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: Jesus Knew and Still Cried

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.”

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:33-35)

deadnot_350Both of Lazarus’ sisters have run out to meet Jesus and have said those devastating words to him: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We talked yesterday about how that is a perfectly appropriate response to loss in our own lives: Run straight to God with our tears and our most difficult questions – and a stubborn commitment to trust his character.

How does God respond to our grief, to our loss, to our tears? Jesus shows us. He wept. He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

Now, think about this for a minute: Did Jesus know he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he know that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose”? Did he know it was going to be okay in the end?

Of course he knew! God feels deep compassion for his children all the time. He loves us like a good Daddy. He doesn’t sit in heaven and say, “They’ll be fine in a few minutes.” He feels for us even while he is working for our good, even when we don’t get, yet, why he didn’t do what we’d hoped.

Think: Do you really believe God feels compassion for you when you are sad? Do you think of him like a good dad who cares deeply about you as his child, even when you’re questioning his actions?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be more and more convinced of his compassion and love for you.

Do: Read about God’s deep and irrevocable love for his children in Romans 8:28-39.

Dead Not Dead: Tears Love Death Power

“Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ ” (John 11:35-37)

The Jewish mourners gave Jesus credit for his tears. They made the assumption that he cried for dead Lazarus because he “loved him.” But even they wondered why that love didn’t translate into using his power to heal the man.

deadnot_350Of course, God had other plans for his power, plans to make obvious to everyone paying attention that this was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. God used the death of Lazarus to prove his power over death; he used the resurrection of Lazarus to prove that his love was not powerless.

If the most loving thing your compassionate Father can do for you – or for someone else – involves allowing you to experience great suffering for a short season, would you still want him to stop it? Will we insist on judging God’s love for us by the intensity of our pain today or will we judge the intensity of his love today by the power of Christ’s suffering for us on the cross?

It’s a hard question on painful days.

Think: Does your understanding of God’s love for you grow or shrink on painful days? Does his actual love for you ever grow or shrink? What is the evidence of his love for you if it is not an absence of suffering in your life?

Pray: Thank God that He has proved his love for you by the sacrifice of Jesus’ suffering and death in your place, to make you his child through your faith in Christ.

Do: Read (memorize?) Romans 5:8.

Dead Not Dead: Looking for Glory for Real

“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:38-40)

What could be more bizarre than this? Jesus, the teacher, the master, weeping and asking for the grave of his dead friend Lazarus to be opened? Was he hysterical, out of his mind with grief, forgetting that he’d come four days too late? Is that what Martha thought?

deadnot_350He has to remind her of his words so she can catch up with their meaning: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” How many of God’s most powerful promises have we filed away because we have heard them a million times without ever really connecting what they mean in the moment we’re experiencing?

What is the moment you’re experiencing today? Are you expecting God to do anything? Do you believe that his promises to you matter right now, that he loves to give good gifts today, that he’s with you in this moment?

Are you looking for the glory of God?

Think: What promises have you seen God answer in your real, everyday life? Which ones are you counting on him to keep?

Pray: Thank God that if you believe, you will see his glory.

Do: Make a quick list of five promises God has made to you in his Word. (Feel free to cheat by looking some up or phoning a friend if you have to.)

Dead Not Dead: Why Pray Out Loud?

“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ ” (John 11:41-42)

Why do we pray out loud? After all, it makes some of us really uncomfortable to pray in front of each other. And it makes others really bored to listen. Why do it? Isn’t God famous for knowing our thoughts, and aren’t we famous for believing that he hears our thoughts?

deadnot_350I think Jesus reveals one of the benefits of praying out loud in front of each other in today’s verses. He says clearly that his vocalized prayer of thanks was for the benefit of those listening. He wanted to leave no room for doubt that the giant miracle they were about to witness came from the God of the universe – that he was God’s Son.

In a similar way, when I ask God for help with something right out loud in front of you, you’re much more likely to give God the credit when that good thing happens. Vocalizing our prayers and thanksgiving in front of each other is another way to remind each other how huge and powerful our God really is.

Think: Are you hesitant to pray in front of other people? Do you know why? What can you do to start to overcome that timidity?

Pray: Thank God that he doesn’t need you to pray out loud in order to hear your prayers, and ask him to help you to become comfortable talking to him in front of others sometimes for their benefit and his glory.

Do: Make a point to pray out loud with at least one other person this week.

Dead Not Dead: When the Dead Man Walked

“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ ” (John 11:43-44)

Can you imagine being there in this moment? Even if you had followed Jesus for years and believed him to be the Messiah and really really missed your friend or brother Lazarus – this would be terrifying. Wouldn’t it?

deadnot_350One of the primal fears of humanity is that the dead will come back to life. That’s one reason zombie stories can be so scary. The dead are supposed to stay dead, even the ones we miss most. If you have even an ounce of imagination, you’ve felt a little chill in a graveyard. You have to remind yourself that death is final. Nobody comes back.

Until now.

But after that moment of horror passes – once you realize Lazarus is no slobbering monster, just himself alive again – the truth begins to come up over the horizon of your heart: Death is beatable. It doesn’t have to win. It is not the last word. If Lazarus can come back after four days gone, all the rules are changed. We can live forever. But how?

Jesus. We need Jesus.

Think: If someone asked you to explain how a person can beat death and be resurrected, what would you say? How would you explain the good news about Jesus and living forever?

Pray: Thank God that Jesus proved he is more powerful than even death.

Do: Read about your own resurrection from the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:12-28.

Dead Not Dead: Wouldn’t You ?

“Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (John 11:45)

Wouldn’t you? If you’d seen it in person and knew the whole story? If you’d heard Lazarus had died and had gone to Mary’s house for the funeral and knew for a fact the man had been dead for four days?

deadnot_350If you’d been there when Jesus showed up, and if you’d followed Martha or Mary to see him and followed him to the tomb? If you’d seen Jesus weep, deeply moved, and then heard him ask to have the tomb opened?

If you’d heard him with your own ears shout, “Come out,” and had seen Lazarus hop awkwardly from the grave, wrapped up in his own burial clothes? If you’d watched with your mouth open while they unwrapped his head and had seen him alive with your own eyes?

Wouldn’t you believe Jesus was the Son of God?

Think: Why do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?

Pray: Thank God for demonstrating his power through Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead. Thank him, too, for giving you the faith to put your trust in Jesus for your salvation and resurrection.

Do: Imagine for a minute how you would describe to someone what you’d seen on that day if you had been there.