So by the time we get here in John 11, Jesus has left Jerusalem but has already started to work his way back. John, the Gospel writer, tells us in verse 18 that Jesus was in “Bethany near Jerusalem, about two miles off” — which is an important geographical note. You may have noticed, if you have read this Gospel before, that John seems to care about geography. It matters to John that we know where Jesus is when he is saying and doing these things he says and does. So I thought we’d getting started this morning doing a little geography. You’ll have to use your imagination some...
If you remember, back up in John Chapter 6, when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” he was in Capernaum, which was north of Jerusalem, west of the Sea of Galilee.
And Jesus stayed in the area of Galilee for a while. But then when the Jewish Feast of Booths came up, Jesus went down to Jerusalem, to the temple, and he started teaching. And this is where he was in Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 — until Chapter 10, verse 39 — because at that point, because of what Jesus was teaching, because he was claiming to be the Son of God — there was growing hostility toward him and he had to get out of town.
Some people believed in him; but others didn’t. And some of those who didn’t believe in him wanted to stone him or at the very least arrest him, but Jesus escaped and in verse 39 John tells us that Jesus went “away again across the Jordan to the place where John has been baptizing.”
Now, the place where John the Baptist was baptizing people, way back in Chapter 1, is called by a few different names, but John calls it “Bethany across the Jordan” (see 1:28). It would have been northeast of Jerusalem, east of the Jordan River.
That’s where Jesus is at until Chapter 11, verse 1, because in Chapter 11, verse 1 he gets word that his friend Lazarus is very sick and about to die. Now Lazarus was from a different Bethany — it was called Bethany the village, which was near Jerusalem. John tells us it was just two miles away from Jerusalem. So it’s almost like a first ring suburb.
And look, if you’re wondering, the reason all this matters is because it’s all true. John, the Gospel writer, gives us these details because there are details like this to give us. These are historically legit places where historically legit events are being done by a historically legit Jesus.
Jesus, the real person, went to Bethany, the real village, which was near Jerusalem. Bethany was so close to Jerusalem, in fact, that verse 8 says the disciples didn’t want Jesus to go there because it was too dangerous. They knew there were people trying to kill him in Jerusalem, and so the disciples were a little afraid, I think. They were thinking: Jesus, I don’t know about this, it’s too risky — but Jesus decides to go anyway, and the disciples decide to go with him.
That’s my thin summary of verses 1–16. There’s so much more to say about what’s happening there, but we don’t have time.
But the main part I want us to look at this morning is verses 17–27, because here in Chapter 11 Jesus is about to do his last miracle before he rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and crucified six days later.
So here, at this point in the Gospel of John, there has been this building intensity that just keeps getting louder and louder. Jesus has already been speaking about his death (he just did that in Chapter 10), and we also know there are people who want to kill him, and so we — hopefully as responsible readers of this Gospel — we’re on the edge of our seats: What in the world going to happen? How is all this going to go down?
That’s what we want to know. That’s the kind of dramatic tension building in this book — and then we read about Jesus visiting the family of his friend who just died. So we need to get this: we are bracing ourselves for conflict here, and Jesus chooses to spend time with those who are grieving. . . . And he still does that.
Foundational Truths About Death
So I want us to really understand what’s going on here, and what Jesus is doing. There are three things for us to see in this passage, but in order for us to see them, we need to call timeout for a minute, and take a few steps back. Because if we’re going to understand what’s going on here, there are some foundational truths about death that we need to know. So before we really get started, I’m hitting pause. We need to talk about death for just a minute.
Death is the big topic in this story. That’s why people are grieving. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, has died here in Chapter 11. Which means that just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem to die for us in Chapter 12, the apostle John, the writer, puts the topic of death right in front of our faces, which means we need to understand what it is. So before we get into the passage, there are two things we should know about death.
