Overcoming the Violent Tyranny of Death – John 11:17-44

In John’s narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, a gnawing statement surfaces not once, twice, but three times. “Jesus, if you’d been here, this would not have happened!” Couldn’t Jesus have prevented the death of his friend, Lazarus? The neighbors mumble: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Could he not have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache we see in front of us? Mary and Martha both lament Jesus’ delay in coming to heal their brother.

Dios Escondido! Literally, “A Hidden God!” At times God does seems so hidden that it appears that He doesn’t care at all. The world seems so inhospitable. Despair is a natural result of divine hiddenness. What are you presently enduring and you are wondering why God seems hidden… silent to your cry for help?

In the Gospel of John, chapter 11, we notice three things about Jesus: We have a Savior who challenges our faith, who shares our grief, and who triumphs over the violent tyranny of death!

  • A Savior who challenges our faith (vv.17-27)

How does he challenge Mary and Martha’s faith? Two primary ways. Jesus initially appears indifferent and unconcerned about the violent tyranny of death.

He challenges their faith by His scandalous delay… (vv.15 and 40).  It leads to greater blessing. “I was not there so that you may believe.” “To see the glory of God”

He challenges their faith by His outrageous claim (v.25-26). That the life that comes through believing in Christ is not interrupted by physical death.

Two groups of believers are mentioned here.

First, “He who believes in me, though he dies…” Here Jesus refers to those who have already died. What about those who have died, those whose bodies are now dissolving in the dust? All of us have relatives and dear ones who are in that category. This is a word of hope addressed to those left behind: “He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”

D. L. Moody once said, “One day you will hear that D. L. Moody of Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Don’t you believe it! In that day I will be more alive than I have ever been before.” That is what Jesus is saying here: “Though he dies [death seizes someone you love], if he believes in me, yet shall he be living.” What a hope that brings!

Then the second group: “Whoever lives and believes in me…” That is talking about us. We are not dead; we have not yet passed from this earthly scene; what about our future? The word of Jesus to us is, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Actually the Greek phrasing here is very strong. It literally says, “He will never, ever die forever.” He will pass from this scene, yes, through what to all appearances looks like death, but there will be no darkness, no loneliness, no separation; he will pass immediately into life.

Why does Jesus do this? – Two purposes… The stated purpose of Lazarus’ sickness – to reveal God’s glory (vv.4, 40). God’s glory is thus seen in his victory over death–indeed, it is “possible only through death–first the death of Lazarus, and then the death of Jesus himself!”

To stimulate faith in His followers – Martha’s confession (vv.14, 27)

What do I need to confess?  Our tendency to doubt and challenge Jesus and His plans and ways.  “If you would have been here, this would not have happened.”  Remember the lament of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings:  “I wish the ring had never come to me.”

  • A Savior who shares our grief (vv.32-37).

Jesus rails against the violent tyranny of death and grieves with his friends. He groans because “the violent tyranny of death which had to be overcome stands before His eyes” (Calvin 1959:13).

How does Jesus grieve?  Jesus’ grieves like we grieve. He is  simultaneously mad and sad.Jesus immersed himself in the grief that death brings.

Notice his sharp anger…Verse 33.  He was “deeply moved in spirit” is a word that is associated with a sense of indignation, of anger. It is a word that the Greeks used to describe a horse snorting with anger. Jesus is indignant, he is moved with anger.

See his profound grief.  Verse 35 is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” However, there surely is a connection between 11:35 (“Jesus wept – burst into tears”) and Rev. 7:17 (“God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes”): because of his tears ours shall be wiped away.

Why?  He is angry at death and saddened with grief. In both cases the reason is the same, namely, his love for his friends. The love of God for us and his wrath toward that which corrupts and destroys us are two sides of a single coin.

He had come for the express purpose of turning their tears into joy.  He wept in sympathy for human sorrow.  He groaned as he beheld the evidences of death’s grim power.  See how he loved him.” I think they misunderstood. It is true Jesus loved Lazarus, but he is not weeping for that. He knows he is on his way to raise him from the dead. He knows that in a few minutes this whole weeping crowd will be transformed into rejoicing people who can hardly believe what has happened; and that Mary and Martha are going to have their dear brother back again in their arms. No, he knows that. He is weeping because he is sharing their heartache.

