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John 11:1-57 The Evidence of Faith

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The evidence of faith!

John 11:1-57

14 So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

47. . . “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”    John 11:14-15 & 47-48 NIV

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Today, I want us to try to answer the question: What does Jesus mean when He uses the word “believe”?

John tells us in John 20:31 (NIV) that he has written this gospel so that we would believe.

31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

So, we understand that the purpose and the goal are to get us to believe. But, what does that involve? What does Jesus mean by “believe”?

Thursday night I got home fairly late and fixed myself dinner and sat down in front of the television to watch the game show, Are you smarter than a 5th grader? It appears that it’s a variation of the game show, Millionaire. So, this very intelligent man has successfully made his way up to the final question that would give him $1,000,000 if he could correctly answer the question. The consequence for a wrong answer is that he would only go home with $25,000. If he “dropped out of school,” that’s the phrase they use when the contestant doesn’t want to go any further, he could go home with $500,000. At that point he would have to make a public statement that he was not smarter than a 5th grader.

So, we, the audience, were entertained by the decision making process. Does he believe that he could answer the question and win the $1,000,000 or does he assess that the odds are just simply too great that he wouldn’t know the answer and thus concludes that his faith just can’t push him to take the risk?

You see, what Jesus is asking us to do by believing in Him bears some similarity to this man’s challenge. The stakes are even higher with our response to Jesus. This is a life and death matter – that’s eternal life or eternal death. Pretty high stakes.

And, the process of assessing whether we can believe that Jesus will really deliver on His promises may also share much in common with this man trying to decide if he is going to go for the final question and possibly win a million dollars. In his case, it’s a matter of how much confidence does he have in his knowledge? In our case, it’s a matter of how much confidence do we have in Jesus? Is Jesus sufficiently trustworthy enough that we will put our lives on the line with Him? Will we go over to His side, as opposed to all other options, including being our own masters? Are we willing to take the consequences of doing so in order to gain the benefits?

I believe these are some of the questions we need to consider as we try to understand what Jesus means when He calls us to believe in Him.

As I mentioned last week, the central story in John 11 is the raising of Lazarus. But, Jesus’ purpose for raising Lazarus was to overwhelmingly display His glory that the confidence level of those observing it and those hearing about it would rise and translate into faith.

Just a brief note. The words believe and faith are like twin sisters. A simple way to look at these words is that believe is the verb form and faith is the noun form of the same root word. So, we can say, someone who has faith believes. Or, to believe is to have faith. To believe is to be persuaded that something is true. Thus, if you believe something is true you have faith in that something.

As an aside, the frequency of a word’s use can give us a clue about what is important to an author. For instance, of the four writers of the Gospels, Matthew uses the verb “believeten times, Mark uses it ten times, and Luke uses it nine times. Do you want to guess how often John uses the verb “believe” in his Gospel? Nearly 10 times as often. John uses the verb “believe99 times. [1] That is so fitting with his purpose in writing.

Now, again, the question is, what does Jesus mean when He speaks of believe?

From the beginning of the story, Jesus establishes that Lazarus’ sickness was going to bring glory to God’s Son.

John 11:3-4 (NIV)

3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one You love is sick.”

4 When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Here He has informed His disciples what would be the end result of Lazarus’ sickness. But, to these same disciples He makes a rather counter-intuitive statement that had to have caused His disciples to scratch their heads in puzzlement.

14 So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

There in verse 15 is the first use of the word “believe” in this chapter. But, I’m not sure the disciples understood what Jesus was talking about, particularly about what they were supposed to believe. Why was Jesus glad that He was not in Bethany to keep Lazarus from dying? That is a really strange concept, unless you are the Son of God or you know Him very well.

But, Jesus is saying to His disciples that the events were unfolding the way they were for their benefit. “For your sake,” He says, “I am glad I was not there.” And, how were they going to benefit from His absence from Bethany? The disciples were going to believe.

Now what seems clear here is that Jesus was letting His disciples know in advance that they were going to experience an inward change as a result of Lazarus’ death. That change was going to have something to do with what they believed.

As we move on in our text, the scene changes from a place east of the Jordan to a place just outside of Bethany. Word got to Martha that Jesus was about to enter her hometown and before He could arrive, she went out to meet Him. It is in this interaction that we find one of the strongest statements from Jesus about faith.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”

The word “believe” is not recorded in these two verses, but we’d have to admit that Martha is expressing strong faith in the midst of her complaint, or if you prefer, her observation.

But, what is also revealed in this interchange is that Martha’s faith had room to grow. She could state with confidence that God would give Jesus whatever He asked. But, could she imagine all that He would ask? I contend that she could not imagine Jesus restoring Lazarus to life after being dead for four days. Had that been in the realm of possibilities for her, I believe she would have answered differently to Jesus’ proclamation.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

You see, Martha didn’t think Jesus was telling her anything she didn’t already know and believe. “Yes, I know about the resurrection, Jesus.” But, she didn’t realize that Jesus was talking about calling Lazarus out of his grave that day to resume living; for him to go home to his sisters and take out the trash and return to his job, if they would have him back.

