Welcome to week #4 of our series called Jesus Redefined. The point of this series is simple. There are a whole lot of ideas about Jesus in our culture, and even in the church, that are wrong. And we desperately want to know the real Jesus.
So here’s the whole idea that gave birth to this series. We said, “What if we stopped asking, ‘Who do we think that Jesus is?’ and started asking, ‘Who did Jesus say that He is?’” What if, instead of us trying to define Him, we let Jesus define Himself? And that question gave birth to this series.
In this series, we are exploring five things that Jesus said about Himself in the gospel of John. These aren’t necessarily how our culture, or even the church, has historically viewed Jesus. But this is what Jesus said about Himself. This is who Jesus said He is. We’re letting Jesus define Himself for us.
So far in this series, we have listened as Jesus told us, “I am the bread of life.” Then a couple of weeks ago, one of our elders, Jay Hess, rocked a message where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And then last week, our worship and teaching pastor Brian Morrissey brought a passionate and personal message where Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” If you missed any of those messages because of vacations or anything, you need to check them out online. We are so blessed here at Connect to have multiple folks who can bring the Word of God so powerfully.
Now today, in the fourth week of this series, here’s what Jesus is saying to us. In John 11, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25a, NIV)
This is an incredible claim. This is an audacious, powerful claim. I want to pray for us, and then we’ll dive into it.
Before we can get to this claim that Jesus made about Himself, we have to know what was happening. So we’re going to spend a good bit of time unpacking the story that led up to this bold claim that Jesus made.
We need to back up to the very beginning of John 11. Starting in verse 1, John wrote, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. [And we need to know that Lazarus wasn’t just sick. He was very sick. He was on his deathbed.] He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:1-4, NIV)
Now, right here at this moment, this is exactly how we think Jesus is supposed to work. When we’re sick, or we’re hurting, or we’re in despair, Jesus swoops in to save the day. He is Johnny-on-the-spot. He immediately rushes in and makes everything better again.
But that’s not how things played out in this story. Look at the next few verses.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” (John 11:5-7, NIV)
Now, wait a minute. John tells us that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. But when He heard that Lazarus was on his deathbed, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. And look at what happened while Jesus was sitting around, apparently doing nothing.
Skip down to verse 11. “After he had said this, [Jesus] went on to tell [his disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:11-15, NIV)
There are a ton of problems here, aren’t there? There is so much here that challenges the pictures of Jesus that we have painted in our minds. There is so much here that seems to contradict how the church has historically viewed Jesus.
First of all, Jesus initially appears to either be unable or unwilling to step into the situation. Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was dying. And they believed that He could do something about that. In fact, John told us earlier that this Mary is the same Mary that poured perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. That was an incredible act of submission and worship. And it shows exactly what Mary believed about Jesus.
But instead of rushing to Lazarus, John tells us that after Jesus heard that Lazarus was gravely ill, He stayed where He was for two whole days. What was He doing for two days? We don’t know. But we do know what He wasn’t doing. He wasn’t going to Lazarus. He wasn’t rushing to help the people that He supposedly loved. He was just sitting. Waiting. Seemingly doing nothing for two whole days. He didn’t rush to the aid of people who loved Him and believed in Him.
And a whole lot of us can probably relate to that. We believe in Jesus. Or at least we really want to believe in Jesus, but there are times when it just feels like His timing really sucks.
You pray for Jesus to move, and He seemingly does nothing. You pray for this interview to finally be the one, and then you get yet another “thanks but no thanks” from the company.
You pray for this treatment to finally be the answer, but your doctor walks in with that look on his face that you know all too well.
You pray for a person that you love to finally come to Christ, but they just seem to get further and further away from him.
That’s not how we think Jesus should operate. If Jesus loves us…I mean if He REALLY loves us…then He should always come running. Whenever we hurt, whenever we struggle, whenever we experience any discouragement or disappointment, He should swoop in and save the day immediately. That’s our picture of Jesus. But remember the title of this series. Jesus Redefined. Instead of buying into these false narratives and false definitions of Jesus, we’re letting Jesus define who He is for us. And sometimes, Jesus delays. Sometimes He doesn’t move immediately. Sometimes we are forced to wonder and wait.
Look again at how John describes Jesus’ reaction when He heard that Lazarus was sick.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…” (John 11:5-6, NIV)
Look at the two things that John tells us very specifically in these verses. He tells us very specifically that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. And he tells us just as specifically that, after Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick and about to die, He stayed where He was for two more days.
We’re told very specifically that Jesus loved and that Jesus was late.
Now, that’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around, because I have a very special hate for late. For example, our family went to a Reds game a couple of weeks ago. And when Nicki and I were talking about our plans for the night, she said, “What time do you want to leave? I know you don’t want to be late.”
