Sermon: Back to Life (Part Three)
The Story of Lazarus
Martin G. Collins
Given 26-May-18; 66 minutes
In my previous sermon concerning the story of Lazarus, we saw how Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, choosing to love them in a more personal way than others. Keep in mind that Jesus has that same personal love for us, as members of God’s church, as He did for them.
He loved Martha, a resilient and energetic woman, who is the keeper of their home intent on looking after the physical comfort of her guests. Mary was different, contemplative and gifted with intuitive grace and kindhearted sympathy. Mary and Martha were devoted to Jesus and appreciated Him in their own ways and likewise in His own kind and caring way, Jesus enjoyed dealing with each of them according to their temperaments.
Now Lazarus’ name is not mentioned nor is his voice heard in Scripture until his sickness, death, and resurrection. He was a man of few words, a quiet and unassuming friend to Jesus and to others.
Jesus does not expect nor desire His friends to have the same personality. He appreciates and loves each of us even those who have weak faith and whose faith fails them.
Now a man’s failures are often remembered long afterwards and his attainments forgotten, but that is the way thing are in life. An example of this is one of the minor characters of John’s gospel. Thomas, who suffered the same thing because no sooner did we hear that name then we immediately remember that one incident for which he is the least praiseworthy—he became “Doubting Thomas.”
Let us turn to John 20 here. The name Thomas means twin in Aramaic. It is the equivalent of Didymus which means twin in Greek. He was a twin, so who was the other one? He was not one of the other disciples, as far as we know. We are not given the information on who the other twin was.
“Doubting Thomas” comes to mind when we think of him because we automatically think of the story in which Thomas expressed disbelief in Christ’s resurrection. Now when Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, Thomas was absent. But when Thomas was told about it, he was very skeptical as we read here:
John 20:25 The other disciples therefore said to him [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
We forget that the other disciples did not believe until they had seen Christ either, but we remember this story and by it, from our one-sided opinions of Christ’s disciple, we attach that name “doubting disciple” to Thomas.
Scripture is silent about the reason for his doubt. Maybe he thought his friends were only trying to cheer him up, or maybe he remembered them being wrong before on the Sea of Galilee when they had mistaken Christ for a spirit.
Matthew 14:26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
So they had been wrong before. All Thomas wanted was the same evidence they had received. The other disciples had not believed until they had seen the resurrected Christ.
Mark 16:11-13 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
So the news Thomas heard seemed to be too good to be true. However, he did not reject what he heard, he simply wanted to test and prove all things, as we are told to do by Paul.
To understand Thomas in light of the story of Lazarus, we must remember that Jesus had announced His intention of returning to the area of Jerusalem and that only a few months before this the disciples had reminded Jesus of the danger that awaited them there. The danger was no illusion, the disciples were understandably frightened.
Christ’s enemies had tried to stone Him on several occasions and in different places, but the opposition in Jerusalem had been extremely fierce and the last incident which had taken place only weeks before was the most frightening of all.
We sense the true danger when we recall that on this occasion Jesus left Jerusalem for the area of the Jordan River. He was going back, and the disciples were frightened again, and they knew that they could not stop Him if He were determined to return. What were they to do?
We can imagine them wondering what would happen to Jesus if He went back to Jerusalem. They no doubt imagined Him being killed and they were probably asking themselves what would happen to us if we follow Him? Death also? But eventually one of the disciples spoke up with precisely the right words for the occasion, and that disciple was Thomas. We will pick up where we left off last time.
John 11:16 Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Thomas did tend to look on the worst side of things, but still we cannot help but admire his words here. He had determined, without missing a beat, that he was ready to die with Christ. For one thing they were honest words. The way to Jerusalem was the way to death. Thomas honestly sought truth and understanding and at his last Passover service with Jesus Christ he was not afraid to show his ignorance in seeking answers. John 14 records him honestly asking:
John 14:5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Many of us would probably be too embarrassed to ask such a question. Thomas’ question reveals him to be a seeker of truth and understanding, and his naturally cautious temperament did not close his mind to further knowledge.
