The most powerful and identifiable promise Jesus gave is found in John 11. The encounter takes place between Jesus and Martha and precedes the incredible moment when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary and when he came down sick, his sisters sent for Jesus. Four days later Jesus arrived, but it was too late, Lazarus was dead. The sisters were devastated and confused, maybe even angry and disappointed in Jesus. They didn’t understand and Martha’s comment was “if only Jesus.”
The power of Jesus’ promises as recorded in the gospel of John is that they are not to be taken only as some future hope or assurance. It is not just about what is to come, it is about what is now. When Jesus says, “I AM,” he brings the future to the present.
Jesus’ reply to Martha and the conversation they then have speaks to the fact that God, through Jesus, is past, present, and future. Instead of looking at the past, and dreaming about what might have been (but now can’t be), in this case Martha longing for her brother, Jesus first invites Martha to look to the future: Do you believe your brother will be raised? (Future).
Then, having looked to the future, he asks her to imagine that the future is suddenly brought into the present, or in the case of Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown in the blockbuster movie, Back to the Future, the future is brought back to the present.
Jesus’ promise, I AM the resurrection and the life became central to early Jewish belief and continues to be foundational to our belief today. Without it, Jesus was just another great teacher or historical leader but not the son of God.
This means that the resurrection isn’t just a doctrine. It isn’t just something we think about, debate, or contemplate with academia. It isn’t just a future fact. It is a person and that person is Jesus. It is a relationship. It is understood in the heart just as much if not more than the head. Jesus stood in front of Martha inviting her to take that leap of faith and trust his promise that he is the resurrection and the life.
The promises of Jesus place us alongside Martha and present us with an ongoing challenge: to exchange our “if onlys…” for an “If Jesus…”
For example: Martha said, “Jesus, if only you had been here sooner. My brother would be alive” Jesus’ challenges her to instead ask, “If Jesus…”
- If Jesus is who he says he is…what shall I fear?
- If Jesus is the one who was promised by the prophets…then why do I doubt?
- If Jesus is God’s own son, the one in whom the living God is present…then is there anything he can’t do?
- If Jesus is resurrection in person and life come to life…then why do I question?
What “if onlys” do you bring today?
- If only I had said something…done something.
- If only I had kept my mouth shut.
- If only they had caught the cancer sooner.
- If only I had done more.
- If only I was a better parent, son/daughter, spouse.
- If only I knew what to do.
- If only I had more money. More time. More energy.
- If only they had gotten help.
- If only I had seen the signs.
What are OUR collective “if onlys”?
- If only our leaders would listen to understand.
- If only the violence would stop.
- If only there wasn’t so much division.
- If only there was a Chick-Fil-A on this side of town!
- If only there was a Texas RoadHouse.
- If only there was even a small grocery store!
- If only we would love like Jesus.
- If only we could find peace.
- If only we knew what to do.
What would happen if we exchanged those “if onlys” for “if Jesus” and we held tight to his promises?
- If Jesus is the resurrection and the life…who does that make us as his followers?
- If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…why don’t we trust Him?
- If Jesus taught us a better way…why are we afraid to live it?
- If Jesus commanded us to love…why do we so easily choose hate?
- If Jesus so loved the world…why do we make it so complicated?
Jesus promised I am the resurrection and the life. Two weeks ago we stood with the women at the empty tomb and proclaimed that good news: “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.” Last week, we were reminded that every week is our metaphorical wilderness experience. What “if onlys” did you experience in your wilderness this past week? If only I had made that call. If only I had remembered my list. If only I wouldn’t have answered. If only I hadn’t lost my temper. If only I had more sleep. If only my body would work like it used to. The wilderness is a place of “if onlys.” But that also means that every Sunday is our Little Easter. Our day to remember and exchange that “if only” for “if Jesus.”
Today church, I ask you to hold tight to the promise of Jesus and consider what that means for the faith promise you make to Jesus.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine