[I would impart this as a pastoral word for all those who are struggling with the specter and terror of death. Death has rightly been named as the final enemy. My heart especially goes out to those Christians in Kenya, whose sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, have been martyred for their belief in Christ. The world may little care. They may say, oh well, another Christian had died, –it is of little moment. But in heaven it is a different story. The Lord of Creation sees; and he hears the tears and cries of his children. The tears of his saints is precious to him, and the cries of his children moves his own heart. There will be an end. An end in which death will be swallowed up in victory. And the grave, yes, the grave will release his children. It will come. You can count on it. –MWP]
“Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
We discover something in the lessons of the hour in the graveyard, culminating as they do in such touching symbolism, which illustrates better than studied devices, Paul’s sublime argument concerning the resurrection of the dead. You remember that the Apostle’s logic insists upon Revelation as the only sure basis of the doctrine, and acids the argument from analogy, to meet the instinctive questionings or fears of those who already accept the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.
The main argument is given in epitome, in the words “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” while the attendant argument from analogy is set forth, in the most winning way, first, by the voices of the wide landscape during the hour of waiting, and then by the child’s offering. The word of Jesus holds the regal place, while analogy is content to serve. You will readily perceive, that the selection of a text for the meditation of this hour, was an easy matter. I could not do otherwise, indeed, than invite you to follow me in an attempt to unfold the meaning of a word from the lips of Jesus.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life!”
This is the central word of one of the most simple, lucid, and affecting narratives of the Gospel. It implies that the dead shall be raised at the last day, and more, it declares that the power of this final resurrection, even then encompassed the sorrowing Martha, and her sleeping brother. He is the Resurrection and the Life – “the Resurrection” because he is “the Life.” Herein rested her hope, and his glory. She had placed her brother in the tomb, and there her thoughts were lingering, save when they took an occasional flight, into the distant future, and found solace in the belief that there would be a resurrection of the dead, at the last day.
Away from the corruption of the grave, and back from these wanderings into the dim distance, he would lead her to look upon himself. The Resurrection he tells her is not so really and truly there, as here. “I am the Resurrection,” and this need be no wonder to you, since “I am the Life.” He is the Life-giving One, “the Living One,” “the Life” in such a sense, that we may believe the death of man would not be possible, were it not for the restraint he places upon himself, in order that sin may have its just wages;” for the whole Gospel story impresses us with the conviction, that the sisters of Bethany were right in their passionate and sorrowful exclamation, “If thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.” “It is beautifully consonant with Divine propriety,”says Bengel, “that no one is ever read of as having died while the Prince of Life was present.”
The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is associated with profound and insoluble mysteries. We meet with many discussions which propose to remove the objections arising in every mind, but have we ever been able to find rest in them? Such discussions have their place, and are by no means to be accounted useless, but we need something superior to them. The best we can do with the mysteries of the doctrine, is to cast them into the depths of a greater mystery “Christ’s personal love for us” which, mystery as it is, is yet something we can feel and enjoy. Personal faith in Jesus is the only power that can bring us into friendly fellowship with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; yet it will be granted that if it is impossible by any efforts of the reason to secure terms of intimacy with the doctrine of the final resurrection, so also it is not easy to gain a practical view of the word of Jesus, “I am the Resurrection.”
If we think for awhile upon the solemn revelation that the dead will rise at the last day, our feelings are like those awakened when we visit one of the grand caves of the earth, to gaze upon its wonders, ” its narrow passages, its lakes and cascades, its gorgeous roof flashing with brilliancy, ” though we bear but flickering lights in our hands. Yet the cave is chilly, and not a place to live in. If, on the other hand, we attempt to turn our thoughts upon Christ as “the Resurrection” an opposite difficulty occurs. We are seeking to draw near to a doctrine which has indeed come forth from the cave, but only to make its home in a castle founded upon a rocky cliff which it would be well-nigh impossible to scale. A mighty faith, it is true, could conquer the difficulties, but as most of us are not equal to the effort we ask what a weaker trust shall do. Is there no gateway? Yes, and one which, perhaps, the faith of most of us would be able to enter; but a question still remains. How shall we come near to a gateway so far above the plane of our present standing? Is there no easy approach, no common highway whose lower terminus lies among the frequented walks of men? The traveler in Scotland will not forget the bold and forbidding front of the castle of Stirling. It seems impregnable and unapproachable, but you have only to enter a common gate, which opens by the side of a common dwelling, upon a common path, and saunter along as you would in any way which is made pleasant by cheerful views at every turn, and you will come into the presence of the guard at the very gateway of the castle on the cliff.
