In 1749, off the west coast of Africa, the first mate on a slave-trading ship lay sick in bed with Malaria. Delirious from illness, and despairing because of the wretchedness of his life, he wished for an escape. Staring at the ceiling of his cabin, he recounted all the ways he had cheated death. He had survived shipwrecks and near shipwrecks, been stranded, and enslaved for fifteen months, and worst of all, he had cursed God and men by his choice of profession.
But in an act of mysterious strength, he got out of bed and went ashore to a remote part of the island, and fell on his face before God. The weight of his sin laid heavy on his heart, and he cast himself before the mercy of the Lord. Nothing new had been presented to his mind, but for the first time in his life, he believed that a crucified Savior was his only hope. Light had shone into the darkness of his heart, and the spiritually dead man was raised to life. How precious did that grace appear, the hour John Newton first believed?
The transformation that happened inside Newton’s heart, can only be attributed to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Once an enemy of God, now grace changed him from the inside out. The former slave trader eventually became a pastor and wrote the most famous Christian hymn of all time, Amazing Grace.
Grace flipped the switch in Newton’s dark heart and rescued his hell-bound life. But as miraculous as his story is, one man lay in even more darkness. From dead in his tomb, Lazarus heard his name called and he woke up from the dead.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick. So sick, that his sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come quickly to his aid. When word reached Jesus, Lazarus had already died, and by the time he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.
Martha’s disappointment in the Lord’s timing was impossible to conceal, but her heart was searching for a silver lining. Hoping that good would eventually come from this tragedy, she said to the Lord, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:22-23).
Martha’s theology was right, but Jesus’ words might’ve rung hollow in her heart. “I know that he will rise again on the resurrection at the last day.” Her hope was for a future reunion, but there was no expectation for anything immediate. How could there be? Death and its sting were final.
But then Jesus spoke his fifth “I am” statement. Death was still inevitable, but Martha’s hope for the miraculous was not too far off the mark. He said to her,
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me though he may die, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25-26
Do you believe this?
Jesus asked Martha if believing in him was enough even in the face of death. This is the question we must answer too. What will happen to you once you die? Is there hope for you beyond the grave? Perhaps you believe there was a resurrection for Lazarus and for Jesus, but does it really end there?
Friend, the raising of Lazarus was a preview. Not only for Jesus’ own resurrection but yours and mine too. Jesus often made claims of deity and then backed them up with miraculous displays of power. Consider how he did so with his “I am” statements.
- When Jesus said “I am the Bread of life,” he proved that he was by feeding 5,000 men with just two loaves of bread and a few fish (John 6).
- When Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” he proceeded to heal the man who was born blind and gave him sight (John 9).
- And when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he was about to display his resurrection power and raise a dead man from the grave (John 11).
“Lazarus, come forth!”
Jesus’ delay in arriving at the scene was not to crush the hope of Martha and Mary but bolster their faith. For four days Lazarus’ body lay in the grave and Martha was afraid the stench from the decomposing body would billow out once the stone was rolled away. But Jesus reminded her again, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)?
What happened next was the pinnacle of all of Jesus’ miracles. Standing with his disciples, Mary and Martha, and a throng of mourners, he wiped away his tears. His spirit was troubled by the effects of sin, death, and unbelief. In a loud voice, and to distinguish one corpse from all the rest, Jesus called out,
“Lazarus, come forth!”John 11:43
Those three words landed in the dead man’s ears and death was reversed and life was restored. Instantaneously, his heart started beating again, his eyes opened, and whatever decomposition had occurred, reversed. Seconds later, the once-dead, linen-wrapped man, shuffled out of the darkness into the light to the astonishment of all. As if to say, “Don’t just stand there,” Jesus said, “Loose him, and let him go.”
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
Friend, resurrections aren’t just a thing of the past, but a promise of future glory for those who believe in the great I AM. Jesus is still in the business of loosening the death rags that bind us and bringing from death to life all who believe in him.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you a time is coming and now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. (John 5:25). Did you know that someday your dead ears will hear too?
I hope your belief in the resurrection and the life will cause your heart to sing along with John Newton and all the saints. “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” May this amazing grace bring joy to your heart this Easter Sunday.
Because He is the resurrection and the life,
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