I Am a Believer
“I Am a Believer”
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Romans 8: 6-11
John 11: 1-45
Alicia and I drove out west from the east coast for the first time about 15 years ago. It was a military change of station, so I plotted the course very deliberately. I held to the regulations set forth by the Air Force for such moves. For instance, families were not supposed to drive more than 300 miles a day. So, I planned for hotels every 300 miles of the trip. It was odd though, because 300 miles seemed so short and it seemed like the journey would be so much longer because of that limitation. Yet, we stopped in obscure places and we saw obscure things. I couldn’t talk her into seeing the Cowboy Hall of Fame though (probably had more to do with the hotel that day than anything else...yet I digress). We went to local museums in small towns and we ate at restaurants with locals. We had no cell phone and we had no internet. Our idea of the world around us was what we experienced and it was amazing how those experiences changed as we moved from one familiar place to a new and decidedly different part of the nation. Although the journey was slow, it broke us into the understanding of a different culture, different landscapes, different climates, and, ultimately, allowed us to adapt to our new life.
We have been on a slow journey over the last four weeks of Lent. We have been building a narrative to allow us to accept our new state of life. We began by discussing the humanity of Jesus by revealing his temptation in the desert. Then we discussed the divine nature of Jesus by the occurrence of His transfiguration. The human side and the divine side were demonstrated as the Samaritan woman at the well found strength and forgiveness in Jesus, and the man who was born blind found faith, “I was blind but not I see.” Slowly, yet progressively, we have been working to our destination. We have had to consider things along the way. Challenges to our understanding of the way Spirit works and the contemplation of the way miracles take form. Maybe, just maybe, during these last four weeks some of us of have had to reconsider how we view Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. But, as Easter approaches and the Lenten season comes to end, and we prepare to sit in the grace and eternal life of a resurrected Christ, we must ask ourselves a very important question, “Do I believe that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection saved me for eternal life?”
To Demonstrate God’s Glory
It is odd, don’t you think, that Jesus hears the news of his friend’s illness and then waits two days before returning to Judea? Mary and Martha, seeing the declining health of their brother, dispatch news to family and friends of his situation. They know Jesus. They have seen him perform miracles and believe him to be the Son of God, so there is a strong likelihood that part of this news getting out would be that Jesus would hear it and come home and save Lazarus. Yet, Jesus receives this news, which troubles Him, but remains still for two more days.
Do you remember what the disciples asked Jesus about the man who was born blind? They asked, “Who sinned that this man was born blind, the man or his parents?” More importantly, how did Jesus answer the question? He replied, “Neither of them send, he was born this way so God may be glorified through him.” Jesus remains in waiting for two days because he knows Lazarus is going to die, and even in death, God will be glorified through Lazarus. His pause is not because he does not care and does not want to rush to be with his friend, but because He is going to respond in the way that best glorifies God and is consistent with God’s will.
Patience with God
Of course, Mary and Martha are very unhappy that Jesus delayed in His response. In fact, they are angry and accusatory to Jesus, “If you had been here he would not have died!” Martha is the first to state this belief to Jesus. But, let’s consider her statement in the context of our own lives. We have relationships with Jesus and we understand Jesus to be a loving and caring friend in our own life, so when he doesn’t show up or respond in the way we want him to, we get angry? “Jesus, if you heard my prayers and cared about me this never would have happened!” “Why did you not stop this from taking place?” “Why is my loved one sick?” “Why did you not respond and let them die?” It is hard sometimes, nearly impossible sometimes when we are in grief, to consider that our tribulations and our losses are means of the glorification of God. To have patience with God and trust in God’s understanding is not always a human strong suit. Martha and Mary display this on a personal level with Jesus.
What Do You Believe?
Jesus responds to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha does not take this to be in the present sense. She acknowledges to Jesus that she knows he will rise again on Judgement Day. This understanding of Judgment Day is building among the Jewish community during this time through Jesus’ teachings and other derivations. It is the understanding that the human body will rise from the grave and restored to life on the last day to receive judgement. However, this judgement is not necessarily one of salvation. It is possible that after this rising from the dead, one will be judged negatively, and as a result cast away from God’s presence for eternity. This is the judgement day of which Martha speaks. Jesus responds to Martha with a very important statement for all Christians, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus, is telling Martha that belief in Jesus is a resurrection into new life. It is a way into a new understanding and a new relationship with God. Those who believe in Jesus and trust in Jesus and have faith in Jesus are eternally saved and not rejected from the presence of God. Their life is restored. Then he asks the biggie, “Do you believe this?”
Roll the Stone Away
Martha speaks to Mary of this exchange and Mary, in turn, responds to Jesus in the same way her sister had addressed him, “If only you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus asks where Lazarus has been laid to rest. Mary responds, “Come and see.” Those words strike me as the full circle in the revelation of Jesus. Nathanael asks Philip in John 1:46, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responds, “Come and see.” This should likely cue the reader into knowing that what is about to happen is less about the location of the tomb and more about the revelation of who Jesus is.
I do want to point out something before going too far though. It is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible to me, and I shared this at Russell’s service last weekend. Upon arriving at the tomb Jesus doesn’t simply go into miracle mode. He stops and is taken by the gravity of the situation. Verse 35 shows the humanity and the compassion of Jesus, as it states, “Jesus wept.” Even in the midst of God’s glorification in our trials and tribulations, it does not mean that our pain is not felt. It does not mean that we are suffering alone. This passage allows us to know that in trouble and in distress, Jesus is with us and feels our pain. Before glory can be brought to God, Jesus must cope with this pain and his loss on a human level.
Jesus then commands that the stone in front of the tomb be rolled away.
Everyone is surprised at this command. Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days. His body has been decomposing and the sure stench that would come from such an enclosed space and poor into the crowd would be overwhelming. Once again, Jesus responds with the instruction to believe, so God’s glory may be seen. Then he speaks openly to God for all to hear, “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” (Verse 41-42). This is where God is glorified. This is what God has been doing. Jesus is going to be understood as the one who offers resurrection and eternal life by the demonstrating of what is about to occur with Lazarus. The focus is not on Lazarus, but on the nature of Jesus. It is the demonstration of belief in what Jesus is doing in the world that is on display.
Jesus looks at the tomb and commands, “Lazarus, come out!”
We have been on a journey as we walk through lent. We have been taken from destination to destination along the way, finding new information about who Jesus is and why that is important to us. But as Easter approaches, it is important that we consider the impact that knowing who Jesus is has on our lives. We are certainly changed by His teachings and it is important to know the history of His compassion and His love. But, there is something greater at stake.
The church, for ages, has used the season of Lent to teach and to build the faith and the understanding of new Christians. It is a time of reflection and a time of penance. It is a time to offer ourselves in totality of our lives to God. In doing so, we find new life. In this new life we find peace in knowing that eternal presence with God is ours and we find hope that God will be glorified through us.
For this to occur, for this transformative change to take over and make us whole, we must do something. We must believe! We must believe that Christ was the Son of God. We must believe that He took on our sins. We must believe that He was tortured and crucified for the atonement of our sins! We must believe that he was resurrected and conquered the death that sealed our fates! We must believe!