The Question for the Canyon’s Edge
by Max Lucado
The canyon of death.
Have you been there? Have you been called to stand at the thin line that separates the living from the dead? Have you lain awake at night listening to machines pumping air in and out of your lungs? Have you watched sickness corrode and atrophy the body of a friend? Have you lingered behind at the cemetery long after the others have left, gazing in disbelief at the metal casket that contains the body that contained the soul of the one you can’t believe is gone?
It is possible that I’m addressing someone who is walking the canyon wall. Someone you love dearly has been called into the unknown and you are alone. Alone with your fears and alone with your doubts. If this is the case, please read the rest of this piece very carefully. Look carefully at the scene described in John 11.
In this scene there are two people: Martha and Jesus. And for all practical purposes they are the only two people in the universe.
Her words were full of despair. “If you had been here … ” She stares into the Master’s face with confused eyes. She’d been strong long enough; now it hurt too badly. Lazarus was dead. Her brother was gone. And the one man who could have made a difference didn’t. He hadn’t even made it for the burial. Something about death makes us accuse God of betrayal. “If God were here there would be no death!” we claim.
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. And only the God of the Bible has dared to stand on the canyon’s edge and offer an answer. He has to be God in the face of death. If not, he is not God anywhere.
Jesus wasn’t angry at Martha. Perhaps it was his patience that caused her to change her tone from frustration to earnestness. “Even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus then made one of those claims that place him either on the throne or in the asylum: “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha misunderstood. (Who wouldn’t have?) “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
That wasn’t what Jesus meant. Don’t miss the context of the next words. Imagine the setting: Jesus has intruded on the enemy’s turf; he’s standing in Satan’s territory, Death Canyon. His stomach turns as he smells the sulfuric stench of the ex-angel, and he winces as he hears the oppressed wails of those trapped in the prison. Satan has been here. He has violated one of God’s creations.
With his foot planted on the serpent’s head, Jesus speaks loudly enough that his words echo off the canyon walls.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
It is a hinge point in history. A chink has been found in death’s armor. The keys to the halls of hell have been claimed. The buzzards scatter and the scorpions scurry as Life confronts death—and wins! The wind stops. A cloud blocks the sun and a bird chirps in the distance while a humiliated snake slithers between the rocks and disappears into the ground.
The stage has been set for a confrontation at Calvary.
But Jesus isn’t through with Martha. With eyes locked on hers he asks the greatest question found in Scripture, a question meant as much for you and me as for Martha.
“Do you believe this?”
Wham! There it is. The bottom line. The dimension that separates Jesus from a thousand gurus and prophets who have come down the pike. The question that drives any responsible listener to absolute obedience to or total rejection of the Christian faith.
“Do you believe this?”
Let the question sink into your heart for a minute. Do you believe that a young, penniless itinerant is larger than your death? Do you truly believe that death is nothing more than an entrance ramp to a new highway?
“Do you believe this?”
Jesus didn’t pose this query as a topic for discussion in Sunday schools. It was never intended to be dealt with while basking in the stained glass sunlight or while seated on padded pews.
No. This is a canyon question. A question which makes sense only during an all-night vigil or in the stillness of smoke-filled waiting rooms. A question that makes sense when all of our props, crutches, and costumes are taken away. For then we must face ourselves as we really are: rudderless humans tailspinning toward disaster. And we are forced to see him for what he claims to be: our only hope.
As much out of desperation as inspiration, Martha said yes. As she studied the tan face of that Galilean carpenter, something told her she’d probably never get closer to the truth than she was right now. So she gave him her hand and let him lead her away from the canyon wall.
“I am the resurrection and the life.… Do you believe this?”
From the newly released
God Came Near: Deluxe Edition
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 1987) Max Lucado