How can we do greater works than Christ? Part 3

“If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:14

We are learning from Jesus how to do greater works than He did on earth. We can do this when we…

– Grow closer to His Person (John 14:7-11).

– Grasp His promise (John 14:12).

The third and final way to do greater works than Christ is to GET HIS POWER THROUGH PRAYER (John 14:13-14). Christ is wanting His disciples to continue His work and do even greater things than He had done (John 14:12). The disciples may have thought, “Lord, how can we do greater things than You have done? We are lowly, inadequate, uneducated followers of You.”

Jesus knew their hearts and assures them. “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13). This leads to the third way we can do greater works than Christ. After His death and resurrection, Christ would ascend to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:9-11). It would be at that time that the disciples would have the privilege of asking God the Father in Jesus’ name to give the help they needed. The power to reveal the Father and Son would come through prayer in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ help would be provided so that as the Son had glorified the Father when He was on earth, so the Son would glorify the Father through His disciples even though He would be in the Father’s house preparing a place for His followers to live.

“If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:14). The word “anything” indicates that there is no limit to the power of prayer. Not only does the Father answer prayer, so does the Son (John 14:13-14). It is okay to pray to Jesus as seen here and in other verses (cf. Acts 7:59; Revelation 22:20). What does it mean to ask anything in Jesus’ name? This does not refer to a formula to tack on to the end of a prayer nor is it a magical charm like an Aladdin’s lamp. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray what Jesus would pray. How do we know what Jesus would pray? Look into His Word. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). To abide in Jesus is to obey His commandments (cf. John 15:10; I John 3:24).

How can we let Jesus’ words abide in us? Read, meditate, study, and memorize His Word. God has given us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen to His Word twice as much as we talk to Him. Before I spend time in prayer, I like to listen to the Lord by reading and studying the Bible. This helps my thoughts and desires to line up with His. That way, when I pray, I am more likely to pray what Jesus would pray.

In the context of John 14:7-12, Jesus desires that His disciples make the Father known through His words and works. Charles Ryrie refers to prayer in Jesus’ name in this way: “It is like using a power of attorney which a very dear loved one has given you.” 1 A power of attorney is a person who has been given the authority to manage the affairs of another person such as signing their checks, etc. You are given the authority to accomplish their desires, not your own. Someone who gives his name for another, steps aside to let that person act for him. When Jesus left His ministry to join His Father in heaven, He gave the management of His ministry to His disciples. He gave them and us His name to withdraw all the supplies we need from heaven to carry on His work. We are to use His name to accomplish His desires and to glorify Him.

For example, I cannot pray in Jesus’ name for Christ to help me rob a bank and expect Him to say, “Yes,” to my prayer because that would be contrary to God’s will and fail to glorify Him. But I can expect God to say “Yes” to my prayers when they are in line with what will glorify Him. So if I ask Jesus for opportunities to share the gospel with non-Christians, I can expect Him to say, “Yes,” because that is His will and it will bring glory to the Father (cf. Mark 16:15; Colossians 4:3).

How can we do greater works than Jesus? How can His words and works flow through us to others? Get His power through prayer in His name. We are to stand before God in Jesus’ name. We are to represent Jesus on earth before God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Christ, on the other hand, represents us in heaven in prayer before God (Romans 8:34b; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus always prays for us according to the Father’s will.

What is our relationship to Jesus’ name? The power it has on our lives is the power it will have on our prayers. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17). God does not look at our lips, but at our lives to see what the name of Jesus means to us. When Jesus’ name is everything to me it will accomplish everything. If I let Jesus’ name have all I have, His name will let me have all it has. Let’s use the name of Jesus to open the treasures of heaven for this perishing world without Christ! God the Father will honor the name of His Son by giving us what we need to reveal His words and works to a lost world!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for the privilege of praying to You and the Father for what is needed to accomplish Your mission here on earth and glorify the Father in heaven. There is no way I can carry on Your work in my own strength. I need Your power to share the gospel with the lost, and to baptize and teach believers to obey all your commands (Matthew 2819-20). It is in Your mighty name that I pray for You to open the treasures of heaven so Your gospel message will spread throughout this world and disciples of Christ will be multiplied. Thank You for praying for me, Lord Jesus. I look forward to how Your prayers will be answered today. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1976), p. 1629.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 4

“Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” John 12:17

We are learning from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (John 12:9-19), that God wants to lead His children into victory through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14). So far we have learned that God does this…

– Through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11).