Secondly, Thomas’ words were loyal words. He was saying that no matter what lay ahead it was better to be with Jesus and he backed his statement by action. In contrast, Simon Peter lacked commitment when he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” These proved to be mere words as Peter denied Christ three times.
Thirdly, Thomas’ words were courageous. Taking this stand, Thomas was literally stating his willingness to walk with Christ into the proverbial lion’s den. Nevertheless, the time came when Thomas, as well as the others, forsook Christ and fled from Him. Also the death in Jerusalem was not the whole story, there was a resurrection beyond it, but all this was in Thomas’ future and at the time, regardless of what the future held, he did the right thing at Lazarus’ resurrection.
So faith seems to come and go with God’s people and the disciples back then had those issues. They were strong at times and they were weak at times, but they were still important to Jesus Christ and He loved them.
We must remember that this incident from the life of Thomas is only one expression in Scripture of an important and pervasive principle. It is the principle of death and denial. Of dying and saying no to oneself and to the world in order that we might say yes to Christ. This principle is found throughout the New Testament.
Romans 6:5-7 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Galatians 6:14 [Paul speaking here] But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
So this is a very important principle, not the least because we do not naturally want to fit into it. Who wants to die? No one, of course. And who wants to deny himself, turn down a chance to fulfill his desires? We live in a world that says no to nothing and “no” is maybe the most unpopular word in the world.
In one sense, saying no to temptations and desires is one of the things that distinguishes us from the world. In other words, to know victory in the Christian life we must become like Thomas. Like him, we hear Christ’s call, and like him we are immediately aware of many other things that we would rather do or become, but we must not do them, and like Thomas, we must turn our backs on these things and follow Christ. At that time Thomas was even ready to turn his back on his own life to follow Christ.
Now what does it mean to have become a Christian? We claim to be Christians and we claim to be willing to give our life for Jesus Christ. It means to have turned your back on anything contrary to God’s way of life and instead have accepted, by faith, what God has done in Christ for our salvation.
Turn to Philippians 3. Before his conversion, Paul had been trying to please God by his personally reasoned achievements which were quite horrendous when we look at how brutal he was. After he had met Christ on the road to Damascus, he said no to this course of action and instead lived for Christ and his own words on the matter are quite expressive.
Philippians 3:7-8 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
So the principle of death and denial should not be a difficult one for any true Christian to understand. The problem is that it is so hard for us to apply. The difficultly, as in many areas of life, is not with understanding so much as it is with application, and it is here that most of us fall.
The first application of the principle is to when we have faith in Christ and we have both understood and applied the principle at that point. So if we are Christians, when we finally understand what Christ is all about and are willing to give up the world, turn to Christ, and live God’s way of life, then we face all types of things. But then this is so common that we have forgotten that the principle must also apply to the living of the Christian life.
We may understand it intellectually, and may move on action to follow Christ, become baptized, but then as time goes on we tend to let down and say we have faith, but have no works that go with it. We must have works with our faith because faith without works is a dead faith. Now if we are really going to experience death and denial as Christ did, then we must be willing to say no to anything that is contrary to God’s will and way for us.
In the first application, it means saying no to anything that is contrary to God’s revelation of Himself, that is, anything contrary to the Bible. This is the way that we approach the law. We are not under the penalty of the law thanks to Christ. We must obey the law to uphold our holiness and in the sense that it reveals to us the nature of God. It shows us those areas of life in which, by the power of God, we are to say no in order that we might go on with Christ and live God’s way of life.
The first of the Ten Commandments is an example. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Here is an obvious negative. It tells us that we are to say no to anything that would take God’s rightful place in our lives. Is it an idol that is a problem? We must say no to the idol and destroy it. Is it money? If so, we must get rid of the money, because it is better to be poor and a close follower of Christ than rich and far from Him.
Do not misunderstand, money is not something that is inherently wrong. It is possible to be a devoted and deeply spiritual Christian and well off at the same time, but that is not easy for most people.
I Timothy 6:6-10 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Those are quite powerful words from Paul and obviously he has seen that in the lives of the people he was contemporary with. But if it becomes something that supersedes God, then we must say no to it. Maybe it is another person who has taken the place of God for you, maybe an ambition, or even our children can become an idol. Whatever it is we must say no to it if it is contrary to love toward Christ. This is a negative principle, the principle of the old you dying and it must be taken very seriously.
