Well, good morning to you all. It's good to be back with you in Scrabo again, and enjoying this last day of fellowship and ministry of the word this morning and this evening - and I'll be back in the not too distant future again for another session, and look forward to that in God's will. But this morning we're looking back at John chapter 11, where we were last Sunday morning. We took the whole section, and we looked at it really from the perspective of Mary and Martha, and what it was to feel let down by the Lord Jesus - in that He delayed in His coming. They wanted Him to heal Lazarus, he had not yet died, and then of course He waited until he was dead - and all the emotions, and the thoughts, and the doubts that they had in the midst of their suffering. But I want to come at this chapter a little bit differently this morning, I want to take verses 21 through to 26, these most famous verses in this chapter that we didn't really take time last Sunday morning to deal with. I want to look at: 'Jesus, The Resurrection And The Life'.
So let's read verses 21 through to verse 26: "Then 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 of God, God will give You'. Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again'. Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?'".
Let us pray together, and do unite with me in prayer. Pray with me now that the Lord will speak, speak to you - don't ask Him to speak to that poor unbeliever that might have come in. Well, do pray about them, but pray for yourself as well - we all need to hear from God. I hope you've come to hear from Him. Maybe you're here and you're not a Christian, and that question hangs in the air for you: 'Do you believe this?'. Maybe you have struggled with doubt, and some of the issues revolving around death, the afterlife, and resurrection? Well, come to the Lord now. Maybe you have even lost a loved one recently, or perhaps you have been given a very bad prognosis with your own health? Let's come to the Lord. The Lord wants, I believe, to minister to people's hearts here by His Holy Spirit. So let us come and welcome Him to do that in our lives, whatever circumstances might be.
Father, we thank You that we can come to You, and indeed You welcome us and want us to come to You with our burdens, and with our cares, and with our questions, with the inconsistencies in our hearts that we sometimes feel toward You and toward the things that happen to us in this life that we don't understand, and we cannot make sense of. We come to You now, Lord, the One who knows all things - and not only knows everything, but has all power to meet are need. We pray through the Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that You will minister to every need in this place just now. We want to see Jesus, we want to experience the One who is the resurrection and the life. In His name we pray, Amen.
Now I believe that it is significant that this miracle of the raising of Lazarus - maybe we've just jumped into these verses, and you don't know what happens around them. Well, Mary and Martha had lost their brother Lazarus. The three were good friends of the Lord Jesus - and, of course, as you read the latter end of the chapter, there is a great miracle where Jesus comes to the tomb were Lazarus is lying and now should be rotting after four days dead, decomposition has set in, by this time the body would be stinking. He cries with the voice of omnipotence: 'Lazarus, come forth!' - and Lazarus comes forth, like a mummy with these graveclothes around him. Jesus tells them to lose him and let him go free. What a wonderful miracle!
Now, it's the last miracle John records before the cross. It's not the last miracle that Jesus did, perhaps, but it's the last one that he records in his gospel before the Lord Jesus goes to die for our sins. Arguably it's the greatest miracle of our Lord Jesus. Now the Jews superstitiously believed that the soul stays near a dead body, and near the grave of a dead body, for about three days. There was this hope among Jews that somehow the soul would re-enter the body, and the person would come to life again - of course, it never happened, but this was their superstition. Therefore it was accepted that, up to three days, something might happen - it never did, but something might happen - but certainly after four days there was absolutely no hope of resuscitation of a dead body.
This is what we see in verse 17: 'So when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days'. Now, that is highly significant, because inherent within that statement is hopelessness: 'Jesus, You've come too late!'. Utter hopelessness in the face of death which, let's face it, is the way our society reacts to this morbid subject. We think of death as the great leveller. Any medical folk here will know that once you pass that line of death, and pass the opportunity of resuscitation, it's too late to do anything. It is the great horizon, thus far and no further. You cannot reverse. Death is irreversible. We know that intellectually, scientifically, but some of you have known it very personally for you have lost loved ones - maybe most recently. Or maybe it's something that you ponder yourself - let's face it, who of us don't? 'When it comes to my time, what will death be for me? What will it be like? How will I cope? How will I pass through? Where will I be, if anywhere, after it?'. Everybody thinks that way at one time or another - if they don't, they should!
