August 3, 2003

Resurrection and Life: Personified and Delivered

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 11:17–27


Resurrection and Life: Personified and Delivered

John 11:17-27
Sunday, August 3, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

From Arabia we have a famous story that dates back to the first century. Ferris the Horseman was driving a large herd of horses through the desert. In the distance, the horses saw what appeared to be an oasis. However, Ferris knew the horses were deceived by a mirage. Suddenly, the horses began stampeding uncontrollably into the wasteland of sand. Ferris loudly blew the bugle, which he commonly used to command the horses to stop and obey. Yet the horses continued. He blew it again, even louder this time. Unfortunately only 6 horses halted. The rest disappeared over the horizon chasing the mirage into the heart of the desert. The story goes on to say that from these 6 mares we have our now famous Arabian horses.

For the past few weeks we have been discussing the various "mirages" people pursue for satisfaction. Call them what you want, but often they are couched in the context of money, education, success, health, fame and sexual fulfillment. In searching for an oasis of joy, many stampede after these pursuits only to be deceived by the pleasures and promises of the world. Even after countless attempts, many never learn that they have been aimlessly searching for joy in a barren desert, which offers no relief or satisfaction. And in these mirages, these shadows of hope, tragically, they die. We picture their bodies burned by the heat of the sun, their arms buried in the sand seeking to quench their thirst, their faces displaying the look of hopelessness. But like Ferris, God is blowing the bugle. He is warning people of the dangers and pointing them to the true oasis found only in Him. Yet motivated by their own self-will and determination, few heed the call before it is too late.

Using language reminiscent of this theme, God declared through the prophet Jeremiah almost three millennia ago, "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). Humans were never created to find their satisfaction in the world. They will keep searching in vain, mirage after mirage, until they realize that they have been created to find their satisfaction in God. It was Augustine who said, "You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Unfortunately they settle for the broken cisterns of stagnate water, over the refreshing fountain of living water. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David" (Isa. 55:1-3). In the gospel of John, Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'" (Jn. 7:37-38).

But with so much out there today promising fulfillment and happiness one might ask the question: Why should Jesus Christ be preferred over all the other options? Or if I can put it more biblically: Why must Jesus Christ be preferred over all the other options? The sermon this morning, as we prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table, is intended to answer that question.

Last week we began the 11th chapter of John's gospel. Some have called John 11 a summary of the entire book. Significant about this chapter is the detailed explanation (in stages) of the seventh and final miracle of Christ's public ministry. (Turning water into wine-2:1-11; Healing the nobleman's son-4:46-54; Healing the lame man-5:1-9; Feeding the 5,000-6:5-13, Walking on water-6:16-21; Healing the blind man-9:1-7.) The resurrection of Lazarus will be the greatest demonstration of Christ's power thus far and verify the profound claim that He is the "resurrection and the life" (11:25).

Last week we learned that Lazarus became very sick and a messenger was dispatched to Jesus (from Mary and Martha) to inform Him of the ill condition of His dear friend. Upon hearing the news Jesus commented that Lazarus' sickness was for the glory of God and then chose to remain in the place He was staying for two additional days. Then against the advice of His disciples, Jesus, in submission to the Father's will, proceeded to Judea. Christ's objective was to resurrect Lazarus from the dead whereby He might increase the faith of His disciples and promote the faith of the unbelievers who traveled from Jerusalem.

1. REALITY OF DEATH (11:17-19)

Picking up our text in verse 17. "So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother" (Jn. 11:17-19).

We have already learned that the delay of Christ and the death of Lazarus were according to the perfect plan of God. Our sovereign God is never caught by surprise. All of these events were orchestrated in a way that would bring Him the greatest glory and His people the greatest good.

Verse 17 says that Lazarus was already dead for four days. The traditional interpretation that accounts for the four days goes like this: One day for the news to reach Jesus, two days for the delay of Jesus and one day for Jesus and His disciples to arrive in Bethany. Most likely the four days that Lazarus was in the tomb also indicates the time of his death, since bodies were usually buried in the hot climate of Palestine immediately.

The mentioning of four days (in verse 17) is also very significant to this account regarding God's glory. There was a Rabbinic belief most likely circulating at this time that the soul of the deceased hovered over its dead body for a period of three days. Throughout that time the soul would seek re-entrance. However, once decay set in indicating that death was final, the soul would depart to its final destination (Leviticus Rabbah 18:1). Four days in the tomb would signal finality to Lazarus' death and a departure of his soul. It would validate and intensify the upcoming miracle of Jesus Christ. Even beyond the Rabbinic belief, no one could doubt the reality of Lazarus' death and the greatness of Christ's miracle to resurrect a dead man who had already undergone the process of decomposition.

