A powerful movie, and today a play on words. Today, I want to take a look at an old Sunday School lesson that we should never forget. Take the few minutes today to follow me and read along. I think you'll be glad if you do.
Throughout our lives, we encounter very difficult circumstances. It’s to be expected: Jesus told us we should expect hardships in this world:
When others wound us- especially other believers!
When we face difficulties with our finances and our Jobs
When we look at the state of our families, friendships, or marriage
When the political environment is rough
When we struggle with ongoing sin
And get a grip on this truth: JESUS EVEN TOLD US THAT SOMETIMES HE WOULD BE THE CAUSE OF OUR HARDSHIPS! Wow...
In this life, we may get season of rest but hardship never ends! (And I do not know how people without Jesus keep going!)
Handling death must be the greatest difficulty of all! It’s one we all face! One of the greatest parts of the Bible is seeing how God interacts with us lowly humans!
It’s told only in the book of John- a very powerful story!
Let's look at what the Bible says in the book of John 11:1-7:
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
What's the background to this text? It's something very important to consider as you read the text. At this point in time, The Twelve had already seen Jesus feed the 5000, walk on water, heal the blind man- and more! Jesus and his disciples had just been in Judea, a very difficult place of ministry for him. Then he was back in Jerusalem where they tried to stone him for claiming to be God (10:30).
Very important to consider here is that Jesus was about 1 month away from His crucifixion- his time on earth was winding up.
What can we learn as we did deeper into the text?
God Always Knows What is Best, Always Does What is Loving- Even when it defies human logic and even when we cannot recognize God's hand at work. The truth is this was a family Jesus loved. Lazarus was very sick, and it's personal for Jesus. In spite of other's expectations, Jesus chooses to stay focused on what the Father is doing.
It may not look like it at the time- Was Jesus being cruel to Mary and Martha by staying in Jerusalem two more days- then he suggested going back to Judea? Bethany was less than 2 miles from Jerusalem! (vs 18) What was he thinking? He could have easily arrived in time! Imagine- The sisters’ messenger comes back and tells Mary and Martha, “Jesus heard what we said and decided not to come help Lazarus.”
How would you feel if it were your brother?
This caused a crisis of faith in both sisters! Isn’t it the same with us? I know it is with me! I love how down to earth the Bible is!
I happening now in your life? What circumstances has God allowed that you don’t understand?
In crisis, we begin to doubt God’s very character, His very nature:
Is He good? Is He kind? Does He care?
Does He think about me?
Does He know what I’m going through?
Why is He taking so long?
Why is He taking so long?
And if you're like me, you're not very patient to let God work things out.
Notice in Verse 4 Jesus tells them Lazarus sickness will not end in death. Seven times Jesus says “Lazarus will live” in one form or another! (vs. 4, 11, 14, 23, 26, 40, 44) But let’s keep reading.
Look now at verses 8-17:
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (Emphasis mine.)
There’s much that could be said here, but I’ll mention three points:
1- Verse 14- Jesus tells them directly that his goal is “So that you may believe”. It’s his ultimate purpose in our lives as well! Then He wants us to share the Good News so God is glorified and many are brought to faith in Him.
2- Verse 15- How could Jesus say “For your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there”?
Just like any good mystery movie or book or tv show, we have to wait until the story’s over to understand how it all works together- just like our lives, too!
3- Verse 16- Sometimes, just like Thomas, we don’t get what God is saying and doing!
In between verses 16 and 17-
Jesus misses the burial, a large stone is rolled over the entrance to the tomb. Only wealthy people or those of high social status could afford this. Common people buried the body and covered it with rocks.
Lazarus has been dead four days. Four days! Upon death, brain cells die starting at 3-7 minutes once the heart stops; Bone and skin cells survive for several days; Blood starts draining and the skin takes on a grey color or deep purple where the blood pools in the lower half of the body. As time goes on...
- At 30 minutes, the eyes shrink into the skull
- At 3 hours, the muscles stiffen
- At 24 hours, the body is cold and smells of rotten meat
- At 3 days, the point Lazarus was at- the lungs expel fluid, the pancreas digests itself and maggots begin to eat the body.
Imagine how bad he looked and how bad he smelled!
Of course at this point, Mary and Martha have a crisis of faith. (Should we expect less? How would we react to the situation?)
Continuing on with John verses 18-28:
18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
1- Martha 2- Mary 3- The people, as many prominent people had come to the sisters to their grief.
Here’s Martha- first one to meet Jesus. She had always been the hard worker; the one Jesus had to remind to wait and to worship.
She understands doctrine but cannot see what God is going to do!
