“Do You Trust Me?”

(Thanks to Max Lucado and His book God Came Near for helpful insight on this passage.)

All of us are faced every day with many questions – what to wear, what to eat, etc. But there are questions, and then there are questions. And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.

The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, His friend, was sick – but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany where Lazarus lives. Instead, Jesus delays for a couple of days before leaving. The disciples are just as puzzled as we are by His behavior.

Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has been dead for four days. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, goes out to meet Jesus on the road, and she immediately begins with the accusations. “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

We have to understand some of the cultural forces at work here. With their brother dead, Martha and her sister Mary didn’t have a lot of economic options. It wasn’t like they were getting a big life insurance check when Lazarus died. And you certainly don’t get the impression that they were financially wealthy – after all, they lived in Bethany, which means, “House of the Poor.” You wouldn’t expect to find a lot of money in a place called “Poor-town.”

So Martha, ever the practical one, was probably looking past her grief, already wondering how she and Mary were going to get by. There weren’t very many jobs available for women.

“If only You’d been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s a sentiment that many of us have wanted to shout at God at one time or another. Where is God when a loved one is suffering from cancer, or our business goes under, or a child is killed in a car wreck? Where is God when it hurts?

So when Martha confronts Jesus for apparently being AWOL when He was needed most, Jesus doesn’t flinch. He says, somewhat cryptically, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something off in the future and says, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” (As if to say, “That’s not going to be of much help now.”)

But Jesus stuns her (and us) when He says, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” But then He asked her this question: “Do you trust me?”

Now, your Bible for that verse probably says something like, “Do you believe this?,” but I don’t think that does justice to what Jesus is really saying. You see, for many people, believing is a matter of intellectual agreement, something that takes place only in the mind. Yes, I believe I should watch my diet and exercise more. Yes, I believe that wearing seat belts is good. Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

We say we believe those things, but we may or may not actually DO anything about them. That’s because in our language, BELIEVING something doesn’t necessarily mean ACTING on it.

But Jesus is not asking Martha if she understands His words intellectually. He’s asking, “Do you trust me?” And it’s the same question He asks us today. He wants to know, even when we don’t understand what is happening or why – do we still trust Him?

  • Do we trust Him in the hospital waiting room?
  • Do we trust Him in the police station and the courthouse?
  • Do we trust Him when our most cherished dreams come crashing down?
  • Do we trust Him at the cemetery?

The fact is, it’s easy to trust him when life is going well and everyone is healthy and there’s plenty of money in the bank. But what about when “things fall apart, and the center does not hold?” Do we still trust Him then?

Now of course, we know the end of this story. We know that Jesus went to the cemetery and called out Lazarus and there is a great happy ending. But Martha didn’t know that any of those things were about to happen. All she knew was that the brother that she loved was dead and her world was upside down. She had no idea what was coming in the future, but here stands Jesus in front of her, asking her to trust Him.

Martha gives the answer for eternity. “Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Good words, but more than that. It’s the response of a broken but trusting heart.

It’s still the response He’s looking for today.

Skull Rock and the Garden Tomb

When I was a kid, a name like “Skull Rock” sounded spooky, a little creepy, very adventurous. It was the sort of place where Peter Pan and the boys from Never, Never Land would hang out. It was a fun place to visit at Six Flags over Texas when I was younger, with its slightly scary green lighting and its fun, twisty slide to play on.

This foreboding cliff looks like a skull when the sunlight hits it just right.
It is part of the area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” near the Garden Tomb.

It never occurred to me that there might have been a real Skull Rock. And that it would be anything but fun to visit. At least, it never occurred to me, until I actually went there.

I have written before about my 2009 visit to Israel. During that trip, I learned that there are actually two different sites identified as the possible location where Jesus was crucified. Although they are both within the main environs of Jerusalem now, both would have been outside the city walls back in Jesus’ day. Both have elements to recommend them as the “real” location, and both have shallow caves nearby, where Jesus could have been buried, in keeping with the story as told in the Gospels.

One, of course, is the site contained within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the historically accepted spot, with visitors going back at least to the 300s. It’s there we find the oldest traditions about the rocky hill on which Jesus was crucified and the nearby, borrowed, tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where He was buried. The final few stations along the famous “Via Dolorosa” – the Way of Suffering – are located there.

But over the years, the old location has been gilded over and gold plated. It’s had shrines erected over and beside it, so much so that only with the greatest stretch of imagination can you picture in your mind what it must have been like 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was actually there. Metal shields have actually been installed in some parts, to prevent souvenir hunters from chipping off a chunk of rock to take home with them. The candles, the incense, the fabric draperies – it all seems more fake, more “Hollywood,” and less like a location where public executions took place.

At least, that’s the reaction that a lot of American visitors, especially Protestants, have. And so, while that location definitely has the better historical claim to being the actual site of the crucifixion, there is another spot that is more preferred by a lot of Christians who want to see the spot where Jesus died, was buried, and three days later, rose again.

