John 11:17-27. Resurrection

John 11:17    On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,  19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21    “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23    Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24    Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27    “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Jesus gets word from Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary that Lazarus is very sick and about to die. But by the time that Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead. The funeral (often lasting a week) has already started. What will Jesus do?

Martha’s words have an accusatory tone. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Although also an assertion of faith (Jesus would have been able to heal Lazarus), does she know that Jesus delayed two days before leaving to come to Lazarus’ aid? Is she angry, upset or both?

Jesus responds by talking to Martha about the resurrection from the dead. He assures her that Lazarus will rise from the dead. Martha, as a faithful Jew, affirms her belief that God will raise all people from the dead at the end of time, before judging some for damnation and some for eternal life (v24).

But instead of discussing abstract theology, Jesus calls Martha to focus her faith on him, personally. In face of Lazarus’ death, Jesus does three things in verse 25:

  1. he makes a statement about who he is, 
  2. he makes a promise, 
  3. and he asks Martha simply to believe him, to trust him.

First, then, is Jesus statement about himself. He says that he himself is the resurrection and the life. He is the substance and key to the life that is lived beyond the grave.  It is quite an astounding claim to make. In fact, it is a unique claim: no one before or since has ever claimed that they are the very substance, the central reality, of the life that is lived after death. The implication of verse 25 is that everything that the resurrection is centres on Jesus: the life of heaven is with Jesus, it is possible because of Jesus, we enjoy the blessings of Jesus and Jesus shows us what that life is going to be like. He is the resurrection and the life.

The second thing that Jesus does for Martha is make a promise. He promises that anyone who believes in him, even though they die, they will live. Death will be overthrown by ‘resurrection life,’ in relationship with God, through Jesus.

Then, third, having made this statement about himself and given this promise about eternal life, Jesus simply asks Martha to believe. To trust him. In the midst of her grief, her loss, her profound sadness, Jesus calls Martha to reach out to him and trust him. 

And in response Martha makes a fully Christian declaration of faith– not in a theological proposition, but in Jesus himself (v27). The content of her faith is that she believes Jesus is the Messiah, as promised throughout the Old Testament. He is the God-ordained, God authorised and anointed, Ruler of Israel for the whole world– the Son of God. He is the promised one, now come into the world.

Lord Jesus, please lift my eyes to truly see you as you are. Even in the midst of my own sadness or grief, knowing my own frailty and certain death; please comfort me in the sure knowledge that you are the resurrection and the life. Amen.