Summary: Jesus Confessed, Confronted, and Conquered Death!
Introduction: There are many ideas about death that are stated by various people. One study of interest involved the interviewing of several hundreds of terminally ill patients in a hospital. The interviews were conducted for the purpose of attempting to discover their attitudes toward death. The result of the study indicates five stages through which people go when facing death due to a terminal illness.
The first stage: denial. “I am not going to die.”
The second stage: anger. “Why should this happen to
The third stage: bargaining. “Somehow I’ll find a way
to cheat death or at least postpone it.”
The fourth stage: depression. “Well, this is my fate.
Nothing I can do about it.”
The fifth stage: acceptance. “Everyone has to die…
These are generalized and of course many exceptions could be found. But more important than this kind of an analysis is what Jesus Christ teaches about death. It is found in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John. It is the account of the death and then the raising up out of death of a man named Lazarus. He was the brother of two sisters, Mary and Martha. They lived in a town called Bethany. Jesus was a close friend and frequently stayed in their home as He traveled about. This account brings to our minds three distinct truths that Jesus teaches us about death.
1. Jesus confessed death as He saw it in the life of a friend.
Early in the account Jesus was talking with His disciples, and stated: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” (v 11) The disciples misinterpreted the words of Jesus, thinking He was referring to natural sleep. Jesus then changed His words to state: “Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’” (v 14) Therefore the Christian faith acknowledges the reality of death. Worn out with old age, struck down by an accident, stricken by a terminal illness, the body simply wears out and ceases to function. We call it death. Call it whatever you will, it is still a reality. It is a real event.
But there is something else about death that Jesus notes as He focuses on the death of Lazarus. He spoke in terms of a particular death. Our news media likes to deal with death in terms of what someone has called “statistical abstractions.” For example, we are told that “the incidence of high way deaths in the United States is more than so many thousand per year.” That kind of a statement ties our mortality in a big bundle statistically, and it is quite remote from the individuality of death in our close associations. It says nothing about the tears and the heartaches associated with the reality of death. Jesus said: “Lazarus is dead.” It was Lazarus and no one else. And who among us can measure what that meant to Mary and Martha, the loving sisters of Lazarus? We can only measure it in terms of the death of a loved one in our immediate families.
2. Jesus confronted death in His own experience. Moving through this account in Scripture we find the words:
“When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (v 33)
The actual language of the New Testament is very strong here. It suggests something far greater than the emotion of sympathy. It suggests indignation. It is as though what happened to Lazarus had become for Jesus a kind of portrayal in miniature of the cruel agony that death had brought to our world and behind it the rebellion in the hearts of people against God’s wonderful plan of salvation. This rebellion against God’s plan of salvation and the reality of death that it brought and is still bringing are described in the Bible as “the works of the devil.” It is death that is the object of Jesus’ anger, and behind the reality of death is God’s anger against the one who has the power of death, even Satan, whom Jesus came to destroy. Sympathetic? Yes! Understanding? Yes! But His soul was held by rage. Later of course, our Lord would face the ultimate confrontation with death, from which would come His…and our ultimate victory.
3. Jesus conquered death for all of us who will take Him to our hearts and then live in the power of His “endless life.” When Jesus to Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” (v 23) Martha replied: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” (v 24) Jesus was not satisfied with her response, and shook her with the announcement:
”I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (vv 25, 26)