John 11: Cemetery Words (7) Remove The Stone

As Jesus stood with the family and mourners at the tomb Lazarus He was overcome with emotion again (vs. 38). Here is the great commiseration again. God from the great, gleaming glory above, who came to live with us in dirty, weak, corrupted world. 

When Jesus said, “Remove the stone” (vs. 38), He was reminded of just how corrupted and even smelly this world is. Martha said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days” (vs. 39). Yes, Jesus knew about the corrupted and putrid flesh of the dead, just as He knew of the corrupted and putrid spirits of those in sin. 

We are given this assurance by the apostle Peter: “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). 

From corruption to glory! In the gospel, there is the great spiritual hope of the transformation of our soul and the great bodily hope of the resurrection to a state suitable for eternity with God. Those present at the cemetery were about to see a foretaste of that as Jesus said, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (vs. 40).

John 11: Cemetery Words (6) How He Loved Him

When Mary went to the cemetery, many others went along, thinking they’d go mourn with her. Instead, they got a front row seat to extraordinary things. 

Like her sister, when Mary met Jesus, she said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 32). This set her to crying again, along with the mourners. 

Face to face with the reality of the grief of faithful people, Jesus was fully overcome with emotion. “He was deeply moved and troubled in spirit” (vs. 33). Then He wept as He followed them to the grave. 

We are as often captivated by the simple statement “Jesus wept” (vs. 35) even more so sometimes than the display of His power in raising of Lazarus a few minutes later. In His weeping, He’s fully commiserating with us in our deepest griefs. Jesus isn’t just passing through the cemetery—He’s fully there with us. 

Many couldn’t help but notice, “How He loved Him” (vs. 36). But others wondered, “Couldn’t He have kept this man from dying?” (vs. 37). Yes, He could have—and they’d soon see He could even do more than that.

John 11: Cemetery Words (5) I Am The Resurrection And The Life

When Jesus reassured Martha that “Your brother will rise again,” (vs. 23) she expressed hope of all believers, saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (vs. 24).

But Jesus’ wasn’t just saying that there would be a resurrection (there will be!), but that He IS the resurrection. 

Jesus is the personal power and cause of it. He’s the life-giver unto everlasting life. Jesus had power over His own life and death, as He said, “I lay down My life so that I may take it again” (Jn 10:17). And He has the power to give life to others. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (Jn 5:21).

So Jesus clearly announced to Martha, a believer so recently affected by death, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (vss. 25,26). These are bold, bold claims. But believing these things is what makes us believers. So He directly asked her, “Do you believe this?” (vs. 26). 

Let our answer always be as clear as hers was—as one who knew both death and Jesus personally—“Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (vs. 27).

John 11: Cemetery Words (4) Your Brother Will Rise Again

In Bethany, Jesus met by his dear friend Martha at or near the cemetery where her brother Lazarus was buried. Her confidence in the Lord’s power to heal was not all diminished by Jesus not being there heal her brother before his passing. There is no hint of complaint or bitterness at Jesus not having been there to heal.

Martha said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 21). These are the exact same words her sister Mary said a few minutes later when she arrived (vs. 33). They must have discussed this and built each other up in faith during the difficult time of their brother’s illness, death and burial. 

Martha’s faith before Lazarus’ death was exactly the same as after it—and she wanted Jesus to know that, saying, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (vs. 22). 

Jesus consoled her with the hope of the resurrection, saying, “Your brother will rise again” (vs. 23). This is that same message of hope that all believers share in times of grief—“Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Martha confessed her confidence “in the resurrection on the last day” (vs. 24), just as we do. But in this case, there would be more to it than just that. 

John 11: Cemetery Words (3) Our Friend Has Fallen Asleep

In Jn. 11, Jesus told the apostles, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up” (vs. 11). The disciples knew he’d been sick, and so were encouraged by the this, thinking of the restorative power of sleep. So they said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” (vs. 12) for “they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep” (vs. 13).

But that wasn’t what Jesus meant at all. Rather, “Jesus had spoken of his death” (vs. 12). Then, “He told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him’” (vs. 15). 

This is the paradox and great hope in Christ. Plainly, he was dead, but they were going to him. Jesus said he was asleep so He was going to wake him—but he wasn’t asleep, he was dead. And though he’s dead there is a way that its a good thing that will cause them to believe.  

To those who know Jesus’ teaching, none of these things are too difficult. And for believers, there are also other paradoxes to sort through: the last shall be first, but the first shall be last (Matt. 20:16l); gaining your life will lose it, but losing it shall gain it (Matt. 10:39); and how the things which are not seen are more meaningful than the things which are (2 Cor. 4:18).

