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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:I am the Resurrection and the Life
Text:John 11:25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-08-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 61:1,2,3                                                                                      

Ps 141:1,2,3,4,7                                                                                                         

Reading – John 11:1-44

Ps 17:3,4,6

Sermon – John 11:25

Hy 36:1,2,3,4

Hy 67:3,4,5,7

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


Beloved in Christ, death is around us every day. Every day there are funerals at the local cemeteries. Every day people die from cancer and drug overdoses and car crashes. Last week I read that about 160,000 people die each day, all around the world—that’s a lot of death.

And that’s just physical death. Think of all the spiritual death in this world, the many millions who are living without God and a knowledge of Christ. They are dead right now, even if they look alive, for they don’t have a true faith. They are dead in trespasses and sins, Scripture says—just like we would be, apart from God’s grace.

Those who don’t know the Lord face death forever. In God’s perfect justice, it is a state of death that is everlasting. Sin against an infinitely holy God requires an infinite payment. So more death: endless death.

Yes, death is pervasive, inescapable. Apart from a miraculous intervention—apart from life support of the grandest kind—death is our lot. How wondrous then, is the good news in John 11:25! There Jesus announces, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” Somehow life is possible for us, even a life that does not end.

About this passage, one commentator said, “[Here] Jesus utters what is perhaps the very greatest saying in the Bible, certainly the greatest of the ‘I am’ sayings.” What do you think of that? ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ Is this among the greatest words of Scripture? Is this the pinnacle of the seven ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus? Let’s see, as we explore together the meaning of this passage. I preach God’s Word to you from John 11:25 on this theme,

            I am the resurrection and the life:

                        1) Christ’s power for resurrection

                        2) Christ’s power for life

 

1) his power for resurrection: Not far in the background of this saying of Jesus, there’s a remarkable story. It’s the story of the raising of Lazarus back to life. You might remember that Lazarus, together with his two sisters Mary and Martha, were good friends of the Lord Jesus. But Lazarus had become very sick, and he was fading fast. It seemed like Jesus had an opportunity to go and heal him, but when He first heard the news, He chose to delay his journey. Now, when Jesus is finally near Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days—he is way past all earthly hope, his body already in the smelly process of returning to dust.

Martha has gone out to meet Jesus on his way into the village. We suppose that she is broken with grief at losing her brother. But despite her sadness, she speaks of great confidence in the Lord. And Jesus responds to her: “Your brother will rise again” (v 23). The gospel is already beginning to shine through on a dark day: death isn’t the end, not for Lazarus, and not for anyone who believes, but there is life!

Now, Martha knows that Jesus has the power to do incredible wonders. With his miracles, He has proven himself, time and again. But she just can’t imagine how Jesus can do something about her dead brother, here and now. So this is what she says: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (v 24).

On its own, it is a good confession. Martha knows God’s promise of resurrection, that those who are dead will return to life. It was a promise found in the Old Testament, like in Psalm 16:10, “You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.” God’s holy ones will not be left in the realm of the dead forever, but we will surely awake! Even so, Martha reckons that happy day is a long way off. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

In response to his friend, Jesus doesn’t say, “Nice try, Martha, but think again.” He doesn’t correct her, but shifts the focus onto himself. He is going to transform God’s promise of a resurrection! Martha is speaking with the person who is the sure fulfillment of every ancient word. For Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v 25). Christ brings the reality of resurrection out of the shadows and into the light.

The Old Testament spoke about the how God would raise up his people, we said, but there was still ambiguity, still uncertainty. For example, there are some passages in the Psalms or Ecclesiastes that almost make it sound like death really is the ultimate end of us: “The dead know nothing, and they have no more reward” (Ecc 9:5). Some Old Testament texts seem to say that there is no hope beyond the grave, that animals and humans alike have their time of living and then they die, and that’s it—full stop.

But the time of shadows is over. Like He so often does, Jesus here pulls the curtain back on God’s truth. It says in 2 Timothy 1:10 that Jesus “has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” You might say that Jesus is going to lift this doctrine out of a dusty scroll, and attach it to himself. “In me,” He says, “the resurrection has come!”

Which means that the resurrection is actually a present reality. When Martha thought about the resurrection, she was only looking to the future. One day, Lazarus would rise again and she would see him again.

That’s how we tend to think about the resurrection too: it’s future—in the distant future—long past our lifetimes. We won’t see our grandparents again, or our husband, our wife, our parents, not until that far-off day when Christ comes back. We figure that’s when the promise of resurrection finally kicks in.

