You Will Never Die

May 3, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 11:17-27

I Am The Resurrection And The Life

1. In the village of Bethany, at a distance of about three kilometers from Jerusalem there was a house Jesus often went over. It was the house in which the sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus lived. Mary and Martha can also be found in The Gospel According To Luke. It seems like the family had a special closeness to Jesus. It was a house where Jesus could rest and relax his mind, amid the strained circumstances of being surrounded by the hostility of the Jews and even fearing for his life. However, all of a sudden a great sorrow plunges upon this blessed family. Lazarus became sick. Worse still, it was a terribly serious sickness. Lazarus was on the brink of death.

2. Mary and Martha hurried and sent a messenger to Jesus. They said, "Oh Lord, the one whom you love is sick." But, Jesus arrived after Lazarus was already buried in the tomb and four days had passed. Today's passage of scripture is after that. It seems there was a folk belief among the Jews in which they thought that the soul of the deceased hung about the corpse for about three days. Therefore, "the fourth day after being buried" means completely dead. It was too late. It was already over. Thus, Jesus came [to them] amid their total hopelessness as seen from the human point of view. But, even though it was "the end" as far as to the people there, it was not "the end" to the Lord. When the Lord comes in to the places [and situations] that just seem "the end" to us, "the end" stops being "the end." It stops being hopeless. Today's passage of scripture is telling us this.

3. Upon hearing that Jesus came, Martha went to the edge of the village to meet him. Martha said to the Lord, "Oh Lord, had you been here for us, then my brother wouldn't have died." Jesus said to Martha in that state, "Your brother will rise from the dead." Whereupon Martha answers, "I know that he will rise from the dead at the time of the resurrection at the day of the end," (verse twenty-four).

4. "I know. I understand that." That's what Martha said. "He will rise from the dead at the time of the resurrection at the day of the end." That was the orthodox doctrine with the Pharisees within Judaism at that time back then. She knew that doctrine no doubt. But, the orthodox doctrine that she knew was of no help to her as she faced the reality of death. To this such a Martha Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, though he or she has died, will live. Anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six).

5. Jesus was not trying to explain the doctrine of the resurrection again to Martha while overcome with sorrow. He wasn't doing that, rather, he said, "I am." He was pointing to himself. -- Because it is not doctrine and explanations that [she] truly needed. What [she] truly needed was the savior, the savior named Jesus Christ who was announcing that "I am the resurrection and the life." When we gather in church just looking for teaching and doctrine, we will stop over in the same place as Martha did. When we gather in church seeking for the one named Jesus Christ, we will encounter the savior. And in our worlds, our "end" will no longer be "the end."

6. The Lord said, "I am the resurrection and the life." The Lord is saying that "I myself am the very resurrection and the very eternal life of which you are speaking." The resurrection is not at a far away distance called "the day of the end," and eternal life is not in some far away beyond. That's what the Lord says. The life of the resurrection comes right into this world that is filled with hopelessness. The person who believes in Jesus can have a share in eternal life, not "in that moment one day out there," but "here and now." When you receive eternal life, "Even if you have died, you live." When you receive eternal life, "You will never die."

In Exchange For My Own Life

7. Today I read to you up to that point. But there is more to this story. The miracle narrative continues with Jesus proceeding to the tomb in which Lazarus is buried and brings him back to life. Jesus goes to the tomb in which Lazarus is buried. The tomb is a cave and it is closed up by a stone. Jesus says, "Remove the stone!" When the people remove the stone, the Lord prays to God the Father and exclaims in a loud voice, "Oh Lazarus, come out!" The voice of Christ echoed into the tomb. The scripture says, "Whereupon, the man who was dead came out still having his hands and feet wrapped in the grave cloth."

