John, Chapter 11, Part 4

John 11:34 – And he said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Our last post ended with Jesus deeply grieving as he looked upon the sorrow of his friends, Mary and Martha.  He was troubled by the havoc and destruction that sin was wreaking upon his creation – those he made in his own image, those into whom he breathed the breath of life and those whom he deeply loved.   

As he stood there grieving with the family, the other mourners gathered around.  There was probably quite a crowd. 

At that point Jesus asks the sisters to take him to the grave.  It is important to note that this was not really a request for information.  God often asks us questions when he already knows the answer: 

  • When God asked Cain where his brother was, he already knew Abel was dead (Genesis 4:9-10). 
  • When God asked Elijah why he was at Mount Horeb, he already knew Elijah was afraid of Jezebel (I Kings 19:13-14). 
  • When Jesus asked Judas why he had come to the Garden of Gethsemane, he already knew it was to betray him (Matthew 26:46-48). 

In this case, Jesus already knew where the grave was located.  So what was the purpose of the question? 

  • Going straight to the grave would have implied some kind of collusion between him and the family.  The unbelieving Jews would have accused Jesus of perpetrating a false miracle. 
  • By asking to see the grave, Jesus diverts the grief of Mary and Martha while at the same time raising their expectations of a miracle. 
  • Jesus waited until all of the mourners had gathered around Mary and Martha before asking the question.  Thus, it was a natural thing for all of them to accompany Jesus to the grave.  This put all of them (including the influential Jews and unbelievers) in a position to be eye-witnesses to the miracle. 

John 11:35 – Jesus wept.

As we discussed at the beginning of our study, one of the main focuses of the gospel of John is the divinity of Jesus.  This is a point that he stresses over and over.  But at the same time, we know that Jesus was also human.  Before giving proof of his divinity, Jesus allowed himself to experience the intense grief and sorrow that all of us have known at one time or another.   

This is consistent with what the Old Testament prophets said of the Messiah – he would be a man of sorrows/grief:

Isaiah 53:3 – He [the Messiah] is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

His tears are also evidence of the compassion he had for a lost and dying world, enslaved in sin and subject to death.    

John 11:36 – So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

The Jews took the tears of Jesus as evidence of his love for Lazarus.  They were right to do so; Jesus loved him very much.

But at the same time, Jesus demonstrated his love for us in a much more powerful way – he died for us.

John 15:13 – Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

We need never question the love of Christ for us.  God could simply have written us off like a bad debt, or completely destroyed us.  Instead, he left the splendor and glory of heaven, came down to earth, subjected himself to a mortal body, then laid down his life so we could be reconciled to God.  What more could he have done to demonstrate his love for us?

John 11:37 – But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Others interpreted the tears of Jesus in a very different way. 

The death of Lazarus was obviously a source of sorrow to Jesus.  According to some of the Jews, if Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, he would have.  The fact that Jesus didn’t prevent it, led them to incorrectly assume he couldn’t.

This is similar to the assumption people made when Jesus hung on the cross:

Matthew 27:42 – He [Jesus] saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

People wrongly assumed that Jesus didn’t willingly go to the cross.  They also mistakenly assumed he couldn’t come down from the cross and save himself from physical death. 

They failed to consider that divine power is always directed by divine wisdom.  Furthermore, God’s ways are not our ways.  We cannot make assumptions about the power and authority of God based on the things we see around us.  Christians may be persecuted or afflicted but that does not mean that God does not love us or that he does not have the power to deliver/rescue us.  It means that from God’s perfect eternal perspective, these circumstances are beneficial for us.

These unbelievers thought Jesus had limited power, but he will soon prove them wrong.

John 11:38 – Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

Our translation says that as Jesus arrived at the tomb he was ‘deeply moved’.  The King James Version says Jesus ‘again groaned in himself’.  Why would Jesus be deeply moved/groaning again?

  • The most obvious reason was that as they approached the actual grave, the mourning of Mary and Martha became even more intense and Jesus was touched by their grief.  
  • He was also acutely aware of the misery mankind was experiencing under the bondage of sin and death.  
  • Some think that Jesus was moved because he was going to call Lazarus away from the presence of God and back into this sinful, troublesome world.
  • It is also possible that Jesus was grieved by the unbelief and hardness of heart exhibited by the Jews who were present (Matthew 23:37).  This must have been a source of sorrow to Jesus all throughout his ministry.  The Jews were God’s chosen people.  They had the promises of the first covenant.  God longed to gather them to himself and bring them into the age of grace.  They only thing that prevented that from happening was their unbelief:

Luke 13:34 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!

 Is there something that is keeping you in unbelief?  Just because something hasn’t happened until now, doesn’t mean that God won’t or can’t do it.  Someone may have told you that ‘God doesn’t do that today’, but they are wrong.  Nothing is impossible with God. 

John 11:39 – Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”

Why does Martha raise this objection?  Does she do it out of respect for her brother?  Perhaps she doesn’t want his decaying body to be a stench and a spectacle to her friends.  Is she trying to spare everyone the unpleasant experience of the smell of death?  Or do her words reflect the language of unbelief?

 Look at her answer again – her unbelief is easily evident in her statement.  We could paraphrase her words this way: ‘Jesus, it is too late for you to intervene in his case.  His body is not just dead, it has begun to rot.  It is utterly impossible for something that dead to live again.’  In other words, she has given up this situation as hopeless. 

She wasn’t the only one that thought this way.  The people at the gravesite were well aware that after four days in the heat anything that was dead was going be putrid and the smell of death/decay would be unmistakable.  And that was exactly the point. 

The noses of the witnesses were just as important as their eyes.  While no one physically went into the tomb to see the decaying body, they all knew Lazarus was dead because they could smell him.  You might be able to fake being dead, but you can’t fake the smell of rotting flesh.   

John 11:40 – Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

When Jesus replied to Martha, he could just have easily said ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you would see the resurrection of your brother’, or something similar to that.  But instead he replies in terms that apply to believers in every age.

Stop right now and consider a circumstance in your life that you want God to touch, but at the same time it seems hopeless to you.  I am confident that you have one, because we all do!  Now picture Jesus saying this same phrase to you: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Jesus saying those words directly to me, it really encourages my faith.  It makes me realize that God is acutely aware of my circumstance, that he has heard every prayer I have prayed, and that he has the situation well under control.  In fact, it even makes me a little embarrassed that I could have doubted his intervention in my situation! 

So let us remember that God is always working in our lives, even when we don’t see it or when we don’t understand his entire plan.  Our faith can rest on the certainty that God never fails; he always keeps his promises:

Jeremiah 1:12 – Then said the LORD unto me, You have well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it. 

It is also good to remind ourselves that God works in our lives in proportion to our faith:

Matthew 17:20 – And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, Remove from here to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

So let’s grasp and hold onto the promises God has given us.  Let’s speak them out loud and claim them for our own.

John 11:41 – So they took away the stone.  And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”

Obviously, Martha was in charge of the funeral; the servants were not going to remove the stone without her permission.  So for a brief moment, everything came to a standstill while Martha made a decision.  Would she follow her instincts and prevent the grave from being opened?  Or would she change her mind and allow the stone to be removed? 

In order for God to proceed in her situation, Martha had to change her mind/thinking.  She had to let God do things at his time, in his way regardless of when and how she wanted the situation to unfold. 

In other words, she can’t tell God what she wants, and then proceed to tell him how to do it.  While that makes perfect sense, we have all done that exact thing!  At one time or another, we have all told God specifically how we wanted him to answer our petitions. 

But if you look back, you might just discover that you are glad you didn’t get what you asked for!  Because the truth is that God knows best.  The answer he gives you is far better for you than anything you could have imagined. 

So the stone is rolled away, and Jesus begins to pray.

When you pray, what posture do you normally take?  When I was growing up, we were always taught to close our eyes and bow our heads.  While there is nothing wrong with that, it isn’t the only manner in which to pray. 

When Jesus lifts his eyes to heaven, he is using an outward sign to express what is going on in his heart.  Jesus looks towards heaven, fixing his attention on the Father – the source of all life and help.  By doing so, he overlooks the grave where Lazarus was lying.  In other words, he did not dwell upon the (seemingly) impossible situation before him; he focused his faith on the power of God.

Scripture tells us that Abraham did the same thing as he waited for the impossible to happen in his life (the birth of Isaac).  In fact, we are specifically told that Abraham refused to look at/consider the futility of his situation:

Romans 4:19 – And being not weak in faith, he [Abraham] considered not his own body as now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

Instead, he kept his attention and faith focused on the promise of God:

Romans 4:18, 21 – Who [Abraham] against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall your descendants be.  And being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he was able also to perform. 

When we find ourselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable, we should follow the example of Abraham and Jesus; we should focus on the power of God, not the limits of our situation!

We also find that Jesus had complete confidence in approaching the Father through prayer.  He had no doubts at all.  He was fully convinced that God was listening.

John 11:42 – “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

We too can have the same confidence.  God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalms 121:4); he hears prayer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The writer of Hebrews instructs us to boldly enter the throne room of grace so that we can receive grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Furthermore, the scriptures tell us that when we ask anything according to his will, God hears us:

1 John 5:14 – And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us:

God always hears when his children pray; he heard Jesus and he hears you too.  However, there is a very important detail we need to discuss.  We pray because we need God to intervene in our circumstances, but that was not the case for Jesus.  He didn’t need to ask his Father to raise Lazarus from the dead because he possessed resurrection power within himself. 

Furthermore, the will of Jesus was always in perfect harmony with the will of his Father.  Therefore, God was always ready to grant any request that Jesus made.   And since Jesus knew his Father would always grant his requests, there was really no need for Jesus to even ask. 

That being the case, why did Jesus pray?

The prayer was for the benefit of the people present.  Remember, many of the religious leaders blasphemously claimed that Jesus worked miracles by the power of the devil.  In this instance, he purposely appeals to God through prayer to prove once again that he was commissioned and approved by God.    

John 11:43 – When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”

Ancient magicians who worked wonders by the power of Satan did so by whispering, muttering or reciting incantations.  Jesus does the exact opposite of this.  He asserted his resurrection power in a clear, concise, loud voice.  He addresses Lazarus as one would address a friend that he wanted to wake from sleep.   

The power of raising the dead is the highest power we can imagine.  It entails having power and authority in the spiritual realm so that you can recall a departed soul.  Then that soul must be reunited to the body and life restored to it.  Anyone who can do that has to be omnipotent (unlimited in power and ability) and therefore divine. 

Jesus wielded this power through his spoken word; even death is subject to his commands.  Upon hearing the voice of the Son of God, the dead man was instantly turned from a putrefying pile of flesh into a living, breathing healthy human.

Here is the best part:  This is a striking illustration of the general resurrection which will take place at the end of this age.  At that time, all the dead will be raised by the voice/word of Jesus:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 – For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Jesus has just demonstrated that he can and will bring about the resurrection of mankind by his own power and authority.  How important it is that each one of us prepare for the moment when we will hear the call of his voice!  

John 11:44 – The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Lazarus came out of the grave in the same manner in which he was laid there – wrapped in a shroud, with his head in a separate cloth.  This gave the witnesses an opportunity to touch Lazarus as they removed his grave clothes.  They could verify that he was not a ghost.  It was really Lazarus in the flesh, restored to life.

So the witnesses have seen, smelled, heard and touched the miracle of resurrection.  What further proof could be given?

John 11:45 – Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…

Many (not all) of the Jews that were present acknowledged the validity of this miracle.  As a result, they were willing to accept that Jesus was the Messiah.

Sadly, there were some who persisted in unbelief and continued to reject Jesus as Messiah.  We will look at these people and their actions in our next post.   

In the meantime, let’s review a point we made early on in our study of John chapter 11.  Specifically, Jesus will allow us to suffer if that suffering results in our good or his glory.

Mary and Martha definitely suffered at the death of their brother.  We have evidence that, as a result of that suffering, they questioned God’s love for them.  At the time, they did not understand the purpose of their suffering. 

But in time they came to see the unfolding of God’s plan.  God restored Lazarus and used the suffering of this family to bring many Jews into the kingdom of heaven.  God also used it to give us a sure and certain example of his resurrection power; we can have faith that he will keep his word and resurrect all people at the end of this age. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Are you experiencing some suffering right now?  Are you unable to see the purpose behind it?  If so, take heart – you are in good company.  Each one of us has experienced these same feelings.

When you find yourself in that situation, here is an encouraging thought you can hold onto:  your suffering will not be in vain.  God used the suffering of Mary, Martha and Lazarus to bring many people into the kingdom of God.  You can rest assured that there is a purpose in your suffering as well, even though you don’t see it right at this moment.

Let me offer you some relief:

In this post we saw that Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus.  His tears reflected the love he had for his friend.  We also noted that Jesus demonstrated his love for us in a much more powerful way – by dying for our sin.

Satan often tries to convince us that God does not love us when we mess up or sin.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  God’s love for us is not dependent upon our performance.  He loves us because he is our Creator and we love his Son.  So if you sin, repent and move on – but don’t EVER allow Satan to convince you that God does not love you!   

Let me offer you some strength:

Sometimes it seems like the pain, suffering and struggles of this life will never end.  But I assure you, they will!  In the meantime, remember that God has made you and I victorious over the world through the power of Jesus Christ.  Amen!

1 John 5:4 – For whoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.

John, Chapter 11, Part 3

John 11:23-24 – Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

At the conclusion of our last post, Martha left her house and ran to meet Jesus on the outskirts of town.  There, she reveals her innermost thoughts – if Jesus had not tarried, he could have healed her brother; his death could have been avoided.

We noted that her conversation with Jesus revealed both faith and doubt.  She had an incomplete understanding of Jesus as it relates to resurrection. But by the end of the day, Martha is going to have a full understanding of who Jesus really is, and what he plans to do.

In response to Martha’s passionate and emotional statement, Jesus comforts her with a promise.  He assures Martha that her brother would rise again. 

