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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life
Text:John 11:17-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 75:1-3

Psalm 73:9 (after the law)

Psalm 16:1,4,5

Hymn 68:1,8

Psalm 118:1,2,4,5

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 26

Text:  John 11:17-27

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

You can learn a lot about a culture and how it views death by walking through a cemetery and reading the gravestones.  Gravestones have inscriptions that reflect the thinking of a culture.  I’ve been to many cemeteries in Canada and a few here in Tasmania.  One of the major differences is how the gravestones speak about any kind of meaningful Christian belief.  In Canada, many of the old gravestones speak about Christian faith:  “Gone to be with the Lord,” “Awaiting the resurrection,” or something like that.  But in Tasmania’s cemeteries, you rarely see those kinds of sentiments on old gravestones.  It’s a striking difference. 

In the ancient world they had tombstones too.  There would often be inscriptions or epitaphs on them.  Archaeologists have uncovered many of them.  One of the most common inscriptions on tombstones in the ancient Roman Empire was:  “I wasn’t, I was, I am not, I don’t care.”  You see, many people in Roman Empire didn’t believe in an afterlife.  You died and that was it:  “I wasn’t, I was, I am not, I don’t care.” 

Unlike that pagan belief, most of the Jews believed in ongoing human existence after death, an afterlife.  Long before the coming of Christ, they believed that human beings continue to exist after their hearts stop beating.  They also believed in a resurrection – that at the end of time, all the dead bodies would be raised.  They believed that because the Bible teaches it.  The Bible teaches it in passages like Isaiah 26 and what we sang from Psalm 16. 

So when Lazarus dies and many Jews come to comfort his sisters Martha and Mary, you can be sure they would have spoken about these things.  This would have been part of the comfort they offered to the grieving sisters.  They’d have talked about resurrection and life and how Lazarus has a share in it.

But now another Comforter comes to Bethany.  This Comforter not only talks about resurrection and life, he actually embodies it.  Jesus reveals that he himself IS the resurrection and the life.  He calls for faith in him as such.  He calls for that faith in Martha and also in us. 

That’s what this passage is about this morning from John.  God’s Word calls us to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life

We’ll see:

  1. Martha’s faith
  2. Martha’s faith intensified

When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.  This detail seems to be highlighted for us.  It may be because of a certain Jewish belief from around that time.  Around that time, many Jews believed that after a person died, their soul hovered over their body for three days before departing.  Once decomposition set in, around day 4, the soul finally gave up and went its way.  That belief wasn’t based on the Bible – it was a sort of superstition.  That could be the background to this detail, but it could just as well be simply to tell us that Lazarus was well and truly dead. 

Because Bethany is close to Jerusalem, we’re told in verses 18 and 19 that many Jews came to visit and comfort the grieving sisters.  They were obviously a well-known and well-connected family.  There’s no shortage of comforters. 

But there’s one Comforter that’s especially anticipated:  Jesus.  When Martha hears that Jesus is coming up the road, she leaves the house and heads out to meet him.  She leaves her sister and all the mourners behind. 

Now we should note that we read about Martha and Mary elsewhere in the gospels.  In Luke 10, for example.  In Luke 10, you may remember that it was Mary who spent time with Jesus while Martha was fussing over the housework.  Martha became annoyed with her sister for spending with Jesus when there was work to be done.  Martha doesn’t come off looking so good in that encounter.  Not exactly a model disciple.  But here in John 11, we see another side of Martha.  Here we see a grieving disciple of Jesus who believes in him.

You can see her faith right away in verse 21.  Notice how she calls Jesus, “Lord.”  She recognizes him as her Master.  She places herself as his disciple, his follower.  Then she expresses her confidence that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus could have been healed from his illness.  She has faith in her Lord that he has the power to heal. 

Her faith comes to further expression in verse 22.  As one of his disciples, she knows Jesus.  She knows that God listens to him.  When she says that she knows, she means that she has confidence, trust, faith.  She has faith in her Lord that when he prays, things happen. 

Loved ones, that’s the confidence of all Christians:  when Christ prays, things happen, God acts.  Here’s the reality:  Christ continues to pray for us.  As our High Priest, he’s always speaking up for us, interceding on our behalf.  Whatever he asks for us from God, God will give him.  As the Son of God, Jesus will never be denied.  And he’s on our side, he praying for us.  Brothers and sisters, believe that and keep holding on to that comforting truth. 

