Grace For The Journey
I can’t get away from the powerful message of John 11. I know I have written about these verses in a recent blog or two. But the truths in this passage are truths that our world needs to desperately hear and experience. But, this chapter speaks directly to me – for Kay and I have known the pain and sorrow of losing family members. My precious wife and I have two daughters, who we were privileged to have the joy of having in our family – Ashley for 18 years and Cathy for 34 years – who are in heaven today. Ashley passed on in 2008 and Cathy went to heaven in 2010. While we still miss them, we look forward to the time when we will see them again in heaven. We stand and rest in the hope that Jesus provides in this encounter with two grieving sisters in this chapter.
So today, allow me to unfold and expound on these verses for a few moments. Jesus says in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus didn’t speak those astonishing words during a lecture in philosophy. He didn’t write them in a book of poetry. He spoke them in “the real world,” and to people just like you and me – people who lived, and worked, and enjoyed being with their loved ones; people whose lives were suddenly and abruptly interrupted by the great enemy of death. He spoke those words in the context of real sorrow; in the hearing of real people who were feeling the painful loss of someone that they loved. He spoke those words to people whose souls were starving for the hope of eternity. He spoke those words of victorious hope in order to give an answer to the loss felt by real, hurting people like us.
The Bible tells us in John 11 that Lazarus became gravely sick. Jesus was several days’ journey away at the time; and Lazarus’ two sisters sent a messenger to Jesus to tell Him, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (John 11:3). They believed that Lazarus was about to die; and they expected that Jesus – who had healed so many sick people – would come right away and heal His dear friend.
But the amazing thing is that Jesus didn’t come. Instead, He sent the messenger back with the strange message, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4). And then, Jesus stayed right where He was for two more days.
Finally, after two days, Jesus suddenly told His disciples, “’Let us go to Judea again.’ He told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’” (verse 11). Perhaps it was because His disciples remembered that He had said that the sickness wasn’t unto death; but for whatever reason, they didn’t understand. They said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well” (Verse 12). They thought it would be a little like going to wake Lazarus up to give him his sleeping pill! It was then that Jesus said something very remarkable – something that would be amazing to hear from a friend. He said, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad . . .” (verses 14-15a).
Taken by itself, what an odd thing to say! But that’s not all Jesus said. What He goes on to say indicated His sovereign purpose in all that was going on. He said, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him (verses 14-15).
By the way; do you notice a continual theme in all this? Jesus kept letting everyone know that there was a purpose in the sickness of Lazarus – and even in his death. Jesus asserted that it was for the glory of God “that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4), and “so that you may believe” (verse 15). Jesus was testifying that God was going to demonstrate something significant about Jesus in the events that were about to take place.
If I may pause here for a moment; there’s a lesson for us in that.
Sometimes, the things that seem so tragic and pointless to us are, in reality, the appointed means that our sovereign God uses to demonstrate the greatness of His wonderful Son, Jesus. It may seem to us at such times that God isn’t listening to our prayers, or that He’s being insensitive toward us – making us wait for no reason; when in reality, God is waiting for just the right moment to display His glory to us during those times of trial.
Such was certainly the case here; and I suspect such is very often the case for us – without our realizing it – in some of the difficulties and trials we face in life.
We should learn to trust Him,
Wait on His perfect timing,
Watch for the display of His glorious power.
As Jesus says later in this passage, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (verse 40).
And so, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Bethany. And when they arrived a few days later, they found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Many of the people from the city of Jerusalem had come to comfort Mary and Martha over the loss of their brother. And perhaps we aren’t too surprised to find that, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, Martha couldn’t even sit still and wait for Him to arrive. She left Mary sitting at the house and ran off to meet Jesus on the road.
Martha, no doubt, remembered what Jesus said – that “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4). And as Jesus drew near, I believe she felt a mix of emotions all at once – comfort at Jesus’ presence; grief over her brother’s death; disappointment because of Jesus’ delay; confusion about His promise; and – with it all – hope over what He might even still be able to do for her brother.
I can’t help but picture her in tears as she said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (verse 22). I also imagine Jesus being very tender toward her. I can imagine Jesus holding her by the shoulders, looking gently into her eyes, and saying, “Your brother will rise again” (verse 23).
