Jesus the Resurrection and the Life (Part 1)
Preached at Providence Chapel, Oakham, on Lord s Day Afternoon, June 11, 1865
WHAT a beautiful, what an interesting family picture has the Holy Ghost, by the pen of the apostle John, drawn in the sacred narrative of the gracious household, which once dwelt in the little village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. In it we seem to see the rare spectacle of a family living together in happy harmony, united by the strong ties of nature, and united still more closely by the firmer and more enduring bonds of grace, -Martha, Mary, Lazarus. What an echo there is in our heart to these names. May we not also picture to ourselves our gracious Lord, when He had been at Jerusalem wearied-for we know He was subject to human infirmity and could be weary, for He sat weary once on Samaria s well-when our gracious Lord returned from Jerusalem, wearied in body and grieved in spirit, how He would come to this happy household, and there solace Himself with the company of these two gracious sisters and their no less gracious brother? for we read that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." Joh 11:5
Our Lord went about doing good, and spent much of His time and exercised much of his ministry in Galilee; which being situated in the north part of the Holy Land, lay at a considerable distance from Bethany. But it would appear that at this time He was not in Galilee but beyond Jordan, in the place where John at first baptized, which lay at some distance to the east of Jerusalem. Now when He was thus absent, engaged in performing His gracious errands of mercy, a dark cloud began to gather over this happy household. It might have been at first only as small as a man s hand, but it gathered thick and fast, and every hour seemed to hang upon them more and more densely. Lazarus had fallen ill. Now the first movement of his gracious sisters was to send a message to their dear Lord, that he whom He loved was sick. They knew His power as well as His love; and that as by the one He would at once come, so by the other He could at once heal. They naturally therefore expected that He would come speedily in a case so urgent as this, for in that climate disease makes rapid progress, and were doubtless looking out every day and almost every hour for His arrival.
But Lazarus gets worse and worse every hour. Denser, darker are the clouds, which hang over the house. Jesus tarries; for we read that "when He heard that he was sick, He abode two days in the same place where He was." Jesus comes not. All hope dies in their breast. The disease gradually increases until at last Lazarus sinks under its pressure. Now what a mercy it was for these two sisters, and their brother too, that Jesus did not come; and may I not add, for the Church of God also for all time? What treasures of mercy and grace were involved in His delay. What a stupendous miracle gave occasion for Him to work. What a demonstration of His power it afforded that He was truly the Son of God, and what a lasting blessing has it been made to successive generations of saints. Though the Lord well knew, in His omniscient mind, all that was transpiring in that little household, yet for His own wise and gracious purpose His footsteps tarried, and mercy made Him stay for a while as mercy made Him come at last.
I need not dwell further upon the features of this interesting narrative, though every part of it is pregnant with holy instruction, but shall come at once to that part which precedes our text. It is the interview of Martha with the Lord at Bethany. Martha, true to her character, could not stay at home; she was a restless body, for on a later occasion when she had obtained the Lord s company she could not be satisfied with merely listening to His gracious conversation. She must needs think about the dinner, nay come and ask Him to bid her sister help her to set it out properly, and not spend her time so-I will not say unnecessarily, but so long sitting at the feet of Jesus. Like many of our Marthas, she loved religion and the things of God; but being a bustling, active character, worldly business would intrude on her mind, and to this she would sometimes give a first place when it ought to have had but the second. Are you not sometimes like her, thinking more of business than of Christ, and even in the house of prayer, instead of listening to the word are thinking about the dinner?
