The congregation rose to sing triumphantly, “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and He talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.”
We can join in singing: “Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ the King! The hope of all who seek Him, the help of all who find, none other is so loving, so good and kind.”
The New Testament concept of hope is essentially governed by the Old Testament. When fixed on God, hope embraces expectation, trust and patient waiting for fulfillment. A key Old Testament focus on hope is found in Jeremiah’s promise from God to the people of Israel: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The basic difference between the testaments is that God’s promise of a redeemer for Israel has been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. His lordship is demonstrated by the power over death in his experience with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. When Jesus is described as loving the two sisters and their brother, the text uses a form of the Greek word agape, which describes devotedness and strong concern for them.
There is positive hope for resurrection and life after death (John 11:17-24). Jesus was informed that Lazarus was ill and that the sisters expected him to come quickly to heal him. Jesus is at Perea, across the Jordan, and he remained there for two more days after receiving word of the illness. Then he informed the disciples that they were going to Bethany to comfort Mary and Martha since he knew that Lazarus was already dead.
Bethany was in Judea where Jewish opposition to Jesus was most intense, and this aroused some concern among the disciples for returning there. The fear was evidenced by Thomas, who declared, “Let us also go that we may die with him.’
Since it was Jewish custom to bury a person who dies on the same day of the death without any embalming, when Jesus arrived in Bethany he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.
Martha knew that Jesus understood that Lazarus had died by the time Jesus received word of the illness. She said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha affirmed her belief in the Old Testament and later rabbinical teaching that there was life after death so she said that he would rise again in the resurrection of the last day.
Jesus offered Martha and us the hope of a new life now (John 11:25-26). Martha had spoken only of the future in agreement with Jewish belief. But Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even if he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Eric F. Palmer captures this moment in his comment that the “answer of Jesus Christ to Martha’s doctrine is the most moving of all the great ‘I am’ affirmations of Jesus….
Jesus is not the giver of victory somewhere in the obscure future. He is the victory of death in the actual present” (The Intimate Gospel, p. 103). The love that Jesus had for the sisters is revealed in his sharing their grief even though he knew what he would do: “Jesus wept.”
Jesus then prayed audibly to God so that the people who had come to comfort Martha and Mary “may believe that you sent me.”
“Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
We receive the hope of eternal life when we believe and trust in Jesus (John 11:27). Martha affirmed such belief when she responded to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” However, she was not yet convinced that Lazarus would be restored to her and Mary in the physical sense. Her warning to Jesus not to open the tomb was because of death’s odor from four days in the tomb. But then Lazarus was resurrected and restored to the home. Jesus again returned to Bethany, “where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead” (John 12:1).
Gloria and Bill Gaither provide a fitting conclusion to this Easter experience in their hymn “Because He Lives”:
“God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon;
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future;
And life is worth the living just because He lives.”
John Howell is academic dean emeritus at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
Bible Studies for Life is a curriculum series from LifeWay Christian Resources.
The PDF download requires the free Acrobat Reader program. It can be downloaded and installed at https://get.adobe.com/reader.