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 can we recover from rejection? Part 3

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” John 13:20

One of the greatest obstacles in evangelism is the fear of rejection. Christians are reluctant to share the gospel with non-Christians because they are afraid of getting a negative response from them.  

We are learning from Jesus how we can recover from rejection. Having a recovery plan can overcome our fear of rejection. So far we have learned to look to the Bible for God’s purpose (John 13:18) and to let Christ deepen our faith in His person (John 13:19).

We can also recover from rejection when we LEARN NOT TO TAKE REJECTION PERSONALLY (John 13:20). When the disciples do recover their faith after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they will begin to share Christ’s message with a lost world (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8ff, etc.). Jesus said to His disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (John 13:20). Christ explains that the one who “receives(lambanō) or “welcomes” the disciples whom Jesus sends are welcoming Jesus and the Father who sent Him. The reason they receive the Father when they receive Jesus is because Jesus is equal with God the Father because He is God (cf. John 5:17-23; 10:30). To receive Jesus is the same as receiving the Father because Christ is the perfect reflection of the Father.

On the other hand, those who reject the ones whom Jesus has sent are ultimately rejecting Christ and the Father who sent Him. Hence, the messengers of Christ are to learn not to take the rejection of others personally because they are ultimately rejecting Jesus and His message, not them.

Let’s face it, the message of the gospel is offensive to people because they do not want to be told that they are sinners (Romans 3:23). They are offended when the Bible tells them that their works cannot save them from their sins (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). People do not want to hear that all other religions cannot get them to heaven, only Jesus Christ can do that (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). They do not want to hear that if they never trust in Christ alone they will be punished for their sins forever in hell (John 3:18; 8:24; Revelation 20:15). The truth is we can expect a certain amount of rejection as we preach the gospel because the message is offensive to human pride. 1

It is also important to recognize that how people respond to you says more about them than it does about you. When you are on the receiving end of rejection, distance yourself and get perspective. This is what Jesus did when His enemies crucified Him. While hanging on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Christ did not take their rejection personally. He realized that their rejection of Him was because they were spiritually ignorant (“for they do not know what they do”)about His identity. Their sins blinded them to what they were doing. This enabled Jesus to forgive them.

When unsaved people reject us for preaching the gospel and following Christ, realize that they are lost empty vessels who are blinded by the ruler of this world. Until the Holy Spirit removes their spiritual blinders, they will not welcome God’s Word into their lives. No matter how badly we are treated, we do not have to take what has happened to us as a hundred percent reflection of who we are. Their response says more about them than it does about us. But our response to them says more about us. Like Jesus, pray to God our Father to forgive them for their initial rejection of the gospel so they can eventually come to Jesus in faith. The more we pray for those who reject us, the more our hearts will soften toward them and begin to love them as Jesus does (Matthew 5:44).

Prayer: Father God, thank You for speaking to my heart today about how to respond to those who reject the gospel message.Those who reject the gospel message are actually rejecting You and Your Son rather than the messenger. Although it still hurts to experience such a negative response, my heart begins to soften toward them when I realize the spiritual battle that is taking place in their hearts and minds. I also went through the same battle before I came to faith in Jesus and You did not give up on me at that time. Oh how thankful I am for that. As I think about the unsaved people in my life right now, I pray that Your Holy Spirit will soften their hearts toward the gospel of Jesus Christ so they can begin to see Him as the Messiah, the Son of God, so they may have everlasting life in His name. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 972.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 3

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” John 12:27

When we encounter stressful situations, it may be easy for us to want to medicate our uncomfortable feelings with some kind of unhealthy coping behavior such as drinking alcohol, blaming others, gambling, playing violent video games, overeating, overspending, taking drugs, viewing pornography, or watching excessive amounts of TV. We may have practiced these coping behaviors for so long that we are not even aware of what we are doing. The common thread in all of these coping behaviors is self-protection. We are trying to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings, so we engage in these unhealthy coping behaviors.

But instead of avoiding these uncomfortable emotions, God wants us to bring them to Him. He already knows they exist, so there is no need to try to hide them from Him. This is similar to what Jesus did when He experienced intense emotions prior to His approaching crucifixion.

In our study of John 12:20-33 we are learning how to overcome self-centeredness. So far we have discovered that the way to overcome our self-centeredness is through…

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

The third way to overcome our self-centeredness is by SURRENDERING TO GOD’S CONTROL IN PRAYER (John 12:27-30). Jesus said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27). As Jesus contemplated all that was involved in His approaching death – He would die for the sins of the world and endure separation from His Father – He experienced a surge of emotion which drove Him to His Father in prayer. He was emotionally stressed and turned to His Father asking, “What shall I say (not do)? Father save Me from this hour?” In view of His upcoming sufferings on the cross, He was tempted to shrink back and ask for deliverance from this major trial. This was a normal human response, but Christ prevailed through prayer.

Likewise, if we are going to overcome our self-centeredness, we must surrender to the Lord’s control in prayer. If God’s Spirit is to be released from our inner man, we must surrender to the Lord when we face difficulties and trials instead of succumbing to them and our selfish desires. When we feel out of control, we may often try to control the situation or the people involved. But God wants us to look to Him in prayer during those stressful times. Prayer is dependence upon God. One way to determine how much we are depending upon the Lord is to look at our prayer life. The more we are praying, the more we are depending upon the Lord. The less we are praying, the less we are depending on Him. God will use difficulties in our lives to make us more dependent upon Him.