Martha understood him to mean the future/final resurrection at the end of this age, when Christ returns to earth for judgment (John 5:28-29). 

The doctrine of a general resurrection at the end of this age is not a new concept.  Job, one of the earliest of the Old Testament books, speaks of the general resurrection of the dead as does the prophet Daniel:  

Job 19:25-27 – For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:  and though after my skin is thus destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; though my heart be consumed within me. 

Daniel 12:2 – And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

But was Jesus actually referring to the final resurrection when he said those words?  Or is it possible that his statement could refer to both Lazarus’ imminent resurrection as well as the final resurrection? 

Actually, it is very likely that Jesus chose his words to convey just such a dual meaning. 

Remember, Martha’s unbelief consisted of two main things: 

  • Jesus could only heal her brother if he was bodily present (verse 21). 
  • Jesus did not raise people from the dead; God did.  However, according to Martha, God would do whatever Jesus asked of him (verse 22).

So Jesus begins to draw her out.  He wants to take her from the position of her unbelief into a sure and certain knowledge that he (Jesus) is the source of all life.  And because Jesus is the source of all life, there can be no such thing as death for a Christian.  The separation of our spirit from our flesh is merely our transition from this life to eternal life with God.  This is the spiritual truth he wants Martha (and us) to understand.

The resurrection of Lazarus is a sign to believers in every age.  It demonstrates that the power/life of Christ is well able to conquer death.  Death could not hold him in the grave and because of him, it can’t hold us either!

John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… “

When Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection’, what does he mean? 

He is saying that all power to restore, impart and maintain life is found in him.  Therefore, he is the author or source of resurrection. 

Martha already believes that if Jesus asked the Father he could have anything, but Jesus wants her to understand that by the power and authority of his own word he could do anything.  

Likewise, Martha believes in a general resurrection on the last day, but Jesus wants her to understand that his power/authority to impart life is already present.  While he will eventually raise up an entire world of men that have been dead for ages, he can also raise a single person on any given day of his choosing.  In other words, he could raise her brother to life at any time.  It could (and would) happen on the very day they were having this conversation. It didn’t have to wait until the end of time.  

Here is more good news – those who believe in Jesus will live, even though they are dead.  What does that mean?

All of us are subject to both physical and spiritual death.  It entered the human race hand-in-hand with sin.

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

In the physical sense, belief in Jesus will not prevent our flesh from death. Each one of us will experience it (Hebrews 9:27).  But those who believe in Christ will be resurrected and receive a new body, fit for eternal spiritual life in the kingdom of heaven (I Corinthians 15).

Stop and think about that for a while – a new body, fit for eternal life.  No pain, no disease, no flaws, no aging, no deformity.  It will be you, just the way God always designed for you to be!    

In the spiritual sense, you were dead the moment you were born, because you were born in sin.  But when you trusted in Christ as your Savior you were passed from death to life (John 5:24).  Your spirit is alive because even now it is in communion with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, the author of life itself.

Stop and think about that for a while – a spirit that is no longer a slave to sin.  A spirit that can stand/live in the presence of God.  A spirit that can experience and explore different facets and depths of God forever and ever, without ever knowing them all!

Those who are safely under the authority of Christ will never spiritually die – we will just pass from abundant life here to a perfect life lived in the presence of God!    

John 11:26 – “… and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

Why is Jesus concerned about Martha understanding this lesson?

It’s because God can only work in our lives according to our faith (Matthew 9:22, 28, Matthew 13:58, Matthew 17:20).  If Martha doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Redeemer who has power and authority to give life both now and forevermore, how can she receive the miracle of her brother’s immediate resurrection?

When we are in the midst of a time of affliction or trial, it’s a great time to examine our own faith.  Do we believe in the promises of God?  Have we spent enough time in study and prayer to even know and understand what God has promised to us through his word (Romans 10:17)?  

If we study and meditate on his word, our faith will increase and we can be prepared to receive all that God has for us, in every situation.

John 11:27 – She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Now Martha gives a full and complete confession of her faith.  It has often been compared to the statement Peter gave in Matthew 16:16.

She believed Christ to be the Messiah who was promised/prophesied by the Old Testament saints.  She believes he has come to bring redemption and salvation to the world. 

Thus we find that Jesus was successful in helping her to reach a higher level of understanding and faith – she is now fully persuaded of his divine nature. Her faith has risen to the point where she can receive a miracle.

John 11:28 – When she said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

Rather than personally going to the family’s house, Jesus remains where he is and instructs Martha to go home and speak privately with Mary.  Why all the secrecy? 

One reason may have been that Martha wanted to keep Jesus’ presence in Bethany a secret because she feared for his life.  There were most likely some influential people and religious leaders at her house who were still hostile towards Christ. 

For his part, Jesus had no such fear.  We have already seen that Jesus was not afraid to go where Holy Spirit led because he was ‘walking in the light’ and performing the will of his Father.  Nevertheless, he allowed Martha to have her way. 

John 11:29-31 – And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When we last saw Mary, she was sitting on the floor in an inner room of her house, surrounded by others as she mourned and grieved the loss of her brother.  As soon as Martha gives her the news that Jesus is in town, she immediately gets up to go in search of him.

The other mourners who were with her thought she had decided to go to the grave to weep, and in a spirit of compassion they rose and went with her. 

But they did not understand her motivation.  She had heard the call of Jesus; she knew he was near.  The minute she realized Jesus was near, she did everything in her power to connect with him.  She did not ask her friends and neighbors for their opinion.  She did not stay in the house trying to fulfill the social decorum of mourning.  In fact, she didn’t even politely ask to be excused by those around her.  She simply answered the call of Christ.

What can we learn from Mary’s example?  When we hear the voice of Jesus calling to us, let’s do everything possible to connect with him.  This may include skipping some social events, changing our normal routines or even giving up some entertainment.  Some of our friends and family might not understand what we are doing.  They might be critical of our decisions.  But in the end, the only thing that matters is being with Christ.

As Mary pursued Christ, she led/took many other Jews with her.  If we follow her example, we too can expect to lead others to Christ.    

In fact, we cannot help but notice that God is precisely arranging everything and everyone so that the approaching miracle can have its greatest impact – Jesus is waiting near the tomb, Martha’s faith has been increased and Mary is now leading God’s impartial eye witnesses to the scene. 

John 11:32 – Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s instinct is to fall at the feet of Jesus and pour out the sorrow in her heart.  It is interesting to note that Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear about the kingdom of heaven (John 11:33); now in the day of trouble, she is there to receive a different kind of comfort from him.  She is correct in doing so, for all we need is found in Jesus.

She makes a confession of faith in Jesus even though it was different in form from that of her sister.  She is surrounded by Jews who either don’t care about Jesus or despise him.  But in front of them all, without hesitation, she falls prostrate before Jesus just as an ordinary citizen would do for their earthly king.  She was not ashamed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord in front of her community. 

Her cry is word-for-word the same as Martha’s, which shows that they had said this very thing to themselves as they lamented over the death of Lazarus.  Apparently, she says nothing else, but is overcome with emotion and grief.  Her tears said it all and Jesus was able to understand it. 

Psalm 61:2 – From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Sometimes, we too are overwhelmed with grief or trouble.  In those instances we can follow the leading of Mary and fall at the feet of Jesus.  He is our rock/foundation that will never fail us. 

This is not a guarantee that you will get what you want.  It is a guarantee that Jesus hears you (Psalms 65:2), that he is aware of your situation (Psalms 139:1-3), that he will walk with you through all difficulties (Hebrews 3:15), and that all things will work together for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28). 

Remember, one of the great lessons in this portion of scripture is that God is willing to allow suffering into your life if it is beneficial. 

In the present case, the suffering of Mary and Martha is beneficial because it changes their faith.  Martha grows from a flawed understanding of who Jesus is into a place where she recognizes and acknowledges his divinity.  The suffering of the sisters also benefits all of the Jews who came to comfort them.  They will witness the power of Jesus to resurrect a man dead for four days and it will convince them he is the Messiah.  The suffering of Martha and Mary will result in eternal life for many people.

Let me ask you this soul-searching question:  What would you be willing to suffer if it meant people coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord?  

John 11:33 – When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

Does this verse seem odd to you in any way?  If Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead (and he undoubtedly knows he is), why would he weep? Why allow himself to experience such profound sadness?

We must remember that while Jesus is God, he voluntarily agreed to take upon himself the form of man (a human body).  As a man he was subject to the same passions as we are.  For example, he experienced temptation, hunger, thirst, weariness, joy, anger and sadness. 

The writer of Hebrews confirms that the Messiah is touched with the feeling of our infirmities:

Hebrews 4:15 – For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Mary and Martha have an infirmity – brutal grief caused by the death of their brother.  So it isn’t surprising that Jesus allows himself to be afflicted with the same distress his friends are experiencing.  If he couldn’t experience the same suffering and grief that we know, then how could he comfort us? 

Some scholars believe that his grief rose to even greater levels than we know.  He may have been contemplating the general misery of mankind; as God he understood the full impact of sin upon the whole human race.  After all, he knew why he had been sent into the world – to break the yoke of sin and free us from all its evil consequences.    

One thing we can be absolutely sure of – Jesus was deeply moved and highly agitated by the results of sin in the lives of those he loved.  And he loves you just as much as anybody!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

We see that Jesus was troubled when he witnessed the weeping of Mary, Martha and their friends.  He had compassion upon them, sharing their sorrow.  Did you know that as Christians, we are to do the same for others? 

This can be a difficult thing to do.  None of us relishes the thought of being sad or experiencing grief and pain.  We often don’t believe that we have the right words to say to our friends who are grieving.  If we are honest, many times we would rather walk away, or just offer some contrite condolences from far away. 

But in Romans 12:15 Paul instructs us to “weep with them that weep”.  By coming alongside those who are suffering, we can offer them comfort and hope.  We can encourage them to trust in the Lord, because he not only walks with them through their situation, he uses it for good! 

So let’s embrace the sorrow of those we know are hurting.  If we do, Jesus will honor that!   

Let me offer you some relief:

Fear often comes as a result of the unknown.  In our society, many people fear death.  In fact, they don’t want to think or talk about it because they are totally unprepared for it.  I am sure Satan just loves that!  If he can keep people in fear, they will continue to bury their heads in the sand and ignore their spiritual state.

Christians, however, do not need to fear death!  Those who trust in Christ have already passed from death to life (John 5:24).  The moment we leave this planet, we will be in the presence of God (II Corinthians 5:1-8).      

Let me offer you some strength:

Sorrow doesn’t last forever.  It is limited to this physical world. 

More than one scholar has commented that Jesus wept at the grave not because Lazarus had passed from this life, but because he had to call him back into a physical body ravaged by sin, sickness and pain. 

The resurrection of Lazarus was good because it forever demonstrated that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  But that resurrection actually resulted many more years of suffering under sin for Lazarus.  He too suffered so that we could be encouraged in the Lord!

So when God allows you to suffer, don’t be discouraged or give up.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord and look for an eternal harvest for the kingdom of heaven.

  

John, Chapter 11, Part 2

John 11:9 – Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.”

Jesus has just announced to his disciples that they are going to leave the area beyond the Jordan and return to the house of Lazarus in Bethany.  Because this puts them a mere two miles outside of Jerusalem, the disciples are concerned that the hostile Jewish leaders will try to kill them again.  They question the decision of Jesus to put himself (and them) in harm’s way.

Jesus answers their concerns by using a comparison between Day and Night. 

If a man sets out on a journey (like the one they are about to take), he would naturally set out during the daytime.  This way, he is sure to see any dangers that lie in his path.  It is very unlikely that he will stumble or fall, because he can see the ground clearly.  He would walk in confidence and his progress would be swift.    

The same truth applies in the spiritual realm.  God has prepared a special plan for each one of us.  When we walk by his Spirit, going where he leads/commands, we are walking in the light of his wisdom, grace and protection.  We do not need to fear (Psalms 56:11). 

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.     

There is no doubt that when we tread the paths of God our enemy Satan will put many obstacles, pitfalls and temptations in our way.  However, we can boldly and confidently pursue our journey, and safely navigate around the traps of the enemy, because the Spirit illuminates our way.  He leads us to victory.

John 11:10 – “But if anyone walks in the night he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

By contrast, it would be unnatural for a man to set out on a walking journey during the dead of night (remember, there were no street lights back in that day).  By walking in the darkness, he greatly increases his chances of stumbling and falling over obstacles.  He could seriously hurt himself or lose his way.  His progress would be very slow and tedious. 

In the spiritual realm, those who allow themselves to be guided by their own ideas and suggestions, disregarding the leading of the Spirit, are walking in the dark:

Proverbs 16:25 – There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

They become an easy target for the enemy who is prowling around seeking anyone he can catch off guard and devour (I Peter 5:8).   

Thus, the disciples do not need to fear going to Bethany (or any other place), as long as they go where the Spirit leads.  The same is true for you and me.  Where is God leading you to go?  What is he calling you to do next?  Don’t be afraid to take that first step of faith; Holy Spirit will clearly mark your path for you, and show you any traps/pitfalls the enemy has laid. 

John 11:11 – After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”

Jesus uses the term ‘fallen asleep’ to mean physical death.  This is a euphemism that is frequently used in scripture to describe the death of the saints/children of God (Matthew 9:24, I Corinthians 15:51, I Thessalonians 5:10, Acts 7:60, Deuteronomy 31:16, etc).

This was very common saying among all the Jews.  They often spoke of ‘falling asleep’ or ‘sleeping with the fathers’ to describe death.  In fact, it is kind of surprising that the disciples did not get Jesus’ meaning right away.  

The term ‘sleep’ is good because it removes all of the fear and ugliness associated with death.  Instead, it reassures the reader by calling to mind the idea of calm rest after a life of turmoil.  It also indicates that physical death is not final.  For each saint who dies, there will eventually be an awakening or a resurrection to eternal life.  Hallelujah!   