But Jesus says we don’t have to wait. The real resurrection takes place today, in and through the power of Jesus Christ. Resurrection happens at the moment when people hear and believe the gospel and they come alive in Christ.

What does this mean, that resurrection is present? Think about how we are the walking dead. Apart from God’s work of reviving us, enlivening us, resurrecting us, we would be spiritual corpses. Our hearts and spirits are unable to believe in God, unable to love our neighbour, destined to remain in the darkness: stone cold, flat-lining, totally unresponsive. But God is so gracious, and for the sake of Christ He brings us to new and glorious life. That is true resurrection.

There is an essential moment of change for all of God’s people, a moment when who we are, and where we are going, shifts radically. Sometimes we think that the most important moment of our life, our instant migration into heavenly glory, must be on that day when we die. That’s when we’re finally done with sin, after all, and we go to be with the Lord. Or perhaps the critical moment is when Christ returns, and we are transformed in the twinkling of an eye. Finally, eternity begins.

But the key change happens before. Resurrection happens now. The transition for us is not the moment when we die, or when Christ comes back, but it’s when we believe. By his power we enter into new life when we are joined to Christ by faith.

Listen to how Paul describes it in Ephesians 2, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… And God raised us up with Christ” (vv 4-6). God made us alive, He raised us up—if that’s not resurrection, then nothing is.

So when did this happen? Maybe that’s the challenge, that for many of us—perhaps all of us—there isn’t one moment in which we first believed, at least, not one that we can clearly recall. Do you remember when you crossed over from spiritual death into life? When you first put your faith in Christ? It’s a dramatic reality, yet God’s work of raising us from the dead is often done quietly, gradually, slowly, but surely. The moment might’ve slipped by, but the effects are unmistakable: we are alive in Christ.

And that is where the focus should be: on Christ! This amazing story in John 11 isn’t firstly about the growing faith of Martha and Mary, or Lazarus and what he thought about coming back to life for a few more years on earth. It’s about Christ. Because our Saviour has come, new life is possible, resurrection is available for dead sinners.

Let’s appreciate how intensely Christ is pointing to himself. He doesn’t just do resurrection, or perform resurrection, but He is the resurrection! He opens the way. Not long after John 11, Jesus will come out of his own grave in full triumph over Satan and death. It hasn’t happened yet, but He speaks as if He’s already attained it: ‘I will rise again, and I will raise up many who are dead to put their faith in me.’ Through the power of Christ’s resurrection, faith lives within us, and hope, and love. 

And when we’ve been made alive in Christ, death can no longer keep its hold on us. If we’ve been freed from our spiritual death, then we’ll also escape physical death. Believers still die—of course they do. But now we know the One who is the resurrection.

Remember that when Jesus says this, He still hasn’t done anything. Lazarus is still in the grave, the crowds are still weeping and wailing, and Mary and Martha are still grief-stricken over their brother. It looks death gets the last word, yet Jesus says that believers will live, even if they die. For a few minutes, that might’ve seemed like empty comfort, a hollow promise.

But then Jesus reveals his glory. He shows the truth of his identity as ‘the resurrection,’ for He calls Lazarus to exit his grave: “‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes” (vv 43-44). It’s a spectacular moment, the raising of Lazarus. Until Jesus comes again, we’ll never see such an event as this.

Yet what happens to Lazarus reveals the power over death that Christ still has today. He really can do the impossible, and He can raise us. Christ can change your heart and make it open to him. He can give you childlike faith. He can pull you out of life-destroying sin. He can create love in you, and courage, and hope. Christ has a death-defying power, and He shows it in his church, even today.

Beloved, has Christ made you alive? Do you see the effects of your resurrection every day? Do you see the power of death slowly retreating from your life, the graveclothes being put off? Then thank God for his work in you! And pray that his mighty work will continue.

When we are alive in Christ, it becomes our aim to leave sin behind us. And when we are alive in Christ, we also don’t need to fear the looming shadow of death. No question, death can be horrible—it can be sudden, it can be painful, it can also be long and drawn out. However it comes, it can leave so much sadness.

Yet facing the last enemy, we have the greatest possible source of comfort. And our comfort is not merely in a doctrine, or an abstract truth, but our comfort is in a person. When we are dying, someone stands with us. We have beside us a living Saviour, the one who says, ‘I am the resurrection.’

This is one of the beautiful moments at the funerals of those who believe in Christ. It often happens once the casket has been lowered into the ground. It’s a solemn moment, and it feels very final. Yet that is often when we will recite or sing the Apostles’ Creed. In our creed, we affirm (two times!) our belief in the resurrection. We say that Jesus Christ “descended into hell [but] on the third day he arose from the dead.” He rose, as it says in Acts 2:24, “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

And in the strength of Christ’s resurrection, we have a resurrection of our own. Near the end of our creed, we again declare our confidence, “I believe the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” Powerful words to sing at the graveside of a loved one in Christ, “I believe the resurrection of the body.”

