A Resurrection Before the Resurrection
(And Important Vital Signs Updates)
Dear friends of Vital Signs, March 2016
“‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will never die.’”
In this Easter season, let’s take another look at the passage in which Jesus makes this earth-shattering claim. It occurs in the 11th chapter of John and it involves the resurrection of Jesus’ good friend, Lazarus. The scene opens with a request from Mary and Martha – a request for Jesus’ help for their brother Lazarus who was terribly sick. These sisters, also good friends with Jesus, know well His supernatural powers of healing. They’ve witnessed His miracles and understand that they are the credentials of the long-awaited Messiah. They know Jesus can heal their brother and they are confident the Lord will quickly respond to the need. So they appeal to Jesus by sending Him a message.
But Jesus is far away. We are told in verse 40 of Chapter 10 that He is at a place where John had been baptizing people in the early days. That is in Batanea, otherwise known as the Bethany of Galilee. Lazarus, however, is lying at death’s door in Bethany of Judea which is more than a hundred miles away! Also relevant is that Jesus and His disciples are in relative safety up in Galilee. But in Judea, it’s a much different situation. That’s where His enemies are the most numerous, the most powerful, and the most profoundly committed to His destruction.
Nevertheless, the request of Martha and Mary reaches the group. “Jesus, our brother who You loved is sick.” The Bible passage doesn’t reveal all the details that the messenger brought, but he would certainly have explained that Lazarus wasn’t suffering from anything minor. Lazarus was in peril of his very life.
But our Lord then tells His disciples an intriguing thing. He says to them in verse 4 of Chapter 11, “This sickness will not end in death.” But wait a second. Isn’t that exactly what does happen? Take careful note of Jesus’ exact words: “This sickness will not end in death.” Sadly enough, Lazarus’ sickness will lead to death. But it isn’t going to end there. Rather, it ends in resurrection. It ends in a miracle that glorifies the Father by dramatically authenticating Jesus’ credentials as the Son of God.
The text now provides another remarkable detail. We are told about Jesus’ special relationship with this family in verse 5. However, in verse 6, we’re told that after Jesus received this message, so full of alarm and appeal, He decided to hang around Galilee for another couple of days. Only after that deliberate delay does Jesus tell His disciples; okay, let’s head back.
Why? Was Jesus unconcerned? Of course not. The Scripture has already emphasized His devotion to Lazarus and his sisters. Was He afraid to go back to Judea? No, though His disciples certainly were: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You and You are going there again?” Gulp.
Yes, Jesus is going back. And He now informs His disciples, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe, but let us go to him.” How they must have wondered at that statement! When they arrive at Bethany, the Bethany in Judea, Lazarus has been dead for four days. His body was already wrapped up, placed in a sealed tomb, and was beginning the odious process of decomposition.
And here’s an interesting aside. With Lazarus having died four days before Jesus shows up, a superstitious belief held by many Jews was certainly in play. That superstition held that when a person died, his spirit hovered near the body for 3 days, looking for a chance to enter again and reanimate the body. But after 3 days, any chance of resuscitation was impossible. So, Lazarus was now undeniably, certifiably, stone-cold dead. And everyone in this big crowd of mourners knew it.
Are you beginning to see why Jesus tarried those two days? Why He told the disciples He was glad He wasn’t with Lazarus sooner in order that they might believe? Why Jesus was anticipating that this sickness would not end in death?
Martha runs out and meets Jesus as He comes. And there are very interesting and important things they say to one another (not to mention very interesting and important things that happen afterward…I do hope you’ll read through the whole passage), but I only have time now to draw your attention back to the astonishing statement with which I started this letter. It is an audacious, monumental statement that speaks of Jesus’ power and justice and mercy…and of His exclusivity as Savior. He says, “‘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. Do you believe this?’ Martha said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He Who comes into the world.’”
Jesus has the power over death. And it isn’t a power of the universe that He somehow taps into. No, Jesus has in Himself, as a gift from the Father, complete power over death. By His might, Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the grave. He will speak “Lazarus, come forth” and Lazarus will do just that. The decomposition will not only cease, its terrible damages will be healed. Lazarus will not be bound by the grave cloths nor the cold stillness of the tomb. He will arise as he is commanded by Jesus Christ, He Who is the resurrection and the life.