You can test yourself on this with each of the other commandments. “You shall not murder,” which of course means that we are to say no to any desire to take another life or slander their reputation or even to hate another person.
“You shall not commit adultery,” meaning that you are to say no to any desire to lust after or take another man’s wife or another woman’s husband. “You shall not steal,” meaning that you must say no to the desire to lust after or take another person’s property.
Now if we have not said no to these points, then we can hardly pretend that we are living in the newness of Christ’s resurrected life. In reality we are not living in the life of Christ at all.
The second application is if we are going to experience death and denial, we must also say no to anything that is not the will of God for us. In one sense this point is related to the previous point about the law, but it also goes beyond it that not everything permitted in the Word of God is God’s will for us. Regarding glorifying God in body and spirit, the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 6,
I Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
There are things that we can lawfully do, but that we should not do for various reasons. For instance, there is noting at all wrong with God-ordained marriage. In fact, the contrary is true. Marriage was created by God and has His blessing, still marriage may not be the will of God for you at this time and if it is not then you must try to be content in not being married. Until you become content you will not really begin to live the life that God has for you. The same thing holds true for a profession, for your own perception of yourself, and for many other things.
Now I have two questions before I go on here. First is how can we learn to say no? And yes, we must learn to say no. The answer is that we must imitate Jesus Christ and follow Him. He is the supreme example of self-denial, because He said no even to the glories of heaven in order that He could become a human being and die for each and everyone's salvation. We can learn from Him. It was certainly from watching Christ that Thomas was able to say what he did regarding their joint venture to Jerusalem.
Now the second question is how can we know when to say no? The answer is when you have stopped complaining. If you are murmuring and are not content, then you have not said no to something. If you are murmuring like Israel did in the wilderness, then you have not really turned your back on Egypt (we know that Egypt represents sin). But if you have stopped murmuring then you are ready to go on as Paul did.
Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The principle of death and denial is a major lesson of the story of Lazarus. But what we have covered so far is still one-sided. Death is a serious principle and this is what Thomas’ words so clearly teach us. But there is also more. In the biblical scheme of things death is always followed by life; crucifixion is followed by resurrection. We find this truth in John 12. Jesus is speaking here:
John 12:24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”
So the whole body or the substance of the grain, except the germ, dies in the earth or is decomposed. This decomposed substance constitutes the first nourishment for the tender germ. A nutrient wonderfully adapted to it and designed to nourish it until it becomes strong enough to draw its support entirely from the ground.
In this God has shown His wisdom and goodness. Nothing could be more obviously tailored for another than this provision made in the grain itself for the future needs of the tender germ.
So Jesus indicates that it was only by His death that He would be glorified and honored in the salvation of human beings and in the honors and rewards from heaven.
Hebrew 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
Philippians 2:8-9 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.
Hebrews 12:2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
John 12:25 “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Jesus speaks in absolute terms to emphasize a point. “Loves his life” means delights in his life in this world more than in God. “Hates his life” means, by contrast, that he thinks so little of his life and so much more of God that he is willing to sacrifice it all for God.
So what does this mean practically for us? It means that when we give up trying to run our own lives or when we give up those things that seem so precious and entirely indispensable to us, then and only then do we find the true joy of living God’s way of life. In this life all we have is frustration and unhappiness because we are not content.
This is how we live free from the obsessions that we had previously valued so much. How could they have had so strong a hold on us? We always find this out when we have repented of something and overcome something, we wonder why it was so hard to overcome that problem. Even though we have overcome it we have not fully overcome it in a sense, because it is a continual process. We have to keep up our guard against it and continually overcome, so as to not fall back into that sin again.
Let us say we overcome pride. “Well, I’ve overcome pride.” No, it does not work that way. You will be overcoming pride every day of your life, until the day you die. That is human nature, until God gets ride of it and replaces it entirely with His nature, which He is working on in us. And that is extremely encouraging.
So what is the difference between a joyless Christian and a joyful Christian? A defeated and a victorious one? Death and resurrection. The joyless Christian may have died and risen in Christ in some abstract theological sense, meaning he may have been dunked instead of baptized, and in a sense be termed a “new creation in Christ” as a member of a Christian church, but he has certainly never known it in practice.
On the other had, the joyful Christian has found satisfaction in whatever God dispenses to Him and is truly satisfied because he has said no to anything that might keep him from the richness of God’s blessing and presence and had spiritually risen to newness of life, but remained in his physical body. This is the ideal and what we are trying to reach, being a joyful Christian, truly satisfied and content.
Have you noticed that Thomas was not only willing to deny himself to follow Christ, but that he also invited others to do so also? His exact words were, “Let us also go that we may die with Him.” He wanted the others to do as he did and he was successful in his invitation, because a little later in John 11 we find that the disciples were all still with Jesus.
Now if you have really learned to say no and have thereby also entered into the joy of new life in Christ, then this is the point in which you must imitate Thomas. If you have learned these things, teach others, do not keep it to yourself. Teach others, even though they may not listen, however we should never cram it down peopled throats. We must do it tactfully.
In summary, the story if Thomas shows that the disciples were not a group of blind followers that were ready to believe anything. They, especially Thomas, insisted on proof and evidence and so should we. Thomas’ doubt was the kind that a person who wants to believe shows and his search for the truth prompted him to question the other apostles until he obtained a personal conviction regarding the resurrection.
Of course, this is not the ideal because faith is built upon evidence that is not seen. All that Thomas heard Christ say regarding His death and resurrection should have been sufficient without the aid of sight. It would have been better to distrust his senses than to discredit Christ’s words, nevertheless once convinced of Christ’s resurrection his faith was stirring, which stirred him to action. And when the resurrected Christ appeared to him eight days later, Thomas’ immediate reaction was wonderful.
John 20:28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Those words are so deeply felt, we cannot understand how deeply meant they are. Because Thomas had such positive character traits and God was able to open his mind and work with him, His faith was instant and strong. We should be encouraged by Christ’s reply in the next verse.
John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those [you and me] who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So Thomas was quite blessed being there with Jesus, and in all that he had learned from Jesus, but we are even more blessed that that having “believed and not seen.” Because we have believed and obeyed without physical proof, Almighty God pronounces a special blessing upon us.
Using the positive character traits of Thomas will help us to come to the same deep, heartfelt realization that he reached. He committed himself to service to his great Master and tradition says that he preached in Parthia and in northwestern India, where he was martyred in Christ’s service. So he did follow through with what he had promised to do. Like Thomas, we must realize whom we serve and profess in faith, “My Lord and my God!”
Now getting back to the story of Lazarus, we need to look at Martha, to whom Jesus spoke. Martha is an excellent example of a certain type of believer of whom we have many today.
John 11:17-20 So when Jesus came, He found that he [Lazarus] had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
Now the first characteristic of Martha’s strange faith is that she did not totally trust Jesus. Many today do not distrust Jesus but neither do they believe with full confidence to lay aside their care and rest in His blessings. They believe but they are always troubling themselves with questions of how, why, and what if, and in doing so miss the blessing that could be theirs if they would only believe more simply.
Such weak faith always attempts to limit God or to “scale down” His promises. Martha limited Jesus’ working both to time and place. Continuing on here:
John 11:21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We need to recall here that Jesus had deliberately delayed His return to Bethany for two days so that He would arrive four full days after Lazarus’ death.
Now Lazarus had died sometime after the departure of the messenger and was quickly buried so that this day counts as the first day in which he laid in the tomb. Quick burials were a custom in such a hot climate at that time. So on the first day, as Lazarus was getting worse, the sisters sent word to Jesus and shortly after that he died and was buried. The next two days (days 2-3) Jesus stayed near the Jordan, then on the fourth day Jesus returned to Bethany and performed the resurrection.
So Lazarus was already dead by the time word of his illness reached Jesus. Jesus knew it and therefore delayed His return, not that Lazarus might die, but for an entirely different purpose. The reason Jesus delayed His return from the Jordan was so there would be no doubt that Lazarus was dead, and we read later that he was also starting to decompose. So we find that from the beginning He intended to perform this resurrection.