Martha, then, true to her character, leaves Mary at home, praying, watching and waiting upon God in secret, and hurries out at the very first tidings of His arrival; but as soon as she meets Him, almost in the language of reproach, not very unlike the way in which she addressed the Redeemer with respect to her sister upon another occasion, says, "Lord if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Do not the words sound almost as if she was reproaching the Lord because He was not there? And yet the blessed woman, with all her infirmities, had faith in her soul, and this faith manifested itself in the midst of her complaint. "But I know that even now,"-though the case seems so desperate-"I know that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God wilt give it Thee." O, Martha, thy faith was somewhat lacking here. Thou shouldest have looked a little higher than this, and seen that he was the true God Himself who stood before thee, and that He had but to speak the word, and Lazarus would rise. Thou shouldest have seen that He held creation in His fists, and that life and death were at His supreme disposal. Jesus, in that calm, blessed manner in which our Lord ever spoke, unruffled, unmoved, in all the quiet dignity and glorious majesty of God-head, saith unto her, "Thy brother shall rise again." Martha still shows faith, and yet evidently mixed with much weakness. "Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Then the Lord uttered those words which I shall, with God s help and blessing, endeavour to lay open and bring before you this afternoon: "Jesus saith unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
I think we may observe three leading features in our text.
I.- First, the gracious declaration, "I am the resurrection and the life."
II.- Secondly, the two gracious consequences, which are connected with, and flow out of this declaration:
1, "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;" and, 2, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."
III.- Thirdly, the gracious appeal. "Believest thou this?" I.-How blessed are the gracious declarations which the Lord has given of Himself, His own testimonies to His Person and work, such as, for instance, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me; .... I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep; .... I am the bread of life." What grace there is in these declarations of Himself, and how He seems to unfold Himself in and by them to the Church of God that she may receive these words from His lips and exercise faith upon them. Let us then view this gracious declaration, and observe in it two things which our Lord declares Himself virtually to be-"The Resurrection and the Life:" Let us consider each of them separately.
I. "I am the resurrection." The Lord does not say "By Me shall men rise," or "I at the last day will raise the dead." But he declares of Himself, "I Myself am the resurrection." Surely, there is something deep in these words. Surely there is some profound truth, if we can but penetrate into the bosom of it. Let us see, then, whether, with God s help and blessing, I can take you by the hand and lead you into the very bosom of this truth, that you and I may walk in it, feed upon it and know what it is to the joy of our souls.
1. The resurrection of Christ is, in the first place, the grand cardinal doctrine of our most holy faith. And why? Because on it our faith virtually rests. Our faith, if it be the faith of God s elect, is that Jesus is the Son of God. Now that our faith may not be a shadow but a substance, it must rest upon some solid foundation. What proof then have we that Jesus is the Son of God? His resurrection. We therefore read that He "was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead." Ro 1:4 His resurrection was thus God s own attesting seal that He was his dear Son. He was put to death as a blasphemer, because He said "I am the Son of God." When God therefore raised Him from the dead, He set his own attesting seal that Jesus really was what He said He was-the Son of God. It is for this reason that the resurrection of Christ is the grand cardinal, fundamental doctrine of our most holy faith; for upon it hangs the substantial proof of His declaration, that he was the Son of God, and had come as the Son of God from the bosom of the Father to do the work which the Father had given Him to do.
2. But there is something more in the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the mere attestation of God and the declaration with power from on high that He was His dear Son. When our gracious Lord rose from the dead, the whole Church virtually and mystically rose in and with Him. We therefore read in the epistle to the Ephesians, that God "raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ." Eph 2:6 How and why? Because the Church of God mystically and virtually rose together with Christ. No sooner did the Head lift Himself up out of the grave than all the members rose together with Him. It was with Him spiritually as with us literally when we rose from our bed this morning: every member rose with our Head. So the Church of Christ as members of the mystical body of the Lord the Lamb, virtually and mystically rose together with her rising Head.
3. But there is something in the resurrection of the Lord more than this. On the resurrection of Christ hangs what He now is to the Church of God. If He had lain beyond the due time, lifeless in the tomb, not only would there have been no attestation by the power of God that He was His dear Son; not only would the Church have lain dead and buried with Him in the tomb where He lay; but He could not have fulfilled those present offices which He now sustains at the right hand of the Father as "the Mediator between God and men." He could not have been "the High Priest over the house of God." He could not have been King in Zion, waiting "till all His enemies should be made His footstool." He could not have sent the Holy Spirit down to testify of Himself. He could not commune with us from off the mercy seat, and unfold the glories of His lovely Person, the efficacy of His atoning blood, and the beauty and blessedness of His justifying righteousness. Our faith would have had no Object, our hope no anchorage within the veil; and where would our love have been without a Person upon whom that love could have been fixed?
