I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 11:21-26

Two deaths during the month of April dominated the news here and abroad. One lived a full life devoted to public service; the other never had a chance to live. Both had families who loved them. When former first lady Barbara Bush died at the age of 92 a few weeks ago, she told one of her sons, “I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

When Alfie Evans died in Great Britain after life support was withdrawn upon court order, his father said, “My gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings….” His 23-month-old son had been the subject of a legal battle by his parents to keep the child alive for further treatments.

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body, he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is.

Was he right?

What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? In our series on faith issues from the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, we can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.

Why do we die?

W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100 percent. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.

In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.

God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.

Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10). We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, are found these words:

“Grim death took me without any warning

I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”

It can happen that way for any of us.

But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow someone you loved to die, or the Holocaust, or 9/11?

Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.

The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.

Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die because of the existence of sin.

However, Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?

God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.

Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

What happens when we die?

So, what happens in the moment when you die?

You are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close your eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.

You’re home.

Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.

You’re in glory.

Heaven is paradise, as Jesus said. Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), for “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We will gain imperishable, glorified, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and be like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will know God and each other as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22).

Dwight Moody on his deathbed said, “If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. Dwight! Irene! I see the children’s faces. God is calling me. I must go. Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me.”

If Jesus is your Lord, when you die you won’t. Instead, you’ll see God. And you’ll be safely home.

Three reasons your resurrection is relevant today

When Martha began her conversation with Jesus, she was full of grief but also faith. She clearly believed that Jesus could have saved her brother had he arrived sooner, and she held onto hope that he could still bring healing to their crisis (John 11:22). However, her response when he spoke of resurrection, and even more her objections when he began raising Lazarus (v. 39), showed that her optimism was limited to the next life.

Before Jesus, resurrection was little more than a theological hope. The Sadducees denied it even existed, while the Pharisees incorporated it into their understanding of the afterlife. Jesus, however, made it relevant here and now. He made it something more than a hope—he made it a reality.

What difference does the reality of your resurrection make in your life today?

One: The security of eternity in Christ gives us courage in the present.

If you were told that you have ten years to live, but that you are guaranteed not to die until then, would you be more or less afraid of tomorrow? As Christians, this is how we should approach every day.

The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. We can say every day with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Where do you need courage to serve Jesus today?

Two: The security of eternity in Christ gives us hope for those who have died.

Most of us have loved someone who died. My father died in 1979, my mother in 2008. A personal friend died recently at the age of twenty-nine. But the fact of our resurrection means that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV).

Our faith in the midst of our loss is a powerful witness to an unbelieving world. And it sustains us in the darkest nights of grief.

We can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Notice that David did not say we walk “into” the valley, but “through” it to the other side.

Three: The security of eternity in Christ gives us motivation to share our faith.

Jesus is the only resurrection and life. He is the only way to life beyond death. Giving the gospel to others is not imposing our values on them—it is sharing the greatest gift there is.

If you had a cure for all cancer, sharing it with the world would be an obvious imperative. In Christ, you have a cure for eternal death. Sharing it is a privilege.


Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, when we die, we don’t. When we breathe our last breath here, we breathe our first breath in paradise. When we close our eyes on earth, we open them in God’s presence.

Jesus was emphatic: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Are you ready for that day?

There’s an old legend about a Baghdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to buy food. After a few minutes the servant ran back, pale and trembling. He stammered, “Down in the marketplace I was pushed by a man in the crowd. I turned around and saw the man was Death. He raised his arm to strike me. Please, Master, lend me your fastest horse so I can get away. I will ride to Samarra, where I can hide. Death will not find me there.”

The merchant lent his fastest horse to the servant, who rode away swiftly. He then went down to the marketplace himself, where he also saw Death standing in the crowd.

“Why did you frighten my servant this morning?” he asked. “Why did you scare him like that?” Death replied, “I was not trying to scare him. I was simply surprised. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Let’s make sure we’re ready for ours.

The Church Is Not a Building

Topical Scripture: Matthew 28:1–10

The world watched last week as the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Two-thirds of the structure was destroyed, though the iconic twin towers were saved. Priceless artifacts were rescued as well. More than $1 billion has been contributed so far to the rebuilding effort.

