“I AM the Resurrection and the Life: Do You Believe This?”
Scripture Readings: Psalm 118:22-27; John 11:17-25 (text)
March 27, 2016 * ZCRC (Pasig) and BSCC * Download this sermon (PDF)
Ccongregation of Christ: A story is told of a Christian School teacher who asked her class the week before Easter about their knowledge of the celebration.
One little girl volunteered her opinion, “Easter is when the whole family gets together, and you eat turkey and sing about the pilgrims and all that.”
“No, that’s not it,” said the teacher.
“I know what Easter is,” said another excitedly. “Easter is when you get a tree and decorate it and give gifts to everybody and sing lots of songs.”
Again, the teacher responded, “Nope, that’s not it either.”
Finally a third student seemed to be on the right track, “Easter is when Jesus was killed, and put in a tomb and left for three days.”
“Ah, thank goodness somebody knows,” the teacher thought.
But then the student continued, “Then everybody gathers at the tomb and waits to see if Jesus comes out, and if he sees his shadow he has to go back inside and we have six more weeks of winter.”
I was raised in an evangelical church where most everyone thought that Easter, like Christmas, was adopted from a pagan Germanic/Nordic spring festival in honor of a fertility goddess called Eoster. But researchers have conclusive proof that there was no such goddess. Neither does the word “Easter” come from the Anglo-Saxon name of the month of April, “Eostermanoth.” This name simply means “month of opening” or “month of spring” when the flower buds open during that month.
Does Easter have pagan origins? No, not even close. As early as 150 AD, Christ’s resurrection was celebrated by Christians. Justin Martyr wrote that the church worships on Sundays because this was the same day when Christ rose from the dead. Christians should remember the most significant milestones in Christ’s life: his birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost Sunday. This is why we have Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost Sunday. All of these commemorations are about the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This last week, we commemorated the last week of his life on earth beginning with his entry into Jerusalem. Then, we solemnly remembered his suffering and death on the cross on Good Friday. This Lord’s Day, we joyfully remember his resurrection. All of these are important, for without any one of these, there is no salvation for us. Without his birth, there is no Savior coming in the flesh. Without his death, there is no forgiveness of sin. Without his resurrection, there is no justification before a holy God. Without the pouring out of his Spirit, there is no regeneration and holy living.
Our text today tells us of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’ beloved friend. His resurrection is merely a tiny foretaste of Jesus’ own resurrection, since Lazarus died later after Jesus raised him from the tomb. The resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits of the great resurrection of all believers on the last day. But even now, all believers receive the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.
So today we will dwell on the words of Jesus to Martha, Lazarus’ sister, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life: Do You Believe This?” under three headings: first, For Our Justification; second, For our Sanctification; and third, For Our Resurrection.
For Our Justification
Our text is very well-known among Christians, so I would point out only a few salient points. Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary lived, is only one-and-a-half miles east of Jerusalem, a short walk. Jesus used their home as his base whenever he went to Jerusalem. When this event took place, Jesus was already on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he knew extreme suffering and death awaited him. He was already in the area, but he did not hurry to Bethany after he was told that Lazarus was dying. He continued to work where he was for two days, because he has his own divine schedule. His timing cannot be under any other except his own.
So when Jesus arrived in the outskirts of Bethany, he was already buried for four days, because the ancient custom is immediate burial after death. When he arrived, he said his purpose was to reveal his power over death so the people would believe (verse 15). At the house, he was met by Mary and Martha and all the other mourners weeping loudly. Mourning was usually for seven days. The sorrowful complaints of the two sisters were the same: if Jesus was there, Lazarus would not have died. They had faith that Jesus would heal him.
Martha truly believed that Lazarus would come back to life, but not until the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But Jesus told her, “I AM the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” And Martha affirmed her faith, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” She was affirming the Jews’ belief in a Messiah who would come to rescue them, as our reading in Psalm 118 says.
And she was right. Like Peter in his great confession, she declared that Jesus is the Son of God. Faith in Christ, and in his death and resurrection, is what God gives to all believers like us for our salvation. Our Heidelberg Catechism reading tells us of three benefits believers receive from the resurrection of our Lord. The first benefit is that we partake of the perfect righteousness that Christ lived, as if we were also perfectly righteous. Even one sin in thought, word and deed makes us imperfect and liable to death. So when Jesus died for our sins, his sacrifice would be in vain if he did not rise from the grave. His resurrection was evidence that his death on the cross was fully acceptable and satisfactory to God’s perfect holiness and justice.
But how do we receive this perfect righteousness if only one sin would send us to eternal hell? It is by faith alone in Christ alone. The Bible says that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, and not by works. “Justification” is a big theological word. But it simply means being declared perfectly righteous by God, acquitted in God’s divine court of justice. It means that God has cleared you of all your sins – past, present and future. Is this because of your own good works? Not by any means! It is through the perfect good works of Christ, and this perfect righteousness is counted, transferred, reckoned to our account. On Judgment Day, God will see in us only the perfect righteousness of our Lord.