Albert Camus said: 'Neither in the hearts of men nor in the manners of society will there be a lasting peace until we outlaw death' - but we cannot outlaw it. As you often hear around the grave, 'In the midst of life we are in the midst of death'. Woody Allen said: 'I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying'. It is the king of terrors, and the terror of Kings. Paul the apostle called it: 'Man's last enemy'. Now listen carefully to what I'm about to say: if Christ can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing. Can I repeat that? If Christ can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable' - miserable!
But the great good news of the Gospel message is not only that Jesus died for our sins and was buried, but that He rose again! Jesus has done something about death, He has defeated this great enemy totally and permanently! This is what is encapsulated in this statement: 'I am the resurrection and the life'. If you've been going through John's Gospel, you probably know by now there are seven great 'I am' statements - some say there might be eight. This is the fifth: 'I am the resurrection and the life'. You only have to listen to those words to realise that no mere prophet or apostle could speak such words, but only the One who knew He was God. I think there is an allusion here to the very name of God: 'I AM the resurrection and the life'.
I want you to understand what Jesus was doing for Martha here. We talked about her confusion last week, we'll not repeat that - but what the Lord Jesus was doing was, He was moving Martha from an abstract belief in resurrection that will happen some time at the last day. He was moving from this concept of resurrection at the last day, to a personal and a present trust in Him who can raise the dead today! What Jesus was saying, announcing He was the resurrection and the life, He was effectively, if we could paraphrase it, saying: 'I can give life any time, Martha'. You see, she said: 'I know he'll rise again at the last day, I know that'.
Now, I want you to understand what we're offering here as we preach this message, what we want you to lay hold of and accept. It's not a new idea. There might be ideas spoken of, of course, we think in concepts and ideas - but it's not essentially an idea, it's not a new principle for a better lifestyle. What we offer you is a Person, and a relationship with this Person that will bring resurrection and life to you! Martha believed in the abstract idea of resurrection and life way in the distant future, as perhaps you do as well. Most people believe in God, many of the new modern atheists would lead us to believe otherwise, but it's not the case - most people in the world, maybe not so much the West, though I think probably still the West, but certainly in a global capacity most people believe in some kind of deity and some kind of afterlife. You might be one of those, and you have an abstract idea of future things, and even God and Jesus - maybe you accept Him as the Son of God and someone special - but Jesus, see this, desired for Martha to lead her to a knowledge of He Himself as the resurrection and the life, and for her to have, through a relationship with Him, the personal certainty of life everlasting.
So I'm asking you this morning a very pointed question: have you a personal relationship with Christ which has given you eternal life? Well, have you? Or is all you have, like Martha, some indefinite kind of assent in your mind to a belief of some kind: 'Oh, there's a heaven somewhere, some time; and God is out there somewhere at a distance watching us'. Have you some kind of conception that's a bit of a blur really, and if you were asked to put it down on paper you couldn't be too specific, it's very uncertain and evasive. Certainly, whatever your concept of afterlife and God is, it gives you no help here and now - it's not helping you through life! It certainly doesn't give you any definite certainty for the future, isn't that right?
Look at verse 23, Jesus purposely expresses Himself in general terms in order to draw Martha out: 'Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again''. You see, He wants to make her think - and He wants to make you think, by the way. D.A. Carson says: 'This is a masterpiece in planned ambiguity'. He was deliberately not being very clear, because He wanted to tease out of her mind how she had this concept way in the future, but wasn't counting upon Jesus to do anything in the here and now. Now, of course, on one level Jesus' words could be taken as no more than a doctrinally sound attempt at bringing solace to Martha who had been bereaved of her brother. I mean, we could understand Jesus here in verse 23 as saying: 'Well, Martha, the resurrection will take place, and your brother will be restored to bodily life' - and Jesus believed that, He does believe in a resurrection, just like the Pharisees also believed, and the Sadducees didn't of course. I imagine, I have to say, that this probably was the standard procedure for pastoral care of the day. You know, you go up to somebody who has been bereaved and say: 'There, there. There's going to be a resurrection some day, and you'll meet your loved one'.
