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Death, Resurrection and Eternal Life (John 11:17-46) – Mark Ottaway

Living for Eternity

Death, Resurrection, and Eternal Life

John 11:17-46


Turn to John 11. The major character in our story this morning is Christ. And the minor characters are Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and a group of chief priests and the Pharisees. We are quite familiar with Mary and Martha because of the story in Luke 10, where we all know that Martha was the busy one, and Mary was the one who desired to just be with Jesus. The event in John 11 is much later than the Luke 10 account. Good to be reminded here that this story in John 11 is very close to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. It would also seem that the faith of both Mary and Martha is very strong here in John 11, though we may smile a bit as Martha’s character is still similar to what we see in Luke 10. Though we see a strong Martha, we still see the same busyness of Martha. It was obvious that this was a close family, and that many (vs 19) were coming to console Mary and Martha because of the death of Lazarus. But notice the similar character traits that we are already aware of with these women. In verse 20, as soon as Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she runs to meet Him, whereas Mary is unaware and stays sitting in the house. We sort of get the idea that Martha always makes sure that everything is done and that she is busy, while Mary is bemoaning the death of her brother Lazarus, so little else matters. And there seems to be a closer connection between Mary and Lazarus than we see between Martha and Lazarus. And I do not say that in a bad way, but it does come out in the narrative. This is a conversation between Jesus and Martha, and she says to Christ:

“‘But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”

John 11:22-24 (LSB)


The practical character of Martha just oozes here. For she is the one who meets Jesus and when Jesus says that Lazarus will rise again, she quickly responds, well I know he will rise again on the last day. I also have to smile that when Jesus asks (vs 38) to have the stone rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha cannot contain herself (vs 39) Lord, he is going to stink something awful! Now I do not want to read too much into this account, but it is a good lesson for those of us who may be more on the practical side as opposed to the amazement side. Some of us might quickly want to make this statement a little more palatable. Lazarus will rise again. Well, yah in the resurrection. No, Martha, your brother Lazarus is going to be raised right now from the dead. We can become a little practical in our faith, can’t we? Someone who has lived a very hard life comes to Christ, and they may come with a lot of “baggage,” and instead of being amazed by what the Lord has done, we may tend to respond, well, time will tell. And I am not talking here about being naïve, but we also do not want to ever lose our amazement in God. For Jesus to say that Lazarus will rise again, would be the time for Martha to respond, why Lord, what are you going to do? I wonder what Jesus might do for my brother?


And some of this doubt may come from the things we have heard in Christianity over the years, and I know I am digressing here a little. But big-name preachers who have been willing to throw away an entire ministry for a moment of pleasure, can leave us sometimes wondering and be a little cynical. Who’s next? Who’s next to fall? Well here is what we need to know. That a person who claims to be a Christian, often a leader in Christianity. That if by their actions it is proven that they were only living a lie, especially those who are found out to have been living in sin for a long time and it only becomes apparent because they are found out, we need to know that the Bible does not deny this at all. 1 John 2:19 says:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be manifested that they all are not of us.”

  • John 2:19 (LSB)


The Bible itself is not surprised at those who at one time claimed to be Christians, but their future actions proved otherwise. Future actions that proved the lost present condition of their heart. This does not teach us anything about Christ or the work of the Spirit, as if there are flaws in the work of Christ or the Holy Spirit. No, the flaws are not in true Christianity, the flaws are in those who have presented a false front. And I do not want to be unfeeling here, for, of course, we all hurt and are taken back by someone who claimed to know Christ, and yet later on it was proven otherwise, but this has no bearing on the perfections and the greatness of Christ. Therefore, we never want to allow the disappointment of a so-called Christian to ever harden our hearts towards Christianity and Christ. And therefore, we want to be careful that we always have a heart of amazement toward what God is doing. And though Martha may have struggled with a human tendency to be very practical at times, may we not miss the depth of her amazing faith.

“She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who comes into the world.”

