Good morning, Friends!
I hope you’re all enjoying your Labor Day weekend so far. It feels as though the season turned here this week. It’s been cool in the morning, and that’s a real relief!
This has also been an anxious week. We’ve all been reacting to the final withdrawal from Afghanistan. We’ve been watching the news about hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and all kinds of suffering. It’s been hard!
Today I want to continue the series I’ve been doing. Each week we’ve been looking at one of the tremendous “I AM” sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John.
We started off – I know it seems like a long time ago now – with “I am the good shepherd. I know I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. . .”
It’s so important that we remember that relationship. Jesus is the good shepherd, and he would do anything for us. Jesus cares for us. If we get lost, he comes looking for us. He won’t rest till he finds us.
Then we looked at another “I AM” saying. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . .All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. . .And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
Then, last week, if you remember, we looked at the place where Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. . .”
All of these different “I AM” sayings. Each one gives us a fresh insight, a fresh picture of who Jesus is.
Today, I want us to look at one of the most challenging of the “I AM” sayings. It’s a part of a long story in John chapter 11.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. 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’s for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
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.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “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 wasn’t there, so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as the Twin) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 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. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “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?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”John 11:1-44
We all know the rest of the story. Jesus went to the tomb, and he wept because his friend had died. Jesus made them roll the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out, all wrapped with the grave clothes. And Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Now, at the time this story took place, people had all kinds of ideas about what happens when we die.
Some people said that nothing happens – you die, and that’s it. Other people said that everybody dies, but then somehow we get raised from the dead at the Last Judgement.
When Jesus died, it says he was buried for three days, and then he rose from the dead. In another story, when Jesus died, there was a robber crucified next to him. Jesus told the robber, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”
Paul said that we’d all be raised from the dead, and go flying up to meet Jesus in the air. Other people hold onto a Bible verse that says that we’ll be raptured – that some people will be snatched up to Heaven, and other people will be left behind.
There’s quite a bit of different ideas about what happens to us!
There’s also quite a lot of different ideas about what Heaven is going to be like. Some people say it’s like crossing over Jordan. Other people say that we’ll meet all our loved ones again. The book of Revelation talks about Heaven as the Holy City, with pearly gates and streets of gold.
I don’t know what to say to all those different ideas. They’re all in the Bible. They’re all different. The one which I like best, and the one which makes the most sense to me, is the one in today’s reading.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. . .”
That’s what I believe. That’s where I put my faith.
I don’t worry about any of the details. I don’t care if we’re all dressed in white, or whether all God’s chillen got shoes.
I like to think there’ll be music. Lots of music! But I don’t know if it’s a hot Dixieland jazz band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”, or whether it’s an angel choir singing the “Hallelujah chorus”. Maybe they’ll take turns. And the music will go on forever and ever, in amazing different ways. We’ll see when we get there!
One thing we do know from Jesus, is that there will be lots of surprises. Lots of people we didn’t expect to be in heaven will be there. People who messed up big time, but who were redeemed by the love they shared.
One of my favorite sayings from Jesus, is that Heaven is like a big house. And in God’s house there are many rooms. More rooms than we can possibly count.
To me, that says that God’s house has room for all different kinds of people. There will be people like us, and there will be lots of people who aren’t like us, who have lived different lives and taken different pathways to God. And God will welcome them, too.
But all that is imagination. That’s dreaming about what Heaven may be like.
What we really know, is what Jesus says to us today. “I AM the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And those who live and believe in me will never die. . .”
Jesus is the good shepherd. He’s the light of the world. He’s the living bread, the bread of life. He’s the vine, and we are the branches. And he is the resurrection and the life, the life that never ends. Those words are the greatest affirmation of faith that we know. It means that death is not the last word. We believe, we put our trust, in God who is the Lord of life.
One of the things which is really interesting about today’s story, is that Jesus says these words, after his friend Lazarus had died.
His family had prayed for him. They had done their best for him. They held his hand. They asked all their friends to pray for him. And he still died.
There was nothing they did that was wrong. Lazarus dying wasn’t any kind of a failure on their part. They didn’t pray with the wrong words, or anything like that. It just happened.
And now, along comes Jesus, saying that death is not the last word, either for Lazarus or for all of us. Jesus is the resurrection. He’s the one who calls us away from death, and makes us stand up and live again.
How that happens, and when it happens, and who it happens for, are not up to us. Our job is to remember who Jesus is, and put our trust in him.
Paul tried to explain this, in a letter he wrote to one of the churches he started. Paul said: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are struck down, but not destroyed. . .
We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. . .
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:5-9, 14, 16-18
That is a whole lot to take in at one sitting. Christians have been trying to figure all this stuff out for a very long time.
If it’s all too much to handle, if this is all too heavy to carry, then remember this: God loved us before we were born. God loves us, all through our entire lives, through all the ups and downs.
If God has loved us, so much, for so long, then God’s love certainly doesn’t end, when we die. If God was able to give us life, at our beginning, then God can certainly give us life, at the end.
And if that’s too hard to remember, then just remember what Jesus says today: “I AM the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, even if they die, will live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. . .”