Can there be anything more beautifully descriptive of the nature of our God than this? He sympathizes with us. It is a precious thing to have someone sympathize with us.

Where do you go in the midst of your pain and grief? In coming to Jesus in the midst of suffering, the sisters provide a model for all believers.

What is the traditional approach to dealing with grief? Stoic, bite your upper lip.  Show no emotions.  What is the liberal approach to dealing with death and grief? It’s a natural thing… the circle of life.  Flippant, casual attitude…NO! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that death is the last enemy that will be destroyed.

What are we to do when our friends and family experience grief like Mary and Martha? Move humbly into the situation not with answers but with God’s presence and with your prayers. Weep with those who weep. Provide a ministry of tears!

He does not sympathize as a spectator who is powerless to do anything to reverse the situation. “Christ does not come to the grave as an idle spectator, but like a agitated wrestler preparing for a contest because the violent tyranny of death which He had to overcome stands before His eyes” (Calvin 1959:13)

  • Our Savior triumphs over the violent tyranny of death by restoring life (v.38-44). He restores our lives.

We read in verse 43: “Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” At the sound of that voice, the king of terrors at once yielded up his lawful captive, and the insatiable grave gave up its prey. At once “He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes.”

A life which knows no death.  John 8:51 – Anyone who keeps my word will never see death.  He tasted death for us (Hebrews 2:9).

The Irony –  Jesus is the one who gives life. The irony, of course, is that he gives life by giving up his own life on the cross. A further irony is that by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus sets in motion his own death (See John 12)

  • How shall we now live?  So what?

Has what happened to Lazarus physically, happened to you spiritually?  John 5:25 – “An hour is coming and now is…when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear (in faith) will live.”

Have you come to a point where you have and are trusting in Jesus as your resurrection and as your life?  If you do, you will receive the life that is no longer subject to the power of death.  The life that comes through believing in Jesus is not interrupted by physical death.

Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrection and the life brings freedom from fear, especially our fear of death (cf. Heb 2:14-15). The call to loose Lazarus and let him go picks up “the biblical imagery of `loosing’ for victory over death and the powers of evil.  As such, this story speaks to all Christians bound by the fear of death and, on another level, bound by various sins. The Christian is in union with the one who himself is resurrection and life and if the Son will unloose you (set you free) you will be free indeed!

Prayer: O Father, may your salvation surround us who live and walk under the shadow of death. Draw near to your dying children. By simple faith in your undying grace may they have peace in the hour of their departing. Draw near to those caught up in the rawness of a new grief. Enable them to weep well, free from bitterness or despair.

Empower by Your Spirit all who care for the dying; in hospitals or at home, in a hospice or on a battlefield; give them your quiet strength. Be close to those who fight against untimely death – those who spend their days working for the elimination of cancer, AIDS, and other diseases; the carnage on our highways, and the butchery of warfare. Empower all of Your preachers of the gospel of grace and peace. By your tireless Spirit, may inadequate words take flesh and become powerful agents in helping people to begin living eternal life now. Through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

Reflections on Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.

Only those who have first tasted peace with God at the cross of Christ can become peacemakers. – James M. Boice

The peace intended is not merely that of political and economic stability, as in the Greco-Roman world, but peace in the Old Testament inclusive sense of wholeness, all that constitutes well-being… The ‘peacemakers,’ therefore, are not simply those who bring peace between two conflicting parties, but those actively at work making peace, bringing about wholeness and well-being among the alienated. – Robert Guelich

If we are really under the influence of the gospel, each encounter we have with another person should be an expression of that. – Alfred Poirier

To put it simply, peacemaking involves getting in between two conflicted, warring parties, bringing calm, listening attentively, and working toward a resolution. – Mike Kasting

O Father, until Jesus comes again and brings His fullest blessings of peace, may we become a peacemaking and peace-loving people who commit ourselves to intentional acts of love by which we work to overcome the enmity between us and other people. Amen.