The fact that Jesus knows Lazarus is dead proves that he is God, for only God is omniscient (having universal knowledge; knowing all things).   And while Jesus uses the group term ‘our friend Lazarus’, it is only he himself who can/will ‘awaken’ him from this sleep.  I don’t know about you, but I am glad that my own resurrection depends on Jesus’ power and authority, not mine! 

John 11:12-13 – The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”   Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.

The disciples understood the words of Jesus in a literal sense.  Since they believed that sleep was beneficial for aiding in the recovery of sickness, they thought ‘sleep’ was a good thing. 

According to their thinking, if Lazarus was sleeping he was past the crisis stage of his illness.  Since he was on the way to a speedy recovery there was no real need for Jesus to put himself in danger by traveling to Bethany. 

John 11:14-15 – Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him.”

Jesus now bluntly informs the disciples that Lazarus is dead.  We can take heart knowing that Jesus is always cognizant of the death of his saints.  In fact, scripture tells us that God finds value in your physical death; it is actually precious in his sight (Psalms 116:15).

When it is your turn to cross over to the spiritual realm and leave this world behind, you can be sure that Jesus is aware of your coming and that he has prepared a place for you in his kingdom (John 14:2-3).  He is looking forward to your arrival!

Ask yourself this question: Why do you suppose Jesus decided to go to the grave of Lazarus in person?  After all, if Jesus is capable of healing at a distance (John 5:40), he could certainly resurrect at a distance too. 

There are several good answers to this question:

  • The purpose of the upcoming miracle was to glorify Jesus, to show people that he was really the divine Son of God, and prove that he had resurrection power.  If he wasn’t present, someone else may have taken credit for what transpired.
  • Although Jesus was divine, he was also human.  His very close friends were suffering greatly; it was natural for him to want to be close to them during this season of pain and suffering.
  • If ‘sleep’ is an analogy for death, then man’s awakening out of sleep is representative of his or her resurrection.  Therefore it is imperative that Jesus be present, since he is the one who will raise us up at the last day with his resurrection power:

John 6:40 – And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.   

In my opinion, this makes it all the more exciting that Jesus uses Lazarus’ own name when he calls him forth from the grave.  Although there is no biblical proof for it, I wonder if God will call each one of us by name on that great day when we rise to meet him in the air!  Perhaps those who are asleep in the grave will hear his voice calling their name, just as Lazarus did!

Jesus makes another somewhat cryptic remark to the disciples – “…for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” 

What did Jesus mean by that?

Well, let’s examine the situation.  If Jesus had been present before Lazarus died, he would surely have healed him on the spot and thus prevented his death. While Lazarus’ sisters and friends would have been happy and comforted, it would have done nothing for the faith of the disciples (or the unbelievers present at the funeral).  They had seen Jesus heal hundreds of people already; this would be no different.

But if Jesus raises Lazarus from the death, it not only glorifies God (as we will examine later), it offers a stunning example of the power of Christ to the disciples.  If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, then he is also capable of raising them from the grave at the end of the age.  Thus, their faith is greatly strengthened – and they were going to need that faith, as most of them died a martyr’s death.

It is comforting to once again see that Jesus uniquely equips each one of us for the race we will run in this life.  He stretches and grows our faith so that we are victorious in life.

Jesus ends by saying ‘Let us go to him’, which is an interesting choice of words.  Most of us would have said, ‘Let us go to Mary and Martha, so we can comfort them’.  This verse shows us that Jesus knew full well what was about to take place.  He is in control of the situation.

Let me repeat that:  Jesus was in complete control of the situation.  It may not have seemed that way to the disciples or to Mary and Martha, but it was true nonetheless.  In the same way, Jesus is in complete control of the events of your life as well – and that is a comforting thought!  

It is also comforting to note that while death separates us from all of our family and friends, it can never separate us from God.  In fact, it does the opposite – it ushers us into his presence.   

John 11:16 – So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas is sometimes called “Didymus”.  Both names mean the same thing (twin); one word is Hebrew while the other is Greek.  The obvious assumption is that Thomas had a twin.

In this situation, Thomas is encouraging his colleagues to stand firm and be willing to die with ‘him’.  There is some debate over who Thomas was referring to. 

  • Some say he was referring to Lazarus.  In this scenario, the meaning is that Lazarus was already dead and if the disciples dared to show their faces so close to Jerusalem, they would shortly be dead too. 
  • Others believe Thomas was referring to Jesus.  In this scenario, Thomas is encouraging his fellow disciples to stand firm in the command they received from Jesus – ‘follow me’ – even if it meant being stoned by the Jews alongside Christ.    

In either case, Thomas once again shows a lack of faith.  Instead of believing that he was walking according to the wisdom of Holy Spirit (walking in the light/day), he seems to be sure that he is going to die in Bethany.     

While Thomas’s faith was certainly not perfect (John 14:5, John 20:25), he was obviously committed to Jesus and his cause; he was willing to die for it.  This was a great encouragement to his fellow disciples.  

John 11:17-19 – Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.

As we already noted, Jesus purposely delayed coming to Bethany.  At the time of his arrival, Lazarus had been dead for quite some time.  Although the scriptures record other people being raised from the dead, none were gone as long as Lazarus was.  His body had started to decay by that time.  This delay served to make the miracle of resurrection an even more striking demonstration of the power of God.

So… what were the funeral arrangements? 

Once the person died, the oldest son or the nearest relative present would close the eyes of the deceased.  The mouth was also closed, bound up and covered.  The death is announced by loud shrill wailing.  The deceased was then placed in the tomb within 24 hours, which means there was no time for embalming. 

Kings and prophets were generally buried within the city, while more common people (like Lazarus) were buried outside the city limits in grottoes or caves.  While some of the burial chambers were natural caves, others were simply hewn out of rock.  Multiple people were buried in separate chambers inside each cave.  Graves were generally closed with stones and whitewashed, so people did not make themselves unclean by stumbling upon them.  

The typical time of mourning for both Jews and Gentiles was seven days.  During this time people visited Mary and Martha to offer condolences and to comfort them in their loss.  The number of people coming and going was probably quite large.  In addition to local family and friends, there were no doubt people from Jerusalem, as Bethany was only two miles away.  While there were many common people, the crowd included influential/prominent citizens as well.

Although the intent of the mourners was to console the family, God had an additional purpose in mind for their visit – they were going to be witnesses to the mighty power of God.

It was very important for God to provide influential and impartial witnesses in the crowd, so that the jealous Pharisees did not try to claim this miracle was a collusion between Jesus and his friends.  While the religious leaders could scoff at the testimony of the common people, the miracle would be hard to deny when Jerusalem’s most prominent citizens witnessed it as well.   

John 11:20 – So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

When word reaches Martha that Jesus has arrived in town, she does not waste any time running out to meet him.  This seems to be typical of her character; she had a high level of energy/activity (Luke 10:38-42). 

What was her motivation for running to see him before he arrived at the house?

  • Some scholars feel that she went to give him an urgent word of warning that there were hostile Jews from Jerusalem present in the house. 
  • Others feel that she rushed out to give Christ an affectionate welcome because he was a close and honored friend of the entire family. 
  • Still others feel that she wanted a private audience with Jesus, to ask why he did not come sooner. 

Mary, on the other hand, remained in the house, possibly in an inner room.  This too, seems in character; scripture portrays her as calm and placid.   She is described as ‘sitting’ in the house.  Sitting on or near the ground was a common form of mourning back then.  It reflected an attitude of extreme sorrow or distress in which grief had rendered the mourner immovable or unable to stand.  It was common for all of the visiting mourners to sit down and remain beside the grieving family member.

John 11:21 – Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The words that Martha first speaks to Jesus outside of town are the exact same words her sister speaks to Jesus later on (verse 32).  Obviously, this is not a coincidence.  The sisters must have spoken these same words to each other multiple times over the last few days.  Martha’s words reveal elements of both faith and unbelief.

To begin with, her opening remarks reveal grief at the death of her brother but also some resentment towards Jesus for not arriving in time to save the day.  This shows that Martha had a limited understanding of the power and divinity of Christ; she did not believe he could heal or resurrect from the dead unless he was physically present with the patient.  

It also shows that she had a limited understanding of the plans and purposes of God.  She thinks Jesus arrived too late, but she is wrong.  The death and resurrection of Lazarus were both appointed by God at a specific time, for a specific purpose.  Jesus never has been and never will be late – he is always right on time. 

John 11:22 – “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Here we see Martha’s faith, although it is weak.  She believes (as they probably all did) that no one could be raised from the dead after such an extended period of death.  So she doesn’t even ask Jesus to resurrect him. 

In fact, she doesn’t even acknowledge Jesus as having the power to do so himself.  She relies on his power of intercession – whatever he asks of God, God will do

It will shortly be demonstrated that Jesus is not only the ultimate intercessor, but also that he has the power of life in himself.      

You and I can take comfort in knowing that nothing has changed in the last couple thousand years.  Jesus is still the ultimate intercessor.  When we have a need or problem so great that we cannot articulate it before God, Holy Spirit will intercede for us at the throne of grace.

Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit also helps our weakness: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

And Jesus is still in the resurrection business.  He can resurrect our bodies, our marriages/relationships, our finances, our physical/mental/emotional health and anything else in our lives that has died prematurely.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In today’s post we noted that Jesus equips each of his children for their own individual path in life.  Since that is true, we should never complain when we are going through a trial or difficulty.  We can be confident that God allows that situation in our life because it will result in our eternal good and his glory.  It will also benefit others, when they hear our testimony of how God brought us through. 

So if you are facing a difficulty today, be encouraged!  It won’t be for nothing; good will come from it.  And be sure to testify about it, so that others can benefit too!    

Let me offer you some relief:

Nothing about the death of Lazarus caught Jesus off guard.  He knew exactly what was happening, and exactly what he was going to do – bring good out of that situation.

I don’t know about you, but I will confess that I sometimes forget that in the midst of my everyday struggles.  When you see a situation on the horizon that has the potential to cause harm to you and your family, it’s easy to panic.  It’s hard to see how any good could possible come from it. 

But if we stand firm in our faith, God will bring us through.  And when we look back, we will see that he was right there with us, all along.  He always keeps his promises!

Let me offer you some strength:

The enemy has fooled many of us into believing that death is the final authority.  He wants you to believe that when something in your life dies (health, finances, relationships, etc) that no hope remains. 

But that is not true.  With God, nothing is impossible.  Put yourself in his hands, just as Martha did.  You will find that he works all things together for your good and his glory.  

John, Chapter 11, Part 1

John 11:1 – Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

This chapter in the gospel of John is one of my favorites.  It relates the circumstances of Lazarus and his resurrection from the dead. 

Lazarus

It is interesting to note that this miracle is only recorded in the gospel of John.  Why do you suppose the other gospel writers did not include it in their books? 

The explanation lies in the fact that John wrote his gospel much later than Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Lazarus (and his sisters) was probably still alive when the earlier gospels were written; the authors did not want to draw more attention to him because it put him in danger from the Jewish leaders (John 12:9-11).   But by the time John penned his gospel, Lazarus was already dead so it no longer mattered.

The events of chapter 10 took place at the Feast of Dedication.  According to our calendar, this would have been around mid December.  The resurrection of Lazarus took place in the spring, around late March or early April, shortly before the crucifixion of Jesus.  Thus, we find that there is an approximately 3-4 month gap between chapters 10 and 11.

Where was Jesus during this time?  After his confrontation with the Jews in chapter 10, Jesus left Jerusalem; it was no longer safe for him to be there.  He went to ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’ (also called Bethabara) on the eastern side of the Jordan.  This was one of the places where John the Baptist ministered (John 1:28).

There, Jesus continued to teach, minister, proclaim the gospel message and train his disciples.   

About this time, Lazarus, who is a friend of Jesus, becomes extremely sick.  John does not identify his illness, nor does he tell us how Jesus came to be friends with Lazarus and his two sisters.  All we can say for sure is that Jesus was a close friend of this family.  They also lived in a town named Bethany, but it was not the same as Bethany beyond the Jordan.  Their town was only about two miles outside Jerusalem. 

John 11:2 – It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

‘Mary’ was a common name back in the days of Jesus (at least four different women in the Bible are so named).  When John says the ‘Mary who anointed the Lord’, he is trying to identify a particular ‘Mary’ among many women.  While this distinction was probably clear to the people in his day, it isn’t very helpful to us because there were actually two women, each named Mary, who anointed Jesus at different times.

In the first instance, Jesus was anointed by a woman named Mary, who appears to have been a woman steeped in sin.  This event occurred in the city of Jerusalem in the house of a Pharisee.  When she anointed Jesus she wept, washing his feet with her tears.  She then wiped his feet with her hair (Luke 7:37-50).  Her actions were clearly associated with an act of repentance – Jesus declares to her that her sins are forgiven.  

Mary

The second instance is recorded in Matthew 26:6-13 and John 12:1-8.  This event took place at the house of Simon the leper, who lived in the town of Bethany (same town as Mary, Martha and Lazarus).  John very specifically identifies this woman as the sister of Lazarus, and tells us she anointed Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair.  Jesus tells us that she anointed him for his upcoming burial (this anointing took place six days before his crucifixion).

Hopefully we won’t confuse these two women as we read through the gospels.  Mary the sister of Lazarus was the one who would anoint Jesus just before his death.  There is no indication that she was the woman with a sinful character as described by Luke.

John 11:3 – So the sisters sent to him saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Did you notice that the basis for the sisters’ request is NOT the good works that Lazarus did during his life, or the money he donated to the temple, or even the love he had for Jesus. 

The sisters’ confidence that Jesus will assist their brother stems from the love Jesus had for him!  

