Easter Sunday confronts each and every person who has ever heard of Jesus of Nazareth with the statements and question he posed to Martha, his dear and beloved follower and friend. As recorded in verses 25–26 from the eleventh chapter of John,

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?”

These statements and question posed by Jesus are worth pondering because if we don’t believe them, we can’t possibly believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be, able to do what he claimed he could do; but if we do believe them, then we not only believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be but, as a result of our belief in him, he will grant us eternal life in himself just as he has promised. Or, to put it another way, if we do believe these things, then a doorway is opened for escaping God’s condemnation for our rebellion and indifference towards him in having believed the serpent’s lies—as did our first parents—and we will receive, instead, the awesome, inexpressible good of eternal life that God so freely offers and bestows in and through his Son alone. Do you believe this?

Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life?

Do you believe that rising from death and living eternally unto him is possible only in and through and because of Jesus?

Do you believe that the one—any one—who believes in him will live even though they die? Even when they die?

Do you believe that whoever believes in Jesus, by believing in him, will never die?

Do you believe this? Or do you believe instead the serpent who lied and said that death won’t result when we disbelieve and turn away from God? This is our decision. This is our choice.

For that Jesus is not only Jesus of Nazareth but also the Christ, that is, that Jesus is the Messiah, eternal Son of God sent by the Father to save the world, is the meaning of Easter. And though chronologically the events that are recorded in our passage from John 11 occur prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, they nonetheless are a powerful foretaste that point to and illustrate his resurrection power—power to give life to those who have died—that are part and parcel of his very person and being. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is but a preview of Jesus Christ’s ability to raise from death to life all who believe that he is who he claimed to be. This, in fact, is the reason why Jesus raised Lazarus from death—that all who hear of if may believe in Jesus and in the Father who sent him.[1] So let’s turn to John’s account.

As John begins this eleventh chapter, he states. “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.” John also mentions Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. For it was out of concern for their sick brother that, verse 3, “the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’” Upon receiving this message, Jesus said, verse 4, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Though Lazarus was sick, Jesus knew that his sickness wouldn’t end in death. On the contrary, he knew that this sickness would result in his heavenly Father’s glory for by the events that were to occur to Lazarus, God the Father would demonstrate that Jesus is his eternal Son. For by these very events in Lazarus’ life, Jesus, too would be glorified—that is, the fact that he, too, is God would be made evident to everyone who witnessed the events to come.

Verse 5 goes on to state, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And in what transpires, it will become evident how Jesus used his divine glory and power to demonstrate his love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. But strangely—to us, at least—after noting Jesus’ love for these three siblings, John states in verse 6, “So when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days….”[2] Rather than rushing to Lazarus’ side to heal him, Jesus chose to stay where he was. Didn’t Jesus know that if tarried Lazarus might die before he arrived? Of course, he did. For finally, after two more days had passed, he said, verse 7, “Let us go back to Judea….”

Why did Jesus wait for two days before heading to see Lazarus? Again, had he hurried back to see him, perhaps he could have done something to heal him. Perhaps he could have prevented his dying. Yet Jesus waited. As we jump ahead to verse 17, we learn, “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days….” Jesus had arrived in town too late. There was nothing left for him to do. Already people from all around had heard of Lazarus’ death. As recorded in verse 19, “many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.” So not only had Lazarus died—contrary to Jesus’ declaration that this sickness would not end in death[3]—but the mourners had already arrived to comfort the sisters on the sad occasion of their brother’s death.

We next learn of the sisters’ actions in verse 20. As word spread about Jesus’ coming to town to see Lazarus, Martha “went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.” When Martha met Jesus, she said to him, verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Such was Martha’s knowledge of Jesus. She knew about his ability to heal. She knew how he had previously healed those who were lame and sick and born blind.[4] Therefore, she knew he would have been able to heal Lazarus had he arrived in time. But Martha seemed to know something more for, as stated in verse 22, she then added, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Even now? Even now that Lazarus was dead? What was Martha hinting at? It would appear that Martha knew that even now—even now when Lazarus lay dead for four days—Jesus could still do something about it. Because Martha knew who Jesus is; therefore she knew what he could do.

