Good morning. It is good to be back for another day of praise to the Lord. There is so much to be thankful for this week. First of all, God has safely brought back Mike and Dona and the Welch family. Also, he has blessed my family with a newborn. And indeed, I am glad to now have a chance to give him my praise, my undivided attention, for a few hours. Our Lord is so good. I can’t conceive of giving him less than the first day of my week or less than my first thoughts each day. I hope you can’t either.
Now let’s study together his word by turning to John, Chapter 11. Today we are going to look for one last time at the death and resurrection of Lazarus. One of the least pleasant subjects is addressed in this chapter. You see, as I read this passage, I am unable to get away from the reality of death. Death, indeed, is unpleasant. It is first of all, unpleasant because none of us can escape it. We may try; but, it just doesn’t happen. You know, we try to exercise three times a week, to keep our cholesterol down and live longer. We try to eat healthy. We get in the car and put our seat belt on. We purify our food and our water. We put sunscreen on to avoid cancer. But, sooner or later, we die! We can’t protect ourselves from it. The death rate in this world is 100%. So that is the first reason death is unpleasant to talk about. But there is another reason. We don’t know when it will come to claim our lives. As much as we try to delay it, there is no warranty. The healthy die; the young die; and the strong die. It can happen at any moment – today, right now, tomorrow or in a year. We just don’t know. I wish we were given a date and a time – an appointment. But we aren’t. We all die when God wants the time to be here.
But, you may think, “Dan, lighten up! I’ve had a hard week. I don’t feel like talking about death right now! It’s so discouraging!” And yes, you are right, it is! But I believe we can make something good out of it. I believe that John 11 gives us a way to look at death in a totally different light. It calls on us to view things from Jesus vantage point. John, here, says, don’t get discouraged. Look at death through Jesus eyes. Remember there is one more powerful than this enemy! It’s Jesus! Look in the story. Lazarus has been dead for four days and now Jesus goes to the tomb. Let’s read together to remind us of what happened. Start with verse one and go all the way to verse 27. “…..” There is a beautiful confession from Martha, but an even more beautiful statement from Jesus. “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” You see the Master was virtually saying, I am, to Lazarus, the powers that can make him live again and I am the power that can keep him alive. Oh, Mary misunderstands that so much. She says, “I know, Jesus, he will live again." later, verse 24. But you see, Jesus words are not meant for the distant future. They are not empty words to be put on a shelf until the appropriate time. They are meant to be an immediate comfort. Right now, he is saying, “I am going to change this.” What a wonderful statement of comfort. What a great friend! Not only for Martha, but for us! Doesn’t that give you comfort for the next Christian funeral you will attend? Why is death not a bad thing for a Christian? If Jesus is there at the funeral, Life and Resurrection are present. “Yeah, right!” someone says. “I still have to live alone!” That person won’t be back alive on the spot. It worked for Lazarus, but today, it’s not like that. I had a little girl once in a Bible class. She heard how Jesus could raise the dead and she prayed for her grandpa to come back to life. It didn’t happen; so, she came to me three years later and said, “You were wrong. Jesus can’t. I prayed and he didn’t.” I say, Jesus, right now, can give us back our departed one. Isn’t he still the Resurrection and the Life? Hasn’t he brought back to life, a few times, people who are clinically dead? But let me say, if you really wish that the dead Christians could come back, think about this one carefully. I believe none of us, after a little thinking, would say yes! Do I really desire to see my glorified wife or my glorified husband sent back to this world of care and pain? Would I deprive my Christian loved ones, who passed away, from the glories which they now enjoy, just to help me in my struggles in this world – just for my selfish desires? Would you disown the saints? You aren’t so cruel! That dear child, you would not have it back from the presence of angels and of his Lord to come here and suffer again! I wouldn’t either! And it’s a comfort to my soul that Jesus does not listen to our foolish prayers at times! It’s a comfort I don’t have the power to make dead rise right now; because, I know, if I did, I’d be tempted in some selfish moment to accept the doubtful boon. Lazarus could return and fit into his place again; but, scarcely one in 10,000 could do so. There would be serious drawbacks in the return of those we loved best. Today, do you cry, “Give back my father, give back my wife or give back my friend?” You don’t know what you are asking! It would probably be a cause of regret to you as long as they would dwell here. Each morning, you would have to think to yourself, “Beloved one, I have brought you out of heaven by my wish. I have robbed you of infinite joy to gratify my selfish self!” You see, I never want the keys of death and Hades for that reason. I thank God that Jesus is the one who holds the keys in his hand. And I trust him. I know Jesus will raise the departed Christians when the time is right, not before. He can now, but, if not, that is fine. I don’t wish to take his responsibility from his shoulders.