Jesus then prayed, “Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:28a). Jesus came to “this hour” (12:27b) of suffering to “glorify” His Father through His death on the cross. Even though Jesus knew all the trials and troubles He was getting in to, He endured them so His Father would be glorified. When Jesus prayed, “Father glorify Your name,” He reminds us of a very important principle. We are to let God glorify what we do, not us. Jesus did not pray, “I will glorify Your name.” Jesus let His Father do the glorifying. He saw that His Father was in control. He submitted to His father and His Father glorified what His Son had done.

We are to focus on doing God’s will and let Him glorify what we do. Do not try to do God’s job. He is big enough to bring honor to Himself. How often we may try to get in God’s way by drawing attention to what we do. Let God draw the attention. God glorified and exalted His Son (Philippians 2:8-11) after His Son submitted to His will, and one day God will exalt and honor those who are surrendered to Him now. The Bible says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (I Peter 5:6). Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before God. It is His responsibility to exalt us in His time and way.

Also, when Jesus faced the cross, He denied Himself and sacrificed His life. His self-denying obedience to the Father’s will glorified the Father. Jesus wants His disciples to face trials in the same way. He struggled and went to God and sought to glorify Him. Can we say that our purpose in going through trials is to glorify God? By His grace we certainly can. When we endure trials through God’s strength, He receives all the glory.

As Jesus approached the time of His sufferings, He understood who was in control, but did the people? 28b Then a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.’ 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’ ” (John 12:28b-29). A thunderous voice from heaven said, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again” through the death of Jesus. God the Father was in control and He would glorify Himself through the triumph of the cross. The crowd heard the sound of God’s voice, but some thought it had thundered, while others thought an angel had spoken to Christ. They did not understand God’s message, but they should have.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee says, “That is the same reaction many people still have today. They say God’s Word is full of errors and the miracles recorded can’t be accurate. Because they don’t believe in them, they say it just ‘thundered.’ ” 1  

“Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.’ ” (John 12:30). God’s message was meant to benefit the crowd, not Jesus. They needed to recognize that God the Father was in control and would be victorious. God intended this to be an auditory approval of His Son so that the crowd might believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah-God.

Jesus understood His Father’s voice, do we? We have the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s Word. First John 2:20, 26-27 say, “20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things… 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” Ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and teach you as you read and study the Bible. You can also ask His Spirit to give you the power to obey what the Lord is saying to your heart and mind.

One reason we may not hear God’s voice is because we have so much noise in our lives. We may be too busy to slow down enough to hear the still small voice of God’s Spirit. Take time today to slow down and listen to the voice of God. Find a quiet place to meet with the Lord. Then take a few moments to do some deep breathing. Inhale God’s peace and exhale your stress. Inhale God’s peace and exhale your stress. Then read a Bible passage aloud, slowly, and attentively. Then pause to let it sink in. Read the passage again, this time asking the question, “Where am I in this verse?” Finally, read the verse or passage again noticing what word or words jump out at you, grabbing your attention. Meditate on those words. Chew on them for a while.

Then write down what you observe the Holy Spirit saying to you. Writing down what you observe clarifies your thought processes and involves another whole section of your brain. Then request that the Holy Spirit help you see how all of this applies to your life. Instead of asking God to help you analyze His Word, ask Him to use His Word to analyze you. This is a supernatural process that produces a neurochemical flow of new understanding where your mind is being renewed (Romans 12:1-2). Once the Holy Spirit gets you headed in the direction God wants you to go, dedicating yourself to that direction in life will be used by the Lord to transform your life from the inside out.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for not surrendering to Your intense emotions when You contemplated the cross. Instead, You surrendered to the will of Your Father Who sent You to glorify His name by dying in our place on a cross as our Substitute. If Your love was a feeling, You never would have died for us. Thank You for showing me that You understand what it is like to feel troubled inwardly when faced with extremely difficult circumstances (Hebrews 4:15). You know how it feels to have a storm of emotions raging in one’s heart before yielding to the Father’s will. Thankfully, You are not overwhelmed by my intense emotions. You understand that the best thing I can do with them is to share them with You in prayer. And as I talk to You about those uncomfortable emotions, their power is diffused and Your peace that surpasses human understanding can guard my heart and mind as I yield to Your control. By Your grace, I want to give everyone and everything to You. Glorify Your name my Lord and my God however You deem best. In Jesus’ matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:448.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8

At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:

– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).

Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).

The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.

Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?

This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2

If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!

At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.

Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?

For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).   Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!

Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.

In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.

Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.

What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!

How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…

Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2:  “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.

– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them.  The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “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). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.

– Your submission. The Bible says, 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.

– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.

You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),pp. 380-381.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.

3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” John 11:44b

Today we will look at the final reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. It is to GET CHRISTIANS TO HELP ONE ANOTHER DISPOSE OF THEIR GRAVE CLOTHES (John 11:44b). Jesus had just commanded a dead man to come out of his grave (John 11:43). And a living Lazarus walked out of his tomb wrapped from head to toe in burial clothes. Only Jesus can bring life to dead churches, marriages, families, and individuals. That is Jesus’ job. But look at the end of verse 44:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” (John 11:44b). Could Jesus have caused the grave clothes of Lazarus to drop off? Absolutely! If He could raise Lazarus from the dead, He could certainly cause his grave clothes to drop off. But why didn’t He do this?

That would have left Lazarus naked and caused him a lot of humiliation and shame. By having those around him unwrap Lazarus, Jesus was providing an opportunity for people close to Lazarus to help him lose his grave clothes without losing his dignity. Likewise, Christians need to help one another get free from their spiritual and emotional grave clothes.

