Please read John 11:17-32 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
SERIES INTRO - “I AM” is the name God used with Moses. Jesus referred Himself in the same way to show He was God and to teach us about God. During Lent we are looking at the 7 “I AM” statements Jesus made in John.
One of the hard, mature things we all have to do is to separate fact from fiction. I heard a cute story about a kid who finally began to face up to the fragility of his belief in the Tooth Fairy. He confronted his mother and asked her, “Mom, are you the Tooth Fairy?”
She gave a little sigh, now that the secret was out, and because this marked a rite of passage. The end of the innocence. But she gave a little nod and said, “Uh, yes, honey, I guess I kind of am.” The kid accepted this new Theology without freaking out. But a moment later he asked her: “Then how do you get into all the other kids’ houses?” But just as it’s important to separate fact from fiction, it’s equally important for God’s people to separate fiction from fact. To know what we truly believe.
CONTEXT - Jesus was informed of Lazarus’ sickness in vs. 2+3. His first response was to tell His disciples, “LAZARUS’ SICKNESS WILL NOT END IN DEATH. NO IT HAPPENED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD SO THAT THE SON OF GOD WILL RECEIVE GLORY FROM THIS.” (4) Even though Lazarus died, he didn’t stay that way; this prophecy of Jesus came precisely true.
In Jesus, the end of life is the better life.
1. Five inadequate expressions of belief.
The first accurate but inadequate statement of faith: “I believe Jesus is loving.”
Who said it: THE JEWS, in v. 36; “SEE HOW HE LOVED HIM.” In John, “the Jews” refers to pious who didn't believe Jesus was the Son of God. Whether good or bad, sincere or hypocritical, they didn't believe. This particular group of Jews included family, friends and professional mourners, paid to wail for the dead.
What they meant: their statement was a reaction to Jesus' tears in verse 35. They appreciated Jesus' genuine emotion.
Why this is inadequate: they misunderstood Jesus' tears. He knew Lazarus would soon be alive. He was moved by the lack of faith and the unnecessary grief they experienced. This is an elementary level of belief; like the song “Jesus Loves Me.” This is all most people want to hear. They don't want to hear about discipleship. IT grants a warm fuzzy but is incomplete and unable to save.
The second accurate but inadequate statement of faith: “I believe Jesus was a good teacher.”
Who said it: Martha, in verse 25, MARTHA... CALLED HER SISTER [MARY] ASIDE AND SAID, “THE TEACHER IS HERE AND IS ASKING FOR YOU.” Mary and Martha were Lazarus' sisters and devoted supporters of Jesus' ministry (Luke 10:38-42). I speculate Mary decided to stay home at Jesus’ first appearance (20) because her feelings of disappointment were too strong, and/or her grief was too strong for her to reliably control them.
What she meant: Martha’s reference to Jesus is TEACHER with a capital “T.” I don't doubt that Martha meant it respectfully. It was probably their typical way of referring to Jesus. Even though Jesus was not trained by a rabbi in the usual way, He was widely recognized as one and often given that title of respect.
Why this is inadequate: there are lots of people who are willing to accept Jesus as a teacher, but nothing more. They don't want the miracles, the Son of God, the Messiah, or any talk about a sacrifice for sins. They want an historical figure only. While it is true that Jesus was a great teacher, that's only a part of who He was. Great teachers cannot provide eternal life or the forgiveness of sins; only God can do that. We need a Savior, not another teacher.
The third accurate but in adequate statement was, “I believe in the resurrection.”
Who said it: Martha, in verse 24; “I KNOW [LAZARUS] WILL RISE AGAIN IN THE RESURRECTION AT THE LAST DAY.”
What she meant: Martha was keeping her grief - and Jesus - at arm's length. She's trying to this emotional situation into a theological discussion. That felt safer. To her credit, Martha is trying to see the plus side. She had faith and hoped that the teaching of Jesus was correct, that she would see her brother again. She'd been paying attention!
Why this is inadequate. It is important to have correct theology. It is essential to put our hope in God alone. But faith is more than accepting a set of statements as true. What saves us is not passing a theological test but knowing personally the author and object of those truths, Jesus Christ. Salvation is more a matter of who you know than what you know!
The fourth accurate but inadequate statement of faith was, “I believe in miracles.”
Who said it: Mary, in verse 32; “LORD, IF YOU'D BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED.”
What she meant: Mary had seen and heard about the miracles Jesus performed, how He healed the sick and cast out demons. There was no doubt in her mind that if He had come sooner, he could've healed Lazarus' illness. Taken just as it is, Mary is making a statement of faith. But there might have been a bit of exasperation in her tone, with the thought, “Where were you when we needed you?!” running through her mind.
