The Resurrection and the Life
April 9, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons
Topic: Expository Passage: John 11:1–46
Why do we make such a big deal of Jesus’ resurrection? We sing about it constantly, we meet every Sunday in honor of the resurrection, and it has its own holiday. Why do we that? The resurrection is vital to our faith for several reasons, but have you ever considered how the death and resurrection of Christ uniquely identifies God with the human plight?
Our world is filled with sorrow and suffering, death and disease, violence and evil. Satan wants us to imagine God as up in heaven, untouched by it all as he amuses himself with the glories around him. He doesn’t understand, he doesn’t care, and he has no urgency to help.
But the death and resurrection of Jesus shatters that lie. Christ became one of us, and he suffered as one of us to the extent of dying a cruel, humiliating death on a cross. But he didn’t just enter our suffering. Christ overpowered sin, death, and suffering by rising from the dead.
So, if you are hurting or grieving or even fighting anger toward God, take heart by considering the Passion of Christ. Jesus cares, Jesus is near to your heartache, and Jesus solved the problem.
Today’s passage tells an incredible story that affirms these truths. John 11 does not tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection, but it foreshadows Christ’s own resurrection, it records some of Jesus’ most important words regarding the significance of his resurrection, and it displays Jesus’ sympathy with our plight and his passion to resolve it. John 11 tells a great story which should compel everyone to believe on him and to rest in him. The story consists of three movements. First, vv. 1–16 describe how Jesus surprisingly but purposefully waits.
I. Jesus waits (vv. 1–16).
The story begins by introducing us to 3 of Jesus’ closest friends—Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Jesus knows this family well. He was a frequent guest in their home, and they love Jesus. In fact, John 12 tells the story of how Mary will use a very expensive ointment worth a year’s wages to anoint Jesus’ feet and will wipe it in with her hair. These siblings love Jesus.
But they are facing a crisis. Lazarus is severely ill, and he is dying. Their home is filled with sorrow, worry, and the scent of death. Mary and Martha are desperate for help, and they know exactly who to ask. They both believe very strongly that Jesus can heal their brother. So, if they can get word to Jesus in time, he will be okay.
But the problem is that they live in Bethany, which was only two miles from Jerusalem. And the last time Jesus came to Jerusalem, things didn’t go so well (10:30–33, 39–40). The people of Jerusalem were so offended by Jesus’ claims that an angry mob tried to kill him on the spot. But Jesus “eluded their grasp” and fled east, across the Jordan River, to a place where he was safe.
So, Jesus is probably around 100 miles away, but Mary and Martha need his help now, and they send a simple message, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.”
Have you ever received a note or a phone call like that? Your heart sinks. And your instinct is to go to them quickly, especially if there is something you can do to help.
So, imagine the scene when Jesus and the disciples hear the news. Their hearts sink. Some of the disciples probably jumped to their feet and said, “We have to go now.” But a couple others answer, “We can’t go back there. They’ll kill us!” But Jesus calmly replies in v. 4. And v. 6 adds that he sat still. He didn’t go anywhere for TWO days. That’s a long time when someone is dying.
The messenger is shocked. “We have to go. Lazarus is dying!” And imagine how grueling it was for Martha and Mary as they eagerly waited for Jesus to come help. It seems so cold and heartless that John felt the need to remind us that Jesus really loved this family. So, why did he wait?
Verse 4 offers a crucial answer which is very important to the purpose of this story. Jesus will use this horrifying event to glorify himself and the Father. Specifically, the fact that Lazarus will be dead 4 days by the time Jesus resurrects him makes this the most dramatic resurrection story to this point in Scripture. God had raised other people from the dead, but all the others were raised almost immediately. But a lot of decomposition happens in 4 days. So, Jesus waits to make the miracle more miraculous.
That sounds selfish and cold doesn’t it? How could Jesus prolong Mary and Martha’s misery for his own glory? Verse 5 helps. Jesus loved this family. He didn’t relish their pain. As well, we always must remember that the greatest good any of us can know is the glory of God. We need to know God far more than we need to be comfortable, healthy, or even physically alive.
That bucks against our instincts but only because we struggle to appreciate how valuable the knowledge of God is. Knowing God and believing on his Son is the greatest need of your life. So, yes, those extra two days were excruciating but Jesus understood that they were absolutely necessary.
Finally, Jesus said it was time to go. Now, we might think that the disciples were excited to finally go help their friend. But instead, they rebuke him (v. 8). It’s understandable. They had just experienced a raging mob trying to kill their Savior. It was terrifying, and they didn’t want any more of that.
