Jesus, the Resurrection and Life: A Hope-filled Truth (John 11)

by Jillian L. Ross

In a quiet nook in my yard rests my prayer garden, a garden to remind me of Jesus and draw my focus on Him. In the center stands a shepherd’s hook to symbolize Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). A lamb’s ear appears at its base to recall that he laid down his life for his sheep (10:11). Beside the lamb’s ear are two bleeding hearts, a pink one for Jesus’ blood and a white one for my cleansed heart from His blood. The other plant is an Easter lily—or as I call it “Grandpa’s resurrection lily.” It recalls Jesus’ words to Martha in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (ESV)

Martha replies with strong faith, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.” Mary’s response, however laudable, is not what I wish to focus on today, nor do I wish to focus explicitly on Jesus’ “I am” statement. Instead, I wish to consider the raising of Lazarus as Jesus’ climactic sign in the book of John.

The gospel of John differs from the other gospels in that it does not provide miracle after miracle to testify of Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Instead, John recognizes the vast miracles Jesus performed but selects seven signs, or sign miracles, to do so. These signs are recounted so that readers may believe and have eternal life in Jesus Christ (20:20-31; cf. 11:47). John uses the number seven to denote completeness. Thus, the seven signs (like his seven “I am” statements) testify that Jesus is the perfect Messiah. It is import to note that John arranges the signs to crescendo with the greatest, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:38-44). These signs appear in the first half of John prior to Holy Week. In fact, some scholars call the first half of the book of John “The Signs of the Messiah” (1:19–12:50).

Now, a sign is slightly different from a “mighty work” or a standard miracle. Signs are miracles that have a symbolic function. A sign points out something outside of itself. For example, a “one way” street sign signals that traffic goes in only one direction. The seven signs point to aspects of Jesus’ role as the Messiah and lead people to faith. For example, the first sign is when Jesus turns the Jewish purification water to wine. This old water (symbolizing the old covenant) could only cleanse the outside of a person, whereas this new wine (the Gospel/new covenant) could cleanse the whole person (so also Ben Worthington III). The forth sign, Jesus feeding the five thousand, testifies that Jesus is the new and greater Moses long ago prophesized by Moses (Deut 18:15).

As the first half of the book of John closes, Jesus reveals himself as the resurrection and life before preforming his seventh sign. Jesus is the one who can defeat death. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their brother of sickness (John 11:21, 32; cf. 37); they believed Jesus could raise their brother at the final resurrection (11:27); but they were unaware of Jesus’ power to raise the physically dead as were the Jews present. Jesus tells the mourners to remove the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb to which Martha objects, not understanding that Jesus was doing. Jesus replies that she will see “the glory of God.” Displaying God’s glory is the aim of Jesus’ actions. He prays to the Father so that the Jews present would know that He raises Lazarus by the authority of God the Father, not based on His own (as in a non-divine) will. Then, to ensure the crowd hears Him and knows His miracle is not some “hocuspocus” incantation, Jesus calls out with a load voice, “Lazarus come out” (11:43). Lazarus comes out alive, and the Jews unbind him (11:44).

“Many of the Jews therefore … believed in Him” as the Messiah (11:45). For this very reason, Jesuspreformed this miracle. As a sign, He preformed this miracle to point to His own impending death and resurrection. With this, it should be noted that Jesus preformed this miracle selflessly. Many, but not all
believed. “Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done”—not to evangelize the Pharisees but to incite them (11:46). These Pharisees and the religious council “from that day on made plans to put [Jesus] to death” (11:53). This miracle essentially placed a bounty on Jesus’ head. Nevertheless, Jesus did it for its sign function. God’s glory was on display when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. God’s glory was on display when Jesus rose from the dead, and God’s glory will be on display when those who believe in Him will rise on that final resurrection day.

Not everyone who sees Jesus at work believes in Him, but all must answer His question: “Do you believe this?” Do you believe His words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:25-26)?
As I think of the physical pain and death that surrounds this pandemic, I am grieved as Mary and Martha were grieved by the physical loss of their brother Lazarus. Still, I take comfort in final resurrection. That those who believe “though they die, yet shall they live.”

I planted “Grandpa’s resurrection lily” as a reminder that I will see him again at the final resurrection. This year “Grandpa’s lily” made two babies. I have decided to dedicate one of them to a faithful believer who passes from this life into the next due to COVID-19. Because of the resurrection, I have hope and joy this Easter day.

He is Risen!

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Easter & the Lily by Louise Lewin Matthews
Easter morn with lilies fair
Fills the church with perfumes rare,
As their clouds of incense rise,
Sweetest offerings to the skies.
Stately lilies pure and white
Flooding darkness with their light,
Bloom and sorrow drifts away,
On this holy hallow’d day.
Easter Lilies bending low
in the golden afterglow,
Bear a message from the sod
To the heavenly towers of God.

Prayer Prompts for this week, by Laverne Smith