1 John 4:10 – In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Our love is not always reliable.  Sometimes it waxes or wanes depending on our circumstances.  Sometimes we fail the ones we love.  Sometimes we withhold our love when people disappoint us.  But the love of God towards us is perfect, steadfast and unchanging, because he himself never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8).      

Mary and Martha are not worried about ‘bothering’ Jesus.  They are not concerned about interrupting him when he might be busy.  They don’t consider themselves insignificant or unworthy to approach him.  Because they are confident in the love of Jesus for them, they do not hesitate to send a message to Jesus regarding Lazarus’ situation.  You know what?  I bet Jesus was glad they did!  Wouldn’t you want to know if a good friend of yours was sick or experiencing some trouble?      

Now, have you ever stopped to consider that ‘sending a message to Jesus’ is just another way of saying ‘prayer’?   

Think about it – Mary and Martha love Jesus and they are confident that Jesus loves them.  They have faith that he is the Son of God and that he has the power to heal.  So when sickness touches Lazarus, they immediately send a message to Jesus, making their request known to him, and expecting him to act on their behalf.

Why do you pray?  Isn’t it because you are confident that God loves you as his child?  Don’t you pray because you have faith in God and his power/ability to do the things you can’t do for yourself?  When you encounter trouble, don’t you immediately turn to Jesus in prayer, making your request known to him and expecting him to act on your behalf?     

Jesus

When we are in distress, we can always turn to God in prayer, just like Mary and Martha did.  We don’t need to worry that we are ‘bothering’ him, or interrupting him or that we are insignificant to him.  Jesus wants to hear from us! 

Now, let’s look at what Mary and Martha DIDN’T include in their prayer.  Notice that they did not tell Jesus how to resolve this situation.  They didn’t beg him to come immediately to Bethany and lay hands on Lazarus, or make a paste of mud/spit and rub it on him.  They didn’t ask Jesus to heal their brother from far away with just a word.  They simply told him their concerns and they allowed Jesus to do as he saw fit. 

If we are honest, I think all of us have experienced a time when we had a concern of some kind but in our prayer for that issue, we told Jesus precisely how we wanted him to take care of it.  Then we were annoyed when God didn’t do exactly as we asked!  How ridiculous is that? 

While we can and should make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6), we should expect God to do what is best for us in every situation.  Remember, you and I can’t see the entire issue.  We don’t know how others are impacted by it.  Neither do we know what the future holds.  But our loving heavenly Father knows all of those things.  We must trust him to do what is best for us, even if it isn’t what we want at the time.

One final point I want to make here – those who earnestly love Christ are not exempt from the troubles of this life.  However, we know those troubles work together for our good (Romans 8:28) and God’s glory.   

John 11:4 – But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.”

Immediately upon hearing the message, Jesus prophesies the outcome of the situation.  He specifically states two things:

The sickness of Lazarus would not result in death.  Let’s examine that statement for a minute.  There can be no doubt that Lazarus was sick, that his illness proved fatal and that he was dead and buried for four days.  He was beyond anyone’s reach.  He was in the eternal realm.  From our perspective, he was most certainly dead!

But looking at the situation from a divine point of view, the end result of this event was NOT the death of Lazarus.  Death is the means by which we leave planet earth and our attachment to our mortal, sinful bodies.  Death releases us to go into the eternal world; once dead we do not return to this life again. 

So in this sense, Lazarus was not dead – he was going to return to his mortal body and live many more years here on earth (some historians say he lived another 30 years after this) before actually being summoned to his eternal abode.  Jesus was fully aware that this was the case, which is why he can plainly say, ‘the illness does not lead to death’.

The scriptures contain many accounts of people who have risen from the dead (II Kings 4:29-37, Acts 20:9-12, Mark 5:35-43, etc), and the same thing could be said of them as well – their particular accident/sickness did not result in their permanent departure from this life.

As we discussed in an earlier post, death is actually a gift; without it we would be doomed to spend eternity in a life of trouble, sin, sickness and sorrow.  This gift is given to every single person who was born on earth; the bible says that each one of us will undergo physical death:

Hebrews 9:27 – And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:  

Once we die and pass into eternity, there are only two destinations to choose from. 

  • You can choose to follow Christ, accept his atonement for sin and enter the kingdom of heaven.  This is often referred to as eternal life. 
  • Alternatively, you can choose to follow Satan by rejecting the atonement of the blood of Christ and enter the kingdom of darkness.  This is referred to as eternal death or the second death.

Revelation 21:8 – But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

As a Christian, you can rejoice because at the end of this age, Jesus is going to defeat death, and raise all of his children to eternal life with him (I Corinthians 15:22-26).

If the sickness/death of Lazarus was not for the purpose of transferring him from this life to the next, exactly what was its purpose?

Jesus answers that question for us:  The death of Lazarus was for the glory of God.  This is similar to what we found in John 9:3, when Jesus declared that the beggar had not been born blind as the result of sin, but in order to reveal the glory of God:

John 9:3 – Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

In the same way, Lazarus became sick and died so that Christ had the opportunity to prove to all of mankind that he is the Lord of Life.  By resurrecting a man who had been dead for four days (and who had started to decay), Jesus offers certain proof that he is more powerful than death.

Think of it this way:  Have you ever heard the old term ‘snake oil salesman’?  It was a term used to describe a peddler/salesman who sold valueless or fraudulent remedies to people.  Typically, they would make some outlandish claim about their product just to get you to buy it, then they would leave town before you discovered you had been tricked and the product was worthless. Although this type of falsehood reached its peak in the mid 1800s, I am sure there were some of these charlatans in every generation!

Jesus has been telling his followers that he will resurrect whoever believes in him, and grant them eternal life (John 6:54) at the end of the age. 

But what proof do people have that he is telling them the truth?  How do they know he isn’t just a snake oil salesman?    

This is the importance of Lazarus’ death and resurrection.  They prove that Jesus is telling the truth – he has power over sin and even death.  He is well able to resurrect those who trust in him for eternal life.  In fact, this display of power will bring many Jews to faith in Christ. 

Furthermore, this miracle proves that Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:38).  The Jews recognized that only God could resurrect a dead person; so when Jesus does the same thing, it testifies to his divinity.  It confirms his role as the Messiah.   

The miracle of Lazarus is a comfort to Christians of every age, including us.  When someone we love dies, the separation can be devastating!  But we can take comfort knowing that it won’t be very long until we are reunited forever in the kingdom of heaven, where sorrow and death will never set foot!    

John 11:5-6 – Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Why does Jesus delay 48 hours before going to his friends?

First of all, it is important to note that Christ’s delay in returning to Bethany was not a reflection of his love for this family; John clearly states that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  The delay did have a purpose – one which would be apparent after the miracle had been completed.

So it is with us.  Occasionally, we too experience a delay in our prayers being answered.  When this situation occurs, we must not allow the enemy to fool us into thinking that God does not care for us.  Instead, we should stand in faith knowing that eventually, when the time is right, God will answer our request.  Many times we can look back and understand the reason or purpose of the delay.        

Secondly, if Christ had shown up before Lazarus died his recovery would surely have been attributed to some natural phenomenon instead of the power of God.  If Jesus had made an appearance immediately after his death, people might believe that Lazarus was not really dead, but just in some kind of coma or trance. 

But when a man has been four days, it’s a totally different story.  By that time, he has begun to decay and smell bad.  By that time, the family has prepped him for burial, attended the funeral service and interred the body.  They have a death certificate in hand and they are waiting on a check from the life insurance company.  In short, after four days there is absolutely no question that he is dead!  Therefore, the delay serves to make the miracle of resurrection irrefutable; it eliminates any chance of fraud.  

Have you ever earnestly prayed for a situation or a miracle only to find that God delayed in answering you?  Did you lose hope or mistakenly think that God was ignoring you?  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Perhaps God is waiting because they delay will make his intervention beyond question.  Perhaps he is glorifying himself through us and using our situation to draw sinners to himself.  

John 11:7 – Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

Bethany, the town of Mary/ Martha/Lazarus, was a mere two miles from Jerusalem.  If Jesus went there, the religious leaders would certainly hear about his ministry and they wouldn’t hesitate to try and kill him there.  Going there meant putting himself (and the disciples) in harm’s way.  While that didn’t bother Jesus in the least, it caused his disciples to be concerned. They couldn’t understand why Jesus would willingly put everyone in danger from the Jews.

We too are servants of Christ who are sometimes placed in circumstances which are just as puzzling or perplexing as those of the disciples.  Sometimes Jesus leads us down paths that we would never have chosen for ourselves and worse yet, we can’t see the purpose behind the journey.

During those times, we must exercise both faith and patience.  We must believe that God is leading us in the paths of righteousness for his names’ sake.  We can be confident that God is taking us down paths that will promote our spiritual good and help us keep our sins in check.  And all along the way, our relationship with him is growing deeper and more satisfying.

John 11:8 – The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and you are going there again?”

The disciples had no difficulty at all remembering that the Pharisees had tried to stone Jesus the last time they were in Jerusalem (John 10:31, 39).  And in reality, the danger Jesus faced was their danger too – the Jews would not hesitate to stone them right alongside their master.  So part of their concern may well have been for their own safety.

However, the disciples could take comfort knowing that Jesus did not send them into danger while remaining in a place of safety himself.  He not only accompanied them into the danger zone, he led them there with the intent of walking through the fire with them. 

Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame scorch you.

Indeed, Jesus walks with us always, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23:4).  Just ask Lazarus the next time you see him!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In today’s post we talked about delayed answers to prayer.  The truth is that God never slumbers or sleeps (Psalms 121).  He always hears his children when we call out to him. 

But sometimes, in his infinite wisdom, he chooses to answer our prayers in his time frame, not ours!  During such times, our faith should rise up and give us the ability to trust our heavenly Father, who loves us just as much as Mary, Martha and Lazarus. 

Don’t buy into the lie that God has forsaken you or that he does not love you.  Instead, trust him all the more, for he is well able to do abundantly above all that we could ask or think!

As Matthew Henry so eloquently puts it, “In the depths of affliction, let this therefore keep us out of the depths of despair… man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”   

Let me offer you some relief:

Many people are afraid of death.  They don’t want to acknowledge it, discuss it, or even think about it.  But there is no reason for the Christian to fear death because we are prepared for it.  For us, death it is simply the vehicle that takes us from this world into our eternity with God. 

The next time you find someone who is afraid of death, try giving them the peace and hope of the gospel message.

Let me offer you some strength:

Are you ever puzzled or frustrated by the path your life seems to take?  Perhaps circumstances beyond your control have taken you on an unexpected detour in life.  If so, stand strong, because God is going to do something amazing in your life through that detour!

If the disciples had not been led back into Bethany, they would have missed the glorious miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection.  If we were to choose our own paths, it’s a sure bet we would take the easy road and miss out on discovering numerous facets of Christ and his grace.  I am convinced that when our race is over, we will be glad Christ took us along those detours!  

So when life ‘gives you lemons’, don’t give up or despair.  Instead, ask the Lord to let you experience his abundant grace!

John, Chapter 10, Part 4

John 10:32 – Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are going to stone me?”

In our prior post, the Jews asked Jesus to tell them plainly whether he was the Messiah or not.  As Jesus points out the facts (particularly that He and the Father are one), the Jews became enraged and picked up stones with the intent of killing him.

In response, Jesus asks which of his good works prompted them to try and kill him.  Once again, we find that Jesus asked a question which was designed to get the listeners to stop and think.  He wants them to gain control of their emotions and use their brains to reach a correct verdict.  Jesus often refers to this as judging justly or righteously (John 7:24).

Oddly enough, the Greek word translated ‘good’ in this verse does not have an exact equivalent English word.  Its meaning contains facets of things like goodness and usefulness while also implying things that are distinguished, profitable or of moral excellence.  It refers more to the quality of the work that was done rather than the actual work itself.

The meaning is this:  Jesus did many works such as healing, feeding the multitudes, casting out demons, showing the love of the Father, teaching/revealing the gospel, etc.  Each one of these beneficial works was done in a manner that was excellent, profitable, useful and good for everyone involved (and for the nation as a whole). 

This gives us reason to pause – only our loving, sovereign God is capable of fulfilling his purposes so completely and perfectly!  And here is more good news: He will do the same thing for us.  He will use every circumstance of our lives to bring us to spiritual maturity and guarantee our eternal good (Romans 8:28)!

If the angry, emotional Jews would have paused to consider this question, they would have realized that the very quality of the works Jesus did testified/proved that they were manifestations of the goodness of God.  If God was working through Jesus to bless mankind in this way, then Jesus must have been sent to them from God. 

Sadly, they are busy picking up stones to kill Jesus as a blasphemer, despite the fact that he has gone around doing nothing but good (Mark 7:37)!

As believers, do we ever allow ourselves to be ruled by emotion?  How did that turn out?  Many times emotion causes us to make bad choices.  For instance, those who give free reign to their anger are capable of killing someone in the heat of the moment.  Those who give free reign to lust are capable of having an affair and ruining their marriage. 

Christians should never allow their emotions to rule them.  Instead, the scriptures encourage each believer to cultivate self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control: against such there is no law.

Here is something to think about:  Satan loves it when we destroy our own lives – it makes less work for him!  Instead of helping him out by letting our emotions run wild, let’s ask Holy Spirit to help us build up our level of self-control.  

John 10:33 – The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

There are two types of blasphemy.  One is when God is deprived of the honor and glory that is due to him.  The other is when his glory/majesty is offended or insulted because something unsuitable is ascribed to him. 

The Jews argue that they are not stoning Jesus for any of his good works.  They allege he is a blasphemer because he is a mortal man who lays claim to divine honor (John 10:30).  This would be a correct definition of blasphemy if it were true.  But it isn’t.  If the Jews had any kind of spiritual awareness (eyes to see or ears to hear), they would have recognized the divinity of Jesus, because it was conspicuous in the ‘goodness’ of the works he performed. 