The exchange in vv. 8–16 demonstrates that their faith needed to grow. They didn’t believe in God’s power to protect them, and they didn’t appreciate the need to urgently work during the time God gave. The disciples were not ready for what was coming when Jesus died. They needed this miracle as much as anyone. Notice Jesus’ blunt words in vv. 14–15. Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, and love drives every step.
So, the incredible resurrection that is coming is about much more than one man’s physical life. Jesus will glorify himself so that the disciples and many others will believe. Maybe God wants you to believe for the very first time. If you aren’t sure about Jesus, this story is here to show you that Jesus is not just a great man. God wants to glorify him in your heart, so that you believe on him for your salvation. Please pay attention to Jesus.
Well, Jesus is done waiting, but now Lazarus has died. Despite all that the disciples have seen, they assume it’s too late for Jesus to help. But surprisingly Jesus wants to enter the hornet’s nest anyway. And disciples are scared to death. But Thomas boldly tells the other disciples in v. 16, “Let us…” And they take off on a 4-day journey. This brings us to the 2nd major unit of the story which I’m going to call…
II. Jesus comforts (vv. 17–37).
When Jesus reaches Bethany, he is confronted with a tragic scene. Lazarus is dead, and a large crowd of prominent Jews had come from Jerusalem to mourn with Martha and Mary. So, their home is with mourners, and they are all grieving over Lazarus.
Naturally, when Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she wants to get away from it, and have a private conversation with Jesus. What follows is one of the most powerful exchanges with the Savior that’s recorded anywhere in Scripture.
So imagine Martha full of grief collapsing at Jesus feet and saying (vv. 21–22), “Lord…” Again, Jesus loves Martha and she loves him, so it was an intense moment as she expresses a mixture of grief and faith with her Lord and friend. Martha believes. She had seen Jesus heal the sick, and she is sure that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if only he had arrived sooner.
But she assumes that the window for healing is past. People who have been dead for 4 days don’t rise again. She is broken, but her faith is unshaken. I don’t believe we should see v. 21 as Martha rebuking Jesus because she immediately follows by expressing great faith and submission to Christ’s will. Even though Martha’s heart is breaking, she still trusts that the Savior is good and will accomplish what is good.
So, Jesus looks at her with great compassion and assures her, “Your brother will rise again.” What an incredible assurance coming from Lazarus’s creator. Lazarus’ death is no match for Jesus. He can raise him today and for eternity.
Martha believes him. She replies (v. 24), “I know…” Martha’s brother is gone, but she knows he is not lost. She believes in the resurrection of the dead. But it has not even entered her mind that Jesus might bring him back to her that day. We know that because when Jesus will ask that the stone be removed from the tomb, she will push back that the body stinks by now. She is not looking for a physical resurrection.
So, Martha believes the right theology, but Jesus wants to take it a step further. Imagine Jesus looking into her eyes and with great conviction and compassion. He tells her (vv. 25–26), “I am…” In v. 24, Martha affirmed the right theology. She believed in the resurrection of the dead and specifically in the resurrection of her brother.
But I like how Carson summarizes Jesus’ intent. He says, “Jesus’ concern is to divert Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in him who alone can provide it.” She doesn’t just need to believe in a resurrection; she needs to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life in such a way that it transforms her life today. She needs the transforming faith we’re emphasizing this year.
I do want to clarify that while Jesus intends to physically raise Lazarus, vv. 25–26 are primarily concerned with the final resurrection. Therefore, they are incredibly comforting when we lose a Christian loved one. It hurts, and we miss them terribly. Some of you are enduring such grief right now. But death will not win the final victory over anyone who is in Christ. We “will live even if (we) die.” And in the true sense “(we) will never die.”
Why is this? It’s because Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.” That’s because only a few days after this story an even more dramatic resurrection will take place, and it will change the course of history.
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:20–22). Jesus conquered death, and he offers life to all who believe. He is the “resurrection and the life.” I don’t need to fear the grave.
Then Jesus asks Martha a pointed question, “Do you believe this?” And Jesus is asking you the same question. He’s not asking if you are a person of faith, a religious person, or if you believe in the afterlife. He’s asking, do YOU believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Will you put your faith wholly and completely in him?
Martha follows with a wonderful confession (v. 27). I hope you can say that with her. You believe that Jesus is more than a man. He is the promised Messiah. He is the eternal Son of God, and he has come into the world save us from our sin. It’s the most important decision you will ever make. John tells us later that he wrote this book, specifically, to inspire this kind of faith. Please believe on Jesus and receive life in his name.
Well, Martha makes a great confession, but she is still grieving, and she has no idea what is coming. So, she runs home and whispers in Mary’s ear that Jesus has come. She’s hoping that Mary can slip away from the crowd and get some private time with Jesus.
