Our Need for Hope

| John 11:17-27

The Point:  Jesus is the Resurrection who gives us life now and forever.

The Resurrection and the Life: John 11:17-27.

[17]  Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18]  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19]  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20]  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. [21]  Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22]  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." [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."

[17-27]  “I Am the Resurrection and the Life.  There could hardly be a more potent setting for the message that Jesus came to reveal, a message about Himself as the giver of resurrection life. There was Jesus’ friend Lazarus, dead and buried for four days. There were the sisters, who had trusted Jesus to come and save their brother, but now mourned in bitter grief. But this was not just a private affair, for a multitude of Jews had come from nearby Jerusalem to participate in the mourning rites. If any of them had known what Jesus intended to do, they would have agreed that this was a perfect setting. But Jesus knew that there was one more feature of this scene, for in a few days He would enter Jerusalem for His last time, beginning a week that would end with His own death on a cross, which in turn would lead to His own resurrection from the grave.

Martha’s Anguished Plea.  Jesus traveled to Bethany at the urging of Martha and Mary to come and heal their brother. They put all their trust in Jesus, and during the desperate hours of their vigil their eyes must often have wandered to the road, looking for Jesus’ appearance. Finally Jesus came, but too late. For Lazarus was dead. When Jesus arrived, the two sisters each responded in accordance with their character: So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house [20]. This matches the picture given in Luke 10:38-42, where Mary sat quietly at Jesus’ feet while Martha busied herself with chores. On that occasion, Jesus applauded Mary for her quiet devotion. Here, however, it is Martha’s passionate activity that is rewarded by Jesus’ revelation. There is a time for quiet reflection, but there is also a time for action; by failing to go to Jesus, Mary missed out on the glorious declaration that Martha received. Martha greeted Jesus with words that many commentators have taken as a rebuke, but that more likely simply reflect the frustration of her grieving heart: Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” [21]. Surely this statement repeated words that Martha and Mary had said to each other many times in the previous days. “When will Jesus get here?” they asked as Lazarus declined. “If only Jesus had been here,” they must have wept over his dead body. It was with this in her heart that Martha raced down the road to meet Jesus. Christians sometimes think it wrong for a believer to speak so frankly with the Lord. But God invites us to pour our hearts out to Him. Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you, the Bible urges [1 Peter 5:7]. This includes our burdens and our griefs, our questions and our frustrations. The Psalms are filled with such expressions, and many a faithful prophet cried out, “How long, O Lord, how long!” God’s willingness to receive the grieving complaints of our hearts is proved by Jesus’ tender ministry to Martha on the road into Bethany. Often in our grieving we lose hold of truths that we ought to know about the Lord. When Martha cried that if only Jesus had been present Lazarus might live, she was forgetting that Jesus’ divine power is not limited by space. Earlier in John’s Gospel, an official asked Jesus to come and heal his ailing child. But Jesus did not even bother to make the trip: Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live” [John 4:50]. When the official returned, he learned that his son had recovered at the very time Jesus had spoken. Martha might have known that, but her anguished mind lost hold of this truth. Understanding this helps us to minister to those who grieve. When eyes that are clouded by tears fail to see, and when trembling hands lose their grip on faith, our calling is not to rebuke them for unbelief but to gently remind them of the grace and truth of the Lord. Martha displays another tendency of unbelief, namely, that of presuming on God’s promises. When Martha said, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, she assumed that the Lord willed that her brother recover. But John has informed us that this was not Jesus’ intention. John wrote that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was [11:6]. Jesus arrived exactly when He intended to, on the fourth day of mourning. The significance of this may be revealed by an ancient Jewish tradition that the soul lingered near the body until after the third day, when the body began to decay. By arriving on the fourth day, Jesus intended that there might be no doubt that Lazarus was dead and that there might therefore be no cause for doubting the miracle that He intended to perform. In a similar way, Christians sometimes think that God has failed them when a loved one dies, or when some other grievous event takes place. But God has not promised to preserve us from death or any other trial. Our faith will stand up better to grief if we remember what God has and has not promised, resting our faith where it belongs, on the teaching and promises of God’s Word. What we can be sure of is that all our trials are apportioned by the hand of a holy, good, and loving God. We know that Martha had not lost her faith in Jesus, not only from our insight into grief but also because of what she went on to say: even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you [22]. It is unlikely that Martha was specifically thinking of a resurrection, because later, when Jesus approaches the tomb, she tries to stop Him: Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days [39]. So what did Martha mean when she blurted out that God will give Jesus anything He asks? I think Martha’s grieving heart simply reaches out with the faith that she can still lay hold of. She simply asks Him to help as only He can do.

The Best Kind of Comfort.  It is always good to turn to the Lord, and Jesus ministered to Martha’s grief with the best kind of comfort, a promise of salvation for Lazarus: Your brother will rise again [23]. We always want to give comfort to those who grieve, though our mouths often stumble over what to say. But Jesus has true comfort to give. We offer the important comfort of sympathy, fellowship, and love. But Jesus offers something better. He offers the comfort of a solution for that which grieves our souls: Lazarus will rise again. This means that the highest form of Christian comfort is to direct the suffering heart to Jesus. This is what Paul did in one of his letters [1 Thess. 4:13-14]. The best ministry to those who grieve is the ministry of God’s Word, and His promises of a resurrection for those who believe in Christ. Our knowledge of life beyond the grave does not remove the grief from death, but it does restore the hope to grief. Martha was struggling through this, and she replied, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day [24]. This shows that she, along with many other Jews in that day, believed in a final resurrection. The thought of glory with the Lord has always been the hope of God’s people, and the comfort of this hope is given to sustain us amid all the griefs of life.

Jesus’ Staggering Revelation. Jesus is the master minister, and His purpose all along had been to strengthen the faith of His disciples through Lazarus’ death. The first to benefit was Martha, who wisely raced to meet Him as He arrived. With this in mind, Jesus continued with the fifth of the seven “I am” statements of the Gospel of John. Seven times, Jesus uses the great “I am” name of the Lord to reveal the greatest truths of His salvation. Now, at the scene of Lazarus’ death, He gives this staggering revelation to grieving Martha: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die [25-26]. These are among the most precious and important words ever to fall from Jesus’ lips. In this statement Jesus teaches that He is not merely a human teacher of the resurrection, but the Divine Author of all resurrection, whether spiritual or physical. There are questions about how to take Jesus’ statement, especially since in verse 25 He asserts that those who believe in Him will live, even though they die, while verse 26 says that believers will never die. The best way to understand this is that Jesus first identifies Himself as the source of resurrection and life. He next explains His resurrection, following death, and then He treats the eternal life that follows the resurrection. We might say that Jesus lays out resurrection life at the beginning in Himself; in the middle, after death; and then at the end, in a life that will never again experience death, forever and ever. First, Jesus reveals Himself as the source of the resurrection and the life. We may hope in the resurrection because Jesus Himself has entered into death and risen from the grave. To believe in Jesus is to receive the benefit not only of His life and death, but also of His resurrection; from Him through faith, Christians are entered into glory through the light of His open tomb. Jesus said, Because I live, you also will live [14:19]. If the resurrection’s beginning and source rests with Jesus Himself – with His divine person and saving work – then the middle of Christ’s resurrection promise deals with His answer to death: Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live [25]. Here is the answer – the only true answer – to the problem of death. By trusting in Jesus, we gain the promise of resurrection life. Your brother will rise again [23], He told Martha, and so He says of all who believe. Jesus’ second statement elaborates on the resurrection He gives, and the third statement refers to the life that believers gain from Him: Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die [26]. This is the end awaiting all who trust in Jesus Christ, a life that will never end. The Gospel of John is sometimes called the Gospel of Belief. And if there is one place above all where this Gospel most powerfully summons us to faith in Jesus Christ, it might be here. Can there be a greater reason to believe on Jesus than His claim to hold the key to the problem of death? Jesus promises life: abundant life, and eternal life. And within a handful of days after this promise, He Himself would prove His claims and seal His promises by rising from the grave in resurrection power. Jesus proclaims, I am the resurrection and the life [25]. This means that Jesus gives the meaning of life and the answer to death. He promises, Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die [26]. No wonder, then, that Jesus concluded the encounter with Martha by asking the all-important question: Do you believe this? It is still the all-important question, the great question confronting everyone who hears His words even today. How you answer this one question determines nothing less than the great question of life and the unavoidable question of death. Indeed, to believe in Jesus is to start living this resurrection life even now. We do not have to wait until we die to receive new life from Christ; His resurrection begins in us the moment we believe. This was Paul’s explanation of what it means to enter into new life through faith in Christ: You were dead in … trespasses and sins…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ [Eph. 2:1, 4-5]. This is the gift that God offers to anyone who will come in faith to Jesus. Those who believe in Him are freed from the power of death even before they die, and they receive His never-ending life even now, to live in this world as those who have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Martha’s Reply to Jesus.  