Text: John 11
Date: Lent V + 4/2/17
This is the last Sunday in our Lenten preparation for the confession of the Christian faith in the Great and Holy Week which begins next Sunday, that is to say, beginning next week we will have very little time to talk, to discuss, to explain, to teach, as with palms in our hands we hail our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem only to be thrown immediately into the fast moving and dark events of His passion, death and resurrection. So today we are given that last thing in the creed that we are to confess, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the words of the Nicene Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We confess this faith every Sunday of our lives if not every day. But you say “I believe” precisely because you cannot see or prove it. You believe by faith alone that “on the Last Day [Christ] will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
It may be difficult to imagine the general resurrection of the dead, new bodies for old, eternal life for the temporal. But this is the great goal and great promise of the Christian faith.
In order to feed and inform your faith, however, the Gospel tells us how, for instance, after our Lord’s healing of a man by the pool of Siloam, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25). To this point, when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we have been concerned mainly about faith in God’s rule of grace in our lives now in this world. There is a “here and now” spiritual reality to these words of our Lord, for we have learned and believe that, on account of sin, we are The Dead, spiritually dead, blind and enemies of God. So now He says that when we who are the dead hear the voice of the Son of God, we will live, that is to say, eternal life and our resurrection begins now. But it only begins.
Last week President Matthew Harrison highlighted the words of Martin Luther who once said:
But a Christian has already been thrust into death by the very fact that he became a Christian…. However, he enjoys the advantage of already being out of the grave with his right leg. Moreover, he has a mighty helper who holds out His hand to him, namely, His Lord Christ; He has left the grave entirely a long time ago, and now He takes the Christian by the hand and pulls him more than halfway out of the grave; only the left foot remains in it. For his sin is already remitted and expunged, God’s wrath and hell are extinguished, and he already lives fully in and with Christ with regard to his best part, which is the soul, as he partakes of eternal life. Therefore death can no longer hold him or harm him. Only the remnant, the old skin, flesh and blood, must still decay before it, too, can be renewed and follow the soul. As for the rest, we have already penetrated all the way into life, since Christ and my soul are no longer in death.
We are a resurrection people, but only by faith for now. So we also “look for” the resurrection on the Last Day.
The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is revealed throughout scripture, old and new testaments. The first thing in the Old Testament you may think of is Job who confessed,
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
And today we heard the vision given to Ezekiel of God’s power and promise to raise dead bones, restore sinew and skin and breath. God says, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people” (Ezek 37:12). Though these words at first assured Israel that God would bring them out of captivity and restore them to live in Jerusalem, they are also literally true of the Last Day of this world.
Think of Abraham who, when he was commanded to sacrifice his only Son Isaac, obeyed because “he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb 11:19). So does the prophet Daniel speak when he said, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:2-3).
“When the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, those who hear will live.” We have heard how Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain with but a word, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Lk 7:11), and the daughter of the synagogue ruler Jairus, saying, “Child, arise” (Lk 8:54). Today we heard of the dramatic, final public miracle of the raising of Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out.” Finally, of course, is the resurrection of our Lord Himself who, risen from the grave, appeared to His disciples many times before His Ascension back into heaven. On this evidence and with all the saints of old it is easier for us to believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
It is more important, however, not just to believe in the resurrection but to believe in the Lord of the resurrection. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, pleaded with Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Faith is that strong to believe in the “whatever,” the grace and help of God even though we don’t know for sure how God will answer our prayers. We are seeing Martha grow in faith, just like you have been growing in faith, faith in the sure and certain promises of God and even faith in the “whatever” of God.
Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” And so, like us, Martha expressed the faith of the creed, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Faith in the resurrection on the Last Day has always been in the teaching of God’s people.
But today, with Martha, our Lord says “resurrection” is more than an event reserved for the Last Day. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Then Jesus asks Martha and us, “Do you believe this?”
But didn’t Martha and we already answer that question in the words of the creed? No. “This” is more. Martha did not answer about the doctrine of the resurrection but about the doctrine and identity of Jesus. “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” In other words the important and primary content of the Christian faith is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the kingdom of God. So He said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).
Today, in the face of the most amazing, if unbelievable things, we are taught to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” And in so saying everything else of God’s grace and salvation will be given including the great hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Luther, M. 1999, c1973. Luther’s works, vol. 28 : 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 15, Lectures on 1 Timothy (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Vol. 28 (1 Co 15:28). Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis