Dear Radio Listeners,
Today we turn in our Bibles to the eleventh chapter of John, verses 25 and 26, where we read: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
In this fifth “I am” statement of Jesus we are given another marvelous revelation concerning Him. This is one of the more outstanding of the seven “I am” statements. This one is extra precious to God’s people because of its great comfort in the face of one of life’s great enemies: death. And that, of course, is the context in which this was spoken. Lazarus, the beloved brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany and the close friend of Jesus, had died.
There is, perhaps, no greater contrast than that with which we are faced in our text. It is the contrast between death and life. On the one hand is death with all its power and ugliness revealed here in the grave of Lazarus. Death is not anything natural, but the consequence of our sin in the beginning of time, through our fall in Adam. Death is the revelation of God’s judgment on our sin.
Death is the power of corruption in the body, the power to take away physical existence. Here it was through sickness in the case of Lazarus. Death is also the power to bring to the grave, where the body decays with a stench and then returns to the dust. Death is the power to break apart earthly relationship, severing family ties and marriages and friendships. Death is the power to cast those left behind into grief and distress and fear. This is the power of death which was manifest here in the dying of Lazarus.
You know that awful power, do you not, listener? Then listen to the text. In contrast to this power of death stands Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus Himself is the power over death, He declares here-the power to conquer and defeat this universal, killing foe. Jesus is the power to raise the dead out of the grave and to bring life out of death. Jesus is the power to form new bodies, bodies that are adapted for heaven. Jesus is the power to give life that can never perish, life that abides forever in glory. Therefore, Jesus declares here that He is the power of victory, the power of joy and peace, of comfort and hope. That is the contrast that is made in our text: death … and Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.
You will notice that Jesus does not say that He merely possesses the power of resurrection and the power of life, but that He is the Resurrection and the Life. Nor does Jesus merely say that He will be the Resurrection and the Life in the future, when He returns on the clouds of glory. Jesus says He is, right now, in Himself the Resurrection and the Life.
What does this mean? In the first place, Jesus’ words here mean that He is the Resurrection because He is the Life. The power of resurrection is Christ’s because His is the power of life. In Him is the power to raise the dead because in Him is the power of life. The fact, then, that He is the Life is the cause of His being the Resurrection.
But what does He mean that He is the Life? Again, it means not merely that Jesus has life or possesses life, but that He is Life, essentially. Jesus is the Living One and the source of all life. And that can only be because Jesus is God. Also this “I am” is a statement of Jesus’ essential deity, as the eternal and natural Son of God. Jesus is the Life.
But we understand that this life which Jesus says that He is is not mere physical or biological life. It is not mere earthly existence. Here Jesus means, especially, that He is spiritual life, new life, the life which is, in its essence, fellowship with the living God, covenant life. But, in addition to that, Jesus also means, by implication, that He is the life to sinners in the grip of death. He is the life to dying people. In other words, Jesus is declaring in this statement that He is the saving life. He is the life to sinners in the sense that He delivers them from the penalty and power of death and gives them life-the same life He is in Himself, the life which is spiritual fellowship with God, life which is powerful and incorruptible and everlasting. This life Jesus is because He is Christ, the Savior.
Keep in mind that all of these “I am” statements of Jesus also reveal that He is the Christ of God, the Savior of the world. This one does, too. Jesus is the life because He is appointed by God to be the saving life to His people, ordained to deliver them from death and to give them life with Himself. Jesus is the Life because He came into our world of death, subjected Himself to that awful penalty of His people’s sin, and suffered it to the end for them. Jesus is the Life because in suffering our death He defeated it and, thereby, obtained life for Himself as well as for us.
Because Jesus is that spiritual, saving life in Himself, He is also the resurrection. That means that Jesus is in Himself the power over death and the power to raise up from death. Jesus is in Himself the power over death’s corruption and decay, the power over dead bodies and over the dust of the grave. Jesus is the power over dead souls, so that he is the power to lift out of death spiritually, the power to bring life out of death, the power to raise up to that new life that we have mentioned before: that incorruptible, imperishable, everlasting life.
