Our Journey to a Bright Hope
Pr. Thomas Mathew (City Revival Church)
In John’s gospel account, in the Lazarus episode (John 11), we see the compassionate humanity of Jesus shining forth amongst the various portraits of Him as the Son of God. John, the beloved apostle, who leaned on the bosom of the Lord, creates a beautiful portrait of the Saviour, to breathe new life into the hearts of the weary pilgrims. These are times, when the hearts of men, even the strong saints of God, are filled with uncertainty and fear, weakness and despair. But as the Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe says: "When the outlook is gloomy, try the uplook". Through this beautiful passage, John invites us to look to Jesus in the dark days of our life, and be filled with the hope and joy that only he can give in our lives.
The Journey to Hope is not without its share of valleys and shadows and darkness. But each of these experiences teaches the believer the multi-textured portraits of our Lord Jesus. Such was the case with this blessed family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and my prayer is that our hearts will be filled with the Hope that the Lord gives, as we encounter Jesus in a new manner in John 11.
Jesus - The one who loves us (John 11:1-5)
In John 11:1-5, we see that Lazarus’ family was very close to the Lord. Jesus, as He travelled through and ministered, often passed through Bethany. And this place was like a pit-stop for Him where he could come and be refreshed. He could feel their warm love and welcome and He felt at home there. Jesus says in John 14:23 "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him". Such was the blessed state of this family. They loved Jesus - and Jesus loved them (John 11:5).
One may think, how can something bad happen to a family that soloves Jesus?! But the relation with the Lord is not a guarantee against the trials of life and the dark valley experiences, but God assures his presence and providence through even the darkest times of our life. When his beloved friend Lazarus was ill, the sisters inform Jesus about this, saying, "the one whom you love, is ill" (John 11:3). Yes Beloved; even in your illness and in your weakness, His love remains constant. In fact, Jesus responds and assures them that this illness doesn’t lead to death; it is for the glory of God and that the Son of God will be glorified through it. (John 11:5) Beloved, the question here is, do we give Jesus the same freedom in our life, where the Lord knows that even through the dark times, he can work in us and through us for His glory? Our intimacy with God may put us in places of trial (E.g. Job) but rest assured, he is with us in our trials, and he will be glorified through it.
Jesus – The one who sometimes delays (John 11:6-16)
No saint of God can ever boast that their prayers were always answered by God at the time that they expected. If in the earlier passage, we see Jesus as one who loves, in this passage, we see the Lord as the one who delays. In fact, the construction of John 11:5-6 implies that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus; Therefore, he stayed 2 days longer. This doesn't seem to be logical. We would think He would rush to Lazarus' side to heal him. But God's ways are different and his thoughts are far above ours.
Delays are a common test for the saint of God. Delays remind us that we are not the Lord of our lives; they test us and bring out the idols in us (E.g.Exo 32:4 - the incident of the golden calf); they test our obedience (E.g. 1 Samuel 13:9 - the disobedience of Saul); they force us to bring our desires and ambitions to the altar in consecration. But our God is a God of times and seasons, and he providentially displays his hand in ordaining our times and places (Acts 17:26), and we can say with contentment, that all things (including delays) indeed work together for the good of those who love God and those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28) I also believe that through the time He spent with them, Jesus prepared this family with a strong faith. He never allows us to be tested beyond our ability. As we see saints of God go through their trials, their strength and grace witness to the deep work that God has done in them.
We see that Jesus delays 2 days, and in those 2 days, Lazarus dies. (John 11:14-15)Beloved, when the Lord delays or doesn’t answer our prayer as we desire, remember his words in John 11:4;“it is for the glory of God - that the son of God may be glorified through it”.
Jesus – The one who reassures us in our grief (John 11:20-27)
This passage is all about Martha, and how she demonstrates her unshakeable faith in the Lord and the deep understanding of the things of God that she had. When Jesus enters the tragic scene of this family, Martha goes out to Him and makes her statement of faith – Firstly, that if Jesus were there when Lazarus was sick, he wouldn’t have died, and secondly, even now, it is not too late for Jesus to act! (John 11:20-22).
