John 11:17-27 | Something Better Than the Resurrection | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 11:17–11:27
I’d ask you to open your Bibles to John 11. The text for the morning: John 11:17-27. We’re in this series called The End of Death. Jesus raises a man from the dead. And those of you who grew up understanding the Bible, knowing the Bible, don’t let those words kind of become routine to you. Jesus raised a man from the dead. That’s rather amazing. It’s what we put all our stock in, all our hope in, that he has the power to do that.
But this morning I’ve entitled the message “Something Better Than the Resurrection.” You might ask yourself, what in the world could be better than a resurrection, which points to eternal life. And that’s the question I want you asking, because the truth—the answer will come out in these verses.
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 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.”
We learn about something better than a resurrection in these passages and it will become more clear as we walk through it together. But new information often changes our outlook. We might be sad or upset or concerned about something, get some information, and that kind of lifts our spirits. This kind of happens all throughout the world in a number of ways.
You know of medical studies and studies about diet and things like that. Information changes and we learn more and we come away with that being a help. For instance, coconut oil at one point was known to be bad. Coconut oil. Saturated fat. Body bomb that should be avoided. That’s old information. New information says coconut oil can cure what ails you. Okay. Who knew?
Coffee—back in the day—bad. Coffee equals caffeine, which equals bad for you. Now coffee is loaded with anti-oxidants and other nutrients that improve your health. Good. And many of you have your spirits lifted because I said coffee is good. You know, by the way, that water is the most important element in the earth, right? Because without it you can’t make coffee. You know that.
But new information raises our spirits sometimes, excites us, enlivens us. And we see this happen to Martha. She is downcast. Her brother has died. And even in her first words in this passage, we don’t get this reflection, we don’t get this understanding that she is hopeful and excited. That doesn’t come until the end. So, what is it that she learns in the process? Why go from, I know in this promise but it seems far off, to this strong declaration: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who’s coming into the world.
What changes in Martha? Well, it’s the same thing that I hope changes in us when we go through trials. It’s the same thing. And that will become more clear as we go through it. For this morning, I want you to see four stages in the discovery of what is better than the resurrection. What brings us from grief to trust? What is it?
Well, there are stages. Going from grief to trust and hope and joy and expectation—that comes in stages. When you’re in a trial, you don’t just quote a Bible verse to yourself, and wow—instantly better. We wish that would happen, but it doesn’t always happen. Why? Well, I believe the reason is huge and it’s found in this passage. So, this morning four stages in the discovery of what is better than the resurrection.
1. What We Feel
Here’s the first stage: What we feel. You’re in a trial; at the end of the trial you’re going to come out hopeful, trusting, excited about where you’re at with the Lord. But at the beginning of that trial, when something is taken away, maybe even in a death like Martha was experiencing, the first stage is just simply, I don’t feel well. I’m sad. I’m grieving.
And we see that first stage with Martha. Verse 17 sets the context for us. “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” Now, if you weren’t here three weeks ago, the last time we were in John 11, just to kind of set the context for you, Jesus was beyond the Jordan River. Jesus was very far away from Bethany. Jesus loved this family, Martha’s family, with her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus. He loved this family.
Lazarus was ill to the point of being close to death. A messenger is sent from the home of Mary and Martha to Jesus to say, the one you love is sick, is ill; and obviously, Jesus would have known that that means significantly sick to the point of being close to death. So, they send for Jesus and Jesus does what none of us would do when a loved one is sick. Jesus doesn’t bolt and leave; Jesus stays and tells the disciples that it is good that I stay. Jesus knows something about what’s going to happen, about what he’s going to do.
But then after two days, Jesus leaves to come to Bethany. Now, it would have taken Jesus two days to get there, so that’s why we know it’s now the fourth day. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Once a person died in the ancient Near East, they buried them rather quickly. So, he’s in the tomb for four days. He’s been dead for four days and that’s the context we drop into verse 17.
Now, why is four days significant? It’s very significant because the Jewish thought was that the soul stayed close to a dead body for three days. So now, in a sense, in the Jewish mindset, it’s four days; Lazarus really is dead. This is final. This is final. Jesus knows what he’s doing here. It’s better that he comes four days after than two days or even three to show that he has the power over even the finality of death.
