Lenten Devotional

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

 “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?”  ~ John 11.25-26

The best way to feel the impact of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is to place it within the broader context of John 11. The chapter begins as follows: 

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.” (11.1-6)

Sometimes Jesus does things we do not understand. Sometimes He will do the unexpected and treat His friends in ways that appear unloving or unkind. One reason Jesus does the unexpected is because He came not to do our will, but to do the will of His Father in heaven. And so, in obedience to the will of His Father, Jesus, instead of leaving immediately to visit His sick friend Lazarus, “stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” And as the reason for His delay He says, “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.”  When Jesus did leave for Bethany, He told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples, including John, take Jesus’ words literally. “Lord,” they reply, “if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 

Only in looking back does John reveal what Jesus meant; “Jesus had spoken of his (i.e., Lazarus’) death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep.” However, it’s what Jesus says next that must have really confused them, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Two days earlier Jesus said: “This illness does not lead to death.”  Now Lazarus is dead. Did Jesus make a mistake? Did He underestimate the severity of Lazarus’ illness? Did He misread the situation? Not all. Remember the second part of what He said, “This illness is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Something is going on here; something we cannot see but will soon be revealed. 

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, “He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” That Lazarus had been in the tomb four days is significant for this reason: according to rabbinic teaching, the spirit of a dead person hovered over their body for three days intending to re-enter it, but as soon as decomposition begins, the spirit departs, and the person is considered to be truly dead—beyond all hope of resuscitation. 

So, after four days Lazarus is dead. No pulse. No heartbeat. No brain activity. No breath. Lazarus is really, really, really, really dead.  The funeral is over.  His body has been wrapped in burial cloths and placed in the tomb. The tomb has been sealed. When Jesus arrives Martha and Mary are four days into their grief.  There is no indication they expected Jesus to do anything except to grieve with them and offer words of comfort and consolation over the death of their brother. John writes,

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. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” (11.20-22)

We are mistaken if we think Martha’s words are delivered with an edge. On the contrary, her words are more a mixture of grief and faith than of frustration and anger. Lazarus is dead. Nothing will change that. But if Jesus had been there, Martha is confident her brother would not have died. Despite not knowing why Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead before coming to Bethany, Martha believed that if Jesus had been there her brother would have lived. Martha was afflicted by grief but not crushed. She was perplexed but not driven to despair. She was persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed. Her heart was troubled, yet she trusted Jesus to be her Refuge and Strength, a very present help in time of trouble. 

How do we know this? We know this because immediately after Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says, “But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give you.”

The bedrock of our faith is to keep trusting God even when He disappoints us. The foundation of our faith is to keep relying on God when He does not do as we expect, want, or think. The cornerstone of our faith is learning what God means when He says, in Isaiah 55.8-9:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, 

neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 

so are My ways higher than your ways and

My thoughts than your thoughts. 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD 

Sometimes faith means waiting for God to make known what from our perspective appears inscrutable, incredible, and inexplicable. Sometimes faith means learning what Jesus meant when, after washing the disciples’ feet, said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13.7) Sometimes we have to wait to the end of a season of grief, confusion, and pain before we understand. And sometimes, like here in John 11, we don’t have to wait very long at all. 

Martha is standing face-to-face before the Lord of Life in the presence of death (cf., John 1.3-4). Despite her soul being in the grip of grief, Martha reached out for the hand of Christ, trusting God to give Jesus whatever He asked. Yearning for comfort, Martha opened her heart to Jesus, hoping He would offer her comfort. He did, but not in the way Martha expected. “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

We need to reframe Jesus’ statement because what He’s just said is the first century equivalent of what we so often hear from politicians after a great tragedy, 

“Martha, I want you to know how sorry I am for your loss. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and Mary, and everyone in your extended family during this difficult time. And I want you also to know that someday your brother will rise again.”

Nevertheless, Jesus’ offer of condolence is sincere. Martha accepts the sincerity of Jesus’ offer by affirming her belief in the resurrection of the dead: “I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha is thinking of some future event yet to come. But when Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” He has something more immediate in mind. 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.” 

Martha believed in the resurrection yet to come. She believed there would be life after this life. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He is telling Martha that the resurrection and the life she looked for in the future is right in front of her! Jesus came to resurrect the spiritually dead by dying in their place. He came to raise the spiritually dead by laying down His life for their sin, their salvation, and their resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life because He is the Bread of life. He is the Light of the world. He is the Door. He is the Good Shepherd. In Him is life because in Him was life and the life was (and is) the light of men (John 1.4). 

Jesus is the light of men because He is the resurrection and the life. Because Christ is risen from the dead, we can know the power of His resurrection now as well as in the future. We don’t have to wait to go to heaven when we die to experience the new life, the everlasting life Jesus brings us. We can, by trust in Christ, experience resurrection by being born again by faith in Christ. We can have new life by undergoing a new birth—a second birth that raises us from spiritual death to everlasting life. 

  • Jesus is the resurrection because from eternity He is the life. 
  • Jesus is the resurrection because it is the Father’s will to give life to all who trust in Christ the Son. 
  • Jesus is the resurrection because by laying down His life of His own free will, then rising from the grave, He is now the firstborn from the dead. 
  • Jesus is the life because everyone who believes in Him will live forever. 
  • Jesus is the life because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 
  • Jesus is the life because everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life that starts today and guarantees that He will raise them up on the last day. 

Jesus is the resurrection and the life because by raising the dead He also gives them eternal life. By declaring Himself to be the resurrection and the life Jesus connects His identity with His mission.

Just as Lazarus was brought back from physical death to life by the word of Christ, so are we brought back from spiritual death to everlasting life by that same word of Christ. Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and because He Himself rose from the dead, we have every assurance that Christ, having brought us back from spiritual death into everlasting life, will carry us into eternity to enjoy life after this life. 

At the same time, the Christian life is more than “Believe in Jesus and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” The Christian life is about participating in Jesus’ mission as the resurrection and the life. It’s about lives being changed, marriages saved, sick people made well, helping the poor to get on their feet and face life with real hope. It’s about bringing the power of Christ’s resurrection where it is needed most. It’s about bringing the life of Christ to persons in need of hope, mercy, and forgiveness. It’s about serving others in Jesus’ name so that He can raise them from the dead through the power of the gospel. 

Lazarus was physically dead. He needed a physical resurrection. But, if viewed from another angle, Lazarus represents our spiritual condition before we come to faith in Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, we are spiritually dead. We need spiritual resurrection. The spiritually dead cannot resurrect themselves. The Holy Spirit must breathe life into them through the word of Christ. He does this through the preaching and the hearing of the Gospel. Why the gospel? Because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. 

Much has been said about Jesus calling Lazarus by name. It’s believed that if Jesus simply said, “Come forth!” all the dead would have been raised that day. So, knowing His voice is powerful enough to raise all the dead, Jesus “cried out with a loud voice,” “Lazarus, come forth.”

What John describes in verse 44 illustrates the life-giving power of Jesus’ word, “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.” 

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, the Holy Spirit uses His word to raise us from the dead. His word unbinds us. His truth sets us free from the fear of death. And as we walk out of the tomb of our old way of life, the Spirit removes the grave clothes of our old way of life and dresses us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ so we can follow Him from here into eternity.  

Immediately after declaring Himself to be “the resurrection and the life,” Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” And just as immediately Martha answered Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.”

Flesh and blood did not reveal this to Martha. God the Father working through God the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to her. What Jesus said to Martha was true then. And it is true now. 

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus “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?”

On this journey through Lent to Easter Sunday, may our answer to Jesus’s question be the same as Martha’s: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

You think about that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s