8. I won't give the minor details on this miracle narrative. I would like to touch upon just one point, a pretty major one, which is that, what happened here results in the direct cause of the Jews' desire to kill [Jesus]. Beginning in verse forty-five the text reads as follows. "Many of the Jews who came to Mary and had witnessed what Jesus did believed on Jesus. But, among them, there were some who went to the Pharisees and informed them of what Jesus did," (verses forty-five and forty-six). Then this matter developed into a dispute in the [Jewish] supreme court. If they just left him alone doing these signs, then everybody would believe in him. It would expose the existing leadership to a crisis. That said then, the high priest's proposal was "Let's make the decision to have him killed." Because of that, in verse fifty-three it is written that "From that day on, they plotted to kill Jesus." We can make the case quite plausibly that this is nothing to be astonished about, but that it was the inevitable outcome to things; because after Jesus arrived at Lazarus' house in Bethany, the Lord was already put in great danger [before he performed this miracle]. Yes, he was. Jesus understood [exactly]. [He knew] where he was going. He knew that he was furthering his walk heading for [his] death on the cross.

9. Amid that tense situation, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." It is none other than the statement of the one who is going to the cross. Also, as the Lord heading to the cross, he performed this sign. It is written that Jesus "cried out with a loud voice" to Lazarus in the grave. This is the only place where this kind of expression is used about the Lord Jesus [in John's Gospel]*. Can't you feel the bloodcurdling, hair-raising part to it? Knowing what performing this sign would bring upon his own person, the Lord cried out with a loud voice. In a way, this is Jesus' deadly cry for dear life. In exchange for his own life, Jesus calls out Lazarus from the grave, "Oh Lazarus, come out!"

10. As a result then, we can say that this event became a sign. Eternal life is given to us through the very death of Christ. It is given to us in exchange for the death of Christ. It is the sign that points to this. That is the truth. It is. Christ hung on the cross in order to atone for our sins. He did it to bring us forgiveness of sin and to give us fellowship with God. This fellowship with God the Eternal One is truly the eternal life. When we are with the cross of Christ who gave us this eternal life, "Even if we died we live." Through the One who is the resurrection and the life, when we are in fellowship with God the Eternal One, "We will never die."

11. When I read this passage, I recall an old man I once met. I met him (I'll call him Mr Smith) about seven years ago. He was a very stubborn person. Severing himself off in all human relationships, he shut himself off in solitude. He lived just only in bed. His body was very emaciated as well. In his own room, on his bed, just weakening, dying, he was waiting for that hour. When I first met him, I did not have the feeling that this guy was alive. He seemed already dead.

12. But, after a number of times meeting with Mr Smith and while having conversations on the scriptures and other things with him, he remembered Jesus. He was actually a Christian who had been baptized in his thirties. For a long time he had been estranged from both the church and Jesus. But then, he remembered. -- That Christ hung on the cross for our sins. And that he gave us fellowship with God and he gave us eternal life. One day, when I was visiting him, with his face beaming he said, "Eternal life is with the cross of Christ, isn't it?"

13. He changed. It wasn't his personality. His personality, as usual, was stubborn and he gave a hard time to his helpers. But that's not that big of a deal. Something bigger happened. On his bed he began to live with hope. After that, whenever I called upon him in a visit, I would hold a communion service. As a matter of fact, it was hard for him to breathe, and when he spoke a little his breath became labored, so it was a really brief communion service. However, every time, whenever we met, he would be filled with joy and though with labored breath, he would say, "Sir, I have, you know, I have received the life of the resurrection. I have already received the life of eternity, eternal life." His body was weakening every time we met. But, Mr Smith was not walking on to his death, as a person who had already received eternal life, he was walking to the world where we will live with the Lord for ever without a doubt. "I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, though he or she has died, will live. Anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die." I was allowed to see these words of Jesus surely come true in this man.

14. "I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, though he or she has died, will live. Anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die." Jesus is saying this to us as well. And he says, "Do you believe?" When the Lord comes to us in the places that look like "the end" to us, it is no longer "the end." It's that way even with "death." The Lord asks the question, "Do you believe?" Let's believe in Jesus together, that he is the resurrection and the life! We will hold holy communion after this. Each one who has already received baptism, please step forward to Jesus, who says, "I am the resurrection and the life." Please receive the bread of eternal life from the hands of Jesus who says, "Anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die."

End Notes:

English readers: Take note that in Japanese the passive is used here; so that it is different from Matthew 27:50. The passive emphasizes the lordship of Jesus. The active voice used in Matthew is used of Jesus the man. Here in John at the grave of Lazarus it is Jesus the Lord crying out with a loud voice knowing that this act will initiate the plot for his life.