2015-11-13 - Believe in Jesus
Some of you may recall that a month or so ago, I asked you simply to read John 11:1-50, and let it speak to you. Please take a few minutes to pick up your Bible, open your phone app, or browse to an online version within your browser and read it again today.
As a recap, let me compress the text into 26 words.
This story is generally referred to as the Resurrection of Lazarus, but Lazarus is not the main character. The main character is Jesus. In fact, Jesus' name appears almost as many times as those of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus combined. John wants us to know about Jesus. Every story in his gospel is to tell us about Jesus. (John 21:25 NKJV - And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.) I want you to know about Jesus too. Christianity is not a religion, and Christianity is not a rule set; Christianity is a relationship with the very real God - Jesus Christ. If we used other words the same way we do Christianity, then I should also be into Dana-anity. She's my wife, but Christ wants a closer relationship than we even have with spouses.
I'm proud of my rhyming summary, but as great and catchy as that is, I think we miss the boat when we only view it as a story. Theologically, there is more to the story. The Bible's primary purpose is to teach us to grow in the image of Christ, not to tell us stories. It is ultimately a passage about faith in Jesus - and not just Mary and Martha's faith - but our own.
I think this passage deals with three areas of trust that can be a struggle for us all.
The first area of belief is highlighted in verses 1-16. The first couple of verses establish that Lazarus is sick, and that he is the brother of Mary and Martha. Verse 3 finds Mary and Martha just wanting the messengers to let him know. However, their later implications indicate they expected Jesus to drop everything and come to them. "If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died. If you had gotten here sooner, you could have healed him." The story is not going according to Mary and Martha's plan. They're not getting what they want.
In addition, the messengers didn’t get what they wanted when they wanted it. I imagine they probably ran in, told Jesus the news, and stood waiting for him to gather his stuff and race back with them. However, look at verses 5 and 6. He delayed, even though he loved them. What the heck! He delayed, even though heloved them. Certainly this was not the messenger's plan either. That delay seems backwards, but sometimes we do not do things because we love somebody, or at least we don't do it right then. I don't give my kids every toy they want, even though I love them, and at times, that makes the gifts even more special, because they are not expected.
So Jesus stayed and preached where he was, for two more days. He kept doing what God had already told him to do, where God had told him to do it. Then after Lazarus' death, he went to accomplish even more of God's work. As if the delay were not shocking enough, look at Jesus' words in verses 14 and 15. "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad, for your sakes, that I was not there, that you may believe." What is the issue we see? It is not illness or death - but belief. Just another sickness healing would not have put the events into motion, that needed to be put into motion for their faith to be increased.
We all like things to go according to plan, or more precisely, according to our plan. After all, we know what is best, right? Rather than trust our own plan, this story compels us to Believe in Jesus' Plan. Mary and Martha's plan was to tell Jesus, and let him fix the problem. The messengers' plan was to find Jesus and bring him back. Those sound like very reasonable and good plans. Jesus' plan was to get there in God's time, and to glorify him the whole time, so he delayed. Many years ago, Garth Brooks sang a song entitled 'Unanswered Prayers'. Its chorus echoes hauntingly in my mind as I read this passage, "Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs, that just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care. Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."1 There are many of my own prayers and plans that are like this: whom to marry, what career path to follow, where to live, and many more. And the "un-answer" winds up being the correct answer.
We may think we have it all figured out, but we should trust God - believe in his plan. Take comfort in verses like Romans 8:28-29. Don't fret. Take your problem to Jesus, and let him work on the timing. Tell God what you want, but trust him enough to decide what really is best - and be content with it.
Verse 17 begins with Jesus' arrival on the scene. Mary and Martha are a bit bitter and upset with him "IF you had been here…" A bitter and nasty woman's voice rings in my ears, when I read those words. I thought you loved us how; could You let this happen? You should have been here. It's Your fault, Jesus. Jesus hears their implications, and he hurts, so he cries. He is not grieving for them; rather he is grieved by them. They don't seem to get that he loves them and wants what is best for them.