This is how Martha understood the words of Jesus, as if He was talking about that last day, away in the distance - for in verse 24, Martha said to Him: 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. Now, is it the case that Jesus could do no better than dead religion of His day in comforting people who were bereaved? Is that the case? Of course it's not! For in verse 25 He says: 'I am' - present tense - 'I am the resurrection and the life'. You see, Jesus was offering immediate relief in the face of death. He offers up to all who believe in Him, all who receive Him, He offers you immediate relief! I love that.
Now, of course, you might say: 'Ah, but hold on a minute! Martha got a literal resurrection! She got her brother back'. Well, that's the prospect of all believers. Yes, in the last day that will happen, and we believe that when Jesus comes again at the last trump, that He will take His people, who are living, to be with Him - but those who are dead, first, will rise again and be translated, and go to be with Jesus in the air. We believe this - but Jesus was offering, I believe, much more. In effect, what He was doing for Martha was He was moving the doctrine of resurrection out of the future and into the present. You see, Martha was looking into the future, knowing that Lazarus would rise again and she would see him - but Jesus wanted to centre her attention on the present, to know that 'Wherever I am, Martha, there is resurrection and there is life. Wherever I am there is resurrection power'.
Now listen to a couple of verses in the New Testament that bear this out. Romans 6 verse 4, listen: 'Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life' - that's resurrection language. Galatians 2 verse 20: 'I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me'. Philippians 3 verse 10, Paul said it was his great desire: 'that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death'. You see this? This life is something that the believer knows now. Yes, they look forward to a resurrection when Jesus returns, but this life comes as a result of faith in Christ. Not only is Jesus the conqueror of death by and by in the resurrection on the last day, but He is this always. He is always the conqueror of death - and that is, I believe, the truth, exactly the truth, which Martha failed to grasp. Her sights were set to the future, Jesus said: 'I am, Martha'.
Now this is probably totally irrelevant to some of you, but there is a slight resurgence among circles similar to yours here of a teaching which is very akin to 'soul sleep' - but it's even worse, because it's teaching now the destruction of the soul between death and the resurrection. There was a conference recently in the Park Avenue Hotel during the summer, where some folk from America were brought over by people who are sympathetic to this teaching, and they were teaching this very thing: effectively robbing the believer of the hope now to be with the Lord. They've got all sorts of cultish ways of twisting Scripture and reinterpreting them to fit into their mould - but there are many more clear Scriptures than this one, of course, in that regard, but I have to say that this is a marvellous one in commentary to their false doctrine. He is the victor over every form of death! Paul said to Timothy: 'Christ has abolished death, and brought immortality to light through the Gospel'.
This life is not found in a principle, or in a prophetic calendar, but in a Person. What Jesus was saying when He said: 'I am the resurrection and the life', is 'the whole power to restore, to impart and to maintain life, resides in Me'. Can I tell you: that's what John's Gospel is all about. It does talk about the future, it does talk about resurrection, it does talk about what happens when Jesus comes again and believers are given new bodies - but it also talks about having that life now. John 1 verse 4, the introduction: 'In Him', Jesus, 'was life, and the life was the light of men'. He's the life!
Turn with me to John 5 to see this. A lot of people would relegate this life just to resurrection, but John 5 in verse 24 - this is a passage, of course, on resurrection, bodily but also more than that - these two verses, verses 24 and 25 of John 5: 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life', present, personal possession, 'has', 'and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life' - when? At that moment of faith - and death is a judgement. Now, that's spiritual resurrection, we would call it 'regeneration', being born-again. It comes by having faith and repentance. But here's the resurrection physical, verse 25: 'Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live'. So there is this seeming paradox: 'The day is coming, but now is, when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God'. So there is not only physical resurrection to look forward to - praise God for that! That is the ultimate consummation of all God's plans. He wants us, body, soul and spirit, to be together in the image of Christ - but there is life now for those who believe in Him, that very resurrection life that Jesus brought.
I'm getting excited, but it's something to be excited about! Ephesians chapter 2 talks about this, even when we were dead in trespasses, we have been made alive - Ephesians 2:5 and 6, we have been made alive: 'together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus' - when? When? Now! Now! You're in heaven! Are you going to tell me that when I die and rot in the grave that I'm just going to cease to exist, and I'll be separated from God, and separated from my loved ones, and even separated from the life that I now have - I have it now! Are you telling me God's going to take it away?
