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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Life in Christ Jesus


 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”" John 11:25-26


Jesus Christ was a truly wonderful teacher. People recognised this. The gospel writers, Mark and Luke, record the same incident of a man who ‘ran up to him and fell on his knees before him’. This man said, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Mark 10:17). In the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as translated in the NIV, Jesus is addressed by men and women as ‘teacher’ over forty times. In the AV, the word ‘master’ is used. Jesus was the master at being a teacher. There are another fourteen verses where Jesus is called ‘Rabbi’. The Oxford dictionary tells me that a Rabbi is ‘a Jewish scholar or teacher, especially one who studies or teaches Jewish Law’. When we think of a Rabbi, we probably imagine someone who has gone to a theological college to learn the contents of the Hebrew Scriptures. But, you don’t qualify as a ‘good teacher’ by just having lots of knowledge, or by knowing where other people need to get to in their thinking. You need to know where they are currently at, in their thinking on a subject, in order to progress them towards the goal of greater understanding. Jesus did not attend college. But Jesus was qualified. Jesus knew the Old Testament like no other man. Jesus knew its contents. Jesus understood its fullest meaning. And Jesus was able to convey God’s truth to others. Not only because he understood that truth, but also because he understood people. John 2:25 says this about Jesus, ‘He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person’. The first four books of our New Testament are full of examples of Jesus leading people into truth. Often he would pose a question and get an answer. But then he would pose another question and get a more developed answer.

Sometimes he would say something contrary to established belief, which encouraged people to question him. Tim recently did a message on the Samaritan woman that Jesus once met at a well, recorded in John 4. That conversation is a prime example of the ability that Jesus had, to move someone from the darkness of preconceived error, into the glorious light of saving truth. Last time I did the message, we looked at some things related to the ascension of Jesus into heaven. We considered some things from John’s Gospel, chapters 14-17, where Jesus had a long conversation with his disciples about the things that were soon to take place. At the start of John 14 (v.1-6), Jesus tells them that he was going to heaven, ‘to prepare a place for you’. He also said, ‘I will come back and take you to be with me...’ Then, in a great example of the master that Jesus was, he drew a question out of one of his followers, named Thomas. Jesus said, ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’. Thomas was puzzled and responded with, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ This was the opportunity that Jesus was seeking. He replied with a profound truth, ‘I am the way’. He then added this, ‘... and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Christians refer to this as one of the ‘I am’ statements of Jesus found in John’s gospel.


My plan is to do a short series linked to these statements. There are generally considered to be seven of them. Actually, there are several more times in John’s account of the life of Jesus, where John records him saying ‘I am’. But these seven stand out as different, because Jesus likens himself to things in unexpected ways. Three of the seven, like the one already mentioned, contain the word, ‘life’. In John 6:35, Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’. In our passage today, Jesus says to his friend Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ So, why are these statements only recorded by John, and not by the other gospel writers? John helps us to answer this question by what he says right at the end of his book. He finishes with this verse. ‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written’ (John 21:25). John is saying that there was much, much more that he could have said. John had chosen the details for his account that he thought were the most relevant to the message that he wanted to get across to people.


If two people wrote an account of the same event, the details recorded would be different. Each person would notice things differently, and have a different view on what was significant. It is like this. A couple of years ago, I went to Durham with my family. We experienced the same day. Let’s say that my wife, Rowena, gave you her account of that day. You would hear stories about people, because she loves people. You would hear about the difficult circumstances faced by the homeless in that city, and about the number of Gregg’s sausage rolls, and cups of tea, which she handed out, while engaging in conversation with some of these destitute men and women. In my account, you would hear about the number of bicycles that I saw. Because I love bicycles! Our accounts of the same thing would not be the same. My wife loves people. I love bikes. John loved life. Or, more accurately, he loved the word ‘life’. When I see a bicycle go past, I notice it. When John, who was one of the twelve, original disciples of Jesus, heard Jesus say the word ‘life’, he made a mental note.


This can be illustrated by a little counting that I did across the four gospels. In the first six chapters of Matthew’s account, so, by the end of chapter six, Matthew has used the word, ‘life’, four times. By the end of Mark chapter six, he has used it twice, and Luke has only used it once. So, in the first six chapters of the other three accounts, we have a total of seven appearances of this word. What is seven times four? It’s twenty eight. And, yes, by the end of John chapter six, this word, ‘life’, has already made twenty eight appearances. Another thing that was really important to John was the divinity of Jesus. To be divine is to be like God. Jesus was evidently a man. People did not need convincing of this. But John believed that this was far from being the full story. He believed that Jesus had been with God always. He believed that Jesus, despite being human in his very nature, was also the same as God as well. John refers to Jesus as ‘the Word’. He begins his book with this message, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind'. (John 1:1-4). Four verses in, and John has already used the word ‘life’, twice! John is on a mission to convince people about the essential character of his friend Jesus. This is another reason why he particularly remembered these ‘I am’ statements. When someone begins a sentence with ‘I am’, we know that they are going to tell us something about themselves. John wants us to hear what Jesus said about Jesus.


So, let us look at today’s passage. Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ There was a family of siblings, living in Bethany, which Jesus had a very close relationship with. We are told that Jesus ‘loved’ them (v.5). The brother, called Lazarus, was very poorly and, ‘so the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is ill”’ (v.3). ‘When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death...’ (v.4). Did Jesus get this wrong? We have read this chapter and Lazarus definitely dies. But Jesus says, ‘it will not end in death’. Death occurs, but that isn’t the end of the story. Lazarus is raised to life! There is another sentence, which at first glance appears very conflicting. After being told that Jesus had received this urgent call for help from these people, that he apparently loved, we read in verse 6, ‘So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days.’