Jesus gives life to people. That is His job. But it is our job, the people of God, to help one another get out of the grave clothes that keep reborn people from acting alive. We may still have the grave clothes of shame and self-righteousness. We may view ourselves and God in a way that keeps us from experiencing His resurrection life. There may be deeply ingrained habits or thought patterns that prevent us from living resurrection lifestyles. Or we may have the grave clothes of unconfessed sin or an unforgiving spirit which keep us from experiencing true freedom in our Christian lives.

The church needs to be a safe place where we begin to peel away the grave clothes that keep born again people from experiencing the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We cannot live victorious Christian lives in isolation from other believers. We need each other to experience the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.

How can churches become a safe place for believers to remove their grave clothes?

1. Ask others to help you remove your own grave clothes. Instead of jumping in like a spiritual superior to help remove the grave clothes of others, church leaders are to give others permission to help them remove what is keeping them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power more fully. After all, how can church leaders expect others to be vulnerable about their struggles if they are not vulnerable about theirs? This kind of mutual vulnerability conveys the gospel message that we are all imperfect sinners in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). If Christians will live in humble vulnerability with one another, they will create an atmosphere that gives every believer in the church the safety and freedom to shed their grave clothes on the pathway to experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.

2. Extend the same grace to others as Christ has given to you (Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:32). None of us deserved salvation, but God freely gave it to us by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. We must create an atmosphere of this grace that invites imperfect sinners to come out of the darkness into the light of Jesus’ love. I have attended Christian churches and/or ministries where believers were treated harshly for having grave clothes that kept them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power. They were belittled and bullied for having struggles, which only increased their fear and shame. They were viewed as an embarrassment to the church or ministry. According to them, since “true Christians” have no serious problems, no provisions were made to help them.

This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did with those who were broken and wounded. Christ fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 42:3 which says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (cf. Matthew 12:20). Jesus did not deal harshly with those who were already hurting nor did He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He came along side of them to strengthen them with His presence rather than step on them to advance His own plans. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He gave forgiveness to the fallen (John 8:11). Likewise, the more churches have this Christlike mindset, the more they will expect “true Christians” to have obvious problems and provide ministries that provide the safety and security to promote transparency, healing, and growth.

3. Focus more on the heart instead of behavior. God is not uptight about our sin and shame. People are the ones who are uptight about our sin and shame. God still loved us even though we were undeserving, ungodly sinners without any strength to reconcile ourselves to Him. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He loved us and died in our place. The Bible says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “Christ died for the ungodly,” not the godly. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. Christ looked beyond our sin to our hearts. He loved us no matter how often or badly we sinned.

Do our churches communicate this same kind of love to those the Lord brings to us? No matter how stinky a believer’s grave clothes are, do we love and accept that person as Jesus loves and accepts him or her? Do we take time to get to know the person, or do we stay preoccupied with their behavior and avoid them or judge them? It is Christ’s love that will embolden believers to remove their grave clothes and be transparent with one another, not focusing on behavior. After all, God’s “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). And fear and shame are two of the most common obstacles that keep people from being vulnerable with one another. But when we experience God’s incredible love for us through other believers who love and care for us no matter what we have done, we will respond with love toward our Lord and toward His children (I John 4:19).

4. Define believers by what God says about them, not by what they do. Christians are not defined by their grave clothes. They are defined by what God says about them. For example, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to Christians who were living in the city of Ephesus, a sex-saturated society that was the home of the temple Diana. Christians were enticed by temple teachings to live without restraint. Paul countered this godless culture by emphasizing the Christian’s new identity in chapters 1-3, followed by a call to live in a way that is consistent with who they are in chapters 4-6.

An example of this is seen in Ephesians 5:8-10. Paul writes,  “8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Notice that Paul starts with who they now are in Christ – “you are light in the Lord” (5:8a). The light of Jesus Christ now defined who they are, not the darkness of their sin. Paul then concludes, “walk as children of light” (5:8b). Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and His followers are defined by His light.  

Christian speaker and author, Dr. Tony Evans, writes, “His followers must reflect Him the way the moon reflects the sun—not as crescent-moon Christians but as full-moon Christians. And we can’t reflect His light unless we’re in the light. So, if you want to reflect Christ, you have to be absorbing Christ through cultivating an intimate walk and relationship with Him (see John 15:1-16).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. pg. 2110).

As we grow closer to Jesus and learn how He sees us, we will begin to live like children of light who produce “goodness, righteousness, and truth” as we discover what is “acceptable to the Lord” (5:9-10).  

If we want to see believers shed their grave clothes and experience the resurrection power of Jesus more fully, we must focus on what God says about them instead of on what they have done. Why? Because the more they see themselves as God sees them, the more He will transform their lives. After all, we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Our behavior does not determine who we are. At the very core of our being we are God’s children and God wants us to learn to start acting in a way that is consistent with who you are.

For example, if you see yourself as an addict at the core of your being, what will be the most natural thing for you to do? To stay sober or practice your addiction? Practice your addiction. What will be the most unnatural thing for you to do? Stay sober. But if you see yourself as a child of God at the core of your being (John 1:12; I John 3:1-2), what is the most natural thing for you to do? Stay sober. Satan wants to convince you that you are a sinner. Why? Because sinning is accepted as natural. But if you realize and believe you are a child of God at the core of your being, then you will come to the conclusion that sinning compromises who you are. Sin is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. The more a believer sees themselves as God sees them, the more they will realize their grave clothes no longer define who they are. In fact, wearing their grave clothes will seem unnatural and restrictive to them.

