Summary: Jesus makes big promises, and we struggle to believe in the midst of our troubles and setbacks of life. Jesus gives us the strength to believe, and fills us with the hope of seeing God's glory someday.
How quick are you to believe big promises? I think there’s a certain part of all of us that’s a little hesitant, a little skeptical, to believe every promise that we hear. Have you ever believed a promise, only to have that promise broken? “I promise you that we will give you a raise next year when business is better,” but the raise never came. “I promise you that this medication will work – you will feel better after you take this medication,” but it didn’t work - you still feel sick. I promise you that this vehicle will never break down – it will run well for years to come” – and then the engine light comes on. We live in a world of broken promises, and it’s hard to trust, hard to believe, when you’ve experienced a broken promise in your life.
This morning, Jesus makes some very big promises. One of them is the theme of our sermon for this morning: “Believe, and you will see the glory of God.” Jesus promises everyone who believes in him that someday, they will see wonderful things, awesome things – the glory of God. This morning we ponder some of the biggest promises in the Bible, and through his Word Jesus fills us with hope that someday we will indeed see the glory of God.
Jesus is at the funeral of his good friend, Lazarus. The time is coming for Jesus to be betrayed and crucified, which is why this is the Gospel lesson chosen right before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Martha, the sister of Lazarus, was filled with grief that her brother had died. But underneath that grief, there was still some faith: “If you had been here Lord, my brother would not have died.” She believed that Jesus could have rescued Lazarus from his illness – that’s faith. And then she made an interesting statement: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” What did she mean? Did she believe that Jesus might raise Lazarus from the dead? We’re not sure. But we do know that underneath her grief, she had faith.
Isn’t that how it is for all of us, as we experience trouble in our lives? Maybe it’s the death of a loved one, or maybe it’s some other kind of trouble. Life can be very difficult, and sometimes we feel grief and sadness, like Martha. Life is hard, and brings us many troubles. But underneath our grief and sadness we still have faith in Jesus Christ and all of his promises.
Listen to the promises that Jesus gives to Martha: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha thought he was talking about Judgment Day. In her mind, God the Father would someday end the world and raise everyone from the dead, including Lazarus. She believed that. But it seems that she wasn’t picturing Jesus as raising anyone from the dead on Judgment Day – just God the Father. That’s why Jesus spoke these famous words to her: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Jesus was happy that Martha believed in Judgment Day, but look at me, Jesus is saying. I’m the one who is going to raise all people from the dead, including your brother Lazarus.
And then Jesus makes another promise: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” The one who believes in Jesus might die physically. But that person will keep living. When a Christian dies, a Christian doesn’t really die. The body shuts down, but the soul goes to heaven. A Christian’s life improves at death, because in heaven, that Christian is more alive, more healthy, more filled joy and awe and excitement than ever before. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
And then there is that other promise Jesus makes: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” When Jesus says, “Never die,” he is talking about what happens at Judgment Day, when he raises the Christian up from the dead again, and that person physically alive again – body and soul forever, and will never die. What amazing promises Jesus makes here. “Do you believe this,” Jesus asked Martha. And Martha said yes. In spite of the sadness she felt, the grief of losing her brother, she believed. Maybe she didn’t understand everything Jesus was saying, but she believed.
Do you believe? These are big promises. It can be hard, sometimes, to believe, when we are experiencing grief like Martha, when a loved one suddenly dies, when a successful career suddenly ends, when health is suddenly replaced by illness, when love is replaced by loneliness, when good days are replaced by bad. Had you ever had moments of doubt, moments of sadness and grief, wondering if everything you had ever believed about Jesus is actually true? Is there really life after death? Is there really a resurrection from the dead? Is Jesus real? Is everything I have ever believed true? Look at all of my problems, all of my troubles. Sometimes the promises of God don’t seem real.