In verse 23, Jesus speaks his first words of comfort to his grieving disciple.  He comforts her with the reality of the resurrection:  “Your brother will rise again.”  It’s a simple statement – we’re not told he says anything beyond this.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise to Martha.  This was a teaching that came from the Old Testament, and it would have been probably repeated to her several times already by the other comforters.  Nevertheless, the simplicity and openendedness of that statement invites further reaction from Martha. 

So in verse 24, she reacts.  Martha makes another statement of faith.  She knows, she has confidence that her brother Lazarus will rise again at the last day.  There’ll be a resurrection and Lazarus will have a part in it.  She’s sure of it.  This trust is built on the rock of God’s Word.  Her biblical Old Testament faith assures her that death is not the end.  In itself, that’s already a remarkable thing – especially considering how many people even in that time believed otherwise.  There were not only the Gentiles out in the Roman Empire, but even the Sadducees among the Jews denied it.  Nevertheless, the idea that death is not the end – that’s something that all Bible-believing people will hold to.

The biblical reality starkly contrasts with the alternatives.  What are the alternatives to believing in what the Bible teaches about the afterlife and coming resurrection? 

One alternative is annihilation.  Everyone just stops existing after death.  This was what many pagan Romans believed:  “I wasn’t, I was, I am not, I don’t care.”  Many people today believe it too.  They believe that this life is all there is.  We’re animals.  Animals die and that’s it.  Human animals die and that’s it.  But this denies human dignity and worth.  It fails to recognize the reality that human beings are far different than animals.  We have a soul.  We have a conscience.  We’re able to love and express a wide range of emotions.  We’re not animals and our lives don’t end like animals.  Moreover, the annihilation alternative kills our hope for ultimate justice.  There’s so much injustice in this world.  There’s so much that wicked people get away with.  Are we to believe that they’ll forever and ultimately get away with all that wickedness?

Another alternative is reincarnation.  Reincarnation is the idea that yes, you’ll die, but then you’ll right away come back to life as another life-form, perhaps an animal, but you hope as a human being.  I recently heard a poll saying that even many people who claim to be Christians are taking on this idea of reincarnation.  But this idea comes from pagan religions like Hinduism.  There’s nothing in the Bible about reincarnation at all, no reason to believe it’s real.  Furthermore, who would want reincarnation back into a world of ongoing sin and brokenness?  No, thanks. 

It’s better to listen to what the Bible teaches.  The Bible presents reality.  The reality is that when we die, our souls and bodies are separated.  But we continue to exist with our souls.  There is an afterlife – actually for believers it’s truly an afterlife, for unbelievers it’s better described as an afterdeath.  For an unbeliever, their soul goes to hell after death.  If you’re resting and trusting in Christ and what he did for you on the cross, your soul goes to be with God.  There it waits for the last day, for the end of the world.  At the last day, we will rise again.  Bodies and souls will be reunited.  For Christians, this will be for vindication – what God has declared about us, that we’re righteous in Christ, will be made known to all.  But for unbelievers, this resurrection will be for judgment and condemnation.  For unbelievers, it’ll be a day of shame and infamy. 

Martha believes God and what he’s said in the Old Testament about these things.  She has faith.  But now Christ leads her to a more intense and stronger faith. 

Let’s read verses 25 and 26 again.  These are some of the most memorable words of Jesus in John’s gospel.  I’ve often read these words on condolence visits.  It makes sense because they’re powerful words full of gospel comfort.  Here we have Jesus revealing how he brings comfort to the grieving.  More than that, we have Jesus revealing how he IS comfort to us.    

This is another one of Jesus’ famous “I am” sayings.  It’s the fifth of seven.  In these sayings, Jesus closely identifies himself with certain truths.

Here he closely identifies himself with two related truths:  the resurrection and the life.  But what does this mean exactly?  What does he mean when he says that he is the resurrection and the life?  In his person and work, he embodies these realities of resurrection and life.  In his person and work, Jesus fully represents these realities of resurrection and life.  In his person and work, he fulfils these realities of resurrection and life.  As a result, a Christian, someone who follows Jesus, a Christian can’t think about resurrection or life without thinking about Jesus.  He’s completely bound up with these realities. 

There are then two things our Lord Jesus draws from that.  These two things run closely parallel to each other and the second one builds on the first.  Let’s look closely at both in turn.

