Tim Keller at Oxford (3) Two grieving sisters encounter Jesus

Keller: What we’re doing every night this week is we’re looking at questions that every person has to have a set of working answers for in order to live: Who are we, as human beings? What’s wrong with us, with the world? What, if anything can improve or put us right. So each night we’re looking in the New Testament Gospel of John, and there we’re looking at a series of encounters that Jesus Christ had with individuals.

In this night we’re going to take a look at this question: What can put us right? What, if anything can improve our condition? And, if you’re gonna go to christianity to find out what the christian answer to that major philosophic question is, you have to change the question a little bit. The question is: Who can put us right? So tonight we are gonna start looking and we’ll do it some more tomorrow night, at who is Jesus Christ? Who is this center of christianity that’s supposed to be the person who does everything right. To do that, we’re gonna look at John, chapter 11. I’m gonna read you two sections (in two stages) from a long chapter, to tell the story of Jesus and His relationship with 3 people, 2 sisters and a brother Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  Jesus had a particularly close relationship to them. Earlier in chapter 11, Lazarus is described as someone that Jesus loved. ‘Love’ is a word that was only used in Jesus intimate relationship with His disciples. Lazarus gets sick, very sick. Mary and Martha send for Him. And then, He starts to come, but, Lazarus dies before He arrives.

Who Jesus is

John 11:17-36 Did you notice something? Martha comes to Jesus and says, „Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”. Later, Mary comes out and says exactly the same words. And yet, Jesus’s response to Martha and to Mary are absolutely different. Same statement, same condition, two sisters with a brother whom they love. With Martha, He almost argues with her. You could see Him standing straight and lifting up His voice. The flow of her heart is going down. She’s in despair, sadness and sorrow and He’s pushing against that flow. He says, „Don’t say that, I am the resurrection and the life; I’m here. Things are gonna change. Lift up your heart”.

He goes to see Mary, Mary comes out, says exactly the same thing and His response is completely different. He’s essentially speechless. And, instead of pushing against the flow of her heart, He enters it; He’s sort of sucked into it. He feels her sorrow and he’s just swept up into it and He bursts into tears. All He can say is, „Where is he?” One commentator on the Bible that I know has said, „This has got to be an eyewitness account. No fiction writer would have ever made anything up like this”. Because, if you’re making this up, it makes sense then, that maybe Jesus Christ (who claims to be God- we’re gonna get to that in a minute), walks in and says, „I’m the resurrection and the life, everybody watch what I’m  gonna do”. But, then when He gets to Mary, why does He act that way, why is He pulled down? Why does He seem to be so vulnerable? If you are making this story up, you could either make Jesus playful, and then Jesus would say to Mary, „Ha,ha,ha,ha wait til you see what I am about to do”. Or you can just make Him high and elevated and you have Him say to her, „I am the resurrection and the life”. But, as that person said, „If you were a fiction writer, you would have never made up what happened”.

He speaks to Mary in a completely different way that He speaks to Martha. Why this difference?

  1. Because it HAPPENED. That’s the only good reason for being there
  2. Secondly, because in terms of narrative, He is teaching us that Jesus Christ is both God and human. He is teaching us in narrative form what the New Testament says elsewhere propositionally: That He is God and man. Not just God. Not just man. God man.

Let me show a little bit more about that. First of all, here we see Him actually claiming to be God. When He says, „I am the resurrection and the life,” let’s put this in context. Jesus is constantly making claims like this that are astonishing. It’s even more than saying, „I’m God”. You know, a lot of people talk and say, „I’m God”, and they mean different things by ‘god’ and in some way you can say, „I believe there’s a god in everybody”. But, when Jesus says these names, we see the magnitude of them.

So, for example, one of the things Jesus does constantly, you read it in the New testament, is He is always forgiving people for their sins. Does that surprise you? It should. You can only forgive someone if they have sinned against you, and if Jesus Christ goes around and forgives people left and right, what is He saying? You know what He is saying, „I am the creator and proprietor of the human race and all sins are against Me. All violations, all wrongs are against Me”. You can go to chapter 14 where Jesus doesn’t just say – I tell the ruth or I bring the truth, or I point to the truth. He says, „I am the way, the truth and the life. I am the truth? We saw last night that He’s the source of eternal life. That only God can give life and take it away.

Here, He’s not just saying, „I can resurrect Lazarus”. He’s not saying, „I’ve got the power to revive this person”. He’s going way beyond that. He says, „I have the power to destroy death. I am the resurrection and the life”. At the end of the book of John, Jesus appears to Thomas, shows him his nail prints and His scars, Thomas falls down and he says, „My Lord, and my God”. He worships, and Jesus just sits there.