Why this is inadequate: one of our titles for Jesus is “the Great Physician.” It's good to recognize that Jesus has power over diseases of all kinds and to pray for healing. There is, however, so much more to Jesus and so much more to pray about. Jesus is more than a healer, more than a miracle worker. He is God in the flesh. Through His sacrifice, we have all triumphed over death.
I get concerned that prayer becomes something we do only for physical concerns, and only for the “serious” cases. Prayer is conversation with God and is much more than a list of who's hurting. If the only time we come to Jesus is when we need something, then we're missing out on a fulness of joy and entire faith that is good for every kind of day.
The fifth and final accurate but inadequate declaration of faith is, “I believe Jesus had a special relationship with God.”
Who said it: Martha, in verses 21-22 = “LORD, IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED. BUT I KNOW THAT EVEN NOW GOD WILL GIVE YOU WHATEVER YOU ASK.”
What she meant: This is a more complete statement of faith than anything we've heard so far. It's as if Martha hears hope whispering in her ear, but she isn't sure she can trust what she's hearing. In the first part of her statement, it's not too imaginative to hear disappointment. Who can blame her? If Jesus had hurried, her brother would be alive. Disappointment can make trusting difficult.
But in the second part, she seems to be hinting that Jesus has the ear of God the Father. His prayers can accomplish anything; even restoring her brother's life. Martha's tentatively going out on a limb.
Why this is inadequate: to her credit, Martha had faith to see that Jesus had a relationship with God the Father that went beyond anything anyone had previously known. Jesus is more than a man with the ultimate connection. He is God. He is one with God the Father and God the Spirit. Martha took a leap of faith here, but it was still short of the truth.
2. One adequate expression of belief.
Of course, Jesus’ own statement about Himself is the ultimate statement of belief: “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME WILL LIVE, EVEN THOUGH HE DIES; AND WHOEVER LIVES AND BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER DIE.” (25-26) His question, “DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” gave Martha an opportunity to declare a more full-featured faith. (26)
In her reply to this question, Martha gave a deeper and more faithful answer, “YES, LORD,” SHE TOLD HIM. “I BELIEVE YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, WHO WAS TO COME INTO THE WORLD.” (27)
What she meant: Jesus was trying to clarify Martha's earlier statement. The RESURRECTION AT THE LAST DAY is not the only day life will have victory over death. He wanted her to see the possibility of resurrection that day. These words represent an advanced understanding of Jesus, as evidenced in the following three terms.
CHRIST = “Anointed One” = Messiah, the ruler God promised to send to His people.
SON OF GOD = Not a lesser version of God, this is a being who is God.
WHO WAS TO COME = the Jews' hope was founded on OT prophecy foretelling T Messiah.
Why that was adequate: because she recognized the whole truth about Jesus. More than a teacher, more than a miracle worker, Jesus was all those things together and more, because He was God. All the other views were not incorrect; they were inadequate views because they were incomplete. We need to give Martha credit - through the veil of her tears, in spite of the loss of her brother - she saw Jesus as who He really was. Alongside Peter’s and Thomas', Martha's is a great confession of faith in Jesus.
In Jesus, the end of life is the better life.
During an exam, a doctor attempted to explain to his patient the role of faith in healing. The patient clarified, "As I understand it, Doctor, if I believe I'm well, I'll be well. Is that the idea?" "It is."
Grinning, the man said, "Then, if you believe you are paid, I suppose you'll be paid." "Not necessarily," the doctor replied. "But why shouldn't faith work as well in one case as in the other?" "Why, you see,” the medico began, “there is considerable difference between having faith in God and having faith in you."
Here we see the importance of the object of one’s faith. That is the crucial factor, not the quality of one’s faith. Fervent belief in anything other than God is wrong. Even though it is sincerely wrong, sincerity alone does not save. We examined five statements of faith that were stated with sincerity, even conviction, but they were not expressions of saving faith.
One of my pet peeves is a bumper sticker. It reads; "God said it, I believe it and that ends it." Many of us may think that is a reasonable statement. I, on the other hand, have a problem with it--you see, once God says it, THAT ends it. THAT makes it truth. Whether or not I believe it does not make it true or false. Truth is truth, and it is promulgated by the will and testimony of God, not by the beliefs of those that choose whether or not to follow Him. It is this attitude about Scripture that is the problem. if we believe this, we have come to think that our belief is what makes something true or not and that is just another form of the postmodern nonsense that drives too much of our culture. Focus on Jesus, who is the embodiment of truth - accept His testimony that He is the Resurrection and the Life - then you will be saved and know both resurrection and life.