I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Man Who Took Control Over Death
There is an ancient story about death that goes something like this:
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace, I was jostled by someone in the crowd and when I turned, I saw it was Death that jostled me. He looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw death standing in the crowd and he came to him and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, death said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
Death is something that none of us can escape. The Scriptures tell us that:
"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27).
Indeed, it was the apostle Paul that informed us that death is the wages or the payment for our sin in Romans 6:23. Sin is disobedience to God's rule. It is telling God that you don't want His rule over you. And it is an offense to the righteous judge of the universe. So God must punish it if He is to remain holy.
As a result, all of us will one day die. But it doesn't stop there. The final judgment that we all deserve is Hell. Scripture tells us that we will be eternally separated from God, our creator, if our sin isn't somehow atoned for. One of the saddest Scriptures in the Bible is when the writer John tells us in Revelation 20:11-15 these frightful words:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This is sometimes referred to as 'eternal death' because, just as physical death is a separation of body and spirit, this is an eternal separation of the sinner from God and a point at which there is no hope of return.
Sadly, on our own, we are without hope of ever overcoming our sinful nature and making things right with God. We are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-10).
However, there is one man who has claimed to be the hope of us all. That man is the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, who took on flesh, lived a perfect sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins. Then three days later, He arose from the dead. The grave couldn't hold Him. Death could not stop Him. And then, after his resurrection, He returned to Heaven again, one day to come back to this earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And all who accept His sacrifice, by faith, will be with Him forever, in His holy and sinless heavenly Kingdom where death will be no more.
Some might say that Jesus never claimed any of these things. But all we have to do is go back to the New Testament and see for ourselves. One of the Scriptures where our Lord's view of Himself is clearly seen is found in John 11. In this chapter, Jesus demonstrates His power over physical death by raising His friend Lazarus from the dead and He shows that He knew very well who He was and what He came to this earth to do.
Let's look a little more carefully at this text and see how our Lord saw Himself and how this affects us who have taken Him as our Savior.
I. The Story as Recorded in John 11
First let's review the story. We know that Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary were some of Jesus' closest friends. And Lazarus became deathly sick. When this happened Lazarus' sisters sent for him saying:
"Lord, the one you love is sick!" (3).
But rather than going right away to see His sick friend, Jesus waited 2 more days before going to the place where he was. He did this because He knew that He'd go there to perform a great miracle that showed who He is and would, by this, give glory to God the Father. By the time Jesus reached Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived, Lazarus had already been dead for 4 days.
Martha, hearing that Jesus was in town, went out to meet Him. Then Scripture tells us:
"Lord," she said, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you." (21-22).
Jesus then told her:
"Your brother will rise again." (23).
"I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
It is then that Jesus made a very profound statement that proved that He knew that He was someone very special. In fact, He knew that He was God in the flesh. Christ told Martha:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (25-26a).
He then asks Martha the same question that we should all be asking ourselves. He asked:
"Do you believe this? (26b)
Martha then tells Him:
"Yes, Lord! I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world!" (27).
We find out later in the same chapter that Jesus actually does what He said He was going to do. He raised up Lazarus back to life again. But I want to focus on what Jesus said in verses 25 and 26. What was the Lord claiming here?
II. Jesus Claimed Deity
First of all, with these words, Jesus was claiming to be divine. He said: 'I Am.' This is a fifth in a series of 'I Am' statements in the book of John. He is referring back to the time when Moses was being told to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land, found in Exodus 3.
God appeared in the form of a burning bush to the future leader. And Moses, worried that the people wouldn't believe that God had sent him, asked the Lord to give Him something to say when they asked which deity he was speaking about. After all, in Egypt, they were taught that there were many gods. This is what Scripture tells us:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ (Exodus 3:14).
I like what the website compellingtruth.org has to say about this section of Scripture. It says:
"This response set God apart from all the foreign gods the people may have known. This God is not limited to a first name or a particular domain. This God was not created by human hands nor named by human language. The statement "I AM" comes from the Hebrew verb "to be or to exist." With this statement, God declared that He is self-existent, eternal, self-sufficient, self-directed, and unchanging. But this statement also declared that He is present. Despite His nature being so different from humans and their man-made gods, God is present with His people. He was aware of their suffering, He desired to deliver them, and He intended to be known throughout all generations (Exodus 3:7–15). Revealing His holy name to Moses implied an intimate relationship as first names were often only shared with those in covenant relationship. This God had been present and would always be present with His people, ready to intervene on their behalf."