Verse 18: “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brothers.” The Jews do what religious leaders and Jewish believers or Jewish people of the day did. They went to console people. This is a very godly thing to do. We’re told over and over in the Old Testament and the New Testament to weep with those who weep, to console people who are hurting and suffering, and the Jews know that, at least. They do that.
But it’s interesting, in verse 18, the word order in the Greek measures this distance from Jerusalem to Bethany. Now, Jesus is coming from beyond the Jordan River to Bethany and he’s two miles from Jerusalem. But the text wants you to know that Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It’s starts with Jerusalem because it wants you to know the people who hate Jesus and, last we learned of them, wanted to stone him and kill him, are only—they’ve only traveled two miles away. He’s coming into the heat. He’s coming into the pressure. He’s coming to Bethany. Jerusalem is only two miles away. John wants us to know that.
Verse 20: “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.” Mary was seated because that’s where you would be in a home. That’s what you would be doing in a home as you were receiving those offering you condolences. You can picture Mary and Martha both sitting there as people from Jerusalem, and their neighbors are coming and putting a hand on the shoulder. People encouraging them maybe with Psalm 16 or other Old Testament Scriptures, saying things that Mary and Martha already knew, but it wasn’t really changing anything for them. They were sad, still heartbroken.
They’re sitting there. Martha hears that Jesus is coming. Martha gets up and leaves. Mary stays seated. This is just like those sisters, by the way. In Luke 10, we learn that when Jesus was coming to their house, Martha was preparing the meals and getting the house ready and doing everything and she was doing all the work and Mary was sitting over there listening to Jesus teach.
And Martha rebukes Jesus, not Mary. She rebukes Jesus for the fact that Mary’s just sitting there, and I’m doing all this work. Jesus then rebukes Martha and says, Mary’s chosen what’s best. But this is just like the sisters. Mary sitting there quiet; Martha hears Jesus is coming and, in her grief, gets up and runs to him. There’s nothing bad about that necessarily. Martha gets up and she goes to Jesus, the one she sent for but who didn’t come in time. She heard that he was coming, got up and left.
Martha—both of them—but Martha, in this case, is mourning. She tried to get Jesus to come in time but it didn’t work. And now, picture Martha leaving her home. The mourners are all there. There’s lots of people there. It’s loud. Ladies in the home are wailing, which is what the Jewish ladies would have done—wailing. There’s loud sorrow. Martha goes out, feeling empty, still with tears in her eyes, hearing Jesus coming, going to meet him. But he’s too late. But she’s still going to meet him. She feels that emptiness. She’s lost her brother.
Verse 21: “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” Now, commentators wonder—is that a rebuke? [Angry tone] Lord, if you would have been here, he wouldn’t have died. Or is it just a statement of fact? Lord, if you would have been here, he wouldn’t have died. We don’t know, so I’m not going to surmise. But at the very least we know that she regrets that he wasn’t there. She’s sad that he wasn’t there.
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt or experienced the loss of someone close to you and you’ve asked the question or made the statement, if only they wouldn’t have left at that time, they wouldn’t have been in the accident. If only they would have stayed longer or left quicker, they would have avoided this or that. We do that in pain, right? Not even in death, but if only I would have sent that email, maybe I would have gotten the job. But we didn’t get the job.
“If” is huge in life. If only this would have happened, then the outcome would have been different. But have you ever considered, when you live under the rule of a sovereign God, there’s no such thing as “if.” “If” never could have happened because God didn’t ordain for it to happen.
Jonathan Edwards used to say that saying “if only” and pointing to some other circumstance as if that were to happen, it’s almost as if God would have to create the world all over again. Because he never determined for that thing to happen. But we often try to console ourselves with “if.” If only I wouldn’t have done that, this wouldn’t have happened. But you did do that and it did happen. We’ve just got to deal with that and go from there. But sometimes we try to console ourselves with “if.”