1) Death Is Our Worst Enemy
And I think that most people, at least at some level, understand that death is a negative thing. You may have heard the quote before from Wilhelm Stekel — he was a famous psychologist who said “Every fear is a fear of death.” I think he’s getting at something. Everyone has some kind of innate fear of death, and because death has been inescapable for virtually every human who has ever lived, that means that death has produced a lot of fear in the world. And that is part of the reason why we don’t like to think about it or talk about it. It’s an uncomfortable topic. At a societal level, a cultural level, we have not really come to grips with what death is. I think there are two main mistakes people make when it comes to thinking about death.
The first mistake is to dignify death as our ticket out of this broken world; the second mistake is to despair over death because you think life has no meaning.
The first mistake — dignifying death — doesn’t take death seriously enough. This mistake pretends death is not as terrible as it is. And then the second mistake — despairing over death — is basically an atheistic worldview which says there is no meaning in the world; there is no objective good or evil; all that exists is the material world, everything in it will die, and that’s it. It’s very bleak.
Now both of these mistakes get it wrong, but I think the first mistake is more common, especially in our popular culture. If you stop and think about it, in our movies and our music and all that, as a culture, we have basically romanticized death.
Think about recent movies, and shows, and song lyrics — what is the message they’re sending about death? We’ve almost glorified it. We have almost tried to make death a good thing, or at least a not-so-bad thing — and we can even try to do that from what we think is a Christian perspective. But that is not what the Bible says! So we need to be careful here.
The Bible is clear about death. Death is the ultimate consequence of sin (see Romans 6:23) and death is the last enemy to be destroyed (see 1 Corinthians 15:26).
In the book of Revelation, which is written by the apostle John, the same writer of this Gospel, at the end of that book, in an apocalyptic vision of the end of time, in the final part of the final judgment, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed (Revelation 20:14) — and the reason Death is destroyed as our last enemy is because death is our worst enemy.
Pastor Joe has said before that death is “the separation of things that should be united” — and when it comes to our experiences in this life, there is nothing more painful than that. Death has absolutely no good thing about itself. Death is our worst enemy — which is why the right response to death is neither to dignify it nor despair over it, but only defeat it.
You get that? Death is not dignified. Death is not despaired over. Death must only be defeated . . . . and then mocked.
And that brings us to the second truth about death. Not only is death our worst enemy . . .
2) God Has the Power Over Death
This is seen all throughout the Bible, and it see it most clearly in the doctrine of the resurrection. The resurrection (in general) is the promise that one day, when this world as we know it is over, all who have died will be physically brought back from mortal death to a state of immortality, either to eternal judgment or to eternal life.
And back in the ancient world, this was a distinctively Jewish understanding. Every other people and religion had their own ideas about the afterlife, but it was the people of Israel, the people of Yahweh, who believed in the resurrection — and it shows up over and over again in the Old Testament. One of the best places to see it is the Book of Psalms.
So let me read you just a few passages where you can hear it.
- Psalm 16:10, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” [Sheol is the Hebrew word for grave]
- Psalm 49:15, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”
- Psalm 71:20, “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.”
So embedded into the fabric of Jewish faith is that death does not have the final say. That’s what the Bible teaches. God has the power over death, and he is going to prove it at the resurrection.
So both of these two things about death are important to know when we come to John 11. To really understand the passage, we need to know, first, that death is our worst enemy, and second, that God has the power over death.
Okay, so time-out is over. Now let’s get into the passage.
Getting Into the Passage
And when we look closer at this passage, there is one, clear, blaring truth that we see. Knowing what we know about death, Jesus comes here and he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And that sentence — what Jesus is saying — is so important that it’s actually the three points of this sermon.
- Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
- Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
- Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
So let’s start with the first one, in case you missed it . . .
1. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Okay, so what’s going on here in verse 17? Jesus gets a second word that Lazarus has died, and so he comes to the village Bethany near Jerusalem and there was quite the commotion going on. Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, also disciples of Jesus, were in their home village and they were grieving the loss of their brother. And many Jewish people from Jerusalem had come out to Bethany to grieve with them and console them. And when Jesus was getting closer, Martha hears about it, and she leaves their house to go meet him. And when Martha see Jesus, probably on the road somewhere just outside the village, the first thing she says is, “Jesus, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.” (It’s the same thing Mary says to Jesus when she first sees him in verse 32 — “Jesus, where’ve you been?”)
The reason they say this is not because they’re mad at Jesus. I think it’s because they know who Jesus is. They know that he’s the Messiah. They know he is the embodiment of healing and hope, and they just know that if you plug that into any equation, it makes a difference.
Martha actually says in verse 22, after asking where Jesus had been, she says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.” So she recognizes the power of Jesus, at least at some level.
Well, Jesus says back to Martha, verse 23, “Your brother will rise again.”
And I like this part. Martha says, verse 24, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” In other words, as a solid Jewish woman, Martha says: Yes, Jesus, I understand the promise of the resurrection. I believe that. I believe that at the end of time, God will resurrect my brother. I know God will do that for my brother.
And that’s when Jesus says it. Verse 25, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’”
Now he mentions resurrection and life, and although they are connected, they’re not synonyms. Jesus is referring to two different things here. We know this because of what he says next. He explains what he means that he is the resurrection and what he means that he is the life in two explanatory clauses that follow. They connect back to each part separately. Look at verse 25 and 26. I’ll show you in a paraphrase. Jesus is saying,
I am the resurrection and the life. I’m the resurrection because whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And I’m the life because everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you see how that works?
Jesus is the resurrection because he will resurrect whoever believes in him. And in this sense, it is right in line with the Jewish understanding of the resurrection. So at this point, if we’re just looking here, Martha is probably not super-surprised by what Jesus is saying. She already told Jesus that she believes in the resurrection in verse 24. So Jesus is the resurrection. That might sound a little strange, but she’s tracking. We’re tracking.
But also, the second point.
2. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Here Jesus goes a little further, because he’s not just the resurrection, but he’s also the life. Which in this Gospel the word “life” is rich with meaning. Jesus doesn’t mean that he’s the life just in terms of your heart is beating and you’re alive, but he means eternal life, true life, spiritual life.
And if you have this spiritual life, if you believe in Jesus, then Jesus says you will never die. [And again, as we have already seen in the Gospel of John, this is one of those nifty interchanges between the physical and spiritual. Jesus is taking us deep here.]
Jesus is the resurrection in that, if we believe in him, he will resurrect our physical bodies from the grave at the end of time. And Jesus is the life in that, if we believe in him, he gives us spiritual life now so that we will never spiritually die.
And if we put them together, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, it means that if you believe in him he will resurrect your physical body at the end of time — not into eternal judgment but into his eternal life — and because that eternal life is something he gives us now, it’s like you will never die.
And Martha, who would have had a category for the resurrection, is now starting to see something different. She is starting to see more. And I think that if we would have been there with her, on the road with her and Jesus, I think that we could have seen this on her face.
Maybe her face looked a little puzzled. Maybe her eyes were wide open. I’m not sure, but I think her face looked a certain way as Jesus was saying all this because of the last thing he says in verse 26.
He says, “Martha, Do you believe this?”
Does she believe what? That brings us to the third point. Does Martha believe that . . .
3. Jesus is the resurrection and life.
See, at this point we’re not talking about Jewish doctrine anymore. Martha had said in verse 24, “Yeah, okay, Jesus, I know that my brother will rise again at the resurrection at the end of time. I get that. Okay.”
And that’s when Jesus says, Martha, no, no. I AM the resurrection and the life.
Which means that Jesus is not merely the giver of these things — Jesus is not merely the broker of God’s promises; Jesus is himself the fulfillment of God’s promises! And therefore, if you want the resurrection, if you want life, you have to have Jesus.
And that is actually what he offers us. Jesus offers us himself.