As Spurgeon once said and I quote: “My dear ones that lie asleep could be awakened in an instant if the Master thought it best; but it would not be best, and therefore even I would hold His skirt, Tread softly, Master! Do not arouse them! I shall go to them but they shall not return to me. It is not my wish they should return: it is better that they should be with Thee where Thou art, to behold Thy glory.”
You see, the first point I’d like to make today is: When you think of death, when you loose a loved one who is Christian, remember that Jesus is saying, “I am, even now, the Resurrection and the Life!” This person is going to come to life. Yes, he can! But not in my time because his time is best! Why else can I find comfort in the death of a loved one.
There is an appointed time for death to be done away with forever.
Now, when will that be? I Cor. 15:24-26 and I Thess 4:16 says this, “…” So the answer is, when the Lord shall come again in a visible way. The Lord will come again. We should never question the certainty of his appearing. And when he comes, all his redeemed shall live with him. Then, our brother, our sister, all of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, will be given a new body. They will cease to be spirits without physical form. They will receive a flesh similar to the one of the angels. And we are also told, that when Jesus comes, living believers shall not die. After the coming of Christ, there shall be no more death for his people. What does Paul say in I Cor. 15:51? Then he said, “Listen, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed!” So, do I see a little girl with her finger up? Is she saying, “Dan, you’ve made a mistake.” Yes, I made a mistake. But I did it on purpose. Paul did not say, “We shall not all die for it is Jesus who had taught, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall not die!” So to use the term death would have been a contradiction. That is why Paul said, like Jesus, “We shall not all sleep!” You see, when the Lord comes, there will be no more death. Those who are alive when he comes will simply undergo a sudden transformation. For as flesh and blood, we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. So we have been given two consolations – two handkerchiefs to dry our tears with in Christ.
Resurrection with Jesus is resurrection, indeed. Life in Jesus is life, indeed. But in a manner of speaking, death has already been defeated. You see, even now, his dead saints are alive. In John 11:25, you read, “…” You see, the dead, who believed in Jesus, are not in the grave. They are forever with the Lord. They are not unconscious. They are with their Lord in paradise. You see, death cannot kill a believer. It can only usher him into a freer form of life. God, the Bible says, is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Those who have departed in him haven’t perished. We laid the precious body in the cemetery; we put a stone above it; but, we can engrave the words of our Lord on the tombstone, “She is not dead, but she sleeps!” People around us may laugh at our belief, but we scorn their laughing. As long as the person was a true Christian, he or she will live.
There is an essential difference between the decease of the godly and the death of the ungodly.
Death comes to the ungodly as a penal infliction. It is the result of sin. It is the result of the Fall. But to the righteous, death is a summons into the Father’s palace. To the sinner, it may be an execution, but to the saint, it is merely an undressing. Death to the wicked is the kin of terror. Death to the saint is the end of terrors, the commencement of glory. To die in the Lord is a covenant blessing. For a Christian, no longer is it death to die. The name remains, but the thing itself has changed. Why, then, should we live in bondage, with chains of fears of death? Why, then, should we dread the process that gives us liberty? I don’t know why Christians would ever fear that time. And if there is some fear, it should not be immobilizing. I guess I can illustrate it with something I found out about prisoners of the Middle Ages. I read that the people, back then, who were thrown in prisons, for years, were shackled and bound by heavy iron chains, not only to the wall, but also around the hands and feet. Now when the time came for them to be set free, they were scared to death. They suffered much more in the moment of knocking off the fetters than in all the combined years they had been in chains. And yet, not one of them kept their hands away when it was time for the blacksmith to beat the heavy chains off the arms or the legs. You see, if death is scary to some of us, they should still be content to endure that little inconvenience to obtain lasting liberty. Death in Christ is the knocking off of the fetters. And though we may not now realize this, life ties us in heavy chains. When the last liberating blow of grace falls, we will realize it. So, as a man has said, let’s not mind the harsh grating of the key as it turns in the lock. If you understand it right, it will be music to our ears. Imagine that your last hour is here. The key turns with pain for a moment, but then the bolt is shot! The prison gate is open! The spirit is free! Glory be to God for ever and ever! Death, in Christ, is an awesome experience. In that, too, there is comfort. That is my third point.
“Alas,” cries a Christian, “I cannot find anything within to feed my soul with!” Do you expect to feed upon yourself? Must not Israel look up for the manna? Did one of all the tribes find it in his own bosom? To look to self is to turn to a broken cistern which can hold no water.
I tell you, Jesus is the Life. We must say, like Paul, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me!” If then today you want to live in God, you must have Christ. If you desire to continue to live in God, you must continue to have Christ. If you desire to have life develop to the utmost fullness of which it is capable, you must find it all in Christ. Today, if you realize that beyond the circle of Christ is death; if you realize you have not a breath of life anywhere but in Jesus, why don’t you come to him as we stand and sing.