In what seemed to be a tragic and hopeless scene, John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus’ good friend Lazarus had died, and Jesus arrives at the home of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, four days after the funeral. They and all of their friends are weeping and grief stricken. It is a sad sight, made worse by the fact that, as Martha puts it, “if only you had come earlier, you could have done something about it.” Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and she assumes it is one of those polite platitudes we tell each other like "He's in a better place." But Jesus has something else in mind – he tells her: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:25) They go to the tomb, and the stone is rolled away and with a shout, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!” And he does. (It’s a shame we’ve read the story so many times that a shiver doesn’t go down our spine like it did the first time we heard it.)
This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last that Jesus will raise someone from the dead. He stopped a funeral and gave the widow from Nain her son back alive; he raised the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler.
But Jesus’ greatest concern is not that we live a little longer on this earth. Lazarus may have delayed his death a little while, but eventually the same mourners would gather for a second funeral.
Even more significant than those lives he raised will be the resurrection of the dead at Jesus’ second coming. What he did in those three instances of raising the dead is a foretaste of something even greater and more amazing.
John’s Gospel begins with a statement by John. He started with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)
It’s not just that Jesus has life, or gives life, but that he IS life. He is the source of life, and not just life that we measure with clocks and calendars, and post the statistics on our headstone.
I remember going to a funeral years ago for the mother of one of our elders at the church I served in Oklahoma City. After the funeral he wanted to show me something. Nearby to where his mother and father were buried, he had purchased and installed his own headstone where he would one day be buried. It had his name and his birth date with a dash beside it and a blank where the ending date would go.
I was young, and at the time I thought that was a little morbid, but having thought about it for a few years, I’m not sure that wouldn’t be a good reminder, that out there in the future we have an appointment with a headstone. But that final date will not be the date life ceases for us – it will be the day real life begins, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
In the book of Revelation, three times, Jesus refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who was, and is, and is to come. Jesus transcends beginnings and endings. There is no beginning date and ending date – there is no headstone with his name on it. And when we experience life – real life – in Christ Jesus, those dates cease to have any real meaning either. Remember in John 5:24, Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Life in Jesus is not about beginnings and endings, but in the content of the life we live. It is in John 10 that Jesus tells his disciples, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) That’s the kind of life I want. And I’m not talking about what that old beer commercial used to say: You only go around once in life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can get. That’s a sad, hedonistic shadow of what Jesus was talking about. Jesus didn’t come just to make this life better, he came so that you might have real life – life that is eternal.
Now, when we talk about eternal life, you might immediately think, that’s something that starts right after your heart quits beating. Not at all. In John 17, Jesus prayed this prayer on the eve of his crucifixion: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
Eternal life begins the moment you make Jesus the Lord of your life. The word “eternal” is not just a description of length or duration – it is also a quality. Knowing Jesus is to have a relationship with Jesus – it’s not just to have learned a few facts about him and be biblically informed. Knowledge is relationship. And when you enter into a relationship with Jesus, everything changes. You are no longer concerned primarily with this world and everything you can get out of it. Your perspective is lifted beyond the grave to life forever with Jesus. But don’t think that means you check out of this life. Your life takes on new meaning and purpose. Relationships and encounters with other people are no longer self-serving and disposable , but opportunities to be the light in a world of darkness – a chance to touch the lives of others for the kingdom of God.
As Paul wrote, you no longer view anyone from a human point of view, but from an eternal perspective, and every encounter is an opportunity to serve someone in the name of Jesus, or an open door through which to draw someone to God. You are the aroma of Christ as you spread his fragrance everywhere you go with everyone you meet. That is eternal life.
When Jesus says, “I am the resurrection…” that also has its roots long before the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Paul spoke about it in Ephesians 2: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7)
It’s not physical death we need to be resurrected from but spiritual death. Before we are in Christ, we are slaves to Satan, addicted to this world and its ways. We were dead in our sins, and we were blissfully ignorant to the fact that there was even a spiritual war going on for our soul. But because God loves us so much, he allowed his son to take our place on the cross, and because he raised Jesus from the dead, he gave us a new lease on life.
The resurrection we will experience one day is predicated on the resurrection that we experience in Jesus Christ in this life. If you have not experienced the first resurrection, you will not experience the second resurrection.
Paul talked about it in his own life: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11) Like Paul, I want to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Hebrews writer coined an interesting phrase. In talking about Jesus’ qualifications to serve as our high priest, he said it wasn’t because of his genealogy, but because of “the power of an indestructible life.” (Heb. 7:16) That’s the kind of life he offers us. We will all go through tragedies and misfortunes and heartbreaks – none of us will leave this life unscarred. But we can experience the power of an indestructible life. Whatever comes my way, I know that I am secure in Jesus. I may not avoid disease and disaster, but I can know for certain that I will find my home in heaven, because Jesus has secured that by his resurrection from the tomb.
Those are not idle words and hollow promises. I realize we’ve just survived another season of political ads, promising this and that and anything to get our vote. And we know that most of those promises will go unfulfilled – they are just words, and often insincere words, at that. But when Paul tells us “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory,” it is a promise you can stake your life on. When Jesus says, “I will come back and take you to be with me,” he has banked that promise on the very person of God himself.
That morning, when Jesus arrived in Bethany and found Mary and Martha overcome with grief, he made them a promise, “Your brother will rise again.” They had no idea what was about to take place. Moments later, Jesus demonstrated his power and sovereignty over death, when he cried out, “Lazarus, come out!”
When Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life…” you can be certain that great things are in store. It is a promise that stretches across the centuries and generations to us today. He stands at our tomb where we are shrouded with burial clothes, enslaved to sin and to Satan and says, “Come out!” It is our invitation to life – real life, the life that only Jesus can give.
Not only does Jesus give resurrection – he is the resurrection – he gives life, but not just life for a few extra heartbeats, a few more years, a little longer life on this earth. What Jesus gives is real life. He not only adds years to your life, he adds life to your years.
I’m sure we would all like to live to a wonderful old age – with good health, all our mental faculties still intact, active and enjoying life. That’s a good goal, and if you eat right, exercise and take good care of yourself, that’s a reasonable goal. But what if, instead of desiring a long life, you desired a meaningful life – filled with purpose, a blessing to others – a life spent glorifying God. That’s not to say you can’t have both, but if you had to choose one over the other – I’d choose the meaningful life every single time.
We can’t always control the length – things happen – disease, injury, bad genes. A lot of us are at the age that nobody will read our obituary and say, “he was too young to die.” But wouldn’t you like, at your funeral, for every one there to think – “she touched my life for eternity.” That is the power of a resurrected life. To use Jesus’ words – “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
That’s the kind of living legacy I want to leave – that even if I die, yet will I live. I want the power of my resurrected life to keep touching the lives of others far beyond the day of my funeral. And the way to accomplish that is to live right now in such a way that I am making an impact for God’s kingdom where it really matters.
Most of the philosophies over the centuries have focused on the individual – you are what matters – your needs are paramount. Here are a few:
Greece said, “Be wise, know yourself.”
Rome said, “Be strong, discipline yourself.”
Epicureanism said, “Be sensuous, enjoy yourself.”
Materialism says, “Be satisfied, please yourself.”
Education says, “Be resourceful, expand yourself.”
Psychology says, “Be confident, assert yourself.”
Pride says, “Be superior, promote yourself.”
Humanism says, “Be capable, believe in yourself.”
Philanthropy says, “Be generous, release yourself.”
But what if it’s not all about you? What if there is something – someone more important? That’s why Jesus tells us, “Die to yourself and I will give you life.”