I have been to similar structures around the world. The Westminster Cathedral in London, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—each is an awe-inspiring experience.

But here’s the good news: each and every one of them could be destroyed and the church would still be the church. Every church building on the planet—including our beautiful chapel—could burn down and the church would remain.

That’s because the church is not a church. And a church is not a building.

It took three centuries for the church to gain the legal status to own buildings. That’s why the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, began in AD 327, is the world’s oldest church structure. If you had asked an early Christian, “Where is the church?” she would not have known how to answer your question. It would be like asking, “Where is the Republican Party?” or “Where is the pro-life movement?”

The church is not a building but a movement—not an institution but an army that marches on its knees to bring the kingdom to the world.

And it’s why the church did not begin in a cathedral but in a tomb—an empty tomb.

Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen indeed. When we’re done with our study of God’s word, I believe you’ll see why that news is the best news the world has ever heard. And why it’s the news your soul needs today.

Come to the tomb

Let’s walk through our text verse by verse.

The narrative begins: “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (v. 1). The “other Mary” was the mother of one of Jesus’ followers. On Good Friday they had watched as Jesus was buried and thus knew its location.

“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (v. 2). This was a “mega” earthquake caused by the angel as he rolled back the massive stone that had been used by Pontius Pilate to seal the tomb. Then he “sat on it,” demonstrating his power over Rome’s power and authority.

“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men” (vv. 3–4). These were battle-hardened guards who faced execution if they allowed the tomb to be unsealed. They clearly had never faced power like this. The ones assigned to guard a dead man appear to be dead while he is alive.

“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay'” (vv. 5–6). Jesus had already risen from the grave. The angel did not roll aside the stone so he could leave the tomb, but so we could go in. So we could “come, see the place where he lay.”

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (v. 7). He is not only risen from the dead—he is still present with the living.

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (v. 8). Obedience is always the proper response to revelation. “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (v. 9). Revelation leads to obedience, which leads to an encounter with Jesus, which leads to worship.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (v. 10). His resurrection was for them and Jesus’ brothers and disciples, and through them, for the world.

So, here’s what we know: on Easter Sunday, Jesus tomb was empty, with no natural explanation. The grave was left clutching the clothes which had enshrouded his dead corpse, because he is alive.

The disciples did not overpower the battle-hardened guards, steal the body, then die for a lie. The women did not commit such a crime, either. They didn’t go to the wrong tomb—the Roman authorities would have pointed out the right tomb. The authorities didn’t steal the body, or they would have produced it as soon as Christians began preaching the resurrection.

His resurrection was not a hallucination—five hundred people saw him, and five hundred people do not have the same hallucination. Jesus didn’t fake his death, survive three days in a mummified, airtight shroud, shove aside the massive stone, overpower the Roman guards, appear through locked doors, then do the greatest high jump at the ascension.

There is literally no explanation for the empty grave except that he is risen indeed.

Why did he rise from the grave?

Here’s our question today: why? Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead?

Before he died on the cross, he told the thief at his right side, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). As he died, he told his Father, “Into your hands I commit my spirit!” (v. 46).

He came to die for our sins and accomplished that purpose when he died. In the moment of his death, he was in paradise with his Father. While his friends buried his corpse in Joseph’s tomb, he was in the presence of the King of glory.

Why, then, did he come back to earthly life? What happened at the empty tomb?

Jesus proved that he is God. We can visit the graves of Muhammad, Confucius, and other religious leaders around the world and find them occupied. When we visit the grave of Jesus, it is empty.

He proved that his word is true. If he is divine, his word is divinely inspired.

And he proved that because he won, we win.

At the empty tomb, Satan lost. John’s Gospel tells us that the devil inspired Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus (John 13:27). At the cross, he and his minions must have been rejoicing. They were certain that they had executed the Son of God and quashed his movement on earth. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, they lost and Jesus won.

The religious authorities lost. They were certain at the cross that they had arranged for the death of this would-be Messiah and stopped his movement that threatened their authority and prestige. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, they lost and Jesus won.

