Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lazarus Moments

     Faith is such a complicated thing isn't it?  According to Hebrews 11, faith is believing what we cannot see.  There have been times in my life when  faith has come fairly easy for me, and other times when I have had to continually read and reread God's promises to hang on to even a shred of faith.  This is not because I did not believe God is who He says He is, but rather because I had played out circumstances in my head, knowing for certain that God was going to act and then struggled when things did not play out exactly as I had planned. Can you relate?  Have you ever been in a situation and been totally and completely baffled when the circumstances played out quite differently? Well, if so my friend then we are not alone.  We can look back in the Bible and see that we are in good company.  Take the events of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha for example.  The Bible tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and so when he got sick, his sisters sent word to Jesus to let him know.  Let's pick up the story at the beginning of John chapter 11:

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (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.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea,“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
     So basically at this point the sisters are wondering where Jesus is because they need him and he isn't showing up, and the disciples are wondering why on earth Jesus would want to go back to a place where he was and is very unwelcomed.  It seems that no one quite understood what was happening, and that things weren't going the way everyone else (besides Jesus) thought they should.  Take special note of verse 4 though where Jesus promises that this sickness will not end in death. Let's pick the story back up in verse 9:
"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[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I love this little extra lesson about 12 hours of daylight.  I am sure the disciples were wondering what on earth this tid bit of fact had to do with anything, but Jesus goes on to tell them that if you walk in the light you won't have trouble seeing.  It is my guess that what he is really saying is, "Hey I am the light, if you walk in me then you won't fall."  At this point we also realize that Jesus already knows that Lazarus has died, but the disciples are still confused as to what is going to happen. I would be to since Jesus just said this story was not going to end in death. I love that Thomas tells the rest of the disciples, "Hey let's go so we can at least die with him."  This is the same Thomas that later insists on sticking his hands into Jesus' side before he will believe that Jesus has been resurrected.  It makes me giggle a little when I read this, but I can relate to times when I have walked in obedience to Christ all the while thinking, "Well this isn't going to turn out well but I guess I'll go since you said I have to."  And so the disciples and Jesus set out for Bethany.  

"17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] 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.”
     I am so Martha here, "Jesus if you had been here (like I asked) then this would not have happened!"  I can hear the frustration and disappointment in her voice as she is broken by the circumstances she knows Jesus could have prevented.  She is wrestling with her faith, she had written the story a different way and now she is struggling to understand.  My heart has cried out this same cry, "God, where were you?"  Yet, she knows that Jesus is who He says He is and she offers up this last shred of faith, "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.”
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."
     Jesus promise Martha that He has the situation under control, but she still does not understand.  This is not what she had imagined.  Jesus asks her, " Martha, don't you trust me?" Well those weren't his exact words but that is the gist of his question.  Martha affirms her faith and then remembers her sister and goes to get her.  
"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."
     More misunderstanding.
"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?”
     Mary echos her sister's feelings here, "Jesus where were you?  You could have stopped this from happening." This part of the story always shakes me. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew that hope was going to be restored. He knew that in moments Lazarus was going to walk out of that tomb alive and well.  Yet, Mary's brokenness "deeply moved" Him.   Seeing Lazarus's sister so hurt by the circumstances (even though they were a part of a bigger plan) brought Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to tears.  Man, that is just incredible and humbling.  How many times has Jesus wept for me in the midst of my lack of understanding of the bigger picture, in the times where I have wrestled with the question, "Where were You, God?  If You had been here this wouldn't have happened?"  All the while my heart was breaking Jesus saw my agony and responded with tears of His own as He quietly whispered,  “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
  There are no words except to echo Martha, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

All of those watching shake their heads in awe and say, "See how He loves her."  And here we remember that if we walk in the Light we will not stumble, and others will see our faith, though small and wavering, and know that He is who He says He is.  But the story isn't over yet:

"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?”
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.”

   Oh friend, our story isn't over yet either.  No matter how hopeless of a situation we find ourselves in, Jesus can bring just the tiniest sliver of hope to it and before you know it, the tomb will be wide open and what we thought was dead can be brought back to life and we can dance with joy as Jesus proclaims, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."