Sermon: Resurrection and the Life

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we thank you for the work of redemption – for reconciling us to you through the cross of Christ, for the victory and promise of the resurrection, for the new life in Christ we receive through the Spirit – we thank you for all of this. We also thank you for your Word, by which you reveal yourself, your works, and your will to us. Illumine us by your Spirit so that we might be lead into all truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This is the astounding claim of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ, who was nailed to a cross on Friday, died and buried in a borrowed tomb, this Jesus was raised from the dead three days later. It is an incredible, earth-shattering claim – Resurrection. But in order to tell that story, I want to first tell you another. It is a story that takes place barely a week earlier. Like the Easter story, it begins with a Mary weeping beside a tomb. Like the Easter story, it deals with resurrection. Like the Easter story, Jesus is front and center. It’s John, chapter 11. As always, you are welcome to turn there with me in your Bibles.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,“Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; 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.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

The crowds looking for Jesus did not need to look for long. Jesus willingly and intentionally went to the Passover festival. On the day people chose the lambs for the passover sacrifice, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem – the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Later that week, the chief priests and Pharisees would find someone who would let them know where Jesus is – one of Jesus’ own disciples, a man named Judas. Jesus was betrayed, tried in a sham trial in the night, convicted by Pilate under threat, and then nailed to a wooden cross outside the holy city and left to die. Most of his disciples fled, his chief disciple Peter denied him, leaving only the beloved disciple, John, and the women watching as he bore the weight of sin on the cross. Mary his mother, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Madgalene.

Then he died. It is better for one man to die for the people than to have the whole nation perish. One man dying not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. He body was taken down, wrapped in linen clothes, and laid in a borrowed tomb.

Despite all the assurances Jesus made, despite the promises that he would rise again from the dead, despite all in the Scriptures that said he must go the cross, but would rise from the dead, despite all of this, those who loved him could not see. They did not believe. They hid, they wept. And three days later, a different Mary stood weeping beside a tomb. Listen to the rest of the story:

JOHN 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Two stories. Two Marys weeping beside a tomb. Two stones removed. Two men brought back from the dead far after it seemed possible. One – Lazarus – was but a foretaste. The other – Jesus Christ – the real thing.

In our brief time together this morning, I want us to notice two things from the intersection of these two stories: An event that took place, and a question that was asked.

First, an event that took place. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The one who said ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and demonstrated his power over death by raising Lazarus from the tomb was himself raised to life. We live in a world where the dead stay dead. Sure, there are small occasions where a heartbeat stops and doctors are able to shock someone’s heart back into rhythm. But that is not resurrection, merely resuscitation. That’s not four days in the tomb for Lazarus. That’s not three days dead for Jesus. We live in a world where the dead stay dead. But not Jesus. Not before the power and word of Jesus.

When Mary Magdalene first comes to the tomb, finds it open and empty, she believes that it must have been robbed. All the way until Jesus speaks her name, she thinks Jesus is dead, but his body has been stolen. However, the gospels proclaim that this is not what happened. Jesus’ body is not missing. He has been raised to life.

John records Easter morning with incredible detail. This was not a grave robbery. We are told both Peter and the other disciple, likely John himself, looked into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying there. Peter even goes into the tomb far enough to see the cloth that was around Jesus’ head had been rolled up in a place by itself. This does not look like the scene of a robbery, but of one who has come back to life and removed his grave clothes. John takes the time to give us the details so we don’t miss it. He also gives us names, because Mary, Peter, and John served as witnesses to the empty tomb. Something happened on that Easter morning, early on the first day of the week. Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

The grave clothes that bound Lazarus when he was resurrected could not bind Jesus. He took them off and walked out of the tomb himself. Once the disciples returned home, Mary peered into the tomb through tears and saw two angels, one sitting where Jesus’ head had been and the other where his feet had lain. Two angels stood marking the holiness of this place where the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was raised from the dead. Soon, Mary comes face-to-face with the risen Jesus and recognizes him as he speaks her name. She goes from that place to witness to the disciples (and then to the world) of what had happened that morning.

Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Christianity is not primarily a system of truths or ethical principles. It is not, at its heart, a path to a better life or a way to self-improvement. Instead, it is the witness to what happened on those three days surrounding Passover all those centuries ago. It is the proclamation that at the center of history is an empty tomb – a conquered grave, a risen Lord. At its heart, Christianity is the proclamation of the Easter message which validates to us all that Jesus said and did, including his atoning death on the cross. By his resurrection from the grave, we know that his death on the cross was accepted as a fitting sacrifice for the sin of the world. By his resurrection, which Jesus himself promised, we can trust all his words about who he is, who God the Father is, what he came to do, and what claims he makes upon our lives.

Something happened that Easter morning that changed the world. Two thousand years later and the powers and principalities have not recovered from the blow. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the first thing we should notice this morning: an event took place that Easter morning – Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Second, we should notice what question is asked. Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. But he waits before heading to Bethany when he hears Lazarus is sick. Upon his arrival, Lazarus has already been in the tomb four days. Martha runs to meet him, while Mary stays 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 God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 

Martha believes Jesus’ presence would have saved her brother, but Jesus was absent. Her statements seems a mixture of pain, trust, and even accusation. But Martha is not hopeless. She believes in Jesus enough that ‘even now’ – even now that her brother lies in the tomb decaying – God will give Jesus whatever he asks. Jesus responds with a promise.

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus responds to her grief, hope, and pain with the promise of resurrection. He responds with the promise that the dead will rise, even Lazarus. But Martha misunderstands. She knows her Bible well enough to know that the LORD has promised a resurrection at his coming, a resurrection on the last day. Martha knows there will a resurrection at the end, but not now.

Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?”

The resurrection that Martha was hoping for is found in Jesus. The breaking of the chains of death, the undoing of its power, the bringing of the dead back to life, this is all found in Jesus Christ. Jesus tells her that if she believes in him, she will have life. Those who die believing in Jesus will live again. Those who live believing in Jesus will not be overcome by death. Death will not be a barrier to the life-giving power of Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus will not only be freed from capital-D Death on the last day, but from all the little deaths we experience in this life. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will not only experience physical resurrection at the return of Jesus Christ, but experience spiritual resurrection from dead in sin to being alive in Christ.

Martha had placed her hope in the end, but could not see the hope now. Instead, Jesus tells her to place her hope and trust in him. Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?”

Mary, sister of Lazarus, saw the resurrection and the life as Jesus approached her brothers tomb and spoke his name. “Lazarus, come out” and Jesus’ words penetrated death. The sheep heard the voice of the good shepherd and followed it out of death back into life. Mary Magdalene, weeping beside the tomb, saw the resurrection and the life in greater fullness when the man she thought was the gardener spoke her name and she turned to see it was Jesus, risen from the grave.

Do you believe this? This is the question posed to Martha. Jesus has said that he is the resurrection and that those who believe in him will share in the fruit of his resurrection power, even beyond the grave. Do you believe this?

This is Martha’s question, but it is also our question this Easter morning. Something happened all those years ago when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, she found that Jesus had been risen from the grave. Do you believe this?

Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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