Do You Believe This? An Easter Meditation on John 11:26
Every single person reading this article is dying. Every man, every woman, every child is dying. Whatever differences may exist among us, this one thing we share in common with one another: we are all dying.
"Thanks, Sam! I appreciate that encouraging word!"
Yes, I know it sounds a bit grim and depressing. But the fact remains, we ARE all dying. In time, sooner or later, assuming Jesus doesn't first return, we will all be dead.
Many of you reading this have recently buried a loved one. My uncle, whom I loved as much as a nephew can love an uncle, died a few weeks ago. In addition to a wife, son, and grandson, he left behind three sisters who agonized over his death. But they also rejoiced in knowing that he is very much alive in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many centuries ago two sisters also grieved over the death of their brother. Their names were Martha and Mary. His name was Lazarus.
I'm sure you remember the story. When he heard that Lazarus had died, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was. When he finally arrived in Bethany, we read in John 11:17 that "he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days."
The subsequent encounter between Jesus and Martha is stunning. "So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, '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. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.'"
Three are three important things to note here.
First, have you noticed how you introduce yourself to others? "Hello, my name is _____, and I am _____." For you to simply say, "I am," doesn't tell anyone anything. They will respond: "O.K. You are what?" We respond: "I am a man/woman, 40 years old. I am a resident of _____. I am employed by _____. I'm really good at _____." Etc.
But not Jesus! On several occasions he identified and introduced himself, as it were, simply by saying, "I am!" Believe it or not, that is all he needed to say to the people of his day and they would know exactly what he meant.
Now, of course, he did fill in the blank several times. For example, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). "I am the door of the sheep" (John 10:7,9). "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11,14). "I am the way, the truth, the life" (John 14:6). "I am the true vine" (John 15:1,5).
If either you or I said "I am", and left it at that, most would take us to mean, "I exist" or "I am alive" or "I am breathing" or "I am myself and not someone whom you've mistaken me to be," or something similar.
But for Jesus to use this language in his day meant something far more. For example, Jesus said: "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM HE you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). Again, "Jesus said to them, 'When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM HE, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me" (John 8:28). Finally, "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM'" (John 8:58).
On the one hand, Jesus may have been alluding to the declaration of God from the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-14. Most likely, though, the Old Testament background for Jesus' words is found in such texts as Isaiah 41:4 ("I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he"); 43:10,13 ("'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he'"); as well as 46:4; and 48:12 ("Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last").
There is simply no escaping the fact that with those words ("I am") Jesus is claiming to be God in human flesh.
Here in John 11 Jesus again makes the claim, "I am," but proceeds to fill in the blank: "I am the resurrection and the life."
The second thing to note is what Jesus does not say. He doesn't say "THERE IS a resurrection and THERE IS life." For that matter, neither did he say "There is light for the world" but rather "I AM the light of the world" ("I AM the bread . . . vine . . . way . . . truth . . . life," etc.).
Look again at John 11:23-24 – "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'" D. A. Carson calls this "a masterpiece of planned ambiguity" (412). At one level his words "Your brother will rise again" could be taken as no more than a devout doctrinal declaration designed to comfort Martha in her grief. He points her attention to the final day of resurrection at the end of the age. Death will not have the last word, "your brother SHALL rise again." That is how Martha understood Jesus' words. She believed, as did all devout Jews of the day, that a resurrection would occur at the end of the age.
But note what Jesus says. "No Martha, resurrection isn't just something 'out there.' It is right here! I'm it. Martha, I AM the resurrection and the life."
Jesus then said to her, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (v. 25b). He doesn't say, "whoever believes in the resurrection of the body," but "whoever believes in ME!" Carson explains: "Jesus' concern is to divert Martha's focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in him who alone can provide it. Just as he not only gives the bread from heaven (6:27) but is himself the bread of life (6:35), so also he not only raises the dead on the last day (5:21,25ff.) but is himself the resurrection and the life. There is neither resurrection nor eternal life outside of him" (412).
The focus of Martha's (and your) faith must not be in a principle but in a person. There is and will be a resurrection because there is and always will be a person named Jesus who himself has conquered death and is himself life and resurrection!
The third and final point of interest in this narrative is how Jesus puts Martha on the spot. He asks, "Do you believe this?" (v. 26b).
"You, Martha, not others. You. Do YOU believe this?" He doesn't say, "Martha, what does your sister Mary think about all this?" He doesn't say, "Martha, what are the newspapers writing about me these days?" He doesn't say, "Martha, what are the scribes and religious leaders in the synagogue saying about me?"
Jesus is asking Martha personally. Jesus is asking you and me personally. "Do YOU believe this?" Believe what?
"This." Jesus isn't asking if Martha believes he is about to raise her brother from the dead. He is asking if her faith can go beyond believing that her brother will be raised on the day of resurrection to personal trust in Jesus himself as the resurrection and the life.
Note her answer in v. 27 – "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." She declares her personal, confident, believing trust in Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah, apart from whom death will win, apart from whom there is no hope or life!
Don't be misled. Whether or not you believe "this" has no effect on whether or not it is true. There will be a resurrection whether you believe it or not. Resurrection is not a matter of choice. Resurrection is neither created nor destroyed by your belief or disbelief. All will die and all will be raised, some to eternal life and some to eternal judgment (cf. John 5:25-29).
The only relevant question that remains is the same one Jesus asked Martha: "Do YOU believe this?" Well, do you?