Apart from, and above, all common things, is this lesson concerning Jesus as “the Resurrection.” No one can really reach it but by faith, yet we may draw near unto it, and it is greatly to be desired that we should do so. I have more than intimated already in figurative words that there are easy methods of passing from our most familiar conceptions of Jesus to this higher view of him as “the Resurrection.” Nor is this more than we might expect, since he is elsewhere revealed to us as “the Way,” and we ought to find in him the way to himself as “the Resurrection.”
We are ready now to name some familiar ideas concerning Jesus, upon the consideration of which we may enter with the hope of reaching a position from which our faith may readily lay hold upon him as “the Resurrection.” They are these: His Wisdom; His Tenderness; and His Power.
I. Very many are the evidences we have of the Wisdom of Jesus.
No artifice of Pharisee or Scribe could entangle him in his words. He, who could ask the chief priests and elders whether “the baptism of John was from heaven or of men,” and could answer his crafty foe in these wonderful words, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” is surely wise, far above our common standards of estimate. Everywhere this wisdom displays itself, and perhaps nowhere more surely, though often more openly, than in his methods of presenting his great practical argument to maintain the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. He so selects and arranges his proofs, that the heart of humanity opens healthfully under their light and warmth. He does not blind and bewilder us with the glory of the miracle in Bethany, because we have been prepared for it by less dazzling displays of his power over death. The “ruler’s daughter” opens the way for the coming of the “widow’s son,” and it was needful that both should go before the loved one of Bethany. But more than this, the raising of Lazarus did not furnish full proof of His avowal, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” This miracle, also, was preparatory, and thus humanity was not withered, but cheered by the brilliant testimony which afterward came from the tomb in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea.
Thus, beginning with a meditation upon his Wisdom, we are led in a few steps to his grave, and feel how truly he is “the Way” to himself as “the Resurrection.”
II. Let us seek another path. Here is the Tenderness of Jesus.
It is always manifesting itself. It weeps over the Holy City, and sends its special message to the penitent Peter. Nor does it overlook physical want and weariness, but feels “compassion for the multitude because they had been three days with him, and had nothing to eat,” and says to the Apostles, worn and pressed by their labors, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile.”
His heart is so delicately tender, that we have no friend who feels as keenly as he feels the burden of our trials, great and small.
But here in the narrative concerning the sickness and death of Lazarus, are words which give a shock to our faith in his tenderness. The sisters send a message to Jesus. “He whom thou lovest is sick.” No more is said. This surely would be enough. It would be a waste of words to add, “Come and see him.” They were confident that he would come at once, as the friend and the healer. And do you not hope with them? Would you not have expected that the narrative from this point would read something in this way: ” Now Jesus loved Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus, and therefore he hastened to Bethany? But it tells us that he loved them, and therefore he tarried for two days where he was. What can explain this apparent inconsistency? The answer is here. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” In other words: The sickness was not unto death, but unto the resurrection from death.
Another illustration occurs to me under this head, but I cannot persuade myself to pass to it, until I have called your attention to a thought which has its place here, and is discovered only when we glance at the original language of the Scriptures.
The Greek has two verbs which signify “to love,” and Trench says of them that “it would not have been easy, perhaps not possible, to have discriminated between them in our English version; and yet that there is often a difference between them, one very well worthy to be noted, if this had lain within the compass of our language. “The one,” he continues, “expresses a more reasoning attachment; the other, without being necessarily unreasoning, does yet oftentimes give less account of itself, is more instinctive, implies more passion.”
It would be easy to multiply instances of the use of these two words. One of each will be sufficient for our present purpose. In that remarkable passage, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” we have the word which expresses the reasoning love. The other word we may find in the passage which tells us that Mary ran with the tidings of the Savior’s resurrection “to Simon Peter, and the other disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Now, see the bearing of this distinction upon our subject. When the sisters send this message to Jesus: “He whom thou lovest is sick,” they use the word which implies that his affection is of that peculiar type which bound his heart to the loved disciple John. But this same John, who alone records the story of this great miracle, and who knew better than any one else the real distinction between the words, while he is ready to allow that Jesus does indeed love the family at Bethany, seems careful not to use the word which the sisters employed, but the other. Thus it would seem that the evangelist perceived the apparent coldness of our Savior’s course, and by the very choice of his words explains it. As if he would say, the love of personal intimacy which he felt for Lazarus, would indeed have prompted him to respond at once to the call of the friends who so much longed for his presence, but that more reasoning love which sought for them and for humanity, a higher good in the resurrection of their brother than could possibly have been secured by his restoration to health, induced him to remain where he was.