Prayer: Wow, Lord Jesus! Many times I have read the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but I had not noticed the last part of verse 44. What a powerful application this is for the church today. Yes, You gave life to Lazarus as only You can do. But You want Your people to help him remove his grave clothes so he can experience his new life more fully. Oh Lord, please awaken Your church to see their role in helping other believers remove their grave clothes in a way that preserves their dignity and enables them to more fully experience Your resurrection power in their lives. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 7

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” John 11:39a

As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John (11:1-44), we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

– Discover Christ’s compassion (John 11:28-37).

The seventh reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DEMONSTRATE THAT OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST ACCESSES HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 11:38-44a). “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” (John 11:38). Again, Christ felt the same angry emotion (“groaning” – cf. 11:33) as He approached the tomb. He may have been angry that the Jews who came to comfort Mary did not believe He could raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:37). They thought He could overcome sickness but not death.

Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A large stone was placed over the entrance. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” (John 11:39a). To do so was to risk defilement according to Jewish law and customs. But Jesus is not bound by man-made laws or customs. The people standing next to Jesus may have thought, “Doesn’t He have the power to move this stone?” Yes, He does, but He did not use that power to move the stone. Why? Because their obedience was necessary for them to realize and experience Jesus’ resurrection power.

“Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ ” (John 11:39b). Lord, Lazarus already stinks. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless!” When we see death, we see no further. But Jesus sees beyond death to life. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:40). Christ called Martha “to demonstrate her faith in Him by her action – allowing the stone to be removed. Jesus didn’t want her explanations about bodily decay; He wanted her to walk by faith, putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Then, demonstrating the “glory of God” would be up to Jesus. Faith must precede sight if we want to see God’s supernatural intervention in our circumstances. We can never know what God plans to do in secret until we obey what He has clearly revealed.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 1791. All the people there would see this miracle. Only those who believed would see God’s glory revealed in the raising of Lazarus.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ ” (John 11:41-42). Jesus had already pleaded Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ case to the Father. This is the second time He had prayed about it. He states this so those around Him can believe the Father sent Him.

Jesus’s prayer for His Father’s supernatural intervention also illustrates His current intercessory work of deliverance for believers when we respond in faith and obedience (cf. Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. The Father responds to what the Son endorses. When we face disappointments, Christ prays for us (cf. Luke 22:31-32). He can overcome our circumstances even when there seems to be no hope.

Earlier Jesus had said that men would hear His voice and come out of their graves (John 5:28) and that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16, 27). “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” (John 11:43). If Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name, all the dead would have come out of their graves. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44a). The One who is the Resurrection and the Life revealed His power by summoning Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus did not come out by his own power, but by the power of the One who commanded him to come out. This is the glory of God! Only God could reverse the process of decay and restore Lazarus from death to life.

If the people with Jesus had not obeyed His command to remove the stone over the entrance to Lazarus’ grave, they would not have witnessed the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, we must obey the Lord Jesus to experience His resurrection power in our daily lives. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:11, 13: 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers live “by the Spirit”through obedience to Christ (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1, 4-5; Galatians 5:16-26), they can experience Christ’s resurrection power to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. We cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless we walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot access Christ’s resurrection power unless we obey Him. When we face disappointments, we may not “feel” like obeying the Lord, but this is key to experiencing His resurrection power in our lives. Step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His power in your life.

This resurrection miracle is a beautiful picture of conversion. Lazarus was unable to raise himself from the dead. None of his friends or religious leaders could reverse his death. Likewise, before we become Christians, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) without the life of God. And our sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23). We are unable to come to God apart from His drawing (John 6:44a).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was giving us a foretaste of what is to come. One day, Lazarus would physically die again. But he would eventually participate in a future everlasting bodily resurrection whereby He would live with Jesus forever along with all who believe in Christ alone (John 11:25-26; cf. I Thessalonians 4:14-17)!  

Only Jesus Christ can give eternal life to people, and this gift is based upon His finished work on the cross, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; cf. Isaiah 64:6). We cannot save ourselves. Other people or religions cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. We receive eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Each time God saves a sinner He reveals His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible miracle which demonstrates that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. As the Resurrection, only Jesus can guarantee a future bodily resurrection that lasts forever to all who believe in Him. And as the Life, only He can give spiritual life that that never ends to all who believe in Him alone. Father, thank You for demonstrating that my obedience is necessary to experience Your resurrection power daily in my Christian life. I cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless I walk in obedience to Jesus. When I am tempted to sin, please help me to step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His resurrection power in my life to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to You. I also ask You to use me to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection power to all who are dead in their sins and separated from You. Please persuade them to believe in Jesus alone as the Resurrection and the Life so they may have eternal life in His name. In Jesus’ powerful life-giving name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 6

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that every verse is God-breathed or from God’s mouth. Every verse is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John, we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

The sixth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is so we may DISCOVER CHRIST’S COMPASSION (John 11:28-37). Jesus has arrived at the grave side of Lazarus. He has already spoken with one of Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha, and now He converses with the other sister, Mary. In His conversation with Mary, Jesus shows sensitivity to her specific need. Whereas Martha needed instruction to cope with her loss, Mary needed an understanding friend to weep with her.