Martha didn’t really understand what Jesus meant by those words. She thought He was simply saying one of those kinds of things that people say at such times when they just don’t know what else to say. And even though I believe her heart sank in despair for a moment, she wiped her tears away, nodded and said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (verse 24). Yes, Martha thought; Lazarus will “rise” on that great day – just as the Scriptures that all Jewish people read had promised. Martha was being what she always was: “practical”.
Martha was right to believe that Lazarus would be resurrected. But what she didn’t understand that the only One who had the power to fulfill the promise of the Scripture and raise the dead – whether on the last day, or right then, or at any other time – was standing right before her. She thought that “the resurrection” was – somehow – some independent event; and yet, Jesus asserted to her that the resurrection was inseparable from Himself.
Still looking her in the eyes, it’s then that Jesus uttered those important words; “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? And she said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” (verses 25-27).
And before we go on, I’d like to suggest to you that that is the main point that this story is seeking to bring home to us. On another occasion, Jesus said,
Verily I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:25-29).
Let that sink in.
The resurrection is not just an event.
It is a Person. Jesus is the Son of God.
All authority rests in Him. “Resurrection” is His initiative. The great hope of the resurrection is never to be seen as something that is somehow distinct from Him; because He Himself IS “the resurrection and the life”.
Now, Martha – ever the high-controller – ran back home, secretly called Mary, and said, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” Perhaps Martha did this secretly because she wanted their time with Jesus to be private. But whatever the motivation was for the secrecy, God clearly had other plans. It was His purpose in all this to display His glory before the eyes of all. When the Jewish people, who were there to comfort the two sisters, saw Mary jump up and run out, they thought that she was going out to the tomb of her brother to weep there. They, no doubt, thought that they needed to take care of Mary too; so they followed her out – only to find her fallen on the ground at the feet of Jesus.
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” she said – in the very same words that Martha spoke to Him. But interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t say the same thing to her as He had said to Martha. Instead, He looked upon her as she wept; and then He looked upon the Jews that came with her as they also wept. And the Bible tells us that “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (verse 33). “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked; and after they said to Him, “Lord, come and see” (verse 34).
That’s when we find those marvelous words, “Jesus wept” (verse 35). Why did Jesus weep? Wasn’t He about to raise Lazarus? He certainly wasn’t sorrowing for despair as they were. There can only be one reason. As it says in Hebrews 4:15-16,
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
When Jesus said that He was the resurrection and the life, He didn’t speak as if He were merely giving a lecture in theology. He spoke those words as a loving friend who felt very much the pain of the people around Him, and sought to set substantial hope and genuine comfort before them. As He went to the tomb weeping, Jesus not only made it plain that He knew what it felt like to lose someone through the great enemy ‘death’; He also made it plain that He is the only One who can conquer it.
Still groaning in His heart, the Bible tells us that Jesus came to the tomb. The tomb was a cave with a large stone rolled in front of it to close it off. It must have had a very ‘final’ look to it. And yet, Jesus commanded, “Take away the stone” (verse 39).
That’s when Martha just had to get her hand in again. “’Lord,’ she said, ‘by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’” Like I have said before: Martha is “practical”. But note those important words that Jesus spoke in response: “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? (verse 40).”
The Bible is breathtakingly plain in the way it described what happened next. It says;
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘“Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’” (verses 41-44).
Some say that Jesus had to call Lazarus out by name; otherwise all who were dead would have come out! And don’t miss the result: “Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had sent the things Jesus did, believed in Him” (verse 45).
Jesus went to great lengths to repeatedly affirm God’s purpose in all this. It was the Father’s plan to display His glory through His Son Jesus – the One who is “the resurrection and the life”. We find this purpose stated often in this passage. Jesus had said that “this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4). He even told His disciples that He was glad for their sakes that He was not there to save Lazarus’ life, “that you may believe” (verse 15). He told Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (verse 40). When He prayed, He even affirmed to the Father that it was so that those standing around would believe that the Father had sent Him (verse 42). And when it was over, many who saw did believe in Him (verse 45).
In Him we always have hope and a future!
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”