Most Christians would know John 3:16. It reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV). Yet many struggle with what ‘eternal life’ means. Jesus helps us by defining ‘eternal life’ in His prayer to His Father – “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you (the Father), the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 NIV). Living eternally in the Christian context would be living in the knowledge and in relationship with the Father and the Son. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31b NIV). Therefore in Christ, having a relationship with the Father, we can live as how God meant us to live. Though life may present its challenges and struggles, we know that “I can do anything in Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NIV).
Truly indeed the greatest gift given to mankind is the gift of eternal life, if we believe in the giver of life himself, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In Him we have life eternal.
On the other hand, with the same reasoning in John 3:16, a person who does not believe in Jesus Christ shall perish. This would be the greatest tragedy as he or she would not be able to know God the only true God and Jesus Christ. How difficult it would be for one who does not have the assurance or love, care and protection from God his Maker. We would be so unsure, insecure and worried, causing us to sometimes be paralyzed in living fully. This person would always need to be assured that everything is okay. Due to the constant challenges the world gives everyone, he or she could possibly live in fear.
Though we live, we would also not be able to live freely. Sometimes we would not be able to live at all. Thus it feels like death.
The two sisters, Mary and Martha had their lives shattered with the death of their brother. Death brings the ultimate human separation. There is no going back, nothing will be the same again. I lost my sister a few years ago. One day she was with us, the next day she breathed her last breath. It was really devastating to my whole family, especially my parents. We always say that time would heal the brokenness but actually it rarely does. Sometimes we just have to cope with the loss.
Mary and Martha lost their beloved brother. He was their life. Living in Palestine 2000 years ago, women depended on their spouse, parents or even their brothers for their livelihood. And therefore apart from losing their brother, life would have also been very difficult for them.
Both sisters in separate encounters with Jesus made the same remark – “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32b). Both of them believed that Jesus could have healed their brother if only he was there with them in the time of their brother’s illness. They wanted their brother back, alive. They wanted to live as they did before he died. Everything had changed with the passing of their brother, we can feel their hope ebbing away.
I felt the same way when Adelene passed away. I knew my Lord could heal but in His wisdom he didn’t. Life has never been the same again for me. During those early days after the passing of my sister, I also asked the question – “how do I go on living?” “How do I come out of my shattered life?” “If only Jesus was here with us, my sister would not have died!”
The way Jesus responded to the sisters was very different. With Martha, Jesus exclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe me?” (John 11:25 NIV). From a previous encounter with Jesus, Martha was seen as the sister who took charge of things. When Jesus visited the family, instead of just sitting by the feet of Jesus, Martha did the house chores, made everyone comfortable like a good hospitable host. Yet in this encounter with Jesus, realising the finality of death, we could feel her resignation to life, the hopelessness of the situation and sense of lost-ness for the future.
Many of us would have heard this exclamation of Jesus at funeral services. The assurance of Jesus resurrecting the dead gives comfort and hope for all of us. Yet in this story, Jesus goes further in assuring Martha of his power in the resurrection. He also tells Martha that he is life itself! Martha,who just had her life shattered by the death of her brother, is assured that Jesus is the life she thought she had lost. In fact, Jesus is all of life that she needed. To prove this statement to be true, we then see the amazing miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. If Jesus is indeed the resurrection, he is surely the life as well.
To Mary, Jesus didn’t say anything. Yet he did something as great as how he responded to Martha. “Jesus wept”. Jesus reflected in his own soul his deep sorrow of the consequence of death – the separation of loved ones. He also felt the pain of sin – the reason for death and I could imagine he also felt himself bearing all the sin of the whole world on the cross resulting in His own death.
In His strength he showed Martha he is life. In his love he expressed his brokenness because of death.
This passage really has helped me in my own journey in life. When I think I am unable to live due to death, I cling on to Jesus who is my life. When I feel the lonely, difficult and painful periods of my life, I know that Jesus understands me and he is there with me.
Knowing Jesus in the difficult times of my life is the surest way of knowing he has given me eternal life.
Living eternally today
These words – “I am the resurrection and the life” rings so strongly for us today. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, many lives have been shattered or are in difficult places. Many do not even know or realize what the ‘new norm’ will be. And that can be stressful. Though these issues may not be life threatening or devastating, it can affect how people live. What is most disconcerting is its impact on the poor, the marginalized, the migrant workers, and many other people groups. How do they live? How do we help them? What would be good news to everyone affected?
Firstly, Jesus is the giver of life. We must never forget that. One thing the COVID Pandemic and hence the Movement Control Order (MCO) has shown many our dependence on so many things. However, Jesus has to be the only person we depend on in life. One might then ask how this works out in daily living. Well it centres on basic Christian principles of seeking the Lord through our quiet time, reading and reflecting on scripture and in prayer and worship. I confess, sometimes I lack the dependence on the Lord when crisis happens. I begin to worry, think about consequences and sometimes become so stressed to the point of not being able to move forward. Yet our Lord Jesus is constantly with us. Only in a daily life building relationship would I have the confidence to trust Him in all things. Do we trust that in Jesus we have life? Once we begin to trust Him, we are open to life that we can never even imagine. As a personal testimony, I have a degree in Chemical engineering from the University of Malaya. Yet my heart was always drawn to serving the Lord fulltime in whatever capacity. So trusting Him, I left my engineering job and moved to a Christian vocation. There has been many ups and downs but I can testify that He has carried me through all the way. It has been 22 years now and truly my life has never been the same.
Secondly, Jesus not only can empathize with everyone, he has paid the ultimate price for the effect of sin – the separation of mankind with God. And that cost him his life. Being unsure of the future can inhibit a person. Partly there seems to be a hidden sense of unworthiness in many people due to weaknesses and sometimes guilt and shame. This causes many to feel unworthy. Jesus wept when Mary showed him his brother’s tomb. Jesus feels our separation from God and he feels for us. As the bible shows us, Jesus is always able, being our High Priest as ‘he intercedes for us’ (Heb. 7:25).Paul states that ‘I resolved to know nothing while I was with you (the Corinthian Christians) except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). How marvellous and glorious is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is through His death, Christ justifies our life before the Father. This is a such an assurance that even Paul resolves that nothing else is more important than the love of Christ as expressed on the cross.
And finally, we need to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our friends, neighbours and those we are in contact with because Jesus is their only hope for life, even life today. I was once asked desperately by one young person to help witness to a relative who simply refused to believe. My answer to him was to never give up because Jesus is the Resurrection. Our Lord gives life freely to everyone and he does this through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we always have hope in Him. Do not keep this great gift of eternal life to ourselves. It is meant for everyone. It is especially meant for our world today as we begin our lives anew from the pandemic. May God give us this ever present vision of Jesus as our Resurrection and Life!
By Mr Michael William