Do You Believe This?
Just how good is the good news of the gospel that you believe? Is it so good that, frankly, it seems at times almost too good to believe? I would invite you to pause and read again the account of the raising of Jesus' friend Lazarus in John 11:17-45.
"Do You Believe This?"
As he himself tells us, John has not recorded all the signs that Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples. But those which he has recorded, he has written down in order that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—and that, by believing, we may have life in his name (John 20:31).
That is very clearly the purpose of this marvelous eleventh chapter of John, and the reading of this account will not have achieved its purpose unless it has produced in us a fresh response of faith, of whole-souled commitment to him who declares himself to be the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). The question that our Lord addressed to Martha, he addresses now to us by his Spirit: "Do you believe this?" (vs. 26).
"Yes, Lord, I Believe"
May the Spirit enable each of us to answer as Martha did: "Yes, Lord, I believe." The Greek text indicates that she placed a certain emphasis upon the personal pronoun: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world" (vs. 27).
How discerning Martha's reply is! Jesus has made an unthinkable assertion—unthinkable on the lips of anyone but God himself: "I am the resurrection and the life." He then asks her, "Do you believe this?" And Martha answers, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come."
Martha correctly viewed the resurrection as the great eschatological act of God. She knew that the resurrection would take place "at the last day" (vs. 24). But now the further truth dawns upon her that here before her stands the great eschatological act of God himself! Here is the Lord's Christ, who is himself Christ the Lord—the one promised to come into the world and usher in a new world, a new age. Resurrection, the gift of life—this is the Messiah's work. "Yes, Lord, I believe that life is availablenow, in you," she says in effect, "for you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one promised to come into the world."
"Lazarus, Come Out!"
We have more than Jesus' authoritative testimony concerning his life-giving power. We also have the authoritative sign that he worked. "Lazarus, come out!" he called out, and he who had died did in fact come out (vs. 44).
You see, it is not merely, as certain contemporary theologians (such as Wolfhart Pannenberg) would have it, that what the disciples experienced in fellowship with Jesus was so wonderful that they could express it in no other way than in the language of their Jewish eschatological expectation, as though they seized on resurrection-from-the-dead as a metaphor for an especially meaningful emotional or spiritual experience. No! The plain, literal fact is that Jesus exercised resurrection power! And thus he manifested himself in deed as well as in word as the eschatological Redeemer.
Now, it is true that "we do not yet see all things subjected to him" (Heb. 2:8 nasb). The last enemy has not yet been abolished (1 Cor. 15:26). You and I live in that "not yet" in which we must weep, even as our Lord himself wept in the face of death and bereavement (John 11:35).
Why do so many evangelical commentators seem so anxious to explain away the Savior's tears? In our society, a strong man is not supposed to cry. Any sign of tears is, for example, political suicide, as certain American presidential hopefuls have discovered. But our being raised with Christ, and knowing all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, should not breed a cold, heartless triumphalism that is insensitive to earthly pain and loss. Rudolf Bultmann comments on this passage that physical death becomes "unreal" for the believer. But it is not so. Jesus' tears eloquently testify that it is not so. And as you and I present the good news of Christ to sinful, suffering men and women, it must be with sensitivity and with genuine tears.
But never forget that by his atoning death on our behalf, and by his triumphant resurrection, our Lord has broken the power of Satan and delivered us from fear.
In a course I teach, "The Christian Confronts Modern Atheism," we read and discuss Albert Camus's long philosophical essay, The Rebel. In his call for men and women to rebel against the sufferings that this world inflicts upon our fellowmen, to dedicate our lives to the alleviation of those sufferings, Camus's philosophy—I think we must admit—is really very attractive. Especially when we think of such a horror as the Holocaust, or of such a current tragedy as the suffering and the death right now in the Middle East, it is quite moving for Camus to shake his fist in the face of such evil and say no!
And yet how ultimately pale, how insipid, is Camus's "gospel" of what he calls "realistic optimism." Camus insists that over all the tragedies of human history there stands "the invincible Mediterranean Sun," a symbol of the constant human values of life, beauty, love, justice, and happiness.
But if the Mediterranean sun lights up the hopes and joys of every generation, so too it reveals the death that brings every generation to an end and snuffs out the hopes of every individual. Camus calls his optimism "realistic" because it does not extend beyond the grave. And thus his philosophy is one of amelioration, not of salvation. As Camus has the hero in his novel The Plague say at one point, "Salvation is much too big a word for me. I don't aim so high."
But it is not too high or wonderful for Jesus! The good news of eternal, resurrection life in Jesus is not too good to be true. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself says: "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. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).
First published in New Horizons, March 2002.
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