– By providing a spiritual triumph (John 12:12-15).

– By changing the way we perceive life (John 12:16).

The fourth and final way Jesus leads us to victory is BY PROCLAIMING HIS RESURRECTION POWER TO OTHERS (John 12:17-19). This is what those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead did. The Bibles tells us, “Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” (John 12:17). This is a different group of people from the “great multitude” (12:9, 12). Those who had witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were telling others now. When people have been impacted by the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus, it is difficult for them not to tell others about it.

This reminds us that Jesus did not save us so we could keep the good news of His resurrection power to ourselves. No, He saved us so we could proclaim this life-giving message to those who are perishing without Him. When we tell others what Jesus has done for us, Christ’s following will grow even larger just as it did soon after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The world needs this good news today especially in light of all the chaos and calamities taking place. Spread some everlasting hope by telling others what Jesus has done for you!

“For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.” (John 12:18). Other groups wanted to go meet Jesus when they heard about this miraculous “sign.”They wanted to see the One who had done the impossible and raised the dead! Hence, the people are growing in their excitement about Jesus – but not all of them.

“The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’ ” (John 12:19). The Pharisees are unbelieving and pessimistic. They see the crowd being swept up with enthusiasm toward Jesus and blame each other for the defeat of their plots against Jesus. “Your efforts (not ours) have failed. Look, the whole world is following Him now!” Ironically, the Sadducees had advertised to “find” Jesus (cf. John 11:57). Well they can find Him now along with thousands of His followers.

We see here a human attempt to carry out their plans versus the supernatural working of God. Sometimes we are no different than the Pharisees. We may want people to follow us instead of Jesus because we are looking in the wrong place for victory. Victory is found in the resurrection power of Christ, not in popularity or the approval of others. The more we make Jesus’ resurrection power known to others with our life and lips, the more He can lead us to victory in our Christian lives. After all, we also need to hear this good news even after we have been saved for years!

Look in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” God wants to lead us to victory by having us preach the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the lost. When we preach the gospel, we are pleasing to God (“to God the fragrance of Christ”), regardless of the response of those who hear it. “From death to death” probably means from the death of Christ, that the apostles preached in the gospel, to the eternal death of those who reject it (cf. John 3:36b). “From life to life” probably means from the resurrection of Christ that they preached in the gospel, to the eternal life and future resurrection of those who believe in Jesus (cf. John 11:25-26).

Two triumphs in Christ – a spiritual triumph at His First Coming was accomplished on the Cross and established peace in heaven (Isaiah 9:6a; Luke 19:38; John 19:30; Colossians 2:15). The second triumph is material and will take place at His Second Coming (Isaiah 9:6b-7; Luke 2:14). Revelation 19:11-21 describes this second triumph:

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

Are you prepared for this second triumph of the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation period to rescue believers and destroy His enemies? Those who have believed in Christ for eternal life are eagerly awaiting this day because of the spiritual triumph He provided at the Cross during His First Coming to earth.

However, it will be a horrific day for everyone who has rejected Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Do not be among them if you have not believed or trusted in Christ alone for eternal life yet. Simply take Him at His Word when He promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Do you believe Jesus’ promise? He guarantees that you now have everlasting life which cannot be lost (John 10:28-29). Let His Holy Spirit lead you in the triumph of Christ by changing the way you look at life.

If you now understand and believe the spiritual triumph of Christ on the Cross, and you are believing or trusting in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone does that. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner who deserves to be separated from You forever because of all the wrongs things I have thought, said, and done. I believe in Your spiritual triumph whereby You died in my place on a cross for all my sins and rose from the dead so I could have peace with God in heaven the moment I believe in You. I am now believing or trusting in You alone, Lord Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to give me everlasting life now and a future home in heaven. Thank You that Your resurrection guarantees my own in the future. Please use me now to tell others of Your death and resurrection so they also can believe in You for everlasting life and prepare for Your second triumph when You will return on the clouds in glory at the end of the Tribulation period to defeat all Your enemies and establish Your Kingdom on earth. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 1

“But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” John 12:10-11

There are times when we think that if we could acquire something or change, we could be more at peace. Things would be better for us. We may even make promises to ourselves. If this would be different, I would be happier. Yet if we succeed in acquiring something or changing something it seems like something takes its place and we start acquiring or changing something all over again. And on it goes. If that will be different then I will be happy. When that changes, then I will have peace and things will be okay. It seems like a cycle that goes on in our lives. 