Let us pass now to another illustration. You will not forget the first word of Martha to Jesus when they met, and that it was the same as the first word of Mary at her meeting with him, and that the bearing of them both makes it quite evident that their exclamation was indicative of the prevailing tone of their lamentations during the previous four days. Many a time doubtless they had said, “0 that Jesus had been here.” Jesus, only a few miles away, knows all this, and yet says to his disciples,”Lazarus is dead, and I am glad I was not there.” While from Bethany the wail ascends, “0 that he were here,” Jesus is saying, “I am glad I am not there.” Why, 0 why this seeming coldness? Savior, why art thou glad? “I am glad for your sakes I was not there, to the intent ye may believe.” Gladly would he have hastened to Bethany, but he denied himself that he might open a way in which he could lead humanity to a better understanding of his words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Thus beginning with the Tenderness of Jesus, our established views are first violated by a strange delay, and then by a gladness still more strange. We seek an explanation, and find it at the grave in Bethany, where he teaches us by a preparatory miracle, to look on toward him as “the Resurrection.”
III. We seek still another path and would come near to Jesus as “the Resurrection” by the way of his Power.
The Power of Jesus is manifest in all his works of wonder, and perhaps still more in the calm and collected tone in which he speaks of drawing all men to himself, as if it were a very small thing to do. But I know of no display of his power which more amazes me than that which was needful to subject himself, as “The Life,” to the power of death. I have remarked already that we do not learn that death ever attempted to seize any one from his presence. Besser has thus well expressed this idea: “We may estimate the power which he must have had to be able to give up his life unto death, when, in his life-streaming presence, Death ventured not to kill even a child of death.”
We are told that “the Pharisees and chief priests took counsel together to put Him to death;” but we are also taught that he had power to lay down his life and power to take it again. It was only his infinite power that could keep him obedient to death during the hours of that Jewish Sabbath. Very early on the first day of the week he came forth –“The Resurrection.” Before that hour there were indeed living witnesses that he had power to raise the dead, but it was not yet established that that power was his “Life.” Unquestionably he is so far the Life-giving One that he has become “the Resurrection” of three who were dead; but this does not prove as yet that he is so truly and so fully “the Life” that he can be “the Resurrection” in all cases. To establish this there is only one proof conceivable; that is, the resurrection of his own body.
Therefore he exercises his power in obedience to a holy strategy which sought to bring death into such a relation to himself that he might prove his supremacy as “the Life,” and thus the Vanquisher of death. How expressive are his own words! “I lay down my life that I might take it again.” Who doubts now that he is “the Resurrection and the Life”? Not only has he come forth from the grave himself, but even while his power was in exercise, to the end that death might have a temporary hold upon him, he was so truly “the Life” that from his very tomb currents of vitality were issuing which found their way into the graves of many, and quietly put them in readiness to go forth with the Lord of Life. The tide of his life was so full and so strong, that when the restraints which his power had imposed were withdrawn, it swept from the grave many besides himself. Thus we have found another path. Commencing with his Power we were attracted by a marvelous display, which finds its only explanation in the fact that he must lay down his life in order that he might take it again, and thus finish the way to himself as “the Resurrection.”
You perceive then that Jesus as “the Resurrection,” is not so far from you as you may have thought, but I must remind you that the most I hope to do by this discussion as thus far conducted, is to show you how you may draw near to him. Having drawn near, you must lay hold of him for yourselves by an exercise of simple trust. You know that it is of the very genius of our religion to give us personality, and now, all things in Christ. All things, even “things to come,” are ours now. With Christ we are crucified, and with him we are risen. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, should seem to us taken up into Christ, and thus we, in whom Christ abides, should, feel the power of the resurrection in our daily experiences.
Now how much do we know of the power of the resurrection?
Do we feel a solemn awe in contemplation of the theme? This is well, but it is not enough, for there are ignorant men in heathen lands who feel as much as this. We have heard of a barbarian chief who could listen without emotion to all the statements and appeals of the missionary of the cross, save the solemn announcement that the bodies of the dead would yet come forth from their graves. This was overwhelming. It was more than he could endure to think that the many he had slain in savage warfare would again stand before him. Now there was a sense in which this barbarian prince felt the power of the resurrection, and it would be well for the eternal hopes of some in Christian communities, perhaps of some within the sound of my voice, if they would yield themselves as far as he did to its’ sway. Yet this surely is a great way off from a personal recognition of Jesus as “the Resurrection.”
