In the film Skyfall James Bond says his hobby is resurrection. Like many times in the Bond film franchise he’d been presumed dead but well he was back. And as it was the film to celebrate 50 years of Bond movies, it had a wider implication; the film series itself seemed to be dead again and again but keeps coming back. This latest film, through traumatic and sorrow filled events, resurrects the Bond Universe. Hopefully without ruining the film for people who haven’t seen it, at the end we are left with a new ‘Q’ a new “Moneypenny” a new ‘M’ and a Bond ready to go to work. The story has new life breathed into it and we are left with the message ‘Bond will return…soon’.
For Jesus resurrection isn’t just a hobby, it is at the core of who he is, “I am the resurrection and the life”. The context for that saying is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It good for us to look at this after Easter as RVG Tasker says ‘Raising Lazarus in john’s gospel leads to Jesus death and resurrection but also is the sign which discloses more clearly than any other the meaning of his death and resurrection”.
Also like the Bond movie tells of renewal and resurrection in a traumatic and grief filled story, “I am the resurrection and the life” shows how who Jesus is and what he has done for us can reach into the reality of our world. Bringing life in the face of death, joy in the face of sorrow… It helps us to see the paradox we live in as we talked about last week of new creation and resurrection in a hurting and broken world. Paul Metzger says about this passage ‘God has a way of bringing great good out of horrible tragedy… but no matter how well we know this it does not stop us from experiencing grief.”
This is the last in our series looking at the “I Am” sayings in John’s gospel; Sayings that show us the divine nature of Jesus. We’ve called the series Refracted Glory because John in his prologue, says of Jesus… ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our working definition of Glory, is that it is the weighty reality of who someone is, and like light is refracted through a prism through looking at Jesus ‘I am’ statements we get to see the wondrous hues and deep rich dimensions of the weighty reality of all God is revealed in Jesus. It is my prayer that we may catch a renewed vision of the glory of God with us that would fill us and overflow into the world around us.
Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick and had told his disciples that what was about to happen would be to the Glory of God and that the son would be glorified through it, and it may be hard to get our heads round the fact that a tragedy is allowed to happen to bring Glory to God. The man born blind in John 9 is another example of this. But if we see glory as the weighty reality of who God is, it shows that tragic circumstances are opportunities for God to show his true character his mercy and his grace, his care and concern and the breathing of new life and new creation into our world, maybe as in the signs we have in John’s gospel through miraculous intervention “wonders”, but definitely through his journeying with us and his assertion that he is resurrection and life, and anyone who believes in him even though they die will live. The clear link in John’s gospel of Jesus raising Lazarus and his own death and resurrection also gives us insight into what Jesus means as the cross is Jesus ultimate glorification. Jesus reveals the reality of who God is by his willingness to identify with our suffering, pain and sorrow, and by that, overcoming it.
The immediate context of Jesus saying “I am the resurrection and the life” is a conversation with Martha, Lazarus’s sister. Leonard Sweet paints the picture of Martha, Mary and Lazarus as being the people that Jesus would most likely hang out with on a night off. They are Jesus mates. Martha is the oldest sister and for many of you, you’ll know that there are culturally designated thing for her to do at Funerals and other gatherings, particularly as there does not seem to be an older generation around. When Jesus comes to dinner, in Luke’s gospel, she’s the one making sure that everything is done and here she comes out to welcome the visitors coming to give their condolences.
She greets Jesus not with a rebuke but a statement of faith in him and also an expression of regret that Jesus wasn’t here sooner. It was probably what Martha and Mary had said to each other time after time all through Lazarus’ illness and his death. If you’d been here earlier Jesus I know that my brother would not have died, But I know even know God will give you whatever you ask”. There is faith.