The unbelieving Jews also rejected the actual works themselves.  For instance: the works of Jesus included the healing of a lame man (John 5: 1-46), a blind man (John 9:1-7) and a man with a withered hand (Luke 6:6-10).  These were clearly miracles, yet the Jews rejected them and charged Jesus with blasphemy for supposedly violating the Sabbath.

This confirms that evil is hiding in the hearts of these Pharisees.  They claim to be good shepherds of the people, yet they are willing to reject/deny obvious miracles rather than acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. 

In reality, they were acting out of their own selfish desires.  Jesus and his gospel threatened to take away the things they loved the most – the praise of men, the authority they exercised over the people and the monetary gain they received from their positions. 

John 10:34 – Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said you are gods?’”

The Jews are using the law as the basis for condemning Jesus of blasphemy and punishing him with stoning (Leviticus 24:16).  Jesus will now use the law to defend himself of these false charges.  In this case, Jesus uses the term ‘law’ to mean the entire Old Testament.  He is quoting from the divinely inspired book of Psalms:   

Psalm 82:6 – I have said, You are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.    

In the Old Testament, magistrates (rulers) and judges were given the title of ‘gods’.  For example, in Exodus 7:1, Father God describes Moses as a god:

Exodus 7:1 – And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made you a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.

Father God does the same thing in Exodus chapter 4:

Exodus 4:16 – And he [Aaron] shall be your [Moses’] spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he [Aaron] shall be to you [Moses] instead of a mouth, and you shall be to him instead of God.

In these scriptures, God is saying that magistrates/rulers/judges are a type of god because He himself has commissioned them; they derive their authority (and the authority of their office/position) directly from him. 

This had special significance for the Jews because they were God’s special people. Those whom God called to govern his people were also filled with his Spirit in order to rule and judge them as God expected. 

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • When Moses chose the seventy elders to assist him in ruling the Israelites, God put his spirit upon them.  The people knew this because the 70 prophesied after the Spirit came upon them (Numbers 11:25-26).
  • When God called Joshua to lead Israel after the death of Moses, he filled him with his Spirit (Numbers 27:18).
  • God also anointed King Saul with his spirit immediately after calling him to his office and all the people knew he prophesied (I Samuel 10:9-11).  
  • The priests derived their authority to rule/judge from God (Deuteronomy 17:8-9).  God actually pronounced judgment through them with the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21).
  • The judges of Israel also received their authority from God.  They were cautioned to be careful to listen to the Lord, who was with them in judgment (II Chronicles 19:6).

So the point is that many, many mortal men who were called and empowered/anointed by God to rule or judge his people were often given the title ‘god’ because of the positions they occupied.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were well acquainted with this concept, and they accepted it without question.  In fact, much of the authority they now exercised over the Jews was due to this very principle, although they no longer used the actual title of ‘god’.

Using this as a starting point, Jesus will now make a legal argument for his innocence.

John 10:35-36 – “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be broken – do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘you are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’”

If the term ‘gods’ can be applied to those whom God has anointed with his Spirit and given authority to judge/govern his people, then how can the Jews possibly accuse Jesus of blasphemy for applying it to himself?

After all, God had commissioned Jesus in the role of Messiah/Redeemer; Jesus was sanctified and sent into the world to bring us salvation from God.  Not only that, he has also been appointed judge of the world:

John 5:22 – For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son:

John 5:27 – And has given him [Jesus] authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.    

This is an example of Jesus arguing his case on a technical interpretation of the scriptures which was a customary practice in the Jewish Rabbinic schools.  It was a tool that the Pharisees themselves often used.

Jesus’ defense might have sounded something like this:

The law applied the term ‘gods’ to men who held offices of authority and represented God in matters of judgment.  Keeping in mind that no portion of scripture could be wrong, how much more could the term ‘God’ or ‘Son of God’ be applied to Jesus since he was commissioned by God to hold the office of Redeemer/Messiah and he is the eventual judge of the world?

This tells us two things.

The Father has greatly honored his Son.  Rulers/judges were called gods even though they had only a measure of the Spirit of God and their authority only extended over a particular city or nation. 

By contrast Jesus had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).  His commission extends throughout the entire earth (John 3:17); he is Lord of all.  God sanctified Jesus – he was set apart for a holy purpose; uniquely qualified and equipped for the Messianic office.  This was more than sufficient reason for him to be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

The Jews greatly dishonored the Son of God.  How much more dishonor could the Jews show to Jesus?  They reject every truth he gives them, they reproach and challenge him at every turn as they obstinately continue in unbelief.  They refuse to give Jesus the respect that they would easily give to any human judge or ruler.   

John 10:37-38 – “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

I don’t know about you, but if I were Jesus I probably would have given up on the Pharisees by now!  I would have written them off as hopeless or called down fire from heaven to consume them!  But God never gives up on anyone.  Instead of giving them what they deserve, Jesus once again reaches out to them.  If they won’t accept him by faith, perhaps they will listen to reason.

Logically speaking, the case is actually pretty straightforward.  Whether or not Jesus is a blasphemer depends on whether or not he represents God.  Jesus offers his miracles as a strong confirmation that he HAS been sent by God and that he DOES represent the Father. 

He then makes an offer to the Jews – if his works are not divine, then go ahead and reject his messianic claims.  After all, God does not require blind faith; he gives ample evidence of his existence (Romans 1:20).

But if  Jesus performs miraculous works which can only be done with divine power (such as feeding five thousand people with just a few loaves and two fish or restoring sight to a man born blind), then the works themselves testify that his nature is divine.  In other words, the works themselves confirm that he is the Son of God.      

In fact, once Jesus returned to heaven it was the miracles wrought by his disciples, in his name and by his power, which continued to confirm his doctrine (Acts 4:10). 

This also proves that he is one in essence with his Father: Jesus and Father God are one.  Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus is NOT committing blasphemy when he declares himself to be the Son of God.  

John 10:39 – Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Jesus has clearly refuted the charges of blasphemy.  It would have been great if his words had caused the hearts of the Pharisees to melt with repentance, but that was not the case.  They chose to further harden their hearts. 

Now, instead of just dealing with anger, they are under the influence of pride and resentment as well – they have been publicly corrected by Jesus and everyone heard it!  They no longer have any basis to stone him, so instead they attempted to arrest him and try to prosecute him as an offender against the state.  

But their evil plans fail when Jesus escapes from them.  When the day came for him to lay down his life, he would voluntarily place himself into their hands, but this was not the day – Jesus had more work left to do. 

John 10:40 – He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained.

Jesus left the city of Jerusalem for the more remote countryside.  Scholars see two significant things in this action. 

One, evil people can drive Christ and his gospel from their city, but they cannot banish either one from the world.  No matter how hard the fight, evil is already a defeated foe.  Our heavenly Father laughs at their attempts to overthrow his kingdom:

Psalm 2:2, 4 – The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed… He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. 

Two, Christ’s travel beyond the Jordan was a foreshadowing of taking the kingdom of God from the Jews and bringing it to the Gentiles (Romans 11).

The particular area where Jesus chose to go was the same place that John the Baptist had ministered.  John had prepared the way for Christ by sowing many seeds of repentance in this region (John 1:28).  These souls were now ready to be harvested for the kingdom of heaven.  

John 10:41 – And many came to him.  And they said, “John did no sign but everything that John said about this man was true.”

The people in this region were the spiritual opposite of the Jews in Jerusalem.  They were hungry for the gospel message.  Their hearts and minds were convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah; their faith was stirred up and they found numerous confirmations that Jesus had come to them directly from the Father.

They recalled what they had seen and heard from John the Baptist and they compared it to the life/ministry of Jesus.  Here is what they concluded:

Jesus was greater than John the Baptist, so he must be the Christ.   John the Baptist never performed a single miracle, while Jesus performed numerous miracles.  Therefore, these people concluded that Jesus had a power far superior to John; he must be greater than John.  If John was a holy prophet, it would make sense that Jesus was the Messiah.  

It is interesting to note that people have often wondered why John the Baptist did not perform any miracles.  Perhaps this is the reason – God did not want to confuse the people of that day.  It was important for them to recognize that Jesus was superior to John, so that they would follow Jesus.

Christ exactly answered John’s testimony of him.  John did everything in his power to point people to Christ.  He encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus.  He publicly declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  He identified Jesus as the one who baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.  He declared that Jesus was so much greater than himself; he was not worthy to untie his shoe.  The Jews in this region remembered the testimony of John and believed all these things about Christ.

John was dead and gone, but the seeds he planted stayed with the people, until such time as Holy Spirit caused them to grow and sprout into eternal life. 

John 10:42 – And many believed in him there.

The testimony of John the Baptist along with the doctrine and miracles of Jesus were enough to produce life-changing faith in the lives of these people.  In fact, the number who believed and became disciples of Christ were many.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Let me ask you this:  Have you ever shared the gospel message, but felt like it did not accomplish anything, or that it fell on deaf ears?  If so, take heart.  The gospel of repentance that John the Baptist shared with people didn’t bring immediate results in every case either.  But those seeds stayed in the heart of the people.  Long after the death of John, they sprouted and grew to eternal life. 

I encourage you not to become weary in sharing the salvation message.  You never know when those seeds will sprout and bring someone from this generation into the kingdom of heaven.

Let me offer you some relief:

In today’s post we talked about God not giving up on the unbelieving Jews.  Even though they deserved death, God shows them mercy by patiently reaching out to them again and again. 

I don’t know about you, but I am very, very relieved that Jesus doesn’t give me what I deserve!  It is a good thing to examine your own faults from time to time.  It makes you grateful for the mercy of God, it humbles you, and it helps you overlook the faults of others. 

Let me offer you some strength:

This chapter in John’s gospel testifies to the many miraculous acts of Jesus.  Here is a truth that will strengthen your faith:  Jesus is still in the miracle business!  His power hasn’t diminished in any way and neither has his love for you.   

So if you need a miracle in your life, no matter what it may be, stand strong in the promises of God!  Stir up your faith, meditate on the word and ask God for what you need.  Remember, nothing is impossible with God!

 

  

John, Chapter 10, Part 3

John 10:22 – At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem.  It was winter…

Welcome back, readers! 

The first thing we want to note is that an interval of about two months elapses between verses 21 and 22 of John chapter 10.  The Feast of Tabernacles ended around October 19th and the Feast of Dedication commenced around December 20th, which is obviously during the winter season. 

Jesus was not on vacation during this time.  He continued to heal, teach, spread the good news of the kingdom of heaven and train his apostles.  Many of his acts of mercy and grace which took place during this two-month period are recorded in the other three gospels (for example, Luke chapters 10-13).  As we mentioned in our introduction, John wrote his gospel much later than Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Since these events were already recorded, there was no need to report them again. 

So… what is the Feast of Dedication? What do you know about it?

The first thing we should note is that this feast was NOT appointed by God.  It was man-made, like the two-day Feast of Purim which was instituted by Esther and Mordecai (Esther chapter 9).

The Feast of Dedication was an eight day event that celebrated the purifying of the temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC. 

As you may recall from our study of the book of Matthew, the Jews have had two permanent temples.  The first was built by Solomon, but that structure was completely destroyed when Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. 

The second temple (much inferior to the first in size and grandeur) was built under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah (by order of Cyrus) when the captives returned to the land.  This is the temple that was desecrated by Antiochus. 

(Incidentally, it is also the temple that was completely refurbished and expanded by Herod just before the incarnation of Christ; it is the temple Jesus preached and ministered in.  Eventually, it too was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.) 

Historical accounts tell us that a false rumor had been circulated regarding the death of Antiochus.  When the Jews of Jerusalem rejoiced at the news of his death, Antiochus hastened to Jerusalem, killed thousands of people and sold thousands more into slavery.  As a further insult he desecrated the temple by sacrificing a sow on the altar of burnt offering.  He then ordered a broth to be made of the sow, which he sprinkled all over the temple, so that the entire structure was desecrated. 

These actions resulted in a three year suspension of all temple sacrifices.  During this time of inactivity the building fell into disrepair.

Eventually, a group of people led by Judas Maccabaeus repaired and re-consecrated the temple and restored all of the temple services.  You can read the account of this yourself in the book of I Maccabees, which is an apocryphal book. 

The apocrypha (Greek for ‘to hide away’) are books that did not make the ‘final cut’ when the canon of scripture was established because their authenticity was questioned.  They are NOT considered to be divinely inspired like the rest of scripture.  However, they are still regarded as historical accounts that are worthy of study. 

Early on, these writings were included in many versions of the bible under a separate section.  Although they were eliminated from the King James Bible used by most Protestants, these books are still included in the Catholic Bible.  They are easily accessible today to anyone who wants to read them.

Getting back to our study, we find that Jesus’ presence in the temple during the Feast of Dedication has sparked a fierce debate among scholars.  The question is this:

Was Jesus in the temple because he supported/condoned a feast instituted by man?  Or, was he there simply because there was going to be a large population of Jews in the temple for the feast and he wanted to share his message with as many as possible?  What do you think?

 John 10:23 – …and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

The colonnade of Solomon was a portico or covered walk located on the eastern side of the temple.  It is also referred to in Acts 3:11 and Acts 5:12.  It was used more often in winter because it provided more protection from inclement weather.  

John 10:24 – So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

When the Jews ask Jesus to stop keeping them in suspense, what they are seeking is a straightforward, clear cut statement:  I am the Messiah, or, I am not the Messiah. 

Although it is easy to understand what they want, it is much more difficult to understand their motives. 

It is possible that this was a group of common Jews who were really seeking the truth.  If this was the case, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt because they were getting mixed messages about Jesus being the Messiah.

On the one hand, the Messiah was predicted/prophesied to be a type of shepherd (Isaiah 40:11, Jeremiah 31:10-11) and Jesus had clearly applied that analogy to himself. 