Another element of this miracle that brought greater glory to God was the large crowds that had come from Jerusalem. Verse 19 says many came to console Mary and Martha concerning their brother. According to the culture, these people (including processional mourners) would stay a week after the death to mourn the deceased and comfort the family. However through the eyes of God, these people were ultimately assembled to be His audience. The crowd would witness the great claim of Jesus Christ and the mighty hand of God in action. Through the reality of Lazarus' death, God set the stage for the demonstration of His glory.


In verse 20, the sisters once again re-enter the picture. It is told that Mary in line with her shy and retiring nature waited at home, while Martha, remembered as a woman of action, departed to meet Jesus.

"Martha then said to Jesus (in verse 21), 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'" Many people like to take the words of Martha as a rebuke to Jesus (similar to her rebuke offered to Jesus in Luke 10:40). In other words, "Jesus, if You would have came when we called You this horrible tragedy never would have happened!" But I personally don't think that was Martha's heart. I believe her comment was only one of sorrow and faith. In other words, "Jesus, I am grieving that my dear brother died. I know that You could have healed Him; it was well within your abilities. However, I have faith in Your perfect plan."

That's why she said in verse 22, "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." Again, I believe Martha expressed a sincere confidence in Christ. Some wish to claim that she was asking Jesus to bring her brother back from the dead in verse 22. However, the text does not permit that interpretation. Even she did not fully anticipate all the Jesus was prepared to do. She expected great things from Christ, but a resurrection of her brother from the dead? Well, that was a different story. She believed that Jesus could heal Lazarus from his sickness, but failed to believe He could resurrect Lazarus from his death! When Jesus asked for the stone to be removed in verse 39, it was Martha who said, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been deadfour days." It's clear that Martha never considered an immediate resurrection. This was in the "far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" category (Eph. 3:20). So when Jesus said to her in verse 23, "Your brother will rise again," her response in verse 24 was, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Healing? OK. Future resurrection? OK. Immediate resurrection? Impossible.

This account got me thinking. How easy it is to have good theology, but fail to have good faith! How easy it is to trust Christ for the future, but fail to rely upon Him in the present! How easy it is to overreact to our situation, but under react to His power!


Jesus took Martha's thoughts off the death of her brother and turned them to the resurrection. Now from the topic of the resurrection Jesus will point Martha to Himself. Jesus is about to make one of His greatest and most profound declarations. In verse 25 He tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life."

As humans we get caught up in "things." Things like material items and adverse circumstances and religion. Even the noblest of all Christians can rely upon his or her good theology and fail to realize that theology is only a means to a greater end. Christianity is not about a thing. It's about a Person who transcends all things, the Lord Jesus Christ. Horatius Bonar is quoted as saying, "It is not opinions that man needs it is truth. It is not theology that man needs it is God. It is not religion that man needs it is Christ."

Imagine the Lord saying, "Yes, Martha, there will be a resurrection. That is in line with mainstream Judaism. Yes, Martha, I alone will resurrect the dead. You listened well to My teaching (Jn. 5:25-29; 6:39-40). But Martha…'I am the resurrection and the life.' It's not about abstract beliefs or future events or any other "things." It's all about Me!"

Jesus Christ is not a peddler handing out resurrection and life like a cheap trinket only to be thrown in the junk drawer in case you need to pull it out in the future. Jesus Christ is God and He is freely giving resurrection and life to those who come to Him as their greatest possession and give to Him all that they are for all that He is. Do you want to experience eternal life that begins this moment? Do you want the guaranteed assurance that upon death you will be resurrected immediately to join Him in Heaven where you will joyfully await the second resurrection where you will receive a glorified body at His return? Then put your faith in Christ and let your life become swallowed up in His! Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Obtaining resurrection and life is more than just taking that promise. It's taking Him!

This is explained further. The second half of verse 25, "He who believes in Me will live even if he dies." The first half of verse 26, "And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Can the teaching of Jesus Christ be any clearer? It is the same thing from two different perspectives. If we die, we will live forever, and if we live, we will never die.