From the statement: "I Am Who I Am" God formed a proper name for Himself. It is, in Hebrew, the name Yahweh. This name was considered so holy by the Hebrew people that it could not be spoken aloud or even written in its entirety. In fact, if a scribe should copy the Scriptures and came to that holy name, he would set aside his quill and get a brand new one that would write only that name and then break the quill afterward so that no other word would ever flow from it.
Whenever the Jewish people would hear the name 'I Am' they would always hearken back to that wonderful day when the Lord delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt. That is why it was considered blasphemy by the Jewish leaders in Jesus' day, who picked up stones to kill Him, when Jesus one day told them in John 8:58 that:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I Am!"
And, of course, in this passage, in chapter 11, He is continuing His claim to deity by telling Martha that He, Yahweh of the Old Testament, has the power over Life and death.
III. Jesus Claimed Power Over Life and Death
This, the second major claim, is simple for Him if He is indeed God. He, as Yahweh, has the power over life and death.
Jesus said that He is the Resurrection and the Life. And He further told Martha that he who believes in me will live even though he dies. And the one who lives and believes in me, He says, will never die.
With these statements, Jesus moved Martha from some abstract belief in a resurrection that will take place on the last day, to a personalized trust in Him. He is saying that He and He alone can raise the dead. Christ is telling Martha that no resurrection and no eternal life exists outside of Him. And one doesn't even have to wait until the last day for this. The Lord can give life to the dead at any time He wants to do so.
Further, Jesus put actions to His words by bringing back to life Lazarus, a man who had been dead for 4 days and was beginning to decay. And as someone once said, Jesus ruined every funeral that he ever attended. Every time Jesus was at a funeral, the person who was dead came back to life.
We see in verse 44 of chapter 11 that Jesus cried out in a loud voice:
"Lazarus, come forth!"
These words were a preview of the power that will one day be fully displayed in the final resurrection when all the dead, small and great, hear the voice of the Son of God and will live again!
We can see this more clearly if we remember an earlier chapter in this same book. In John 5:25-29 Jesus says:
“And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment."
Jesus indeed claimed the power over life and death!
IV. The Power of Life is Accessed by Faith in Jesus Christ
A final claim of Jesus is that the power to receive life is only accessed by faith in Him. He is the one who brings it to each individual. But only if we accept His sacrifice on our behalf. Further, this is not just a mere intellectual assent. Scripture teaches us that even the demons believe in God and tremble (James 2:19). But the demons aren't saved. Saving faith means that we must trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.
There is absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves. The apostle Paul says that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He has saved us (Titus 3:5). And Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us:
"For by grace are you saved through faith. And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast."
Salvation is trusting in God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. When Jesus died for our sins on the cross, He said just before He died:
"It is finished!"
This can also be translated as: "Paid in full!!" Indeed, there is nothing else that we can add to our salvation. Jesus has delivered all those who trust in Him from eternal death and hell.
As I write this, it is the day before Easter Sunday, which is considered the most holy day in the the Christian calendar. This is true because it is the day in which Jesus Christ arose and conquered death once and for all and exited the tomb forever. The apostle Paul says of Jesus:
"For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all time; but the life that He lives, He lives to God." (Romans 6:10).
Further, for those who have placed their trust in Him, He will one day give us the power to conquer death as well. On this earth in these sin-cursed bodies, we all still must face death unless Christ comes back to take us home before that time. But we, unlike the world, don't have to fear this great enemy. For it has been defanged and declawed by the power of the cross and the resurrection.
The writer of Hebrews tells us these things about Jesus:
"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Because of Jesus, the slave has been set free. And one day that great enemy, death, will be the last one to be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). Further, there will come a time when we will live in a universe without mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
So may we, every Easter Sunday, and every day in between, not only celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let us also celebrate the victory that He has brought about on our behalf. That is our future victory over the grave.
I want to leave you with a portion of a poem by John Donne. It is a holy sonnet entitled: 'Death be not Proud.' In it he says:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me...
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!"
All this is because of what Jesus did on the cross, followed by His resurrection from the dead! He is the Resurrection and the Life. May we all give our lives totally to Him. For that is our only hope in this life and in the one to come.
© 2022 Jeff Shirley