You can always find memes online in the 21st century, but especially so when everybody’s got nothing to do while safe at home. So, most of us have probably seen our fill of them, but permit me to reference one more meme here. I’m thinking of this meme a friend posted to Facebook last week – maybe you’ve seen it elsewhere. This mother dog sits atop a cushy armchair in a living room – she’s brilliant white and Charmin ultra-soft. And all her little puppies are up on their hind legs around her on the floor, reaching their little paws up onto the chair, gazing into mommie’s dark eyes – and they too are brilliant white and Charmin ultra-soft. With a mothering gaze, momma dog says, “Look, people are getting desperate for toilet paper…You’re white and soft…Stay vigilant is all I’m saying.”
Can you believe it? All of this? A global pandemic that locks you at home? Who would have guessed it even a month ago? That my wife would go to Sam’s club, and for the 3rd or 4th time, find no toilet paper on the shelves? That people’s businesses are labeled “essential” or “non-essential” and commanded to be closed? That we’d be preaching to a camera in an empty sanctuary? Can you believe it?
You know, in times like these there’s a better question to ask. Better than confounded questioning about our situation is a thoughtful analysis of our faith. Better to ask with our Lord Jesus this morning, Do You Believe This?
The question comes from John’s gospel this week. In chapter 11, Jesus is traveling to the tomb of his dead friend, Lazarus. If you go back to v.1 of chapter 11, you’d find that Lazarus had been sick. Mary & Martha, his sisters, had sent word to his close friend, Jesus. Jesus stayed where he was two more days and he was a day’s journey away from Bethany. It seems like, if Lazarus is dead for four days by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus probably died before the messenger even got to Jesus. So that we should probably think like this… When Jesus arrives and Martha meets him and she says, “Lord, if you had been here…”, it’s not a complaint, nor an accusation – she’s expressing what she believes about Jesus.
Consider the content of Martha’s faith as an example and a reminder for us. She believes Jesus is capable… At v.21, she understands that, if Jesus had been there, he could have done something about Lazarus’ sickness – he has miraculous power. But she says even more. In v.22, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask…” She knows that Jesus has power; has a connection with God in heaven; is so in line with God’s will that God grants whatever Jesus desires… Martha’s even looking forward to resurrection with Lazarus at the Last Day. But, most important of all, when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life…” and asks if Martha believes this, she confesses that Jesus is the Christ. In v.27, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Martha is straightforward and clear about what she believes.
There are so many articles and examples today about what people believe… What we should do for our health and safety or about what the government should or should not be doing in this land of the free. Some have referenced our Declaration of Independence, those words near the beginning: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that…” After that are the various personal rights and principles basic to our union. Perhaps in this situation, we should ask ourselves what is most essential to us – as Christians. Because Jesus’ question isn’t only for Martha. He asks, “Do you believe this? Is this content yours?”
What occupies the believing core of you and me? We know that medicine and stimulus and quarantine and economy are all good things. We know that life is easy when there’s health and national success. And when those things seem questionable, we can spend a lot of time running after those things we believe are important. None of them are essential. This content is most important. What Martha said: that Jesus is capable. He has power from God to do anything at all, anything he wants. Jesus is powerful over history and death with a final resurrection after all this. There is nothing he cannot do. This content is most important. What Martha said: that Jesus is the Christ. The most basic, self-evident truth, revealed by God’s holy Word, is that God’s own Son has come into this sin-broken world. He is not indifferent; nor is he spiteful. He came not to condemn sinners for mistrust or fears or misunderstandings, but to save. Jesus is the Christ, God’s chosen one, come to suffer and die for sins. He is also the Resurrection – he rose from death himself. He gives to all who believe the confidence that even if death should overtake them, death will not win. Because he is the Life – he now lives and he provides life that never ends.
Be reminded this morning of the most basic truth from Martha’s mouth, and confess with her, “Yes, Lord, we believe – we have as our Savior this Jesus: who can do anything at all with great power, who is the Christ who has risen to life and brings that life to us too. Jesus is our capable Christ – We believe this content.
And that’s important to know because we live in this context; one just like Martha’s. What we hold dear in faith is important. I like how St. Paul said it, about the Word of God – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” (2 Timothy 3:16) That is, the content of our faith is to be used in a context, a real-life setting. Our example this morning is Martha, who gave such a powerful testament of faith in Jesus, and just a few minutes later couldn’t quite put it to use.
It’s a fourth-day context Martha found herself in. One where her brother had been sick but was now dead, days dead. Did Martha struggle with this – no going back now; too late? Or perhaps she was just realistic. Bodies begin to rot real quick; and they smell – it’s why you put them in graves and seal them up. So when Jesus commanded that they remove the stone…even though she’d just confessed who Jesus was – she also protested about what he wanted to do.
We know fourth-day realities too, don’t we? You and I confess that Jesus is our capable Christ, but don’t we forget it too? Or don’t our brains sometimes overpower our hearts? We look at infections and deaths and shuttered businesses and crabby families trapped at home or we’re lonely – and sometimes it’s hard to see past any of that to remember that Jesus is capable. And, like a dead body, this can just stink to high heavens – be distasteful and unsatisfactory and repulsive – and it’s hard to see Jesus loving us our sometimes that what he wants just can’t be good. And we don’t even need global pandemic to get us there. The same thing happened a month ago to each of us. There are times where, because of our sinful weakness, what we believe about Jesus gets put away or covered over. And we protest too…
But did you notice what Jesus is about in situations just like this? Outside the tomb of his dead friend, do you notice how he prayed in v.42, “I [have prayed this way] for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” As he’d said to Martha – everything so that God would be glorified in the Christ. That was the purpose John put at the end of his gospel too: “these [things Jesus did] 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 that you may have life…” right now or next week, in adversity or strength, in economic success or the midst of struggles, whether we’re healthy or dying… Jesus worked so that we may believe. He raised Lazarus to life so that you can see that he does have power over death. He did it to point ahead to what was coming. In a very short time, he would go to the cross and die. And it would seem contrary to all human hopes. But he would be resurrected – so that we might have far more than human hopes. In Jesus’ work, we have the hope of heaven – life everlasting, freedom from sickness, escape from guilt and sin, and pure joy in all the glory of God!
And the more we know this content, the better we understand our context: that Jesus is often working in ways contrary to our human hopes but for God’s glory right now. It’s just as Paul said in Romans 8 – If God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, and he does by faith, then the Risen Jesus fills up our lives with his life. We are empowered by the living Christ even when we seem powerless: we trust that our Jesus can conquer our sicknesses or turn around a pandemic or care for us in ways we cannot yet know. We’re alive in the greatest way even when death looms – able to share friendship and joy and comfort and charity and real hope in Christ; to not give in to fear; nor to live for this world’s paltry solutions. We are heard and observed even when we feel insignificant and lost – we pray to our heavenly Father, who listens to us through Jesus, and he promises not just to hear but to answer and to provide what we ask for. And in these ways, the glory of God is revealed in the imperfect, in the sin-broken, in the blood-bought lives of those who believe in this Jesus and confess his name in what they say and do.
Surely in the days that are coming, we’ll be tempted to cry out, “Can you believe this????” But Jesus is our capable Christ, powerful to act, near to us in love. He’s won our salvation. He enables is to believe in this and every moment. So that, if this moment was an internet meme, I think it’d look like this: Jesus is standing up high, arms open wide. We’re gathered around, expectant, looking to him with trust. He looks down lovingly and says, “Look, my children, people are desperate out there…so tell them what you believe.” Amen.