In John Chapter 11 we continue the story about Lazarus, whom Jesus would eventually raise from the dead. The sisters of Lazarus had come to Jesus for help while Lazarus was sick. The Bible says in John 11:5-6, "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was." The sisters of Lazarus went to Jesus for help, but Jesus waited two days before going to the town of Bethany where Lazarus lay sick. We know that Jesus waited because He wanted Lazarus to die. It was the will of God for Lazarus to die. "Itís appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away that which He has given. One of the best ways to understand and to accept death is to realize that God decides when we live, and God also decides when we die, and He knows what is best. For Lazarus, it was Godís will that he die, but it was also Godís will that Lazarus be raised from the dead.
The fact that Jesus did not give Mary and Martha what they wanted, when they wanted it is also a lesson for us to remember. Perhaps you have heard some people describe prayer as if God were some kind of genie who gives us whatever we ask and whenever we ask for it. But we are not in control of the great and mighty God. He is in control. He might give us what we ask, but He might not also. When we make our requests, we must always pray: may the will of the Lord be done. We will find that what happens to us will often be similar to what happened to Mary and Martha. God may not give us what we ask for when we ask for it, but He does answer our prayers, and He eventually works things out in a way that was much better than what we asked for in the first place. Sometimes, the wheels of God move slowly, but ever so finely.
The sorrow of death is suffered by those who are left behind. Of course, those who die suffer no more, if they go to heaven. Sometimes those who are left behind think that God caused their suffering, because they know that God could have kept their loved-one from dying. Perhaps thatís one reason that we are shown the story of Lazarus. If God lets someone die, itís for a good reason; and since everyone must die some day anyway; itís much better to accept the time that God chooses than to live in bitterness and regret for the rest of your life. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, but Jesus also raised Lazarus from the dead in order to be a reminder that He has the power to give everlasting life to all who believe.
In John 10:7-10 the Bible says, "Then after that says he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone you; and will you go there again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbles because there is no light in him." The disciples understood clearly that Jerusalem was a very dangerous place for Jesus to go. Jesus was a wanted man, a price was on his head, and the Jewish leaders were determined to do away with Him. Everyone knew it. But in spite of the dangers, Jesus had to do what He had to do. In the way that Jesus answered His disciples, He was telling them that one thing is more important than where you are physically, and thatís where you are spiritually. Thatís what Jesus meant when He said, "If a man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world." Some people plot, and plan, and prepare for where they will go in this world; but if they are not walking in the Light, they will stumble and fall in spite of all the plans that they have made. You need something more than yourself and your own knowledge in order to find your way in this world. If you go Godís way for you, it doesnít matter what else happens. If you walk in the light, you wonít stumble. Whatever happens will be Godís will. What the world views as being a failure, is not the same thing that God views as a failure.
In John 10:11-15 the Bible says, "These things said he: and after that he said unto them, Our friend Lazarus is sleeping; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he is sleeping, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent you may believe; nevertheless, let us go unto him."
Jesus said to them, "Our friend Lazarus is sleeping." The disciples did not know, but we know that Jesus was talking about Lazarus being dead. Jesus used a gentle term and a peaceful term to talk about death. Thatís because to God, death is not a horrible thing or a bad thing, itís a good thing for the believers. Life is a privilege and a gift from God, and we should make the most of our lives for as long as we have them; but when God decides that itís over, then itís a good thing for the believers. In this world the Christian shall have tribulations. Jesus said, "In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." In this world the Christian life can involve many struggles, and itís often compared to a war between good and evil. In this life we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual principalities and powers. Christians will have more than their share of the plagues and arrows of outrageous fortune, as part of the price of following Jesus who was Himself a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.
But the tribulations will end, and the sorrows will be no more once death comes, because for the believer "death shall be swallowed up in victory." It is through the door of death that we will enter into our final and most welcome rest. Do not sorrow for the dead. If they are with God, they are much better off than you are. Instead of saying that they are dead, you might want to use the language that Jesus used and say that they are taking their rest in sleep. To say that someone is dead makes it sound like their existence is over, and that you will never be able to see them or be with them again. And that is not true. But to say that someone is asleep, makes it clear that not only are they at rest, but also that they will awake out of their sleep when the time comes. Someone who goes to sleep will eventually wake up.
