Sunday, October 10, 2004

John 11:17-27

Key to Life
October 2004
Cornerstone Covenant Church

When we lived in Texas and all of our children reached school age, Cheryl decided that she would go back to working outside the home – at least part-time.

She easily got a job in an office and I remember that out of her first pay check she bought a Ninetendo game unit for the children.

It was rather primitive by today’s standards but it was the latest and the best back then.

Now, I’m not very coordinated with these games but I remember the kids playing it – and in particular that you would have to get to different levels and that you would need to find a key to get to the next level.

Once you had grabbed the key you could unlock the door and move up. That, more or less, was how the game worked.

At the risk of sounding like God has us all in a big video game – a Matrix – I would like to suggest from our text this morning that Jesus is the key that opens the door to the next level. I know that sounds a little bit crass but some people might find it helpful to think of Jesus’ message here in John 11 in such terms.

Look at vs. 25 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die...’”

We were introduced to this story last week.

Word came to Jesus that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus thinking that he would come and do one of his healing signs and things would be all better. And really Jesus was but a couple of miles away from the town of Bethany.

But the thing that doesn’t make sense in the story as you are reading it is that Jesus procrastinates. Vs. 6 says that he stayed put for two days. Then he abruptly announces Lazarus has died and that it is time to go to Judea – that is, to the region where Bethany is located.

This leads to a discussion about death – which the disciples don’t quite understand. But as we saw last week, one of the disciples figured that Jesus was on the way to his own death and that they should all follow him.

“Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”

So they go to Bethany and vs. 17 says that “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been dead for four days.”

Now, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for you in telling you that Jesus is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. We’ll get to that next week. But here John is setting up the story.

And it is significant that Lazarus had been dead for four days.

In first century Jewish practice when someone died they were on that very day placed in the tomb. And folklore had it that the person’s soul continued to hover in the area around the body for three days – just in case somehow he could be resuscitated.

But once you were into the third day it was assumed that the soul would leave because the person was really dead at that point and decay and decomposition had begun.

This is why when Jesus died it was of significance that he was in the grave for three days. It was their way of saying that he was really dead.

So, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days when Jesus showed up.

He was really dead. And the mourning, which lasted a week from the point of death, was well underway.

Martha went out to meet Jesus on the way into town.

Vs. 21 – “‘Lord,’” Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’”

This is not a rebuke of Jesus for lagging along but rather a statement of her ongoing faith in him. She is saying “I know that you have the power to heal and that if you had been here Lazarus wouldn’t be dead – but my faith in you remains unphased. I know that you can still heal.”

Note that she is not asking Jesus to heal her brother at this point. Based on where the conversation goes we realize that she has absolutely no idea as to what he is going to do.

In her mind Jesus is a healer. But she hasn’t processed him enough to understand that his healing power extends beyond death itself.

So in vs. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” But then in vs. 24 Martha answers in such a way that shows she isn’t connecting the dots, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

She was a good orthodox Jew who believed that there would be a day of resurrection when life would be restored – souls reunited with bodies. And she is affirming that theological orthodoxy.

“I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

And she was right in her statement. But she didn’t quite understand how Jesus himself fit into the whole picture.

So Jesus clears his voice, “Martha, listen, I’m going to say something that will change the whole way you look at what’s happening here.”

Vs. 25 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die...’”

Jesus isn’t just talking about death as we know it but the underlying eternal issues surrounding death. Death as we know it is just one manifestation of eternal death – existence outside of fellowship with God. Jesus is saying “I am the resurrection and I am the life – it hinges on me – I am the key.”

And this is the key point this morning – JESUS IS THE KEY TO LIFE – EVEN BEYOND THE GRAVE. He is the one who opens things up to the next level – life without the threat of death.

Well, what exactly do we mean? What does this key open?

First of all, this key opens the DOOR TO LIFE BEYOND DEATH ITSELF. “...even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die...”

That is, whoever is in Christ has a life that extends beyond the grave. And Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate the point – even though it is more of an illustration than anything else. For Lazarus will eventually die again so that he might be raised again – but to a permanent state of life eternal.

And this is the point of the events surrounding Easter. Jesus dies – spends parts of three days in the tomb to show that he was really dead. And on the third day is raised to new life. He has conquered death – and all who are his followers will eventually follow along the same path. We will all follow him into the new life that extends beyond the grave. That is the basic Christian hope which permeates everything that we do and believe. It is a future reality that spills over into everything else that we do.