And maybe you’ve lost a loved one and you thought, if only they would have followed the doctor’s advice or done this or that, then we’d be celebrating Christmas this year or whatever it may be. And I understand the need to want that comfort and you want to imagine that happening, but the reality is, they’re not there. Lazarus isn’t there, and Martha is sad and grieving and just tells the Lord, if you’d have been here, my brother would not have died.
Now, this would be a sad place to end the account, but thank God, Jesus ministers to Martha just like I hope he’s ministering or will minister to our souls as we go through the rest of these verses. There’s nothing wrong, by the way, with Martha’s grief. Don’t look at Martha and go, oh, she’s frantic; she left and went to be with Jesus and tell him, if you would have been here, everything would have been fine. And Mary was kind of calm and just sitting there waiting. No, no, believers are different. Some believers grieve staying there, quiet; some go and they talk to Jesus and just let it all out through tears. Believers are different. Both are okay. Martha goes before Jesus hurting, talking to him, telling him what would be different if he would have been here earlier.
There’s very little comfort at this point, very little comfort. The only comfort she can find is a hypothetical situation that was never ordained by the Lord. That’s the only place she finds comfort at this point. So, she feels something deeply, and that’s what we do when we go through a trial. At the very beginning: This hurts. What we feel is the first stage.
2. What We Know
Second stage: What we know. What we feel. What we know. In our progression of learning what’s better than the resurrection, we go through this: What we feel; secondly, what we know. Verse 22: “But even now,” Martha continues, “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Now Martha is displaying a certain level of trust in Jesus. Even now whatever you ask from God, God will give you. She’s saying, I know you can still bring some good out of it.
Now, this isn’t Martha saying, I know that you’re going to raise him from the dead; you’re going to call his name; he’s going to come out of the tomb. I know you’re going to do that. We know that because later on—we’ll see this in a couple weeks—he’s going to call Lazarus out of the tomb. He tells them to move the stone, and she says, Lord, what are you doing? It stinks at this point.
She doesn’t know—oh, I get it; you’re going to raise him from the dead tomorrow, today. She doesn’t get that. But she knows enough about God to know that Jesus, you can bring some good out of this. I know that whatever you ask, God will give you. Maybe she’s thinking about the future resurrection of the dead. We know she believed in that based on the next statement she makes. Maybe she’s thinking, Lord, if you would have been here, it would have been different, but I know that one day he’ll rise again in the resurrection of the dead. I know that if you ask of God, he’ll give it to you. It’s that type of knowledge. She’s trying to hold onto something biblical. It’s not really warming her heart, but she’s at least trying to hold onto the little that she knows.
Jesus said to her, your brother will rise again; and you’d expect Martha to go, are you kidding me? Bring it on. She doesn’t do that because she’s not expecting that he means right now. She thinks he means years later, maybe centuries later, maybe millennia later. So, that does bring some hope, but that doesn’t really fix the pain today. It still hurts.
Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. You can hear in Martha’s voice a little bit of hope, But Jesus, with all due respect, today I hurt. Today I hurt; someday he’ll rise again. A little bit of hope but still a lot of hurt. She says what she knows. She probably says what maybe some of the Pharisees who were just at her home comforting her were saying to her. Maybe they’re going through saying, God will work this out. Maybe they’re going through putting their hand on her shoulder saying, he’ll rise again one day in the final resurrection. And they’re saying things like that that should bring some comfort, but it doesn’t mean all the pain is taken away. Right?
You’ve gone through trials and people will send you cards with Bible verses that are meant to encourage and should encourage and can encourage. And they do bring some encouragement, but the pain still doesn’t completely leave yet. And that’s what she’s going through.
So, she knows a little. We know a little. We go through trials and we know things. I know Psalm 23. I know about his presence, his comforting presence with me in 2 Corinthians 3. I know those things, but I’m still hurting.
