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Showing posts with label All Saints. Show all posts
Showing posts with label All Saints. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sinners, Saints, & Kings

Today, I begin a 4-week series about living in the Kingdom of God.  It was inspired by an interesting message I heard by the evangelist Myles Munroe, where he shed light on the Kingdom of God by considering the rules and protocol of living under the authority of a royal family.  I hope you will join me each week as we delve into some important concepts about living in the Kingdom of God.

We are so blessed to live in America. I am so thankful for our freedom. And as voting day in my community approaches on November 6, I am grateful we get to vote for who will lead us. Now, our choice of leaders often leaves much to be desired, but we have the choice.  Can you imagine if we didn’t have a choice?  Suppose our leaders didn’t have to work to win our vote.  Suppose they were chosen for us or inherited their position by birth?

That’s the way it is in some countries. That’s the way it's been for most of the world’s history. Before my country’s forefathers broke away from England, leaders were appointed by the king of England or simply gained their leadership position as a birthright without any regard to the people’s wishes?  If you think America's government is a mess, just imagine what a mess it would be if the democratic process didn't hold leaders accountable!

Democracy is not perfect, but I believe it is the best form of government on this earth.  Kingdoms and dictatorships don’t work on earth, because a sinful nature resides in us all and it corrupts leaders to the point they abuse their power.   Without democracy, there is no way to hold leaders accountable.  In America, “we the people” hold our government in check when we vote.  It is the best governmental system we have found to live under in our broken world.

But today, I tell you the Kingdom of Heaven is not a democracy.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom—The Kingdom.  And it is ruled by a king—The King. You don't get a vote. Either pledge allegiance or realize you are a traitor.  Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but do you know what that means?  Do you think it will be a democracy in Heaven?  Do you think you will get to vote on who leads you or what you will do or how you will live?  No.  It is a Kingdom ruled by the King.

Furthermore, I tell you the Kingdom of God is not just some place we go when we die.  The Kingdom of God (AKA the Kingdom of Heaven, for the terms are interchangeable) is right here among us, right now.  The core message of Jesus’ teaching was not about a heaven we go to when we die.  Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ushered in the Kingdom of God.  So we who call ourselves Christians, who proclaim that Jesus is Lord, live in the Kingdom of Heaven right now.  And to the extent we accept and follow the rule of Jesus the King right now, we experience the glory and reward given to all who live in the Kingdom of God.

I want to read a couple scriptures and make some comments as we go. 

Judges 17:6In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

In a democracy, people choose leader. A kingdom is led by the rightful ruler.  A king supposedly gets his right to rule from God—it is a divine right.  To start with, Israel didn't have a man who served as their king, because they considered God as their King.  Unfortunately, when everything was going well for the kingdom, the people would stop listening to their King (God) and start doing whatever they wanted.  So, the nations who lived around them would start to raid, invade, and oppress the Israelites.  They would cry out to God to save them and God would, but as soon as things started going well again, the people would forsake the King (God) and do whatever seemed right in their own eyes and the cycle would repeat.  

So rather than learning from their mistakes, the Israelites decided they wanted to be like all the other nations around them--they wanted an earthly king.  They thought this would solve their problems.  God warned them that an earthly king would get power hungry and take their property and make them pay taxes and misuse his power, but the people were adamant.  "We want a king—just like everyone else!”  What an ungrateful thing to do!  They were essentially rejecting God as their King in favor of a mortal king.  

This is what our sinful nature leads us to do.  We want to do things our own way—“whatever seems right in our own eyes.”  We don't want to give allegiance to THE KING.  We want to be our own way.  The results are predictable.  We make a mess of our lives.  We sin.  We hurt ourselves and others and we break God's heart.  This predicament is not just something we read about in the Bible; we can see it playing out all around us even today.  

We are broken.  This is why Jesus came to live among us.  He came to save us from ourselves and help us return to the reign of God, our rightful King.

Matthew 3:2 - “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Jesus’ core message was repent because the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) is near.  His primary message was not love, not healing, not 'die and go to heaven'; it was repent. You see, you can’t enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom (which are love and healing and eternal life) unless you enter into the Kingdom.  And you can’t enter into the Kingdom unless you repent and accept the rule of the King.  So we need to repent!