Rome lost. Pilate was certain that Jesus’ crucifixion would end his life and threat to Rome’s power and authority. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, the mightiest power the world had ever seen lost and Jesus won.

Because Jesus won, we win.


I was a missionary in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo while in college. In one of the churches, I watched a teenage girl being baptized. I noticed a set of threadbare luggage against the wall and asked my interpreter whose it was. He pointed to the girl and explained that her father told her if she was ever baptized as a Christian, she could never return home. So she brought her luggage.

In Singapore, I met a young boy whose father beat him whenever he came to church. The missionaries asked him why he stayed at home and he explained, “If I leave home, my father won’t hear about Jesus.”

I have been working for two decades with a pastor in Cuba who turned down the chance to be the starting third baseman on their national baseball team to become a Baptist pastor in a tiny town. That’s going from rock star status in Cuba to one of the most persecuted, despised jobs in the country. Last year, through its national ministries, his church shared the gospel with more than sixty-eight thousand people.

A dear friend of mine named Abraham Sarker came to America from Bangladesh as a Muslim, seeking to convert Americans to Islam. Through a dramatic conversion experience, he became a Christian. He risked prison and worse to return to Bangladesh, where he won his family to Christ and established a ministry. Last year, it led more than ten thousand Muslims to Christ.

What made the difference in each of their stories? An empty tomb.

If the empty tomb can defeat Satan and the greatest authorities of their day, it can defeat Satan and the greatest threats we face today. Bring your temptations to the empty tomb and find there the power to defeat Satan. Bring your challenges and find power. Bring your grief and find life. Bring your fears and find faith.

Let’s go to the empty tomb together. There we will find that Jesus “is risen indeed.”

This is the promise and the invitation of God.

Weeping at the Empty Tomb

Topical Scripture: John 20:11-18

Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorite presidents. Our third president could read seven languages, authored the Declaration of Independence, and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase.

However, his faith was not the part of his life I admire. While he believed in the existence of God, he denied the divinity of Jesus and the divine inspiration of Scripture. Late in his life, he compiled his own version of the Gospels, cutting out every reference to the miraculous.

The so-called Jefferson Bible ends with these words, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

By contrast, billions of Christians around the world will proclaim on this Easter Sunday, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” We believe that it is true. We celebrate it as fact today.

But tomorrow, if Jesus is not as alive in our lives as he was on that first day, it’s as though Easter is an event rather than an experience, a day rather than a way of life.

In these days of pandemic, how does Easter relate to the crises we face and the fears we feel?

An unlikely evangelist

From Christmas to Easter, we’ve watched Jesus change lives. Today we come to the unlikeliest evangelist of Easter: Mary Magdalene.

Let’s begin with what we don’t know about her: she was not the “sinful woman” who wept over the feet of Jesus (Luke 7:36–38). And despite Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code heresy, she was not Jesus’ wife.

Here’s what we do know. Consider three biblical facts.

First, her first name tells us that she was a woman, of course. Women in her day had no social status whatever. They were the possession of their fathers until they became the possession of their husbands. We have a letter written from a Roman soldier on the battlefield back to his pregnant wife instructing her, “If it is a boy, keep it. If it is a girl, throw it out.”

Second, her last name tells us that she was from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. A Galilean, country peasant in the eyes of the city sophisticates down in Jerusalem and Judea. Someone from nowhere special.

Third, Luke 8:2 tells us that she is someone “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Like other demoniacs healed by Jesus, she had been delivered from the enemy. But we don’t know anything else about this fact in her past.

Now fast forward to Good Friday, when Mary Magdalene watched Jesus die on the cross and then watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they buried his body. She was then in the first group to go to his tomb on Easter Sunday morning: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early” (John 20:1). She came to finish burying Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1).

However, she “saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” Now watch her reaction: she ran to find Peter and John and told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).

It did not occur to her or to them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, a fact that contradicts any claim that the disciples stole his body or hallucinated his resurrection.

