Remembering What We Believe
By Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith
“Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). Jesus’ question to Martha in the eleventh chapter of the Fourth Gospel is a question of simple form but great depth. Just four words: “Do you believe this?”
At first glance, it seems to call for validation or agreement and little more. But it is a question that comes in the wake of devastating loss — the death of a beloved brother and the bewildering disappointment that the dear friend who could have saved that brother had arrived too late. And in that context, we have come to see Jesus’ use of this simply phrased question in John 11 as profound for the depth and reflection that it calls for in its recipients — then and now. It is a question of both discipleship and leadership. It may take exploration beyond the surface of the passage in order to convince you of this. But if you will set aside, for a moment, the miraculous nature of the story that we’ve come to know as “the raising of Lazarus,” you will be released to glean many insights through the dialogue that transpires between Lazarus’s sisters and Jesus.
When someone asks, “Do you believe this?” that person is introducing the threads that make the fabric of discipleship possible — things such as faith, hope, commitment, and belief. But these threads are present in the midst of their very opposite elements of understanding. Darker threads of suspicion and hostility, doubt and disbelief, are here as well. Their presence is acknowledged by this same question.
“Do you believe this?” is a question that forces a choice. It is not friendly toward fence sitting or neutrality. Jesus wanted Martha to wrestle with what she believed to be true. With which set of beliefs (which threads) would she move forward: the positive or the negative? Jesus wanted Mary to confront her own beliefs, and, through the very same question, we are asked to name what we believe to be true.
“Do you believe this?” is a question that resurfaces over a lifetime of following Christ. Again and again the question comes to us: “Do I believe this?” about my faith, as a result of my faith. It comes to us in the high moments of celebration and victory, but even more so in the lower moments of doubt, discouragement, and dead ends. It’s in answering the question that we move forward and, one might say, deeper in faith and discipleship.
As leaders, we are confronted by Jesus’ question in additional ways. Do we believe in the direction, values, and mission that we are leading others to follow as we follow Christ together? Do we believe, in the face of obstacles and improbability, that a resurrection-like result is possible when the immediate evidence may say otherwise?
Often a leader does know or see something that others do not. Sometimes this knowledge or insight is because another has trusted and shared information with the leader. At other times it is because of the leader’s experience, intuition, or read of the situation. The leadership determination is what to do, or not do, with the knowledge you have. We see evidence of this in Jesus’ behavior with the disciples and Lazarus’s family at Bethany. Jesus operates among them with both knowledge and a great sense of timing and purpose. He has a bigger picture in mind. He is able to lead all who are involved toward the destination of his mission among them.
Both discipleship and leadership involve asking and inviting questions of discovery to which you as leader may (or may not!) know the answers. Jesus knew the answers to questions that he posed to the disciples and to Mary and Martha. But in posing the question “Do you believe this?” he provided them an opportunity for growth and faith.
Sometimes, as leaders and as disciples, we need to be reminded of what we believe, for it’s in the enactment of that belief that transformation is found. We are a people of resurrection. We are people of faith. We are people of hope. Do you believe this?
Adapted from Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith, 8 Questions Jesus Asked: Discipleship for Leaders (Judson Press, 2017), 67–82. Used by permission of the publisher. Order at www.judsonpress.com or 800–458–3766.
The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.