How do you repent and accept the rule of the King?
First, you must be sorry for your sin.  Recognize that you are a sinner.  In other words, realize that you have not obeyed the King.  This is not a minor detail.  You have rejected the rightful rule of the King of the universe.  You are a traitor and you need to beg for mercy.

Second, confess your sins to God.  You need to go before the King and confess that you have sinned against Him.  Whatever other sins you have committed, your biggest sin has been neglecting your duty to honor, obey, and love the Lord your God.  Bow your head and pray to God and confess.

Third, ask forgiveness.  Ask the King to show mercy and forgive your sin.  God's mercy and grace are amazing.  If you are truly sorry and ask for forgiveness, He is faithful and just and will forgive you.

Fourth, make restitution. Sin causes real damage.  You need to do what you can to make it right.  A few years ago, we were doing some painting at our church.  The painter left the paint cans outside on the playground where he was painting, planning to return to work the next day.  Well, some kids who lived nearby were playing on our playground and saw the paint.  They decided to get into some mischief.  They opened the cans and splashed the paint all over our brick wall.  It was all caught on our security cameras; we even had footage of them walking home to their house and going inside.  So, we went to the parents and showed them the pictures of their kids vandalizing our property.  They made their kids say they were sorry and come back to the church to clean up their mess.  That is restitution.  When we sin, we need to do what w can to make the wrong right.  Sometimes you can never make up for what you’ve done.  And certainly, our sin against God is so great we can never pay for it.  Thankfully, Jesus death on the cross paid the cost of our sin in full.  However, we must still sincerely ask forgiveness and do what you can do to show our change of heart.  Remember, you’re not earning forgiveness, you are showing a change of heart.

Fifth, forsake a life of sin.  Make a commitment to follow Jesus and obey him as your Lord. This is not a one time commitment; it is a way of life.  Everyday you are going to wake up know God is your King and you are going to live your life for Him from now on.  I encourage you to talk to someone about your commitment—a family member, a wise Christian friend, a mentor, or a pastor. You need their support to help you and hold you accountable. 

Finally, receive forgiveness. When we repent of our sin, God is faithful to forgive us. Jesus washes us clean and we start over as a brand new person with a clean slate. Now it’s also time to forgive yourself and receive the peace God gives to everyone who truly repents and trusts in Jesus. You are forgiven. Now forgive yourself. 

There is much more to explore about living in the Kingdom of God, but this is enough for today.  I hope you will check back next week for part two.  Let me end by saying:  a saint is just a sinner saved by the grace and forgiveness of God.  Those Christians who have died and gone to heaven--perhaps someone you've known and loved--in the Kingdom of God cheering us on.  They can see what we cannot see.  They see the King and the Kingdom.  They are cheering for you, hoping you will trust in what you cannot see—but what they can see—the love and grace and forgiveness and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  If you want to be in the Kingdom with them, turn to Jesus today for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What is a Saint?

            One of the most popular holidays in America is Halloween.  And why shouldn't it be?  It's great!  You get to dress up in costumes and have all kids of fun; and there's free candy!  What's not to like?
            What most people don't know is that we wouldn't have Halloween without a lesser known Christian holiday called All-Saint Day on November 1st.  Halloween (AKA All Hallows Eve) is the night before All Hallows Day (AKA All Saints Day), the day we honor and remember all the Christian saints who have gone to Heaven to be with the Lord.
            In my church, we often recite The Apostles' Creed to remind everyone what we believe.  There are two statements in the cred that are confuse people.  First we say, "We believe in the Holy Catholic Church."  However, we are not saying we believe in the Roman Catholic Church.  The word "Catholic" means universal.  We believe in the holy universal church that is made up of every person who calls Jesus Lord and Savior--regardless of which denomination they belong to or which local church they attend.  The Holy Catholic Church is the universal church of Christ that has existed throughout all time and we believe in that Church.
            A second statement in the Creed that is little understood is this:  "We believe in the communion of saints."  Many people struggle to know what that means.  What is the communion of saints?  Even more basic, what is a saint?  And the answer to that inquiry is the theme of this blog.  So let us start our investigation by going to the Word of God where Revelation describes a scene of the saints gathered for worship in Heaven. I will make some of my own comments (in italics) about the passage as we read through it.