It’s interesting she says those words: I know. Jesus says to her—and now we know the end of the story, right? It’s kind of hard—we know the end of the story—to feel the early parts of the story, but act as if you don’t know the end of the story. And Jesus says to her, your brother will rise again. And Jesus means for that to be—ahhhh—big statement. And she goes, I know; I know.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to teach a teenager something. Teach a teenager how to change a tire. And I know, I know, I know. Okay, junior, go at it. And then they start to change the tire and the first thing they do is jack up the car; then they try to take the lug nuts off, and they’re wondering why the wheel keeps spinning around—the tire keeps spinning around. Well, okay. Listen, you need to leave the car on the ground first, loosen the lug nuts, then jack it up so it doesn’t just keep spinning. And you would expect them to say, thank you for that wisdom. I am but a few years; you are many years. They don’t say that, do they? What do they say? I know. With all due respect, junior, if you knew, the wheel wouldn’t be spinning around.
But we do that, right? We’re hurting. You know, the Lord laid this verse on my heart and I was thinking of you as I was reading it this morning; and we jot it down and send it to them and then we kind of get an: I know; I know. But it doesn’t have the impact that maybe it should.
Her theological knowledge is not changing anything for her. Have you ever been there? You know things, but it’s not changing anything for you. I wonder if you ever feel that way. You’re going through a trial and nothing seems to encourage you, not even God’s word. What could you be missing? What could Martha be missing?
Listen to J. C. Ryle:
There is a matter here [he’s talking about this passage] which deserves close consideration of all true Christians. Many of them [many of us] complain of a lack of sensible comfort in our religion. They do not feel the inward peace which they desire. Let them know that vague and indefinite views of Christ are too often the cause of their perplexities. We are, many of us, sadly like Martha. A little general knowledge of Christ as the only Savior is often all that we possess; but the fullness that dwells in him, of his resurrection, his priesthood, his intercession, his unfailing compassion we have tasted little or nothing at all.
To be honest, when you go through a trial, little verses, sometimes plucked out of context, don’t often minister to us. But you know what does is constant, day-by-day deep understanding of exactly who he is and what he does for his own and how he loves them and how he cares for them and even how he brings them through trials for a greater reason. But listen, that takes longer. That’s inefficient. But that’s where the true hope is found. Little Christian slogans don’t fix much. Deep theological knowledge of who he is and how he loves and how he works through evil and pain and grief for good, that starts to change a countenance.
Martha didn’t know this at this point. She didn’t understand that. But she’s going through these stages and she’s going to learn that.
3. Who He Is
So, first we’ve seen at the very beginning what she felt and what we feel. Then we see what we know, and oftentimes it’s not enough, it feels like. But the third stage is so important. The third stage, as we develop this understanding of how great he is, is who he is. Who he is. What we feel, what we know, and who he is. This is where things start to change.
Verse 25: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And I want to draw this out for you. Don’t forget the verse that came before it. Martha said to him (verse 24), I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Now, answer this question for me, in your mind: Who is she leaving out of verse 24? I know, God, I know this promise. There’s an Old Testament promise that says Lazarus will rise again one day in the future resurrection of the dead. There’s no Jesus in her statement. There’s no God in her statement. It’s just, I know this is going to happen, according to the Bible.
That’s often how we feel. But then Jesus takes her eyes off of future Old Testament prophecy, which is true; he takes her eyes off of that and tries to help her see that that prophecy is rooted in me, Martha. Martha, look in my eyes. I, the one you’re talking to, the one who loves you, the one who came to you, the one who’s been a friend to you all these years, the one who loves your brother—I am the resurrection and the life.
Jesus is trying to take her knowledge of the Bible and personalize it. That’s what he’s trying to do. He takes her focus off of a future event and places it onto his present person. She’s been trusting in the final resurrection from the dead. He wants her to trust in him.
Truth—biblical truth is important. Biblical truth is everything, but let me say this: Biblical truth should never keep us from enjoying the sweet, personal fellowship we have with Christ. Here’s what I mean by that. I’ll use an illustration for an example. There are a lot of people who are truth people. We’re theology people; we’re doctrine people. And I wear the T-shirt of that group. I’m in that group, but you can be a truth person and miss the personal comfort and closeness of Christ and therefore not really have the full truth.
I have a friend who was candidating to go to a church, and this elder board was very happy to have him come to the church. They were excited about this. And he met with the elder board the first time—actually, one of the last times he visited them before he moved there to be their pastor. He met with them and they said, We’re so glad you’re here to preach truth. We need to preach truth; this town needs the truth, and truth, truth, truth. And he heard a lot of truth, but he didn’t hear people talk about Christ very much. So, he respectfully told the elders, he said, you know the truth is a person. It’s a person. Yes, we’re for theological precision and doctrine because we’re about Jesus, and that’s how he was and how he spoke and he still speaks.