Martha did not see this however, so when Jesus returned to Bethany, her first words were a bit of a rebuke, and they expressed her own limited faith. She said, “If only you had been here. . .” She felt that Jesus could have done something four days earlier but that He could not do something that was obviously necessary now. Later Martha says in verses 22-23,
John 11:22-23 “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You. [So we see that she did have some faith.]” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
We know that her “whatever” comment did not include a resurrection because she was quick to rebuke Christ later when He asked that the stone be removed from the tomb of Lazarus. Martha also clearly tried to limit Christ by location, because she said, “If you had been here,” that is, in Bethany. That statement implies that Jesus could not have healed her brother from a distance, in her mind. A little later she does the same thing when she reacts to Christ’s promise concerning her brother.
John 11:24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
That is far in the future. She did not have in mind an immediate resurrection. In the same way, many of us also try to limit Christ. We believe that He can do all He says He will do, but not here and now. At least we do not expect Him to, and we are genuinely surprised or disbelieving when he actually does do a miracle on our behalf now.
The second characteristic of Martha’s strange faith is that she treated the words of Christ impersonally. The first recorded words of Jesus after His return to Bethany were a tremendous promise. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” but instead of taking this in the best and most personal sense as a promise that Jesus was about to restore her brother to her, Martha pushed the words off into the future as though to say that they had no relationship either to herself or her situation right then.
This is also what many of us do with Christ’s promises. We believe them in a sense as they apply to others or to a far distant time, but we do not receive them personally. We do not think of ourselves as being worthy enough to receive something immediately from Jesus Christ. Or we do not get the answer right that second and so we think that God may not answer it for a long time. He may surprise you someday and perform a tremendous miracle right away.
Years later, after Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul was in contact with Christians who had become discouraged by the death of their friends, and as a result he has left us a letter and it acknowledges sorrow but it also brings hope, it deals with death, but it also knows the comfort of resurrection.
I Thessalonians 4:13-14 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. [that is the faithful]
I Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
So we are not just to understand or just have faith in that, we are to help others to also. The apostle Paul made clear the new awareness of the future life introduced by Jesus and His apostles. Paul emphasizes a new spirit of hope and confidence.
We have looked at Martha, but now let us look at Jesus and at the way in which He dealt with her. She had come expressing a poor kind of faith—half faith and half doubt. Even her words had a hint of rebuke in them, but Jesus did not get angry with her for her weak faith, neither did He rebuke her in turn for her attitude. He could have said, “Martha, how little you trust Me. I have been your friend for a long time and you still do not know that I am both willing to and will raise your brother?” He could have said something like that, but He did not. Rather what did He say?
Rebuke in a time of great sorrow is not helpful and is uncalled for. It could have even been misunderstood because Martha thought she was expressing great faith in Jesus when she said in verse 22.
John 11:22 “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Instead, Jesus used the opportunity to teach Martha more of Himself. We will pick up the story here in verse 25.
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
What did Jesus teach Martha here? His first words were words to her condition. She had attempted to push the resurrection off to the last day, but Jesus replied by saying that He Himself was the resurrection and that therefore wherever He is there is life. And in this case Jesus was present physically so there was going to be physical life. Lazarus would live again.
Jesus and Martha were conversing on two different levels. They were like two ships passing in the night. She understood from a different perspective, she did not understand what Jesus was really saying. Jesus was talking about a resurrection that would occur in just a few moments, while Martha meant a resurrection that will occur when God resurrects the firstfruits. They were both speaking about the same subject but each was referring to a different time, place, and purpose.
If we take the first half of Christ’s words physically and the second half spiritually, it will give us a meaning somewhat like this: “He who believes in Me even though he should die physically, yet he will live physically. Whosoever is spiritually alive and believes in Me shall not die spiritually.”
So this relates to Martha’s existing problem directly. The problem of physical death answered by physical resurrection. It begins with Martha's situation, but then goes onto present a higher principle. Christ’s promises are all-inclusive. There is a promise of spiritual life and physical life; a promise of life now and life to come.