John 11: Cemetery Words (2) Work In The Day — Walk In The Light

In Jn. 11, after enough time passed that Lazarus’ death would be certain and widely known, Jesus told His disciples, “Let’s go to Judaea again” (vs. 7). The disciples, who didn’t know why Jesus hadn’t immediately headed to Bethany upon hearing that their friend was sick, apparently filled in their lack of knowledge with thinking that Jesus wasn’t going near Jerusalem because of the danger involved, saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” (vs. 8).

Jesus told them that their going or not hadn’t been because of fear and Jesus had work to do that wasn’t set by any schedule of men. Jesus said, “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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (vss. 9,10). So not only are they are going, they are going publicly, in the daytime, and in the light. The threat of harm had not delayed their trip—it was delayed only for the glory of God (vs. 4). 

Jesus taught us to do things openly, in the light of God and being a light to men. This was a constant teaching of Jesus (Matt. 5:14; John 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; Jn. 11:9) as well as the disciples whom He taught (Eph. 5:8.9; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9;1 Jn. 1:5-7; 2:8-10). Let us do the same. Working in the day and walking in the light.  

John 11: Cemetery Words (1) To The Glory Of God

In John 11 Jesus deals with the reality of sickness and death as only He can. The story begins with Jesus being told, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” He replied, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (Jn 11:3,4).

We learn that those who love Jesus, and those whom He loves, still get sick and die. Jesus still loves them and they love Jesus. If “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” will not “separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom. 8:35), then neither will whatever disease or sickness that Lazarus’ body succumbed to, nor will those that weaken us and our loved ones. 

Believers don’t just passively endure these things without ill effect. We actively live through them to the glory of God. In Lazarus’ case, his immediate and startling resurrection caused many to praise God that day and for the months to come (Jn. 12:9). But there are many ways for God to be glorified in sickness and death. Faithful love and care “in sickness and health,” until parted by death; honoring parents, grandparents and other kinfolk over many years of aging and declining health; and sharing burdens and comforting in grief are all normal things for believers. These regular acts of extraordinary love and service are all to the glory of God.

Spreading Faith In Jesus

John the apostle wrote about faith and reassurance in Jesus. 

Near the end of his gospel, the Apostle Thomas is recorded as expressing His faith when seeing the risen Lord Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn 20:28-31).

John’s general epistle began with the same theme. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 4:1-4).

We know Jesus through those that knew Him. Evangelism is still people coming to know Jesus through others who knew Him first and that He lives though. Let us proclaim Jesus by telling of Him and demonstrating His life in ours (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 4:10,11).

“To Those Who Are Elect Exiles”

Peter’s first epistle is addressed “to those who are elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1). The description “elect exiles” tells two important things. First: in regard to God these Christians are the elect, His chosen ones — in God’s mind, heart and plan from the beginning. Second: in regard to this world, they are aliens, dispersed, not honored, outcasts. 

In the second verse (1 Pet. 1:2), Peter gives the how and why of this relationship with God and the world. It is:

ACCORDING to the foreknowledge of God the Father” 

Chosen in Christ as His, but rejected by the world is God’s eternal plan. We cannot change the nature of the relationship of His people to this world any more than we can it with Him. 

IN the sanctification of the Spirit” 

This relationship is in holiness—a way separated from this world—as God has revealed by the Spirit. 

FOR obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”

This is done for us to obey Jesus and the cleansed from our sin in His blood. 

For this great task of a sanctified obedience and closeness to Christ, but separated from the world we live in, we have been given abundance grace. As this verse ends, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

Justice And Holiness

Whether partisan or not, no observer of our country’s political turmoil thinks that justice has been sought, much less attained. This is bothersome to us because desiring justice is inherent in us, imprinted on us, as those made in the image of the one who self-declared, “I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:3). 

Through the corruption of sin, we’ve learned to lie and seek our own advantage. But we still feel injustices against us. In moral confusion, we even think the justice of the Holy One will vindicate us, rather than condemn. So Amos warned, “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light,” he said (Amos 5:18).

God’s judicial justice will come. Maybe we’ll have been eagerly waiting for it like the martyrs who said, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging?” (Rev. 6:10), or maybe it will come after the “terrifying expectation of judgment” (Heb. 10:17) that the profane must live with—but ultimate true justice and holiness will come from heaven as promised.  

Let us prepare for that day in God’s way, as the prophet said, “What does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Eternity In Our Hearts

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said God made a time for everything in life and “set eternity in the hearts” of men (Eccl. 3:11). 