For example, we tell ourselves, when COVID-19 is over, then I will be happy. Or when I am released from jail, then I will have peace. When I get a job… get married… have children… get a house… go on vacation… get new clothes… get a new car… get a faithful group of friends, then I will be happy. We tell ourselves things like this, don’t we? We focus on these things and promise ourselves that when this happens, then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But what about the time from now until we acquire or change that something we are aiming for? What are we like during that time? What type of attitude do we have? Are we happy or at peace then? What about the great fade? Lets’ say we are achieving or acquiring something. You know, you get there and it fades on you? Like sand slipping between your fingers. You arrive there and you thought it would be so much better, but it is not. So, we go on to something else. We set up a new hope because what we came to faded on us and it did something we did not expect.

Or what if we become convinced that the situation or person will not change? I’m going to have to live with this situation in my life, these circumstances, these issues in my life that make me unhappy? Are we going to have this heavy ball and chain attached to our emotional hearts the rest of our lives? Dragging it around? Oh, I will just have to live with this. I have tried to acquire something different or change this, or remove that, but I have been defeated at every turn. At that point we may ask, where is the victory of Jesus in our lives when we face challenges? Where is that joyous victory in Jesus when things don’t go the way we had hoped? Where is the victorious Christian life when problems do not go away? If God is God, why doesn’t He change this and make it better?

The key issue here is to ask where am I looking for victory? Is it in some external event or happening? Is it possible you are looking in the wrong place? Ask the Lord, “Teach me, Lord, to look in the proper place for the triumph of Christ.” We may be expecting a type of victory that God is not primarily concerned about. We must look in the right place for victory.

The Bible is clear, God wants to lead us in to His Son’s triumph. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14). For the next few days we will look at Jesus’ triumph in John 12:9-19. How does Jesus lead us to victory?

The first way is THROUGH HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 12:9-11). In the context of this passage, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead about three weeks earlier (John 11). Six days before the Passover, Jesus had an evening meal with some dear friends – Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Simon the leper, and the Twelve disciples (John 12:1-8; cf. Mark 14:3-9). On the next Sunday, a great crowd came to Bethany of Judea to see Jesus. “Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:9). But the crowd did not come “for Jesus’ sake only,” but also to see the one whom Jesus “had raised from the dead.” “Was it true what they heard? Was Lazarus truly alive?” They had to see for themselves.

But not everyone was excited to see Jesus and Lazarus. “But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also.” (John 12:10). The chief priests met together and decided to put Lazarus to death because a living Lazarus was irrefutable evidence that Jesus was who He claimed to be – the Son of God. What did Lazarus do wrong? He was simply raised from the dead. The word “also”indicates that they wanted to kill both Lazarus and the One who had raised him from the dead because both of them were rapidly growing in popularity. In John 11:50, Caiaphas said one man must die for the nation. But one man was not enough. Now two men had to die. Maybe the chief priests thought if they killed both Jesus and Lazarus, Lazarus would remain dead and less people would believe in Christ.

Because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (John 12:11). When the people saw Lazarus alive, they abandoned the religious leaders and believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Lazarus’ resurrection was an undeniable witness to the power and Person of Jesus. Christ’s resurrection power declares Him to be the Son of God, God Himself (cf. Romans 1:4). 

Wherever evangelism takes place, opposition is usually not far behind. The religious leaders did not want to see a massive movement of people turning to Jesus in faith. So, they make more plans to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

If we are to be led to victory by the Lord Jesus, we must tap into His power, the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead and got the peoples’ attention. We can do that by walking in the Spirit and obeying His leading in our lives (Romans 8:4-13).

The common people were responding to Jesus in faith, but the religious establishment was rejecting Christ. This was to be expected in a fallen world where Satan is the ruler and his kingdom is shrinking as the gospel spreads. Praise God for the message of the gospel being taught by Christ and being authenticated by His miraculous signs! The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was doing what God designed it to do – to persuade people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing they may have life in His name (cf. John 20:31).

