Dead Not Dead: Again . . .

“And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ . . . When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:28, 32)

When she sees Jesus, Mary repeats the statement that lands like a question – or an accusation: “If you had been here . . .” She throws herself at his feet and doesn’t ask the one thing all of us have wondered about God’s choices at some point: “Why?”

deadnot_350I wonder how often God hears this sentiment from us: “If you had acted, I would not be feeling this pain right now. I would not be alone. I would not be abandoned. Where were you, God?”

Is it okay to ask that question? I think so. Many of God’s most faithful servants have questioned his decisions with great eloquence and emotion: Abraham pleading for Sodom. Moses pleading for the Israelites. David in the Psalms. Even Jesus a few days from this moment would shout out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

We’ll see tomorrow that God’s heart breaks with ours in response to the pain of death and grieving. I don’t believe he resents our honest questions about his plans, but we cut off our source of comfort if we refuse to keep trusting him because we don’t like how he has spent his power. We’ve got to trust his heart and keep waiting for the resurrection.

Think: Have you ever distanced yourself from God because you couldn’t understand why he would let something terrible happen in your life? What might be a better response when we feel that way toward him? Can you express that feeling and stay close to him at the same time?

Pray: Ask God to help you to trust him – and to allow him to provide you with comfort through the Holy Spirit – even when he doesn’t keep a hard thing from happening in your life.

Do: Read Revelation 21:1-4 and notice the short list of things God immediately reverses at the end of time. (Hint: “There will be no more . . .”)

Dead Not Dead: Do You Believe This?

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’ ” (John 11:25-27)

Jesus tried to tell Martha what was about to happen, but she thought he was just consoling her. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She said, “Yes, I know, at the end when the big resurrection happens.”

deadnot_350Jesus didn’t correct her right away. He made sure she was (and we are) making the connection between faith in Jesus and eternal life. He is “the life.” If we want to live – even after we die – he is “the resurrection.” He’s the only door to the life on the other side of life. Martha understood he was the Christ, the Messiah, and soon she would know he had power over any grave.

Jesus asked Martha the question everyone must answer: “Do you believe this?” Belief in Jesus is the key to the door of eternity.

Think: When did you answer the question of belief in Jesus once and for all? Have you ever asked anyone if they believe in Jesus?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God for the faith to believe in Jesus and the gift of eternal life.

Do: Think of someone you know you could ask these questions to this week: “Do you know if you have eternal life?” “What do you believe about Jesus?”

Dead Not Dead: If You Had Been Here . . .

” ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ ” (John 11:21-23)

We skipped a few verses in which Jesus and his disciples finally arrive in Bethany. Lazarus has been dead four days. The village is crowded with mourners from Jerusalem: friends, family, and acquaintances. In spite of being a wanted man, Jesus isn’t keeping a low profile. Martha hears he’s coming and goes to meet him.

deadnot_350What would you say to him? You send a message asking God to use his power to save your brother. Silence. He just doesn’t show. Your brother dies. What do you want to say to God now? How do you respond to that?

Martha might be expressing some disappointment in today’s verse – but within a context of faith: She is absolutely confident that Jesus could have saved her brother and that he still has access to the God of the universe. The loss of her brother hasn’t shaken her faith in God’s power. Does she still trust his goodness and love?

Think: We often judge God’s character by our own personal circumstances. Is that fair? If not, why not – and by what standard should we try to make a right assessment of God’s character?

Pray: Ask God to help you to trust his power even when he doesn’t use it to do the good thing you wanted him to do. Ask him to help you to be convinced that his plan is best.

Do: If you have a close relationship with a strong Christian who has lost a loved one, think about asking them how their view of God changed (or didn’t) as a result of that circumstance.

Dead Not Dead: What Makes God Glad?

“So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ ” (John 11:14-15)

What does God feel? What makes him happy or sad or angry? It’s always worth slowing down for a second when the Bible mentions God’s emotions. In a few verses, we’ll see Jesus weep. In today’s passage, he says he’s glad.

deadnot_350Why? It sounds cruel, at first. He’s glad he wasn’t there to heal Lazarus before he died. He waited on purpose. How many people down through history have thought God cruel when he didn’t use his unlimited power to keep a loved one from dying?

But God cares about something much more important than the moment of our physical deaths in this life. He cares about our faith in him. Jesus isn’t glad for Lazarus’ death or the pain that will come from it. He’s glad that his disciples are about to believe in him in a way they never have before.