And she’s right. If I’m going to a game, I’m going to be in my seat, ready for the first pitch. I see all these people that saunter in around the third or fourth inning, and I just don’t get it. They’re late. I just can’t do that. If you’re going to get there that late, why even bother?
And Nicki knows that about me, so we get to places on time. We are rarely late, because she knows that it drives me nuts. She loves me, and that means that she does whatever she can to make sure that we get to places on time.
Late and love do not go together in my mind AT ALL. So I really struggle with this. In the span of two verses, we are told that Jesus loved and that Jesus was late. That’s really hard for me to reconcile.
But what we have to see is that Jesus was late in Martha’s view. He was late in Mary’s view. He was definitely late in Lazarus’ view, since Lazarus is the guy who died. But Jesus’ perspective is not the same as our perspective. His view is not our view.
In fact, the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, tells us that very specifically when he wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)
Our view and God’s view are not the same. It’s not even close. God reminds us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
My family just spent about a week in Tennessee. It was a fantastic trip, but my favorite part was something we had never done before. We hiked up to Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, it’s the third highest point east of the Mississippi River. And it was awesome.
First of all, it was pretty hot on the day we went up that mountain. But by the time we got to the top, it was almost 20° cooler. It felt like October instead of July. The breeze on the top of the mountain was absolutely awesome.
And the view was unbelievable. This is what it looked like. On a clear day, you can see 7 states from the top of this mountain.
Think about that. From the vantage point on top of this mountain, you can see 7 states. That’s a whole different perspective than we had at the bottom of the mountain. At the bottom of the mountain, all we could see where the trees that surrounded us. But at the top of the mountain, we could see for miles and miles and miles.
The higher you go, the more you can see.
Now, with that in mind, remember what God said. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The higher you go, the more you can see. This is why we have to learn to trust God’s perspective over our own. He sees things that we just can’t. He perceives things that we never will. He understands things that are simply beyond us. We see a pixel. God sees the whole picture. The higher you go, the more you can see.
Take that truth back to our story. Martha and Mary both thought Jesus was late. And they were pretty disgusted about it, too.
In fact, look at what they said when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany. They both said exactly the same thing.
“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:20-21, NIV)
And then a few verses later, “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32, NIV)
Martha and Mary were both disappointed in Jesus. And they were angry with Jesus. And they both said the same thing. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
“Jesus, if you had been here, if you would have actually come when we sent for you, our brother would not have died. But no. You decided to stay where you were. You were late, and now look at what happened. Jesus, how could you? I thought you loved us.”
And it’s not just Martha and Mary that are struggling. Think about what Jesus’ disciples had to be thinking right now, because Jesus had told them two different things when they heard that Lazarus was ill. Check out this apparent contradiction.
“When he heard this [meaning when He heard about Lazarus’ illness], Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4, NIV)
But then, just ten verses later, we read, “So then [Jesus] told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead…” (John 11:14, NIV)
Think about that. Jesus told His disciples definitively, “This sickness will not end in death.” And then two days later, He told His disciples, “Lazarus is dead.”
So there has to be all kinds of confusion and disappointment and anger in Martha, Mary, and the disciples. It sure looks like Jesus let a whole lot of people down.
But remember…the higher you go, the more you can see. Jesus had a higher perspective than they had. And it’s that perspective that Jesus desperately wanted them to see.
They needed to see who Jesus is above what was happening to them. He wanted them to know the same thing that He wants us to know.
Jesus’ identity > My tragedy
Who Jesus is is greater than what is happening to me. When bad things happen, when my entire world seems to be flying apart, it doesn’t change who Jesus is. Jesus identity is greater than my tragedy.
This really comes into focus in the conversation that Jesus had with Martha.
Starting in verse 23, John writes, “Jesus said to [Martha], “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
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 11:23-26, NIV)
Martha was focused on what was happening. Her brother, Lazarus, was dead. And Martha was focused on her pain. She was focused on her disappointment. She was focused on her anger. She was focused on her situation. But Jesus turned her focus to her Savior. Jesus’ identity was greater than Martha’s tragedy.
He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now, notice that He didn’t say, “I can give resurrection and life.” He didn’t say, “Resurrection and life are what I do.” He said, “This is who I am. I am the resurrection and the life.”
Now, to be sure we all know what we’re talking about, resurrection literally means that something was dead, and now it’s alive again. It’s that simple.
And Jesus didn’t just say that is what He does. He said that is who He is. “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Giving life to what is dead is at the core of Jesus’ identity. It is who He is. He is the resurrection. He is the life.
Resurrection is not an event. It’s a person. His Name is Jesus Christ.
And we see that come into full view in the Lazarus story.