The disciples did not understand when Jesus told them that Lazarus was asleep, so He told them plainly that Lazarus was dead. And Jesus said that He was glad that He was not present when Lazarus was sick, because Jesus would have healed Lazarus. And then Lazarus would not have died, and then Jesus would not have raised Lazarus from the dead, and then the faith of the disciples would not have been strengthened. All things are tied together, and there is a purpose to all things. God can do anything, and the things that He allows to happen are for a reason. What was important to Jesus was that the faith of the disciples be strengthened. God is just as concerned that our faith be strengthened. Something that is more important than who lives or dies, is how strong is your faith. One of the good results that can always happen as a consequence of going through a great difficulty, is that you can come out the other side a better Christian with more faith. We will all see the trial of our faith, because our faith is more precious than gold that perishes.
In John 11:16 the Bible says, "Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him." The name that Thomas has been given over the years is ĎDoubting Thomas,í and he is best known for his great declaration of doubt when he was told that Jesus had risen from the dead and Thomas said that he would not believe unless he saw with his own eyes the wounds in Jesusí hands and side. All of the disciples had their moments of doubt, especially when Jesus was arrested and they all ran away like cowards. They were not so much different from us, after all. Thomas was probably a very reasonable and logical person, but he tended to be negative and to view the negative side of things. He correctly saw that something bad might happen, but he went too far and began to think that something bad happen would definitely happen. Thatís negative thinking. You canít have faith and be negative.
Christians should be the most positive people in the world. Even though Jesus told us that in the world we would have tribulation, He also told us to be of good cheer because He had over come the world. How can we be negative when we know that with God all things are possible? How can we look at the bad side of things when we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and to them that are called according to His purpose?
Thomas looked at things in the most negative way possible. He knew that there was a plot to kill Jesus. He knew that the Jewish leaders had the power to carry out their purposes, and he knew that he and the rest of the disciples were also in danger. It was very possible that if they went back to Jerusalem, they would all be killed. But something else was also possible. It was also possible that not all of them would be killed. It was possible that God is wiser than man and stronger than man. Itís also possible that God controls the evil that evil men are determined to do. As it turned out, only Jesus died, because that was the will of God. And even that which seemed to be negative was allowed to happen for the eventual salvation of everyone who believes. Things were not near as bad as Thomas thought that they were. As in most of our cases, the worst did not happen. And even if it did, it would have been the will of God, and God would have used the worst for good purposes.
In John 11:17-24 the Bible says, "Then when Jesus came, He found that he had laid in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was near to Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs away: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat in the house. Then said Martha to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatever you will ask of God, God will give it to you. And Jesus said to her, Your brother shall rise again. Martha said to him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
There was one thing about Martha that was very good. Even though this great tragedy had just happened to her and her sister, she did not lose faith in God. She still came to Jesus to what He would do for them. There are people in this world, who when they suffer some great tragedy such as the untimely loss of a loved-one, blame God and become bitter against God, knowing that God could have kept it from happening. After Job lost his wealth, his family, and his health he still said in response to the temptation to curse God, "Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him." Itís much better to come to God after suffering a tragedy and find grace to help, than to lose faith and become bitter.
Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise from the dead. Martha was aware of the promise that there would be a great resurrection one day for those who died in faith. But she was thinking of the future. If we are not careful, we also will begin to think of the promises of God as only being fulfilled some day way off in the future, and to lose the joy and hope that Jesus can do anything today as well the future. Jesus was preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead that very day. Donít give up on God. He not only has a great future prepared for you: He may also do something for you today, when you least expect it. Thatís the goodness of God, and thatís why it can be an exciting thing to follow God.
In John 11:25-26 the Bible says, "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" One of the stories about the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon was that he was told by the Indians in Florida that there was a fountain of youth, and that if he found the fountain of youth and drank from it that he would never die. Of course, there was no such thing as a fountain of youth. But there is something better. There is Jesus. There is no special place on the earth where you must go to find everlasting life. Some people think that they must go to a special city such as Lourdes or Rome or Jerusalem or Mecca, or somewhere else where someone has seen a vision. But such pilgrimages will not take care of your most important need: to find life that continues beyond the grave. There is no place where you must go, but there is a person to whom you must go: the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said many things to describe Himself. He said, "I am the Son of God," and "I am the Light of the world." To the Jews He simply said, "I am," and they knew what He meant. But this time Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Jesus also made clear how to partake of the resurrection that He offers. He said, "He that lives and believes in me shall never die." There is one requirement for the human to partake of the resurrection: to believe. If you trust in Jesus, He will take you through death and into eternity.
Copyright; 2000 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
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