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THE PROMISE OF OVERCOMING DEATH
John 12:1-27

25th August 2002

This week, more than 100 children were buried alive for a brief time as part of a ritual to appease two Hindu goddesses in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The ritual is to propitiate two ferocious goddesses, incarnations of the Hindu goddess of destruction, Kali.

The ceremony is known as the "Festival of emerging from the pit". All 106 children who took part are fine but exhausted. The ritual takes five hours. Children are wrapped in wet cloth. They are brought by parents in a procession to the beating of drums. The children are almost unconscious after going through the elaborate preparations for the ritual including a 30-day fast. If any child does not become unconscious by the time all the preparations for the ritual are complete, the family is fined 1000 rupees (about $A35) for "blasphemy". After arriving at the temple, each family places its child in a half-metre deep pit, which is then covered with earth to the chanting of sacred texts. On a signal from a priest, the pits are opened and the children lifted out. The cloth is lifted from their faces and water sprinkled over their faces to revive them, amid loud praises to their deities. The ceremony symbolizes the child's rebirth under divine rejuvenation. People have invented all sorts of rituals in the hope that they will overcome death.

Christianity rejects such behaviour. But there are examples of Jesus raising several people from the dead. They had not fasted, but died of natural means. One was a twelve-year-old girl. Another was a young man. Another was a middle aged man, a friend of Jesus, who had died and been buried for several days. The remarkable thing is Jesus promises to do that for each of us!

Jesus promises to bring those who believe in Him alive from the grave no matter how long we have been dead nor how our bodies have been destroyed! This is the promise: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." John 11:25,26

Each of us will die. No one, regardless of status, position, or wealth, is immune from death. Each of us, whatever our race, nation or culture is marked "Perishable Goods". We all have the disease called "mortality". There is no cure. All of us will die, one at a time. Today, 300 Australians died. Six thousand Australians now grieve because of those deaths. Tomorrow 300 will die, and another six thousand will grieve. It will be so every day of every week. Everyone is mortal, but Jesus promised, "I am the Resurrection and the Life.. because I live, you also will live." John 11:25 & 14:19

The foes of Jesus had been making things as difficult for Him as they could. He had long discussions with the Pharisees during the Feast of the Tabernacles. When the Pharisees ran out of argument they resorted to stones. "They picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds." John 8:59 Jesus further upset them when He healed the man born blind. John 9 "Again the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." John 10:31-33 Jesus evaded them and went back across the Jordan River.

Meanwhile, at Bethany, a village less than two miles from Jerusalem, at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where Jesus often stayed, Lazarus became ill. The two sisters were so alarmed at the illness of their brother that they sent an urgent message, "Lord, the one you love is sick." It took a day to make the journey down to Jericho and over the Jordan to Jesus. Although He did not know it, the word from the messenger was too late. Lazarus had already died. "When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days. Then He said to His disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." John 11:4-7

The disciples were not keen to go. They were concerned. "But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" 11:8 Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." Then Thomas said glumly to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." V16 They set out but it was a further three days before they reached Bethany. On reaching the house, they found that Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days and, according to custom, there had been three days of unrestrained wailing, and they were beginning the prescribed seven days of deep lamentation. Into this circle of mourning came Jesus, and Martha rushed to Him with half a reproach, ""Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."v21-24

Then came the wonderful promise of Jesus that takes away for all time the sting of death, He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." V25-26

1. THE FACT OF DEATH.

When Jesus spoke about the fact of death He used a unique expression. "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." Christians have always spoken about death as a "sleep". Many times in the New Testament, to die is to fall asleep. "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thessalonians 4:14 The dead will be awakened at the sound of the trumpet. 1 Corinthians 15:51,52 Early Christians made a great impact with this understanding of death. In 124 A.D., the Emperor Hadrian wanted to learn about the growing Christian sect and he asked the Greek philosopher Aristides, "Tell me about these Christians. What do they do?" Aristides told the Emperor about the Christian view of dying. "When one of them among the righteous dies and passes from this world, the rest of the Christians rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body as if it were setting out from one place to another, from this earth to heaven." The Christians even changed the name of the burial place. They wanted it known as a place where the dead were asleep in Christ. The Greeks called it a "necropolis" meaning "city of corpses". The Christians called it a "cemetery" meaning "a dormitory of sleepers". The sleepers will be awakened to live with their Lord forever. Jesus said, "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."" Hearts can be broken by news like that! Off the coast of Newfoundland a submarine sank. Deep-sea divers found the small submarine and tapped a message on its hull, "Is there any life inside?" In reply came a question in Morse code, "Is there any hope?" Because of the promise of Jesus, there is hope in spite of death. Hearts are mended with news like that!

2. THE PROMISE OF LIFE.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Being close to Jerusalem, many had come from there to comfort Martha and Mary. Martha went to meet Jesus. Mary stayed in the house. Martha said what so many say when someone has died: "If only……!" "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." v21 "If you had got here in time, doctor,…", "If you had been here, minister….", "If you had been here, mother….". We want to deny death has occurred. We feel angry, numb, sometimes guilty. "If only I had done this or that or something more, then death would not have occurred." To Martha, Jesus said, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." v24 Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." v25-26 He was speaking about spiritual living. Even though a person will die physically, spiritually he will live. Whoever lives spiritually and believes in Him, will never die spiritually; even though there will be physical death.

"Do you believe this?" asked Jesus of Martha. "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." v27 Here is the importance of our belief in Jesus as the Anointed One, promised by God, come to redeem all people and to save them from death. "Because I live," said Jesus, "you shall live also." 14:19 So Paul told Timothy, "Our Saviour, Christ Jesus, has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." 2 Timothy 1:10

3. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GRIEF.

Every death involves grief. We who care must express grief. Our tears are sorrow in solution. Grieving is a natural part of healing. Jesus showed grief. When Mary came out to Jesus she said what Martha had said. She said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" He asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" v33-36 In sharing, in grieving, in weeping, Jesus showed us the significance of grief. We comfort one another. Our hearts go out to others. We share not only in laughter but also in tears. We may say only a child cries. We may tell children. "Stop crying. Only babies cry. Be a man!" How foolish! Jesus cried like a man! Our tears are God's release for our sorrow.

4. THE POWER OF CHRIST.

Jesus brings to those who weep, a power that will lead to life. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." v25-26

There is power in Christ's promise. Martha told Jesus that she knew He had the power that could have saved her brother from dying. Christ's power saves us from dying every day. As we travel constantly around the country, in the air, on the roads, and always in busy traffic, every day He saves us from dying. The folk at Bethany did not expect a miracle when Jesus went to the grave of Lazarus. But He who raised to life the daughter of Jairus; He who stopped the funeral procession at Nain and gave a widow back her son; He now gave four great commands: "Take away the stone." "Lazarus, come out!" "Take off the grave clothes." "Let him go." v39-44 Lazarus, freed from the tomb and the grave clothes, stands before them and the people run in awe.

There are people whom Jesus still calls out of their graves, and I am going to be one of them! He is going to call out to all who believe in Him, "Come out, into life!" He takes off the grave clothes. He frees us from the shrouds! Our Lord sets free the people bound in grave clothes. What grave clothes? The fear of death is one. Some cannot even speak of death because it has been their great fear. But "by His death Jesus destroys him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and frees those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:15 By your belief in Him Jesus sets you free from the fact of death, from the finality of death, from the fear of death. You may be dead in your trespasses and sin. For many people now living, aren't! They are only existing. They have no life, but are bound in grave clothes. But Jesus promises "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." V25-26 Thank God! And believe now! 

REFERENCES.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald 23.8.2002.
Wesley Mission, Sydney.