Reflections on “The Poor in Spirit”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

The sermon on the Mount describes
what human life and human community
looks like when they come under
the gracious rule of King Jesus…

Still today the indispensable condition
of receiving the kingdom of God
is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty…

Thus, to be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty,
indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God…
Right at the beginning of his sermon,
Jesus contradicts all human judgments
and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich;
the feeble, not the mighty;
to little children humble enough to accept it,
not to soldiers who boast
that they can obtain it by their own prowess.
– John Stott

We are beggars. This is true! – Martin Luther

The kingdom of God can only be received by empty hands.
Jesus warns against two things:
Worldly self-sufficiency which leads you
to trust yourself and your own resources
so that you don’t need God;
and religious self-sufficiency
where you trust your religious attitude and moral life
and don’t need Jesus.
– Michael Crosby

He only who is reduced to nothing in himself,
and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.
– John Calvin

Blessed are the spiritual zeros – the spiritually bankrupt,
deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars,
those without a wisp of religion –
when the kingdom of heaven comes upon them.
– Dallas Willard

Psalms of Ascent – What do they teach us about our Lord?

The Lord gladly answers us when we call out to Him in our distress (Psalm 120)

The Lord exercises His watchcare over us when we face physical and spiritual dangers (Psalm 121).

The Lord is worthy of our thankful praise for He extends peace to us (Psalm 122).

The enthroned God of heaven delights to show mercy to us (Psalm 123).

The providential Lord draws near to His suffering people to deliver us (Psalm 124).

Our trustworthy Lord surrounds his people and offers us true security (Psalm 125).

The Lord who weeps promises future joys for tearful sowers (Psalm 126).

Our Lord is the divine architect and builder of our lives, families, and church. Therefore, he sets us free from the blasphemous anxiety of trying to do his work for him (Psalm 127).

Our blessed Lord comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found: in our work, our families, our church, and our community (Psalm 128).

Our suffering Lord enters into the affliction of His people and is afflicted Himself in order to ultimately end all affliction (Psalm 129).

Our gracious Lord delights to forgive sin and redeem us (Psalm 130).

Our high and holy Lord sets his people free from the spiritual cancer of pride (Psalm 131).

Our Lord has chosen the new Zion as your dwelling place, the Church as your place of rest. and have kindled in it a lamp that will burn brightly forever before Jesus Christ, our anointed ing.

Our Lord delights when his people reflect his nature and dwell together in unity (Psalm 133).

Our Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, looks down with delight when His family gathers for worship and graciously pours out His blessing (Psalm 134).

 

Treasuring the Temporal or the Eternal – Luke 16:19-31

Here are three practical implications from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

A.  DANGER: Treasuring the temporal blinds us to the eternal.

  • Money and wealth blind us. We see this danger of wealth in the life of the rich man.
  • He was not sent to hell because of his wealth, he was sent to hell because his obsession with wealth blinded him to two things: His need of a Savior and the needs of others.
  • We tend to go through life like the Pharisees thinking that wealth is a mark of God’s favor and that poverty is a mark of God’s displeasure. This parable pulverizes the wildly popular prosperity gospel… This parable dismantles the belief that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and illness is a sign of His displeasure. The one who is saved in the end lived a life of abject poverty, sickness, disease, and lack of food and provision. The one who is lost in the end lived a life of unusual material prosperity, affluence, and ease.
  • J.C. Ryle writes: “Those whom God justifies and glorifies are seldom the rich of this world. If we would measure men as God measures them, we must value them according to their grace. ‘Let not the rich man boast in his riches. But let him that boasts boast in this, that he knows and understands Me'” (Jeremiah 9:24).

B.  DUTY (vv.24-28): There is a sphere of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee. Both of these spheres and places are the eternal, unchangeable conditions for the saved and for the lost.

