I am the Resurrection and the Life

Published: Monday, 03 April 2017

This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound on 2 April 2017.

Scripture Reading: John 11:1 - 45 020417 Jesus wept GP

In your English class at school, you’ll probably remember your teacher saying that verbs are what make stories powerful.

Verbs describe what actually happens.

Verbs kick start a sentence and move the story with vigour.

Verbs make a speech crackle and, if you’re a sports commentator describing action on the footy field or the cricket pitch, you’ve got to be a master of verbs, to keep your listeners riveted.[1]

Listen to how author, Laura Hillenbrand, described the last lap when the champion racehorse Seabiscuit, made his winning sprint:

“Carrying 130 pounds… Seabiscuit delivered a tremendous surge. He slashed into the hole, disappeared between his two larger opponents, then burst into the lead… Seabiscuit shook free and hurtled into the homestretch alone as the field fell away behind him.”[2]

Verbs are not only important in composition and commentary, verbs are central to our faith.

Verbs reveal drama.

Verbs heighten the tension.

Verbs invite us into the Gospel story.

Verbs move us forward in our believing.

In our story about Jesus, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, I want to highlight three key verbs.

Here’s the first verb: Jesus Stayed. (John 11:6)

Jesus is across the Jordan where John did the baptizing. If it was in 2017 it would read:

Jesus’s phone buzzed and beeped because he got a text message from his close friends, Mary and her sister, Martha, in Bethany. The message said: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 

What did they do before emails, SMS, the telephone and the telegram? Because these sisters needed to send an SOS about their brother, who was ill. Interestingly they didn’t say, ‘Come pronto’ but this was implied.

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death [meaning it’s not terminal]; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

He stayed on!

Can you believe this? His closest friends are at desperation point but ‘he stayed two days longer’. How insensitive is that!

We used to use an old verb, ‘he tarried’, and this better captures what happened. Jesus wasn’t just held up. He dragged his feet. He intentionally waited because he sensed God was going to shine life into this dreadful situation.

He tarried for two more days so by the time he got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. In the heat of the Middle East they bury them on the day of death.

The Jewish belief is that the spirit lingers around the body for three days so now at the fourth day, there was never any possibility that this man was resuscitated. No, Lazarus was as dead as a door nail.

When it’s known that Jesus is arriving in Bethany, Martha, the practical organizing sister, leaves home and goes out to meet him. She, wracked with grief, is a straight shooter. Even before they’ve had time to embrace, Martha says:

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary echoes the same statement when he gets to the house (32) which means they’ve been murmuring this mantra every minute for the last four days.

Wouldn’t we like to have a recording so we can hear the tone in Martha’s voice?

We can hear her sadness but isn’t there the sting of criticism and accusation: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Maybe the revised Australian translation of this verse might read: “Where the hell have you been?”.

How we have felt like this in times of emergency. In our time of grief.

At the sickness of a loved one has our prayer not been:

“God, where are you?”

“God, couldn’t you have done something to prevent this?”

“God, if you had shown up and intervened we wouldn’t have been in this custard!”

“God, why did you let this happen?”

And Jesus stayed.

Got anything that you’re waiting for? That plum promotion? That positive health report? That hope of a reconciliation?

 

And Jesus stayed.

In the meantime, we can feel the ache.

We sense God’s absence for we do not know God’s timetable.

It just might be God is wanting to shine life and hope in our situation.

Our next verb is: I believe (v27)

Maybe I’m misrepresenting Martha. She ‘calls a spade a spade’ but she’s not exactly tearing strips off Jesus because listen to the ongoing conversation:

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.

John in his Gospel records this miracle of raising Lazarus as one of the seven signs that Jesus did in his ministry[3]. It’s as if John is opening seven windows into Jesus’ divine work. At the outset of this sign Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11: 25)

This is another of the ‘I Am’ statements by Jesus in John’s Gospel. Remember them?

I am the bread of life (John 6: 48),

I am the door (John 10:9),

I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:10),

I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), 

I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6),

I am the true vine (John 15:1)

We remember how Jesus takes for himself the name for God, ‘I am’ [Yahweh) which first appears in the book of Exodus (3:14). So when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life”, he’s saying that the same God who was revealed to the Israelites in the Exodus is now again at work in me.

This affirmation about Jesus is one we so often hear at funerals, but isn’t it great to be pondering this on an ordinary day in weekly worship? That Jesus is the resurrection. That Jesus has destroyed death. That Jesus turns a funeral from a dead end into a doorway to new life.

When he says, “I am the resurrection and the life” he doesn’t use the word bio as in biology. He uses the special word zoe meaning he’s given us not only biological life but he’s also given us eternal life. That rich quality of life that begins now and goes beyond the grave.