First he says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  Obviously, Christians still die.  Lazarus died, eventually he died for good and so did Martha and Mary.  Unless Christ comes back first, it’s a sure thing that all of us will die too.  Yet, if you’ve believed in Christ, trusted in him as your Saviour, you’ll live.  That means your soul will have an existence beyond death.  You’ll live with God in blessed fellowship.  It also means that that your body too will have an existence beyond death.  When the resurrection happens, your body will be raised and glorified to be like Christ’s body.  And all of this is because of Jesus Christ.  This life after death is only possible if you’re connected to him through faith.  He’s the one who brings about all the Old Testament promises of resurrection and life.  He makes those promises reality through his own resurrection.

Then he says in verse 26, “…and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Our Lord speaks about those who live.  That’s referring to everyone who has the gift of spiritual life.  It’s about regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  He brings life to dead sinners.  Then those who’ve been regenerated believe in Jesus.  They trust in him for their rescue from sin, and they’re united to the one who is the life.  As a result, they’re never really going to experience death in its fullest sense.  Yes, the soul may be separated from the body for a time, but the resurrection guaranteed through Jesus says, “This is not final.”  Yes, the body may die and go in the grave, but the resurrection guaranteed through Jesus says, “This is not final.  This is not the end.  There are more chapters in this story.”  Loved ones, you see for anyone who believes in Christ, life is the story that goes on forever.  Death is not the last chapter, the conclusion, the show-stopper.  We die but then live on forever.

Jesus puts it straight to Martha at the end of verse 26:  “Do you believe this?”  He’s not talking abstract theology.  He wants to bring these truths home to her grieving heart.  That’s really reflecting the core purpose of John’s gospel.  Do you believe this?  Loved ones, if we want our story to be life going on forever, we must believe this.  We have to place our trust in Christ who is the resurrection and the life.

That’s what happened with Martha.  By God’s grace, her faith was intensified.  She believed in Jesus before this encounter.  She’d also believed in what the Old Testament teaches about resurrection and life.  But now it all comes together – the connection between Jesus and the resurrection and the life.  She expresses her settled conviction that Jesus is the Christ, he is the Messiah.  He is the Son of God.  He is the one whom God has sent into the world for the rescue of sinners, for their life!  Really what we see her doing in verse 27 is confessing that she indeed believes Jesus to be the resurrection and the life.  After all, according to Psalm 16 and Isaiah 53, the Christ is the one who would embody these things and bring them to reality.  The Christ is the one who would guarantee resurrection and life through his own experience. 

Martha’s response is meant to be a model for the response of all disciples.  All disciples are called to make the same good confession – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, coming into the world with resurrection and life embodied in his person and work.  Not just to say that with our mouths, but to hold on to Christ in our hearts.  Such a heart-felt response honours Christ our Lord.  And it also presents the greatest comfort to us, especially when we’re faced with the grave, whether it’s our own death or the death of a loved one.

Some years ago, a mother died and left behind a husband and their small children.  The husband was a famous Presbyterian preacher in America, Donald Grey Barnhouse.  As he was driving with his children to his wife’s funeral on a cold winter’s day, their vehicle came to a stop at a traffic light.  There was a large truck in front of them.  The sun was at an angle that cast the truck’s shadow across the snow-covered field beside the road.  The pastor pointed to the shadow and said to his children, “Look at the shadow of that truck on the field, children.  If you had to be run over, would you rather be run over by the truck or by its shadow?  The youngest child answered, “The shadow.  It couldn’t hurt anybody.”  “That’s right,” said Barnhouse.  “And remember, children, Jesus let the truck of death strike him, so that it could never destroy us.  Mother lives with Jesus now – only the shadow of death passed over her.” 

Loved ones, that’s the way it is for all who believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  So believe in him as such and when you’re faced with the grave yourself, you can face it with no fear.  When you’re faced with the grave of a loved one, you can grieve as those who have hope.  All because of our Lord Jesus, the one who is the resurrection and the life.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Our Lord Jesus,

We praise you as the resurrection and the life.  Through your resurrection, you’ve guaranteed hope for all who trust in you.  Thank you, Lord, that believing in you, we can be confident that even though we die, yet we shall live.  That’s true for our loved ones who believed in you and died too – we worship you for the comfort you give us.  Thank you, Lord, that living and believing in you, we shall never die.  We praise you that you give life and faith to us through the Holy Spirit.  We praise you that through that faith, we can be confident that we’re going live forever, that death is not the end of the story for us, but just a doorway into everlasting life.  Lord, help us with your Holy Spirit to believe these things and hold on to them.  Please keep us from all doubts and despair.  Help us always to find our comfort in who you are and your promises to us. 

                         

    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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