Also, it is clearly stated that this life is only for those who believe in Christ and who are therefore members of His covenant people. I am talking about the joyful life. Now this brings us to the conclusion that Jesus pressed upon Martha. It is a conclusion in the form of a question. He said, “Do you believe this?” Jesus had made a statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He has elaborated upon it and now He asks, “Do you really believe this?”
If you think about it Jesus speaks of faith and not feeling. He did not say to Martha, “Do you feel better now? Have you found these thoughts comforting?” According to Jesus it was not how she felt that was important, but rather what she believed.
Feelings are deceiving and they come and go, on the other hand faith is an anchor fixed in bedrock, so to speak. To believe the words of Jesus is to believe in one whose promises are completely trustworthy.
Notice also that Christ was specific. He did not say, “Martha do you believe (generally).” He said, “Martha do you believe this?” That is do you believe the specific truths I have taught you. Continuing on here in verse 27.
John 11:27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
That sounds like a lot of faith there, but we should notice that Martha did not reply directly to what Christ asked, because her answer did not include her agreement to what He had been teaching, but still it was a good reply. She did not affirm more than what she knew, but she affirmed what she did know. And from this point she went on to even greater understanding. Martha’s sphere of knowledge was not large but it was firm, so she built upon it.
When we consider her answer at the time, we notice that she gives the basis of her understanding and the basis is the Word of Christ or the Word of God. We have it in her affirmative response, “Yes, Lord, I believe!” This does not mean that she understands everything He had been saying, because she did not, but rather she accepts it, whatever it is, because she knows that His words are trustworthy, and this is an ideal starting point for anyone, and this should be true for our spiritual understanding as well.
In addition, it is not only that Jesus’ words are trustworthy, but it is also that only His words are fully trustworthy. With anyone else the question of truth is relative. A person who may speak what is true at one time but what is false at another, or speak partial truths, or may not even know what is true.
Jesus spoke the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, also He claimed to be the truth.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
In other words, according to Jesus, the only valid staring point in any religious matter is what He Himself has said and done, and not the words or deeds of some other person. Why is it that in a discussion of religious questions someone will frequently express an opinion on something of which he has no knowledge, or very little knowledge, and others will immediately adopt this opinion while the words of Jesus on the same subject, about which He has knowledge, are ignored? The following scriptures explains at least one of the reasons.
John 10:24-27 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
That is why we have that as our banner for the Church of the Great God—because it is that important. Only My sheep hear My voice and only they follow Me.
He knows us and knows us personally, even more personally than He did Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. We live in a day where people have grown unhappy with the Bible and have therefore thrown it off. They have done this because they do not like what is says, not because it has been shown to be untrustworthy. Why the Bible is neglected is seen in the truth that most people who neglect the Bible cannot give you even one example of a real error in Scripture, let alone prove it to be an error.
So it is not the supposed errors that have turned them off, but rather the Bible’s teaching. The Bible reveals men and women to be sinners in need of a Savior and that is what most people do not like to hear.
If people were praised by God for their sinful lifestyles, God’s words would be popular because they would be the words of Hollywood, of the corrupt corporate leaders, and of the politicians, and sadly even worldly Christian preachers as they teach tolerance and acceptance of perversions such as homosexuality.
We cannot abandon the only true source of spiritual knowledge available to mankind. Without a sure word from God, we cannot believe anything! Today in society, everything is uncertain and there are no answers to the great spiritual questions that confront us. On the other hand, with the Bible as the only true base, we can go on to sure knowledge and expanding faith as Martha did. “Yes, Lord, I believe.” She had faith.
This should be our starting point and we should say to both God and others that we do believe all that the Scriptures teach and truly the words should become our starting point and thus our only infallible rule of faith and practice—the Word of God.
Now the second important thing we should notice about John 11:27 is that it also gives a statement of content regarding Martha’s confession. The first notable feature is the basis upon on which she believes, and the second is the content or what she believes. This is important because faith without content is meaningless.
If a person says I believe, we want to ask, “What do you believe?” If he has no answer to that question, we must conclude that he does not know what belief is, in the biblical sense, and that he is deluding himself in spiritual matters. However, Martha was not like this. Martha said, “Lord, I believe,” and then she immediately went on to say what she believed, “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.”