So we know within us that all the times of life that He gives—of “birth and death,” “planting and uprooting,” “tearing down and building up,” “weeping and laughing,” “mourning and dancing,” “love and hate,” “war and peace,” and every other “purpose and event under heaven”should mean something. 

This “eternity in our hearts,” makes us crave lasting purpose and seek fulfillment. And it can’t be faked. We need it to be authentic. 

But living in a fallen world “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20), where “all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2,14; 3:19; 12:8). Even things that should be good and comforting to us are often just additional sources of frustration. 

Augustine, summarized this great yearning within us, thwarted by life's futilities, as a “restlessness,” saying, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Only in God and the things He gives—used properly for the purposes He gave them—can we hope to find the satisfaction, fulfillment, and contentment that our souls ache for.  

A Ransom For Us All

Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ wonderful statement, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). 

Ransom is paid when one is held in captivity or bondage. In modern times ransom is almost exclusively given to illegitimate takers like kidnappers. In ancient times, ransoms were commonly used to retrieve important people or family members who were taken in war or other misfortunes. 

The 49th Psalm discusses who would ransom and redeem those who were taken hold of by death. Redemption then will be God’s alone. 

Ps. 49:7   No man can by any means redeem his brother, 

Or give to God a ransom for him—

8 For the redemption of his soul is costly, 

And he should cease trying forever—

14 As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; 

Death shall be their shepherd…

their form shall be for Sheol to consume…

15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; 

For He will receive me. Selah.

Living in a time of physical security, and in the gospel time of abundant grace and hope, we can forget how tenuous a grasp we have on freedom and life. But death is the ultimate reminder of our need of all that was accomplished in Jesus, “Who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). 

Even Samson Was Strongest When He Was Weak

Samson and the other servants of God mentioned in Hebrews 11, “gained approval through their faith” (vs. 39), but man, is he a complicated character. Most of us know him from childhood Bible stories. His superhero-like strength and outlandish exploits—breaking ropes, carrying off city gates and fighting bad guys—easily lend themselves to the youthful imaginations. 

But there’s a lot of darkness in his story—lust, gambling, murder, arson, lies, and fornication. Samson didn’t deliver Israel from their troubles, instead, he was Israel in all their troubles. He had a unique birth, a special mission, help and blessings from God and yet nothing seemed to improve much. Finally, worn down and in a relationship with a harlot, he lost his strength and was captured by the enemy. 

In his humiliation and weakness, he turned to God and was heard one more time, gaining a great final victory (Judg. 16:30). He learned the same lesson that the Lord taught the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 11:9) 

Let’s learn something from this man who had such a messy life, and depended too much for too long on physical strength. 

Let’s learn of God’s grace to those who seek Him, even in the midst of, or towards the end of, a messy life.

God Is Opposed To The Proud

“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” Those aren’t my words, they’re God’s (Prov. 26:12). God repeatedly says that He hates pride. He warned, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

God resists the proud because they resist Him. Haughty hearts don’t admit to sin. They won’t confess it and cannot repent of what they deny. Pride won’t admit to weakness and wrong so it can’t ask for help or forgiveness.  

Pride comes at a high price. It costs us relationships and opportunities alike.  It can even cost us our souls and yet we often still stubbornly prefer it to humility. 

God blesses humility because it will quickly do what pride will not. The humble heart serves God and others. It will stoop to help and bow before God. 

Humility will confess, to men and God alike, the wrongs that pride so stubbornly refuses to acknowledge. 

So we can stand on our pride and ultimately fall on our face, or we can fall on our knees and stand where God lifts us up. Truly, “God gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” (Jas. 4:6).

“In The Image Of God”

In beautifully concise, almost sparse, language Moses tells how God made the world and all things in it (Gen. 1). He slowed down when telling how humanity was specifically crafted in God’s image.

Sin corrupted us and still does, but God in Christ—who took on the fulness of man and possessed the fulness of God without compromising either—came to redeem us from our lawless deeds. In this great rescue, the dignity of everyone for whom He died is reaffirmed.

We must learn to view ourselves and others as image-bearers of God with a great purpose to fulfill—and in Christ, the way to fulfill it. We have not created ourselves, nor redeemed ourselves, nor do we successfully direct ourselves. Our creator always has better ideas for us than we have for ourselves. 

Being made thus by Him, we are not just what we have, buy, or even what we do. Nor are we the sum of our thoughts, desires, or struggles. There’s always more to us. We are always body, soul, and spirit as God gave.

Let us seek to fulfill the hope of the apostle Paul: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

“In The Image Of God”

In beautifully concise, almost sparse, language Moses tells how God made the world and all things in it (Gen. 1). He slowed down when telling how humanity was specifically crafted in God’s image.