If you called me on a Wednesday, asking me for urgent help, and I said, ‘Yes, I will come straight away, as soon as I have done my shopping on Friday evening’, you would, quite rightly, question my love for you. Jesus behaves in an unexpected way. He does move to Bethany, but he moves at a time and pace that initially seems puzzling, and we aren’t alone in thinking this way. When one of the sisters, called Martha, hears that Jesus is heading their way, ‘she went out to meet him’. She says ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (v.20-21). I think this is Martha’s indirect way of saying, ‘Lord, why weren’t you here when we needed you to be here?’ Martha’s sister Mary says the same thing as Martha when she also meets Jesus (v.32).


Then, we get to the shortest verse in the whole of our Bible translation. Just nine letters in two words, but so full of meaning. Children, when you are upset and someone unkindly tells you that ‘only babies cry’, then turn to John 11 and verse 35. It says this, ‘Jesus wept’. When he reached the tomb of his friend, surrounded by grieving people, Jesus, the God-Man, the most wonderful, powerful man, who ever walked the face of this earth, started to cry. The response was this, ‘Then 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?”’ (v.36-37). There is a lot of ‘second guessing’ of Jesus in this chapter. Martha and Mary and others all question how Jesus had moved in this situation. Does it remind us of anyone? It reminds me of me! How often do we question why the Lord has moved in the way which he has, when we struggle to understand the way that events have unfolded in our lives? Has the Lord got it wrong, we wonder? Did Jesus get it wrong here? When we read this account to the end, we see the truth. When the question was asked, of whether our Lord had got it wrong, those asking that question had got it wrong. Jesus had got it right. Once again, the wonderful truth of Psalm 18:30 shines through. ‘As for God, his way is perfect...


If Jesus had arrived on the scene quicker, he could have displayed healing power from God. It would have shown love as well. But by coming in the Lord’s time, he revealed love and power on another level altogether, and people needed to understand this. This was ‘out of this world’ power. Because Jesus was not of this world. In John 8:23, we have an ‘I am’ statement, that isn’t considered to be one of the ‘I am’ statements! Jesus says, ‘I am not of this world.’ Keeping Lazarus alive and healing his sickness would have been great. Raising Lazarus from the dead was beyond great. And, during these things happening, we have another wonderful example of the masterful teaching of Jesus, as he leads Martha to greater understanding of who her friend really was. It is as if he takes Martha by the hand, and leads her away from that position of thinking that he had just turned up a bit too late, to realising the truth that Jesus Christ was not constrained by time, or even by the apparent finality of death. He was ‘the resurrection’; life after death was within this man. Here, in this account, Jesus does not tell Martha that he is going to die and rise again. That event was going to happen in the near future. It had not yet taken place. But, Jesus informs Martha that he already is what he is. ‘I am the resurrection.’ Before he rose triumphant from the grave, Jesus is already ‘the resurrection’.


The resurrection isn’t just an upcoming event. The resurrection is a person. How could Jesus rise from the dead? Because, in that ‘God part’ of his character, he already possessed the everlasting. Jesus proves it. He heads towards the burial place of a man who has been dead for four days already and commands him to ‘come out!’ Martha is concerned. ‘By this time there is a bad odour’, she says (v.39). One thing we know about Jesus Christ is that bad odours didn’t stop him. The filthy stench of sin was what brought him to this earth. In his dying hours, he chose to grapple with the awful foulness of every shortcoming which belonged to those that would believe in his name. Jesus is unchanged and unchanging. Hebrews 13:8 tells us this, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.’ ‘I am the resurrection’, still applies to our Lord. If the reviving power of his command could resuscitate to life a four day, dead man then what can he not bring back to life? This question is really relevant to us now, as believers in Christ Jesus. Our hope for eternal life rests in his resurrection. But is all our hope resting in him who said, ‘I am the resurrection?


In this country people are starting to think about getting back to normal as the COVID-19 vaccination program races on. I saw a newspaper headline yesterday that took up half the page. It read ‘Smile! No masks by the summer’. The message was that everything is going to be alright again very soon. But is this true? What about the impact on people’s mental health, of social contact restrictions for over a year? What about the anxiety that has been experienced by many people during the monotonous hours spent indoors, day after day, month after month? What about lockdown fatigue and its effect on our motivation? ‘What about my “mojo”?’ we may ask. ‘I last saw it in October 2020, when it walked out of my house, down my street and off into the sunset!’ Will it be as easy to remove all these issues when we remove our masks?


And, then, there was the newspaper’s small print. The headline, of the good news of mask removal, was unmissable. But the reality was hidden in much smaller letters elsewhere. ‘Masks and other measures may be needed next winter.’ The hope of the Lord’s people must not be in newspaper headlines. Let our hope be in this Bible headline - ‘I am the resurrection’. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, and there is no small print that takes away from this amazing claim of Jesus. What about our getting back to normal? How are our lives going to be revived? What about the strain upon our family relationships during this time – parents with children, wives with husbands, and so on? How can the broken or strained be repaired? What about church fellowships? Some of us have been forced to leave church fellowships during this period. Some have experienced church fellowships breaking down around them. How can the diminished local body of believers ever be expected to grow again? Some are planning to plant new churches from nothing. How is that going to happen? We live in an age where unbelief seems triumphant. Multitudes of people believe that the notion of the existence God is over and done with. Surely, it is madness to expect to reach the unreachable with the claims of Jesus Christ; to bring life where there is only darkness and deadness? What is the point? What hope can we have? That is a lot of questions to answer before the end of this message! Thankfully, for believers, the same answer applies to every one of those questions. The answer is this – ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Jesus told Martha this, and then added, ‘The one who believes in me will live,even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ May our hope be Martha’s and our answer be the same. She said, ‘Yes Lord, I believe’. ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God...’ (v.27).

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