Martha secretly informs Mary that Jesus had arrived and was calling for her. “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ ” (John 11:28). Jesus was reaching out to her. This message was given in secret so Jesus could have a private conversation with Mary to comfort and instruct her. Martha refers to Jesus as “the Teacher,”not “a Teacher.” Christ is the only teacher of His kind. His three years of ministry had accomplished more than the combined one hundred thirty years of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Only Christ can save a soul from hell. Philosophy… art… literature… music and science cannot accomplish that! Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can give eternal life to those who are spiritually dead. He alone can grant everlasting peace to the human heart.

Jesus wanted to teach Mary about what He could do in her situation. He wanted to show her that she could trust Him while she dealt with her pain. The Lord uses disappointments in our lives to teach us.

29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.” (John 11:29-30). Jesus waited outside the village because He wanted privacy with Mary. Perhaps He also wanted to be closer to Lazarus’ tomb. “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ ” (John 11:31). The secrecy of Martha was of no avail as these Jews followed Mary thinking that she was going to the tomb to grieve.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32). Nothing is said of Martha falling at Jesus’ feet, but Mary does. Like Martha, Mary expresses her anger and disappointment to Jesus. She is hurting because Lazarus’ life ended too soon. Mary blames Jesus for this. “You could have prevented this from happening, Lord!” She says no more than this and then weeps.

“Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:33). Unlike the Greek gods who were apathetic and lacking emotion, we see Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus connected with the emotions of others. Christ’s own emotions swelled up inside of Him as He observes the pain and sorrow of death. The word “groaned” (enebrimēsato) is used to describe an angry or indignant attitude. Perhaps Jesus was angry with the consequences of sin (death is the penalty of sin – Romans 6:23). He may have been agitated with the misery that Lazarus’ death had caused His friends. Or maybe He was irritated by the unbelief of Mary and the Jewish mourners who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection power.           

Christ was not apathetic or indifferent to the grief of others. He was sensitive to the feelings of those around Him. “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ ” (John 11:34). Christ wanted directions to the tomb because He knew what He was about to do.

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). Martha had testified that Jesus is fully God (John 11:27; cf. 1:1), and now Jesus’ tears testified that is also fully human (John 1:14). Two natures in one Person, unmixed forever. Even though Christ knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He grieved with the pain and sorrow as well as the death-dealing effects of sin on those He loves. The Bible tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Jesus did not hide His emotions. He was spontaneous with them. This word “wept” (edakrysen), is a quiet form of weeping compared to the loud form of weeping by Mary and the mourners surrounding her. Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He is sad that Mary and the mourners were so distressed. He has compassion for those who are hurting.

One of the best things we can do for those who are grieving is to cry with them. No speeches. No exhortation or Bible study. Just being there for them speaks volumes to the person who is grieving. Jesus understood how Mary and the mourners felt. He had lost John the Baptist by this time. And Jesus understands how we feel today when we lose someone close to us. He weeps with those who weep. He does not say, “You should not cry when you hurt.” Instead He says, “I understand Lazarus was very important to you and it hurts to see him pass away.” Jesus does not want us to deny our humanness.

God sometimes delays His answers to our prayers so we may experience His comforting presence in the midst of loss. He permits us to go through painful times so we may know the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our pain and trials can never exceed God’s comfort (“comforts us in all our tribulation”). He uses our losses to equip us to comfort others who go through a similar difficulty with the comfort we received from the Lord in our loss. If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave.

In December 2016, one of the pastors I enjoyed serving with in the Philippines was tragically murdered while driving his wife to a public school where she serves as a teacher. This deeply impacted my soul. I wept over this unfortunate death for days. During this time of grieving, Matthew 12:20 leaped off the page of my Bible as I read it: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”Jesus will not pour salt into our wounds. He will not treat those who are “bruised” with grief and pain harshly. He comes along side of us to strengthen us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little flame for the Lord or life (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28).

Many Christian leaders can add to the pain of the broken and bruised by being harsh and demanding. But not Jesus. He is always available to empathize with us and understand us when we are hurting. He knows exactly what to say and do when we are vulnerable so He can lift us up and set us in a broad place. He is on our side. He is not against us (cf. Psalm 118:5-9; Romans 8:31-39).

I am impressed with the emotional health of Jesus in verses 33 and 35. Christ experienced emotions of anger (11:33; cf. 11:38) and sadness (11:35). He did not deny them nor stuff them down. When we experience losses, God wants us also to pay attention to our emotions, including anger and sadness, as part of growing in the discipleship process. God made people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) which includes emotions. God has feelings of anger (cf. Exodus 4:14; Number 11:10; Deuteronomy 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; 11:33, 38; Romans 1:18; 12:19) and sadness (Genesis 6:6; I Samuel 15:11; Isaiah 63:10; Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Ephesians 4:30), so emotions in themselves are not sinful. Denying our emotions is denying our humanity given to us by our Creator. But acknowledging and processing our emotions with the Lord leads to healing and a greater capacity to love the Lord and other people.

Some Christians have been taught to be ashamed of their emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, so they stuff those feelings instead of processing them. Often times, the result is those emotions “leak” through in indirect ways such as passive aggressive behavior (e.g. showing up late, etc.), sarcasm, a spiteful tone of voice, withdrawing from others, and giving them the silent treatment.

