Summary: Jesus is the resurrection and the life because he’ll pass through death to life as the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead. Those who die in him will rise in him. Those who believe in him, even though they die, will live and will never die.
How are you at reading the signs? I don’t mean street signs or advertising signs, I mean the signs of God’s kingdom? Over the last few months we’ve been looking at how John draws out sign after sign from Jesus’ life; signs of who Jesus is and signs of what he came to do; signs in fact of God’s kingdom being revealed on earth. And the point of all these signs is to bring us to belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; to show us the way to life. In fact that idea of Jesus bringing life comes out very clearly doesn’t it? We’ve seen how Jesus is the bread of life; how he offers the water of life; how he is the light of life; and today we discover that he’s the resurrection and the life.
But the question is, what does that mean for us? In what sense is he the resurrection and the life for you and me?
Well, let’s see what we find as we look at this passage.
The narrative begins with Jesus hiding from the Jewish leaders across the Jordan where John had been baptising at the start of the gospel: interestingly, it’s also called Bethany in ch1, but not the Bethany where Martha and Mary lived. While he’s there Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother, becomes ill. So they send a message to Jesus to come and heal him.
Lazarus, we discover, is one of those who’s particularly loved by Jesus. They would have expected Jesus to respond quickly to this plea but instead he tells his disciples there’s no need to worry because this illness doesn’t lead to death. Rather it’s for God’s glory. Do you remember 2 weeks ago we read how Jesus said a similar thing about the blind man’s illness? He wasn’t blind because of some sin but so that God’s glory might be revealed. Well the same applies here. But notice what else he says: “rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” What they’re about to witness is a sign that both glorifies God but at the same time glorifies the Son of God. In fact if you think about it, Jesus is the one in whom God pre-eminently reveals himself. So any glory that Jesus receives is, at the same time, glory that God receives. Or to think of it the other way round, God delights to see his Son glorified and the Son delights to glorify the Father.
What we’re about to see is the beginning of the glory of Jesus being revealed. It’s not the full glory though, just a glimpse. His full glory will be revealed in his death and resurrection as we discover in the next chapter, but right now he’s about to perform his greatest sign so far, a sign that shows him to be the one the whole world is waiting for.
Now clearly Jesus knows what’s going on. He has some sort of supernatural knowledge of the events in Bethany. But he doesn’t hurry off to heal Lazarus. Instead he waits two full days. What’s he doing? Some people have suggested there’s a hardheartedness in Jesus actions here. Rather than hurrying off to care for his friends he leaves them to mourn for 4 days before getting there. But John makes it quite clear that that’s not the case. He loves Martha and Mary and Lazarus. But they need more than just his comfort and care. They need to read the signs in a way that leads them to true faith in him and as a result to eternal life.
So he waits. The 2 days delay, following a day to get the message then another day to get to Bethany meant that he didn’t get there until four days after Lazarus had died. For us that’s just a long period of time but for the Jews it had great significance. You see there was a belief that a person’s spirit hung around for 3 or four day after they died in case the body was resuscitated. After 4 days the body had begun to decay so it was too late. So it seems that Jesus was waiting to ensure that there was no thought that this miracle was simply Lazarus reviving in the cool of the tomb.
Eventually Jesus says: “Let us go to Judea again.” Well the disciples are shocked. They may believe in Jesus as the Christ but they also know what’s waiting for him in Judea. They say: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” They don’t quite ask “Are you out of your mind?” but that’s clearly what they’re thinking. Or perhaps they’re thinking “Do we have to come too?” Thomas obviously expects that if they all go back to Jerusalem they’ll all die. Mind you, you have to admire Thomas don’t you? I mean, he’s had a lot of bad press over his refusal to believe that Jesus could have risen from the dead. But there’s no doubt in his mind here. If Jesus is going, he’s going with him. Here is great devotion and courage, even if he doesn’t fully understand what he’s saying; even if Jesus role as the lamb of God is one that couldn’t be shared by his disciples.