Easter Sunday April 23, 2000
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
In the name of our triumphant Savior, who lives today, tomorrow, and forever, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
During the course of a trial, the two opposing sides, consisting of the prosecution and the defense, are given the right to object. They object to a certain question raised by the other side or certain testimony given from the witness stand. The objection is handled by the judge, who makes a ruling. If the objection has sufficient grounds, the judge will “sustain” it. If the objection does not have sufficient grounds, the judge will “overrule” it. In the course of the trial, the judge has the authority to overrule the lawyer.
This process of overruling can go even higher. The judge in a higher court can overrule the judge’s decision in a lower court. Eventually, we find a level of authority where someone has to speak the final word. In our judicial system we have the Supreme Court as the highest authority. No one can overrule what they determine, unless, of course, they could change the Constitution.
As Christians we know of a court that is higher and mightier than any court on earth. We know that God is the final judge of all. God will speak His irreversible, indisputable verdict through His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, God has already put us on trial. He has rendered justice and announced a ruling on all of our sins. The ruling comes as a pleasant surprise, because God declares that we’re not guilty. It’s an overrule actually—an overrule of our sin, an overrule of our conscience, and also an overrule of the devil. Jesus gets the last word, you see. By virtue of His perfect righteousness, His sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave,
Like it or not, death is the great equalizer. As long as we live on this earth, we notice how the wicked, the shameless, the selfish, and the greedy seem to prosper at the expense of everyone else. But even the strong and mighty, even the tyrant and tycoon, even the rich and famous will have to surrender to death when it comes. Death will take us all. Naturally, people are afraid. What will happen on the other side? Will God accept them or reject them? How will they stand? Maybe you have wrestled with these questions too. We know that death will take us. But we also know from the Bible that Jesus gets the last word over death. That word comes to us in our text. What Jesus said to Martha has been fulfilled in more ways than one.
You heard from the Scripture reading (read John 11:1-44) what happened in the family of Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus had become sick. They sent a message to Jesus that He should come. But the Lord delayed, and Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus finally arrived in Bethany. Martha went out of the house to meet the Lord outside. They had a conversation about her brother. Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Then Jesus said those famous words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
Here we have another statement where Jesus used the phrase, “I am.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He said. (John 14:6) “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11) “I am the door.” (John 10:9) And to Martha He announced that He was “the resurrection and the life.” Those are strong words. The Lord was emphatically stating that He is the source and the power of resurrection. He is the source and power of life, which also means that He is the conqueror of death. So Lazarus was dead? Not a problem. Not for Jesus. He declared that He would overrule death.
And it wasn’t just talk. The Lord backed up His words with actions. He brought His friend back to life. When they came to the tomb, He commanded that the stone be taken away. Martha objected: “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” But Jesus had the last word. When the grave was opened as He commanded, He cried out, “Lazarus, come forth.” The voice of God had spoken. The words conveyed almighty power. They summoned the soul of Lazarus back to his body. Jesus had overruled the death of His friend, and the man came out of the tomb alive and well.
It wasn’t the first time that Christ had performed a resurrection. He had also raised the daughter of Jairus and the youth of Nain, although we should note: these two people had not been buried in a tomb like Lazarus had. The resurrection of Lazarus was unique, because his death and burial were plainly known. Well, the Lord was not finished with the task of raising the dead. In His battle over sin, death, and hell, He would get the last word in dramatic and powerful fashion. He would overrule and overturn His own death.
It’s something He promised to do. To the Jewish leaders He said in reference to Himself: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) To His disciples He said on several occasions: “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” (Mark 9:31) The Lord had come to carry out God’s plan to save the world. So He knew that He would die. He knew that He would rise. And He did not keep this knowledge a secret. He plainly declared and promised His own resurrection.
Bold words for a man to speak. You might not believe it if I said it about myself. But Jesus is different. When Jesus speaks, it’s God talking. If He makes a promise, He keeps it. What else would you expect from the one who is the “resurrection and the life?” If He dies on Good Friday, He has to rise on Easter Sunday.
The Lord backed up His words yet again. He raised Himself to demonstrate once and for all His tremendous power over death. How do we know? We have the evidence of the empty grave; there was no corpse. We have the testimony of the angel who said, “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” We also have the eye-witness reports of many people who saw Him alive. Jesus overruled His own death. Let there be no doubt about that. Instead let there be great comfort and great confidence.
You need to remember: it is sin that kills you. Not some germ, or some disaster, or some accident. The Bible says “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) That’s why Jesus died. Because we broke the commands of God, we have earned the punishment of death. But as we mentioned on Good Friday, Jesus took the punishment for us. It was like a payment made to God the Father. Before God could hand out the ruling of “not guilty,” our debt had to be paid up. Now how do we know that the payment was satisfactory? We go from the cross to the empty tomb. Jesus is risen! It has to mean that God was satisfied, that our debt was canceled and we are off the hook. By clearing up the debt of our sin, Christ has conquered the cause of our death and therefore has passed the victory onto us.
Every time we talk or think or read about the resurrection of Jesus, I want you to remember three things. Let these truths be permanently engraved on your minds. What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us? It means, first of all, that Jesus is almighty God, who lives today and forever. It also means that our sins are paid for and forgiven. And it means that we too will rise. It’s true. Jesus has the last word over our death. He overrules the death of every Christian.
What Jesus said to Martha echoes down to us through the Bible: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” We gain the victory of life by trusting in Christ. He makes a promise and we latch on by trusting what the promise says. Our faith is never blind, nor does it depend on the strength of how much we believe. It’s never up to us. We do not trust in our faith. We trust in Christ, who is the foundation of our faith. He’s the one who conquers death. We simply come along for the ride.
Now we admit that the ride can be rather bumpy at times. The ride will take us through trying moments. If nothing else, we face the troubling moment of our death. Our faith does not exempt us from dying. But it will exempt us from eternal punishment and separation from God. By faith in Christ and faith in the forgiveness of our sins, we escape the torment of hell.
So death is not the end of us. Our soul lives on with God. Our death is not defeat. It’s the way we cross the finish line. We finish our race and claim the prize that Jesus won for us. The death of a Christian will not be any less painful or distressing. God never promised that. But He did promise a final victory. Our death is like moving to a better place. We move from the “slums” of a troubled life on earth to the “mansions” of a perfect life in heaven.
And that body that we leave behind, that body which our loved ones will commit to the ground, though it may turn to dust, it too has a glorious future in store. Our bodies will experience victory on the last day, when Jesus brings those bodies back to life. The Bible describes what our resurrection bodies will be like. The apostle Paul says in Philippians: “The Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Our bodies will be glorified through the resurrection that Jesus performs. That means that all the weaknesses and troubles that we have in our bodies right now will be gone. A perfect body with a perfect mind and a perfect soul! No more sinful nature to contend with. No more pain or sadness. No more death! The Lord has spoken. He gets the last word. He overrules death for Himself and for us.
Easter is all about victor—the victory of Jesus passed onto us. It’s the victory of grace which conquers our sin and makes us clean before God. It’s the victory of life that overrules death. Let’s take the victory of Easter and make it personal. If we are troubled by guilt and the burden of sin, we can take our case to a higher court. Because of Christ, God will overrule. God will declare us not guilty. If we are troubled by the fear of death, we can take our fear to the Savior who lives. He overrules death and gives us life. You can hitch your wagon to Jesus and be confident of the destination to which He takes you. He gives you His word. It’s the last word over sin, death, and hell. It’s the only word that will keep us secure and alive forever. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.