“Two-thirds of the psalms are laments, complaints to God.” 1  Several Psalms are imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109; 137) whereby the writer curses God’s enemies. Is it wrong to ask God to punish our enemies since Jesus taught His followers to bless their enemies and not curse them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28)? Why would God inspire the writers of Psalms to record these kinds of prayers if it was wrong to pray in this way? I personally believe God has included these Psalms to help us pray honestly to God about our own feelings. Grieving our losses God’s way includes paying attention to our emotions, so we can process them and release them to the Lord.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ ” (John 11:36). According to this group, Jesus’ tears showed how much He loved Lazarus. Evidence of sincere love for others can have a powerful impact on those who witness it. As believers show compassion to those who are broken and hurting, God can give them opportunities to share the gospel with the lost.

“And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ ” (John 11:37). Others near Lazarus’ grave were not impressed with Jesus’ tears. They were angry. They thought Jesus should have prevented Lazarus death. “He had healed the blind so it is obvious He could have healed Lazarus to prevent all of this sadness and blubbering.”

If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave. Likewise, if Christ did not allow situations to worsen in our lives after we pray, many of us would be unable to know what His compassion is like for us. 

What is your response to Jesus today? Can you relate to Mary and Martha who were angry and disappointed with Jesus? Have you asked Jesus where He was when your loved one died? Or perhaps you wondered where Christ was when you were abandoned or abused as a child?

Christ wants you to know that He was there when you went through your loss or your trauma. And the look on His face was not one of apathy or anger. The look on His face was the same look that Mary saw that day when Jesus came to her brother’s grave. His was the look of compassion with tears streaming down His face.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your humanity which enables You to be an understanding Friend Who weeps with me when I lose a loved one or have to process a painful memory. Knowing that You understand how I feel gives me hope that You know what to do to help me heal. My trust is in You to meet my deepest needs at this time. Your tears demonstrate that You truly do care about my pain. Thank You for helping me to face that pain so I can heal and move forward with You. In Your name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), pg. 126.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 5

25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ ” John 11:25-26

As we are studying the historical record of Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44), we are learning reasons why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

The fifth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DISCLOSE MORE OF CHRIST’S IDENTITY TO US (John 11:17-27). The scene now shifts from the region of Bethany in Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28) to the Bethany in Judea (John 11:18). Both towns became locations where people believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.” (John 11:17). When Jesus arrived in Bethany of Judea, He found that Lazarus had “already been in the tomb four days.” It was the custom of Jews in general to bury their dead on the same day that the person died because embalming was not practiced by the Jews 1 and because of the warm climate which would contribute to a rapid rate of decay. 2  The dead body would be washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in a white cloth.

“Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.” (John 11:18). Jesus and His disciples traveled about forty miles from Bethany of Perea to Bethany of Judea. John informs us that Bethany of Judea was “two miles away” from Jerusalem, perhaps to explain why so “many of the Jews” from Jerusalem were there to comfort Mary and Martha (John 11:19) and  to witness Jesus’ miracle (cf. John 11:45-46).  

“And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” (John 11:19). It was expected of Jews to console the bereaved. In the Jewish culture, the period of mourning for the dead lasted thirty days. The first three days, no work was done, only weeping took place. Dr. Tom Constable writes, “Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days, or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body because any hope of resuscitation was gone.” 3 The rest of the first week there was deep mourning. The remaining thirty days involved lighter mourning.

When someone dies, it is so encouraging to see an entire community show support to those who are left behind. This support make take the form of a sympathy card, a visit, a meal, a cry with the bereaved or a tender hug.

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.” (John 11:20). Everyone deals with death differently and that is okay. The personality differences of the two sisters are seen here in their response to Lazarus’ death. Martha is active and assertive going out to meet Jesus. She seeks Christ in her grief. Mary, on the other hand, is quiet and contemplative, sitting at home. Jesus consoles each sister differently, taking into consideration their differing personalities.

“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:21). Martha is saying, “Lord, You could have prevented this. We sent word to you before Lazarus died. You could have come immediately and prevented his death. But no! You waited two more days and Lazarus died. We needed You, Lord. Why didn’t You come?!” Notice that Martha’s faith was limited to whether Jesus was there.

But Martha did not let her anger and disappointment cut off her relationship with the Lord. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22). She still believed Jesus could meet her need.

Jesus reassures her. “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23). He is referring to what He is about to do. He does not rebuke her for expressing her anger or disappointment. Jesus understands our humanness and the need to deal with feelings when faced with a loss. He dealt with losses, too. He had already lost John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 14:10-13).

Martha responds to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24). Martha did not realize that Jesus was talking about raising Lazarus from the dead immediately. She thought He was referring to the final resurrection when the Messiah-God comes to set up His Kingdom (cf. Job 19:25-27; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14, 26-27; 12:1-3).

Have you ever felt like Martha did near the grave of a loved one? You are angry with God for letting your loved one die. Maybe you prayed to God to save your spouse or child from death, and God let him or her die. Your heart was broken in two. It felt like God punched you in the gut! You were so overwhelmed with sadness and then anger. Why would God let this happen? What might Jesus say to you near your loved one’s grave? I believe He might say the same thing He said to Martha.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25). This is the fifth “I AM” statement by Jesus in the gospel of John (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25) whereby He claims to be the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). Jesus is the Guarantor of both resurrection and life.

As “the Resurrection” (John 11:25), Jesus guarantees a future resurrection to all who believe in Him. The person who believes in Christ “shall live” again physically through resurrection even “though he may die” physically. As “the Resurrection,” Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection to all who believe in Him. When Jesus comes back for His Church, all believers in Him will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will be free from sin and death (cf. I Corinthians 15:35-56; I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Next, as “the Life,” Jesus guarantees that “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26a). This phrase, “shall never die,” is extremely powerful. Christ guarantees that all who believe in Him shall “never” experience eternal death or separation from God. How long is “never”? It is forever. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he or she receives “life” from Him that can “never” be taken away from him or her.