How has God manifested His resurrection power in your life so that unbelievers are attracted to Jesus? The Lord is far more interested in changing our character than He is in changing our circumstances. He is far more interested in making us holy than He is in making us happy.

Has Christ transformed your anger into acceptance? Your critical attitude into one of compassion? Your emptiness into eternal life? Your greed into generosity? Your grief into gladness? Your guilt into innocence? Your hatred into love? Your haughtiness into humility? Your impatience into patience? Your promiscuity into purity? Your resentment into redemption? Your selfishness into selflessness? Jesus changes lives!!!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, the new life You gave to Lazarus persuaded many people to believe in You alone for everlasting life. I pray Your resurrection power would change me in such a way to draw many people to Your saving grace. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 1

“Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” John 12:1-2a

American financier George A. Kessler had a passion for unusual parties. All the wealthy guests at a “hobo dinner” were required to wear tattered clothing and eat out of cans. On another occasion, his guests sat down to dinner in an airship hovering over the Atlantic Ocean. His most extravagant party, however, was held at the Savoy Hotel in London on June 30, 1905, in honor of King Edward VII. 

This was the famous Gondola Party, held in the old courtyard of the hotel. The doorways around the courtyard were sealed with putty, and the courtyard was flooded to a depth of three feet with water dyed blue to resemble the sea. Magnificent painted scenery around the sides of the courtyard represented buildings in Venice, and a huge (stationary) silk lined boat bobbed on the “canal,” surrounded by twelve thousand carnations and an enormous number of roses. Kessler’s twenty-four guests sat inside the gondola and enjoyed a twelve-course banquet prepared by fifteen master chefs and served by waiters dressed as gondoliers.

A bridge linked the boat to the hotel and the entire scene was illuminated by four hundred hand-made paper lamps. An additional touch was three impressive lions carved out of ice bearing trays of peaches and glace fruits while a throng of Gaiety Girls drank to the health of the king with expensive Champaign.

The evening’s entertainment featured the great opera singer Enrico Caruso; he performed an aria while a baby elephant with a five-foot-high cake strapped to its back was led across a gangplank to the gondola and one hundred white doves flew overhead. Unfortunately, it turned out that the blue dye was poisonous for both fish and birds, and the dead and dying creatures had to be quickly scooped out of the water and disposed of. The entire evening was organized by the hotel’s General Manager, Henri Pruger, and the total bill, paid for by Kessler came to £3,000 or over $14,000 at that time. 1

The next few days we are going to look at a more significant dinner which took place for a much more honorable King than any human monarch. The context of this dinner was about two to three weeks after Jesus withdrew from Bethany of Judea to escape the Sanhedrin who had plotted to kill Him after He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53). While in Ephraim, Jesus ministered to His disciples (John 11:54). Christ had just finished a day of controversy in Jerusalem (Matthew 23), having completed His teaching about the Second Coming on the western slope of the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25). He now retired down the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He would have supper with some dear friends. From these verses in John 12:1-8, we will learn how we can honor only Jesus.  

The first way to honor only Jesus is to SERVE CHRIST OUT OF THANKSGIVING FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE (John 12:1-2a). We read, “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:1). John records that this event was “six days before the Passover” because the time schedule was more definite and critical now. Six days before Passover would be the Jewish Sabbath or Saturday. The location was in “Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” Lazarus “was” because Jesus had restored him from death into life. This is a follow up visit from the Lord Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead a few weeks earlier.

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” (John 12:2a). The “they” probably refers to Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus’ disciples. They prepared “a supper” for Jesus to honor Him for raising Lazarus from the dead. The word “there” likely refers to the house of Simon the leper because Matthew and Mark record the same anointing by Mary and both of them inform us that this anointing took place in Simon the leper’s house (cf. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).

However, this is not the anointing that took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50. That anointing took place in Galilee, but this one at Bethany of Judea. There the host despised the woman, here her brother and sisters are the guests. There the woman was a notoriously“bad” sinner, but here it is the devoted Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His word” months before (Luke 10:39). There the host thought it strange that Jesus allowed her to touch Him, here the disciples complain of the waste. There the Savior gave assurance of forgiveness, here He gives assurance of the perpetual and worldwide honor that would accompany the preaching of the gospel. Especially notice here that the woman who anoints Jesus is anticipating His speedy death and burial but at the earlier anointing His death and burial are not mentioned. In view of all the differences, it is absurd to suggest that the anointing here in John 12 (cf. Matthew 26; Mark 14) is the same as the anointing in Luke 7.