Revelation 7:9-17
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
    and from the Lamb!”
            Notice the parallel here between this scene in Heaven and the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday a week before his crucifixion.  In both stories, there are palm branches.  In both stories, people are praising Jesus.  On Palm Sunday, the people had high hopes for what Jesus, the Messiah would do for them.  They believed Jesus would drive out the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom according to their worldly wishes.  When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations because his plans were different, the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus and crucified him.  But in this vision of Heaven in Revelation, the people know who Jesus really is and they submit to his plans as Lord rather than expecting him to conform to theirs.  They worship Jesus in spirit and in truth for who he really is.  He is the Lamb of God! 
            Notice also, that the saints are clothed in white robes.  They are innocent.  We will see as we continue to read that their innocence--their white robes--is not a result of their own holy character; it is possible because of what the Lamb has done.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
             The Greek used for "great tribulation" could also be translated "great suffereing" or "great ordeal". This life is full of suffering--both in good times and in bad times. Of course we know there is suffering when we go through trials, when we face sickness or someone we love dies. But there is often suffering in good times as well, for prosperity often makes us lazy and apathetic and leads us away from God--and this is another kind of suffering, maybe even worse because it so sinisterly leads us astray from the source of true joy.
            We see here why the saints who have died and gone to Heaven are innocent and wear white robes.  It is possible because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that was shed on the cross.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
    and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
    will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
    will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
            The saints worship and glorify Jesus because all the suffering is over.  True goodness has come.  The saints have the reward graciously given to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. 
A Saint Isn’t What You Might Think
            There is some confusion about saints, probably because of the way the Roman Catholic Church has put some saints on a pedestal.  The Roman Catholic Church has a whole process for determining who is a saint.  They base their decision on a rigorous investigation of a person's life.  Roman Catholics are venerated as a saint only if they lived a particularly virtuous life and have at least miracles associated with them.  If Roman Catholic authorities determine a person to be a saint, then people can pray to them and ask them to intercede for them with God.  So in the Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, people can pray to St. Mary or St. Teresa.
            There are serious problems with this way of thinking and practicing the Christian faith.  First of all, it is not biblical, for the Word of God clearly teaches that no one is good; all innocence is brought by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  Therefore, it is preposterous to consider any person a saint (or even more saintly) based on the virtuous life they've lived.  No one can be called a saint because of their own actions.  As Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags."
            More important, why would we want to pray to a saint when we can pray directly God?  We do not need anyone--on earth or even in heaven--to intercede for us.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of Lord, the King of Kings, our friend, our redeemer, our brother, our Savior himself interceded for us to God.  Who could possibly be better than him?  Hebrews 10:21-22 – "And since we have a great High Priest [Jesus Christ] who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him."  Why would we choose an inferior person to intercede for us when we already have Jesus? 

What, Then, Is a Saint?             Saint is the word the New Testament writers most often used to describe Christians—the people who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In the King James Version, the word "Christian" is only used 3 times by New Testament writes to describe the people who follow Jesus.  Instead, they used the word "saint" 62 times.  Today, we call Jesus followers Christians, but in the New Testament they called them saints.  So, quite simply, a saint is a Christian.
            The Greek word for saint means set apart, separate, and holy.  As I have described in previous blogs (look here), holy means different and set apart for a special purpose.  Saints are chosen to think different, act different, look different, sound different, and be different from the world.