We must affirm the literal resurrection in the future, no doubt about it, and I don't think we talk about it enough - but we must not deny that the believer has such life, spiritually, now. John chapter 8 and 51: 'Most assuredly', Jesus said, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word', listen to this, 'he shall never see death'! We know John 3, don't we, 15 and 16? 'Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life'.
The ordinary, mortal life ebbs away, doesn't it? Life in this body, natural life - but the life that Jesus gives never ends. I believe it's in that sense that Jesus said: 'Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die'. I know people allude it to the rapture - I believe in a rapture, but I don't believe necessarily that that's what the Lord is getting at in this verse. I believe He's getting at this fact: that when you believe in Christ, even when you're alive you've got that life, and you'll not pass through death like other people do.
Is there someone here who fears death? I know it's not a question you're asked most days in the week - I was actually asked it on Friday! I went into the barbers for a haircut, and the girl with the scissors asked me: 'Do you fear death?'! After I wiped the sweat off my brow for a moment or two, just checked I had still both ears, my answer was: 'Well, I don't want to die' - I think it's a very unhealthy thing to want to die - 'I'm not looking forward to dying, the process, however it comes, but am I afraid of what will be there after? No'. Now, if you told me now: 'You're going to die tomorrow', I might be a wee bit afraid - because I believe God gives you the strength and the grace to face death when you're going to, and sometimes people who are dying face it better than the people around them because they have extra grace for dying from the Lord. But I want to ask you: do you fear death? You know, I know that there are people who put their head on the pillow at night, grown men, and they sob like babies, weep into their pillow, because they fear death.
John Wesley said: 'My people die well' - strange thing, to think of dying well! Why, why does the Christian die well? Listen to Hebrews 2:14 and 15: 'Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood', we human beings are made of flesh and blood, 'Jesus Himself likewise shared in the same', flesh and blood, 'that through death He might destroy him who had', past tense, 'had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage'. Jesus, at the cross, when He shed His precious blood and died, tasted death for every man, woman, boy or girl - I believe that. Having done so, has potentially released us from the fear of death if, 'Do you believe this?'.
Have you, all your lifetime, been subject to a fear of death? There is no reason why, because Jesus says: 'If you believe in Me', listen, 'you will never, never die'. You will simply take an instant transition from the old life into the new, you will pass through the natural process, but you need fear no evil, Jesus says, 'For I, your Good Shepherd, am with you to comfort you'. Jamieson, Fauset and Brown put it better than I could in their commentary, listen: 'The believer's death shall be swallowed up in life, and his life shall never sink into death. As death comes by sin, it is His', that is, Christ's, 'to dissolve it; and as life flows through His righteousness, it is His to communicate and eternally maintain it'. He quotes Romans 5:21: 'so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord'. He goes on: 'The temporary separation of soul and body is here regarded as not even interrupting, much less impairing, the new and everlasting life imparted by Jesus to His believing people'. That's what it means to be a Christian, to be in the body of Christ, believers! And if the Head is alive, how can any part of His body be dead? Burkett put it like this: 'Oh love stronger than death! The grave cannot separate Christ and His friends'. I like that.
Other friends accompany us to the brink of the grave, and then they leave us - but neither life nor death can separate me from the love of God in Christ. Do you believe this? I think it was Samuel Bengel who said: 'No one is ever read of as having died while the Prince of life was present'. Do you notice that? In the three resurrections that Jesus performed in the New Testament, He was absent for their deaths - but when He is there, He breaks up every funeral, for He is the present resurrection and life; he who believes in Him shall never, never die!
He's not a mere Teacher on resurrection and life, He is the Divine Author of resurrection, whether spiritual or physical, and He is the Root and the Fountain of all life. Do you believe this? I'm asking you a question: do you believe this? What the Lord was saying to Martha is: 'Can you take this in, Martha? Can you receive this? Can you embrace it in your heart?'. He's not challenging Martha to debate, like you might debate on the door with the Jehovah's Witnesses. He's not interested in debate, He knows the truth already! He's not wanting intellectual assent, He's not wanting her to tick a box or quote a creed - He wants her to put faith! We find in John 11 the word 'faith' in various forms, 'belief', 'believe', it's found at least eight times - this is what it's all about! Do you believe this? You see, you can, like Martha, have a general faith in biblical ideas, and the future, and concepts - but have you a specific, a personal faith in the One who is the resurrection and the life? Have you come to Him? Have you surrendered yourself to Him? Have you repented of your sins, and confessed them, and renounced them, and received His forgiveness? Because it is this saving faith in Him that will make you become an instant partaker, an instant partaker of the life that shall never end! Do you have it? Or do you have a fear of death?
