Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 6 (Video)

This is the sixth video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the sixth miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving His miraculous healing of a man born blind (John 9:1-41).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from Jesus.net, www.GoodSalt.com,  John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, or they are creative common licenses. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

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 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.