  • The Bible insists that there are incredible benefits to trusting and walking with Christ now, but also there are wonderful blessings to trusting Christ in the world to come. There is a place of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee.
  • There is life after death. D.A. Carson declares that “if you are a philosophical materialist and you believe that matter, energy, space and time is all that there is, then you must abandon this philosophical belief to become a Christian.” When a person dies, you do not die like a dog. There is further existence. You are not done after your physical life on this earth.
  • Biblical Christianity is focused on how to flee the place of torment and gain the place of bliss talked about in our passage. New heavens and new earth is a place where there is no more sin, pain, and suffering. We will delight in God and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will love each another without fatigue or delay.
  • Here heaven is described as “Abraham’s side or bosom.” To be in Abraham’s bosom was a phrase used to describe the highest bliss of Paradise. This imagery is that of being the guest of honor at a banquet. See Matthew 13:28-29 for study purposes. Lazarus dines with Abraham at a table of sumptuous feasting.
  • Jesus paints a very graphic picture of hell. It is a place of torment… where the worm does not die… a place of unending weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place without repentance and a place without hope.
  • We don’t take glory in people suffering this fate. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We need people who will ask the Lord to break our hearts over our own city and weep for it like Jesus did Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37ff). We do not believe this because we think we are any better than anybody else, but because we acknowledge that the only hope and help we have in eternity is Jesus.
  • This is why Fernando Ortega sings “and when I come to die… when I come to die… when I come to die… give me Jesus!”

C.  DELIGHT (vv.29-31): Let us find our delight in God’s Book because we find there a God who helps the spiritual bankrupt and destitute. 

  • Who are the ones whom God helps? God doesn’t help those who help themselves. He helps those who are utterly powerless and who willingly acknowledge their own helplessness.
  • What really justifies a man before God? The rich man was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. The issue was whether or not these men were rich or poor, but whether or not these men believed the Scriptures and trusted in the Redeemer to which they testify.
  • How are you doing at stewarding your opportunities to hear, read, study, meditate and memorize the Word of God? What a treasure it is to have Moses and the Prophets. This parable highlights how easy it is to take for granted that we possess the written word of God.
  • May the Lord lead you to embrace the passion and commitment of John Wesley to the Word: “I am a spirit come from God and returning to God… I want to know one thing. The way to heaven… God Himself has condescended to teach me the way… He has written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone. Only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to Heaven.”
  • In Moses (the Pentateuch), what are some of the things that we learn about our promised Redeemer who was to come?
  • God will provide for Himself the lamb (Gen. 22:8a). …When I see the blood [of the lamb] I will pass over you (Exodus 12:13b; 1 Corinthians 5:7). …It shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it [the serpent lifted up], he will live (Numbers 21:8b;John 3:14). The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
  • Jesus died of thirst so that you could have living water.  He died in torment so that you could have the cool water of God’s favor. He was laid in the dust of death so that your thirst could be satisfied.

Prayer of Preparation for Reformation Sunday

Prayer to prepare your heart based on Psalm 46:

Lord God, our refuge and strength,
when the restless powers of this world
and the waters of hell rise up against your holy city,
watch over it and keep it safe.
By the river that flows from the throne of the Lamb,
purify us, your new Jerusalem,
as your chosen dwelling,
for You are with us, our stronghold now and forever. AMEN.

Proclaiming the Gospel to Ourselves in Corporate Worship

One of our main purposes of gathering corporately for worship is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We aspire to do this throughout our whole worship service by cultivating in all who gather three things:

  • A dawning realization of the greatness of your God,
  • A growing awareness of your own sinfulness
  • But also a fresh and continual discovery of the pardoning grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (This last phrase is adapted from Jack Miller and his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church.)

This is why we regularly confess our sins corporately and personally to the Lord. After our time of personal confession, we hear one of our pastors speak to us God’s assurance of pardon from the Scriptures. How can we be so bold to assure people of God’s forgiveness? God’s Word contains countless promises where He assures His people of His forgiveness.

One of the high moments of our worship service occurs when we hear right after the assurance of pardon: “…if your faith is in Jesus Christ this morning, then I assure you, based on the sure promise of the Word, that your sins are forgiven….”

Oh what a blessing to know that you are completely forgiven, totally accepted and profoundly loved by our Lord! Why not reflect on the wonderful and assuring promise of the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity… who delights in mercy… You will subdue our iniquities; and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19)?