The truth is a person. Martha’s been thinking about truth and it hasn’t been doing a lot. Jesus wants her to think of his person. The truth is meant to be connected to his person.
Edwards says this: “He that has doctrinal knowledge only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” Whew. He that has doctrinal knowledge only—I’s dotted, T’s crossed—he that has doctrinal knowledge only, without affection, from the heart, never is engaged in the business of religion. Jesus is trying to show Martha true religion, true relationship with her creator.
He’s not trying to take her eyes off of her Old Testament, by the way. He’s not doing that. Oh, all of that theology stuff doesn’t matter. What you need is just a personal relationship with Jesus. Please don’t ever say that. That theology stuff is important because it is the word of God. But he’s trying to show her it’s not just up here and out there; it’s right here in front of you. That’s why later Jesus will say, I’m the way, I’m the truth, the life. Jesus told her that he is the resurrection and the life. He’s personalizing these promises that she has.
And he made some promises rooted in himself. Whoever believes in me, though he die, will live. Martha, though you will physically die, though your brother has physically died, he’ll live, because of me. Not just, he’ll live because of the Old Testament. He’ll live because of me. Ps. 17:15: “As for me [this is a person, this is a created being saying this—David], I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” David is thinking about his death and then resurrection, and he’s thinking about it in connection with what he sees, and what he sees is God.
He’s not just excited about heaven; he’s not just excited that he’ll live forever; he’s excited about seeing God. David gets it. David gets what Jesus wanted Martha to get. This is about God, Christ, the relationship she has with him. And that’s why she can hope and trust in the resurrection. Don’t just hope in some promises far off; hope in a promise that’s connected to the person and work of God himself because he loves you, Martha, Mary, believer here this morning.
And he goes on: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” So, if you live and believe in me, you’ll never die. And obviously, he’s talking about spiritual death here, because physically we know people die, but then they live. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. And it happens immediately. But then he says, those who believe in me will never die. You’ll never die spiritually. You’ll always be alive.
And then he says this: “Do you believe this?” And again, he’s not trying to just give her some theological knowledge. True or false, Martha, here’s your theology test: A person believes in the Messiah, then they’ll never die. They believe in the Messiah, they’ll always live—true or false, Martha? Well, true. You’re right. That’s not what he’s doing. I’m the resurrection and the life. You die; it’s not the end; you’ll live again. You believe in me? You’ll never die. Do you believe that? He’s asking her to believe in him, believe in the truth that’s united to him.
Listen, Martha had the written word of God. She had the Old Testament scrolls that were in her family’s synagogue. She had those. She had the written word of God. She needed the incarnate God. She needed the incarnate God who is one and the same.
You know, we celebrate Christmas at this time. Imagine the shepherds being led by the star going to the trough, seeing some swaddling clothes kind of hanging out of the trough, maybe damp and wet and it’s cold, and they’re kind of walking to it and they kind of see it and they see the clothes kind of hanging out. They don’t see the baby yet. They go up to it a little closer and they pull back the clothes—not too close—it’s a newborn, so stay away just a little bit. Watch the germs. But they go, they get a little closer, they open the swaddling clothes, and they see … a piece of paper. And it says, “God will forgive the world of its sin.” Well, that’s good news. That’s great news actually, because the world doesn’t deserve that, and God doesn’t have to give that. But he did. He sent a decree down to us. No, he did much better. He himself came to experience the curse on our behalf, to live the life we could not live, so that the substitution would be real. He would give us his righteousness and he would take our sin, as a man.
Listen, God isn’t just trying to communicate theological knowledge separated from himself. He’s trying to communicate theological knowledge to people who are hurting by saying, I’m here. I’m here. I’ve got truth in my presence. I am here.