We are new life or eternal life people – even now. All the decisions we make – all the adventures we take on – all the things we allow into our minds and hearts now – we do it all with this known future in mind. We begin to live out the future now.

Now, does this mean that we are immune to sickness and the death of our bodies? To the disappointments and hurts of life? Certainly not! Jesus grieves over Lazarus and the pain of the whole death scene – and he does so even though he KNOWS that he is about to raise Lazarus from the grave.

Death is horrible – however it comes – even when it is peaceful. I’ve been in the room with people as they peacefully die – and at other times I’ve been there when death is a painful struggle. I’ve pretty much seen it all at this point. And it is not fun – it is horrible – even when it is peaceful. And it is horrible because it means the end of something.

But the fact is that moving from one level to the next always means the end of something. When you went to third grade you had to leave the second grade behind. When you moved into your new house you had to leave the old house behind. And there are always mixed emotions when that happens. Sometimes even anxiety.

But death doesn’t need to be anxiety producing in us. Sure there is a lot unknown in the process. But the shepherd who is leading the way is known. So we don’t fret over the reality of our physical deaths.


Now, of course, some of us are still in denial regarding our own impending deaths. When we’re adolescents we believe that we are immortal and unstoppable. We can drive 110 miles per hour knowing that nothing bad could ever happen to us, anyway. So normally, when we’re young we don’t have a lot of anxiety over death. Normally – there are exceptions –
but normally the reality hasn’t sunk in yet. So we’re pretty care free in that area.

But with each year along the way your body starts sending you little signals that things are changing. Your sight starts to slip. You notice that you get winded going up stairs. You have back pain after lifting something that just last week wasn’t a problem. Your blood pressure becomes unstable and your cholesterol count rises. You eat less but gain more weight. Your memory works slower.

And if you think at all about it, you start to realize that things are wearing out. And you have enough experience with batteries to realize that even rechargables eventually fail to take a new charge.

And that realization can lead to all kinds of anxieties. What about pain? Does it hurt? What about friends? Am I going to be all alone?

To all of us and our anxiety- producing questions Jesus throws up a roadblock – and says, well, wait a minute – “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The implication being – if you believe it – then believe it.

When anxiety flies over head – and even drops little white splatters around you – don’t give it anything to roost on. You can’t stop it from flying over you but you don’t have to host a nest in your head.

Believe in the resurrection. Not just as an intellectual fact but as a reality that shapes your life.

You see, Martha was dealing with the whole concept of death and resurrection on a very theoretical level – “Yes, yes, I believe that on resurrection day (sometime out there–) he will rise again.”

But Jesus comes back at Martha – “I am the resurrection. I am the key to new life AND I’m here now. Do you believe in me?”

And in vs. 27 Martha gives a good answer which shows that she at least partially understands – but only partially so – “‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world.’”

That’s true but think about the implications of that.


You’ve all heard the commercials – “You’ve got a friend in the diamond business.” The implication being that you’re going to get special treatment – maybe even a special deal.

A week ago I was in Chicago for a couple of days of meetings and when I got into my rental car the radio came on to an African-American station and there was a commercial which in essence said “You’ve got a friend in the funeral business.”

The music was soft and the voice soothing – talking about all of the arrangements needed at a difficult time – and that what you really need is a friend who can walk with you through it all. Well, you’ve got a friend in the funeral business. And it went on to name a funeral home.

Jesus is saying to Martha – “Don’t fret over this because you’ve got a friend in the resurrection business.”

You see, Jesus didn’t go to heal Lazarus when he was sick because if he had done so they would have thought that they had a friend in the healing business – and they already knew that!

But by coming late Jesus was about to demonstrate that he was also their friend in the resurrection business. And that is case with all who are friends of Jesus – that is followers – people who believe in him –
who acknowledge him as “the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world...”

The reason you don’t have to sweat the whole issue of death is that you have a close friend who is in the resurrection business – someone who will take care of what you can’t do on your own. Someone who has been through it all himself and has come out on the other side and is ready to take you by the hand through the whole journey. Someone with a key to life.

Some of you have memorized the end of the 8th chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword.

“As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You have a friend in the resurrection business – and he is the key to life.

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