Summary: The difference it makes in our lives to say that we truly believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
This Scripture passage from the gospel of John has been my most favorite Bible passage since I was in the seventh grade. I have chosen to share it with you this morning and to reflect on it with you because I love this passage so much, and I thought by sharing it with you that you might learn a bit more about me in these still early days of my appointment to Grace; not to mention the fact that this passage brings before us an important revelation about who God is and asks a tough question of our faith. I am not sure that I could have told you when I was in the seventh grade why this passage was so appealing to me; perhaps it was that clear affirmation of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.” I don’t really know. But even today, this passage from John is still one of my favorites, and now I can tell you why. Though Jesus’ affirmation, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is a powerful and important statement, I like this passage more because of the question that follows that statement, “Do you believe this?” This is the question I ask myself each morning; it is the question that helps keep me focused on Jesus and on Jesus’ intentions for my life. This is the question that is before each of us today; and in essence, it is the underlying question of the Christian faith. “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Answering this question means more than just assenting to the words Jesus has said, it means shaping our lives according to the affirmation that Jesus has made.
There is a big difference between answering a question, and really answering a question. I think most of us can relate to the well-known after school conversation. A child gets home after a day at school, or the parent walks in after a day at work. The parent asks the child, “How was school today?” “Fine,” says the youngster. “Well, did you do anything fun?” “Not really.” The parent presses again, “What exactly did you do?” And then the ever popular answer, “Nothing.” The “conversation” could go on like that for a bit, but we all know the child isn’t really answering the parents’ questions. To really answer the question, the child would tell the parent that he had a great day at school because there was an extra long recess, or he got a good grade on an assignment, or got to do a special art project or lab experiment. In the same way, if we are to answer Jesus’ question, it means more than just saying, “Yes” and affirming what Jesus has said. We also must have faith that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Martha seems to have lost faith. She is certain that Jesus has missed his opportunity for a miracle and her brother Lazarus is gone for good. Jesus assures Martha that her brother will rise again, but Martha does not seem to find much hope in this. Her response to Jesus is almost curt, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” It’s as if she is saying to Jesus, “what’s the big deal, lots of people will be resurrected.” This was part of Jewish belief, even during that time. Martha, it seems, has blindly accepted this message of eternal life, she finds no real hope or encouragement in Jesus’ words that Lazarus will rise again. Sometimes, blind acceptance of the Gospel means that we never expect to see its promises carried out. Martha did not have any faith or hope that Jesus meant what he had just said in a very real sense; she was just answering the question the way it was “supposed” to be answered. To Martha, Jesus’ words were not a present reality, they were just some prediction of a distant future.
Often, it is very difficult to look at the present situation and see a different reality; it’s easier to put our expectations in the future. This is exactly what Martha did when she responded to Jesus that she knew Lazarus would be raised in the resurrection on the last day; she set the promise in the remote distance where it was somehow easier to fathom. It’s kind of like looking through a telescope that’s turned the wrong way. You know how telescopes work, they are amazing things. You hold your eye up to one small end and through glass lenses, objects appear much closer. When I was growing up, my Dad had a telescope, and we would often go out in our backyard on a clear night and look at the moon or the stars. I even remember looking at Halley’s Comet when it last came through in 1986. Looking at the sky through the telescope made it seem as if I could reach out and grab the stars, or touch the moon. But when you turn the telescope around backwards, and look through the other end, it makes everything seem terribly far away; suddenly, Halley’s Comet just looks like another star in the sky. This is what Martha did with Jesus’ words, looking at them as some far distant possibility, not a reality of the here and now.