There was a little boy who was dying, and he heard George Whitefield preach, and George Whitefield preached of Christ, preached of God. He wasn’t preaching these man-centered messages. He was preaching about the glory of God, and people were drawn to that message. There was a little boy who was dying, and he heard George Whitefield preach, and he told the people caring for him when he was about to die, he said, I want to go to be with Mr. Whitefield’s God. He didn’t say I want to go to heaven. He didn’t say I want to go to streets of gold. He didn’t say some latest Christian slogan found on a mug. He said, I want to go be with Mr. Whitefield’s God. He wanted God. He wanted God.
And Jesus is trying to show Martha, listen, I am here. God’s here. I’m the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live. Do you believe this?
You know, I have a question for all of us. Do you know things about the Bible more than you know intimately the God of the Bible? Can you say, I enjoy Christ? I enjoy Christ. There’s a difference between knowing right and wrong, being able to recite the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in order. There’s a difference between knowing Greek and Hebrew and enjoying Christ. Do you enjoy Christ?
Christ is trying to show Martha, I’m here. Here’s the good news, Martha: All the promises are found in me, and you know me; you believe in me; and I have love for your family. That’s who Jesus is. That’s who Christ is. So, Martha went from grief, to saying what she knows that wasn’t really comforting her, to discovering here in this third stage who he is.
Now the fourth stage for Martha, and hopefully the fourth stage for us as we go through trials—who we now know. Who we now know changes everything. Now, listen, you would think, because most of the world would tell us, and even sometimes our own thinking tells us that the fourth stage, the best stage of all should be no more trials. That’s not where the hope is found. The hope is not found in no more trials. The hope is found in who’s with us in the trials.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me. Psalm 23 doesn’t say, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Lord, take that valley away from me; bring me to the mountaintop, and that’s when I’ll really be happy. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are (present tense) with me. That’s what gives David hope—that Christ is here. God is here with him. Not the absence of trials; the presence of the creator.
What does Martha know now? Well, a lot. She becomes a theologian real fast. Verse 27: “She said to him,” answering his question, “Do you believe this?”, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” And notice the contrast with verse 24, Martha originally comforts herself, not with much success, with some future, distant, maybe sort of distant, promise. I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. I know that it will all work out. I know things will be better. I’m still hurting.
But now in verse 27, she’s not just talking about promises, she’s talking about him, the one she’s with. Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Now, for us, again, 21st century Christians: Christ came to the world 2,000 years ago; we celebrate that. The Messiah has come. When Martha’s speaking, the Messiah has not come yet. Generations since Eve have been waiting for the promised one. Maybe it’s this one. I mean, he gets all the Bible answers right in Sunday school. Maybe he’s the Messiah. Yeah, but he’s really sinful when no one’s looking. It’s not him. For millennia people have been waiting for the promised one.
So, when Martha says, I believe that you are the Christ, she’s saying, I believe that there’s no one who’s ever been like you in human history and now you’re standing in front of me and you love me and you love my family. That’s what Martha’s saying. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who’s coming into the world.
Martha goes from a wavering trust in a future promise to a bold and clear assertion of who Christ is. This resembles other confessions in the New Testament, doesn’t it? Remember Nathaniel? Jesus shows him that he has the ability to know Nathaniel before Nathaniel knew him. He knew what was going on, and Nathaniel makes this bold declaration of who Jesus is.
The woman at the well. Why are you talking to me? I’m a Samaritan woman. You’re asking me for something to drink? Jesus goes on in the discussion, shows her who he is, and she makes this bold declaration to everyone in her town. This is the prophet; he’s told me all that I’ve ever done. Come here.
Peter—everyone’s leaving Christ. Jesus looks at the disciples, you guys want to go? Peter, who do people say I am? Who do people say I am? You are the Christ. You are the Son of the living God. Peter makes this declaration that it doesn’t matter what other people say; I’m telling you, you are the Christ. You are the Son of God.
Remember the man born blind? Man born blind just knows that someone’s talking to him, puts mud on his eyes, and tells him to go wash. At the end of the man who’s born blind—that account in John 9—this man’s declaring who Jesus is. That’s what Martha’s doing here. She’s met Jesus; she has a little bit of knowledge. As he speaks, her eyes become opened, and she goes from kind of hoping in a future promise that doesn’t really change a lot of things right now, to declaring, it’s you. It’s you!