In Verse 22, hope rises up in Martha: “I know God will give you whatever you ask”- and she makes her request known in a subtle way. Then in Verse 27, she says “I know you are the Messiah”- her confession of faith!
Now it’s Mary’s turn…
Let's look at verses 28-37.
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
So here's Mary- Scripture shows her as the adoring one. The one who knew how to take the time to be with Him. Mary remains at home instead of going out to meet Jesus- but finally goes out in desperation. This seems faithless, but it serves a purpose. Mary’s delay has a benefit- many people follow her out- and end up seeing what happens!
Mary says, "If only you’d been here!" It's the same question as the one her sister asks. A very human reaction- and honestly, one we always ask of God when we're in a crisis. But the sisters are not the only ones asking.
The people watching- and people are always watching each other- say "Couldn't Jesus have kept Lazarus from dying? He'd opened the eyes of the man who was blind?! In this, we can see that even the eyes of those who did;t believe had been opened- their faith had been awakened.
What can we learn here?
A- People Change as They Encounter Jesus! (Martha is transformed!)
B- Even the very faithful will be brought to a crisis of faith! For His purposes!
C- What is our strength can in other times be our weakness and visa versa. (Mary is contemplative but now stuck in grief. Martha is a doer- then a negative- but now this enables her to go out and meet Jesus.)
D- Sometimes God has to speak to us over and over about the same things. By this point in time, Jesus had told the people 5 different times that Lazarus would live. Even his disciples were told and didn't get it. Often we need to be told repeatedly, don’t we?
E- Sometimes we still don't believe.
Sometimes we need to be told in different ways – or even sometimes bluntly- the things God wants us to understand. It’s one reason God encourages fellowship!
Those of you that are parents understand this truth, having to remind your children of what you will do, that you love them, or what the consequences of their actions will be.
What does Jesus do in the midst of all the commotion?
Verse 33- Jesus groaned and Verse 35- Jesus wept. Why?
1- He knew his time on earth was short, and He saw that even those closest to him, those who had seen so much, were still having a difficult time believing all he had said.
2- Would his mission endure in the hands of a bunch of teenaged disciples? (One of the Twelve was probably data-blogger-escaped-comment- in his early twenties at most. Grasp that for a minute! God Himself entrusts his most important message to two handfuls of passionate teenaged men.)
3- He was 100% human and 100% God. The disciples including the sisters, doubted His love for them. Imagine how hard it was for Jesus, especially since he was soon on his way to the cross.
The next few verses tell us more. Look at 38-44:
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Many people- and many important Jews- are all around now, watching and waiting. The stone is moved- but Martha’s concerned with the condition and smell of her brother. The suspense builds. The crowd watches Jesus. What will Jesus do? Will He really raise him from the dead?
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
For their benefit, Jesus did everything he did- even delaying is arrival on the scene.
Jesus looks up to heaven and says loudly (so everyone can hear)-
o “I know you always hear me."
o I say it for their benefit so the would believe you sent me.”
o “So they would believe I am the Messiah (the Savior) that you sent.”
Then He finally says the words everyone is waiting to hear: “LAZARUS, COME OUT!
No doubt about it. Jesus commands it, making sure everyone heard!
What once appeared as lack of care from the Sister’s view (If you’d come, he’d be alive)- now becomes one of the greatest gifts Jesus gives while on earth! Imagine understanding first hand that the God you worship, the God you know and love, overcomes death!
God could shortchange YOUR process- but He desires the better thing for you! He wants you to now how much He loves you- and that He died for you for payment of YOUR sin. You might be in the midst of difficulties or what looks impossible, but your story is not over yet.
What challenges are you facing right now?
Does it seem as if it doesn’t make sense- or worse- that God doesn’t care?
What could be the gift He is giving you as you go through these struggles?
Sometimes we have to wait for the end of OUR story to see how God makes all things work together for our good!
We can bounce back from our crisis of faith, stronger than before in our belief of who Jesus is: In Chapter 12 of John, after Jesus raises Lazarus, we see Mary anointing Jesus with very expensive perfume worth a year’s wages. She finally understood that gaining Jesus is worth everything this world can offer!
Remember, He has overcome the world! And He will never leave you or forsake you! He has conquered death!
In the Book of Romans, chapter 8, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus leaves you with the same Spirit INSIDE OF YOU that raised Him from the dead- HE LIVES IN YOU!You have the power to endure, the power to do His will, the power to do all He did- and more (!)- the power to bless others and proclaim Him to a dying world!
Let me encourage you here: Keep going. God is working in it all!
If you do not know Jesus personally, take a moment to consider His claims. He says He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life- that one one comes to eternal life with God the Father except through relationship with and surrender to Him... the only one to give his life up for our sakes and to be raised from the dead as the Victorius King.