Seeing Jesus: The Resurrection and the Life
Our Hope in the Resurrection.
Text: John 11:17- 44
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
"We are continuing in our Lenten Series on 'Seeing Jesus.' Last week’s focus on Jesus as the 'upside-down wisdom of God' helped us to see in Jesus a kind of strength that is found in weakness, a fullness that can be found when we are empty, and a richness that can be found when we are poor. It’s contrary to the wisdom of the world, but it is the wisdom of God which is displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today, we want to begin turning our focus to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a continuation of last week’s focus, but today we are asking God to open our eyes to see that in Christ there is a life that can only be found in dying. A resurrection kind of life.
Today we will reading from the Gospel of John 11:17-44.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” 28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Death and resurrection. Resurrection is hard to believe in, isn’t it? But none of us have any trouble believing in death.
Death is all around us. We may not want to believe it can happen to us or the people we love, but it’s undeniable that it does. This past year we lost over 500,000 people in this country to COVID 19. That’s a lot of people dying. And Ruthie Gillis has shared with us that as a hospital nurse, what is more staggering is having faces to go with those staggering numbers.
They’re not just numbers to doctors and nurses, they’re people, they’re patients, their individuals, and they’re deaths are personal and painful to family and friends and hospital staffs as well.
But it’s not just COVID that has brought the reality of death home to us recently, is it?
My wife’s Uncle Butch is dying as we speak this weekend down in North Carolina. And it is not COVID related, it’s the end of a long bout with Alzheimer’s. He’s my mother-in-law’s youngest brother. And it’s been painful for the whole family to watch his slow demise over the past many years.
And a year ago it was my mother who died on Christmas day. And then our dear Helen Redford died last February. Diane Forni’s sister Barbara Sullivan died last August. We all still miss Angelo Stathopoulos, and Barbara Coyman, and Valerie Fournier, and Wendell Haskell, and the list goes on and on.
You see, we may want to try and ignore the stark reality of death, but it is always there. We are forced to believe in it.
And Christianity does nothing to prevent death, or to prevent the loss and grief we feel in the face of death. Instead, it offers us the miracle of resurrection. It offers us the promise of life on the other side of death.
And we see a foreshadowing of this promise in the resurrection of Lazarus.
When Lazarus became deathly ill, his sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus and asked him to come quickly to heal their brother. But surprisingly, we are told, that even though Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he didn’t hurry to rescue him. It says that he actually stayed where he was two more days, and he did it intentionally.
He tells his disciples that he did this so that they might believe. Not believe in the death part! But in the resurrection.
And they can’t figure out what he is talking about, because just like us, they know all about death, but they have no experience with resurrection. They couldn’t grasp it anymore than we can.
So Jesus takes them with him to Bethany, where Mary and Martha live, and where at this point, Lazarus has died and is laid in a tomb, and the family and friends are all grieving.
And the sisters are rightly upset about their brother’s death, but they are also upset that Jesus never showed up to heal him. And just like us, they can’t figure out why God allows death in the first place, and why He doesn’t show up to prevent it from happening, and why He doesn’t just heal people, especially people He likes!
As was the case here with Lazarus, who was Jesus’ friend! Why doesn’t Jesus show up in time to perform the healing.
And Jesus, who does indeed love Lazarus, and Mary and Martha, when he gets there he doesn’t apologize. No. He looks them right in the eye and says, 'Your brother will rise again. For I am the resurrection and the life. And he who believes in me will live even if he dies!'
And then he gives them the reality of resurrection. He goes to the tomb, and even Jesus weeps in the face of death.
He knows full well the reality of death, and he knows the pain and grief and loss it brings. But He is not there that day to comfort the mourners in their grief. He is not there to hold their hands in the face of death. He is not there to help them process the reality of death.
He is there to offer them the miracle of resurrection. He stands outside the tomb where His friend is buried, and He calls Lazarus to come forth from it.
And to the astonishment of every person there, Lazarus comes forth. Out of the tomb, Lazarus comes alive. Out of death comes resurrection.
And I say this is a foreshadowing of the real resurrection, because Lazarus would eventually age and die again.
But in raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was giving Mary and Martha and Lazarus and all his disciples a foretaste of what was to come.
He was teaching them in word and deed that He himself IS the resurrection and the life. That his ministry is about so much more than providing comfort or ease in this mortal life.
And when Jesus himself rises from the dead on Easter morning, it is not just a temporary resuscitation of a mortal body, it is the overcoming of the finality of death itself.
