Conversations: Jesus and Martha
Text: John 11:1-17
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Today we conclude our series of sermons on Conversations with Jesus, and we do so on this Easter Sunday by entering into the conversation Jesus had with his friend Martha about resurrection. The conversation took place at the funeral for her brother Lazarus, who had just died a few days before.
Turn with me today to the Gospel of John 11:1-26.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says. “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and the whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
It’s an Easter text if ever there was one, right? But then Jesus actually asks the question: do you believe this?
And I guess that is the great Easter question if there ever was one, isn’t it? It’s the question Jesus asked Martha that day, and it wasn’t a Sunday School kind of question where all the kids know the answer has to be ‘yes, Jesus’ because they’re in church. It’s a question Jesus asks Martha at a funeral for her brother who has just suddenly died from some kind of fatal illness. There are mourners weeping all around, mourning loudly in Near Eastern style.
Martha’s sister Mary is in the house weeping inconsolably. Martha is grieving deeply herself, and her words to Jesus are full of despair: “If only you had been here, Jesus, this never would have happened. My brother would not have died. You could have healed him. Where were you, Jesus?”
She is staring at Jesus with confusion and hurt. Martha was always the strong one, wasn’t she? The practical one. The one who managed things, and took care of everyone, and did what needed to be done. But now she’s hanging on by a thread. She can’t manage this. Her brother is dead. And the one man who could have made a difference has just shown up, three days too late. There’s some accusation in her words to Jesus.
But Jesus isn’t angry with Martha. He doesn’t get defensive. Instead, he says these words, “Your brother will rise again.” And you know, those words don’t actually make much sense to normal, practical, hard-working human beings like Martha, or like you and me. Yet, Jesus states them here simply and matter-of-factly: “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha thinks he must be talking about the end times. She says, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
But Jesus is talking present tense. He says, “Martha, I am the resurrection. I am the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then he asks her point blank: do you believe this?
And I don’t know. It’s right there at her brother’s funeral. Right there in the midst of death. Her brother’s in the tomb and has been for 4 days. And Jesus says, “Martha, do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies?”
What would you say? And you know, we are not at a funeral today. We’re sitting in nice pews in our favorite church on an Easter Sunday, surrounded by Easter flowers and singing songs of praise. But even so, think about Jesus’ question about whether we believe He is the resurrection and the life in terms of the major transition we are all in at this very moment.
There are many aspects of my leaving this, my favorite church, that feel just like a kind of death. This isn’t just another lovely Easter Sunday to me. It’s my last Easter Sunday as your pastor. And there is pain and grief and loss in that. And not just for me, for many if not all of you, too on this Easter Sunday.
So Jesus’ question to Martha may just resonate with us more than we might have thought today. Do we believe in resurrection of this “body?” The Body of Christ here at Forestdale? Do we believe that Jesus really is the resurrection and the life, and we can trust him with this Church? It is His Church, after all. But do we believe He really does have a future and a hope for us as a church? Do we believe that God can bring forth a whole new season of life and light and mission and ministry to the Forestdale Church? And under new leadership?
Can we say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world,” meaning, “We trust you, Lord, and we trust in whatever you are about to do with us because you are the Lord of life?”
Well, let’s look again at this conversation between Jesus and Martha,
-and unpack what it is that Jesus is asking,
-and what it is that Martha is saying in response,
-and see where we fit into this Jesus story on this Easter Sunday
1. First, Jesus asks, “Do you believe THIS?”
And Jesus means, “Do you believe what I have just said: that I am the resurrection and the life?” Do you believe that I am actually the Lord over life and death? Martha, you have seen me raise the dead before. You have seen me heal the sick and cast our demons. You have seen me feed the 5000 with two loaves of bread and few fish. You have seen me cleanse lepers and restore life to many, many people who were in despair just like you are now. Do you believe, right here in the midst of the death of your brother, that I can be trusted to bring forth life even here?
Do you believe THIS?
2. But wait, before we answer, or even listen to Martha’s answer, let’s think about what Jesus means when he asks, “Do you BELIEVE this?”
Jesus isn’t asking an academic question here. It’s not a theological question asked at a seminary. It’s not a scientific question about whether Martha or any of us believe it is scientifically possible for a person to be raised from the dead. No, this is a question Jesus asks a weeping woman just outside the tomb where her brother lies newly dead. And we find out a little later in the story that Jesus has tears in his eyes, too. Jesus wept right alongside Martha at the death of Lazarus.
So this is a relational question Jesus is asking. When he asks Martha if she believes, he is asking, “Will you trust me, Martha? Will you trust me right now, especially now?”
3. And it’s a question Jesus asks Martha personally, as he is looking her directly in the eye.
Do YOU believe this, Martha? Will YOU trust me? He is not asking someone else, but her. Will YOU trust that I am the resurrection and the life? Will YOU trust that I hold the keys of death and hell? Will YOU trust that I can bring life even out of death, and make a way where there is no way?
So when Martha answers, this is what she is intuitively responding to. This is Jesus in front of her. The most amazing man she has ever met. A man she has come to love deeply, and trust more than she trusts herself. And maybe as much out of desperation as inspiration, she says, “Yes, Lord”
With tears in her eyes, but looking right back at Jesus, she says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world. And even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
And in her answer, we see that she still doesn’t know what Jesus is going to do. She has no idea that he is going to call her brother forth from the tomb where he has lain dead for three days already. She has no idea what the future holds for her or her family. But she tells Jesus that she trusts him, and that she trusts whatever he will ask God to do for him. She trusts him with this present situation, and with her future, whatever that may mean.
And it’s then that Jesus gets her sister Mary, and goes with them to the tomb, and calls their brother Lazarus back to life. And it seems crazy to us all these years later to believe that Jesus could really do that. But let me tell you, it seemed just as crazy to Martha, and her sister, Mary, and to Lazarus!
But this isn’t the only time that Jesus raised someone from the dead. The other gospel writers, including Luke, who was a doctor, record that Jesus raised Jairus’ 12 year old daughter from the dead at her funeral. And that he raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead when he was being carried out of town for burial. And then, of course, we are here on Easter Sunday celebrating the fact that Jesus himself was raised from the dead after he
had been in the tomb for three days.
4. So DO you believe this?
And when I ask us all this question on this Easter Sunday, I am also not asking an academic or theological question either. I am not asking whether you believe the Gospel accounts are true and reliable and that Jesus really did raise Lazarus from the dead. No, I am really asking a personal question of whether you in your own life and experience have come to trust with Martha, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. I am asking whether you have come to trust that Jesus can actually bring life out of death, that God’s “tomorrow” for our church actually can be better than today; that there is a future and a hope for God’s people that is created by God and is much bigger than anything we can try and create in our own strength.
You see, I am not just talking about whether you believe in immortality or “life after death.” But do you believe that Jesus IS the resurrection and the life. That in Him, we don’t have to simply accept the “way life currently is,”
but we can actually place hope and trust in what God can make out of our lives no matter what the circumstances we are facing now.
When Martha told Jesus she believed, she was telling Him that she trusted that He could do more than she could ask or imagine, no matter what that would end up being.
That’s what I believe God is asking you and me today. Do you believe Jesus can take the current circumstance in which the Forestdale Church finds itself right now, and bring forth a new and vibrant future of mission and ministry that we “know not of” quite yet? Do you trust that Jesus can be the resurrection and the life of this church?
I want to remind us all today that in fact, Jesus always has been. When I came here 39 years ago this church was in a similar situation, and it was a toss up as to whether the church would live or die. It was a toss-up whether we could afford to hire a full-time pastor, and I’ll tell you, it was a risk they were taking to hire this particular full-time pastor. I was young, and just out of seminary, and I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to be a pastor. I was experimenting with trying out this pastoral ministry just as much as the church was experimenting with taking on a full-time ministry.
And none of us were too sure of ourselves, but we did believe that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. And we did believe that He could do above and beyond all that we could ask and imagine. But we had no idea what that would look like or what future He had in mind for us. And I guarantee that none of us thought that I would still be here 39 years later, or that God would have done in and through us all the kinds of ministry that we have seen happen here.
And over the course of these 39 years, we have shared together all kinds of death and resurrection experiences. Times where God has made a way for us to go forward where there was no way. Times where God has provided for us either finances or people or other resources when our own resources were depleted. Times when God has taken really bad circumstances and used them to bring us together in faith and hope and love more deeply than we had been before.
On this Easter Sunday, I want us to reflect on the simple question that Jesus asked Martha that day at the tomb of Lazarus. Do you believe this?
And I’d like us to remember all that Jesus has done in our lives individually and corporately as a church over all these years, and say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I may not know what the future holds, but I trust that you are the Christ, the Son of God, and that you can bring forth a future of resurrection life that will be better than we can even imagine today.