Introduction: Belief
Do you believe in Jesus? Do you BELIEVE in Jesus? Do you really believe in Jesus? That I think is the compelling question that we’re faced with as we read this passage today. What does it mean for you to believe in Jesus? As an abstract question it’s probably easy enough to answer. Yes I believe in Jesus. I believe he’s the Son of God. How else could he have done those miracles? I believe he died and rose again. (Sounds like the words of a song doesn’t it?) The evidence for the resurrection seems overwhelming.
The Disciples’ Belief
The disciples believed in Jesus. Peter had spoken on behalf of all of them when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ. But how far did their belief in him go? Well, let’s have a look and see.
When Jesus heard that Lazarus, his friend, was sick, he wasn’t worried. He knew what the outcome would be. So he waited 2 days before announcing to his disciples that they were going back to Judea to check on Lazarus. And what was the disciples response? "Hang on Jesus, it isn’t very safe there at the moment. It’s not that long since the last time we were there and the Jews tried to stone you. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?" How far did their belief in him go? Far enough to trust him to keep them safe? To even keep himself safe? It doesn’t sound like it does it? In fact when he tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep, they think of natural sleep and think this gives them an out. If he’s sleeping then he’ll recover, so there’s no need to go back at all. Phew! But in fact it isn’t natural sleep that Jesus is talking about, it’s the sleep of death. So Jesus tells them plainly. "Lazarus is dead." Then he says what seems a strange thing. "And for your sake I’m glad I was not there, so that you may believe."
How could anyone be glad that a friend has died? What about the pain that Mary and Martha are feeling at that moment? Doesn’t Jesus care about that? Or is it that all he cares about is making his point with the disciples? Well it becomes quite clear as the story progresses that he does care. Twice we’re told how he’s moved with emotion, moved to tears, as he sees the sadness of those who are there to mourn Lazarus. But still, he knows that there’s more at issue here than their sadness and he knows what the outcome will be. He’s already said that this illness won’t lead to death. Rather it will have the twofold result of God being glorified and the disciples and Martha and Mary growing in faith, in their belief in Jesus. And that’s what makes him glad.
The Need for Deeper Faith
You see the disciples’ belief in Jesus still needed to grow and be strengthened. Even though they’d spent all this time living with him, they still didn’t really understand who he was. And when it came to the crunch their faith still wasn’t enough to sustain them. I read an old Irish proverb the other day. It said "Never doubt in the darkness, what you believed in the light." There’s an echo of John’s gospel there isn’t