And who can blame her for not imagining this possibility? How many funeral services do you go to where at the end of the service the dead person sits up in his coffin and joins you for the reception?

Then, rather than trying to persuade her with words about what He was about to do that would blow the lid off her faith, He reinforces what she already believes.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

This affirmation of her faith was a powerful statement. For someone to say what she said, we would rightly presume him or her to be a true believer in Jesus Christ. She was affirming that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. She was agreeing that believing in Jesus will result in eternal life. And, she was confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, who came into the world to be Lord over all people and all nations.

It was a profound statement and stands right alongside of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Just a side note about that. Peter’s confession that is nearly identical to Martha’s, is recorded in each of the other three Gospels, but is not recorded in John’s Gospel, according to my limited research. (cf. Matt 16:16, Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20) It’s like Martha is standing in Peter’s place to confess that Jesus is the Christ.

But, before Martha gives her affirmation of faith, Jesus declares Himself to be the resurrection and the life by using the “I AM” paradigm that God used to speak to Moses when He answered his question, “who should I say has sent me” and God said, “I AM has sent you” (Exodus 3:14). So, as part of His declaration, He is also identifying Himself as God.

As He continues to speak, what He claims can only be fulfilled by God.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

In these two verses we hear from the lips of Jesus the word “believe” three times. First, He says whoever believes in Him will live, even though he dies. Thus, He is distinguishing the spiritual realm from the physical realm. So, whatever He means by believe in this statement, the result of believing will be to have spiritual life that will go on after physical death.

The second time he speaks of believing in Him, He attaches to it the condition of living in Him. Verse 26, whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.

So, what do we do with that phrase, “whoever lives in Me?” Is this a partial explanation for what “believe” means or is it something separate from believing in Jesus? What does it mean to “live in” Jesus?

I take it to mean a partial explanation of what it means to believe because it is stated as a combination, like milk and cereal. We don’t always mention milk when we say we’re going to have a bowl of cereal. The milk is implied. But, if I want to clarify what I mean by having a bowl of cereal, I would say, I’m going to have a bowl of cereal with milk.

So, when Jesus combined living in Him with believing in Him, I take it as a clarification of the meaning He has for believing.

So, what does it mean, then, to “live in” Jesus?

First, there is an attachment of our identity with Jesus if we live in Him. The attachment is so close that it’s an identity of belonging or friendship. So, we could say to live in Jesus is to belong to Jesus, or Jesus is my friend. What I would like to say is that “I’m one of Jesus’ friends.”

We share our identities with objects and persons. If we go out into our parking lot right now and I point to a specific car and ask, “Who’s car is that?” it’s likely that at least one person here would say, “that’s my car.” Often when a guest is present here for a worship service, I will ask how he or she heard about our church. And frequently the answer is, “O, So-and-so is my friend.” You see, our friends clarify our identity. So, for Jesus to say of us that we “live in Him,” I believe He is saying that we find our identity in Him, we belong to Him and He is our friend. Our identity is attached to Him.

Second, to live in Jesus must mean that the life we possess is life we receive from Jesus. The word “in” refers to our union with Christ’s life. Paul speaks of our being united with Christ in His death and resurrection. We have His life within us.

Therefore, when Jesus speaks of living in Him, He is speaking of an attachment of our unity with Jesus. We go where Jesus goes. We do what Jesus does. Our attachment to Jesus has the semblance of marriage where a man and a woman become one unit. Often at marriage ceremonies the words of Ruth are quoted, I will go where you go. I will lodge where you lodge. Your people will be my people. Your God, my God.

So, when Jesus speaks of living in Him, He is speaking of our union with Him in common life, in purpose and activity.

A third meaning Jesus certainly expresses when He speaks of living in Him is that of an attachment of our accessibility with Jesus. By living in Jesus we have access to a ton of resources. He provides us with His Word and His Spirit. And we can draw on those resources freely as we live in Him.

Just think of Paul’s teaching the Philippians when he said in Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” To live in Jesus is to have access to this wealth of riches. We have an attachment of access to Christ’s wealth of wisdom in His Word and empowerment from His Holy Spirit when we live in Him.

What Jesus is doing by combining the word “live” with “believe” is helping us see that believing is more than just mouthing words, reciting creeds or singing worship songs. When Jesus calls us to believe in Him, He’s calling on us to position our lives under His leadership. We acknowledge, not only our deficiency of ability to live lives that are pleasing and acceptable to God, we acknowledge our total inability to solve our sin problem on our own. Apart from Jesus Christ we are doomed.

