“How to Live Forever”
Text: John 11: 17-27, 38-53
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Eternity is a very difficult concept to grasp. I’d say even impossible for us on this seemingly finite side of eternity. To wrap our mind around the thought that there’s something that has no beginning and no end can get us spinning around so hard that we don’t know which end is up. We try to make sense of the concept by going back to creation where God spoke everything into existence, but even then, we have to battle with the reality that before the world was, God was. And not just for a little while, but for eternity. On the other end of the spectrum, eternity, or the life promised with God for all believers, can also be more than a little bit overwhelming. Despite the questions we have which will remain unanswered until that day when we’re in the presence of God Himself and all things are revealed to us, the concept of living forever is fascinating to us.
So fascinating to the human mind, that we mortals have for all time sought to figure out the key to a longer life. Searching for the right combinations of foods and herbs, exercise and diet, a fountain of youth that will allow us to live a month or a year or a decade longer than we would have otherwise been able to live. And ultimately the goal is to find that key to living forever. And yet the reality is that in this post-Eden world in which we live, all our best efforts will always result in the same disappointing conclusion. In a sin-filled world, life will ultimately end in death. And that’s exactly what happened to Lazarus, and what will happen to each of us one day. And so, our earthly reality, the one that colors all of our thinking, is one that has a beginning and an end. Birth and then death with some number of years in between.
Our text for today from John 11 reminds us that the world we see so clearly, the one from earthly birth to earthly death is actually not the reality that God wants us to be focused on. For Jesus came not to show us how to be born and die, but to show us the way to live forever. And as we begin to grasp this reality, we understand most clearly that
BELIEVERS IN CHRIST WILL NEVER DIE.
Of course, physical death is a reality we’ll all face, but Christ uses this reality as a means to teach His followers the greater reality that “all who live and believe in Him will never die.” And today we hear from John how there will be physical death which affects not only the deceased, but also those who are still living. And we’ll more importantly focus on the words of Jesus Himself, which are for us the key to the understanding of the eternal life promised to each of us.
As far as we know, we humans are the only creatures on earth that are aware of the fact that we’ll die. We see and hear about death all around us. If you still get the newspaper, or see it online, perhaps one of the sections you commonly visit is the obituaries. The fear of death is all around us as we focus on all the things that could possibly take our lives. And even if we could get past our own particular fears, we’d still realize that throughout the world over 150,000 people die every single day. The majority of these deaths are due to the nature of life in a world where our days are numbered from the second we are born. We understand that we only have so many years to live on this earth, and yet, death is one of the greatest fears we humans face. I say ‘one of the greatest fears’ because there was a study a number of years ago that showed that death was the second greatest fear among people. Second only to public speaking.
John doesn’t give to us the account of how Lazarus felt or what he said in the days leading up to his death, but he does give us the emotions of those who were close to him. Many of the Jews had come to comfort this family in Bethany, a town only a couple miles from Jerusalem. And when Jesus shows up four days after Lazarus’ death, he’s confronted by a distraught Martha saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet Jesus had other plans. Another purpose for His actions beyond simply healing another sick man. Before we jumped into the reading at verse 17, we hear in the early verses of chapter 11 that “when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Jesus is in no hurry because He has other plans for the situation. For this encounter with the family of Lazarus and also for everyone else who sees and hears what He’s about to do. He speaks to His disciples regarding the situation by telling them that the death of Lazarus is “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” and He also says, “so that you may believe.”
Jesus let Lazarus die, when He could have done something about it, so that He might teach the world an even greater lesson than the fact that He had the power to heal. He needed everyone there, and us as well, to know that He had the power to conquer death. He’d prove this with His own eternal conquering of death on the cross and through His resurrection not long after this encounter, but His interaction with Martha in her grief and despair is instructive to us as we grapple with the eternal life we are promised.
Where was Martha’s mind at the moment that she approached Jesus outside of her house? It was in fact in two separate places, neither of which is where Jesus desired it to be and so He redirects her to what is most important. If you recall perhaps the most well-known story about Jesus and Martha is in Luke 10. It’s when Jesus visits her home and Martha is busy with all the preparations that go along with having Jesus as a houseguest, and Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him teach. Martha gets upset and Jesus quiets her with the simple words, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” I can just imagine Jesus saying the same calming words to Martha here. ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. Your mind is on the past when you say that if I had been here your brother would not have died. Don’t worry about that. It’s in the past. And your mind is on the future when you say, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” This is true and yet I am here in the present, saying to you, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”’
Jesus takes Martha out of the past and out of the future and places Himself rightly in front of her with the words, spoken in the present tense, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Not ‘I was the resurrection and the life.’ And not ‘I will be the resurrection and the life.’ “I am the resurrection and the life.” And Jesus says the same thing to us today. He is the resurrection and the life for us right now. In our sorrow over the death of a loved one. In our grief for all those that suffer today. In our fear of what tomorrow might bring. He is the resurrection and the life. When we were baptized, we were baptized into His death and His resurrection and we live in it today. We’re not waiting for eternal life to be a reality for us when we die. We’re living in it today as those who participate in the life of Christ through our baptism.
And to show Martha and everyone who were witnesses to this miraculous event that He was serious about being the resurrection and the life here and now, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. He doesn’t just say, ‘come on out of there man,.’ If He had the whole cemetery might have rose up. But rather Jesus calls Him by his name. “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus, the man dead for four days, came out. Without a protest about the fact he had been brought back from the eternal peace and rest he was enjoying. He simply came out in obedience to the voice of His Lord. Isaiah 43 tells us, “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” He does the same for each of us. He calls us to be His own. He calls us out of our own death in sin and gives us the very same promise. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Here and now. We are living in the eternity He promised for us.
Because we, like Lazarus, hear the voice of God calling out to us, offering us that very same eternal life. We don’t need to look for it anywhere else, or in anything else, other than the promise of our Lord and Savior. And one day, when our time on earth has come to a close and we, like Lazarus, are enjoying the eternal rest from our labors, Christ will call out to our bodies once again and say to them, “Come out.” And in that moment, we’ll experience the fullness of eternal life, resurrected like Jesus, and forever in His presence. We can’t comprehend its fullness today, but in that moment we will.
To believe in Jesus is to have His resurrection and life right now. Our Lord let Lazarus die so He could teach this to the world. May the Holy Spirit who comes to us through His Word, teach us this also, that we too may believe and have eternal life. AMEN.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.