Jesus did not disappoint as he said to her, verse 23, “Your brother will rise again.” Not quite following his point—namely, that her brother would rise again now after Jesus had raised him—Martha responded, verse 24, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Martha, knowing God’s Holy Scriptures (our Old Testament), understood that Lazarus would one day rise from death. And it is at this point that Jesus confronted her with the fact that he was God. It is at this point that he confronted her with the all-important statements and question with which we began this morning found in verses 25–26. For Jesus said to Martha, “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?” Though her beloved brother, Lazarus, was dead Martha did believe this for she replied to Jesus with a theologically correct answer stating, verse 27, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” “A+, Martha!” Indeed, Jesus is the Messiah. Indeed, Jesus is the Christ, the one sent by God to come in the world in order that he might save it. And Jesus was about to yet again demonstrate the truth of who he claimed to be by yet again expressing his love by his divine power.

In the verses that follow, Martha beckoned for her sister Mary whom Jesus had asked to see.[5] When Mary arrived, she repeated to Jesus the very words that Martha had spoken earlier. As stated in verse 32, upon falling at his feet, Mary exclaimed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary, too, understood that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; Mary, too, knew how he had healed those were lame and sick and born blind; Mary, too, knew that because he is the Messiah, he would have been able to heal Lazarus—if only he had arrived on time. However, what Mary hadn’t quite grasped is that the miracle that would display the power and love and glory of God was to occur not by Jesus healing a sick Lazarus, but by Jesus raising a dead Lazarus; a Lazarus who had been dead for four days. Indeed, this had been Jesus’ plan all along for as we’ve already noted in verse 4, when he received word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick, Jesus stated clearly, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it;”

Too, in verse 11 we see that he had also told the disciples who were with him, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples mistakenly understood Jesus to mean that Lazarus was literally sleeping but, as clarified in verse 13, “Jesus had been speaking of his death,…”[6] As stated in verses 14–15, “he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”

Now when he finally arrived at the tomb, verse 38, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.”—the “once more” is because verse 35 stated that he wept. Now this tomb “…was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.” Tombs at this time, especially for those who were well off, were often caves that were blocked by a heavy, chiseled round stone that was placed across its entrance. When Jesus asked that the stone be rolled away, Martha—despite her earlier profession of faith in Jesus—protested, verse 39, “But, Lord,…by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Jesus responded by repeating the words he had spoken when he had first received word from her and Mary that Lazarus was sick[7] as he now said to Martha directly, verse 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Again, to see the glory of God is to see or experience a manifestation of God’s presence. This glory, this manifestation of God’s presence, was about to occur in a breath-taking manner. As we read beginning with verse 41, “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.’” Again, it’s evident that Jesus had no doubt whatsoever about how all of this would end. From the beginning, he’d known that everything that was about to happen was “for the benefit of the people standing here.” And how might it benefit them? By providing an opportunity for them to “believe that you sent me.” To believe that Jesus is God. For belief that Jesus is the Christ who is sent by God is how God would be glorified.

The climax to the entire chapter is found beginning in verse 43: “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.’” Here we have displayed, in no uncertain terms, the reality of what Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He who is God; he who is the resurrection; he who is the life had just demonstrated that he was all of these by raising Lazarus, a man who had been dead and buried in a tomb for four days, from death to life. Who but God could do such a thing?

And it’s worth pausing to consider just how strange all of this must have been for Jesus. For soon after raising Lazarus from death Jesus would be facing his own death by crucifixion; his own execution by being nailed to a cross until he died. And, once he died, he would be placed in a tomb not unlike the one he had just entered when he raised Lazarus from death:

Jesus’ body, too, would be wrapped with strips of linen;

Jesus’ face, too, would be bound with a cloth around it;

And once he was placed inside this grave, Jesus’ tomb, too, would be blocked by a heavy, chiseled round stone placed across its entrance;

Jesus, too, would lie dead in the grave.

How very strange this close-up and personal encounter with the dead body of his beloved friend, Lazarus, must have been for Jesus knowing that he, too, would soon be buried in his own grave. And yet all that Jesus did here was for the sake of those around him:

So that all who were present might believe—might accept as true—might feel sure of the truth that he is the resurrection;

So that all who were present might believe—might accept as true—might feel sure of the truth that he is the life;

So that all who were present might believe in him—might accept as true—might feel sure of this truth so that they might live even though they die;

So that all who were present might believe him—might accept as true—might feel sure of the truth that he is God’s Son who was sent by him;

So that all who were present might believe in him—might accept as true—might feel sure of this truth and therefore never die;

So that all who were present might believe—might accept as true—might feel sure of this truth and thereby glorify both him and the Father who sent him.