When Jesus responds to her that Lazarus would live, she accepts and submits to the thought that indeed, Lazarus maybe dead now, but he has an eternal life waiting for him, and that he shall indeed be raised on the last day. This showed both a Jewish understanding of afterlife, as well as a resigned submission to the current fate of Lazarus.
But in response to Martha, Jesus goes on to reveal an important truth about Himself. (John 11:25-26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The “I AM” statements of the Lord are a revelation of a unique salvific nature or attribute of Jesus Christ. It is immutable and sure, and such a revelation is given for the purpose of causing the reader to believe and know Jesus more intimately. Powered by this revelation, Martha makes the messianic declaration, that He is indeed Christ the son of God. (John 11:27).
Through this teaching, Jesus reassures us that even death is not the end for a Christian. The hope that he gives us goes beyond any earthly outcome – He assures us that if we believe in Him, we become partakers of the both the victory over death, and the blessed eternal life that He offers to His saints. As we go through these trying times, I believe that these words would infuse us with the hope that the Lord calls every saint of God to have. It is the reassurance of a resurrection, a glorification, of rewards, of joy unspeakable, of an eternity spent with the Lord in heaven. It is the victory of God that is captured in the beautiful song of hope
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know, He holds my future;
My life is worth the living because He lives”
Jesus – The one who weeps with you (John 11:28-37)
In a house which has just witnessed a bereavement, it is common to see the dear ones moved afresh to tears and weeping as a very dear relative or friend visits to console them in their grief. It triggers memories of joy and sweet fellowship, as they remember the times that they shared with the one who died. Likewise, as Jesus calls for Mary, we see Mary moved to tears and weeping before the Lord. This tender moment is made all the more poignant when John writes the shortest verse of the Bible – “Jesus wept”. Beloved, our grief causes the Lord to be deeply moved, and he always partakes of our grief. When Saul of Tarsus unleashed persecution against the infant Church, Jesus took it personally and said “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?”. As we read in Heb 4:15, we have a High Priest who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses and partners with us in our grief. He rejoices with us in the wedding at Cana, and he weeps with us in the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus – The Lord who resurrects us (John 11:38-44)
As Jesus approaches the tomb of Lazarus, we see the cave which has been secured by means of a stone. Jesus commands the stone to be taken away! The stone represents those hindrances which prevent the “dead” from hearing the “Word of God”. The reality of resurrection is always through the Word of God reaching into the realm of the dead. But before that happens, the hindrances have to be removed. Martha, ever the practical person, is concerned about the stench of the dead. But Jesus reassures her that “if you believed, you will see the glory of God”.
Jesus thanks the Father for hearing His prayer, and cries out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!” And behold, the man who was dead comes out! After the life came into Lazarus, the onus was on him to walk out of the tomb, however difficult that was. Then Jesus commanded - unbind him. Even those who are quickened and made alive still needed to have their bands loosened and released from the bondages. Through this mighty miracle, the Lord reminds us that we too can experience this. As we read in Rom 8:11, He shall indeed resurrect our mortal bodies and give us life through His Spirit. Indeed, the various dead situations of our life (be it marriage, job, church, spiritual life, family, etc) can still experience the resurrection power of God as we wait upon Him!
Dearly Beloved, John’s gospel is all about believing the person of Jesus, that you may have life in His name (John 20:31). Even this miracle that Jesus performs is a “sign” to the reader, which undergirds the truth that Jesus taught (“I am the resurrection and life”). In this passage and the following accounts, we see the transformed life of this family – Martha, who makes the messianic proclamation; Mary, who goes into a deeper consecration (John 12) and Lazarus, who becomes a living testimony of the resurrection power of God. In these days, may this devotional reading of John 11 fill our hearts with hope and empower us to be powerful and transformed witnesses for our Lord, who died to give us eternal life. May the daily encounter with the risen Lord give us “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow”, all the days of our life.