John 11:27 (LSB)


And I love the response of Jesus when Martha was all concerned about the smell. Marth, Martha:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’”

John 11:40 (LSB)


So, we who can tend to be a little practical in our faith, may we see the glory of God and be overwhelmed with the greatness of everything He does. Now Mary, Martha’s sister, seems to be the more personable. You know those kinds of people that just want to sit down and talk to you when you have something that needs to be done. Now when Mary does hear that Jesus has actually arrived she (vs 29) jumps up to meet Him. And she responds in almost the same way as Martha (vs 32), “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But do not miss the extra words here by John saying that Mary (vs 32) she fell at Jesus’ feet. Certainly, the others that were there knew the personality of Mary, for (vs 31) as when they didn’t see Mary, they assumed she had gone to Lazarus’ tomb to cry. Obviously, both women loved Lazarus greatly, but Mary seems to have had the greater connection as she allowed herself to be closer to Lazarus, and her heart shows this throughout the passage. Following the story of Lazarus being resurrected from the dead, where we have read that many had come to console both Mary and Martha. Again, look what John writes in verse 45:

“Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.”

John 11:45 (LSB)


Again, I do not want to be unfair to Martha, but it is Mary who seems to have the more spiritual impact on others, as her heart seems to be more focused on that which is of most importance. This is obvious, of course, in Luke 10 where Martha’s energies are toward the practical things that need doing, while Mary’s energies are toward her relationship with Christ. Where Jesus Himself says to Martha, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, while Mary has chosen that which is good. I mentioned to you a number of weeks ago that I had the privilege of doing a funeral for a dear friend in Chatham. Dale Groombridge who passed away. Dale was more of a Mary. He was a very successful real estate agent all his life. He was a planner in ministry and events with his family. But if you were there to visit or had a problem, you had his attention completely and unbroken. And he enjoyed you. There was a sincere interest by Dale towards others. This is so good to strive for, to have this kind of relationship with our spouse and children, to be able to walk in the door and quickly turn your thoughts to your family. Hey, how are your guys doing? Tell me about school today. How did your day go? That sincere interest in others. And we might think that this is not necessarily biblical, yet this is a direct command from Paul in Philippians, to regard one another as more important than yourselves, not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Well next, I want to look at the chief priests and the Pharisees for just a moment. They do not take up much of the chapter, but do show up of course in a negative way.

“Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is doing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’… So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.”

John 11:47-48; 53 (LSB)


This emphasizes to us man’s natural reaction to Jesus. That there is a particular fear of Christ and His teaching, as everything about Christianity is suspect and not just here in our passage but also today. As there is a natural tendency for the world to want to be rid of Christianity. And I wanted to think about this from an unbiased perspective, asking, why is Christianity such a threat to our world? Not why doesn’t the world not desire to embrace Christianity, that is their prerogative, but why is the world afraid of Christianity? For we are coming into a time when everything else is either embraced or at least tolerated, but if anything, the world wants to battle directly against the beliefs of Christianity. Why is that? I mean you cannot have sane people defend such things as a Drag Queen Storytime in libraries for children without there being some kind of natural hatred for what is right. And we know that there have always been those who might accept and promote such perverted things, but today our greater society is embracing craziness. And it is the same reason that church after church is falling away from the clear teaching of the Bible, as churches become afraid that if they hold to the Bible, people will be offended and will no longer be attracted to Christ. Christian camps are afraid, mission agencies are becoming afraid. Hard to know what will be even left 10-20 years from now.


Yet Christianity itself, makes no qualms about what is right and what is wrong. And therefore, Christianity becomes the target. And, as a ministry, if you do not want to be the target, change your message! So, things that at one time were clear in the Bible have become unclear. Not because the Bible has changed, but the culture has forced those who at one time claimed the truth, to either change their message or become a target for criticism. As you have mankind wanting to determine for themselves what is right, as opposed to God saying what is right. And the world’s values change constantly, whereas God’s word never changes. The collision is inevitable. And yet I would also say that the consciousness of man has an inbuilt guilt that what God is saying is right, especially if they have had any prior teaching of the Bible or knowledge of the Bible, that causes them to be so fearful of what the Bible says. So, they naturally feel better if many will join with them in trying to stamp out the truth. Which is exactly what these Pharisees feared, “if we let Christ go on like this.” Or today, if we let churches like Elim Bible Chapel continue to teach this way, this is worrisome to us. And yet over time that conscience becomes seared. So, man becomes more and more indifferent toward God, as God allows man to wander further away from Him, and therefore man’s heart grows even harder and colder. I was speaking with someone last week and said that:

“I find that decisions for Christ are becoming more difficult as we no longer enjoy any encouragement from any kind of Christian culture, sports people, or political leaders, declaring openly a trust in God. Therefore, in this climate, the conscience of people is becoming more seared, with less guilt and less fear of God, therefore with harder hearts.”