Every grace of the soul, therefore, hangs upon the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If we believe, we believe in a risen Christ; if we hope, we hope in a risen Christ; and if we love, we love a risen Christ; for a dead Christ is no Christ to us who want a living God to fulfil the desires of a living soul. But blessed be God, Christ is risen from the dead; He is gone up on high: He is even now at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. He has opened a way through the vail of His rent flesh, and our prayers, desires and supplications, with all our loving affections, may ascend to Him within the vail and enter into the holiest, even the presence of God, where He has gone as our forerunner, to sit down there until He comes a second time without sin unto salvation. Thus not only every doctrine of our most holy faith, but every experience of a living soul hangs upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Look at this in the light of your own experience. I was speaking this morning of the Son of God being come and our knowledge of it, and I endeavoured to show that one way whereby we know that He is come, is because we follow Him up by faith to where He is at the right hand of God, and communes with us from off the mercy seat. Faith must have a divine Object on which it may fix its eyes, which it may embrace, to which it may cleave and round which it may twine. This Object is Jesus as risen from the dead, and now at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He says, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth." To Him therefore looking "as the Author and Finisher of our faith, we run with patience the race that is set before us" in the lively hope of His bringing us off more than conquerors over every foe and every fear. But if He be not risen from the dead, then of all men we are most miserable: we have no hope beyond the grave; no sins pardoned, no transgressions forgiven, no righteousness brought in, no present grace, no future glory. This is the reason why the apostles in all their sermons, as recorded in the Acts, preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ: "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all." Ac 4:33
II. But our most gracious Lord is not only "the resurrection"-I shall bring that point to bear more fully upon your experience when I come to my second part-but he is also "the life." Adam had life, for God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul" Ge 2:7 but he lost it in and by the fall; and the image of God in which he was created was thereby thoroughly marred and defaced. He thus became dead in trespasses and sins; and as he begat a son in his own image, after his own likeness, and we all partake of this fallen, corrupt nature, we come into this world dead in sin. But what union, what intercourse, what communion can a soul dead in sin have with the living God? Will you take a corpse into your bed, and embrace it as a suitable wife for a living husband? Our blood runs cold at the thought. When death seizes the wife of your bosom, you say with Abraham, "Let me bury my dead out of my sight." A cold clay corpse is no longer the partner of your bed; the coffin and the grave are now its fitting place.
How then can you think that Jesus can take to His bosom a dead bride? Or how can a dead soul enter into the courts of a living God? What union, what communion can there be between a soul dead in sins and a God living in the light of His own holiness? Life, therefore, must be communicated and breathed into a soul before it can have union and communion with God here; before it can be fitted for His presence on earth, or enjoy the mansions prepared for it before time began in heaven. Now that this spiritual and eternal life might be breathed into, and communicated to the church, it pleased the Father that the fullness of this life should dwell in Christ: "As the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." This life, of which the Lord thus speaks, is not His life as the eternal Son of God, but His mediatorial life, which can be communicated; for there is this difference between His life as the Son of God and His life as Mediator, that the one is communicable and the other not. Thus when Jesus says here, "I am the life," He speaks of His mediatorial life, that spiritual and eternal life which was treasured up in Him as Mediator, that it might be imparted and communicated to the members of His mystical body. We, therefore, read, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." Joh 1:4 So also, "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." 1Jo 5:11 He therefore says of Himself, "I am the way and the truth and the life."
