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On the occasion of the death of Joe Meyers.
This passage reminds us that though we live in a fallen world, Christ’s own death has fulfilled the promise of God not only to raise our bodies from the dead when he comes again, but to give us spiritual life that extends beyond death into eternity. Jesus’ delay was for the glory of God: to prove he held power over life and death, to establish the faith of many, and to confirm the unbelief of others.
A fallen world
In a fallen world, bad things happen. People get sick, people get hurt, people die. God had warned in the Garden, “If you eat of the forbidden tree, you shall surely die.” (Gen 2.17) But the disobedience of Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world. So sin and death have passed on to every generation of man. Because we are in Adam, “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” (Gen 3:19). Lazarus was loved by his sisters Mary and Martha, and by Jesus, but he caught a deathly illness and died. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but it was too late. When he came to them, they were not angry with Jesus. They both said, “Lord if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” But it was not a rebuke. It was a statement of faith and grief. They knew that if Jesus had arrived in time he could have healed Lazarus as easily as he healed the man born blind in John 9. But they also knew Jesus could not have arrived in time even if he had left immediately. It was a four day journey. They grieved because they believed their brother’s death was final, at least until the general resurrection when all faithful Jews would be physically raised from the dead. Their mistake was believing that life and death are only physical. They were right to believe in the physical resurrection of the dead on the last day. But they were missing something else. Jesus helped Mary understand when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. (v 25). He wanted her to believe resurrection and life are not merely impersonal actions or states of being. Resurrection and life are embodied in Jesus himself. He is the one who raises from the dead. He is the one who gives life. It’s a very different thing to believe there will be a resurrection, than it is to believe that a person will raise us from the dead. There’s a big difference between believing there is life after death and believing Jesus gives us spiritual life that survives physical death. One is an impersonal, the other is very personal. Jesus also wanted her to understand that even if a person dies physically, if they have placed their faith in Jesus, they will live on spiritually. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (vv 25-26) The Bible says we all begin life in this fallen world spiritually dead in sin. However, everyone who places their trust in Christ, he raises from spiritual death to spiritual life. For all who have received this spiritual life in Christ by faith, physical death is merely the gateway to further life of the kind that Jesus gives – eternal life. But Jesus asks for a response. He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” In other words, do you believe me? Do you believe what I’m telling you about who I am and what I can do? Martha reaffirms her faith in him when she says, “Yes, Lord; I believe you are the Christ,” “the Son of God” “who was to come into the world.” By this she means he is the Messiah which the Jews expected for centuries, he is in the closest relationship to God, and he is the Deliverer sent by God to perfectly accomplish his will. The question for us today is the same, “Do you believe this?” “Who do you say that he is?” Is he enough to save, to restore a fallen world?
A promise of resurrection and life
Jesus fulfills the promises of God. See what he does for them and what he will do for you. First, He comes personally to meet us in our time of trial and grief. Jesus delayed, but he did come to them. To us he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “I will be with you always even to the end of the age.” Second, He shares our anger and dismay over the fallen state of world. He was “outraged in spirit and troubled” both by the unbelief of the professional mourners and by what they represented, the fallen world in sin, sickness and death. He joins us in our anger with evil and injustice and death. Third, He shares the sadness of our loss.
“Jesus wept” when he came near the tomb. Jesus grieves with you as you grieve even now. He is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isa 53.3) He “collects our tears in a bottle.” (Psa 56.8) …he “sympathize(s) with our weaknesses.” (Heb.4:15) We are members of his body with whom we “weep with us as we weep” (Rom 12.15) Fourth, Jesus gives new life where there was death.
Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb that day proving that he had power over life and death and therefore is God. The result was that many believed that day.
Those faithful Jews who came from Jerusalem as friends of Mary believed and went back to their homes and shared what they had seen and heard. The disciples with Jesus believed. Mary, Martha and Lazarus believed. Fifth, by this miracle he set in motion his own death, so that his death might become our death to sin and that his resurrection might become the source of eternal life to all who trust in him.
Not all those Jewish onlookers believed. “…some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” They resolved with the high priest to kill Jesus. Caiaphas prophesied he would “die to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad.” Peter later reports that this was not a mistake, but according to God’s plan. “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:23-24) Jesus fulfilled the promises of God according to his predetermined plan. Could Jesus have healed Joe while he was lying in that hospital bed? Yes. Could Jesus have raised Joe from the dead? Sure, but like Lazarus he would just die again sometime. More important than physical life is resurrection life, eternal, spiritual life which is found by faith in Christ alone.
So is Christ enough in a fallen world? Yes! He has overcome the world! Is Christ enough to cover any guilt we might feel over not doing enough to help our loved ones? Yes there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Can Christ make the best of the horrible situation? Yes! “He causes all things to work together for the good for those who love the Lord and the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Many can come to Christ because of this event! Can Christ fulfill his promise of eternal life? Yes! He is the resurrection and the life. Everyone who lives and believes in him will never die. Paul reminds us when our work on earth is done, it is “better to be with the Lord.” “Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” 2 Co.1:20 Christ is enough!