Over the next several Mondays, the contributing writers at Of Larks will be sharing a series on Jesus' I AM statements in the book of John. This is the sixth post in the series. Read the introductory post to the series here, "Bread of Life" here, "Light of the World" here, "The Door" here, and "True Vine" here.
There’s nothing quite like a death to startle. Startle me from the absent-minded way I pack his lunch. Startle me from the half-hearted way I listen to her story. Startle me from the zeal with which I get my house clean first. Startle me out of a long-held grudge.
Startle me from useless doctrines devoid of I AM.
Confronted by Death
Our dear neighbor died suddenly in her sleep last week. A few days prior I laughed with her, my daughter told her stories, and my sons smothered her in smiles, slobber and hugs. Her voice, hands, twinkling eyes—so concrete. And in one night her very real and visible presence in that house for twenty-one years vanishes, and I am startled and wonder, How will he endure each day and night in that house so suddenly all alone? I grieve that he mourns without any hope (1 Thess. 4:13,) and I am startled and wonder, Where is my hope? Am I un-informed? I can’t find it in the catechism book on the shelf, and I can’t find it only in the doctrine I know like the back of my hand.
Martha couldn’t either.
“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.' But when Jesus heard it He said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.' Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again'…now when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days… so when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'”
Jn 11:1-6, 17, 20-21
Martha and her sister are overcome with grief at the sudden illness and death of their dear brother. It shouldn’t have been— he was too young! It shouldn’t have been—Jesus could have healed him! But Lazarus was dead. Both Martha and Mary were both feeling the sting of Job 14:2: “He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” In her grief, Martha utters one last plea: “‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You’” (Jn. 11: 21-22). And Jesus answers simply, “‘your brother will rise again’” (vs. 23).
This response might sound encouraging to you and me, but to Martha, this answer was not one of comfort or hope. It might as well have been the cliche of our day—“he’s in a better place.” She hears Jesus say that one day in the foggy, distant future Lazarus will be resurrected along with every other child of Abraham. That is no hope or solace for her groaning heart today. She manages a response: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (vs. 24). Theologically correct, yes. But Jesus continues,“‘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. Do you believe this?’” (vs. 25-26.) Martha agrees once more with Jesus’ words and clarifies further her belief:“‘Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (vs. 27). Her belief is certainly to be admired, and yet Jesus indicates that there’s something missing from Martha’s well-formed doctrine.
And isn’t that the problem always? Our doctrine can be perfect, and well-rehearsed, but devoid of the Person, Jesus Christ, we fall hopeless and fail to see Jesus for who He says He is.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus is proclaiming to Martha, whom He loves, that rather than give life and cause the resurrection to take place in the last day, He is the resurrection and He is life. Today. And so He sets out to show Martha and Mary this truth visibly.
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.”’
And perhaps Jesus’ words from some months earlier come back to Martha with new meaning: “‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary’” (Lk. 10:41-42a).
Led to Jesus
Jesus is necessary. Only Jesus. Jesus is our life and resurrection. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a mere illustration to show visibly to Martha (and those with her) what is true for all eternity past and present. A mere shadow of Jesus’ own victorious resurrection from the dead several days later, by which He is proclaimed the Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4). In conquering the grave, Jesus was given authority over all life and death (Acts 17:31). In conquering the grave, Jesus became life to those who believe and guarantees life to those who believe.
He is our life today:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
He is our guarantee of life after death:
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.”
1 Cor. 15:22-23
Eternal life is today for the believer and our physical death only a doorway through which we continue in complete fullness our life in Christ—that day when our perishable bodies become imperishable (1 Cor. 15:51-53), and we become like Him (1 Jn. 3:2). The resurrection in the last day is not some event in the foggy, distant future that has no hope for our groaning hearts today. The resurrection in the last day is Jesus, and with Jesus as our life today and guarantee for life after death, the future all of a sudden becomes clear and near.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘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. 15:54-57
And so I am informed. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is my comfort and light in death, and hope will never be found in a catechism or book on doctrine alone. Like John the Baptist, they were given from the Father above that they might illuminate my true hope and life—the Person, Jesus Christ.
I AM the Resurrection and the Life.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”