So, without taking a breath, immediately after Jesus proclaimed to Martha His promise of eternal life that comes to those who live and believe in Him, He asks her, “Do you believe this?”

This is bottom line kind of stuff here, folks. The three years of Jesus’ ministry was reaching its climax with this statement. The next major event will be His crucifixion. So, to conclude all that Jesus has done and said up to these closing moments of His life, we are asked the question, do we believe that to live in and believe in Jesus the Christ will result in our receiving life that will never die? Are we sufficiently interested in that life that we will believe in Him, attach our identity to Him, unite ourselves with Him and access His resources so we will grow in Him and honor Him?

Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.

This life of faith will survive the shock of death because the true believer possesses eternal life in Jesus.

By this exchange with Martha, Jesus is lifting her to a higher experience of life with almost an indifference to death. The truth about Jesus and the life He offers is the most meaningful consolation for those mourning the loss of a loved one or honestly facing one’s own mortality. Life that lasts beyond the grave is found only in Jesus Christ. Do you believe this?

The next conversation that Jesus has about believing takes place at Lazarus’ tomb. And interestingly, it’s a conversation, again, with Martha.

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Now, textually, I have to believe that John, the writer, implies that what Jesus said to His disciples in verse 4 was also communicated with Martha in the abbreviated statement of Jesus in verse 23.

4 When He heard this, Jesus said (to His disciples), “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

 

23 Jesus said to her (Martha), “Your brother will rise again (and you will see the glory of God).”

Now we come to verse 40.

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So, what did Jesus mean by “believe” in this verse? Was Jesus asking her to believe that He could and would raise Lazarus from the tomb in which he was buried for four days? Was that the object of belief that Jesus was trying to get Martha to take hold of? Or, is Jesus saying that the object of our belief is Jesus Himself?

In the previous chapter when Jesus was defending Himself against the accusations of the Pharisees, Jesus tells them that the purpose of His miracles is to get people to believe in Him (John 10:37-38).

Here, with Martha, Jesus is saying, “Martha, if you believe in Me, you will see things you could not even have imagined before. You will see the glory of God.” Doesn’t that remind you of the benediction I use quite often from Ephesians 3:20-21?

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus did not hold it against Martha for not being able to imagine Lazarus being raised out of that tomb at the end of his funeral service. What Jesus wanted to affirm with Martha was that if she lived in and believed in Him, she would have life that would last forever, even after her body had died.

The last time in this chapter we hear about faith and believing deals with the responses of the people to the miracle. I want to particularly highlight the response of the Pharisees.

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The Pharisees were angry with jealousy. Jesus was drawing people away from the Pharisees because these people were believing in Him.

How does that fact help us understand what the word “believe” means?

It confirms what Jesus said previously in verse 26. Believing differently means living differently. Believing in Jesus means living in Jesus. What the Pharisees observed was a change of allegiance that was birthed out of faith in Jesus. Now, they didn’t like what they were seeing but their observations confirm that the word “believe” translated into observable behavior. In other words, these followers of Jesus revealed evidences of their faith. The most visible to the Pharisees was a change of loyalty and allegiance. They felt it because they were losing their audience, ones they once controlled with their rules and regulations.

I find it instructive that it was the enemies of Jesus who saw the evidence of faith in the followers of Jesus. There was something observable in these believers in Jesus that could be seen by the Pharisees.

Now, I understand that the heart of our faith in not visible. I also understand that an outward action does not necessarily reveal an inward belief. We are all too acquainted with hypocrisy.

Nonetheless, our faith does reveal itself in ways that can be seen at times. Our paths may intersect with people at certain times or on certain occasions when our faith is revealed.

I would like to encourage you to engage in a conversation sometime today about what actions on your part reveal belief in Jesus Christ? What visible actions do you engage in that communicate that you live in and believe in Jesus? Are there disciplines or routines that you do that are actions of love for Jesus Christ or are in obedience to Jesus Christ?

One of the legacies that Bill Waldon, Larry Waldon’s dad, leaves to his survivors, is the memory of him gathering his family in a circle so he could pray with them. He planted that legacy in their hearts over the years but it was sealed in their souls on the last day he was able to talk with his extended family that had gathered around his bed. He asked them to circle up and hold hands and he led them in prayer. What an evidence of faith! What a communication to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren! What was an ordinary routine in the family became an extraordinary testament of faith on his death bed.

Friends, our obedience to Jesus Christ is an evidence of our faith in Him. And, when we make it a practice to live in obedience to Jesus Christ, our faith will be revealed, even to our enemies. The life that Jesus infuses into us will reveal itself in our countenance, in our attitudes, in our words and in our actions. For Christ has promised to transform our lives if we would believe in Him.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”


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[1]Vine, W., & Bruce, F. (1981; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). Vine's Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:116). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.

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