Of special notice are the words “Martha served” (John 12:2a). The verb “served” (diēkonei) is in the imperfect tense and tells us that Martha acted in this way throughout the dinner. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha served fewer guests and was “distracted” and overcome with worry. Here she serves many more guests and there is not a word about her being distracted or troubled. Why? Because Martha had learned not to neglect Jesus in her ministry. Earlier she was distracted by all her preparations and had lost sight of Christ. Now she was occupied with the Lord Jesus and not just for Him. She had learned to keep her eyes on the Savior and not her duties.

It can be easy for us to lose sight of Christ and become preoccupied with things to do. After all, we think to ourselves that what we are doing is a good thing for the Lord. Ministry is a good thing; but when it replaces our Master it can become a burden. Me may engage in ministry activities to elevate our value. Or we can use ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in our lives. We convince ourselves to stay busy for the Lord as a way of medicating the uncomfortable emotions inside us. I believe this may have been what Martha did earlier in Luke 10:38-42.

But Martha learned a very important lesson that all of us can learn as well. She learned to become preoccupied with Jesus and what He had done for her brother, Lazarus. Instead of working for Christ, she worked with Him. Instead of focusing on what she did to determine her value, she looked to Jesus to determine her value. Instead of turning to ministry to avoid her feelings, she turned to her Master Who raised her brother from the dead and helped her face her unwanted emotions, resulting in a renewed passion to serve Christ.

Likewise, the more we focus on the Person and work of Christ, the more eager we will be to serve Him with thanksgiving by serving those He has placed in our lives. His performance on the cross determines our value, not our performance in ministry. As we grow closer to Him, we will discover that He already knows our feelings so there is no need to try to hide them from Him. He understands what is going on inside us so we can trust Him to help us face our unwanted emotions and process them. And the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead, is the same power available to each of us to help us serve and honor only Jesus with thanksgiving.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me for the many times I have turned to ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in my heart instead of turning to You to help me process them. I have often lost sight of You by becoming preoccupied with what I do. If I am totally honest, I must confess that I have sought to elevate my value through my performance instead of resting in Your performance on the cross which provides the basis for my infinite value. Today, I give You my heart and all of its uncomfortable emotions. Please hold me in Your arms of everlasting love and mercy. Just knowing that You loved me enough to die in my place for all my sins causes me to pause and say, “Thank You, my Lord and my God. Here I am to honor only You. I am trusting Your resurrection power to enable me to serve You by serving others.” In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Adapted from https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-champagne-king-the-playwright-and-the-savoy-hotel.html on May 29, 2017.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 1

“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4

In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1  Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.

On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.

It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.

Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?

These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?

The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.

When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3

Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.

Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!

Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths#what-is-the-total-number-of-confirmed-deaths

2. https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 1

“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” John 9:3

When I was working as a security officer at a high school while church planting, I got to know my fellow officers quite well. One such officer was approaching sixty years of age and told me he once believed as I did about Jesus Christ and the Bible. But now he said he no longer believed in God. When I asked him why he stopped believing, he told me because he could not reconcile how a God of love could allow so much pain and suffering in the world. He believed that if God truly existed, He would not allow pain and suffering especially among people who seemed to be innocent.

Why does God allow pain and suffering in the world? That is, how can a God of love allow such things in His world as war, sickness, abortion, rape, disease, and other types of suffering and death, especially among those who are apparently innocent? For example, why does He allow dedicated Christians to be slaughtered by radical Muslims in the Middle East and in Africa? Why does He allow babies to be born with deformities? Or why does He allow unborn babies to be torn apart in the womb through abortion procedures? Why does He permit a madman to shoot and kill many people gathered outside at a concert? Why are thousands of innocent people killed each year from earthquakes and typhoons? Unbelievers claim, “Either He is not a God of love and is indifferent to human suffering, or else He is not a God of power and is therefore helpless to do anything about it.”