This confession has three points, but the most important thing to be said is that all three points have to do with Jesus Christ. In other words, He Himself is the content of her confession. There are other matters in the Christian faith of course, but in a sense they all focus on Christ so that He really is the content of Christianity. Therefore in this, as in the matter of the basis of Christian faith, Martha becomes a valuable guide to us.
How so? First, Martha expressed belief that Jesus is the Christ. Christ means Messiah or the Anointed One. By saying this Martha was affirming that Jesus was the One prophesied to appear at the end of the age as God’s specially appointed Servant.
Now there were different expectations in Judaism at the time regarding the Messiah, just as there are different views regarding Him by Jewish thinkers today. But the expectation that tied them together was the belief that one day God would send a specially anointed individual who would be the herald of salvation. Martha believed that Jesus was this anointed One and of course so should we all, because it is through Him alone that we have salvation.
Secondly, Martha called Jesus the Son of God. By this she acknowledged His divinity. She does not explain how much about Christ’s divinity she understood at this time. It seems that Martha wanted to acknowledge His divinity in some sense. In John’s gospel, all the attributes of God are implied in the general use of the term, Son of God.
It is important that Jesus Christ be divine. The simple definition of divine is of, from, or like God. Because only if He is divine is He able to do that which He has been sent to do and that which we need.
Let us look at some negatives here. If Jesus is not God, then His words cannot be trusted anymore than another human being’s words. They might be right in part, but we cannot build upon them, or trust the question of our eternal life to His teaching.
If Jesus is not God, then His death on the cross has no more meaning than the death of any other person. It may have been courageous or an example to others who are subject to persecution and suffering, but it is not an atonement for sins and those who trust in it are deluded, if Jesus is not God.
If Jesus is not God, then He did not rise from the dead and those who preach the resurrection are of all people most miserable and are deceivers of others. If Jesus is not God, then He has not gone to prepare a place for His own and will not return again for them, and is not present now to guide and assist those who trust Him.
All of this depends on the affirmation that Jesus is fully divine. So this affirmation must be a part of our testimony. We must believe it, witness it, and internalize it to the point where it becomes a part of us. Having God’s Holy Spirit in us makes us a part of it.
Thirdly, Martha confessed that Jesus is the one who would come into the world. What did she mean by this? She meant that Jesus was the one who had been promised in the various Old Testament scriptures and who had therefore come to fulfill them. For example, in Genesis 3:15 Jesus is the one promised to the fallen and dejected Adam and Eve in the Garden, the one who would crush the head of Satan.
In Genesis 22:18, He is the seed of Abraham through whom all families of the earth would be blessed. In Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, He is that Prophet whose coming God foretold to Moses. In II Samuel 7:16, He is the one who will rule forever upon the throne of His father David. In Isaiah 53, He is the suffering one of Isaiah's prophesies. In the Psalms He is the crucified but resurrected one.
Jesus is all of these things as Martha believed that He was. It is in Christ that we find the answers to life, history, and salvation.
Some people claim to be Christians but they act like pagans where their lives are concerned. They say they believe in Christ, but they do not expect Him to help them. Instead, they trust science, politics, education, ecology, or whatever else seems to have caught their fancy at the moment.
It is not that all such endeavors are wrong, we must have them, but they are not themselves answers to society’s problems. People can work toward solutions, but they can never provide final solutions, only Christ can do that, and He is already provided the final solution to the problem to sin and death.
He is the only answer to present peace and victory for the individual in this life. At the appointed time He will return to solve all problems as He reigns on earth in righteousness for a thousand years. God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ will provide those solutions.
Is your faith like Martha’s? Is it based on a knowledge of God’s Word and is it centered in your Savior Jesus Christ? Or is it is without substance, without content, and therefore essentially no more than a state of your mind? True faith comes from heaven, because we are told that not even faith is of ourselves, it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:4-10 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
So it is not groundless at all, because it is fixed in God and in the truth revealed in His Scriptures, and this should be the nature of our faith as it was of the ever-growing faith of Martha.