That Jesus is this means that He is the power to raise Himself out of death, of course, as the Son of God in our flesh. Here Jesus is pointing us to the cause of His own future resurrection. Even before it happens He points to its cause. He will die but rise again from the dead because He is, in Himself, the Resurrection and the Life.
But what Jesus means to emphasize here is that He is the Resurrection and the Life to and for His people. He is the power to raise them from the dead. He is that with regard to their souls so that in regeneration, or causing them to be born again, He raises them up to life out of the deadness of sin and fills them with His own resurrection life. But, clearly, Jesus also means that He is the resurrection to His people with regard to their bodies. That, after all, is the context. Lazarus had died and his body was in the grave. And there death was doing its awful work. Mary and Martha were grieving his death and their loss. Martha is hopeful of Lazarus’ resurrection in the end. But she is not seeing Jesus’ power and victory now already. So He speaks to her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Martha, right now I am the power in Myself over the death which has taken your brother and which is at work in his body in the grave. Martha, right now I am the power to raise him up if I wish. Not just in the future.”
So Jesus proved that truth by the miracle that He performed at Lazarus’ tomb. This is what Martha must know. This is what we must know.
Jesus, our good Shepherd, deals pastorally with her and with us, comforting, encouraging, strengthening, pointing us to the truth that He is in Himself (and we must know that as well) the Resurrection and the Life to all of His elect people right now. In the face of death’s power, in the face of apparent defeat and despair, when we are in the grip of sorrow and fear on account of what death has done perhaps to someone close to us or to what death is doing to us right now, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. When we are standing by the bedside of a loved one who is sick and dying, or burying a loved one in the grave, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life to those who believe on Him. Yes, He will be that to His people in the end, also. Because He is the resurrection and the life to us now, He will also be that to us in the last day so that we may say, with Jesus, “Thy brother shall rise again.”
In the light of this, Jesus gives a glorious promise to Martha and to His people in our text. That promise is, first of all, this: He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Jesus points out here the way in which this great blessing which He is is received and enjoyed by dead sinners. It is by believing in Christ. That refers to the activity of saving faith on the part of the sinner. That faith, we believe, is the gift of God. It is not the sinner’s power of himself. The ability to believe in Jesus is a spiritual faculty and power which God gives, not which man has in himself or works up in himself. It is a power God gives when He regenerates the elect sinner. That regeneration is a resurrection, too, as we have already pointed out-the resurrection of the soul. In that work of God the dead soul of the sinner is made alive by the Spirit of Christ. It is raised up to be alive unto God and to spiritual things. And one of the powers of that spiritually alive soul is the power to believe in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.
It is that activity of faith which is spoken of here. The expression especially emphasizes the act of trusting in Christ as the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus speaks of a believing into Himself, that is, of confiding in Him and resting in Him as the soul’s only hope and confidence in the face of death. That trust is based on one’s knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ as the Resurrection and Life is essential to placing your trust in Him as such. When you know Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life, then you believe in Him, you trust in Him alone as your personal resurrection and life. And to such a believing child of God, Jesus promises that he shall live.
As we have already pointed out, the believer is already living when he comes to conscious faith and believes. But here Jesus speaks of something future. He shall live. That is made clear by that additional phrase, “though he were dead.” Literally, if he dies he shall live again. Jesus is speaking of the very thing which had happened to Lazarus. He died. Yet, as one who believed in Christ, Lazarus lived. He lived through death. To be sure, his body was in the grave, lying in the midst of death and corruption. Yes, we know that Lazarus’ case was unique in that his soul, we believe, was kept there. But Lazarus did live even before he was raised. He was alive in the soul of Christ his Savior. Under ordinary circumstances, Lazarus would have been alive in heaven, living with God in glory. That is how Jesus’ promise is fulfilled in every believer’s case. They live even though they die. Dying they live. That is the glorious paradox, the profound mystery of the gospel of salvation. That is the blessed comfort of every child of God.
