We’re going back to John 11 this morning. I do have to warn you. We’re not going to make it to the section of the text where Lazarus is raised from the dead this morning. We will get to that part of the text next week. This week I want us to spend our time with one phrase, found in John 11:25. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in John 11:17-26.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:17-26 NIV)
When Martha expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t been there to prevent her brother’s death, He said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” In response to Martha’s statement, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” We’ve talked in the past about the important “I AM” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John. There are seven “I AM” statements. If you will remember Jesus borrowed this phrase from Exodus 3 where God revealed Himself to Moses by saying, “I am who I am.” By using the phrase over and over again in the Gospel of John, Jesus was letting everyone know that He was more than a man, He was YHWH who had come to earth. What’s interesting about Jesus use of “I AM” in this instance is that it is different from the His other uses. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,” “I am the Door for the sheep,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” and so on, but in John 11 Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He’s not describing Himself metaphorically, He’s not attaching a metaphor to the “I AM” statement, but instead, in John 11, Jesus describes Himself as an event—the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus told Martha that those who die “in Him” will live and those who live, believing and trusting in Him, will never die.
Jesus’ claim is a remarkable statement. Many in our day and age would say, “No, it’s not remarkable, it is absurd!” You need to know that the idea of the bodily resurrection of a person from the dead is no more absurd in our day than it was in the days of Jesus. The majority of Jews believed like Martha, that there would be a resurrection of all people at the end of time, but to think that one person, one man in the middle of history would be resurrected bodily from the dead was lunacy. Nobody believed such a thing was possible. I want to spend our time this morning taking a look at Jesus’ resurrection because truly everything depends on it. There are three reasons why this is important for us.
First, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the topic of much debate in our day, just as it has been in every age since Jesus was raised from the dead. The debate and skepticism of non-believers doesn’t bother me. They don’t know God, they have no understanding of the Bible, and therefore they are left with the only tools they have to work with, logic and reason, to determine the validity of Jesus’ resurrection. What does concern me is the increasing number of people who say they are followers of Jesus and yet they doubt or just outright don’t believe that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. They say that this doesn’t change their love for Jesus and it doesn’t diminish the importance of Jesus’ life for His followers. I don’t know how you can read the Bible and make statements like that. I want to share some of the most popular reasons why these folks are suspicious of Jesus’ resurrection.
Throughout history there have been four prominent theories used to try and discredit the resurrection of Jesus. First of all, there’s the theory that Jesus’ followers went to the wrong tomb. The women were so distraught in their grief that they visited the wrong tomb. They ran back to tell the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing and then they led the guys to the wrong tomb. That can’t be the case because once the word spread that Jesus was alive the Romans would have produced the body and said, “Really?!” The second theory that has been popularized is that Jesus’ followers were hallucinating and only thought they saw Him. I’ve experienced grief and been around lots of people who were grieving. Grief can sure lead us to believe, even hear and see some strange things, but Jesus followers were so convinced they had seen Him that they spent the rest of their lives willing to suffer all kinds of harassment, even death, because of their conviction. That’s not grief. The third theory that has been summoned over and over again is what is called the “swoon theory.” It goes like this: Jesus was so badly beaten that they believed He was dead when they took His body off of the cross. They laid His body in a tomb and the cool moist air revived Jesus. I assume He then got up, moved the huge stone that covered the entrance to the tomb, and walked out.
A different theory, but sharing the common idea that Jesus didn’t die is the theory that is laid out in the Qur’an, the holy book of the Muslims. It states that Jesus wasn’t even on the cross. Muslims believe that around the time of Jesus’ arrest He was taken up to heaven and one of His disciples, probably Judas, was transformed to look just like Jesus. That disciple was beaten and crucified on the cross. The Qur’an states,
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Qur’an, 4:157–158, Yusuf Ali)
The last theory that has been shared over and over again trying to discredit the resurrection of Jesus is the idea that His body was stolen. Those who hold to this belief believe that Jesus’ disciples stole His body and made up the story of Jesus being raised from the dead. I don’t know of anyone who would be willing to endure what the disciples endured for a lie. All of these theories stem from the same root idea and that is dead people don’t come back to life. That’s the consensus of people in our day and it was the consensus of the people of Jesus’ day as well.
If Jesus Did Not Rise…
The second important reason for us to take the time to think about Jesus’ resurrection is that it is the cornerstone of our faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus are two sides of the same coin. They are the events on which our faith hangs. I firmly believe that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead there would be no Christianity today. That’s not some alarmist statement on my part; neither did I make it up. The Apostle Paul stated as much in his letter to the brothers and sisters in Corinth, some of which were questioning the resurrection themselves. Paul wrote,
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22 NIV)
Did you hear that? Paul says the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead has important implications for our life. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” He also said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Last of all, he writes, “…those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” This is an eye-opening statement when you stop to consider it. Most of us today would say that our sins were paid on the cross; it is the death of Jesus that atones for our sins. According to Paul that is partly right. Jesus did die for our sins, the one man taking on the sins of the world on the cross. That is true, but without the empty tomb Paul says that we would still be in our sins. The empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, is the validation of what God did through Jesus on the cross. If Jesus has not been raised then we are still alienated from God. Paul said as much in his letter to the Church in Rome. Read along with me.
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25 NIV)
You see, God having raised Jesus from the dead is the exclamation point on everything Jesus ever said or did. Jesus’ resurrection is the validation of God’s plan of salvation set in motion long before Jesus was ever born. It is through the resurrection of Jesus that His claims to be the Son of God, to be God Incarnate, the Suffering Servant, the One who before Abraham was born was the “I AM,” and the long awaited Messiah are proven to be true. I’ll give you an example.