Gordon’s Calvary is about a third of mile away. Charles Gordon was a British General and amateur archeologist who helped popularized the location, and so his name is associated with it. One of the things that is so special about it is a limestone cliff, jutting up from the ground. Two deep depressions in the side of the cliff remind visitors of a skull’s empty eye sockets – and so the cliff is known, unofficially, as “Skull Rock.” (Both “Golgotha” and “Calvary” refer to a skull in their original languages.) If this was the execution spot, it would have been an appropriate name – both for its appearance, and for the painful events that took place there.

So imagine, if you will, that you are a visitor to Jerusalem in those days, coming in from Jericho. As you enter the city, near the main gates, you see a large cliff, and there, in front of that cliff (and not on top of it), you see a number of crosses there, with the prisoners being executed. And a few dozen yards away, a number of shallow caves in the side of the cliff have been hollowed out to serve as graves.

This is the Garden Tomb. And those caves are empty.

Was this where Jesus was crucified? Honestly, we don’t know. As I said, both the traditional Golgotha and Gordon’s Calvary have their advocates. But wherever it was, I invite you to join with me this weekend as we remember those events. Let us give thanks that wherever the tomb of Jesus was, it is empty!

Do You Trust Me?

All of us are faced every day with many questions.  “What should I wear?,” “Where do you want to eat?,” “When are we leaving?”  But there are questions, and then there are questions.  And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.

The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, his friend, was sick – but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany, the village where Lazarus lives.  Instead, Jesus delays for a couple of days before leaving.  The disciples are just as puzzled as we are by his behavior.

Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Lazarus’ sister, Martha, goes out to meet Jesus on the road, and she immediately begins with the accusations.  “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

We have to understand some of the cultural forces at work here.  With their brother dead, Martha and her sister Mary didn’t have a lot of economic options.  It wasn’t like they were getting a big life insurance check when Lazarus died.  And you certainly don’t get the impression that they were financially wealthy – after all, they lived in Bethany, which means, “House of the Poor.”  You wouldn’t expect to find a lot of money in a place called “Poor-town.”

So Martha, ever the practical one, was probably looking past her grief, already wondering how she and Mary were going to get by.  There weren’t very many jobs available for women.

“If only you’d been here, my brother would not have died.”  It’s a sentiment that many of us have wanted to shout at God at one time or another.

  • Where were you, God, when my child was killed?
  • I have dedicated my life to you, God.  How could you let my business go under?
  • How could you make my wife suffer with cancer like that?

There are many other versions of those questions, but you get the point.  Where is God when it hurts?

In his book “God Came Near,” Max Lucado says

You see, if God is God anywhere, he has to be God in the face of death. Pop psychology can deal with depression. Pep talks can deal with pessimism. Prosperity can handle hunger. But only God can deal with our ultimate dilemma — death. …He has to be God in the face of death. If not, he is not God anywhere.

So when Martha confronts Jesus for apparently being AWOL when he was needed most, Jesus doesn’t flinch.  He says, somewhat cryptically, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something off in the future and says, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.”  (As if to say, “That’s not going to be of much help now.”

But Jesus stuns her (and us) when he says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

And that’s when he asked THE QUESTION.

“Do you trust me?”

Now, your translation for that verse probably says something like, “Do you believe in me?,” but I don’t think that does justice to what Jesus is really saying.  You see, for many people, to BELIEVE is something that takes place in the mind.  It’s a matter of giving intellectual agreement.  Yes, I believe I should watch my diet and exercise more.  Yes, I believe that wearing seat belts is good.  Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

We say we believe those things, but we may or may not actually DO anything about it.  That’s because in our language, BELIEVING something doesn’t necessarily mean ACTING on that.

But Jesus is not asking Martha if she understands his words intellectually.  He’s asking, “Do you trust me?”  And it’s the same question he asks us today.  He wants to know, even when we don’t understand what is happening, or why, do we trust him?

  • Do we trust him in the hospital waiting room?
  • Do we trust him in the police station and in the courthouse?
  • Do we trust him when our most cherished dreams come crashing down?
  • Do we trust him as we hold the hand of one who is slipping away?
  • Do we trust him at the cemetery?

The fact is, it’s easy to trust him when life is going well and everyone is healthy and there’s plenty of money in the bank.  But what about when “things fall apart, and the center does not hold?”  Can we still trust him then?

Now of course, we know the end of this story.  We know that Jesus went to the cemetery and called out Lazarus and there is a great happy ending.  But put yourself in Martha’s sandals here.  She didn’t know any of that.  All she knew was that the brother that she loved was dead, her world was upside down, she had no idea what was coming in the future, but here stands Jesus in front of her, asking her to trust him.

Martha gives the answer for eternity.  “Yes, Lord.  I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Good words, but more than that.  It’s the response of a broken but trusting heart.

It’s still the response he’s looking for today.

(Max Lucado quotation taken from The Question for the Canyon’s Edge.)