Martha’s reply to Jesus’ question is a good example of saving faith: Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world [27]. This is so important a statement of Christian faith that we should carefully consider each element. Perhaps most important are Martha’s opening words: Yes, Lord; I believe. This shows the attitude of faith. Martha does not quarrel with Jesus. She does not dissect His words with the scalpel of her preconceived ideas. Instead, she receives and believes Jesus’ teaching because she knows who Jesus is. Martha says Yes to Jesus because she knows him as Lord: she knows that He is the divine Sovereign whose word is absolute. This is where true faith begins, by turning our ears and opening our minds to the Word of God. The only way to come to faith, and the only way to grow in faith, is to listen humbly when the bible speaks. Where the Bible speaks, faith says, Yes, Lord. Martha’s reply also reminds us that Christian faith includes content. There are truths that Christians must believe. First, Martha believed that Jesus is the Christ. The Hebrew word for this is Messiah, from the word that means “to anoint”. Jesus is “the Anointed One.” In its fullest sense, this refers to the three divinely appointed offices of the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. These anointed offices served to reveal God’s truth, offer sacrifices for sin, and establish God’s sovereign reign. To believe that Jesus is the Christ is therefore to believe that He is the true and final Prophet, the true and final Priest, and the true and final King over God’s people. It is doubtful that Martha could have articulated all this at this point. But she did believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Second, Martha declared her faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This could have a generic meaning, signifying someone as being especially godly in character. But Martha clearly meant far more than this. Did she understand that in Jesus’ virgin birth, the eternal, divine Son had taken up human flesh? Did she grasp that Jesus possesses all the attributes of deity, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory with God the Father. Probably she did not. But she must have been present on one of the many occasions when Jesus identified Himself as the Son of God, and she believed in His unique deity in some vital sense. Belief in Jesus as the Son of God is essential to Christianity; one simply is not a Christian without this confession. Many people are attracted to Jesus’ teaching, yet they deny His full deity. But to do so is to reject the heart of the Christian faith. The reason why Jesus’ death has any importance to us is that since He is the Son of God, His blood is precious enough to make an atonement for the sins of all who believe. There was a third element of Martha’s confession of faith. She believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. This means that Jesus is the One promised in the Old Testament who would bring the salvation of which it spoke, Jesus is the child promised to Adam and Eve to crush the Serpent’s head [Gen. 3:15]; the Passover Lamb slain to redeem God’s people from sin [Ex. 12:13]; the great Prophet whom Moses foretold [Deut. 18:18]; the Servant of the Lord who was crushed for our iniquities and by whose wounds we are healed [Isa. 53:5]; and the King of the line of David whose throne will last forever [2 Sam. 7:16]. Notice, finally, that the content of Martha’s faith was wholly centered on Jesus Himself. Being a Christian means far more than embracing traditional values or admiring the Sermon on the Mount. It means coming to Jesus as Martha did, perhaps with questions of your own, looking to God’s Word to hear what He says, and replying, Yes, Lord; I believe. I believe in you, Jesus. I believe what the Bible says about you. And I rest my hope for eternal life on you. If you believe this, then Jesus promises you salvation. Jesus said: Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life [John 5:24].”  [Phillips, pp. 24-37]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         The raising of Lazarus is the last and greatest of Jesus’ signs before His own resurrection. What does it reveal about Jesus’ character, personality, and values; about His mission; about His identity?

2.         Examine the conversation between Jesus and Martha. How does Martha, overcome with grief, approach Jesus? What does Martha say to Jesus? How does Jesus comfort Martha? What is the true source of comfort which Jesus leads Martha to affirm in verse 27?

3.         What essential truth does Jesus teach us in His “I am” statement in verses 25-26? What critical question does Jesus ask? Why does the truth of Jesus “I am” statement demand this question? Recognize that this is the question that every person must answer.

4.         How does Martha answer this critical question? Examine carefully each element of Martha’s answer. How do you answer this critical question?

References:

The Gospel according to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel according to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

John, vol. 1, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.