Communion of Saints
            In Revelation 7:9-17, we see the saints are gathered around the throne of God worshipping the Lamb.  When we gather on earth to worship, we join with them.  We call this worshipful gathering of all the saints--living here on earth and living in eternity--the communion of saints.  It's part of what we claim to believe when we recite the Apostles' Creed. 
            Isn't it a wonderful thought to reflect that we are one with the saints in glory--including the heroes of our faith and our loved ones who trusted in Christ and are know with him in heaven--as we worship God!  If there was ever motivation for regular Sunday worship, it is the idea that we gather together with our friends and loved ones and all the saints in glory to worship God each Sunday in the Holy Catholic Church.  Do you miss your loved one?  Then come to worship and know that they are with you in spirit.  You may not be able to see them or touch them in a physical sense, but they are living and worshipping God just as we are!  And there is even more...
            In Hebrews, the Word of God tells us the saints are cheering us on as we live our life for Christ in this world.  Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."  The crowd of witnesses cheering us on are the saints in glory.
            This past week, I had the privilege of cheering on one of my church members, Kate Roberts, as she competed in a high school cross country race.  We stood along the side of the race route and cheered for Kate and the other runners as they ran.  I hope our cheering offered encouragement to the runners as they pushed their bodies to the limit.
            Long distance running is as much a mental struggle as physical.  As you run, your muscles begin to complain to your mind, "What are you doing to us?  Why are you doing this?  This is hard!  Just stop!  Give up!"  And your brain is saying, "No!  I'm gonna keep going!  Don't give up!  I can do this!"  And since it is a long distance run, you have quite a lot of time to have this internal conflict between your brain and your body.  And it has always encouraged me, when my body starts to wear me down with it's unending complaining, when I pass a group of spectators on the side of the race route who are cheering and shouting things like, "You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  Don't give up!  You're almost there!"  It gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
            It's a beautiful image for the life of faith for it is a long distance run, not a sprint.  And there are a lot of tough hills to climb in this life and a lot of time to contemplate the internal conflicts within your spirit.  One voice says, "This is too hard!  Why are you doing it?  What's the point?  Why don't you just give up?"  And you just keep going, trusting that you can make it, that it's important, that there is a point to all of this struggling and hard work.  Isn't it good to know that as we run this race, the saint--both living on earth and those in glory--are cheering us on saying, "Don't give up! You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  You're almost there!"  And isn't it wonderful encouragement to know in that crowd are heroes from the Bible like Noah who had to build and ark, and Abraham who had a son in his old age, and Joseph who overcame slavery, and Moses who was floated on the Nile river as a baby, and even Christians who were tortured or killed because they believed in Christ?  And doesn't it inspire awe to know even your loved ones whom you have lost from this life are there cheering you on saying, "You can do this!  I made and you can too! Don't give up!  Keep pushing!"  That is the communion of the saints. 

The Take Home
            Let me give you a few take homes as I close.  Number one, you are a saint if you trust in Jesus.  You don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be someone like Mother Teresa.  You don't get one of those white robes because you are particularly virtuous. You are saint because Jesus shed his blood for you.  If you trust Him with your whole heart and follow Him as Lord, he washes you white as snow and you become one of his saints.
            Number two, always remember:  we are one congregation with the saints in glory worshiping God together.  Don't miss out on the chance to gather with the saints on a regular basis for weekly worship.  Do you miss your loved ones who have passed away from this life to the next?  Do you admire the saints that have gone before you?  Then gather with them each week in the communion of the saints as we worship the one who redeems us from our sins and unites us in the hope of eternal life.
            Number three:  the saints are cheering you on throughout your life; be encouraged.  When you feel down or discourage, when the great struggles of life make you want to quite, imagine the saints cheering you--the Christian heroes from the Bible and history, and even your loved ones.  Hear their voices encouraging you and don't give up.  You can do it!
            Lastly, I want to give you the invitation.  If you have not already done so, join the ranks of Jesus' saints today.  You don't need a church committee to investigate your life and approve of you.  All you need is to bow your head and pray: "Lord, forgive me of my sins.  Wash me clean with the blood you shed on the cross.  I give you my life.  I will follow you all my days.  Amen."  Pray this from your heart and let the Holy Spirit help you live it and Jesus will give a white robe and call you saint.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Increase Their Faith

            1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us, Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are essential and Christians seek to grow these fruits through membership in the local church. New members of United Methodist congregations vow to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Then, the congregation promises, "Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
            Today, we will begin a new 3-week series on these 3 promises my congregation makes to our new members to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.  Today, we will consider our promise to increase their faith. Next week, we will look at the promise to confirm their hope.  We will finish the third week with a consideration of how we can perfect them in love.