This is why Paul says that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). He died to take away our sins, and was raised from the grave to give us his own righteousness. Do you believe this? Do you believe and trust in Jesus Christ as your only Savior?
For Our Sanctification
After Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha, he went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone against its entrance. This is the usual tomb in those days, just as the tomb of Jesus after he was crucified. In John 20:1, we read a similar description on the early Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”
There is a small allusion in the story about how a person is first resurrected and then obeys the voice of God. Lazarus was already dead four days, but Jesus commanded him with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And immediately, Lazarus who was dead, came out of the tomb. How did he hear Jesus’ voice? The Spirit gave him life first. You may recall the “Valley of Dry Bones” in Ezekiel 37. The Spirit of God gave the bones flesh and reconstituted them as human bodies. Then the Spirit breathed life back into them, and then they stood.
Lazarus heard the voice of Christ, and then obeyed. Even Martha, when Jesus told her to remove stone covering the tomb, objected because she knew that a decaying body would smell bad. But even then, because of her faith in our Lord, she obeyed, and had the stone taken away. Our reading in Romans 6:4 says, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This is what our Heidelberg Catechism reading also says as the next benefit of Christ’s resurrection, “by His power we are also now raised up to a new life.” Those who have been given faith in Christ alone are like Christ who had been raised to a new life. All believers gradually mature into new lives of righteousness and godliness. This is called sanctification, or growing up in holiness.
Paul opens Chapter 6 of Romans with a question, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul asks us: who are you in Christ, you who call yourself elect, called and justified, united with Christ? Simply, you have been united to Christ in his life, suffering, death and resurrection. So if you are united to Christ in his life of perfect righteousness, we are commanded to emulate his righteousness. Not that we can do the same, but that the Holy Spirit helps us and empowers us to obey his Word.
Paul illustrates this changed life with putting off old clothes and putting on new ones, “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).
So in Romans 6, Paul is talking about union with Christ. The reason the believer has died to sin is because he is united to Christ who died for our sin. Because Christ died to break the power of Satan and sin over us, he enables us to break the power of Satan and sin over our lives. Because Christ died to blot out our sin, we who are united to him by faith must also blot out sin from our lives.
And in our union with Christ, we are not only raised with him to a new life in our worldly existence, but we look forward and have hope that we too will be bodily resurrected like him.
For Our Resurrection
How did Jesus react when he saw Mary, Martha and the mourners wailing and weeping? In verses 33 and 38, it is said that he was “deeply moved” (ESV, NIV, NASB), or “groaned in himself” (KJV). But the NLT and the HCSB say he “was angry.” This is the better translation, so the ESV has a footnote saying he “was indignant.” In classical Greek writings, this word is used for the snort of a horse in a war or a race, and for humans, outrage, fury or anger. In Matthew 9:30 and Mark 1:43, the word is translated as “sternly (or strongly) warning” some people.
Why was Jesus angry or indignant over the wailing? He was not “deeply moved” by the sorrow, or felt sympathy for the mourners. Because they were mourning without hope. And because he was angry at death itself, and the sorrow and destruction it causes. “Jesus wept,” not because he was grieving over the death of his dear friend. He wept when he saw all that going on around him: hopeless grieving, the tomb, and death itself.
So in raising Lazarus from the tomb, he demonstrated to them how wrong and unbelieving they were. Here he was, right in front of them, one who has the power over sin, Satan and death itself. Our Heidelberg Catechism reading says that the third benefit we Christians receive from Christ’s resurrection is “a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
When Martha came to Jesus weeping about his dead brother, Jesus also told her, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Dying and living in these words of Jesus means both physical and spiritual. Those who believe in our Lord, even after they die, will be resurrected like him. And those believers who have not died yet will never die in the sense of dying hopeless, suffering eternal death in hell.
The Scriptures assure us of our own resurrection. Paul says that God will “also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). He says that Christ is the “firstfruits” of all who will be resurrected when he returns from heaven (1 Cor 15:22-23). On that last day, all believers will be raised with incorruptible and immortal bodies “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:51-53). And our resurrected bodies will be “like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).
Dear friends, as you remember our Lord’s death and resurrection 2,000 years ago, meditate and be comforted on these things:
Just as Christ died to conquer Satan, sin and death, we also are to die to sin. We do not continue to sin since we are not slaves of sin anymore.
Just as Christ rose from the dead to conquer death, we too are raised to a new life of holiness and good works. This is only possible because Christ has poured out his Holy Spirit on us, and the Spirit gave us new hearts and wrote God’s law in our new hearts.
Just as Christ rose from the dead to conquer physical death, you too who believe in him will also conquer physical death when he returns from heaven. He will reunite your body and soul together forever in your dwelling-place in heaven.
To those who have no hope in this world; who grieve without hope over loved ones who have died: believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and you will be saved from the power of sin and even death, and live forever.