Yes, every Christian will face physical death if we die prior to the Lord's return, but our death is only an instantaneous passing from this life into the next. The Apostle Paul said, "To be absent from the body (is) to be at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Death, once our unconquerable, mortal foe, has now become the beautiful gateway into a fuller life and more glorious fellowship with God. No wonder the Paul could say, "'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'" (1 Cor. 15:55-57). D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, remarked, "One day you will hear that D. L. Moody of Northfield, Massachusetts, is dead. Don't you believe it! In that day I will be more alive than I have ever been before." What a wonderful promise! What wonderful hope! To be honest with you, I have no idea how people can go through life without knowing where they will spend eternity! Living without Christ is a life of fear, anxiety and depression or in the case of most people today, a life of denial, suppression and ignorance.

And the next time you witness to someone and inform the individual about the resurrection and life that is offered in Jesus Christ and he responds with the comment, "Well, that's good for you," ask him what is good for him. Ask him to provide you with what brings him joy and satisfaction. Ask him to provide you with an objective truth that assures the eternal security of his soul. As Christians we often find ourselves on the defense, but we have every right to turn the table and ask the world to verify their hope and prove their beliefs.

You know, at times I think we desperately try to convince people of the truth, while at the same time they are making a mockery of it. Like the guy who told my friend during his witness to him, "You did a good job, but you didn't land the big tuna." Christ has come to deliver the world from Hell! He does not need the scoffers of this world to come down from the grandstands with their peashooters and take pot shots at His precious promises. We are not to cast our pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). We cannot make anyone believe. It is simply our responsibility to declare the truth of Scripture and leave the results to God.

The words of Jesus Christ, written in the inerrant Word, validated by signs and wonders, make it crystal clear that resurrection and life are found in Him and only in Him. That is the only hope for a perishing world on the broad road to hell. That is the teaching of Jesus Christ! That is Christianity! And that is the gospel!

4. RESPONSE OF MARTHA (11:26b-27)

In the latter half of verse 26, Jesus sought to affirm this precious truth with Martha. He asked her, "Do you believe this?"

That verb "believe" takes great priority in this section. It occurs four times in the span of verses 25-27. The Greek word translated "believe" (pisteuo) means to "rely upon," or "cling to" or "place confidence in." When we are called to "believe in Jesus," Christ is commanding a complete surrender, an unwavering allegiance. He is not calling for a general faith, but a specific trust in His person and work. Everybody believes something, but Jesus asked Martha, "Do you believe this?" In other words, "Do you really believe these truths which define Me." Biblical belief is not adding Jesus to all that you have; rather it is forsaking all to have Jesus. Forsaking all to have the One who is the resurrection and the life manifest His life through yours.

How did Martha respond? Verse 27, "She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.'" Martha clearly expressed her faith in Christ. She said, "I have believed." Perfect tense (in the Greek), she has come to believe in Jesus at a certain point in time and her belief continues as an ongoing, settled conviction in the present. Her belief was in no way weakened by the difficult trail. Her belief was not formless, but rather distinct and objective. In verse 27 she believed that Jesus is the Christ (Hebrew-"the Messiah"). She believed that Jesus is the Son of God (Christ's unique relationship of oneness and intimacy with the Father). She believed that Jesus is the One who comes into the world (The One predicted by the prophets to deliver His people from sin). In the midst of her trials, Martha exercised true saving faith. Do you?

A. W. Pink once said, "It is greatly to be feared that there are multitudes in Christendom who verily imagine and sincerely believe that they are among the saved, yet who are total strangers to a work of divine grace in their hearts. It is one thing to have clear intellectual conceptions of God's truth; it is quite another matter to have a personal, real heart acquaintance with it. It is one thing to believe that sin is the awful thing that the Bible says it is, but it is quite another matter to have a holy horror and hatred of it in the soul. It is one thing to know that God requires repentance; it is quite another matter to experimentally mourn and groan over our vileness. It is one thing to believe that Christ is the only Savior for sinners; it is quite another matter to really trust Him from the heart. It is one thing to believe that Christ is the 'sum of all excellency', it is quite another matter to love Him above all others. It is one thing to believe that God is the great and holy One, it is quite another matter to truly reverence and fear Him. It is one thing to believe that salvation is of the Lord, it is quite another matter to become an actual partaker of it through His gracious workings."

What about you? Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for resurrection and life? Have you received the forgiveness of sins, removal of guilt, abundant and eternal life found in (and only in) Him? If not (as I turn the tables on you), what are you living for? What is your hope? What is bringing you joy and satisfaction? What is your objective guarantee of heaven? Are you one of Ferris' horses aimlessly chasing mirages in the desert, or are you faithfully following the oasis of truth, the Lord Jesus Christ?

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John