Francis Louis XIV decreed that the word 'death' would not be uttered in his presence - he still died. In contrast, Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, commissioned a servant to stand in his presence every day and say these words: 'Philip, you will die'. You will die, most likely, one out of one people die. You will die. How will you die? Do you know that this One can deliver you right now from the fear of death? Some of you believers have a fear of death - God has not given the spirit of fear, do you know that? If you have a spirit of fear in you of any shape or form, it does not come from God because He doesn't give a spirit of fear. He gives a Spirit, the Holy Spirit which is a Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. So you need to get rid of the spirit that the devil has given you, the spirit of fear, and take the Spirit God has given you, the Holy Spirit of the One who is the resurrection and the life. I believe He wants to deliver folk here this morning.
Now I said I wasn't looking forward to death, I'm not - but I have a couple of the hymns picked, and they're all resurrection. I think my favourite is the Easter hymn by Charles Wesley. One of the verses goes like this, close your eyes and think of this:
'Lives again our glorious King,
Where, O death, is now thy sting?
Once He died our souls to save,
Where thy victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies'.
Hallelujah! Christ the Lord is risen today! Sons of men and angels say - and Scrabo Hall, if you can liberate yourself - say 'Hallelujah'! Let us pray.
Now, as we've bowed our heads, I'm conscious that God is speaking. You know I don't like to rush, but I hate rushing at the end of the time when God has been speaking, because there is a brooding of the Holy Spirit on a gathering like this. God is doing things, and when we get up and start blethering about nonsense - even at times we can sing a hymn, and it can be the bird of the air that snatches away the seed - because God doesn't want you to do anything right now, He just wants you to listen and respond. We want to facilitate Him and you in that two-way exchange of receiving what He offers you: deliverance from sin, deliverance from the fear of death, deliverance from the judgement of hell that is before those who do not believe in Jesus - the hell that He took on the cross, that you might never experience it. Who here this morning will receive Jesus as their Saviour, and receive life? You know you haven't been living - is there someone just where you are?
You say: 'David, what do I do?'. Well, there is a sense in which it has all been done, all you need to do is receive it - but there is something to do, and that is repent and believe. That's what Jesus taught and the Apostles preached: you need to change your mind about your sin, that's what repentance is, change your attitude to sin - that it's not a good way to live, and that is going to effectively damn your soul forever. You need to change your mind to turn from it to Christ for salvation, and believe in Him - not go out and do good works until you die, but believe in Him to come in and live through you, to enable you to live the life that He wants for you. You've just got to take it by faith, and say: 'Lord Jesus, I repent of my sin, and I ask You to come in and be my Saviour. I believe in You'.
Child of God, what about you? Are you in bondage to some fear, even the fear of death? There's a wonderful verse in Joel chapter 2, I think it's verse 36, that says: 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered'. We preach the gospel through that - but, you know, the gospel, salvation, being born-again, is only the start of the process of deliverance - that's when God gets a hold of you start to do a work on you. Maybe you need to be delivered here this morning from fear, even the fear of death. In the name of Jesus, kick it out, kick it out, say that it has nothing in you, because you are Christ's - it has nothing in you, that fear of death, and welcome the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind, welcome the Holy Spirit to fill you and take control of you.
Father, we thank You for Your still small voice. We thank You that Jesus still is the resurrection and the life. We know that this message will be difficult for some here, but Lord we know it's necessary - we either believe it or we don't. We choose to believe and receive that life that shall never end. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You endure the death of all deaths, that we might have life ever more. We worship You, Conqueror of death, of the grave and hell, the One who has the keys on Your girdle of death and hell. We worship You, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and may You be Lord of every life here this morning. For Your glory we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh recording in his 'Portions From John' series, entitled "The Resurrection And The Life" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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