A Friend in Heaven

Here are a few lovely thoughts from the inspirational Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle based upon John 11 where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the grave:

• You have a friend in heaven of almighty power and boundless love who weeps with those who weep.
• You are thought of, cared for, provided for, and defended by God’s eternal Son. You have an unfailing Protector, who never slumbers or sleeps, and watches continually over you.
• You are a “friend of Jesus Christ” even after you die! The friendships of this world are often fair-weather friendships and fail us like summer-dried fountains, when our need is the greatest; but the friendship of the Son of God is stronger than death and goes beyond the grave. The Friend of sinners is a Friend who sticks closer than any brother or sister ever can.
– Adapted from J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John

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!

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.

Homo Unius Libri – A Man of One Book

The rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. The issue was not whether these men were rich or poor, but whether or not these men believed the Scriptures and trusted in the Redeemer to which they testify.

I have asked myself recently: How are you doing at stewarding your opportunities to hear the Word of God read and proclaimed? Like the rich man, we too have Moses and the Prophets…

May the desire of John Wesley in the quote below resonate in your heart and galvanize you to give yourself to reading, digesting, studying, meditating, and memorizing His Book.

John Wesley: “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.”

Confessing Our Sins Together – based upon Luke 16:19-31

AFFIRMING JUSTICE AND MERCY
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  – Amos 5:23-24

He has show you O man; What is good and what does the Lord require of you;
But to do justly, to love mercy And to walk humbly with your God?                          – Micah 6:8

Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.    – 1 John 3:17-18

CONFESSING OUR SINS TOGETHER

For the times that we have been heartless to people in genuine need…         Forgive us O Lord!
For the ways that our pride has quenched our compassion towards others…Forgive us O Lord!
For the ways that we have helped ourselves and impatiently waited on your help… Forgive us O Lord!
For the ways that we selfishly squandered your resources and your money…. Forgive us O Lord!
For the ways that we misread and ignore Your Word to justify our lifestyle… Forgive us O Lord!
For the ways that we have sought the approval of men over Yours… Forgive us O Lord!

ASSURANCE OF PARDON – 1 John 2:1-2a

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…

Take a moment and thank your Savior that He serves as your heavenly defense attorney and that He is not ashamed to call you his brother… his sister. He has paid fully your debt and mine.

Worship Reflections based upon The Rich Man and Lazarus

Of all the winds that blow on love, The demand for money is the coldest and most destructive.

Gustave Flaubert

A reversal at the outset of the story is that the beggar is given a name and the rich man is not. That single fact ought to alert us that the story we are about to hear is going to have surprises in it.

– David Ewert

Wealth is no mark of God’s favor. Poverty is no mark of God’s displeasure. 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).

J.C. Ryle

The sin of this rich man was his providing for himself only. He was not sent to hell because of his wealth, he was sent to hell because his obsession with wealth blinded him to His need of a Savior and to the needs of others.

– Adapted from Matthew Henry

In the final analysis, it is Lazarus, the one who never says a word and always is the passive recipient or expecter of things, who is lauded. How’s that going to be received in our activist culture?

– William Long

After re-reading Luke 16:15, we would do well, I believe, to explore those things which our culture highly esteems, and then to consider whether or not these things are well pleasing in the sight of God.

– Hampton Keathley