He also performed numerous miracles, which they considered strong evidence that he was the Messiah (John 7:31). 

But on the other hand, their trusted religious leaders put doubts into their minds.  They insisted that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he was from Galilee (John 7:52), while the true Messiah was from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

They reminded the common people that the Messiah was to be a great conquering hero and king.  As such, they expected him to be a wealthy, well connected political powerhouse from a prominent family.  Since Jesus was none of those things, the religious rulers rejected his messianic claim, and they strongly encouraged the people to do so as well.

So this group of Jews could have been genuine seekers of the truth. 

However, there is another possibility.  Remember, at this point the religious leaders have determined to kill Jesus; they are constantly looking for a way to make that happen. 

With this in mind, it is entirely possible that this group of Jews was actually acting on behalf of the Pharisees.  If they can get Jesus to make a clear statement in front of a bunch of witnesses that he is unequivocally the Messiah, they can accuse Jesus before the Roman authorities.  The leaders of Rome would be more than happy to publicly humiliate and execute anyone who claimed a position of authority under their regime.

For their part, the Pharisees would love for Rome to step in and rid them of Jesus; it would solve all of their problems and return things to normal (or so they thought)!

John 10:25-26 – Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”

Although he has not made the exact statement the Jews are seeking, Jesus HAS made it very plain that he is the Messiah: 

  • They heard him testify that God was his Father (John 5:18).
  • He referred to himself as the Son of Man, which was a known title of the Messiah (Matthew 12:8, Mark 8:31).
  • He claimed the power to forgive sin (Matthew 9:6).
  • He has fulfilled Old Testament prophesies regarding the Messiah (Matthew 1:22-23).
  • He has identified himself as the good shepherd and the light of the world (John 8:12, John 10:11, 14).
  • He has uncovered the secrets that lie deep within their very own hearts (Matthew 12:24-25). 

As if that were not enough, the works or miracles that Jesus performed should have given them all the evidence they needed:

Matthew 11:3-5 – And (the disciples of John) said unto him, Are you he that should come, or do we look for another?  Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

After this statement by Jesus, the disciples of John turned and began to follow Christ instead, because they recognized him as Messiah.   

Thus, we find that the words of Jesus are true – those who have ‘ears to hear’ and ‘eyes to see’ spiritual things, have no difficulty at all in identifying him as the Messiah. 

But those who persist in unbelief, purposely blinding themselves to the truth and maliciously resisting the will of God, continue in unbelief in spite of all the overwhelming and clear evidence to the contrary.  Their unbelief is not due to insufficient evidence of the mission of Jesus, but rather to the hardness of their own hearts. 

John 10:27 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

By contrast, true believers have an amazing relationship with Jesus. 

Once they believe in him, they have the ability to hear his voice.  How astonishing is that?  God is still speaking in this generation and he is speaking to you!  He speaks through his word, through dreams or visions, with an audible voice or he impresses his will upon your mind/heart through Holy Spirit.

For our part, we have the assurance that Jesus knows each one of us personally (II Timothy 2:19).  You are not just a ‘number’ to Christ.  You are a special, individually created masterpiece.  God breathed the breath of life into you.  He knew the number of your days before you were ever born.  He knows the number of hairs on your head right at this moment.  He prepared good works in advance for you to do and he will reward you for doing them.  In fact, he has a victorious master plan for your entire life. 

He knows how far you have progressed spiritually; he will allow temptation into your life for your growth, but he will never allow you to be tempted above your ability to resist (I Corinthians 10:13). 

He stretches your faith with trials so you can trust him in more and greater ways, which in turn enriches your relationship with him.  All of these trials work together for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28). 

He walks right beside you through your suffering and your joys.  He never leaves nor forsakes you.  He is standing by, ready to give you the oil of joy for the spirit of heaviness.  He invites you into his presence through worship and the communion elements.  He heals, protects and provides for each one of his sheep – including you!        

John 10:28-29 – “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

The amazing relationship that we have with Christ makes it easy to follow him.  Once we hear him speaking to us, it is our natural inclination to obey his word.  Because we love him, we desire to please him. 

In addition to following his voice, we also follow his example.  Jesus came to earth and displayed meekness, patience, love, forgiveness and universal goodness.  As his sheep, we seek to do the same.  One of the greatest examples Jesus gave us was that of constant persevering prayer.  Do you belong to Christ?  One way to answer that question is to look at your prayer life!      

To those who follow him, Jesus grants the greatest gift of all – eternal life with the Father, Son and Spirit.  Interestingly, the verb ‘give’ in this verse is present tense, not future.  In other words, the life that Jesus gives us is already at work in us.  We are not waiting for a promised future existence; we are spiritually alive right now, because we are in communion with the Spirit, and this life will go on without end even after our physical body dies.      

Furthermore, Jesus gives us the utmost assurance and certainty that our salvation is guaranteed forever.  Jesus is the guardian of our salvation; it is in his hand.

II Timothy 1:12 – …for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

And if that were not enough, our salvation is also guarded by the power of the Father.  This means that our salvation is no less certain than the invincible power of God!  Hallelujah!

No matter what happens in this world, Jesus will one day come again and receive us unto himself that where he is, we may be also (John 14:1-3).

John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one.”

The English language does not capture the full meaning of this statement by Jesus. 

A more literal translation would be “we (two persons) are one thing” or of the same substance and essence.  The exact ‘thing’ is determined by the context of the passage.   

Certainly, Jesus and the Father are the same in authority, will and love for the sheep.  But in this particular case, the context of the passage speaks about power – specifically the power to secure and preserve the salvation of the believer (sheep). 

Jesus just declared that no one (neither man nor demon) could snatch one of the sheep out of the hand of his Father, because the Father is greater in power than any other.  In the same breath, Jesus declares that he posses the exact same power; no one can take a sheep from his hand either. 

The implication of this statement was not lost on the Jews!  They immediately understood Jesus to mean that he was of the same substance and essence as God and possessed the same power and authority.  In other words, Jesus was declaring himself equal with Father God.

John 10:31 – The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.

The Jews fully understood that Jesus was declaring himself to be divine and thus equal with God.  They considered this to be blasphemy.  The Law was very clear that the penalty for this crime was stoning (Leviticus 24:16).   So, in a fit of rage they left the portico to gather heavy stones in order to kill him. 

Their actions once again reveal the stubborn wickedness of their hearts.  It is true that the law mandated stoning for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).  However, this punishment required that the defendant be judicially tried and judged first.  But these Jews were so full of anger and hate towards Jesus, they ignored the trial and moved straight to the death penalty!   

The absurdity of the situation seems to have escaped them – they insolently demanded that Jesus tell them plainly if he was the Messiah.  But when he does, they condemn him on the spot!       

We can’t help but notice that John says they are doing this ‘again’.  That’s because they attempted to kill Jesus just a couple of months earlier, at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 8:59).  At that time, Jesus slipped away from them.  This time, as they went outside the temple area to find stones, Jesus begins to question them and (as we will examine next time) this diffuses the situation.

It has been noted that evil people are full of fury in opposing the truth, while Christians are reluctant to defend it.  May we never be like that!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In today’s post we talked about the Feast of Dedication which was a celebration of the restoration of the temple.  Until the temple was restored, the people were unable to commune with God by offering sacrifices or participating in worship.  They went three full years without access to the temple.  How tragic that they were separated from God during that time!

But that is something that we don’t need to fear, because under the gospel dispensation (the age of grace), each one of us is the temple of God, because Holy Spirit lives inside us!

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Because of this relationship, the fellowship that we have with God is infinitely deeper and more intimate than anything the Jews of that day ever had.  So I encourage you to fully enjoy your relationship with him!  Spend time in his presence, and enter into praise and worship every day!

Let me offer you some relief:

Is it possible that you have neglected your relationship with God lately?  Sometimes the commitments or pleasures of this life eat up all our time and we have nothing left for Him.

If that is the case, why not have your own ‘Feast of Dedication’?  Take the initiative to clear some things off your calendar and rededicate yourself to spending time with God.  You might want to consider scheduling a specific time each day to meet and fellowship with him.  You’ll be glad you did!

Let me offer you some strength:

The world is happy to categorize humanity into one big lump.  But God never does that.  He created each one of us individually, and he knows each one of us by name.  He is well aware of every trial, temptation and difficulty that we face.  And he assures us that we don’t walk through them alone:  

Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame scorch you.

If you are facing a trial today, remind yourself how much God loves you.  Remember, nothing can pluck you out of his hand!  So draw close to him and allow his strength to carry you to victory!

John, Chapter 10, Part 2

John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus continues on with the parable of the sheep. 

God provided this parable to the Jews so they could understand that Jesus the Messiah was the true head shepherd of all his people, Jew and Gentile alike.  Therefore, the people should follow Jesus into the pasture of Grace, instead of listening to the Scribes and Pharisees who wanted to rob them of the gospel. 

In our last post, we ended by noting that spiritual ‘thieves and robbers’ come into the flock with evil intentions – to steal, kill and destroy.  By contrast, Jesus is wholly good – he has come to bring life.

In fact, Jesus lays down his own life for the sheep.  In the natural realm, a good shepherd will stand between his flock and anything that tries to kill them.  For example, in his role as a shepherd, King David slew both a bear and a lion as they came to devour the sheep under his care (I Samuel 17:34-36). 

Spiritual shepherds also place themselves in harm’s way for the spiritual well being of their flocks.  For instance, the apostle Paul gladly suffered so that the message of salvation could come to the lost:

Acts 20:23-24 – …Holy Spirit witnesses in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

And while all of the apostles (except for John) eventually did die for their testimony of Christ, only the head shepherd, Jesus, had the ability to sacrifice his life to purchase the flock – to satisfy the debt of their sin; to provide his blood for the washing and cleansing of their souls (Acts 20:28).

John 10:12-13 – “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

In today’s vernacular, we would call a hired hand an employee; a person paid to do a job, who normally has no stake in the company. 

For example, a bank teller.  In some ways, we could say a bank teller oversees or guards your money.  They keep it locked up tight, only giving access to you.  They get paid (they profit) from performing this duty.  And as long as nothing unusual or dangerous occurs, they stay on the job. 

But what if a thief/robber came into the bank with a gun?  In all honesty, I have never worked at a bank.  But my guess is that if a robber came into the bank with a gun, the teller would not protest, or try to fight them off.  They are more likely to give the robber all the money in the bank, including yours.  After all, why would they risk losing their life for your money?  What is their incentive to protect it?

In the same way, the employee of a sheep farm profits by simply showing up and carrying out his duties.  He has no incentive to risk his life when he sees a lion or wolf coming to steal a sheep from the flock; the sheep are not his and he does not experience loss if one is stolen. 

The bible tells us that there are some spiritual leaders who act as unfaithful ‘hired hands’ instead of true shepherds.  They live off the flock without fulfilling their proper duties (Zechariah 11:15-17); they do not lead their flocks to good pasture, tend to their wounds or worry about those that were lost/separated from the flock.   

These pastor ‘hirelings’ took their office to gain worldly goods or respect, not as an opportunity of serving Christ and doing good.  We know that when God truly calls a person to be a pastor, he gives them a measure of his love which enables them to see, love and care for the sheep as if they were his/her own.  As a result, they love the sheep just as God does.

John 21:17- He said unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Do you love me? And he said unto him, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said unto him, Feed my sheep.

However, as we mentioned previously, the hired hand does not have a love for the sheep that God gives to the true pastor whom he specifically calls.  They are not really concerned with the souls of others; if trouble comes they will abandon the flock in an effort to save themselves.  Meanwhile, the helpless sheep will be destroyed by Satan (Ezekiel 34:2-6).

John 10:14-15 – “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In this instance, the word ‘know’ is used in the sense of affectionate regard or love.  The implication is that Jesus has an intimate knowledge of the physical and spiritual growth of his people.  He knows their wants, needs and desires.  He is well aware of the dangers they face both now and in the future.  The sheep are his and he has a tender love and deep interest in their welfare.  Therefore, he leads, defends, corrects and aids them. 

This relationship goes both ways.  Each individual Christian (sheep) recognizes Jesus as Lord, Savior and intimate friend.  We spend our daily lives in constant communion with him, sharing both our sorrows and joys.  We trust and obey him, because we love him John 15:10). 

When we are in trouble, we can call out to him, and he is right there with us.  He leads us on the paths of righteousness and even accompanies us as we experience physical death.  When we do pass from this life, he is right there on the other side of eternity, rejoicing because we are now home with him!  What would we ever do without him??  

Our relationship with Jesus mirrors the relationship between Jesus and Father God.  They know each other; they love and delight in each other.  As proof of the greatness and extent of his love for both the Father and us, Jesus will lay down his life for the sheep, which no mere hireling could ever do.

Jesus often compares the love he has for us to the love that Father God has for him (John 15:9, John 17:23,26).  Therefore, if we can believe that God loved his only begotten Son, we can be assured that loves us as well.  The love of Christ towards us is as genuine and certain as the Fathers love for Jesus.

John 10:16 – “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

This verse reveals the plan of God for the salvation of the world (Gentiles), which was revealed/promised to Abraham hundreds of years before:

Genesis 22:18 – And in your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.

When we recall the promise of God to bless the world through the Jewish nation, we tend to think exclusively about Jesus being born as a Jew.  But there is more to it than just that.  It also reveals the order in which God planned to distribute the good news of the gospel – to the Jews first and only then to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). 

This makes perfect sense.  After all, the Jews (not the Gentiles), held the promises of God through the first covenant; they were already in a relationship with God that the Gentiles never had.

And that is exactly what happened – during his time on earth, Jesus dealt almost exclusively with the Jews: 

Matthew 15:24 – But he [Jesus] answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Once the gospel had been entrusted to the Jews (particularly the twelve apostles), they were to bless all nations by introducing them to God through the gospel message.  This was a clear command given by Jesus:

Matthew 28:19 – Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

Furthermore, we know that the spread of the gospel began at a central point (Jerusalem) and then spread out from that point in all directions (Acts 1:8) and in all generations, until it finally reached you and me.  And now, you and I have the privilege of sharing it with others. 