Remember that, by this point, Lazarus had been dead for four days. In this time period, a lot of people believed that after a person died, their spirit would stay close by for three days. This is not a biblical teaching. This is not what we believe as Christians at all. This was folklore or superstition. After a person died, people in the ancient world believed that their spirit would just kind of hover close by so if this person happened to come back to life, the spirit could get back into the body. But after three days, the spirit would depart.
Lazarus had been dead for four days. That meant that, in their minds, all hope was gone. Lazarus wasn’t just mostly dead. He was all dead. Right, Princess Bride fans? (Terrible movie!) Lazarus wasn’t mostly dead. He was all dead. Which meant that, according to The Princess Bride, they should have gone through his pockets and looked for loose change.
But Jesus is the resurrection and the life. All dead is not a problem for Him.
Pick up the story in verse 38. John wrote, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “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.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:38-44, NIV)
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. When Jesus is present, dead things come alive. It’s not just what He does. It’s who He is. Lazarus was dead, but came back to life when Jesus showed up. And the same thing can happen for us.
There are a whole lot of us who are dying, or dead, in our doubt. Or in our pain. Or in our discouragement. Or in our anger. Or in our guilt. Or in our resentment. Or in our hatred. Or in our sin. But none of those things can stand up in the presence of the One who is the resurrection and the life.
Even death itself can’t withstand His presence. We see that when Jesus Himself died on a cross. He went to the cross, to pay the price for our sin. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and that enabled Him to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin when He died on the cross.
Jesus died on a Friday, and all His followers scattered and fled. But they didn’t realize that Sunday was coming. On Sunday, Jesus rose again. That tomb was empty, because death itself can’t withstand the presence of the One who is the resurrection and the life.
And if Jesus is greater than death, then He is greater than whatever you are facing in your life. But so much of it comes down to your perspective. If you focus on the pain, on the guilt, on the hurt, on the disappointment, then you’ll die right there.
But if you change your focus…if you remember that Jesus’ identity is greater than your tragedy…everything can change. You can be given new life. It doesn’t mean that the hurt is gone. It doesn’t mean that everything in your life is automatically awesome. But it does mean that your circumstances don’t define you. You find life in your Savior and not your situation. Whatever your circumstances might bring, it doesn’t change who Jesus is. And your hope is found in your Savior, not your circumstances.
But it all comes back to the question that Jesus asked Martha.
“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, NIV)
That’s the key question. Jesus has told us who He is. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And now, He puts the ball in our court with this question. “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that His identity is greater than your tragedy? Do you believe that, even in the midst of despair, even when you feel helpless and hopeless, that He is the resurrection and the life? That He can bring life to what is dead in you, now and for all eternity? Do you believe this?
There really isn’t a more important question in the world than this. Jesus made a bold, audacious claim when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And then He asks an equally audacious question. “Do you believe this?”
And this question is at the heart of who we are at Connect. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we are is all designed around one thing. Bringing people to belief in Jesus Christ. We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ by leading them into a growing relationship with Him. That’s why we’re here.
And that means that if you’re not sure about this question, you are welcome here. We won’t condemn you. We won’t judge you. In fact, we’ll come alongside you. We’ll talk with you. We’ll listen to you. We’ll listen to your doubts. Your hesitancy. Your reluctance. And we’ll do it in love.
So if you aren’t sure if you believe anything I said today, but something tells you that you want to come back to hear more, that’s awesome. You are welcome here.
If you are ready to cross that line and finally say, “Yes. I believe that. I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life,” then we are ecstatic about that! And we really want to talk with you about that decision. We’ve got some people who will be out near the fountain in the lobby right after church. They’re ready to talk with you. They’ll take as long as you need. But don’t leave before you talk and pray with them today.
And if you’re really wrestling with this, we want to support you and love you. Martha and Mary were really struggling, because Jesus didn’t come through like they thought He would, when they thought He should. And maybe that’s you right now. To be brutally honest, Jesus just isn’t coming through for you right now. You’ve prayed, but nothing has changed. You’ve waited, but it seems like He doesn’t care.
Can I tell you something? I get it. I really do. I understand what it’s like to feel like your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. I understand what it’s like to wait and wait and wait, and nothing seems to happen. I understand what it’s like to feel like God either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what’s happening to you. I get it.
But Jesus’ identity is greater than your tragedy. Here at Connect, we want to help you focus on Him. We want to love you. We want to serve you. We want to support you. We want to walk with you as we all focus on Jesus together.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like much help. Maybe that doesn’t sound like enough. But trust me…when the resurrection and the life does what only He can do, it’s enough. It really is enough.
Martha, and Mary, and the disciples were all doubting. They were discouraged. They were hurting. They were angry, because Jesus showed up late. They had lost all hope. Once Jesus showed up late, they just didn’t see how it could possibly be enough anymore…until they saw the resurrection and the life do what only He can do.
When the resurrection and the life shows up…when He does what only He can do…it’s enough. It is absolutely enough.