Jesus had made similar promises in the gospel of John which include “shall never hunger,” (John 6:35), “shall never thirst” (John 4:14; 6:35), “shall never perish” (John 10:28), and “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24). Christ guarantees that the moment a person believes in Him for everlasting life, he or she is secure forever!!! What this also means is even though Lazarus had died physically, he was still alive spiritually because he had believed in Jesus.

Jesus makes this promise to “whoever lives and believes in” Him. We may be surprised to see the words “whoever lives.” Usually Jesus says, “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:15-16; 4:14). Why does Jesus add the words “whoever lives” as a condition for this promise? Dr. Bob Wilkin explains, “Jesus only offers His life to living human beings who believe in Him. He does not extend eternal life to nonhumans (Satan, fallen angels, demons); nor does He extend eternal life to humans who die in unbelief.” 4 Christ does not offer eternal life to people after they die. The Bible says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances to get to heaven after we die. This life is the only opportunity people have to get right with God through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Reincarnation is not found in the Bible. Jesus’ promise is made to living human beings (“whoever lives”), not to those who have died.

Let’s look at Jesus’ evangelistic invitation to Martha. He said to her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is asking Martha (and us), “Do you believe I guarantee a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?” This question is rarely asked of non-Christians today by Christians who practice evangelism. Instead, they ask the non-Christian questions like…

“Have you turned from your sins?”

– “Have you been baptized with water?”

– “Have you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus?”

– “Have you given your life to Christ?”

– “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

– “Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord?”

No mention of the word “believe” is made in these common invitations. This is not what Jesus did with Martha. If we want to become more like Jesus, we must evangelize the lost the same way that He did. He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” that I am the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?

Look at Martha’s response. “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). She did not say “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to doubt Jesus as the Christ. If a person does not believe he or she is eternally secure the moment he or she believes in Jesus for eternal life, then he or she has not understood Jesus’ offer.

Some people think it is not enough to believe in Christ for eternal life. They think you must also turn from your sins, confess your sins, invite Jesus into your heart, surrender to the Lord, be baptized, continue in good works, obey all of God’s commands, and the list goes on and on and on. But this is foreign to the gospel of John which was written specifically to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 5 If we want to become more like Jesus, we must use the word that God uses the most in evangelism – “BELIEVE”!!!  

Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”(John 6:47).

To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27), neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in his purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.

Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.

What would Martha’s faith be like if Jesus had not delayed, and hence, had not raised Lazarus from the dead? Her understanding of Christ’s Person and power would be less. But because Jesus did not get there in time to heal Lazarus, Martha came to know that Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

One of the reasons God allows our situations to worsen after we pray about them is so He can reveal more of Himself to us. So instead of getting discouraged when God is silent, we can expect Him to reveal more of Himself to us.

The story is told of an atheist who was spending a quiet day fishing on a lake when suddenly his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster. With one easy flip of his tail, the beast tossed the man and his boat high into the air. Then the Loch Ness monster opened his mouth to swallow both the atheist and his boat. As the man sailed head over heels, he cried out, “Oh, my God, help me!” At once the ferocious attack scene froze in place, and as the atheist hung in midair, a booming voice came down from the clouds saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in Me?” The man pleaded, “Come on, God, give me a break. I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either.”

Even when a person is facing death, God can reveal more of Himself to that person so that in the case of the atheist, he can believe in the Lord. Maybe you have been praying a long time about a situation and it seems to get worse and worse. Take heart, God may be about to reveal more of Himself to you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may be standing beside the grave of a loved one right now. And like Martha, we may be disappointed or even angry with You for allowing our loved one to die after we prayed to You to save him or her from death. Thank You for reminding me today that You know how it feels when a loved one dies. You wept when You saw the grief that was caused by Your dear friend’s death (John 11:35). You sometimes delay Your answers to our prayers to reveal Yourself to us in a deeper and more powerful way like You did with Martha. You showed Martha (and us) that You are “the Resurrection and the Life” by raising her brother from the dead so that she could know that You have the power to provide a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You alone. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for reminding me that all I must do to receive a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life is to believe in You alone. Please help me to be clear when I share this message with non-Christians. Thank You for reminding me that I need to use the same word You used the most in evangelism – BELIEVE. In Your holy and precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 207.

2.  Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 202.

3. Ibid., pg. 201.

4. Dr. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (pg. 507). Grace Evangelical Society. Kindle Edition.

5. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 4

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ ” John 11:14-15

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. We have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

The fourth reason the Lord may delay His answers to our prayers is to DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM (John 11:11-16). “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ ” (John 11:11). The Lord Jesus views Lazarus’ death as “sleep” because from His divine perspective, death is harmless and hopeful. When Jesus said, “I may wake him up,” He was referring to when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Since the coming of Christ, the death of a believer is regularly called “sleep” (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Dead Christians are asleep not in the sense of an unconscious “soul sleep,” but in the sense that their bodies appear to be sleeping.

But the disciples did not understand Jesus. “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ ” (John 11:12). The disciples misunderstand Christ and think He is speaking of natural sleep. “Why risk Your life, Lord, to arouse a man from a night’s sleep especially if he is on his way to recovery?!”

