You'll Never Die

| John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

Week of April 21, 2019

The Point: The resurrection of Jesus makes our own resurrection possible.

I am the Resurrection and the Life: John 11:25-27.

[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.” [ESV]

“Jesus’ Staggering Revelation [11:25-27]. Jesus is the master minister, and His purpose all along had been to strengthen the faith of His disciples through Lazarus’s 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. I am the bread of life, He told the hungry crowd in John 6. I am the light of the world, He cried to the revelers at the Feast of Tabernacles [John 8:12]. When those false shepherds, the Pharisees, cast one of Christ’s sheep out from the synagogue, Jesus replied, I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved [10:9], and I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep [10:11]. Now, at the scene of Lazarus’s 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 [11:25-26]. These are among the most precious and important words ever to fall from Jesus’ lips. 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 [John 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 [11:25]. Here is the answer – the only true answer – to the problem of death. By trusting in Jesus, we gain the promise of resurrection life. 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 [11:26]. This is the end awaiting all who trust in Jesus Christ, a life that will never end.

Resurrection Life.  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 [11:25]. This means that Jesus gives the meaning of life and the answer to death. He promises, Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die [11:25-26]. 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 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.” [Phillips, pp. 29-32].

Jesus and Thomas: John 20:24-29.

[24] Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” [26] Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  [ESV]

“Thomas Believing [20:24-29]. In the last of his records of Christ’s appearances to His disciples in Jerusalem, John turns to an event recorded nowhere else in Scripture: Jesus’ ministry to the disbelief of the disciple Thomas. We do not know as much about Thomas as the more prominent disciples. What we learn of him in John’s Gospel, however, presents a consistent picture of dogged, loyal pessimism. In chapter 11, Thomas reacted to the news that Jesus was going back within the reach of the menacing religious leaders by saying, Let us also go, that we may die with him [11:16]. Later, when Jesus began His Farewell Discourse by saying that He was going to heaven to prepare a place for the disciples, Thomas complained, Lord, we do not know where you are going, How can we know the way? [14:5]. This small amount of evidence suggests that Thomas was loyal to Jesus and even courageous, but that he was also fatalistic and dour. This picture is confirmed by his refusal to believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus died, Thomas’s gloomy mind saw the extinction of all hope. It is with this Thomas that John concludes his account of Jesus’ death and resurrection [20:24-25]. It is for saying these words that Thomas has been known to history as “doubting Thomas.” We should not disparage him, however, as if he were the only disciple to doubt: all the disciples failed to believe on Christ’s resurrection at some point. When it comes to people with sincere doubts, the Bible is remarkably gracious and accommodating. This kind of doubt – a genuine quest for the truth and a willingness to believe it – is often blessed by God and should be honored by all His servants. If you find it hard to believe what you have heard about Christianity and want to know the truth, you should turn to the Bible with an open mind and heart. You should feel free to ask your questions of pastors and other Christians. As long as you are truly seeking truth and are sincerely open to believing if you are persuaded, then Jesus’ promise applies to you: everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds [Luke 11:10]. The problem with doubting Thomas, however, was that he really was not a doubter at all. Instead, Thomas was a determined disbeliever. He set forth conditions, demands that expressed not his willingness but his unwillingness to believe [20:25]. Thomas was not unsure or puzzled, but stubbornly rejected the news of Jesus’ resurrection. It is interesting that Jesus appeared to the disciples on Resurrection Sunday and then did not appear to them again until the next Sunday. It is possible that Jesus was emphasizing the gathering of His people for worship on the Lord’s Day. Thomas, alone of the remaining eleven disciples, had not been present in the previous week’s gathering when Jesus first appeared. It is not surprising, then, that while the other disciples were strengthened in their faith, Thomas drifted into a hardened state of unbelief. His absence from the fellowship contributed to his unbelief. This reminds us why all believers need to be regular and consistent in attending the worship of the church. This principle is especially true for those who are wavering in their faith or godliness. Of all the blessings that we miss when we fail to attend church, the most certain is the strengthening of our faith through the ministry of God’s Word. Because he was absent when Christ first appeared to the disciples, Thomas missed the joy of Christ’s presence and the Lord’s ministry of peace. It is no wonder that he spent a week in despondency when he might have been rejoicing in the resurrection. Thomas benefited, nonetheless, by the faithful Christian friendship of his fellow disciples. Even though they could not persuade Thomas about what they had seen, their witness seems to have accounted for his presence on this second Sunday, so that Thomas was present when the Lord appeared again. Likewise, believers today should be alert to those who have drifted away from the church and should provide the encouragement and witness they need in order to return to the fold of Christ. Despite his unbelief, Thomas was brought to faith by Jesus’ second appearance in the midst of His disciples. In His resurrected body, Jesus was able to appear right before His disciples without coming through the door. There are three points for us to note about Jesus’ ministry in calling Thomas to faith. The first is that Jesus did not mind repeating His earlier ministry. Jesus was born in this world to offer peace with God to men and women lost in sin, so it was no burden for Him to repeat this message a second time. Indeed, Jesus delights today to present Himself over and over again to sinners whom He is calling to salvation, speaking to their hearts, Peace be with you. If you have been saved, it is because Jesus came to you through His Word and declared peace. He told you that His atoning death had put an end to God’s wrath against your sins and summoned you to lay down your arms in surrendering faith. If you recognize that Jesus offers peace with God and eternal life, then it is Jesus Himself who has come before you and speaks to your soul though the Bible, calling you to faith. Second, Jesus also presented the cause of our restoration to God. Just as in his earlier appearance, he displayed the marks of His sacrifice for our sins upon the cross. Jesus constantly sets the cross before us to stir up our faith and grant us peace. If you find yourself doubting God’s love, remember the cross, where God’s Son freely gave His life for you. If you feel that you could not possibly have peace with God, remember the wounds of Christ and see the price that satisfied God’s justice toward you. If you close your eyes at night and fear that you might die and be sent to hell, remember 1 John 1:7: the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. It is because of this focus on the cross that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to provide a perpetual memorial of the peace He won through His atoning death. Receiving the emblems of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for our sins, every believer should be assured not only that God will receive his or her soul into heaven in the future but also that God’s blessing has been secured for us right now. Third, notice the pastoral care with which Jesus ministered to Thomas’s disbelief [27]. On the one hand, Jesus was graciously answering Thomas’s demand, not ridiculing or rebuking Thomas but ministering to his unbelief. On the other hand, Jesus in this way revealed to Thomas the truth of His deity. How could Jesus know what Thomas had said, unless He was the Lord of resurrection life, the God who knows all secrets? When Thomas finally believed, it was not ultimately because of the testimony of his friends, valuable as that was, but because Jesus had revealed Himself personally in such a way that Thomas could no longer disbelieve. In every conversion, Jesus personally ministers to the unbelief of the individual sinner and sovereignly calls the individual soul, Do not disbelieve, but believe. If Jesus is calling to you, you should listen and respond. When Jesus comes before you through His Word, you should put away your unbelief and follow the example that Thomas gave before you. The first thing we notice about Thomas’s conversion is that he does not seem actually to have placed his fingers into the wounds of Jesus’ hands and side. Once Jesus had revealed Himself to Thomas, the disciple no longer placed any demands before his faith; instead, his faith compelled him to drop all his objections and immediately profess Jesus as Savior and Lord. It was not because his demands had been met that Thomas decided that he was willing to believe. Instead, Christ’s personal self-disclosure overwhelmed the unbelief and drew Thomas to Christ as a servant and worshiper. In this way, Thomas moved from being the last holdout to Jesus among the disciples to the one who offered the highest profession of faith in Christ. In John’s Gospel, indeed in all four of the Gospels, there is no greater profession of faith than the one given by the once-disbelieving Thomas: Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ [20:28]. Thomas professed Jesus in two vital terms that every Christian must likewise embrace. First, he named Jesus his Lord, committing himself wholly to Jesus for salvation, worship, and obedience. Some Christians are taught that we may look to Jesus as Savior while withholding commitment to Him as our Master. Thomas belies this notion, showing that faith in Christ demands a self-surrender to Him as our sovereign Lord. Second, Thomas professed the deity of Christ, worshiping Him as my God. This was a clear, unmistakable declaration that Thomas believed him to be not only man, but God. In order for Jesus to offer the salvation presented in the Bible, it is necessary for Him to be God. His eternal priestly mediation, His sufficient atonement for sin, and His perfect redemption, along with the effectual, sovereign call by which He summons sinners to believe, all require that Jesus be very God of very God. Thomas worshiped Jesus and confessed Him as the Lord, the sovereign, covenant Savior of the Bible, and as the one true and living God, incarnate in the flesh for our salvation. Do you confess these things to be true of Jesus? If you do, be sure to add another word that Thomas inserted. He confessed Jesus not only as Lord and God but as my Lord and my God [20:28]. Jesus offers Himself to you, so do not fail to receive Him in worshiping faith. And then offer yourself to Him in surrendering adoration, acclaiming Him as “my Lord and my God.” If you do, like Thomas, you will be saved.