Hebrews 11:1-2
1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

            Faith is the reality of what we hope for.  The Greek word Hebrews uses for faith means:  conviction, persuasion; faith is that of which you are convinced.  The idea is almost as if our believing in something makes something a reality.
            Psychologist say much the same thing. For instance, if you have a job interview and don't believe in yourself, don't believe you are qualified, don't believe you have as good a chance as any other candidate, then your lack of faith will come through in the way you interview for the job. You will not present a good image of yourself. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will probably not get the job. If you believe in yourself, it will come through to your potential employers.
            Our faith in Christ—real faith—changes our perspective on life. It gives life meaning.  Because of faith, we know life is bigger than us; we know it's not all about us and our happiness.  Because of faith, we have purpose.  A purely scientific worldview tells us we are just animals.  Faith convinces us we are more and thus we can do more than survive and we can even live sacrifically for the sake of others.
            Our faith persuades God is for us and not against us.  So many religions though out history have sought ways to appease the gods, to earn divine help, or to manipulate gods into doing what the people want. People made sacrifices or performed rituals intending to manipulate god(s) into helping people.  What kind of god(s) is that?  A god who can be tricked is not God who can be relied upon.  A god who must be appeased is not a good god, but a bully.  A god who requires us to earn love, doesn't offer real love.  Real love, the kind the human heart craves, is unconditional; it doesn't have to be earned.
            I am so grateful our faith in Jesus tells us God loves us despite all our shortcomings, failures, flaws, and sins. God loved us even when we blatantly reject Him, fight against Him, and try to kill Him. And the extent of God’s love is this: He laid down His life on the cross for our sins to save our souls. And through God’s infinite power, Jesus rose to conquer sin and death! Oh the infinite wisdom, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Savior, our God!
            Our faith in Jesus means we have something to live for and even something to hope for when this life is over. 
            Our faith is not a fairy tale. It is more than just positive thinking that makes our lives better. There is a God who loves us. There is meaning and purpose in ours lives. This is reality. Jesus is Lord. Jesus does save us when we trust in him. There is life beyond the grave. God will right all the wrongs of our world. There will be justice and mercy for all according to God’s infinite wisdom. 

Increasing Faith
            We who are members of Pleasant Grove have been both blessed and a blessing. We have been blessed by God, but also by the saints who've gone before us. I can think of many I have met at my church over the past six-and-a-half years.  I think about a gentle lady named Ann Brookshire.  The first time I remember meeting Ann was in the hospital.  Ann needed a kidney transplant and she often struggled with health problems as she waited for one to be available.  However, Ann handled her illness and waiting with patience and grace.  Her example increased my faith and the faith of many.
            I think of Joanne Oxford, one of the first "At-home" members of our church I met when I came to be the pastor here.  Joanne was so sweet and easy to talk to.  I enjoyed our visits and they increased my faith.
            I think also of Dick Mellema.  Dick suffered from the effects of a stroke he'd had years ago that debilitated him.  Dick didn't do anything grand here at Pleasant Grove, but he was here and his very presence gave us a chance to exercise our faith and Christian love.
            There are other saints still living that encourage us by their words, their deeds, and sometimes just their presence. I know you can name a few who have made a difference in your life.  Look around you; you will see saints if you take time to notice. A saint is not someone who is perfect. A saint is just a sinner saved by the grace of God. We are all sinners and saints if we have faith in Jesus Christ
            Just as we have been blessed by the saints around us, we can also be a blessing to others. We can help increase their faith. By our presence, our words, and our deeds, we can help people see the reality of Christ. We can be the evidence of what they hope for. We can demonstrate that life is not in vain, that they matter, that they are loved, that they have a purpose, that even in spite of trials and in the midst of pain and struggle and grief and sickness and even death, there is victory.  And one day, the glory we find in Christ will make every trial we faced here pale in a comparison.  So members of the household of faith, remember your promise to increase one another's faith. Speak, act, and be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Arguing with Jesus About Lazarus

John 11:1-44

            I love being a pastor! I feel so blessed to make a living doing something I love. I feel like I make a real difference and I know I am fulfilling God’s purpose for me. The people of this church have been so kind to me and my family. You make me feel appreciated and it inspires me. 
           That doesn't mean my job is always easy.  Most days are pretty good and I get to do a lot of neat things like pray with a mom and dad who just had their first baby. Unfortunately, there are darker responsibilities too, like trying to comfort someone who lost their brother unexpectedly in a car accident. It is in these darker moments when the senseless suffering of our broken world are overwhelming that we sometimes want to argue with Jesus. "Why did you let this happen?"
            There is a story in the Bible in the Gospel of John that brings the issue to light best for me.  It is the story of Lazarus' death and resurrection.  It's a long reading, but it's worth the time to read the whole story.

John 11:1-44
A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha.This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.