And you know what? It worked. For, as stated in verse 45, after Jesus raised Lazarus from death, “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Again, these were the very Jews mentioned in verse 19 who earlier “had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.” These very Jews had witnessed Lazarus’ lifeless body; they had mourned with Lazarus’ sisters; they had sought to comfort his sisters in the midst of their shared grief. But now Lazarus was alive. He was alive because Christ Jesus, Messiah Jesus who is Lord and Giver of life, had brought Lazarus back from death after he had been in the tomb for four days.[8] Therefore, how could they not believe that he is the resurrection and life? How could they not believe in this loving and powerful manifestation of the glory, of the very presence of God who is the only one able to give life even to those who have died? How could they not believe in God who offers to give eternal life to any and all who believe in him?

The irony, however, is that not only did many believe in Jesus as a result of his raising Lazarus from death but this event also set off the chain of events that would lead to Jesus’ own crucifixion. For soon after, as stated in verse 53, the chief priests and Pharisees[9] “from that day on plotted to take his life.” For as the next chapter in John’s Gospel states, soon after these events a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor at Lazarus’ home. Martha served. Mary poured an expensive perfume upon Jesus’ feet as she wiped them with her hair.[10] But the powers that be plotted to take not only Jesus’ life but that of Lazarus as well. As stated in verses 9–11 of John 12, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.” Thus we see how the manifestation of God that occurred in the person of Christ Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead had two results—consequently, there were those who believed in Jesus as God; and consequently, there were others who disbelieved and sought to kill him. For the very next thing John recounts is Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as King which marked the final week of his life on earth, concerning which Larry shared last week.

Again, this account of Jesus raising Lazarus from death confronts each and every one of us with the statements and question he posed to Martha: “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?” Sisters and brothers, do you believe this? The choice we have now, over two-thousand years after these events took place, is the very choice that those who witnessed Lazarus’ rising from death had to make. We can respond like “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, [and believe] in him;”[11] Or we can respond like those who didn’t believe and remain in our deception. For to believe in Jesus is to live with and for him not only now but for all eternity; and to disbelieve in Jesus is to live without him in our death and blindness not only now but for all eternity. Ultimately, all who disbelieve are under the deception of that ancient serpent we noted in our Old Testament reading from Genesis 3. This ancient serpent “was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.”[12] And in his craftiness he introduced the first lie ever recorded, falsely assuring the woman concerning the eating of the forbidden fruit, “You will not certainly die,….”[13] But the serpent was wrong. The serpent lied to her. For upon taking of the forbidden fruit, she and her husband experienced immediate death in their previous unbroken relationship with God, one another, and the world over which they ruled and, ultimately, they experienced physical death. All because they had disbelieved and turned away from God who had made and loved them  and given them life and chose instead to believe and follow the lying serpent that deceived, hated, and introduced death to them.

But God rescued them. And he promised to rescue anyone who believes in the One whom he would one day send to crush the head of the lying serpent.[14] As Paul underscores concerning God, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”[15] Again, dear brothers and sisters, do you believe this? Do you believe that it is only in Jesus that we can be rescued from death and from the ancient serpent and his dominion of darkness and be brought into the kingdom of the Son whom our heavenly Father loves? Do you believe that it is only in his Son that we can have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins?

My prayer is that you do believe. That we all believe the truth that Jesus taught; that we all believe the truth that Jesus demonstrated to be true when he raised Lazarus from death to life. Namely,

that Jesus is the resurrection and the life;

that the one who believes in him will live, even though they die;

that whoever lives by believing in him will never die.

and, that by our believing, our heavenly Father and Son may be glorified both now and forevermore.

For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Let us pray.

Benediction: Hebrews 13:20–21: 20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

[1] John 11:42: 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.

[2] Here and following emphasis added to Scripture quotations.

[3] John 11:4: When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

[4] See sermon preached on October 30, 2016, Who Wants to See Jesus? on Luke 19:1–10.

[5] John 11:28–29: 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.

[6] John 11:12–13: 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. (emphasis added)

 

[7] John 11:4: This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

[8] John 11:17, 39: 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days…. 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.”

[9] John 11:47: Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

[10] John 12:1–3: 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

[11] John 11:45.

[12] Genesis 3:1.

[13] Genesis 3:4–5: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[14] Genesis 3:15: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

[15] Colossians 1:13-14.