In Acts 17, Paul was in Athens. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers had run into Paul and were debating him. They took him to the Areopagus where all of the thinkers would gather and talk about the latest ideas in philosophy and theology. It was like an ancient Starbucks. They said, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (Acts 17:19-20 NIV) Paul began to deliver a sermon that is unlike any sermon he ever preached. He knew his audience and he used language that they could understand as he told them about God. A little later on Paul said,
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone– an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” (Acts 17:29-32 NIV)
Paul let it be known that God has set a day when He will judge the whole world through one man, “the man he has appointed.” They would have no more believed that than they would have believed the moon was made out of cheese. So Paul says, “He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Everything that God ever said about there being a day of judgment and that His Son Jesus would judge the living and the dead could be debated and mocked until the day that God raised Jesus from the dead—then the debate was over. Jesus’ resurrection was indisputable proof that what had been said was true.
The question has been asked over and over again throughout history: “If they found Jesus’ bones tomorrow what difference would it make?” Many people say, “It wouldn’t change my faith at all. I love Jesus. I love His teaching and the wonderful things that He did while He was on the earth. If they discovered Jesus’ bones it wouldn’t change a thing for me.” That may very well be the case for some of you, but it’s not the truth. Do you understand what I mean by the “truth?” We can believe something, be absolutely convinced of its truth, and yet be absolutely wrong. Long ago people believed the earth was flat. They were convinced, but they were wrong. The earth is not flat. You can say, and believe in your heart that nothing would change for you if they found Jesus’ bones, but please don’t believe that nothing would change because it most certainly would.
In 1903 a man named Guy Thorne wrote a novel called, “When It Was Dark: The Story of a Great Conspiracy.” The book is about a group of archaeologists, who were atheists, and who claimed to have found the body of Jesus in a Syrian grave. The rest of the story is the author’s attempt to describe what happened as a result of the discovery. What happened? Well, Christians lost their faith, churches closed their doors, and Christian missionaries left the mission field and went home. He predicted that within 50 years the western world would slip into deep chaos, defeat, and despair of every imaginable kind. I don’t know anything about the author’s faith, but I do know he had a good understanding of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. You can’t overstate the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. A British agnostic once said “let’s not discuss the other miracles; let’s discuss the resurrection. Because if the resurrection is true, then the other miracles are easily explained; and if the resurrection is not true, the other miracles do not matter.”
The Transformation of the Resurrection
The third reason why it is important for us to take the time to understand Jesus’ resurrection is because it is transformative. Just stop and think about how things changed after Jesus’ body was resurrected from the grave. Before we do that let’s read what Paul was told and then passed on to the brothers and sisters in Corinth. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 and let’s read together.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9 NIV)
Jesus appeared to Cephas, the one we know as Simon Peter, then to the rest of the disciples, then to more than 500 believers at the same time, and Paul says, “most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Stop and think about that for a minute. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Corinth while he was in Ephesus about 55 A.D. Many of the 500 men and women whom Jesus had appeared to were still living. If they were part of some big hoax, a scam on humanity, would they really have been able to keep the secret for more than 20 years? I seriously doubt it. Chuck Colson was President Nixon’s hatchet man in the White House when the Watergate scandal broke and the President was impeached. In 1974, Colson was the first member of the Nixon administration to go to prison for his involvement with Watergate. Chuck Colson later became a follower of Jesus and founded Prison Fellowship. This is what he wrote about the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection being a hoax.
I know the resurrection is a fact and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible. (Charles Colson)
I think any thought of the followers of Jesus keeping a secret will vanish if you consider the incredible transformation that took place in their lives following the resurrection. Paul said that Jesus first appeared to Cephas, also known as Peter. Do you remember one of the last discussions Jesus had with Peter before He went to the cross? After the last supper Peter said, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33 NIV) “I’ll take a bullet for you Jesus!” Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Jesus was arrested and they took Him into the house of the High Priest…Peter was following at a distance. Everyone was anxious to see what would happen. What would they do with Jesus?
Some of the onlookers built a fire in the middle of the courtyard. Peter sat down with them when a young servant girl spotted him. She said, “This man was with Him?” Peter said, “Woman, I don’t know Him!” A little later someone else spotted Peter and mentioned that he was one of Jesus’ followers. Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then, a third time, Peter was singled out as being one of Jesus’ followers. Matthew tells us, “Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’” (Matthew 26:74 NIV) What a coward! Peter talked real big when he was around his buddies, but boy did he change his tune when being Jesus’ follower might cost him. That was before the resurrection.
After the resurrection Peter was a changed man. On the day of Pentecost there were thousands upon thousands of people who had gathered in Jerusalem for the great feast. The Spirit of God moved upon the disciples and Peter stood up in the midst of the huge crowd who had come from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Rome, as well as Libya. Peter preached the most powerful message they had ever heard. He was unashamed of the Gospel. He was unafraid of the authorities when he said,
23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:23-24 NIV)
What changed? What happened to Peter? I will tell you as plainly as I can. What happened to Peter is that he had seen the resurrected Jesus and that is why he could say unashamedly, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
I could go on and on telling you story after story of the lives of Jesus’ followers who were transformed because of the resurrection. From that day to this Jesus’ resurrection has changed lives of countless millions of His followers. I know because He has changed my own life. I would not be doing what I’m doing today if I were not certain that I serve a risen Savior! The certainty of the resurrection changes everything for you and me. Jesus is who He claimed to be and you can know it by simply believing God’s Word.
If you are not a follower of Jesus today then I hope the Lord has used this lesson to present to you as clearly as possible that Jesus lives. Because He lives you can too. Won’t you ask Him into your heart this very morning and allow Him to transform your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 11, 2015