The subject of death is not something we usually discuss. It’s too personal and confronting. Yet it’s the ultimate certainty we all face. It’s why literature, film and philosophy so often dwell on the themes of our mortality. But it’s rare that anyone claims they can do anything about it. Death is assumed to be the inevitable end for everyone.
In John chapter 10 we learn that life had been heating up for Jesus in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders had attempted to stone him for his apparent blasphemy (10:31).
So Jesus left the city for the region east of the Jordan River. There he learned that his friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was dying in the village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. Then learning that Lazarus had died, and against the advice of his disciples who feared the Jewish leaders, Jesus returned to Bethany where he was first met by Martha.
In the course of their conversation where she said to Jesus that if he had come sooner her brother would not have died, he made an amazing assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
His words are astonishing, for in saying, “I am the resurrection and the life…” Jesus wasn’t saying, ‘I promise resurrection and life’. Nor was he saying, ‘I procure,’ or, ‘I bring’ but ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’
Furthermore, in saying ‘I am’ he uses the very words God used when he disclosed his name to Moses. Unless Jesus is equal with God his words are nothing short of blasphemy.
“I am the resurrection and the life…” he says. “Do you believe this?” he asked Martha.
John records that Jesus then met Martha’s sister, Mary who fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Once again Jesus was rebuked for not having come sooner. But unlike Martha Mary allows her grief to flow. John tells us then that Martha and Mary weren’t the only ones to grieve:
Jesus wept (11:35).
These words constitute the shortest verse in the Bible. How poignant, how stark it is.
The word wept that John uses speaks of a deep anguished cry of grief. It’s the cry of heartfelt loss, the kind of grief that explodes from the depths of our inner being.
Why did Jesus react this way? He didn’t weep like this when news came that Jairus’s daughter had died. Certainly Lazarus was a close friend but Jesus knew he was going to pull him out of that tomb.
Jesus wept. I suggest he was grieving for our human plight. No matter how successful we are, how good and compassionate we are, death awaits us all.
Men and women, created in God’s image, are now broken images and broken images cannot endure the pure light of God’s perfection and glory. Jesus was grieving for what we as men and women had lost. As in Adam all die, Paul the Apostle writes in First Corinthians chapter 15.
At Lazarus’s graveside, Jesus felt the full impact of this and wept. But there is a sense in which Jesus grieved at what our loss would mean for him. It would mean that he himself would have to die. Only through his death could he conquer death and raise to life anyone who turns to him and believes in him. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).
Could it be true? The witness of Jesus’ own resurrection, the New Testament, the evidence of history, the existence of the Christian church, point to the conclusion that Jesus’ words were the truth. Apart from Jesus Christ we have no certainty about the future.
And if there is a future life, how can we be assured that we are good enough to achieve it? Most people are aware of their failures – failures that we don’t want to talk about, let alone tell anyone about. It’s one of the reasons John Newton’s Amazing Grace is so well known: it speaks to our sense of lostness, our need to be rescued and our hope for the future.
John’s record doesn’t stop with Jesus’ words to Martha and Mary. He went to the tomb and asked that the stone be rolled away. We can only imagine the scene. A graveyard, a cave in a hillside, filled with bodies and bones. The stench of rotting bodies as the gravestone was rolled aside.
And then, standing at the entrance of the tomb, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!”
For a moment everyone must have thought he was mad. But then, a sight to behold emerged: still in his grave clothes Lazarus appeared.
Voices around us today insist that because we now know the laws of nature we can be sure that miracles like this can’t happen. To which Dr. John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford University, responds, ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’’.
Men and women have come a long way in understanding and harnessing quantum chemistry, physics and medicine, but nothing compares with the naked power that Jesus wielded at that moment.
The scene is a picture of a time yet to come when Jesus will once again appear on the stage of world events. On that day he will cry out in a loud voice, “Come forth,” and all the dead from throughout time will rise.
The question Jesus had asked Martha that day was: “Do you believe this?” Let me ask, can you say with Martha, “Yes Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world?”
Death is not the end of our story. Rather for all who turn to Jesus and believe in him, death opens the door to a new beginning of life that is everlasting.
A prayer. We beseech you, almighty God, to look in mercy on your people; so that by your great goodness we may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.