THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 11, 2020
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
— John 11:23-27, ESV
Central to the Gospel of John is the story of Lazarus. Central to the story of Lazarus is the fifth of seven “I Am” statements given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all seven, this “I Am” decree proves and preaches. It proves Christ’s claim of being essentially equal with Almighty God. It preaches the gospel, extolling the benefits of bodily resurrection and eternal life to the one who believes.
Furthermore, this particular proclamation provides us with perhaps the finest funeral sermon ever preached, given as it was at the graveside service of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. It was brief (no amens, please), God-centered, and brimming with hope. On day, all funerals for followers of Jesus will end up like this one.
Life and Death
As far as we can tell throughout human history, everyone who has ever lived has died. Exceptions should be made for a couple of Old Testament dudes named Enoch and Elijah, and maybe a few folks out west who were allegedly abducted by aliens. Those of us who are living now have to face the fact that we too are likely to die, which brings us to the age old question. Is there life after death? The answer coming from every corner seems to be yes, according to people of all faiths and even those with no faith.
That is why the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids of great treasure, for they thought they would somehow take it with them or come back and get it. That’s why radical elements of Islam blow themselves up, for the sexcapades and extra-planetary pleasures promised in the next life. Mormons follow a dreamer named Joseph Smith who schemed a similar heavenly scenario. Even secularists who practice no religion at all speak of death as a passage to a so-called better place to meet the anonymous man upstairs. It seems everybody is working for a never ending weekend to enjoy after our workaday lives are through.
Why is this, that everyone seems to have some belief in life after death? It is because the eternal God has made all of us, faithful and faithless and even those of false faiths, in His own image (ref. Genesis 1:26). God is eternal, and “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out” (ref. Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, the human race strongly suspects there is life after death, we just can’t see past the finish line. The great prophet Jackson Browne sums it up:
“I don’t know what happens when people die,
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try,
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, that I can’t sing,
But I can’t help listening.”
Lazarus’ family and friends, including Jesus, were all devout Jews. They had a bedrock belief in life after death. The Psalmists (ref. Psalm 49:15, 71:20), the author of Job (ref. Job 19:26), the prophets Isaiah (ref. Isaiah 26:19) and Daniel (ref. Daniel 12:2), and others taught the grave is not the end.
Martha reflected this belief in her first exchange with the Lord on this matter: “Jesus said 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.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know.”
Jesus did not say anything new to Martha, yet. After all, she was Jewish, and the majority of the Jews of her day did not follow the Sadducees on this subject, the sect who did not believe in resurrection or life after death (which is why they were sad, you see?). The Pharisees laid out the majority Jewish position of an afterlife (so don’t boo them in this case).
Most Jews believe. Most Christians believe. Most Muslims believe. Most everyone believes in some kind of life after death. This time the majority is right.
Resurrection and Life
Long before Lazarus’ funeral, Jesus had promised a resurrection for everyone. This Gospel of John recorded it: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (ref. John 5:28-29).”
Based on Christ’s prior teachings, everyone will experience one of two types of resurrection. One of them results in life, eternal life. The other is for judgement, resulting in an eternal death sentence and permanent separation from God. Jesus now makes a bold claim which guarantees a good resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus says seven times in John, including here, “I Am,” ego eimi, YHWY, the name of Almighty God. This means Jesus is speaking for God, as God’s Son and essential equal with God. We believe the God of the Scriptures is almighty, sovereign, eternal, powerful, and truthful. What He promises He provides, on His terms.
Jesus is not promising a resurrection, but the resurrection, one of the two. His declaration should be interpreted as the one for the good and godly that leads to life with Him, forever. He had already proven His power to resurrect, with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s only son, and He was about to prove it again with Lazarus. Christ's soon coming death would liberate five hundred more from the tombs, and His own bodily resurrection on the third day would crown the promise.
But who can claim this gospel promise? Who gets in on the good resurrection and life, and who gets the evil resurrection and judgment? It is a matter of good works verses a lack thereof? Sort of, but remember something else Jesus had said well before the funeral: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ref. John 6:29).
Belief and Unbelief
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Life after death is not dependent upon race, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. Life after death is not guaranteed by baptism or church membership, either. You have to “believe,” and you have to “believe this,” and this is the gospel.
The Gospel of John is the Gospel of faith, but not just any faith. It has to be a faith in God as God has revealed Himself in the person and work, the resurrection and the life, of Jesus Christ. And it cannot be a simple faith, as in simply believing the facts about Jesus. Yet it is not overly complex, either.
To teach on true faith, The Apostle John consistently prefers the verb “believe.” Almost always it is in the present tense. So what Jesus and John taught is that simple, saving faith in the gospel must have some complex layers. It must be a deep, abiding, active, and ongoing faith conjoined with faithfulness. The faith God requires and the faith God gives must first convince the mind of the historical facts in question about Jesus Christ. Faith must move the heart with the anguish of of sin and love for the One who forgives. Faith must temper the will to be conformed with God’s will, forged by the Spirit and the word. Only then can a person really say they “believe” in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Take Martha, for example.
Present and Perfect
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus demanded faith in the present tense. Martha’s response was literally and literarily perfect. She called upon the name of the “Lord” and said, “I believe.” She professed her belief in the perfect tense, which speaks of a past action with present evidence and future consequences.
Martha had been justified by faith, as indicated by her great confession, a conclusion she had come to even before Lazarus’ death and resurrection. She was being sanctified by faith during the dramatic events at the tomb, for she was leaning on the Lord and being led by the Lord Jesus Christ in the present moment. Therefore, she was assured of being glorified by faith, of her own future experience of resurrection and eternal life in Heaven.
This is a picture of perfect faith. You do not have to be perfect to obtain faith. You will not be perfect when you have faith, until its final stage. But you have to have a perfect faith, a complete faith, a valid past profession, a present proof of a spiritual life, and a future hope of resurrection and life with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.”
The Bible has much more to say on this subject, and Jesus did not address the resurrection of the evil and faithless here. It is true that all of mankind will experience a resurrection before God, be judged by God, and consigned to an eternity with God, or without Him. The difference will be faith, its object, and its genuineness. Please believe Him, presently and perfectly.
The stage has been set by Lazarus’ death. Crying time is about to be over. Jesus has seized the day by preaching the gospel of who He is and what He offers to those who truly believe. Now He is about to show off, and show us, in the most dramatic illustration of faith and its rewards found anywhere in Scripture.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org