
Question number two: did he make a way for me to do it to? And the answer to that question is also, yes. But the key point is, do you believe?
The fourth thing I thought we could do is, just quickly, quickly, very quickly, draw some life lessons from this as we come face-to-face with death. The first one is: I would call it grieving toward eternity. When we have to experience death—I don’t mean ourselves personally, but people around us—it is important that we focus on the eternal perspective. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul says, “We do not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” So, as we have to face death in our family and friends, it is important that we grieve toward eternity. Remember, our grief is not permanent when someone knows Jesus Christ. The goodbye that we say is just for a while. There is a reunion ahead.
The second little life lesson I think we can learn from John 11 is to grieve in community. In chapter 11, verse 19 and in verse 33, it talks about the many who were there consoling them and weeping with her, and you know that is important that we do this when we are experiencing the death of a friend or a loved one; don’t isolate yourself. It is important to have community around us.
Then, the third life lesson is simply to rejoice in the ultimate life giver, who, of course, is Jesus Christ.
I want to conclude with Paul’s words to the believers in the church at Corinth. I Corinthians 15:55-58. “Oh death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain.”
Let’s pray together. Father, we are thankful so much for Jesus, for this statement that: I AM the resurrection and the life. And, Father, for some who may be listening to my voice, who don’t know Him as the resurrection and the life, may they be reminded—what does it really profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose their own soul. May they remember the questions of J.B. Hardy: Did anybody conquer death and did he make a way for me to do it too? May they trust in Him who can give them life eternal—not only to benefit them in eternity, but to benefit them now. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
I AM The Resurrection and the Life
1. What are some common euphemisms of death that you’ve heard over the years?
2. Bruce said, Death is the most inevitable experience we share as humans. Does it make you feel uncomfortable to talk about death? If yes, why do you think that is?
3. If indeed Jesus’ resurrection is true (it is!) and Jesus says that he who believes in him will live even if he dies; what reason is there to fear death?
Why do we still struggle at times when potentially facing death?
4. Jesus chose to use a very emotionally difficult event (Lazarus’ death) to deepen the faith of Mary and Martha. Have you ever experienced an emotionally difficult time where God developed your faith? Elaborate.
5. What did Jesus really mean in Matthew 11:26 when He said, “Everyone lives and believes in me will never die?”
6. When does eternal life begin? Explain.
7. What practical benefits does our future hope of resurrection offer us?
8. One life lesson mentioned was to “grieve toward eternity.” How do we do that?
9. Read out loud 1 Corinthians 15:55-58. What do these verses encourage us to do?