And here is the fear with these men, that this raising of Lazarus is going to become well-known. So, it is the springboard to even greater opposition, and therefore, there is more talk now of Jesus being put to death. The next player is Lazarus, who really is somewhat central, but he does not say anything. He does not do anything except (vs 44) where he rises from the dead. I guess that is pretty good! But only at the command of Jesus. We might say that he is not the subject of the chapter, but the object of the chapter.


This brings us to Jesus: the One who delayed His coming out of love so that God would be glorified, the One who was loved and was sought out, the One who is feared by the Pharisees, and the only One who can bring Lazarus back to life. Jesus, of course, is the focal point, for He is the One whom the family has been anticipating. There must have been some excitement upon His arrival as both Martha and Mary believed that Jesus could have healed their brother prior to his dying. Notice Jesus’ key statement (vs 23), “Your brother will rise again.” This is similar to something we might say to someone at a funeral. We may not use the same terminology, but we certainly may say that your loved one is now in a better place. And at this funeral, Jesus says, your brother will rise again. But, of course, Jesus was not speaking only of the comfort of a future resurrection, but He was speaking of a physical rising from the dead, though He actually does not reveal that at this point to Martha.

“Jesus said to her, ‘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—ever. Do you believe this?’”

John 11:25-26 (LSB)


Jesus reassures Martha here that if you place your faith and hope in Him, He will give you the blessing of never dying—ever, continuous life, eternal life. Yet here is one of the most amazing things about our world today, that if you asked people what would be their greatest desire in life, their top answers are no longer, as would have for many in the past about eternal life. That has changed, in fact, it is not discussed today. Health is up there, but health to be able to live longer in this life. But also, things such as wealth, friends, ability and knowledge, and good looks. So, this becomes a problem with Christianity. If Christianity does not offer greater satisfaction in this life, but in the life to come, then it is not attractive to a world that values this life more than anything else. But Jesus’ desire was to give to those who follow Him eternal life. And we have a difficult time trying to think about or even value such a promise. In other words, what is the value of eternal life? We might think there is value in living longer here, especially if we are healthy, but what is the value of eternal life, outside of this life? Well, Jesus helps us in John 17:3:

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

John 17:3 (LSB)


Jesus explains to us what eternal life is. Obviously, it is living on and on forever. But it is actually more than that. For it is also knowing God more, it is knowing God greater. He says that eternal life is that people may know the true God and Jesus Christ. Notice Jesus does not even say that this is the purpose of eternal life, no, He actually says that this is eternal life, knowing God. Living in the presence of God forever with no hindrances, no sin, no rebellion, no indifference, or no regret. Just forever and ever enjoying His presence. Now notice verses 33-36:

“When Jesus therefore saw her crying, and the Jews who came with her also crying, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’”

John 11:33-36 (LSB)


Again, we see the reference to Mary crying. But also, the heart of our Lord, as He is moved by our hurt, He is moved by our sadness. Verse 38, “So Jesus, again being moved within.” Jesus cares, Jesus cares. He allows sadness into our lives, but He does not allow sadness without feeling, for He deeply loves us, and yet sometimes we must live through sadness so that the Lord’s glory is revealed. And also, so interesting here, as we learned last week, that the reason for Jesus’ delay was based upon His love, so that the Lord would be glorified, and we would experience that. But He still cares for the pain we experience going through it.

“And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

John 11:43-44 (LSB)


I was speaking with Tom Morrison last Sunday, and he said that he always wondered if Jesus had not specifically said, Lazarus come forth, but had just said, come forth, would every person who had ever died have been raised from the dead at that moment. And the command here to unbind him may be because in Jewish custom when someone was wrapped for burial, a cloth would be wrapped around him from head to toe and then back to the head. Imagine trying to walk in that condition, so that Lazarus would have been able to get up, but not walk, so they unbind him. And then finally:

“Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.”

John 11:45 (LSB)


Well, it is important that we see that one of the key things in this passage is verse 4, “This sickness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And that Jesus purposely delayed coming so that this would all be accomplished. For this story teaches us much about death, resurrection, and eternity. The other key verse here is:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.’”

John 11:25 (LSB)


Again, I believe that we can consider this account more than just a physical resurrection, as Jesus Himself compares this miracle with the truth that He is the Giver of Life. For He is the resurrection and the life. He is the one who is sovereign over life and death. Of course, this has massive implications today in considering things such as abortion and euthanasia, that it is God who determines such things, not us. As anyone who would take a life is murder, for it is God who has given life and it is His decision to end human life, it is not ours.