It is really awesome that you and I can see all the complex plans of God that were contained in the simple statement of Jesus that he had ‘other sheep that are not of this fold’. 

Did you know that at the time Jesus spoke this parable, the idea of a Gentile entering the kingdom of God was an extremely offensive concept to the Jews?  They considered Gentiles to be ‘dogs’ (Psalms 22:16, Matthew 7:6, etc) and did not believe they could enter heaven. 

Consequently, when the Gentiles came to Christ, it created a great rift in the early church.  If not for the power and influence of Holy Spirit, the church would have split itself up into two separate churches, Jew and Gentile. 

But instead, we see the purposes and plans of God coming into perfect order and fulfillment; Holy Spirit established a single unified body with Christ as the head:

Ephesians 2:14-16 – For he [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross…     

(See also Romans 10:12, I Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, etc).

Did you notice that when Jesus refers to the Gentiles he says, ‘I have’ other sheep?  He refers to the redeemed Gentiles in the present tense, even though not a single one has yet received salvation!  How is that possible?

We know that God transcends (exists outside of) time – he is present in the past, the present and the future all at once.  Likewise Jesus, as a divine member of the Trinity, was spiritually present in the future and had full knowledge of each and every Gentile who would one day receive him as Lord and Savior.  What an awesome thought – he called us his own and sacrificed his life for us, before we were ever even born (Romans 5:8), knowing that we would one day be his!

When you consider it that way, it is easy to trust Jesus as Savior, Lord and ultimate head Shepherd! 

Since Jesus is the ultimate head shepherd (the common savior, deliverer and friend of all true believers), then true Christians of all denominations and countries should feel like they are one body.  They should support each other, pray for each other and work with each other, for the ultimate good of God’s eternal kingdom.    

John 10:17 – “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

This is another extremely powerful statement from Jesus and it is somewhat difficult for us to comprehend.  In truth, we probably do not fully understand it even now.

By offering himself as a sacrifice for mankind, Jesus fully demonstrates the love and willingness of Father God to save us – God was willing to let his own Son die so that the way of salvation could be opened to us through his blood.

As the Son of God, Jesus was loved by Father God from eternity.  But as the incarnate God/man (Messiah) he was especially loved by God because he agreed to die as a sacrifice for mankind (the sheep).

John 10:18 – “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.”

Although you may not have considered this before, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Jesus freely and voluntarily laid down his life for our redemption.  In other words, no one could kill him or force him to lay down his life against his will.

He did not fall into the hands of the Jews and Romans because he could not avoid it.  Numerous times he slipped past those who would gladly have murdered him (John 8:39, John 10:31) and he could have done it many more times as well. 

But when the hour of his triumph had come, he traveled to Jerusalem under his own power and authority to become our sacrifice (Philippians 2:6-8).  He allowed Judas to betray him, submitted himself to be scourged and expressly told Pilate that he had NO power over him at all, except it was given to him (John 19:1). 

Jesus not only had the power/authority to give his life for our redemption, he had the power to take his life up again.  What an astonishing thought!  A dead man has no power to raise himself from the grave.  Death always defeats him.  But Jesus is no mere man.  He was the divine Son of God, and his Father had given him power over his own earthly body.  Therefore, he was able to resurrect it again.

Just a few short months after this parable, Jesus would do the very thing discussed here – voluntarily give up his life for the sheep.  Without this teaching by Jesus, the disciples may have mistakenly believed that men had power/authority over Christ. 

But Jesus makes it very plain that this was not the case.  Even death itself had no authority over him; he used death to fulfill his divine purpose, then he shrugged it off as easily as we shrug our shoulders. 

John 10:19 – There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.

How is it possible that the same words would cause some people to embrace Christ as the Messiah while others accuse him of being demon possessed?

Up until this time, the Jews were a united body/church. With one accord they professed that they worshiped the God of Abraham, and complied with the Law of Moses.  But now, as Jesus shines the light of the gospel upon their hearts we find an increasing separation between those who are teachable and those who obstinately reject the truth, no matter how plain it may be.

So we see that the answer lies within the heart of each individual.  Those who were sincere followers of God reacted differently than those who simply went through the motions. 

You may have heard it expressed this way (or something similar) before:  The same sun that melts wax also hardens clay. 

John 10:20-21 – Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?”  Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon.  Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

This was not the first time that the doctrines of Christ divided the Jews (John 7:43, John 9:16). 

Those who opposed Christ accused him of being under the influence of Satan.  Their aim was to discredit Jesus, to weaken his influence with the Jewish people and to bring about a shameful end to his ministry. 

Others stood up against the religious rulers and came to the defense of Jesus.  Though they did not quite acknowledge him as Messiah, they certainly recognized that he was a man with all his wits about him, not a delirious or raving madman possessed by a demon.  They correctly argue that a man who can cure blindness must be operating with the approval of God.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In the parable of the sheep, Jesus makes a distinction between good shepherds who are called by God to lead the flock and robbers who have obtained their office in another way. 

As sheep, it is our job to be careful who we are listening to!  This is especially true in this day of mass media.  There are dozens and dozens of people on radio, TV and the internet all claiming to be ministers of the gospel.  Odds are good that there are a few ‘robbers’ in the midst of them. 

So be on your guard!  I encourage you to carefully evaluate what you are being told.  Have your bible close by and verify not only the exact scripture, but the entire context of what the speaker is saying.  

If you have any question at all, please seek wise council from Holy Spirit and your home church!   

 Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

As we noted in today’s post, the love that Christ has for us is as genuine and certain as the Father’s love for Jesus. 

Take a few minutes and just meditate on this; get it down deep into your spirit. 

We all experience tough times – health issues, relationship issues, financial issues, etc and during those times, we often become so discouraged that we doubt God’s love for us. 

But God does not want us to live in that kind of discouragement.  He absolutely and unequivocally loves you, as much as he loves Jesus!  So strengthen yourself in the Lord.  Whatever you are going through, God is going to walk with you through it and he will use it for your eternal benefit.

So lift up your hands and praise the Lord!  

Psalm 59:16-17 – But I will sing of your power; yea, I will sing aloud of your mercy in the morning: for you have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.  Unto you, O my Strength, will I sing: for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.

 

John, Chapter 10, Part 1

John 10:1 – Truly, Truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.

As we discovered in chapter nine, the Pharisees had essentially drawn a ‘line in the sand’ at this point. 

The Pharisees considered themselves to be the spiritual leaders or pastors of the Jews.  They ardently opposed Jesus on the grounds that he was not commissioned to be a teacher of the Jews.  Because they did not commission Jesus, they considered him an imposter or false teacher (regardless of all signs to the contrary).  Therefore, in their minds, the Jews should reject Christ and continue to blindly follow their spiritual leading.

In opposition to their perverted lie, Jesus gives the Jews a parable which describes both true and false shepherds.  The parable contains many different truths; we are only going to unlock a few.  As you study and meditate on the parable, ask Holy Spirit to reveal further truths to you.    

Because parables are natural stories that illustrate spiritual truths, we should begin by examining the role of a common shepherd back in the days of Christ.  In general, they:

  • Lead their flock into pastures suitable for grazing.
  • Lead their flock to fresh water, which is critical for the life of the sheep.
  • Watch over the sheep and defend/protect them from any predator attacks.
  • Search for any lost sheep which has wandered away from the flock.
  • Bind up or heal any injuries the sheep may suffer.  

Likewise, God has provided spiritual shepherds for his people.  We call them pastors (Ezekiel 34:1-19).  In general, they:

  • Lead their flocks into the word of God, which is spiritual food. 
  • Introduce their people to the works of Holy Spirit, which are critical in the life of every believer.  Holy Spirit is often compared to water in the scriptures (Acts 1:5).
  • Act as spiritual defenders of their congregations.  They protect their people from false doctrines and warn them about spiritual attacks.      
  • Seek out people who are drifting or wandering away from the Lord and try to lead them back into relationship with God.
  • Bind up spiritual, physical or emotional wounds or hurts the people of their congregation may suffer. 

With that background in mind, let’s begin to look at the parable.  Jesus begins his teaching by mentioning the sheepfold.  A sheepfold is a roofless pen or enclosure made in a field where sheep are gathered for the night.  The purpose of the sheepfold is to keep the flock together and to protect/defend them from robbers or predators.

As evening fell, the shepherds would lead their flocks to this pen.  Multiple flocks would often enter the same sheepfold.  Once it was full, the door would be secured and an under shepherd would stand guard all night long. 

In the morning, each shepherd would come, the door would be opened and he would call for his sheep.  Since the sheep recognized his voice, they would leave the pen and follow the shepherd.

What spiritual parallels does this parable show us?  In general, we can say:  

  • The sheep represent individual Christians. 
  • The flock or fold refers to the Jewish people collectively. 
  • Jesus also speaks of having another flock/fold which would be the Gentiles. 
  • Jesus is both the door and the head shepherd. 
  • The thieves and robbers are those who illegally occupy the office of shepherd/pastor.

What spiritual truths does this parable reveal?   

First of all, Jesus gives us a word of warning.  He reveals the presence of thieves and robbers.  Again, these are people who illegally occupy the office of a spiritual shepherd (pastor).

One example of a thief/robber would be a pastor who was never called/commissioned by God.  In other words, this person simply decided that becoming a pastor was an acceptable occupation, so they acquired a degree and applied for the job.  Further, we find that these people do not have God’s heart for his flock; consequently they will always lack a sincere regard for the spiritual growth and edification of the people under their care.  They will not be genuinely concerned about the salvation of the lost, or the honor of God.    

Another example of a thief/robber would be any pastor who teaches that salvation can be obtained without the blood of Christ.  Sadly, this was the position of many of the Pharisees and other religious leaders during the days of Christ.  They believed and promoted the idea that the Jews would find salvation because:

  • They were physical descendants of Abraham. 
  • They were God’s covenant people. 
  • They kept the law. 

Obviously, none of those things would result in salvation for the Jews.  Therefore, when the Pharisees did everything in their power to keep people following them instead of Christ, they were operating as thieves and robbers. 

It is interesting to note that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were, well, religious!  They wore religious clothes, recited prayers, read the scriptures, gave alms and attended the synagogue.  However, none of these things could save them.  Only the blood of Christ could do that!   

A true Christian certainly does religious things, but their outward actions are the result of the internal salvation they have received from Christ.  External works can never produce an inward change of the heart that leads to salvation.    

John 10:2-3 – But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens.  The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  

In contrast to the thieves and robbers, there is a single head shepherd, who has the legal right to open the door of the fold.  Spiritually speaking, who is the head shepherd?  How does he obtain the legal right to open the door?

The head shepherd is the highest spiritual authority of mankind (both Jews and Gentiles).  In order to claim this authority, the person had to:

  • Fulfill all of the legal conditions established by God in the law and the prophets. 
  • Be perfectly obedient to God’s will at all times. 
  • Accept the role of a servant. 
  • Live by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. 
  • Be a true shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep. 
  • Set aside his heavenly glory and take on the form of a man. 
  • Come to earth to seek out God’s lost people. 

In short, only the Messiah could be the head shepherd or highest spiritual authority over mankind.  Only the Messiah had the legal right to open the door of the sheepfold.

Psalm 23:1 – The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.      

So at this point, the Jews had to stop and ask themselves a question. 

Was there a person who fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, who demonstrated himself to be approved by God and to whom God therefore gave access to the spiritual lives of his people?

YES.  That person was Jesus.  He perfectly fulfilled the Law.  The hundreds of miracles he performed demonstrated that he was commissioned and approved of God.  And despite the hindrance of Rome, the lack of mass communication in that day and the interference of the Jewish leaders, God granted Jesus access to the spiritual lives of the Jewish nation. 

As Jesus delivered the gospel message, Holy Spirit anointed every word that came from his mouth.  This anointed word had the power to activate faith in the heart of everyone who heard it, which in turn led them to accept salvation.

Thus, those who believed in Christ heard his voice and followed him into a fresh, new and exciting pasture:  The age of grace! 

Psalm 23:2 – He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

It is also true that the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) appoint or commission men and women in every age to act as pastors/under-shepherds for Christ.  They are charged with the spiritual well being and care of those in their congregations, which is a huge responsibility.  But God provides them with everything they need for this task, especially a portion of his own heart for people:  

Isaiah 40:11 – He [the Lord] shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

To be commissioned by God to be a pastor over part of his world-wide flock is both a great honor and a heavy responsibility.  So if you appreciate your pastor, let him or her know!  Take a moment to tell them how much you value their service and how they have impacted your life.  Please also thank that person’s spouse, because they make lots of sacrifices for the congregation too!   

John 10:4 – When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

It was customary for the shepherd to take a position at the head of the flock and lead them into desirable pastures, clear water, etc.  Each individual sheep would follow him because they recognized his voice.  They were familiar with his voice because they spent time in his presence each day. 

The same is true for us.  Jesus assures us that he speaks to each and every one of us, and we have the capacity to hear him.  How does the Lord speak to you?  Is it through dreams or visions?  Is it through his word?  Is it through worship?  Is it with an audible voice, or perhaps an inward confirmation in your spirit? 

Again let me stress that Jesus himself says that each and every one of his children has the capacity to hear his voice.  So if we find that we are unable to hear what God is saying to us, we urgently need to correct that problem.  How can we do that?

Here is one common method for training yourself to hear the voice of God:  Begin by spending a few minutes in praise and worship. Focus your mind on God, shutting out the affairs of daily life.  Then, pray and ask Holy Spirit to speak to you through his word.  Next, get out your bible and begin to read the scriptures, pausing to meditate on them, and allowing time for Holy Spirit to speak to your heart/mind.  It won’t be long before you recognize the voice of God as he speaks to you.  The more you do this, the more familiar you will be with the voice of God, until you can hear him quite clearly.  The more time you spend in his presence, the easier it becomes to recognize his voice.

