Photo credit to Abigail Vencil Photography
…and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe, but let us go to him.” John 11:15
What are You saying here, Jesus? Are You saying that it’s better to let people go through some pain and suffering? Are you kidding? Who wants that? But if I go through some pain and suffering that You have allowed, that You have purposely placed in my life, it will lead me to believe in a way that I would not believe had I not had to suffer? This is hard stuff here.
We remember the hard stuff though. It makes the greatest impression in our lives. I suppose it either makes us or breaks us. We either rise above it or we get caught up in it. But it seems as though You are telling me today that if I follow You and listen to You in the midst of this suffering, You will raise me above it and draw me closer to You. Could that be true?
Well, what was truly going on here that day in time? Your friend Lazarus had gotten really ill. You had spent time with him and his sisters Mary and Martha on other occasions before. As a matter of fact, You had really impacted them, especially Mary. She was the one who had anointed Your feet and wiped them with her hair. And here they were, sending a messenger to You, that their brother Lazarus, who was a friend of Yours, was ill.
Maybe You just thought he had a cold. Except, You are God and You know everything about us. And that word for ill or sick in Greek, “astheneo,” ” (weak) could mean sick or impotent or feeble, but it also means powerless or without strength (the literal meaning).” (Skip Moen) Now, I’m just a feeble human, so I have to figure out what people mean when they say things, but You are God and You were God and man that day, so You weren’t feeble and You didn’t have to figure it out. But there were things that You wanted Your followers to figure out.
Now here Mary and Martha were at home, worried for their brother. You get the news and You tell Your disciples “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” But I don’t think that news was just to Your twelve disciples. And this is important. The messengers came and told You the news about Lazarus and then You said this. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” This statement was made in the presence of the messengers so the messengers got to take that news back to Mary and Martha and Lazarus. So they get this news even though You don’t come with the news. You sent Your word. Your word is true. Always.
That’s so important for us to remember, well, not just remember, to actually realize, to actually grasp. It’s so important it’s listed three times in the Old Testament in almost exact words. I find it in 2 Samuel 22:31, “This God–His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in HIm.” Then it comes out again in Psalm 18:30, “This God–His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” And then we see this truth reiterated in Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” That tells me something. That tells me that these two speakers (two of these were from David), so I’d say He was really excited about this realization, and the other was Solomon) got it, that they grasped this truth about You and announced it for us to grasp too. And if they grasped it, so can I.
You waited two days and went around Your “normal” business. Then You turned Your direction toward Lazarus and Mary and Martha. The twelve weren’t even thinking about Lazarus any more. They were just worried about Your welfare. But You were still thinking about Lazarus. You shared Your purpose, “It’s time for me to wake him up now.” They thought You meant he was sleeping, but you knew he was dead. Wait a minute! Stop right there! You SAID, “This is not unto death.” What just happened?
You really want us to think about death through Your eyes. I mean, there is this part of death, and it was true in the Greek mindset, that death was just a natural process that happened to all living things. It’s natural, no problem. But that’s not true. Death is a problem. Biblically it’s not natural. In the beginning, death did not exist. Death was a result of sin. “Death is the terrible waste of life…Death is the exact opposite of God’s passion for life. It is an enemy wherever it is found, even on the cross. Death is the result of deliberate, responsible choice. It is not an accident of nature…” (Skip Moen) Hebrews 9:27 tells us that everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God. But there is this different death that is more powerful than the physical death. And it takes really tough stuff for us to get it. And that’s what You were teaching here. Paul put it this way, “How shall we who have died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:2 What?
Death separates us from life. Sin separates us from God in the same way. But the good news is that through Jesus and our dying to self and living in Him, He has separated us from sin just like death separated us from life. He has severed the power of sin over us! Skip makes this statement I love, “Dead men don’t respond (unless Yeshua, speaks to them!)” And isn’t that exactly what happens with Lazarus? Didn’t You call out his name and separate him from the power of death over him? Wasn’t that You showing that You had the power to separate Lazarus from the power of sin and set him apart for You? Isn’t that what You had promised by the word that You sent? Your word is ALWAYS true.
The problem sometimes is that some of us, who have walked out of the tomb at Jesus’ command in our lives, still live like dead men. The point is, stop, listen, remember, realize, we’ve been given freedom in Christ. My past has NO power over me. Jesus has set me free. He is my power now. The power of addiction, or old habits, or old thoughts has been severed, absolutely, by Jesus.
Redemption, in Hebrew thinking, (which includes deliverance, salvation, return), is only valid as long as there is some “immediate threat to life itself.” You need to be redeemed, saved from something. Jesus had to wait until Lazarus died. He couldn’t save Lazarus until the threat was there. And the greatest threat for the Jew was death. Remember how David fasted for his son while there was hope and then stopped fasting the moment death came? Death was a finality on earth. Death was the threat. Galatians 4:4-5 states “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus, You are showing us what it means to be bought back from the law of sin and death. Here is an “object lesson” through Lazarus. You demonstrated it fully through Your own resurrection from the grave. So You must raise each one of us to newness of life in You.
I suppose we are all like dead mean walking before we surrender to You. “To be redeemed is to be brought back to life! So if we have been separated from sin in the same way that death separates us from life, then obviously sin has no more authority, no control, no influence on us.” (Skip Moen) So, Jesus, You waited for Lazarus to die so that You could show that only in You is life. Only in You can we have true life now and forever. Only in You is full redemption and freedom. “Lazarus, come forth!” And You even think about getting his grave clothes off of him so they don’t hinder him.
So, did it all have to be so hard on everyone? Yes. It’s never easy leaving Egypt. We have to give up our milk and honey. We have to change the habits we’ve established and grown accustomed to. We have to change the way we think and how we act. We have to let go of things. Leaving Egypt behind took how long? 40 years. Forty years in ease? I don’t think so. It was 40 years in the wilderness, 40 years of learning to trust You. Was it supposed to be easier for Mary and Martha and Lazarus? Was it supposed to be easier for the disciples? Is it supposed to be easier for me?
But for my sake, I’m glad that You take me through tough stuff. I’m glad that You are investing in me enough to teach me what it is to die to self and live in You. And I’m desperately needy for Your word to have it’s way in me. Because without You, I’m just a dead man walking. And I can’t speak life into myself. I’ll only do what’s natural. But because You have the power, the only power, to call me forth, to wake me up, to bring me to true life, I now live! And Lord, for every painful thing that You are taking me through, thank You, because each one brings me into greater life and greater closeness with You. And Lord, don’t let me walk around in this newness of life in You with any old gravecloths still stuck to me. What a waste that is of what You have done. Thank You, Lord, for continually working on me to open my eyes and my walk to understand and live out in the reality of what You have done in and for me.