But Jesus desired this miracle to emphasize even more expansive lessons. He wants Martha and everyone else (including those of us reading the history millennia later) to get this critical point; namely, that anyone who believes in Jesus will never die! Yes, the wages of sin is death. But God has provided a spotless Lamb on Whom the sins of all mankind would be placed, the innocent Son of Man Who will pay our penalty by suffering and dying in our place.
And take it from Jesus Himself, all of those who receive Christ as Savior will experience resurrection power. Oh, there is a physical death to experience alright. But death can’t keep us. Verse 11 states, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” The original Greek construction would actually read, “shall not die forever.”
Do you believe this? That’s what Jesus asks Martha. Her answer is a compelling declaration of faith in the Messiah. She may not understand everything about resurrection but she knows Jesus is the Christ. She trusts His character, His power, His holiness, and His word. Martha believes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
More to the point in this Easter season, however, is the question put to you. Do you believe this? Have you received Jesus as your Savior? Have you embraced the glorious, liberating truth that Jesus is the spotless Lamb Who died (and rose again) to pay the debt of your sins? If so, then you have resurrection in your future. You have life, new and pure and forever. Hallelujah!
“Let every man and woman count himself immortal.
Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection.
Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’”
Okay, now for the newsletter part of this LifeSharer letter. I just have enough space to give you an overview of what’s been happening since last month’s letter. Of course, our ongoing activities continue: 1) the prayer and pro-life witness at the Planned Parenthood abortion mill;
2) writing and recording the radio programs which air each weekday on KLCV (88.5 FM) and which are posted on the front page of the website; 3) the seemingly unending duties of correspondence and the blogs; and 4) our schedule of 11 presentations of “When Swing Was King” in senior care facilities each month.
And added to those activities? 5) We had a wonderfully encouraging Governing Board meeting this month. 6) We created two video clips – one was about Planned Parenthood and the second concerned Easter. They were posted both on Vital Signs Blog and Facebook. 7) I have launched a second reading project that several have signed on for this spring and early summer. The books include titles by Francis Schaeffer, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Nancy Pearcey, and Augustine. 8) Claire and I were profoundly honored to receive special recognition at the Assure Women’s Center fundraising dinner last week as the staff graciously thanked for us getting things started 30 years ago. Also they announced that the Center’s location on Sorenson Parkway would now be called the Hartford Center. Wow.
But that’s not quite all. 9) We have also been working with dear friends Bryan & Janet Lilius and John & Janine Lehman in setting up our most ambitious “When Swing Was King” road trip ever. Indeed, it will mean driving over 2,000 miles as we take our program to 9, possibly 10, senior care facilities in San Antonio, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I’ll also be teaching an adult Sunday school class on Easter Sunday in San Antonio and speaking to some Christian kids in Oklahoma City. This trip, by the way, will take place in the 10-day gap in our regular schedule here, meaning that we won’t miss any of our regular Omaha/Blair/Ashland dates. Your prayers for health, travel safety, spiritual impact, etc. are deeply appreciated.
Other happenings this spring? 10) I’ll be teaching a Sunday school series at Community Bible Church on Randy Alcorn’s outstanding book, Heaven. 11) The next letter-writing party will be on Tuesday, April 12 at our house. 12) We will soon be hosting another series of L’Abri Evenings in which people gather to hear CDs of selected lectures from the recent Rochester conference on apologetics. We haven’t yet worked out the exact dates but we hope you’ll try to make some of these. The presentations were outstanding. And finally, 13) With spring here (well, almost), I’m already well underway with the walking regimen I started in earnest last summer. Using a course near my house, I walk and pray and think – 7 miles a day, several days every week. Claire frequently joins me for a part of the walk also. It is time well spent: the physical exercise, the expansion of prayer, more careful evaluation and planning, even studying as I take along notes to go over. And, if you can believe it, walking this out-of-the-way course, even at a brisk pace, gives me some mental and emotional rest that I’ve really come to appreciate. My plan, if God allows, is to walk the equivalent of the distance across Nebraska and back this year. That would be 860 miles. As of Friday, March 18th, I’ve walked 137 of that distance. I’ll keep you informed of how things go.
May the resurrection power of Christ be yours in all areas of your life and ministry. And may He richly bless you as you “walk” with us in defending the sanctity of life, spiritual liberty, and ministries of mercy in His righteous Name. Happy Easter!