26 October 2009

Stop Doubting and Believe

I am again amazed at how God leads me to passages in His word that address issues in my life. A couple of days ago, I wrote this post about my timidity (or is it fear?) in prayer, yet making an audacious request anyway. This morning, I was listening to an audio Bible sampler that I got from the bookstore, and the narrators read John 11--the passage that describes the death of Lazarus. It became quite evident that God was speaking directly to me again (or as Heather prefers to imply, God is smacking me with a large plank). You may appreciate why in a moment.

The passage begins with Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus that Lazarus, "the one Jesus loved," was ill (v. 3). In verse 4, Jesus responded, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” God allowed this illness in order that Christ would be glorified. Yet even after hearing of this illness, He waited two days longer, by which point Lazarus died so that His power might be demonstrated all the more.

To the outside observer, healing may be one thing, an earthly thing; but raising someone from the dead was divine. This point is clarified in verses 11-15. Jesus tells His disciples, "our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him" (v. 11). The disciples respond, "if he has fallen asleep, he will recover" (v. 13). The disciples are already minimizing, looking for an easy explanation, a logical explanation. Then in verses 14, Jesus is blunt with them--"Lazarus has died" because they weren't comprehending his meaning by "fallen asleep." I believe He says this to confront their logic, their trust in earthly things. People don't just become alive again because that is impossible. In verse 15 Jesus finishes His sentence, "for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe." Christ knew that raising His friend from the dead would be an awesome demonstration of His power and that their belief would grow exponentially by seeing Him work.

In verse 17, we discover that Lazarus has been in the tomb 4 days, so he is really dead. In fact, Martha raised concern about an odor--the smell of death--because of the length of time since his passing (v. 39). In the meantime, however, we see Christ setting up His followers to see something miraculous. Martha says to Him, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (v. 21). This belief is similar to the disciples, however, Martha shows amazing faith by saying to Jesus, "but even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you" (v. 22). Can you imagine? Her brother has been dead for four days. He most assuredly stinks, yet Martha trusts in Christ's power! That's what we all need--to believe that Christ is much bigger than our circumstances--much bigger than death. Christ then goes on to confirm her faith in Him. He tells her, "your brother will rise again" (v. 23), not on the last day, but on that very day because, as Jesus tells her, He "is the resurrection and the life" (v. 25).

The story continues to build. Those early believers, and we today, are getting set up to see a miracle. Jesus prepares His disciples. He prepares the sisters. He is preparing us to see not just a healing but someone raised from the dead. He is preparing us for the impossible.

As He is setting the stage--with utter confidence in His Father's power--we get a glimpse of His humanity. He felt compassion on his friends. They were all crying over the death of a loved one and he was moved (v. 34) by their sorrow to the degree where He also wept (v. 35). He sympathizes with their feelings; He is not an aloof God, not a magical genie, but a man with real feelings for those He loved.

In verse 40, we get to see the climax approaching, the story coming full circle. Jesus tells them, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He prays. He prays boldly to His heavenly father. "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me." He demonstrates the confidence that I pray I one day have. He is speaking with His Abba Father, knowing that He is listening. As we know, He then calls Lazarus out from the tomb and many Jews who were there believed. He set the stage, performed a miracle and was glorified.

As I have contemplated Heather's diagnosis of cancer, I realize that God sometimes makes things seem dire so that He can bring glory to Himself by demonstrating His power. That is His supreme goal--to be glorified. Unfortunately, in a society with so many voices and viewpoints calling for our attention, it is too often not the mundane that draws us to God, it is the remarkable. Make no mistake, however, God is in the mundane as well, but too often we miss Him there. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world".

Later in the day, He drove His point home to me. I came across John 20:27. Jesus is talking to Thomas and He said to him, "stop doubting and believe." (NIV).

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