The Gifts of the Gospel
You know, when it comes to the gospel, God gives us all kinds of really good presents. It kind of reminds me of grandmothers. In my experience, grandmothers give the best presents. Just a couple days ago, Melissa’s mom came into town to visit, and every time she comes she brings the kids presents. (That’s one of the perks of having an out-of-state grandma, every visit is like Christmas.) So the kids were opening these presents the other day, and there was all kind of excitement. Each time they opened a present, they were like, “Wow, we get this!” “Wow, we get this!” It was just one thing after the next.
And it’s kind of like that with the gospel. There are all kinds of presents. Wow, forgiveness! — we get the complete forgiveness of all our sins. Righteousness, wow! — the perfection of Jesus counts like it’s our own! Wow, adoption! — we are made the sons and daughters of God. There are kinds of good things: inheritance, security, wisdom, peace, hope, heaven, resurrection, life — there are all kinds of good presents in the gospel, but here’s the thing: you can’t have any of them apart from Jesus.
A lot of times though we wish we could. There are a lot of people who want the peace of Jesus, but not Jesus. Or they want his hope, but not him. They just want what Jesus can give them, but see, what Jesus is saying here is that the only thing he gives is himself. So you either get him or you get none of it.
I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus tells us. Do you believe this?
And Martha does.
Verse 27: “She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”
She gets it. And what is so important in what Martha says is that she understands what this whole thing has been about. It’s not about her brother who has died. It’s not about the doctrine of the resurrection. It’s about who Jesus is.
The resurrection promise that millions of Jewish people had hoped in for thousands of years — Jesus himself is that. The true, eternal life that the human heart has always longed for — Jesus himself is that. And Jesus himself is what Jesus came to give us.
And to make it all crystal clear, to prove that Jesus means what he says, Jesus goes to the tomb where Lazarus was buried.
And what we see here is similar to what we saw in John Chapter 9, where Jesus says he’s the light of the world, and then he makes a blind man see (John actually mentions that in verse 37). Because that sort of thing is about to happen again.
Jesus Raises Lazarus
Mary, Martha’s sister, comes after Martha to meet Jesus. And she says the same thing Martha said when she first saw Jesus: “Jesus, if you would have been here!” But with Mary, there is a whole entourage of people behind her. The people who were grieving and consoling Mary at her home followed her out on the road, just outside the village, where she meets Jesus.
And so there would have been several people with her, standing with Mary, in front of Jesus, all of them weeping. And verse 33 says that Jesus “was greatly moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” The word for “greatly moved” is used again in verse 38, and most English translations soften the meaning. The original meaning is to be angry or outraged. It’s use a couple more times in the New Testament and it’s translated there as “to scold.”
So the scene here is not mopey Jesus. This is outraged Jesus. Now why? Because we’re dealing with death, and death, remember, is our worst enemy. Think about all that death has robbed from us. Think about all that death has done to humanity in the history of the world. Jesus is angry here. And then, in verse 35, the shortest verse in the entire Bible, we read “Jesus wept.”
Anger and grief. Jesus feels both of them. When it comes to death, Jesus is outraged and Jesus mourns. We don’t dignify death, remember. We hate death! But we also don’t despair over it.
Jesus comes to the tomb where the body of Lazarus has been laid. It was in a cave; there was a stone covering the entrance; he had been dead four days. Jesus walks up to the tomb, looks up to the sky [like this], prays to his Father, and then calls with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
And he came out. And Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Which means more than just get him a new change of clothes. Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, has set Lazarus free. And his next stop is Jerusalem — [right here] — and the reason Jesus goes to Jerusalem is to set us free.
And that is what this Table represents.
At the Lord’s Table, the bread represents the broken body of Jesus, and the cup represents his shed blood. And together, they are a weekly reminder to us that Jesus died for us.
But it’s not just that he died, it’s that he died in our place. Because for Jesus set us free from death, he had to die the death that we deserved. That’s why he went to Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified, swallowed up by death itself, until on the third day, he defeated death. Jesus conquered death. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.