Sin corrupted us and still does, but God in Christ—who took on the fulness of man and possessed the fulness of God without compromising either—came to redeem us from our lawless deeds. In this great rescue, the dignity of everyone for whom He died is reaffirmed.

We must learn to view ourselves and others as image-bearers of God with a great purpose to fulfill—and in Christ, the way to fulfill it. We have not created ourselves, nor redeemed ourselves, nor do we successfully direct ourselves. Our creator always has better ideas for us than we have for ourselves. 

Being made thus by Him, we are not just what we have, buy, or even what we do. Nor are we the sum of our thoughts, desires, or struggles. There’s always more to us. We are always body, soul, and spirit as God gave.

Let us seek to fulfill the hope of the apostle Paul: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

Clothe Yourself With Christ

The Bible talks a lot about clothes. Sometimes it’s literal clothing, like the “attire of a harlot” (Prov. 7:10) or “a bride” (Jer. 2:32), or the “fine clothes” of the rich (Jas. 2:3) contrasted with the “dirty” and insufficient clothing of the poor (Jas. 2:2; Job 24:10, 31:19). And the Bible teaches that our clothing should not be ostentatious (1 Pet. 3:3), but “proper, modest and discreet” (1 Tim. 2:9).

But the greatest Bibles lessons about clothes aren’t literal. Rather clothes are used as a metaphor for spiritual life. Our life of sin is described as “polluted garments or filthy rags” (Zech. 3:4; Isa. 64:9). Like changing out of dirty clothes, we are to “lay aside” sin, “put on” what is proper (Col. 3:8,11; Eph. 4:22,24) and “clothe ourselves with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). 

Christians are to clothe themselves in the virtues taught and shown by Christ, until the blessed day when it will be: “Given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8), for, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

Until then, let us follow the admonition of the apostle Paul: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).

Who Did His Father’s Will?

Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons, both of whom were somewhat rebellious. He said, “He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered and said, ‘I will, sir’; and he did not go. And he came to the second and said the same thing. But he answered and said, ‘I will not’; yet he afterward regretted it and went” (Matt. 21:28-32).

Jesus asked His hearers to decide, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” It was obvious which one did, even if he got off to a bad start. So Jesus said that those who heard the gospel and repented, even though their sins were great, followed God’s will much more than those who respectfully said they’d follow—but didn’t. 

The gospel teaches us a great deal of “doing.” Doing as Christ did. Doing “unto others.” Doing when we don’t feel like it—until we do. Psychologists call this the “Behavioral Model.” You might not feel like doing it, but start doing it and your feelings follow your behavior. 

What did Yoda say when Luke Skywalker whined, “All right, I'll give it a try.” Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” 

More seriously, Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (Jn. 13:17) and His brother James warned, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

Yielding With Humility 

Too many people make sure they get their own way. They don’t care if you get what you want or need—just so long as they can get theirs. So such people can appear considerate, letting others go first—but only when they’re sure that they’ll get theirs too. 

They might let you have the first, and maybe even the last, piece of cake; but would never give up the final seat on the lifeboat.

How do we move from this to true humility and a true spirit of putting others first? 

The answer revealed and shown to Christians is be like Christ. 

The apostle Paul taught: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5).

Is this hard? Yes. Self-denial always is. So start practicing it in in small ways first. Then be resolute in putting others first in more meaningful ways. 

Yielding with humility is the road to true Christ-likeness, following the one who left heaven, “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).

Psalm 88 — A Psalm We Need

God’s word is an armory with defenses and weapons for every kind of occasion. Just like your gun safe has things you never want to use in anger, God’s revelation has equipment for dark (Amos 8:9) and evil days (Eph. 6:13) that we hope never come—but eventually do.

Ps. 88 is never listed as anyone’s favorite Bible reading. It’s the song of one whose, “Soul has had enough troubles, Forsaken…Whom You remember no more.” (v. 3-5) The one who asks, “Lord, why do you reject me? Why do you hide…?” saying, “I suffer…I am desperate. You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend.” (vs. 14-18) Yes, “Hello, darkness my old friend,” indeed.

We need to know how to react in faith in dark times of difficulty and tragedy. When injuries, long-term illnesses beset us. When our spouses, parents or children are given a terminal diagnosis. When there’s separation, longing, and loneliness. or depression, despairing, and bereavement. These come in life. And God’s word has the answer. 

Just like I’m glad to know that in the event of a water landing, my airplane seat can be used as a floatation device, I’m glad to know such psalms are here. I pray I’ll never have to use them for real. But knowing how life is, I’m afraid some day, I just might. I’m also glad someone went over the emergency instructions ahead of time, even if I didn’t pay as much attention as I probably should have.