Jesus response is to tell Martha that, ‘her brother will rise again’. I don’t know about you but at funerals and in times of grief and tragedy it’s easy for us to simply say things even great truths of our faith hoping they will and ease peoples grief. Maybe Martha had heard that same thing from many of the religious leaders who had come down from Jerusalem. Martha responds with her faith that yes she knows that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ She has this hope in God’s ultimate victory over sin and death… a future hope of eternal life. That great truth gives her comfort and hope.
Jesus says 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 that?” he invites her not simply to have faith in her ‘faith’ but in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who makes the life she is talking about possible. Jesus is the gate, the light, the way the truth and the life and yes his death and resurrection will leads to our own resurrection. It calls us to put our hope and our trust in Jesus. So Martha responds by affirming her trust in Jesus as the Messiah the Son of god who has come into the World’.
I don’t know about you but even that kind of confession is easy to make without realising its implications for the here and now. Martha doesn’t get that. When Jesus later will call for the tomb to be opened she says well don’t do it Jesus! He’s been dead for four days, it’s going to stink. Just as an aside four days in Hebrew thought was when someone was totally dead, they thought the spirit stayed round the body for three days after death, so Lazarus was totally dead. Into that situation Jesus then speaks resurrection. As Leon Morris puts it ‘Jesus is bringing Martha present power not just the promise of a future good.’ He calls Lazarus out of the grave and he comes.
The implication of this sign is that Jesus own death and resurrection will put an end to death itself and bring life. Both eternal life, ‘in my father’s house there is plenty of room and I go to prepare a way for you’. But also life now: where there is sickness healing, death…life, injustice… freedom, broken relationship…reconciliation, brokenness…peace and wholeness.
I often find myself relating to Martha. Yes I believe the tenants of the faith, the wonderful truths, I believe in the eternal life in Christ, I believe that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God who came from the father… but often when faced with suffering and hardship I says well come on its dead and it buried, how can those things impact on what I know to be real in this world…let’s face it sometimes it just stinks. Maybe I’m too used to crosses in a graveyard.
Then I find myself surprised by Jesus; he takes my little faith and is able to do amazing things in the face of the tragedies of life. I haven’t seen an actual resurrection but I have seen him bring new life.
That doesn’t really tell the whole story of encountering God in the midst of the realities of life. Let’s face it Lazarus died again. Millions of believers have died since, we face pain and sorrow, tragedy and grief. In this narrative we see more of Jesus response to that. Even though Jesus knows what he is going to do, we have that shortest and most profound of verses… Jesus wept. The divine nature of I am the resurrection and the life is perfectly at home with the very human nature of weeping for the loss of a friend, showing empathy for those who are mourning. We have the Son of God entering fully into what it is to be human, knowing our pain, our sorrow our grief.
This sign story finishes beyond our reading this morning with some believing in Jesus and others plotting to have Jesus killed. In fact it finishes with the high priest saying “It is better for one man to die for the people that a whole nation to perish.” Something that John says is prophetic. Jesus raising his friend to life even though this will to his own death. This is Jesus ultimate response to our suffering and brokenness. Jesus takes those things on himself on the cross. He takes them to the grave rather than them taking and leaving us in the grave. Paul Metzger says “While I don’t have all the answers, Jesus lives the questions and is himself the answer to our greatest pain and suffering. He who knows no sin and the all-powerful and all good God becomes human to identify with us in our need.”
Then in his resurrection he offers us the invitation to identify with him and his glory: the weighty reality of all that he as God is…To identify with his eternal nature that we will be raised to life to be with him for eternity. Death where is your sting it has been swallowed up in victory…To identify with his omniscience his presence with us all ways and everywhere. And lo I am with you to the end of the age there go make disciples … to identify with His being all loving his mercy and grace both too us and through us. As I have loved you so love one another. Forgive one another … To identify with his compassion, to identify with the cross and costly selfless love. What you have done for the least of these you have done for me… And yes his omnipotence, his all-powerfulness the reality that God can reach into his world with resurrection and life. Didn't I tell you if you Believe you will see the Glory of God?