This is what he wants us to know and believe before he raises Lazarus. And in this sign, he’s pointing to his own imminent death and resurrection and also to ours.

It’s one thing to make such lofty claims, it’s another thing to believe it.

To bet your life on it and bet your death on it. Jesus has a question for Martha and this question is also put to us:

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Dr. Boreham, who used to pastor nearby at Armadale, said he had the privilege several times of hearing the evangelist D L Moody.[4] He said that Moody made his appeal in his characteristic way.

Boreham said: I never remember hearing him ask people, while heads were bowed, to raise a hand. Immediately at the conclusion of his address, whilst all eyes were wide open, he would say, ‘Now, who will trust the Saviour, here and now? If you will, stand up and say so! Spring to your feet and call out, "I will!”’

Boreham said, the response was sometimes like a clap of thunder. When Moody concluded his address in the usual way: ‘Now, then, who accepts this Saviour tonight? Jump to your feet and cry, "I will!”’ Scores of people stood instantly and shouted their decision. The effect was electrifying.

Whether we shout or stand or sign our decision card, Jesus longs to hear us voice this verb, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

To say it as our acceptance. I believe.

To say it as our affirmation. I believe.

To say it with appreciation. I believe.

To say it with as much sincerity today as when we first said this years ago.

We’ve got time for one more verb and because time is short I’ve chosen a verb from the shortest verse in the Bible. John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”

Despite just having made this high claim, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, Jesus enters the house that is full of mourners. Weeping is contagious. Jesus looks at Mary and she’s inconsolable. The Gospel writer says:

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 

We’ve seen people like this at funerals, at that most painful time when the casket is being taken out of the church or that finality when the coffin is lowered into the grave.

Most of you have experienced this yourselves, the uncontrollable emotion when your whole body is shuddering and quaking with anxiety, sadness, worry, fear and possibly anger.

34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 

We got an insight into Christ’s divinity when he said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Now, if ever we want a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus, here it is: “Jesus wept.” Look at him. His eyes are red. His face is blotchy and puffy. His voice is wailing. His whole body is convulsing with grief.

There are many of us men, who’ve been brought up to believe that weeping is weakness, that ‘big boys don’t cry’. We have gone through life with a stiff upper lip, putting on a bold face, hiding our real feelings behind a joke, camouflaging our heavy heart with a mask of mirth and bravado. And we have paid the price by failing miserably to sweep our grief and pain under the carpet.

Jesus wept. This picture of Jesus is so healthy and so honest. Soon in our readings in Holy Week we’ll hear again Isaiah’s words that prophesy about Jesus, the suffering servant:

“He was despised and rejected by others, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53: 3) When we are suffering this is the God we want. The God who sits with us. The God who weeps with us. The God who knows our pain.

When did you last have a good cry? Because when we do it’s important to trace those tears and think what exactly is triggering them.

Jesus weeping at Bethany wasn’t the only time Jesus wept, for on Palm Sunday we read how Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem and “he wept over it”.

He wept at the people and their stubbornness to the true values.

He wept because people were searching but oblivious to the faith that brings genuine satisfaction and peace.

Let those tears flow for your loved ones who are frittering their lives away.

Let your tears flow for your friends who’ve lost their way because those tears may be the catalyst for some act of love. For Jesus, those Palm Sunday tears led to Good Friday love and eventually to the joy and hope of Easter Day.

This Gospel ministry of Jesus that started in a wedding now finishes at a funeral in Bethany, for next week we join the procession of Palm Sunday as we head toward Jerusalem.

As we make this journey and as we come to the communion table, one last thought. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem about The Wreck of the Deutschland, a ship that ran aground off the English coast. He expresses sorrow for those who died in this shipwreck.[5]

In the final stanza of the poem, this English priest writes: “Let him Easter in us.” He’s speaking of his hope that Christ will enter our lives. “Let him Easter in us.”

See what the poet is doing?

He’s turned Easter from a noun into a verb.

As we move towards Holy Week, let’s search for the verbs. Let this Easter not be an event but an experience. Something that happens in us and to us and through us and to our world.

 


[1] Constance Hale tells of the importance of the verb in composition in, ‘Make or Break Verbs’, The Opinion Blog, New York Times, 16 April 2012.

[2] Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend Ballantine Books, 2002.

[3] The seven signs are: 1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 - "the first of the signs", 2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54, 3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15, 4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14, 5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24, 6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7, 7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

[4] F W Boreham, Cliffs of Opal, (London: The Epworth Press, 1948), 60-61.

[5] Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, Poetry Foundation.