This is a difficult question for Christians to answer. Certainly, atheism or agnosticism are not the answers to this dilemma. However, in John 9, we will discover that Jesus was asked a similar question. After claiming to be the Light of the world and the eternal I AM in John 8, Jesus encountered a man who was blind from birth. “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.” (John 9:1). The words “as Jesus passed by” do not tell us the exact time frame or location for this miracle. It may have taken place as Christ left the temple (8:59) or somewhere else. This man’s blindness was congenital and was not expected to be healed. He had lived in darkness all his life. No doubt he experienced helplessness and hopelessness as a blind person.

From birth, however, all people are spiritually blind, hopeless, and helpless without God. All non-Christians lack the ability to see Jesus spiritually. The apostle Paul writes, 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they do not believe in Christ. God must remove the veil from non-Christians so they can believe in Jesus. No amount of education or information is going to remove the spiritual blindness of the lost. God must be the One to give them spiritual sight.

Christ focuses on the blind man. His disciples probably would have gladly passed by the blind man, but Jesus would not. I imagine at this juncture, the disciples had no idea why Jesus focused on this man when there were thousands of beggars in the temple area.

“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:2). The disciples ask a theological question, not a compassionate question. “Why does this man deserve blindness?” they ask. It was insensitive of the disciples to ask this question within earshot of the blind man. The Jews, like many people today, believed that all suffering was caused by specific sins. So, either this man sinned in his mother’s womb (Genesis 25:22; Ezekiel 18:4) or his parents sinned (Exodus 20:5; 34:7). Examples of children suffering for their parents’ sin today include babies born to a drug-addicted or alcoholic mother, or to a mother with AIDS. They can suffer from physical and mental impairment. Children whose parents are verbally, physically, or sexually abusive suffer deeply. The disciples wanted to look backward to find out “Why?”

Isn’t that what we want to do? We usually want to figure out the cause of our pain before we decide how to respond. Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention and ours. He points forward instead of backward. “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’ ” (John 9:3). Jesus says this man’s blindness is not due to his sin or his parents’ sin. Instead, Jesus answers a different question. He does not address the backward-looking questions of “Why?” He points to hope for the future. A human tragedy, like blindness, can be used to display the power of God at work. This man was born blind to demonstrate the power of Jesus. Why does God allow pain and suffering?

The first reason is TO DEMONSTRATE CHRIST’S POWER (John 9:1-3). Sometimes the work of God is manifest through a dramatic miracle, as with the man born blind. Sometimes it is not. Suffering always offers an opportunity for us to display God’s work. A sick person is not unspiritual, rather he is a vehicle through which Jesus can demonstrate His power. God’s work is a miracle to man, but normal work for God. It is unbiblical to assume that all suffering is the result of a specific sin. It is also wrong to conclude that all suffering is allowed by God so He can heal the person. This is the reason for this man’s suffering, but we cannot conclude this is the reason for all suffering. Notice that the disciples focus on the man’s blindness as an act of God’s displeasure, but Jesus sees the man’s blindness as an opportunity to display the power of God at work. 

How do we respond to someone with an emotional or physical handicap? Are we condemning by asking, “Who sinned?” Or are we compassionate by asking, “How is God going to show His power at work in this situation?” The first question focuses on the problem. The second question focuses on the solution. Regardless of the cause of this blind man’s affliction, he was a picture of all people who are born spiritually blind and in need of a Savior.

In summary, God allows suffering and pain to demonstrate Christ’s power. He may not perform a dramatic miracle as with the man born blind. But He may transform our attitude or heal a broken relationship. He may lift the burden of guilt and legalism off our shoulders so we can serve Him freely without shame. Whatever the form of our pain and suffering may be, God wants to show us His loving power if we will let Him.

Prayer: Father God, many people are asking, “If You are a God of love, why are You allowing so much pain and suffering in the world today?” Your answer is clear. It is because You want to demonstrate the power of Jesus in the midst of peoples’ suffering. It may not be an instant fix as it was with the healing of the man born blind. It may involve a process of gradual healing and transformation whereby You walk with people through their pain. The suffering that we experience may be Your way of bringing us to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the man born blind, all people are born spiritually blind and unable to see Jesus as the Savior of the world. They need You, Lord, to perform spiritual cataract surgery on their eyes so they can see Christ for Who He truly is – the Eternal I AM Who can wash away their sins and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. They do not have to clean up their lives any more than the blind man had to clean up his. They simply must believe in Jesus, and He will do the rest. Thank You my Lord and my God, for the simplicity of the gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.