Death Is Conquered (John 11:25-26)
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” —John 11:25-26
In the ensuing weeks and months after Brice’s death, I witnessed Bob and Beth’s deep sorrow and very real pain spliced with the comfort they received in remembering Brice’s words to them as he went off to war: “I’m not afraid to die because I know where I’m going.”
I remember thinking Brice’s words every bit as stark as Bob’s were; and just as stark as Jesus’: "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." The setting was the same—a graveside. How can such words be uttered on such an occasion, in the midst of such deep sorrow and real pain? It is here, however, that Christ shows himself best to be the all-sufficient God.
What is worse than death that seemingly has the power to halt the world and banish all joy? It is an enemy, the final plague—literally (Exodus 11:4-6)—and spiritually (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is powerful and seems to have the last word for all of us. It robs us of those we love and leaves us impotent to help or heal the grief of those unwillingly parted. Even as we seek to give comfort, we are uncomfortably reminded of our own appointment.
I live near an historic cemetery with expansive grounds. Walking through its paths, gravestones rehearse the roll-call of death in the same manner as the Genesis genealogies which end, “and he died.” Into this bleakness Christ speaks the first two words that change everything—I AM. Death may shake the foundations, but Christ says ‘look to me’ and be secure—I am with you, I am constant, I am powerful over death’s temporary victory. Consider when Christ died, graves opened!
As sufficient as Christ’s “I AM” is for us, he adds still more—he is “the resurrection and the life.” Not only does he conquer death’s power but he gives life in its place. This is the comfort that Job knew (Job 19:25-26) which was enough to stay him in the face of great loss. It is the promise that teaches Christians how to grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It is the truth that releases Christians from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). This is who Christ is—he does not merely bring life, he is that life and in him alone is the resurrection from the dead. In him the Christian hopes—and through him, can withstand every loss that would come to undermine faith and cause fear.
To these declarations of hope, Christ makes two statements that sound oddly opposite—those who believe in him “die but live” and also “live and never die.” How can these things be? Christ does not deny that humans die (he uttered these words at the grave of Lazarus) but he wants us to know that death is not the end for those who believe in him; “though he die, yet shall he live”—either immediately as in Lazarus’ case, or later at the resurrection (in Christ shall all be made alive—1 Corinthians 15:22).
As the first fruits from among the dead, Christ leads all his own in triumph over death’s sting (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). The seemingly opposite claim—lives and believes in me shall never die—is actually the same promise, only looking at its ultimate end. In truth, the believer never dies for absent from the body is present with the Lord. Christ is giving spiritual eyes to see what happens beyond what earthly eyes can see. When death’s veil is parted we see living souls alive with Christ. This is the truth that sustains us when all else fails. And it is the truth that gives deep-seated rest when understood and held onto, as Christ prodded Martha to do.
Every year on the anniversary of Brice’s death I send flowers and a note to Bob and Beth; remembering Brice but much more remembering his words to them. On the first anniversary in 2008, I sent today’s Fighter Verses. As I contemplate it now, I see how these verses help in the fight for faith in Christ’s love and power, the fight for truth against the lie that death is more powerful than it truly is, and the fight for hope in the face of grief. All of this is possible only through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life.
In the week ahead, how can Christ’s “I am” be of strength and comfort to you?
In what ways can these verses help you when speaking about death with your unbelieving friends or family?
Describe a time when Christ’s death and resurrection gave you joy.
As you gather to remember Christ’s birth this week, this Fighter Verse passage would be a precious Christmas meditation for you and your family.