After Peter and John saw the empty tomb and left, our text picks up: “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb” (v. 11). I have been more than thirty times to the Garden Tomb north of the Old City of Jerusalem, where one must indeed stoop down to step inside.

The text continues: “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet” (v. 12). Angels often appear in pairs in Scripture, as they did again when Jesus ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:10). And they often appear in white.

“They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him'” (John 20:13). She still did not understand that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Then, “having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (v. 14). This was not uncommon with the risen Lord: he traveled with two disciples on the road to Emmaus who did not recognize him, either (Luke 24:13–31).

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman why are you weeping. Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away'” (v. 15). She even then, in the presence of the risen Lord, did not realize that he was risen.

Then “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)” (v. 16). He knew her name, just as he could call Zacchaeus by name (Luke 19:5). And just as he knows yours. She now knew him and fell before him in worship.

Verse 17: “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘” And “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’—and that he had said these things to her” (v. 18).

A life-changing encounter

With this, Mary Magdalene became the first evangelist of Easter. Not Peter, his lead apostle, or John, his best friend. Not a chief priest or Pharisee or member of the Sanhedrin. A woman from a nondescript town in Galilee who had been demon-possessed before she met Jesus.

If he could call her and use her, he can call and use anyone.

But here’s the catch: we have to know who he is. We have to know that he is in fact risen from the dead, that he is as alive as when he first walked the earth, that he is real and he is Lord.

Otherwise, we have a message but no Master. We have a symbol but no Savior. We have a nice story to tell but no good news to share.

So here’s the question: are you Mary when our text begins, or Mary when it ends?

According to a recent survey, only 64 percent of Americans believe Jesus was raised from the dead. Adding to our confusion, only 57 percent say Jesus is the only person who never sinned; 57 percent think he was created by God; 59 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a personal being.

Now let’s get personal: if Jesus is not the living, life-changing Lord of your life today, it’s as though Easter isn’t real for you.

When was the last time praying or reading Scripture changed your life? That you did something you would not have done or did not do something you would have done?

When was the last time you worshiped Jesus in a way that touched you emotionally as well as rationally? When Peter encountered the divinity of Jesus, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). When John met the risen Christ on Patmos, he says in Revelation 1, “I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).

When last were you awed by God?

If you are, you will want to tell someone. Like Mary Magdalene, you will want to spread the news. You’ll be the Samaritan woman who told her village about Jesus, or Matthew the tax-collector who invited his fellow tax-collectors to meet his Lord, or the Gadarene demoniac who told the Decapolis what Jesus did for him.

In fact, you can measure the depth of your encounter with Jesus on Easter by the degree to which you tell his story on the day after Easter. And the degree to which you serve others as he has served you, the degree to which you pay forward what you have received in gratitude for such grace.

When our first son was born, no one had to prompt me to tell the story or to show his pictures. It was the same with our second son. And don’t get me started on our grandkids. When you love someone, you want everyone to know. And you want everyone else to love the one you love.

That’s just how love works.


So I’ll close by asking you again, which Mary are you? The Mary before she met the risen Christ on the first Easter, or the Mary after she met him? Is he an old story or a risen Savior for you? Is he a religious subject or a personal Lord?

When last did he change your life? Will you make time with him today for him to change your life again today? Will you share his story and his love tomorrow?

Dr. Samuel M. Lockridge was one of the most profound orators of our day. I love his description of our risen Lord: “He is enduringly strong; he is entirely sincere. He is eternally steadfast; he is immortally gracious. He is imperially powerful; he is impartially merciful. He is the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizons of the globe.

“He is God’s Son; he is the sinner’s Savior. He is the captive’s Ransom; he is the breath of life. He is the centerpiece of civilization; he stands in the solitude of Himself. He is august and he is unique; he is unparalleled and he is unprecedented. He is undisputed and he is undefiled; he is unsurpassed and he is unshakeable.

“He is the loftiest idea in philosophy; he is the highest personality in psychology. He is the supreme subject in literature; he is the fundamental doctrine of theology. He is the Cornerstone and the Capstone. He is the miracle of the ages.”

Now he wants to be the miracle of our lives. The next step is yours.