The Thirty-Sixth in a Series on the Gospel of John
There is nothing worse than getting the horrible news that someone we know or love has died. First comes the initial sense of shock and grief as we try to process the news. Then come the intermittent and alternating waves of grief and reflection. When someone dies, preparations must be made, family and friends begin to assemble, and then comes one of the worst times of all of human existence, the funeral. Although Christians grieve just like non-Christians grieve, one thing separates us from non-Christians. Christians grieve as people with great hope because we know that Jesus Christ has conquered death and the grave, because he is the resurrection and the life. We also know that those whom we bury are in the presence of the Lord, awaiting that glorious moment when the last trumpet sounds, and the dead in Christ are raised bodily from the dead. In John chapter 11, we witness Jesus deal with the death of his dear friend Lazarus, and we learn that the thing we dread most–death and the tomb–is no match for the power of Jesus, who turns Lazarus’ funeral into a magnificent glimpse of what is yet to come for all those who trust in him as savior from sin. But before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we read of a remarkable encounter between Jesus and Lazarus’ sister Martha, in which Martha makes a profound profession of faith–a profession grounded in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body at the end of the age, an event which is our ultimate hope as well.
As we make our way into John 11, we come to that passage which is read at the beginning of most Christian funerals. When Jesus says in verses 25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” our Lord offers words which are a wonderful comfort to those who are grieving. But these words present a very difficult challenge to Martha to whom the words are originally addressed. The reason these words are a comfort to us is that we know how the account of Jesus and his friend Lazarus turns out in the end. Jesus walks up to the tomb and commands “Lazarus, come out,” and the dead man does. We know that when Jesus dies on a Roman cross, he will be raised by the power of God before he ascends into heaven. But when Jesus spoke these words to Martha, Lazarus is still in his tomb–in fact, he has been dead for four days, and as we learn in verse 39, the surest sign of the curse stemming from Adam’s sin, decomposition, has already begun. What can Jesus mean when he says he is “the resurrection and the life” when the man he loved lies buried but a short distance away?
These words from Jesus are difficult for Martha to accept because of the circumstances set out in the first sixteen verses of the chapter. Jesus was still east of the Jordan river–having left Jerusalem for the wilderness, because the Jews were plotting to arrest Jesus if he remained in Jerusalem. While still in the wilderness, word came to Jesus from Mary and Martha of Bethany–a small village two miles to the east of Jerusalem–that Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is quite ill. The family requests that Jesus come as soon as possible, although Bethany is more than a full day’s walk from the area where Jesus was staying. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are well-known to Jesus. Jesus is said to love them, and they regard Jesus as a close friend. It is likely that Jesus visited their home often (and perhaps even stayed with this family) during his trips to Jerusalem.
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