Monday, 2 November 2015

‘Jesus reveals his glory by overcoming death’ (John 11)

One of the questions on Vikki’s questionnaire was, ‘what happens after death, in your opinion?’  One girl replied with the word ‘peace’ and the other with ‘heaven.’  Interestingly both these girls also said that they did not believe there is a god.  Clearly they had not given the question too much thought.  I wonder do students even think about death.

A chaplain at one Ireland’s universities thinks that Christians talk about death too much.  He wrote in the college newspaper that it was a misrepresentation of the Christian faith to see it as being all about a gateway to the afterlife.  He criticises an understanding of Christianity that centres on death–the death of Jesus and death of us.  He then he states ‘the crux of Christian faith is not the death of Christ.’

I am not sure that John would agree.  John records Jesus speaking about being lifted up, departing and his time/hour.  All these ideas have the cross in view.  Jesus speaks about being a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  He is portrayed as the Passover lamb that dies so that his people might be spared from the coming judgement.  He declares, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live.’  We need to get people thinking about death—Jesus’ death and our death!

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to display his glory (1-16)

Jesus is in Galilee when he receives a message from the tiny village of Bethany in Judea, two miles from Jerusalem.  The message concerns his close friend Lazarus.  Lazarus is seriously ill.  Jesus responds, ‘This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it (4).

You might think that the most loving thing Jesus could have done was jump on the fastest donkey and get to Bethany, but he delays.  He delays and by the time he arrives Lazarus will have been dead for four days.  The significance of this might lie in the fact that there was a popular superstition which held that the soul hovered over the body for three days.  Jesus wants people to be sure that Lazarus really was dead!  He delays because he wants people to see that he can raise the dead, and point to the fact that he himself will raise people up on the last day.  He takes the course of action that will best reveal God’s glory and his glory.

But never think that God’s glory is ever at the expense of those he loves.  He works all things together both for his glory and the ultimate good of those who love him.  His glory and your good, if you love him, are not in competition.  There is no doubt about his affection for Lazarus, who is described as the one you love (3).  Indeed, it is a proof of his love that he goes to be with the family in Bethany, for there were people in that area who wanted to stone him to death (8).  And the events that unfold will strengthen the faith of Lazarus, Martha and Mary and centuries of God’s people ever since as we face the inevitability of our mortality.

Jesus is the giver of life (17-27)

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him.  Lord ... if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask’ (21-22).  These are words of amazing faith.  Jesus assures her that Lazarus will be raised, but Martha thinks he is referring to the future resurrection of the dead.

Jesus then speaks the memorable words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (25-26).  These words are exclusive words.  His claims cannot be put alongside the claims of other religious leaders.  He alone is the resurrection and life.  It is only through him that life and resurrection are experienced.  This is an offensive truth in our tolerant society.  But Jesus has always said things that people find hard to accept, which is why people avoid his hard sayings.

John says that he records the signs that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name (20:31).  Martha has witnessed who Jesus is and what he has been doing and has had her eyes opened.  ‘Yes, Lord … I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world’ (27).

Life in Jesus is for now and for after death (28-44)

When Jesus arrives, finding Mary and those with her weeping, ‘he was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled’ (33).  Bible Commentaries explain that the word translated ‘deeply moved’ implies feeling something very strongly.  He was so outraged at what he saw that it made him weep.  But what exactly is it that causes him to be so upset?

His tears can’t simply be that Lazarus is dead, for he is about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Of course he cares about Mary and Martha’s pain, but surely he should be jumping up and down with joy that he is moments away from relieving their suffering.  There is something deeper going on.  He seems to be angry at the thought of death itself.  You see death is a testimony to the awful consequences of human evil.  In Genesis we see that death is the result of God’s curse on human rebellion.  As one preacher says, ‘Death is disgusting and is a poignant reminder of the price which is paid, for our pride and rebellion against our Maker.  It makes God weep and so it should us’ (Tinker).

The stone is taken away from the entrance to the tomb and Jesus looks up saying, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me … Lazarus, come out’ (42-43).  This is the seventh sign John records so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in his name.  The teaching of the New Testament is that all those who believe have already experienced resurrection—for Jesus calls the spiritually dead, condemned in evil and raises us to the new life of freedom from guilt, fellowship in his love and hope beyond death!  The great hope of Christians throughout the centuries lies in the anticipation of the great resurrection of the dead that will take place when Christ returns and establishes the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Eternal life was purchased by Jesus’ death (45-57)

That chaplain, I mentioned at the beginning, writing in his college magazine seems to think that we are wrong to put too much focus on Jesus as the key to the gateway to the afterlife.  But Jesus gives us that wonderful hope, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though they shall die, yet shall they live.’  What about his claim that the death of Jesus is not the crux of the Christian faith?  Again and again John shows that it is only because of the death of Jesus that eternal life, now and in the age to come, may be experienced by those who believe!  A little incident at the end of this story shows demonstrates this!

The raising of Lazarus caused a mixed reaction.  Many Jews who had come to visit Mary saw what Jesus had done and put their faith in him.  But others went to the Pharisees and told them what had happened.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Jewish ruling council.  They were worried.  If the Roman authorities got wind that the Jews were getting excited about a potential messiah there might be trouble.  So Caiaphas, the High Priest, gives some advice.  ‘You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’  Jesus needs to be got rid of for the greater good.  What Caiaphas didn’t realise was that he was prophesying that Jesus would die as a substitute for his people.

Jesus died as a substitute for our guilt.  It is crucial that we see this if we are to grasp the extent of God’s love.  ‘I’ve heard it said that the Bible is the ultimate love story, this being the case Jesus’ death on the cross is a complete and full sign of God’s love for humanity’ (Ruth Kingston).


I asked one student, who claims to be an atheist, if he ever thinks about death.  He answered, ‘not really … I suppose it seems a long way off.’  I don’t know if all students feel that way.

However, even if those around us are denying the inevitable, we must pray that God awakens people to the realities beyond the grave.  For remembering the realities heaven and hell will add focus and urgency to our evangelism.  Pondering the beauty of what is to come will make us more effective Christians in this world.  ‘Nothing fits a person to be more useful on earth than to be more ready for heaven’ (Piper).  Finally, we want to focus on Christ’s death and the resurrection life he offers because it brings glory to the Father and the Son to speak of how Christ died to give people life now and for ever.
There awaits for God’s people a realm of unsurpassed joy, unfading glory, undiminished bliss, and unending pleasure (MacArthur).  One day we will join with the heavenly choir to praise the lamb who was slain.  There will be nothing boring or humdrum in the New Heaven and the New Earth.  We will have unbroken fellowship with all its inhabitants.  There will be no more sorrows, cares, tears and fears.  But the greatest thing of all is the fact that we will experience perfect intimacy with God who loved us and gave his Son that we might dwell with him for ever.         

No comments: