Our faith wavers. The promises that Jesus makes are rock solid. Sheep are those who hear His voice and follow. But more importantly, sheep are those who are in the hands of a Shepherd who will not let them go.
The disciples can say things like, “Even if all others abandon you, Lord, I will not.” And then promptly desert Him when the heat is on.
Jesus can say things like, “I am the resurrection and the Life.” and then go on to deliver.
The Father’s purpose in the death of one of His sheep, Lazarus, was to glorify His Son. That’s the reason in John 11 that Jesus has let Lazarus die and that’s the reason for taking the disciples with Him to Bethany.
So, Jesus, true to His word, makes the trek down to Bethany near Jerusalem.
When Martha hears that Jesus is heading her way, she runs out to meet Him. Lazarus is dead and has been for four days. Mary and Martha are grieving badly.
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”. (John 11:20-22)
Being a believer does not diminish grief and pain over death. But these are the actions of true believers. Not invincible sheep – but true sheep.
Martha is torn. With one eye on the body, she has to acknowledge the reality: Lazarus is dead. With the other eye on Jesus, her faith tells her that even now Jesus could still do something.
Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again.”
She wants to believe, she is looking for anything from Jesus that will confirm her faith in Him, but she is hesitant to presume too much.
Martha takes the safe path. “Yep, I know that he will rise again at the resurrection, on the last day.”
This is where her faith is at. This is all she has got in the tank. But her words tell us that she is hoping for something more.
And Jesus gives it to her.
Jesus does not mock or dismiss our stammering faith. He does not sit back, hit the buzzer, pull the plug, and take Martha off the field. He gives Martha what she needs to believe.
If all that you need, to sustain your faith and trust in Jesus is a cup of cold water, He will give it.
He will also re-direct our wandering eyes.
If the source of Martha’s hope is her brother, and her brother dies then so dies her hope. And what is true for Martha is true for all of us. If our first or final hope is in our money, our mum or our mansion, and these things die, hope dies.
The place for Martha to look for life and hope is not the body of Lazarus but the body of Jesus.
And that’s where Jesus directs her attention. “I am the resurrection and the life.”
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There is a resurrection at which you will come face to face with Jesus, and if you want to be welcomed on that day you must set your hope on true words.
And so, Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?”
Faith is not a mystical experience. Faith is not the result of looking in.
People sometimes say, “I don’t care about your theology, it doesn’t matter what you believe, let’s not quibble over words, the most important thing is my relationship with Jesus”.
Jesus disagrees. Words matter. “Martha, do you believe this?” Believe what? “Do you believe these words? I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Faith, believing in Jesus is not a warm, runny feeling. Faith is believing true words.
The very definition of trusting someone, the experience itself, is based on trusting what they say. That’s what faith is.
You can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone whose words you don’t trust.
Here, Jesus is asking the question in order to establish and strengthen Martha’s faith. He is taking the faith she has and making it stronger still. That’s what a Good Shepherd does.
He says and does things which lead to faith, and then more faith. He meets us where we are at, and then takes us on to a stronger faith.
Jesus doesn’t trash our hope in Him. He confirms our hope, often in the midst of tragedy.
He doesn’t like human suffering and tragedy any more than we do. He gets mad and indignant at sin because, as a true Shepherd, He loves His sheep.
And because He loves His sheep, He gives them true words. Words you can rest your life on. Words that raise the dead and give life to all who believe.