Our confidence is in God’s promise. He promises that even if our body is dead, one day it will live again, raised a glorious body. Even when a believer has died, in a way it has only seemed to be death. For once Christ has made alive our spirits, this new life can never be extinguished. For we belong to Christ. We are joined to him by faith, and our union with Christ will continue forever.

 

2) his power for life: Jesus had a purpose in raising Lazarus from the dead. Why did He do it? Was it to banish the deep sorrow of Martha and Mary, to dry their tears? Was it to give Lazarus another chance at living—maybe another ten years? Was it to silence the doubting whispers of the crowd, to prove himself to those who were (even then) getting ready to kill him?

It might have been any of these things, or a bit of all of them. But we can say that the primary reason that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead was to reveal Jesus’s glory as the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners.

That was the point of all Jesus’s miracles. Listen to what John said in 20:30-31, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ… and that believing you may have life in his name.”

Underline that last phrase: by believing, ‘you may have life in his name.’ Jesus raised Lazarus so that people would come to faith in him. His last and greatest sign was one more powerful testimony, and He wanted all to see and believe. For then they would have life! It wasn’t just Lazarus getting life that day, but everyone who came to faith in the Saviour.

It’s the same purpose that Christ has in raising us. We were dead in our sin, but He made us alive by his Spirit. He breathed into us, and we revived. This is what it said back in John 3:16, “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” By faith we have left death behind us, and we have entered life.

So what does that mean? What is life, according to the gospel? According to Scripture, the only life is the life of knowing Christ. Walking with Christ is the only thing that’s worth doing with your time here. You get one life only, so live it for Christ!

That can sound uncomfortably demanding. Does Christ really want everything? Is He really interested in my daily work, or how I spend my money, or how I treat my kids? Does He want me to surrender my ambitions to him, my goals and dreams?

We prefer to draw a box around our faith. Believing in Jesus is mostly a way to ‘get by.’ It’s a way to cope with whatever difficult things we face. So we have our daily life over here—being busy with whatever we’re pursuing, like money or creature comforts or career success—and then when life takes a bad turn, we’ve still got Christ as ‘back-up.’ He’ll pull us through, get us back on our feet, and then we get back to the real business of living.

But we dishonour Christ if He’s our life-coach, and little more. Listen to what He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He tells us, ‘I am the life.’ He is to be the whole substance of our purpose, the whole reason why we’re here. In him we live and move and have our being. Our life is meant to be in Christ alone, and only in him.

And the good news is that it’s a rich and full life that we have in Christ! In the last chapter, when Jesus was talking about his task as the good shepherd, this is what He said about what He has done for his sheep. This is why He came, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Think about that word ‘abundantly.’ In Christ we are given a life that is full of blessing, joy, and hope. Because He provides what we most truly need. He gives us peace with God our Creator. He renews our hearts—He resurrects us!—through his Spirit. He guides and exhorts us by his infallible Word. He grants us strength to fight sin. He gives us a new family in the church. And He imparts to us an everlasting hope. In every way, life in Christ is good!

Life isn’t perfect when you have life in Christ. Having an ‘abundant life’ doesn’t mean we are spared all trouble and protected from all temptation. We all know—and some of us know all too well—that knowing Christ doesn’t keep us from the heartache of brokenness and tension, of illness and struggle and sadness.

Lazarus knew this too. He loved the Lord, yet he still got terribly sick, and then he died. But he got a taste of how enduring is Christ’s gift of life. For the believer, life does not end at death—you actually never die. Even when your heart stops and your body decays, you never really depart from the presence of Christ.

As Paul says, even death will not “be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). When we die, our fellowship with Christ will be as alive on that day as on any day! He who believes in Christ is born again to a living hope, “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Pet 1:4). We have only to await his return, that glorious day when our bodies and spirits are reunited and perfected.

In the following verse, Jesus underlines what He’s been saying, “And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (v 26). It’s an amazing reality: Christ is the resurrection and the life. It’s an amazing promise: When we believe in Christ, though we may die—even if we die tomorrow—we shall live.

So it’s no wonder that Christ emphasizes our need to respond to what God has given.  We have to hold onto and grasp it with all our might: “Do you believe this?” He asks. Are you putting your faith in Jesus Christ and his Word? Are you alive in him? Do you live for Christ alone? And if you die today, will you live with him forever?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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