The biggest question in all of Scripture is captured in the book of John, chapter 11, verse 26. It is just four words, 16 letters, and yet how you answer this question will determine your entire life’s trajectory, both now and later.
The question is buried in a story we know well, an Easter moment before Easter: it is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is a story worth reading right now, one in which many observations can be made, observations about life and death and what we believe. It is a very human story, one in which we could find ourselves. Mary and Martha are very concerned about their brother – he is sick and could die. They seek out their friend Jesus, the one whom they have watched heal many others, and beg him to come visit Lazarus, implying that he, Jesus, would be able to heal him, as well.
The story is very compelling, keeping our attention. There are many things to ponder: why does Jesus not go immediately? When Lazarus dies, why does He declare this a good thing…can it really be good? By the time He gets to their house, Lazarus has been in the grave for four days, and Martha has resigned herself to the only reality she knows: her brother is dead. Something about death makes us accuse God of betrayal. “Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs.21)
Jesus confronts this reality with a bold statement: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha wants to believe, and responds with her best theological answer. It is a truthful answer, but emotionally disconnected. Jesus drills deeper: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die, do you believe this?” (vs. 25)
Others have described this as the question for the canyon’s edge – the canyon of death. If God is God anywhere, He has to be God in the face of death. To some degree psychology can deal with depression, the power of positive thinking can deal with pessimism, and prosperity can handle a myriad of our problems. But only God can deal with our ultimate dilemma: death.
“I am the resurrection and the life, do you believe this?” Let the question sink into your heart for a moment. Jesus has a way of stripping our pat answers from us, removing our intellectual reasoning, and exposing our hearts. A lip-service answer will not suffice; this requires a full-throated, heart-resonating answer. Do you believe a young, itinerant Jewish preacher is larger than your death?
The question separates Jesus from a thousand other prophets and religious leaders. The question drives any responsible listener to absolute obedience or to total rejection of the Christian faith, two very different trajectories.
As you approach Easter, may you reengage this question, and may you celebrate the truth that our only hope is found in Him. Hope for today, and hope for tomorrow, from the one who “laid death in his grave.”