Sunday, March 11, 2018

Unmasking Our Secret Faith

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live
John 11:25

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή· ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται[1]

When Jesus said this, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  His body had decomposed and produced bad odor.  After the first day, the internal organs decompose, the cell membranes rupture and release enzymes to digest the cells from the inside out.  After the third day, the body starts to bloat because of the many gases produced by the enzymes.  The microorganism and bacteria within the body release extremely unpleasant odors.  At this point the smell is unbearable.  The human body has in average 30 trillion cells, and they are decomposing all at once starting from day 1.  In our intestines, we have commonly 37 trillion bacteria and they start breaking down our body in the first day of death.  Scientifically, it can be expected that when it comes to day 4 the smell is terrible.  No wonder Martha tried to stop Jesus from commanding the people to open the tomb’s door.  John 11:39 records:
39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
But Martha’s reasoning did not deter Jesus.
            The dilemma that Martha was facing was not only natural but also cultural.  According to the natural law it is impossible to get back to life after being dead for four days, especially not after the body decomposes so badly.  Culturally, in Jesus’ time the Jews believed that the human spirit hovered around the dead body for the maximum period of three days.  Thus according to the prevailing belief system of the day, Lazarus could not return back to life after being dead for four days because his spirit was no longer there.  Had he still be in the three days period, Martha would believe that Lazarus could be brought back to life.  Martha’s belief that Lazarus would be raised again was bound to her understanding of the natural law and cultural limitations.  Before Jesus said the famous “I am the resurrection and the life” line, Martha stated in verse 24:
24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
In short, Martha believed that Lazarus would be raised again in the last days, but she did not believe that Jesus could bring back Lazarus right there and then after being dead four days.
            Are we better than Martha?  After 2000 years, do we now have stronger faith than her?  Isn’t our faith also bound by the limitations of our understanding of the natural laws and cultural beliefs?  We might not see the dead being raised again in our modern age, because Jesus is not bodily present with us today, and neither the prophets nor the apostles.  But of other things we often find ourselves in Martha’s shoes.  Let me give you an example.  In Asian culture, when our kids become troublesome, we often believe that it is our karma because we too were troublesome to our parents when we were young.  Then we appropriate such belief into our Christian faith.  Therefore, we then believe that God is punishing us for what we have done to our parents back then.  Sounds familiar?  The counterpart is that we also believe that when our kids are good and well, it is because God rewards us for being nice back then when we were young.  This karmic system actually is the one cultural belief that binds our faith.  And in this case we have not truly believed in Christ.
            Jesus knew that Martha’s faith was confined in the natural law and cultural belief of the day.  So Jesus said most emphatically:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live
John 11:25

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή· ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται[2]