How often we are looking and looking in vain for life in ourselves. True it is that if God has quickened our souls we are partakers of life divine, of life spiritual, of life eternal, of the life that is in Christ and comes from Christ; and yet how often we vainly seek to find it warm and glowing in our breasts. If once given it never dies; but it is often hid beneath the ashes, and thus though it slowly burns and dimly glows, yet the ashes hide it from view, and we only know it is there by some remains of warmth. "Your life is hid with Christ in God" Col 3:3 and therefore not only hidden as treasured and stored up safely in God, but hidden from the world, and even hidden from the eyes of its possessor. Christ is our life. There is no other.
To look, then, for life in ourselves independent of and distinct from the fountain of life is to look for that in the creature which is lodged in the divine Creator, is to look for that in man which dwells in the God-Man; to look for that in self which is out of self, embosomed in the fullness of the Son of God. And observe that it is not merely that life is in Him, but He is the life itself. As the sun not only has light and heat, but is light itself and heat itself, so the blessed Lord not only grants life, but He Himself is what He grants. As a fountain not only gives water but is itself all water, so Christ not only gives what He is but is all that He gives. Not only, therefore, is He the "resurrection," centering in himself everything both for time and eternity which resurrection contains and resurrection implies, but He is "the life," being in Himself a fountain of life, out of which He gives from His own fullness to the members of His mystical body. But as He has to teach us what He is thus in Himself by lessons of personal experience, I shall now, with God s help and blessing, enter upon the second branch of my subject, in which I was to show.
II.- The two gracious consequences which are connected with, and flow out of the Lord s being the resurrection and the life.
These two consequences are,
1, "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;" and,
2, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." If you read these words with any measure of gracious understanding, you will see in them a bearing upon the two characters which the Lord claims for Himself as "the resurrection and the life," and will perceive in them a remarkable fitness as a connecting fink between His being the resurrection and the life and the two gracious consequences which arise out of it.
I. The first gracious consequence is connected with His being "the resurrection." He says "I am the resurrection." Now see how there flows out of this declaration a spiritual consequence, which very much meets the experience and feelings of God s family; and as such I shall unfold it. "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he five."
1. What is resurrection? What does it imply? Out of what state does resurrection bring? A state of death. Death is necessary to resurrection. Was not our Lord dead when He was raised from the grave? So His resurrection, viewed with a believing eye, as pregnant with gracious fruits, carries with it this most blessed consequence, that it meets the case, is adapted to the experience, and embraces the spiritual state and condition of those who are dead. It will do so one day as regards the body. Christ is the resurrection both of body and soul. When then He comes again a second time without sin unto salvation, His voice will quicken the dead; the graves will burst open, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; for His voice will call the sleeping dust of the saints out of the tomb, and they will stand up in all the glorious vestments of immortality. Do we not, therefore, read "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ s at His coming." 1Co 15:20-23
But His resurrection has also a spiritual import-a gracious fruit in this life, as well as that which is to come. There is a spiritual resurrection consequent upon His resurrection from the dead, as there will be a literal resurrection when the body is raised from the tomb at the great day. As, therefore, none can and will be raised but the sleeping dead, by virtue of His being the resurrection, so none can be raised from a spiritual death but by His power and influence as the same. But whom does the text mean by the dead? Let me open this. It does not mean the dead in sin; I will tell you why. The character pointed out in our text is said to believe, which no man dead in sin does or can do. Look at the words: bring to them your spiritual understanding. Follow me, if you have any confidence in me as a spiritual guide: see whether I cast any fight upon the meaning of the words, and if you see with me then follow me on. I will lead you safely, if God give me ability. I would not deceive you, for I would not deceive myself. The dead spoken of in the text are not then those who are dead in sin or dead in a profession; because they are said to believe, which no man dead in sin ever did. "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." But how can one who is dead believe? He can, or our Lord would not have said so. I will show you how. He is a living man as quickened into life by the power of the Spirit of God, and yet he is dead. How can we reconcile this mystery? It is one of those paradoxes, which form a part of the great mystery of godliness.