14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.”29 So Mary immediately went to him.

30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Important Points
This is an amazing story of how Jesus brought a dead man back to life after he’d been in the grave for four days.  It’s such an amazing miracle, you can miss some of the more troubling aspects of the story if you don’t pay attention.  Here are a few important points you should ponder.  First of all, Lazarus was Jesus’ dear friend (verse 3).  Jesus had stayed in Lazarus’ home on a number of occasions.  He had on ongoing relationship with Lazarus’ family.  He cared about him and they cared about Jesus.  If anyone could ask Jesus for a favor, it was Lazarus and his sisters.  Second, Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death.  As the Son of God, Jesus had the power to heal and had done so on plenty of occasions.  Third, Jesus specifically chose not to go and heal Lazarus and Lazarus died.  And finally, in the end, Jesus raised Lazarus. 

Human Suffering
            We live in a world full of beauty and love, but there is also darkness and evil and suffering.  Just as I have had the happy occasion to visit with couples at the birth of a healthy child, I have also had the unhappy experience of being with a family whose child died within a few days of birth.  It is very difficult to be God’s representative in those situations when great sorrow and not joy are the order.
            We believe God knows our every sorrow and need.  We believe God loves us unconditionally.  We believe God has the power to protect and heal—even to raise the dead to life as he did Lazarus.  Then why doesn’t He always do it?  Why does He sometimes seem to stay away as Jesus stayed away from Lazarus in his time of need?  Christians have agonized over these questions and even argued with Jesus about them for thousands of years.
            I don’t presume to have all the answers to questions the best theologians through the ages have been unable to answer definitively.  I can only offer a few points that make sense to me based on my years of ministry.
            First of all, I trust that God loves us.  Even though I don’t always understand why bad things happen (often to very good people), I do trust that God loves us and is with us in our sorrow.  In the story of Jesus and Lazarus, you can tell that Jesus cared deeply about Lazarus.  Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave.  He was angry at the whole situation of how Lazarus’ death was ultimately the result of a fallen world corrupted by human sin—where disease was the order of the day and where people used the tragic occasion of a man’s death to dispute the power of the Son of God.  Likewise, God is not happy about our suffering.  I don’t understand why He heals some and does not heal others, but I know He cares deeply.  That is my faith.  If you are struggling with grief, cling tightly to your faith in God’s love.  Even if you don’t understand why, trust in God’s love.
            Second, I know there is no pain in this life that God has not faced—many times over.  My sister’s life-long friend, Lisa, lost her son in a tragic motorcycling accident a few years ago.  No parent should ever have to bury their own child.  Some would argue it is the greatest agony known to man.  People debate about why it happened—was God not present to protect Lisa’s son or was it a result of the young man’s choice to drive a vehicle some would say is too dangerous.  Lisa would tell you the thing that has helped her the most in her terrible grief is knowing that God also lost His Son.  Jesus, the Son of God, was murdered on a cross because of the evil in human hearts.  So God knows what it is like to suffer, to grieve, to lose His own child.  God knows what we feel when we suffer and He cares.  If you are suffering, know that God understands exactly how you feel.  He feels it too.
            Finally, I believe there is a much bigger picture to what is going on than we will ever see in this lifetime.  I trust God with the big picture.  You see, Christianity teaches this world is not our home.  We sometimes think it is, because it’s all we know.  Yet our time here on earth is very limited in the scale of eternity.  We see things from our earthly point of view, God sees things from an eternal point of view.  Can you even imagine the sale of eternity?  A hundred years seems a long time to us.  A thousand years seems forever, but eternity is everlasting and we are made for eternity.  The times of suffering we consider so dreadful in the 80 or 90 years of this life won’t seem so significant when we are living in God’s glorious eternity.  100,000 years from now, do you think you will give much thought to the pain you are experiencing now?  So just accept that there are things too big for us to totally comprehend.  Trust that God has it under control and will work it all out—somehow—for your own good and for the good of the whole universe for all eternity.
            In the end, Jesus did raised Lazarus from the grave.  Jesus also promised he would raise you and those you love if you believe.  In John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  We have this promise from Jesus and it gives us hope—hope that even transcends death.  So whatever grief, sorrow, or suffering you face in this life, cling to your faith in God through Jesus Christ.