Now, let us look more closely how Jesus emphasized His statement here.  Twenty four times recorded in the gospel of John Jesus said: “I Am” or “Ego Eimi.”  Seventeen times the “Ego Eimi” is followed by a predicate like what we have in the passage above.  Many theologians consider the “Ego Eimi” that Jesus said in the gospel of John special, because it refers to the name of God as He introduced Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
The “Ego Eimi” indicates that Jesus is God.  When we combine it with the predicate “The Resurrection and The Life,” we have here that He is not powerless against death but instead death can’t overcome Jesus.
            A theologian by the name of Brooke Foss Wescott commented on this passage:
Christ in the fulness of His Person does not simply work the Resurrection and give life: He is both. He does not say “I promise,” or “I procure,” or “I bring,” but “I am.” By taking humanity into Himself He has revealed the permanence of man’s individuality and being. But this permanence can be found only in union with Him. Thus two main thoughts are laid down: Life (Resurrection) is present, and this Life is in a Person.[3]
Thus, Jesus is not only the bringer of resurrection and life as if He is just a messenger; but Jesus Himself IS the resurrection and the life.  Therefore, resurrection and life is not merely a gift from God, but it is in relationship with God.  The attention thus is not to the gift, but to the person of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus proved it by resurrecting Lazarus during the stage of terrible decomposition.  Jesus surpassed the natural law and the cultural belief.  With this, Jesus broke the barrier of Martha’s faith.  Martha’s faith was being set free and was no longer imprisoned within the boundary of the natural law and cultural belief.  But instead, her faith was then centered upon the person of Jesus Christ.  Together with Martha, many people who were there also believed.  John 11:45 puts it:
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
I do not doubt that we all, who have faith in Christ, believe that when we die we shall live in Christ and we will be resurrected in the end time.  What I am concerned about is that our faith is still being imprisoned within the natural laws and cultural beliefs.  Our example above is about the karmic system, which, without realizing it, we have injected into our faith.  Subconsciously we believe that our sins are not truly forgiven, but will eventually catch up with us.  Subconsciously we also believe that our works will definitely be rewarded on this earth.  The dynamics between the two subconscious beliefs dictates our conclusion that all the bad things we are experiencing are always the result of our bad deeds in the past and all the good things we enjoy are always the result of our good works in the past.  In that way we then forget about the grace of God, His mercy and gifts, God’s blessings to us regardless of our past.  Similarly we then also forget that bad things or unfortunate things are not always a punishment from the Almighty, but often is used by God to help us grow and become better.  The bottom line is life is not black and white but instead life is complex in nature, and our faith in God must be based on Him, not on our experience or interpretation of our experience.
We need to break free from the prison of the karmic system.  God has forgiven our sins, past, present, and future, the second we truly believe in Christ.  This is God’s grace to us.  But the forgiveness of our sins does not mean that we will be free from any unfortunate things.  The forgiveness of our sins does indeed free us from the most horrible thing that we deserve, which is the ultimate death in hell.  The death of our physical body, the pain we feel on our knee, the coughing, the headache, the soreness of our back, the slowness of our movement, even the loss of our earthly belongings due to theft, robbery, extortion, and also the untimely death of our loved ones be it of natural cause or even accidents, should not always be considered as God’s punishments.  They do happen in this fallen world.  Even Jesus, the sinless One, had to suffer a great deal and died the most humiliating and horrible death.
It is important for us who believe, to fix our eyes upon Jesus, trust in Him and His words, follow His teaching, obey His commands, and cast aside the other beliefs that bind our faith in Him.  Martha missed fixing her eyes upon Jesus who IS the resurrection and the life Himself.  Martha did not realize that she was in the presence of the God of Israel who appeared to Moses more than 1000 years before.  Martha couldn’t bring herself to believe that Jesus IS more powerful than death.  Jesus then demonstrated His power when He resurrected Lazarus so she and others would believe.  And later, Jesus demonstrated His eternal power by overcoming both the earthly death and the eternal death through His death and resurrection.  What is very gracious of Jesus is that He then includes us in His mighty accomplishment, so that death cannot overcome us who believe in Him.
If the greatest and most fearful enemy, that is death – both the earthly and the eternal, has been defeated in Jesus, why are we still allowing our faith to be severely limited by the natural laws and cultural beliefs?  It wouldn’t make sense, would it?  I’m not saying that we do not need to be realistic.  I am also not suggesting that we all should live in dreams and imaginations.  What I am trying to say is that the natural laws and the cultural beliefs ought not to deter us from truly believing in Jesus.  We are all plagued with doubt.  When all the evidences are against us, like there is no money in the bank, or our applications have been denied, or people continue to slander us, or the justice system does not favor the righteous, or we can’t seem to recover from our illness, or our kids remain rebellious and disrespectful, or problems upon problems keep piling up, our minds can’t help but going to the default system of trusting the natural laws and the cultural beliefs.  We then forget about Jesus.  We have not trusted that Jesus had done what defies the natural laws and cultural beliefs.  We then forget about the Great I Am who destroyed the mighty Egypt.  Because our faith has been defeated by the natural laws and the cultural beliefs.  No, we can’t allow this to happen.  Jesus intervened so Martha would not surrender to the earthly belief system of that day anymore.  In the same way Jesus continues to instruct us and guide us through His words and spirit in order to keep us from surrendering to the worldly belief system that surrounds us today.
Let me conclude with this.  Let us come back to our discussion of the karma, and break this barrier as an example of all our other beliefs that still limit our faith in Christ.  The karmic system is a lie.  If it were true, our kids would suffer continuously under the curse of karma, and there is nothing we or they can do about it.  The saddest thing if it were true is that it is all because of what we had done in the past.  Jesus has shown us the truth, and the truth has set us free.  Yes there are natural consequences.  We fall we got hurt.  We lie we hurt other people and ourselves.  We rob a bank, we got caught, we end up in jail.  We oppress our employees, they fight back, things got ugly.  We can’t expect that we can hide behind our faith after doing all bad and evil things so that bad consequences and judgments won’t happen to us.  That would be playing with God and manipulating Him.  Such thing would signal that we might not have true faith in Christ.  But all that doesn’t mean that we can’t be forgiven.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t repent and be good people.  Jesus overcomes the consequence of Adam’s sin, which is death, and He has freely given us the victory over sin and death.  This is the grace of God for all of you.  I can’t talk about every single belief that limits our faith in Christ here.  But I encourage you to be mindful of our beliefs.  Remember that Jesus is above all.  Nothing in this world can overcome Him.  Fix your eyes upon Him alone.  Do not rely on other things.  For Jesus alone is the “Ego Eimi” – the Great I Am.  Amen.

[1] Eberhard Nestle et al., The Greek New Testament, 27th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Jn 11:25.
[2] Eberhard Nestle et al., The Greek New Testament, 27th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Jn 11:25.
[3] Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott, eds., The Gospel according to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: J. Murray, 1908), 168.

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