I remember a number of years ago, just shortly after 911, John MacArthur appeared on the Larry King show and was asked this by Larry King regarding 911 and the death of over 5,000 people. King asked MacArthur without any pre-warning, what does all this mean? Imagine if you were asked that question in front of national TV without warning, what does all this mean? MacArthur answered that the primary message of 911 is that someday everyone is going to die and we are not in charge of when. And therefore, everyone better be ready when that day comes. I have sat by the bedside of many folks who have died. Some who were so angry with life or with God, some who had every confidence in God, and everything in-between. And this is the last thing that the world wants to talk about.


True, the human body will fight tooth and nail for life, but what about the afterlife? No one wants to talk about that, no one cares about that. As the main concern today is let’s try to live longer, so that we can get everything out of this life. Yet here is the message of the Bible, everyone lives forever. Daniel 12:2, that those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt or scorn. See, this is the importance of the term eternal life meaning more than just living on and on. For according to John 17:3, eternal life also means knowing God. So, I suppose we could say that everyone lives forever, yet only the Christian has eternal life, for eternal life must include God. For Jesus will raise every person to life.

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

John 5:28-29 (LSB)


This is not a message that people want to hear, that at some point they will all be resurrected. In other words, everyone is dependent upon Christ, for Christ is the Source and Maintainer of every life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the only reason you live and breathe, the only reason your neighbour lives and breathes is because of Me. I am the Giver of Life. I am in charge of life. I am the one who has authority over life and it is to Me that everyone must give an account of his life. In other words, everything in life begins and ends with Christ. When we say that someone is outside of Christ, this does not mean that they are apart from Him in the sense that He does not keep them alive for every breath they take. It only means that they have chosen not to acknowledge that ownership and sovereignty, and therefore, must spend their eternity in despair outside of His presence. If Christ dies, if the Son of God dies, everything and everybody dies. Hebrews 1:3, Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power. Colossians 1:16-17:

“For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, And in Him all things hold together.”

Col 1:16-17 (LSB)


Even those things that we may refer to as the laws of nature that have been established by God, would cease to continue on their established path unless Christ kept them in place every second of every day. 2 Peter 3:7 tells us that by His Word the heavens and the earth are being reserved. In other words, without the hand of Christ, everything is no more, it all ceases to exist, including every living soul both still alive physically today and those who have already died.


So, in this story of Lazarus, we see firsthand that Jesus is in control of all life. In fact, the delay by Jesus could almost be said to have made sure that everyone knew Lazarus was dead, that after four days he was really going to stink. I was reading of what happens to a body after death. This is really pleasant stuff. After three hours there is the stiffening of the muscles, rigor mortis sets in. From one to three days, internal organs begin to decompose and the body begins to emit pungent odors; rigor mortis subsides, so the body becomes completely limp. At day three, organs are decomposed, bodily fluids leak from orifices, and the skin turns a greenish color. This is at day three, well Lazarus was four days gone. Martha was right, there is not going to be much left of Lazarus. Now I read that after about ten days the teeth and nails fall out, so, Lazarus still had those intact! But the bottom line is this, Lazarus is dead, and there is not much left of Lazarus, and John tells us in His Gospel that the reason he wrote this book was so that they would believe and have life.


And this raising of the dead is a display of the kind of power that is Christ’s alone. In fact, in John 10 Jesus spoke about the truth that he laid down His own life, and in three days He would raise Himself up. So, whether you sit here today and acknowledge Christ as the Lord of your life does not change everything, because whether you acknowledge it or not, Christ is still sovereign over you, and controls your very life. But if you believe by faith in Christ, that He died for your sins, and you serve Him, for He is Lord. And John 12:26 helps us to understand what serving Him means. For it says if anyone serves Him, they must follow Me. And by believing you will have life, eternal life with Him. Eternal life, living for eternity with God. And Jesus asks a key question in this passage (vs 26), do you believe this? Let’s pray. Lord, may we be amazed at everything You do. May we know that every breath we take is only by Your will, that our time is in Your hands. I pray for anyone here this morning that Your Spirit would move in their heart to come and receive You as their Saviour and Lord. Not so that they would live forever, but so that they might have eternal life with You. And all God’s people said, amen.