But the crowd noticed and they quickly followed her assuming she is going to the tomb. They probably made quite a scene because that was the Jewish custom. And Mary runs ahead weeping, and finally she falls at Jesus’ feet. Like Martha, she laments, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She is weeping miserably, but unfortunately, Jesus can’t have a private conversation with her like he had with Martha. So, notice his response in v. 33. He looks at his friend, and he looks at the crowd, and he is “deeply moved and troubled.” The Greek idea is actually much stronger. The verb is better translated, “outraged in spirit.” Jesus wasn’t just sad; he was angry.
Why? John doesn’t tell us, but I don’t believe he is angry at the sisters. He loves them, and they have great faith. But he may have been angry at the empty show of the crowd. Some of these mourners will run to the Pharisees and tattle on Jesus later in the day. Their hardness was surely particularly troubling. Beyond that they were grieving like pagans. There was a despair in the air that is never right when God is on the throne.
Yes, sometimes we grieve, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We must believe this even in our weakest moments. Unbelief is never okay even in our darkest days. Never forget who Jesus is and what he promises. Keep the faith at all times.
And I believe that Jesus is probably also indignant at the general effects of sin and the curse. This is not how Jesus created the world to be. So, Jesus is angry at what sin has done to his creation. Our God is not distant from our sorrows. He came near, all the way to building close friendships as a man, mourning their deaths, and then dying himself. It is incredible that infinite God would do something so incredible.
But Jesus didn’t just grieve that day; he did something about it. So, he asked where the tomb was, and the crowd led him to the place. And v. 35 notes, “Jesus wept.” That is every child’s favorite memory verse, but it’s also an incredible testimony that John clearly wants to emphasize This verb doesn’t picture uncontrolled sobbing but quiet tears of grief. Jesus felt the sorrow that sin has created. He truly became one of us. He is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
What a powerful picture of the nearness of our Savior. He understands, and he cares, and he sympathizes with our anguish. We can run to him with every grief. But thankfully, he is more than a shoulder to cry on. He is the answer to it all. We’ve now come to the third section of the story, which I’m going to call…
III. Jesus wins (vv. 38–46).
Verse 38 repeats the same verb as v. 33. Imagine the scene. The crowd reaches the tomb filled with hopeless despair. Jesus is indignant at their despair and at the effects of sin. He is determined to do something about it.
Then he gives a shocking command, “Remove the stone.” Martha doesn’t know what to think. It’s been 4 days. Lazarus’s body is severely decomposed. She’s horrified at the thought that his legacy would be tarnished by the smell. She’s not looking for a resurrection.
Then the sovereign Lord and loving Savior looks at her and replies (v. 40), “Did I not say…” Imagine the weird mix of confusion and anticipation that set in. They could smell the body. It was horrible, but what is about to happen.
Then vv. 41–42 say, “Jesus…” Again, the greatest need of every man is to know our Creator God through belief in Christ. And even after we are saved, our faith must continue to grow. Eternity depends on your faith as does your joy and strength today. We desperately need Christ to be glorified in our hearts. Yes, suffering is miserable, but knowing the glory of God is worth every hardship. Jesus understood this, and his love stands over every strand of this story.
Imagine standing there and hearing the sovereign Lord shout, “Lazarus, come forth.” Do you think anyone chuckled or was it dead silent? Then after a moment, Mary and Martha see motion in the cave and Lazarus began stumbling out of the grave. They can still smell the stench, but Lazarus is standing right there!
In a moment overwhelming sorrow becomes the overwhelming joy. Lazarus is alive. Jesus wept. He entered human sorrow and then he conquered it. And a few days later, he really entered our sorrows. He was abused and humiliated, and he didn’t just grieve over death; he died himself. But then the resurrection and the life rose again. He fully and finally defeated death, and provided eternal life for all who believe in him.
Our Creator became “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and then he fixed it. The resurrection changes everything. Our God is not distant from our pain. He is very near. But he is not just sympathetic; he is powerful to save. The gospel answers our deepest needs in a way that no other faith or philosophy could ever dream of equaling.
Returning to the story, notice how the crowd responded (vv. 45–46). This miracle was undeniable, and many “believed in Him.” But incredibly, some were so hardened in their presuppositions that they instead ran off to complain to the Pharisees. Skeptics love to think of themselves as the rational ones, but the opposite is actually true. Unbelief is irrational.
So, which side will you land on? Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Will you refuse what you know to be true, or will you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. Right there in your seat, you can confess that he is Lord, you can repent of your sin, and you can believe on him for salvation. Please come to Jesus right now and be saved.
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