“However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:13). Death is not a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep” as some teach. When believers in Jesus die, they go directly and consciously into the presence of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24). Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).

This is why Paul writes, 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.

In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22) as are all believers in Jesus who have died (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24).

“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:14). The Lord “plainly tells His disciples that “Lazarus is dead. But then Jesus says something that is very shocking. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:15). Christ says He was glad He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! What is there to be glad about in Lazarus’ death or anyone’s death for that matter?!

When Jesus said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death, “that you may believe,” He was not talking about their salvation. His disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 1:35-51; 2:11; 6:69). Jesus’ joy is for the disciples’ faith which would be strengthened when they would behold Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What would the disciples’ faith have been like if they did not witness the raising of Lazarus? Their faith would lack content. And they would have less courage when they would face life-threatening situations.

God allows disappointment in our lives to strengthen our faith. We look at other people and think, Lord, how can You do this with this type of person? How can You do the impossible? Death is final! How about people we do not think God can change? We may have doubts about God changing a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. We may even doubt that the Lord can change us! But God can make a difference!

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). Thomas looked death in the face and chose death with Jesus rather than life without Him! This is not the kind of commitment or courage we may have expected from this doubting disciple. Thomas’ comment, “that we may die with Him,” is intriguing because history tells us that eventually all but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for their Lord.

Even though Thomas expressed great courage and confidence now, he would express doubt over Jesus’s resurrection later (cf. John 20:24-29). But for now, he was ready to die with Jesus! This tells us that those who are spiritually confident today may find themselves in the depths of despair and doubt tomorrow.

What about you? Are you willing to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost? When people ridicule you or mistreat you, or even threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus? Thomas expressed this kind of commitment now even though he did not know for sure how safe or unsafe he would be going up to Judea again. When non-Christians encounter this kind of courage among believers, it can cause them to consider their own eternal destiny.

Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:27-28: “27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” This kind of boldness in the presence of one’s enemies assures the believer that his message his true and proves to his opponents that their defeat is certain.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You delayed Your coming to Martha and Mary, You were wanting to strengthen the faith of Your disciples and all who would witness what You were going to do at Lazarus’ grave. It may be difficult for us to understand this at the time of our own disappointment and loss. But You do not waste our fears and pain. You want to transform our anger into acceptance, our fear into faith, our grief into gladness, and our despair into hope through Your resurrection power. The more convinced we are of this resurrection power, the more courage we will have to face those who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. This boldness before our enemies assures us that Your message is true and it proves to our enemies that their defeat is certain. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for this assurance You give us when our trust is in You. In Your powerful name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.’ ” John 11:9

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned the Lord does this to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4) and to declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6). Today we learn the Lord also delays His answers to our prayers to DEEPEN OUR SENSITIVITY TO HIS WILL (John 11:7-10).

John tells us, after waiting two days, Jesus wanted to return to Bethany of Judea where His life would be in danger. “The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ ” (John 11:8). The disciples are saying, “Are you serious, Lord?! You were just there and they attempted to kill you! It would be suicide to go back there now!”

While we can understand their concern for the Lord, the disciples apparently had not noticed that a lot of people were having difficulty seizing Jesus (cf. John 7:30-32, 44-46; 8:20; 10:39). The Son of God – not the angry religious leaders—was in control over His ministry timetable. In all honesty, the disciples were not as concerned about Jesus’ safety as they were their own.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We are no different than the disciples when the Lord’s way is not our way. Especially when He asks us to do something risky. We try to rationalize and avoid what He is asking us to do. How many of us have had God ask us to do something risky and immediately we complain or try to convince ourselves that we cannot do it? “It is not logical or realistic!” we tell ourselves. But God asks us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10). Jesus told His disciples that “the day” – the time of His public ministry on earth – was the opportunity for action. While Jesus, “the light of this world,” was with them, they could walk and “not stumble” (John 11:9). Later, they would have the light of the Holy Spirit’s presence (John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). But to function apart from Jesus is like walking around at night (John 11:10). Operating without His guidance and illumination will cause us to trip and fall on our face.

If you walk during the day while the sun is shining you won’t stumble because you can see the obstacles and avoid running into them. If you walk at night, you are more likely to stumble because you cannot see the obstacles. If you walk in the light of God’s will, you will not stumble. But if you walk in the darkness against God’s will, you will trip yourself up.

Jesus was saying He could safely return to Judea if He was walking in the light of His Father’s will. No harm would come to Him until the Father’s appointed hour. And if His disciples go with Him, who is the Light, they will not be in any danger either.

The Lord may delay His answers to our prayers to teach us to be more sensitive to His will. Jesus was teaching His fearful disciples a lesson about walking in the light of God’s will. When they follow Jesus, Who is the Light, they will be safe in the Father’s will and love. But to turn away from the Father’s will and love, invites all kinds of trouble. Likewise, when we walk in darkness and do things our way instead of God’s way, we get into all kinds of problems. But if we walk in the light of God’s Word and love, we will grow closer to Him and He will reveal His glory to us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for allowing situations to get worse after I pray about them to nudge me closer to You and Your love. When I feel out of control, I often try to be in control to give myself a sense of feeling safe. I seek to do things my way as if that gives me a greater sense of control. Yet this often leads to isolation and more pain. Lord, I want to learn to yield to Your control when I feel out of control because it is then that I am most safe. Thank You for helping me to recognize this so I can turn this area of my life over to You. Walking in the light of Your love dispels the darkness that can so easily overwhelm me when I feel out of control. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.