(a) First, he is dead as slain by a killing law. He is alive unto God, and yet he is dead in law. The law has come; it has discharged its fiery contents into his bosom and slain him outright. Therefore, though he is a living man, has the love and fear of God in his soul, he is dead in law and dead also to the law, because he is slain by it as to any hope of justification. Thus he is dead.
(b) But he is dead in another sense: according to the verdict of his own conscience. Take a man upon whom the law has passed its condemning sentence. The judge sentences him to death; he is taken away from the bar, and shut up in the condemned cell. Though not yet set upon the scaffold, though not yet executed, he is virtually a dead man. The law has condemned him; he is condemned in his own feelings; he knows he must die; and therefore he feels to be a dying man. Thus when a man s own conscience seconds the verdict of God s holy law, and he falls down before the throne of God, slain by its condemning sentence, and this is ratified by the verdict of his own guilty conscience, he is dead as falling down dead before God. And yet he is a living man. The man in gaol is a living man, and yet the law pronounces him dead; for every gloomy hour, and every tolling bell, and every striking clock, falls upon his ear and strikes the death-knell into his soul, as knowing how soon he must before assembled spectators make an awful end.
(c) But he is dead also in a third sense: as to any exertion of his own strength, wisdom or power to do his soul any spiritual good; for he feels unable to raise up any living faith-and he knows that nothing but living faith will be of any aveil-any gracious hope, or any warm, living love. So he is dead by law; he is dead by conscience; and dead by a sense of his own spiritual helplessness and inability. As Abraham knew that he was dead in body, so he knows that he is dead in soul.
Now see how suitable to this dead man is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is said to believe: mark that: "He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." There is then in the breast of this dead man a living faith. This is the deep mystery, that though he is dead in law, dead in conscience, dead in helplessness, yet God the Holy Ghost has breathed into him and deposited in him a seed of living faith. By this faith he cries, by this faith he sighs, and by this faith he hungers and thirsts after righteousness: yea, more, by this faith he looks unto and believes in the Son of God. He scarcely knows that he has faith. His faith is so weak and so small in his own estimation, that he dare not say he has faith; and yet he has all the fruits of faith, all the marks of faith, and all the evidences of faith. Take as a parallel case Jonah in the whale s belly. Had he faith or had he not faith? How low he sank when the waves were heaped over his head, when carried through the boundless deep in the belly of the whale. Yet even there he could say, "I will look again toward Thy holy temple." Had he no faith? Yes, he had; and by that faith he was saved, justified, accepted, brought out and delivered, and able to say, "Salvation is of the Lord."
Take Jeremiah in the low dungeon, when it seemed as though every hope was closed, and he sank deep into the mud and mire. Even there, when the waters flowed over his head, his prayer could enter into the ears of God and bring down a gracious answer. Does he not say: "I called upon Thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon? Thou hast heard my voice: hide not Thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not." La 3:55-57 Take Hezekiah upon his bed of sickness. Had he no faith? How then could he turn his face to the wall and pray unto the Lord? How could his eyes fail with looking upward, when he said, "O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me." Take David in his mournful journey, when he went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up barefoot, with his head covered, at the time of Absalom s rebellion. Had he no faith? How then came he to pray? "O Lord, I pray thee turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." And why did the Lord answer that prayer, if it were not the prayer of faith?In all these men of God, sunk though they were almost to the last and lowest point, there was still the life of faith; and by that faith they called upon God. They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed. Here then is the connection between the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and the experience of this seemingly dead soul. When Christ died, He bare the sins of this poor dead soul in His body on the tree, and thus atoned for them and put them away. When Christ rose from the dead, this poor dead soul rose with Him, as a member of His mystical body. When Christ went up on high, he ascended with Him. And when Christ sat down at the right hand of the Father, he virtually and mystically sat down with Him in heavenly bliss. Therefore, because Jesus is the resurrection, and because as such he has an interest in Him, he that believeth in Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live.