Now, everywhere in the Bible, if an angel appears and you fall down in the BIble and you try to worship the angel, the angels say, „Get up.” Why? „I am a fellow creature, I have been created by God, so, if I have been created by God, don’t worship me”. And when people fall down before God, before Jesus and say, „My Lord, my God”, and worships Him, and Jesus takes it, what is He saying about Himself? It’s everywhere in the New Testament, even off the cuff. In Luke Jesus says, „I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning”, and then He goes on to something else and the other disciples must have been sitting there thinking, „What, who do you think you are?” And that’s the point. Everybody knew who He was claiming to be. There’s a place in John 5 where He says, „I’m the Son of God”, and they try to stone Him. Why? Because in that culture, if you’re the only son, the only child, you inherit everything from your father, which means that you’re equal with your father and they tried to kill Him because they knew that every time He called Himself the Son of God, He was calling Himself equal with God.

Jesus’s constant claims, that either directly or with just slight direction say, „I am the creator of the universe. I am the transcendent one. I am the one who is infinitely exalted above heaven and earth. All things belong to Me”. It’s astounding. And it creates a problem, not only to the people around Him who are with Him at the time, but, for everybody in this room. There was a Scottish presbyterian rabbi who said, „Because of Jesus’s claims, He’s different than the other founders of all the other great religions. Because of His claims, „Christ either deceived humankind by a conscious fraud, or was Himself deluded, or He was divine”. There is no getting out of this trilemma. He was either a fraud and was lying, or he was deranged or He was God. But, don’t say He’s just another founder of another religion, that He’s another great man, another great teacher and that we can learn a little bit from him, and from another

Jesus doesn’t give you that option. You can’t put Jesus on a shelf with all the other great sages. He won’t let you, because of the claims. You see, He says, „Take seriously my claims. If I am wrong, I am inferior to all those other founders If I am wrong, I am not like those other founders who had the wisdom to not claim to be God. But, if I’m right, I am superior, I have to be for you to find out who God is and what ultimate reality is. But, I’m not an equal.

Somebody years ago, after reading the Gospels and looking at His life put it like this, and by the way we don’t know who wrote this. It was quoted in a book and the source was not named:

The accounts of Him in the New testament speak for themselves. He combines qualities that no one has ever seen. Despite His incredible claims, we never see Him pompous or offended, or leaning on His own dignity. Despite being absolutely approachable to the weakest and most broken people, He is completely fearless before the proud and the corrupt. It’s like being profoundly human and becoming weary and lonely, and moved to joy, and love, and anger. Yet, we never see Him moody. We never see Him inconsistent. We never see Him being strong where He should be tender or tender where He should be strong. Most interesting of all, in His accounts in dealing with people He is continually surprising us, shocking us, yet never disappointing us. It is difficult to imagine the word Jesus ought to have said or the deed He ought to have done. Nothing He does falls short. In fact He is always surprising and taking your breath away, because he is incomparably better than you could imagine yourself. Why? These are the surprises of perfection. He is tenderness without weakness, strength without harshness, humility without the slightest lack of confidence, unhesitating authority with a complete lack of self absorption. Holiness and unbending conviction, without the slightest lack of approachability, power without insensitivity, passion without prejudice. There’s never a false step, there’s never a dry note, this is life at the highest.

His claims- INCREDIBLE!


Conclusion- He’s God. But, He’s not just God. He doesn’t just show Martha „I’m the resurrection and the life”. When He gets to Mary He weeps. Here you have deity, with human vulnerability. His love for these people, for this family, brings Him down into weeping. What you have in Jesus Christ is something that is pretty hard to believe, He’s not 50 % human. He’s not 20% God. He’s not a human being with sort of a high God consciousness. He is deity, but He is absolutely and totally human. Now, no other religion agrees with this. Nobody else believes that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh. Lots of people will grant that He was a guru, a sage, but no one else will grant that HE was God come in the flesh. But, here’s my argument to you: Look at they way in which He actually responds to the 2 women and you will see that when you can get your mind around the idea of a God-man or not, it’s what you need. Why? With Martha, He gives her the ministry of truth. She needs the truth, because she’s Martha. He says, „Listen, stop don’t despair. I’m here, the resurrection and life”. Because of His highness, because of His cosmic identity He’s able to point to the stars. ANd then, when He gets to Mary, He doesn’t give her the ministry of truth, He gives her the ministry of tears. He doesn’t say anything. He just gets into her sorrow with her. Complete sincerity, complete integrity and just weeps with her, because of His lowness. Now, technically, everyone needs a ministry of truth and a ministry of tears. Sometimes you need more of the truth. Sometimes you need to be punched out by a loving friend who says, „Wake up, stop it”. Other times you just need somebody to just weep with you. Sometimes, to lay truth on people when they’re grieved is absolutely wrong. But, other times, just to weep with them and not tell them the truth is wrong too. A lot of us tend to be with people and just weep and never tell the truth and a lot of us tend to be abrasive people who love to tell the truth, but we’re really not sympathetic. But Jesus Christ isn’y just a wonderful counselorHe is the truth come in tears. He is deity incarnate.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity! He is God become a human being and He’s become a human being because He loves us. Behold how He loves us.

Two Grieving Sisters Encounter Jesus

Uploaded by  on Feb 10, 2012

Tim Keller speaks on the Thursday evening of „This is Jesus”, OICCU’s 2012 main event.

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