When a child of God dies he lives, according to the soul, though his body goes to the grave. Death cannot kill him according to the soul. That is because his soul is already raised up and filled with that new life in Christ. And that life cannot die. It is immortal and indestructible.
That this is what Jesus’ promise means is further confirmed with what He says in verse 26. “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Jesus speaks of the blessedness of the believer who has the life of Christ in him; who is, as it were, already raised up in his soul. That person will never die. No, that does not mean that the child of God does not have to see physical death. Physical death works upon the child of God in all of his life; it surrounds him. But Jesus means that, according to their new life, believers will never die. That resurrection life which fills their hearts and souls cannot pass away, so that when death comes their souls continue to live even through death. According to the soul the child of God enters the next stage of his saving life in Jesus. He enters heaven to live in the presence of God. And once there the believer will never die. There is, listener, no dying in heaven. The believer’s condition there is that of immortality.
That applies to his state after the resurrection of the body, too. When Jesus comes back as the resurrection and the life and raises the bodies of His people, they will live according to the body. And in that new body they will never know death again.
That is the emphasis of our text. Literally, it reads: “Will not, no never, die.” Jesus’ promise is absolute and all-embracing. There is no death for the child of God who lives in Christ. Such is the power of the life that Christ gives to His own as the Resurrection and the Life.
Now let us be clear on the fact that this promise and blessing are only to the believer-to the one who believes in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. Those who do not believe in Jesus as revealed here know only death. There really is no life for them. Oh, they have earthly life and existence. But spiritually they are dead and they lie in death. They have no life with God now, and they have no prospect of life with Him after death. The death of unbelievers only means a deepening of death. Unbelievers who die have souls that enter the next stage of death, even everlasting death in hell. So it is also in the resurrection of their bodies. Then with body and soul they will enter the second death, as the Scriptures call it, to perish everlastingly in hell. You must know, dear listener, that there is no hope and comfort of life everlasting without Christ as your Resurrection and Life.
This glorious promise of which Jesus speaks is only for believers. Only in that way of faith is there life through death, life after death, life in the great resurrection to come. Only to believers in Jesus Christ is there hope and comfort.
That leaves us with Jesus’ pressing question, the question He put to Martha: “Believest thou this?” That question is certainly applicable to all who hear the gospel today, whether you be a believer or an unbeliever. This certainly is a question for the person who is yet in unbelief. Do you believe what Jesus declares concerning Himself here. And, having heard it, do you know Him spiritually and place your trust in Him?
But we must also keep in view that Jesus is speaking to a believer here, to a grieving believer who has just faced the death of her beloved brother. Jesus asks her, “Do you believe this?” Martha was a believer. She needed to have her faith strengthened in Christ as her Resurrection and Life right here and now as she found herself in the midst of the grief of death. Maybe you are at that point, too. Martha was almost to the point of despairing because she had focused on death. But now Jesus says she must get off death and focus her faith on Him if she is going to have comfort and hope. So He presses this question to her when He has revealed the truth to her: “Martha, do you believe what I have said to you? Do you receive it as truth that I am the Resurrection and the Life, and do you place all your trust in Me?”
That is the question that Jesus puts to you who believe, too. Whether of strong faith or weak faith, whether currently in joy or sorrow, whether healthy or sick or facing death; do you believe this? Do you have the only truth that will give you hope and comfort in death, in the resurrection of the last day?
Focus, dear listener, on who and what Jesus is: the great “I AM” who is also the Resurrection and the Life.
Let us pray.
Holy Father, we thank Thee again for Thy Word of truth concerning Jesus Christ. By Thy grace we do believe who and what He is for us. And believing in Him as the resurrection and the life, we have comfort and hope in this life and in that to come. Strengthen us under the gospel. Use Thy Word, also, Lord, to prick the hearts of those who may now know Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life so that they, too, may have hope in Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.