This week, in our look at the seven “I AMs” of Jesus in John’s gospel, we see one of my favorites. Thus far, Jesus has said he is the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate to the sheepfold, and the good shepherd. This week, Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
I Am the Resurrection and the Life
Lazarus is dead. And not just a little dead – four days dead. The head-scratcher for those involved is that Jesus knew Lazarus was terribly ill. We are told so in John 11:4. We also know that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. We are told so in verse five.
This is the same Mary and Martha who invited Jesus into their home when a little spat arose because Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach rather than help with the preparations. This is the same Mary who perfumed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair. The history between Jesus and this family is rich.
And then we see this:
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. – John 11:6, ESV
This is deliberate.
Jesus and his disciples were roughly twenty miles from where Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were. Given Jesus’ demonstrated miraculous abilities, his love for the family, and the distance to the unfolding story, it is astonishing that Jesus and the disciples did not set out immediately.
The desperate message of Lazarus’ illness was sent directly by Mary and Martha, and in response, Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death.” Yet Lazarus died. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for some time, long enough for decay and strong odor to have set in (John 11:39).
The Key Exchange
So, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:20–27, ESV
The roles of the sisters now seem reversed. It is Martha who is speaking with the teacher while Mary is elsewhere. Jesus had to call Mary to come to him (John 11:29) which, of course, she did. And when she did so, she said the very same thing to Jesus that Martha said when she first met him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32).
Each of the sisters is viewing death as the end, the irreversible barrier. If, Jesus . . . if you had been here, but no. Now it is all over. Our brother is dead. Given that they both said the same thing to Jesus, it seems likely that they had said this to one another many times over the previous four days. If only. But now all hope is lost. “If” can be such an empty word.
Prior to Mary’s arrival, Martha expressed what seems to be a deep faith in Jesus.
But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. – John 11:22, ESV
It is difficult to reconcile this with her not understanding when Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.” When we are in the throes of deep grief, logic easily eludes us. It is perhaps asking too much for Martha to rationally walk through the possibilities, making perfect sense with everything she says. The inconsistency in her expressions sounds very much like the father of the demon-possessed boy who asked Jesus for a healing, “I do believe! Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
In response to Jesus’ direct statement, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha confirmed her faith in the hotly-debated topic of the resurrection of the dead. It may be that she was thinking of Daniel’s prophecy on the subject.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. – Daniel 12:2-3, ESV
Or, perhaps she is recalling her own experience with Jesus. It may be that she has heard him speak of the resurrection before.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:28-29, ESV
It seems Martha took Jesus’ statement as an attempt to console her with the thought that Lazarus will rise one day in the future.
Jesus: Your brother will rise again.
Martha: I know he will rise again someday in the coming resurrection.
Jesus: Martha, I AM the resurrection!!
– My speculative paraphrase with emphasis.
Jesus has brought home the reality of the resurrection like a thunderbolt. It is a reality upon which the entirety of the Christian faith is built. Yes, death is real, but death is overcome! It is overcome not through a doctrine, but through a man!
I want to close this blog posting with some thoughts from a great theologian and teacher, Warren Wiersbe.
We realize that we are saved by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and not by a doctrine written in a book. When we know Him by faith, we need not fear the shadow of death. When you are sick, you want a doctor and not a medical book or a formula. When you are being sued, you want a lawyer and not a law book. Likewise, when you face your last enemy, death, you want the Saviour and not a doctrine written in a book. In Jesus Christ, every doctrine is made personal. When you belong to Him, you have all that you ever will need in life, death, time, or eternity!
– Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 336). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.