That’s what she’s doing. She says that you are the Christ. You’re the chosen one. You’re the King. You’re the Messiah that’s been promised. That’s what she’s saying. It’s a huge statement. And she said, you’re the Son of God. She’s declaring that he is absolutely close with God. There’s this relationship with God. He’s the one sent from heaven. He’s not just another rabbi. A lot of people were calling Jesus Lord, which they would have called other men. They were calling him rabbi, which they would have called other men. But they didn’t call anybody else Christ or Messiah. They didn’t do that. She’s saying, you’re different. You’re from heaven. You’re with God.
And then she says, you’re the one who’s coming into the world. This was a common phrase, a common saying that they would have. This is the coming one, coming to deliver them. They were always waiting for the coming one, the one who would free them from Rome, free them from other enemies—Babylon in 586. They were always waiting for the coming one. When’s the coming one coming? You are the one coming into the world. It’s you.
Commentator Morris said, “Taken together, these three affirmations give us as high a view of the person of Christ as one well may have.” This lady went from grieving sister to theologian because Jesus showed up in her presence. She knows who this is. This changes everything. She now has a vision of Christ that is different than before. Before it was about what she knew. Now it’s about who she knows. You see her start to change.
So, what’s better than the resurrection? What’s better than the promise of resurrection? If you go to be with the Lord in the next 24 hours, what do you want your family finding comfort in? Well, they’ll rise from the dead someday, maybe a long time from now. There’s comfort to be found there, by the way, but it’s to be found in the person of Christ. But they’re with Christ and Christ is also sent to bring us to him. Everyone who would come.
What’s better than the resurrection? Knowing intimately the Christ who raises the dead. What’s better than the promise of a resurrection? Knowing the person who brings about the resurrection and who loves you. That’s what’s different. It’s better than just a promise. You get a promise in a person. That’s what we learn from this passage.
Martha, like us, had to experience—notice—in God’s plan, she had to experience grief to understand that she needed him more than just some information. Notice that. God allowed her to go through grief, God allowed her to go through the pain of losing someone to show her his greatness and how much she needed him. She needed a relationship with God himself in Jesus Christ.
So, let me ask again: Are you enamored with your Lord? Are you enamored with Jesus Christ? Do you love him? Not just believe truth about the Bible. Do you love him? Do you know he loves you? Do you know he prays for you? Do you know your resurrection is tied to his work on your behalf? It’s for you. By the way, if you want to know this more deeply—you might be saying, I don’t feel that. I don’t enjoy Christ like I should. I don’t long for him like I should. How do I do that?
Well, first of all, I would encourage you to tell him that. Tell him that you don’t. Just admit it. Don’t try to fake him out. Lord, I just don’t love you like I should, truly love you. I don’t enjoy you like I should. I want to. Tell him what he already knows. Tell him. And then ask him to make him the most precious thing in your life. That’s a daring request, because oftentimes he answers that prayer through bringing you low, so that you find your all in him. But if you really want him, ask him that. Do whatever it takes for me to enjoy you from the heart.
I read you Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” I want to read a couple other passages. The nearness of God comes oftentimes in trial and in grief. Psalm 73:25-28. The Psalmist is grieving about his way of life. He’s looking at the world and saying, they have it so good. They don’t have any problems. Maybe I’ve kept my way pure in vain. Life is hard for me. I’m a follower of God. Life’s easy for them. They get to do whatever they want, sinning without any trouble. But he’s going through some inner turmoil here. And then he comes to the end of the Psalm and he preaches to himself and says this:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
You see his joy in just having God? That’s where I want my heart to be. That’s where I want your heart to be. That’s where I want our church to be. We have God. Other churches can get excited about buildings and programs and this and that. I want us to be excited—we have God. No matter what, we have God. People die in our church. Loved ones die. There’s pain of divorce. There’s broken homes. There’s financial problems. We have God, and there’s a smile through the tears.
Matt. 28:20—Jesus tells the disciples, I’m leaving; you go tell everyone the good news; and by the way, don’t forget, I told them the good news and they just killed me. So, it might not be the easiest thing for you. Go make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; teach them to obey all I’ve commanded you; and listen, because that won’t be easy, listen, I am with you always to the end of the age.
You see what Jesus does again? In your pain, I’m there. Martha, in your pain, I’m there. David, in my pain, you’re here. Psalm 73—I’m trying to figure out life; am I doing the right thing? Hold on a second—the nearness of God is my good. God’s trying to teach us something today.
A friend of mine wrote a book called Uneclipsing the Son. A fabulous book. And his main argument is, sometimes we can, in all of our Christian things and doing things, we can miss the Son of God. Doing so many things, so many programs, Bible studies, so much Bible reading, so many checkmarks as we go through the year, so many things—we can miss the Son. His book is called Uneclipsing the Son, and he tells a story about one of his closest friends growing up. I want to finish by reading these few paragraphs to you.
Greg was one of my best friends. We went to junior high, high school, and college together. We played baseball together, took chemistry together, and even got into some mischief together. But most importantly, we went to church together. I had few friends closer than Greg.
I assumed Greg was truly converted as I went off to seminary.
In my second year of seminary in Los Angeles, I flew home to be with my family for Christmas. Greg called me to have lunch. It was a meal I will never forget. He began to explain to me that he had been saved. This was a bit surprising to me since I’d never had reason to question his faith. But he was emphatic that something profound had recently happened.
I knew something was different when he reached across the table and grabbed my hand. Greg was a weight lifter so when I instinctively tried to pull back my hand, it wasn’t happening; my friend was strong.
“I’ve been saved, Rick,” he said with a volume that made me almost as uncomfortable as his holding my hand. “Listen to me, I’ve really been saved by Jesus.” His passion could not be contained. Every head was turning to look at the commotion his enthusiasm was creating.
“Yeah, I know, Greg. We grew up together,” I answered.
Relentlessly and passionately, he spoke even louder. “Rick, I’m not going to hell. I’ve really been saved!”
Something was very different about my friend. As he continued to explain himself, I turned from being embarrassed to being humbled. The food came and he just sobbed into it. He told me of all his doubts and his worry and his years in the twilight of Jesus. [Catch that? His years in the twilight of Jesus.] He never touched his food. Yes, he had grown up in the church and been faithfully involved. But Greg was never truly regenerated. He had been acting like a Christian but had no love for Jesus Himself. Through his reading of John’s Gospel, he realized the emptiness of his soul and Jesus became gloriously uneclipsed.
Exultation was the reflex of his soul, and now it was pouring out on me over lunch.
Not long after that, my friend Greg became engaged to a godly woman. Six days before their wedding, she was killed in a head-on automobile collision. A year later he married her best friend. Not long after they were married, he had a headache that would not go away. Tests would reveal that he had terminal brain cancer.
I went to visit Greg after he had brain surgery to try to remove the tumor. The conversation we had is one of my favorite memories. With his head bandaged and eyes swollen from the operation, he asked me if I thought God was in control of everything—including the cancer cells in his body. I swallowed hard and said yes.
Tears began to roll down his cheeks, and a smile curled from his lips. “If God is sovereign over my cancer, I can go through this,” he said.
Then he began to tell me how excited, curious, and ready he was to see Jesus. For Greg, dying was gain (Philippians 1:21) because his faith would become sight (1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 18).
That we would all know that. Let’s pray.
Father, you give us so many good gifts. You give us each other, food, toys, hobbies, things to enjoy. Father, in pain we often grieve over the loss of those things: people, jobs. We hurt. But Father, as you are the good gift giver and that can never change, keep us resolute, knowing that there is one thing—rather, one person—we will never lose. Your Son. Your Son calls us, sanctifies us, glorifies us, will one day cause us to come out of the grave. Lord, our prayer is that we would find our greatest joy in knowing you—not in an absence of trials, not in an absence of persecution or suffering, but that you are with us in those times. That we would hear you this morning tell us, I am the resurrection and the life, and that we could put all of our stock in you. Lord, make us a different people. Let the world see us and wonder what it is we have—better yet, who it is that we have. May this prayer be answered to your glory, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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