And this was all just as astonishing to Jesus’ disciples 2000 years ago as it still is for us. But it was these experiences of Jesus’ power over even death itself that made them fearless.
Do you know that when people joined the church during the first three centuries they were setting themselves up for persecution?
It was not easy being a Christian in the Roman Empire. Proclaiming yourself a follower of Jesus and identifying yourself with Jesus’ Church could cost you your life.
But in spite of that, the church grew and grew and grew. Why? Because these Christians were no longer afraid of death! They believed in the power of Christ’s resurrection.
And when you became a follower of Jesus, the initiation rite was baptism. And do you know what baptism really is? It’s what you might call a funeral service!
Maybe you never thought about it that way, but the early church did. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 6, 'Don’t you now that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life? If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with. And if we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him.'
Do you hear that? Baptism is about joining Christ in his dying, and thus also joining him in his resurrection. And early believers were baptized by immersion, and it was a symbol of drowning. Those being baptized actually took off their old clothing, and then as the church leader placed them under the water, he would say, 'Buried with Christ in baptism.'
And as the new believer came up out of the water, the church leader said, 'Risen to walk with new life in Christ!' And then the new believer would put on new clothes as a further symbol of living a whole new life.
And you see, we believe that this new life in Christ is a life you can never lose. And the old life you have already died to, so you no longer need to fear death.
So elsewhere in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he can say, 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' You see, to die is gain!! Who can say that? Only a person who believes in the resurrection and the life that are in Christ. Only a person who believes that Jesus not only rose from the dead bodily, but in doing so, defeated death itself and offers us resurrection victory and life everlasting.
That’s what made the early church fearless in proclaiming the gospel in the Roman Empire. In baptism they had already died to the only life their persecutors could take from them. Caesar never understood this. That it’s impossible to scare people who have already died.
So the church grew until it eventually took over the Roman Empire in the 4th century. And this fearless power awaits us too, if we will actually claim our baptismal identity of a risen life in Christ.
I mean you and me! We also get to follow Jesus in our generation into the world in which we live and proclaim the good news of the gospel. And it is still a dangerous world in which to do this.
You might not know it, but in just this past year: 4761 Christians were killed for their faith, 4488 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked, 4277 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned for their faith.
And where is this happening? From the Sudan in Africa to Russia, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Columbia to India, from Syria to China. It may be surprising, but Christian persecution around the world is the biggest human rights issue of the era we live in. You don’t hear much about it in the news, but Christians are regularly being attacked, discriminated against at work and in schools; and risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.
Just Google 'Persecuted Church' sometime, and see the stories that come up. Like a Christian woman in India who recently watched her sister get dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know whether her sister is alive or dead.
Or the story of a Christian woman in Nigeria who recently escaped from Boko Haram, who had kidnapped her.
Or the story of a group of children in Sri Lanka who were killed last year on Easter Sunday by a bomb as they came out of their church from worship.
It will convince you that we actually have it pretty easy getting to live out the risen life right here in Malden, Everett, Medford, Reading, and Melrose.
But such stories will also remind us that Christianity is not about getting God on our side so that everything in life will now go well for us. No, it is about dying to this world and gaining a new life in Christ. It’s about living that life for God’s Kingdom and His purposes, and discovering that even in the midst of danger, and distress, and persecution, and suffering, we do not need to be afraid! For even if we die, yet shall we live!
That is our hope in the resurrection. And so what are we supposed to do with that hope in this week to come?
1. First, repent of your own sin and unbelief, and believe the good news of the gospel!
2. And if you haven’t been baptized, and you’d like to be, well talk to me, and be baptized as an outward sign that you have died with Christ and been raised to newness of life. And if you have already been baptized, recommit yourself to that baptism and reaffirm that you have died with Christ and have been raised to life.
3. And then go forth to live for Christ and for His Kingdom. Participate with God’s redemptive plan for you and for this world. Respond to God’s love for you by seeking to love him back with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength every day. And give yourself to loving those around you in the same way that God has loved you. Learn to show others the mercy you have received. Learn to forgive others the way you have been forgiven. Learn to share the story of what God has done and is doing to transform your life with others so they too might come to know God’s love and power to raise the dead.
4. In this way you’ll be living a risen life, and you’ll be joining with God in redeeming and reclaiming this earth from the powers of hell and death. And even if you die, yet shall you live.