Are you getting this? God responds emotionally to our increased trust in him. It makes him happy. Because God loves us so much, we have the ability to impact him on an emotional level. That idea doesn’t fit inside my head.

Think: How many people in your life actually care whether you trust them or not? Would it be fair to say that the people who care the most about you trusting them are the ones that care the most about you? Who loves you more than God does?

Pray: Thank God that it makes him happy when you believe him. Ask him to help you to trust him more.

Do: Read (and memorize?) Hebrews 11:6.

Dead Not Dead: The Day Walkers

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.’ ” (John 11:9-10)

I wonder if the disciples just nodded a lot when Jesus talked. Frankly, he is hard to understand sometimes, isn’t he? The disciples said, in essence, “Are you sure you want to go back to Judea; the Jewish leaders tried to kill you last time you were in town.”

deadnot_350Jesus answered with today’s verse. Read it again. How would you have taken it? Apparently, the disciples just looked at him, because we’re told that Jesus went on to explain why he wanted to go back. In a way, this kind of broken dialogue makes it easier for me to believe these conversations between the Creator of the universe and his confused-but-faithful human followers really happened.

The commentators tell me that Jesus’ point was probably that we never take a wrong step when we walk in the daylight of God’s will, even if it seems like the path is dangerous. I like that take, but I don’t blame the disciples for not getting it, necessarily.

They did practice it, though: They kept following Jesus even when they didn’t fully understand where he was leading them or why. They trusted him and let him set the pace. Following their example is always the best possible path for us, as well.

Think: Do the things Jesus says in Scripture ever confuse you? Do you believe that to trust and obey him is to walk in the daylight, even if doesn’t always feel safe? Why or why not?

Pray: Ask God to help you to understand Jesus’ hard words in the Bible and to know how to live by them. Ask him, also, to help you to walk in the daylight of his will for your life.

Do: If you haven’t done so before, start a list somewhere of things in the Bible that don’t quite make sense to you and add to the list as you come across them. Then look for some answers in some good Bible commentaries or by asking a Bible teacher you trust about them.

Dead Not Dead: Heading into the Hot Zone

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’ ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?’ ” (John 11:7-8)

Lazarus lived in Bethany, and that village was close to Jerusalem. It was in the hot zone. The last time Jesus was in town, the Jewish religious leaders came close to killing him. They picked up the stones to hurl at him. They tried to grab him, but “he escaped their grasp” and hit the road. (John 10:39)

deadnot_350Why did they want him dead? “. . . for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (v. 33)

Jesus would not back down: “. . . even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (v. 38)

The religious leaders were so committed to protecting their way of life that they refused to see the evidence of the power of God for what it was. They would rather kill than believe they were wrong. We’ll see tomorrow why Jesus wasn’t afraid of them (though the disciples thought maybe he should be).

Think: Have you ever seen someone completely miss the evidence that God was at work right in front of them? Why did they miss it? What were they focused on instead? What do we lose when we refuse to change our course in response to God’s working in our lives?

Pray: Ask God to help you to care more about following him than you do about getting your own way or protecting yourself from harm.

Do: Read the whole confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders in John 10:22-42.

Dead Not Dead: Waiting for God’s Glory

“When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” (John 11:4-6)

Sometimes God waits. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything. The clock keeps ticking until its too late for him to answer our prayer the way we deeply hoped he would. Why? What is the problem? Did he not hear us?

deadnot_350Jesus got the message. He heard from the sisters that Lazarus was sick, and he caught the unspoken request: “Come and save him. Hurry.” And still he waited. He stalled for the glory of God.

We can be just as confident that God gets our messages, even when we’re not sure how to pray. Romans 8:26-27 describes how God uses his Spirit in us to perfectly deliver every message so that it arrives with his full understanding and even in step with his will. God doesn’t say no because his e-mail was down. He hears us. And he loves us just as much as Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

And, still, sometimes he waits or just says “no.” More tomorrow.

Think: Have you ever felt like God wasn’t hearing your prayer? Or like he didn’t care because he didn’t step in and answer as you hoped? How can you be confident that he hears and that he loves you even when he doesn’t respond the way you expect?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be confident that he is tuned into your requests and that he loves you deeply.

Do: If you haven’t recently, read Romans 8:26-28.