Even the crowd, in verse 37, is full of the implications and blame. "This guy could've kept him from dying." They didn't grasp Jesus' power, either. How many of you have ever suffered a loss, and have not understood where God was in it? Just as Mary and Martha needed to increase their faith, so do we, so we can Believe in Jesus' Passion.
As my Dad spent the last months of his life fighting a losing battle cancer, I screamed and hollered at Jesus countless times. "IF you cared God you'd do something! IF you'd just show up in that hospital room, my dad could be made all better." But in those screaming sessions, I could feel Jesus draw me closer. God spoke to me a lot in a few songs during that time, including one by the artist Plumb entitled "Need You Now." On the way home, the night before he died, I knew he was very close to passing, and I screamed the words of that song at God. "How many times have you heard me cry out, 'God please take this'? How many times have you given me strength to just keep breathing? Oh I need you. God, I need you now."2 That night, though, my prayers changed, and I asked God not to take the cancer away - but to just take my dad. At that moment, God's peace came over me, as I felt the presence of a loving, passionate Christ hold me in his arms as I cried. You see, we pray not to change God's mind, but to change our hearts. God cares, and he truly knows what is best.
In love, Jesus realized the pain of the people, and He cried. I don't think he cried for Lazarus, because he knew what was going to happen soon. He weeps for the pain of humanity. He has compassion for us, and he cries for what we cry for. He cries over our lack of faith to believe that he is really always in control. He delayed because he wanted the faith of those he loved to grow. Healing would've have been an easy miracle, but resurrection… Come on…. Now that's something really spectacular! So trust God to love you enough to do what is best - not what is easiest.
If you believe in Jesus' plan to do what is best, and if you believe in Jesus' passion for you, then you must also Believe in Jesus' Power, as we see in verses 38-44. Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. Martha, Captain Obvious herself, states, "Surely he stinketh by now." That's kind of like saying a room full of teenage boys is going to smell bad. Whew! But also "Well duh!" Nevertheless, in spite of their protest, Martha or her sister must've consented, some men rolled it away, and Jesus called Lazarus out. Skeptics and naysayers probably had a field day with this for a few seconds. "Hey look at that crazy Jesus. Telling Lazarus to come out. That nut… Wait! What’s that? Is that Lazarus? OMG!"
Jesus had them roll away the stone. He uses our power to show his true power. Jesus who could raise Lazarus surely could have pushed away the stone. He cannot only save us from physical death, but even better, he has the power to save us from spiritual death. I was a good kid, so Jesus didn't save me from a horrible sin-filled life full of many of the world's top vices, but praise God he saved me from death and, when after salvation I fell away, he didn't un-save me. He held, on even when I was kicking and screaming. He has the power of life - abundant life, and eternal life.
God created us, way back in Genesis. This was not father God - but Jesus God. Go and have a look at John 1:1-4 and 14. The word is who created everything, and the word is Jesus who came to earth. God spoke. Or rather, the living word spoke the words of creation.
Now each of us are aware of God's plan, passion, and power - so like the people in this narrative, we must Beware of Our Predicaments. Verses 45-50 discuss the reactions to this faith-building miracle. It's all about belief in Jesus, but as we reach the end, we find we are in the same predicament the witnesses were. Some saw the miracle and believed. The Pharisees heard of it and despised Jesus; they decided he should die, but even that was part of God's ultimate plan.
It has been 2000 years ago since Lazarus was raised, but when John wrote, eyewitnesses were still around. You may choose to doubt or believe. But I can tell you he raised this dead sinner to a new life too, and I believe. As Moses told the people of God in the desert, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19 NKJV) What will you choose?
Just as Jesus' passion was for people, then his passion is still the same, and he has plans for you. His plan is that you not perish but have eternal life - right here, right now, starting today. Jesus has the power to raise up your life from whatever sin you may be buried in. He can do it. Will you let him? What will your choice be?
All scripture references from KJV (King James Version) unless otherwise noted