MARCH 21st, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
JOB 19:23-27 JOHN 5:18-29a
The Great I AM JOHN 11:17-27, 22-45
“THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE”
Friend after friend had stepped forward, hugged Martha and said “Your brother will rise again”. She had probably lost track of the number of times she heard it as she stood near the tomb of her brother, Lazarus. And now Jesus knelt beside her and said the same thing “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23).
Choking back a sob, she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but that would be a long way off. She misses him now! Then Jesus makes an astounding statement: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying”. (John 11:25)
What did Jesus mean by that? Lazarus was not the first person Jesus raised from the dead. Mark records the raising of Jairus’ daughter in his gospel, (Mark. 5:22-43), and Luke the raising of a widow's son in his gospel. (Luke 7) So why didn't Jesus say, “I have the power of the resurrection – to raise Lazarus from the dead”?
What does he mean, I Am the resurrection and the life? It is the seventh time Jesus has identified himself by using the words God identified himself to Moses with – I AM – only this time, he proves it by showing himself to be the one who not only brings but embodies resurrection power. By doing so, he makes it clear, he is one with the Father – that he is God in the flesh. His adverasaries caught the implication. It is this miracle, his last recorded in John, that prompts the religious leaders to take immediate action to end his life. When they heard about it, they said to each other, “What are we going to do? If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him.” So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus' death.” (John 11:47-48, 53) It's Jesus' raising of Lazarus more than any other thing that he says or does that triggers the plotting and scheming of his enemies to seek Jesus' death, even if it means doing so illegally.
Make no mistake, the raising of Lazarus from the dead had a major shock factor. For one thing, the city was packed with travelers heading to Jerusalem for Passover. Bethany was along a major route. Thousands were directly impacted by it! For another thing, bodies were not embalmed in hot, arid Palestine. The Jews had no means to slow down the decay of a body. The best they could do was to wrap up the body in cloth, sprinkle some spices on it to mitigate the odor a little and seal it up in a cave or tomb. As rigamorties set in, dead human tissue releases hydrogen sulfide and methane as well as other putrid gases. A horrible smell is emitted as Martha is quick to point out: “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible!” (John 11:39) Everyone there nods and murmurs in agreement.
We may well know the pain of loss but most of us have seldom if ever experienced much of death's nastiness. As soon as someone dies, their body is quickly removed and is not seen again until it's been embalmed and perfumed. Not only that but to further distance ourselves from the reality of death we have come up with all kinds of ways of speaking of death without ever saying the word, dead. The comedy, Greater Tuna, made fun of this in a scene in the play.
Pearl: Stanley, he's gone!
Stanley: Who is?
Pearl: The judge – he's out like a light.
Stanley: He's down for the count.
Pearl: He's crossed that distant shore.
Stanley: He's passed on - shipped out.
Pearl: He's expired!
Stanley: He's checked out!
Pearl: Flown the coop!
Stanley: Stiff as a board.
Pearl: He's kicked the bucket!
Stanley: Cashed in his chips!
Pearl: He's deceased...
Pearl: He's pushing up daises, Stanley...
Stanley: He bit the dust, raking the radishes, sleeping with the fishes!
Pearl: It's curtains – his number was up, he's a memory, forget him!
Stanley: Heck, Pearl, I don't even remember what he looked like!
Both: (sigh...) Ahhhh....
That was Judge Buckney – and that was Lazarus! He'd & shipped out four days ago. But one person present hasn't come to meerly pay his respects; he's come to resurrect the dead, because that's who he is – the resurection...!
I read recently of a muslim in Africa who became a Christian and some of his friends asked him why. His response was noteworthy. He said, “Well, it's like this: suppose you were going down a road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn’t know which way to go. And suppose you met two men at the fork – one dead and one who used to be dead. Which one would you ask to show you the way? ….Exactly!”
Jesus said: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” And then he went on to say: “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dyiing. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Jesus offers us life for He is the source of life. John made that crystal clear in the opening to his gospel. “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word gave life to everything that was created and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of God's unfailing love and grace.” (John 1:1, 4-5, 14) That’s the point.
From the beginning, Jesus has been the very source of life. And he gives life, life from death even, in the Spirit of love and grace - because that's who he is. He is the resurrection and the life.
Jesus said something very similar after healing a cripple: “For just as the Father gives life to those He raises from the dead, even so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life..., for they have already passed from death into life.”
The Resurrection is not just a historical event! Because He is risen, and still alive, we're able to have a relationship with Him. Because He is risen, He is able to touch our lives.
In forensic science, there is a rule known as the Lockyear principle that simply stated says that “every touch leaves an impression”. Some of us here can vouch for the fact that when our lives have been touched by the Risen Lord, it has left an impression on our lives. My first Alpha retreat was such an experience...! His presence left a lasting impression.
I read of inmate who was in prison for armed robbery, who, upon rededicating his life to Jesus, found that it left an impression on his life. Even the guards noticed a difference, so much so that he was allowed into the special section 23 wing as a chapel orderly – something extremely rare. One day, God told him to confess to the other crimes he'd committed, some of which were quite serious. So he did as God had told him, even though he was potentially looking at quite a long additional sentence. Once he had finished giving the statement to the police, the policeman took the statement to his inspector to discuss what to do. To everyone’s surprise, the inspector decided not to charge him for the additional crimes, and merely had them put on his record.
So when the inmate left prison a year later, he was a free man with no fear that the crimes he'd committed would ever come back to haunt him. He went on to get a B.A. in Theology at Bible College – despite being dyslexic and having a criminal record. Talk about Jesus giving someone a new life! When Jesus said to Martha “ I am the Resurrection and the Life” – it wasn’t just a “nice little theological exercise”. Jesus was presenting her with a challenge.
“Do you believe me, Martha?” Jesus asked. (John 11:26) Are you willing to bet your life on me?
I think it is significant how the resurrection of Lazarus took place. In spite of their fears and reservations, especially in light of the nastiness, the smell, and the messiness of death, Jesus invited his followers to participate. Twice he invited them to take an active role in Lazarus coming alive again. “'Roll the stone aside,' Jesus told them.” (John 11:39)
When Martha complains about the smell and nastiness and the messiness, Jesus responds, “'Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believe?' So they rolled the stone aside.” They were resurrection rookies, but they joined in all the same. And the barrier between life and death was removed.
“Then Jesus shouted, 'Lazarus, come out!' And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. And so Jesus told them, 'Unbind him and let him go!'” (11:43-44)
And that's what they did. And that's what we're called to do. Jesus is the resurrection and we are his followers, helping other to be unbound and let go! “For I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it's here now, when the dead will hear (his) voice – the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen...will live! So don't be surprised! The time has come when all the dead in their graves will hear (his) voice and they will rise again!” (John 11:25-29a)
You can bet your life on it!