Blessed are the Believers. With Thomas’s glorious confession, the apostle John brings the record of his Gospel to its climax. He began with an assertion to the deity of Jesus. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [1:1]. Over twenty chapters, John has told of the remarkable ministry of Jesus, centered on the seven great signs of His deity, and then focusing on Christ’s departing ministry, His saving crucifixion, and His glorious resurrection. For John, the fitting climax to this whole Gospel record is a determined unbeliever who was confronted by the sovereign grace of Jesus and confessed the titanic truth declared all through this Gospel: My Lord and my God. To John, the gospel is not merely true but saving truth; he wrote his Gospel so that, like Thomas, by believing you may have life in his name [20:31]. It is with the evangelistic purpose of this Gospel in mind that John concludes Jesus’ ministry to Thomas with words spoken by Christ about disciples who would come afterward. Jesus said to Thomas, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed [20:29]. Do you have conditions and demands – things that you must see – before you will consider believing in Jesus? Jesus might or might not answer them in the way that you desire, but He will reveal Himself to you personally if you will seek Him through His Word. Jesus was reminding Thomas that there would be legions of disbelievers saved without a physical demonstration of Christ’s resurrection body, but with an equally effectual revelation of Christ in the written record of the apostles. It is through His Word that Jesus stands before us today, calling us to faith with a self-disclosure that is just as real and powerful as that which brought Thomas to his knees and with a special blessing for those of us who believe. Jesus insisted to Thomas that if you believe without having seen Him, you will be blessed. What are these blessings? They include the blessings received by anyone who has ever believed: your sins will be forgiven, you will receive the free gift of eternal life, you will be accepted into God’s embrace as a dearly beloved child, you will be delivered from the judgment that is to come, you will be raised in a glorious body like the resurrected body of Christ, you will have power to lead a holy and spiritually peaceful life, and you will be blessed to be used by God as a witness for the salvation of others. These blessings and more will be yours by making Thomas’s confession your own, acclaiming Jesus as my Lord and my God! If you have done this, then you can marvel at the truth that Jesus’ final gospel blessing was a benediction spoken over you: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed [20:29].” [Phillips, pp. 675-683].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. Jesus asks Martha the all-important question: Do you believe this? What did Jesus mean by believe? What does it mean to you personally to believe in me (Jesus)? Is this merely an intellectual believing in the reality of Jesus or does it involve something more? What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? How does the assurance of resurrection life impact the way you live your life now? Do you see that your answer to Jesus’ question, Do you believe this, is not just a one-time answer but something you answer each day in the way you live your life?
  2. What do we know about Thomas? What kind of person was he? Why do you think John chose to include this incident when none of the other gospel writers did so?
  3. What three points should we note about Jesus’ ministry in calling Thomas to faith? How did Jesus treat Thomas and his unbelief? What do we learn from Jesus concerning how we should deal with unbelievers and doubters? What do we learn from Thomas concerning how one should respond to the resurrected Christ? Have you made the same confession that Thomas did when he was in the presence of the resurrected Christ?
  4. Jesus ends his conversation with Thomas with a benediction. What blessings come to those who believe in Jesus based, not on physical sight, but on the testimony found in God’s Word?

References:

John, vol. 3, 5, James Boice, Baker.

The Message of John, Bruce Milne, Inter Varsity.

John, vol. 2, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.