Still further. Are we filled with admiration in our views of the doctrine of the resurrection as a power which has changed the whole face of human society? This, too, is well. Doubtless we do not study as carefully as we should the great historical problem presented at the birth of the Christian church, which finds its solution in the resurrection of Jesus. When he was crucified the disciples were scattered, and it seemed impossible that they could ever be brought together again since they found their bond of union in his person. Yet a few weeks after they are more strongly united than ever, more fully than ever consecrated to his work. How is this? “The Crucified” has become “the Resurrection,” and thus the bond of union is the same as before;” and yet not the same, but far more glorious. It is no wonder then that the fishermen of Galilee were changed into the heroes of an enduring and overcoming faith, and that they became in a day the most mighty of all reformers. Yes! this miracle is the basis of man’s highest hopes as a social being. Take away the fact of the resurrection of Jesus from history, and the wildest confusion would result. Deep darkness would fall upon all human hearts, and the cry ” Ye are yet in your sins,” would ring in our ears with a new and awful meaning.
All this we may be ready to recognize, and yet we may not know Jesus as ” the Resurrection.”
Again. Are we able to find rich personal comfort in the belief that there is to be a final resurrection of the dead? This is better truly than a mere solemn awe in contemplation of the theme, or than admiration of its elevating and reforming power; but even this is not enough. It is only the ground which Martha held when she said of her brother: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Far it be from me to undervalue the comfort which flows from this view. When in our thoughtful hours we are moved to solemn reflection upon our own frailty; when we look upon our loved ones in their struggle with “the cold mystery ;” when we go to the grave and commit “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;” and when we come back again to desolate homes, it is well if our faith can rise to see immortality, and to well know that there is comfort here!
As Boyd has said: “The grave of the righteous is the treasury of the skies; it will hear the voice ‘Restore the dead,’ and every atom of its trust shall be rendered back. From places which we pass with little thought of those who are resting there, human forms will come forth to judgment. From some unknown spot, over which the Deluge rolled its effacing waters, the first of men will rise. Ruth will rise from that place where she was buried by Naomi’s side, and Moses from the sepulcher which no man knew. The cave of Machpelah will give up its charge, and David and his fathers will rise from the place where they slept together. Martyrs and patriots will come out from the dungeon where they died, and be brought back by the winds to which men scattered their ashes. The material frame will as certainly be there, which was burnt to “ashes, ground to powder, cast into a rapid stream, as that which lay, in careful seclusion, from the hour of death to the day of judgment.
Massive stones and cathedral arches do not keep the remains of royalty more securely than the wide elements of nature, which are preserving the vestiges of every man that ever breathed. From ocean depths, from mountainside, from the forest and from the desert, they shall come again! And thus, the earth is more valuable than you would think it. God has far more to watch over in it than its living population. It rolls on its way, bearing in its bosom a vast freight of that which is yet to people heaven. Let us remember, that the quiet burying-place which we pass with scarce a glance contains mines which, in God’s sight, are richer by far than ever enriched Peru. Not merely the mouldering remains of organized matter; not something which has seen its day and done its work; but something whose day is only coming, and whose work is not yet well begun; something which rests less in memory than in hope; the “body still united to Christ!” “The field of the world is a harvest-field.”
Is Jesus ours?
He is “the Resurrection,” and are we are risen with Him? Thus a future event is changed into a present. Do we abide in Christ and he in us? Then our resurrection is a fact accomplished. As Adolphe Monod said in his last days, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, like the rest of his life, we appropriate to ourselves, becomes a visible event, bringing to light our own resurrection, though it were before invisible. What an immense blessing and privilege for the Christian, to be able to contemplate, in Jesus Christ, visibly risen, his own resurrection! It is thus raised above, I do not say the doubts, but even the difficulties of faith itself, and becomes a tangible fact, which we find in Jesus Christ and apply to ourselves.”
Are you ever perplexed in your meditations upon the resurrection of the dead? Come back from your vain speculations! The mystery is too great for you. Come bury your face in the bosom of your risen Lord. You are risen already! This is what the Savior meant when he said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” It is what Paul had in his heart when he talked of the “power of the resurrection” as something he could know, and when he addressed the Colossians as those who were already “risen with Christ.”
0, for faith in Jesus “the Resurrection!”
Taken and adapted from, “Jesus, as Our Resurrection”
Written by, Albert D. Hunt.