If you are one of the people who hears from God in dreams or visions, you should consult some reliable Christians who are skilled in dream interpretation, so they can assist you in understanding the way God speaks in dreams.    

Regardless of how God speaks to you, one of the keys to hearing him is to spend time in his presence listening, instead of doing all the talking!  

John 10:5 – A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

Sadly, there will always be false teachers who try to draw true believers away from Christ.  In the book of Acts, Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus of this same danger:

Acts 20:28-30 – Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Jesus issued a similar warning to his followers (Matthew 7:15-16).  He also tells us that we can identify these false teachers. 

One way to do that is to look at the fruit in their lives.  Is it good fruit, or evil fruit?  

Another way to identify a false teacher is to compare their teaching with scripture and look for inconsistencies. 

Holy Spirit will also warn you against false teachers.  Have you ever been listening to a preacher or teacher and Holy Spirit nudges you that something doesn’t seem right?  Have you ever felt uneasy in your spirit as you listen to some people?  If so, you need to pay close attention; Holy Spirit is giving you a warning.     

John 10:6-7 – This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”

As we pointed out earlier, the sheepfold only has a single door.  This indicates that there is only one way for the sheep to reach the safety of the fold.  Jesus plainly tells us that he is that door.  We are immediately reminded of some other words of Jesus:

John 14:6 – Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.  

The meaning is crystal clear: Jesus is the door to the kingdom of heaven.  In order to enter the kingdom, you must go through him; there is no other way.  His shed blood is the only legal means by which your sin can be purged and you can be reconciled to God.  Scripture confirms that there is no other name under heaven whereby man can be saved (Acts 4:12).

John 10:8 – “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”

Who qualifies as “all who came before”? 

‘All’ is used in the popular sense; it denotes the great mass or majority, not necessarily every single one.

Those ‘who came before’ does not refer to the true prophets of God.  Rather, it means anyone who came pretending to be a pastor or spiritual guide to the Jewish people.  It is probable that Jesus was referring to the Scribes and Pharisees of that day.  They claimed to be instructors/pastors of the people, but their only true goal was to elevate and enrich themselves, while oppressing the people.

Jeremiah 23:1-2 – Woe be unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.  Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

As true Christians we don’t need to be overly concerned about false pastors, because we should be able to spot them fairly quickly.  However, there is another facet of this statement that we should consider.

If a false pastor has not been commissioned by God, then what grounds does he or she minister on? 

The fact is, the only foundations they have to build upon are their own talents, strengths and wisdom.  And no matter how much they know or how talented they are, human abilities are a poor substitute for the strength and wisdom of Holy Spirit.  Therefore, anytime a person ministers under their own strength, they are essentially robbing the flock.

Now, stop and consider that for a moment – was there ever a time in your ministry that you operated on your own strength or wisdom?  Was there ever a time you implemented a program without consulting Holy Spirit because you thought it was a good idea?  My guess is that the answer is ‘yes’ for most of us.  This means that at some point, we robbed people of the full blessing God wanted to give them at that time. 

I don’t know about you, but I consider that a very sobering thought.  Let’s keep this in mind as we minister in the future.     

John 10:9 – “I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Again, any person who goes through Christ to obtain salvation will be saved.  He or she will have their sins blotted out, their soul purified and their name written in the Lamb’s book of Life (Revelation 20:12-15).

The phrase ‘going in and out’ is a common Hebrew phrase which denotes the comings and goings of daily life.    

The meaning is that in the course of the daily life of a Christian, they safely go about their business always able to come and go to the refuge of Jesus when storms or dangers approach.

Psalm 23:3-4 – He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.   

For his part, Jesus will lead and guide us into communion with himself, the Father and Holy Spirit.  He will provide every good thing that we need in our lives as well as many wonderful things we don’t!  We never have to fear the evil one, for our Father is vastly greater and more powerful than Satan!      

John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The goodness and abundance that God has bestows upon his people are contrasted with the actions of the false teachers/pastors. 

These ‘wolves’ are in the church to promote their own interests at the expense of the spiritual lives of the people.  They seek their own honor, as well as the riches and fame of the earth.  They do nothing to assist their flock in experiencing true spiritual life and goodness.  Once they steal the sheep’s allegiance to Christ, they have destroyed them spiritually and the sheep is in danger of eternal death. Again, this more or less describes many of the Scribes, Pharisees and priests during the time of Christ.         

Jesus, however, never brings death or destruction to his people.  He brings life – only God can take a valley of dry bones and make them live again!  

And when the church (and we as individuals) is made spiritually alive, it is not just a ho-hum boring existence.  Jesus has come to bring us abundance! The original Greek word for ‘abundantly’ denotes that which is NOT absolutely essential to life.  In other words, it stands for things that are added on top of the essentials to make life happy and blessed.  He truly fills our cups until they overflow!

Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.   

If the only thing Jesus provided for us was deliverance from hell, we couldn’t complain (although we probably would).  But that is not the case:

  • Jesus has generously given us and overflow of eternal joy, peace, love and life. 
  • We have endless opportunities to know God more. 
  • We can come into his presence at any time.   
  • We enjoy greater and deeper spiritual blessings than anything experienced by those who lived prior to the incarnation, including Adam and Eve! 

Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

And this is just the beginning…eternity with God will be even better!   

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

Many people live under the false impression that God is stingy and cruel.  They picture him as an angry disciplinarian who is just waiting for them to make a mistake, so he can punish them. 

Don’t buy into that lie of the enemy!  Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth! 

Jesus died on the cross just to save you.  If you were the only person on earth who needed salvation, he still would have done it. 

Scripture tells us that it is God’s will/desire for every single person to have salvation (I Timothy 2:3-4).  When you do accept him, he becomes a caring, loving Father and companion.  He guides you, provides for you and watches over you.  He greatly desires to have a unique relationship with YOU!

Go ahead and read Psalms 23 one more time – it oozes with the love that Jesus feels for you!  

  

 

 

John, Chapter 9, Part 3

John 9:28 – and they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.”

Jesus has just healed a blind beggar who was sitting outside the temple gates.  

You would think this was cause for celebration – it showed the Jews that God was in their midst.  But there were certain Pharisees who despised and rejected Jesus.  Instead of rejoicing at this miracle, they set out to discredit both Jesus and his work.

As we saw in our last post, their ‘investigation’ did nothing except confirm the validity of this miracle!  When the Pharisees realized they could not refute Jesus or disprove the miracle, they resorted to arguing with the beggar like spoiled little children.  This is typical of people who cannot win an argument with truth or reason.   

John tells us that the Pharisees ‘reviled’ the beggar.  The Greek word for ‘revile’ literally means ‘a spear word’.  The meaning is that they spoke cutting, piercing, words which revealed the murderous intent of their hearts.  If the Pharisees had the same power with a literal sword as they did with their tongues, they would have killed the beggar!   

The Pharisees have basically drawn a line in the sand. 

On one side, they placed Moses, the law he gave to Israel, and all those who follow that law.  On the other side they placed Jesus, the gospel he was teaching and all those that believed he was the Messiah.

In their misguided and ignorant opinion, they believed that these two things (the Law of Moses and the teachings of Christ) were mutually exclusive.  In other words, the Pharisees believed that anyone who followed Christ was automatically an enemy of Moses and the Law.       

Matthew 5:17 – Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

What they did not understand (because they chose to be spiritually blind) was that the law and grace both flowed from God.  They were not opposites of each other; they complimented each other.  Moses was a type or shadow of the Messiah that was to come (Jesus). Jesus, the true Messiah, was the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. 

Therefore, it was entirely possible to be a disciple of Moses as well as a disciple of Jesus. 

John 9:29 – “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

When the Pharisees say this, they are not referring to the place where Jesus was born.  They are referring to his commission or his prophetic office.

The scriptures show that Moses was commissioned by God.  He received his calling at the burning bush (Exodus chapter 3).  His calling/commission was confirmed to the Hebrews by the performance of miracles:

Exodus 4:1-3 – And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD has not appeared unto you.  And the LORD said unto him, What is that in your hand? And he said, A rod.  And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.

God gave Moses the ability to perform two other miracles (making his hand leprous and turning water into blood.  See Exodus chapter 4).  Notice the purpose of the miracles – to prove that God was speaking to them through Moses.

The Pharisees believed the word of Moses and accepted his doctrine based on the Old Testament record of these three simple miracles.  So why would they reject Jesus, when he had performed hundreds of miracles, many right in front of them?  The only answer is their stubborn refusal to listen to God. 

Do we ever refuse to listen to God?  Do we stick to a doctrine that claims God does not heal today, even though we have evidence to the contrary?  Do we stick to a doctrine that says speaking in heavenly languages (tongues) is not for today, even though millions of people are doing it right now?  Examine what you believe and make sure it lines up with the word of God.

John 9:30-31 – The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God, and does his will, God listens to him.”

The beggar is getting a bit sassy with the religious leaders and I like it!  He boldly mocks their ludicrous claim that Jesus was not commissioned/sent by God.

He points out that God does not listen to any deceiver or false teacher; no such person could possibly work a miracle.  Since Jesus had just healed him, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus operates under the authority of God.  Therefore, his doctrine should be accepted. 

We find that this uneducated, poor and despised beggar is able to correctly judge spiritual matters, while the religious leaders stand by, dazed and confused.  How is that possible?  After all, it was the business of the religious leaders was to distinguish good from evil, or a true prophet from a false one.  Yet the Pharisees cannot correctly judge the clear case that is before them! 

The only answer is that God cured not just the beggar’s physical blindness, but his spiritual blindness as well!   

John 9:32 – “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.”

When the beggar made this statement, he was no doubt referring to the physical realm.  Blindness was (and for the most part still is) incurable.    

But interestingly, his statement is true in the spiritual realm as well.

Since the beginning of the world, no one has been able to open the spiritual eyes of a person afflicted/born in sin.  The understanding of mankind is blind because:

  • Sin has affected our entire nature; it has cut us off from God and spiritual understanding. 
  • Our natural pride and self-reliance strive against the message of the gospel, which says that out salvation is 100% a gift of God; we cannot earn it. 
  • We try to judge spiritual things by the use of our senses.  This was a known problem of the religious leaders; Jesus instructed them to stop judging by appearance and judge righteously (John 7:2). 

Rhetoric, argument and reason are useless in the fight against sin/spiritual blindness.  Only the divinely inspired and Spirit-breathed word of God has the power to heal spiritual blindness and draw men to Christ.  Man remains blind until the Spirit says, ‘Let there be light’.

For this reason, we need to fill our minds and hearts with the word of God.  Then, when we open our mouths and speak out of the abundance of our hearts (Luke 6:45), our words can bring life to those who hear them.  

John 9:33 – “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

The beggar correctly concludes that the work of Jesus is beyond the power of any ordinary man.  If Jesus did not have some special authority from God, he could not perform such miracles.  

Notice that the beggar still thinks of Jesus as a prophet; he stops just short of declaring Jesus to be divine.  He has not quite come to that revelation yet, but he soon will!

John 9:34 – They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?”  And they cast him out.

At this point, the Pharisees realized that they cannot accomplish their goal – they cannot refute this miracle of Jesus.  Their frustration manifests itself in angry retort directed at the beggar.

They resolutely declare that he was ‘born in utter sin’.  This refers to a false belief that was common during that time.  Many people (including some Jews) were convinced that souls, after finishing one life, entered into new bodies where they suffered the punishment of their former crimes.  Since this man was born blind, they conclude that he was a vile sinner in his last life. 

Obviously, we know this is not the case.  But there is still a lesson to be learned here.  We should not pass judgment on those who are suffering.  As we noted in our previous posts, suffering can be punitive, redemptive or collateral.  God uses suffering to accomplish eternal good in us and others.  When we see someone suffering, we cannot possibly know the real reason for it, so we should not judge it.  

The judgment of the Pharisees had another unfortunate (and serious) side effect.  It caused them to distain the beggar, which in turn caused them to reject the sound spiritual warnings he gave to them.  Because of their pride and arrogance, they missed another chance to find grace. 

As a final insult, they excommunicate this man from the temple.

John 9:35-36 – Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

The beggar has had quite an eventful day.  The day began as hopeless as any other.  But then he was healed, had a confrontation with the religious leaders, and was excommunicated from the synagogue.  As he was wandering outside, Jesus came to him with an important question – did he believe in the Messiah? 

We can’t help but notice how Jesus leads this man along in his faith, much as he did with the woman at the well. 

At the beginning of this narrative, the beggar understood very little about the character of Jesus.  He certainly believed that Jesus had the power to heal him and from that he inferred that Jesus was a prophet (verse 17).  He testified as much to the religious leaders. 

But now Jesus stretches his faith.  Did the beggar believe that the Messiah had come?

We must keep in mind that the beggar had no idea that the man he now spoke with was the same one who had healed him.  This allows us to see the true motivation of his heart. 

The beggar’s response indicates that he was prepared to acknowledge the Messiah when he saw him; he just didn’t know who he was.  In fact, he wished that someone would point the man out to him, so he could both see and hear the Son of God.  

John 9:37-38 – Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

The beggar is now fully convinced of the divinity of Jesus and glorifies him as Savior.  While his spiritual journey is far from over, he has made the transition into the kingdom of heaven.

It is likely that this ends John’s narrative about the beggar.  Some amount of time passes between verses 38 and 39. 

John 9:39 – Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Again, at some later date, Jesus is teaching and some of the religious leaders are listening in as Jesus explains the effects of his appearance in the world. 

Every single person is born spiritually blind.  Now that Messiah has come into the world bringing the truth, men have a choice to make.

People who recognize and admit they are sinners can receive spiritual sight/understanding and accept the gift of salvation.  These people have passed from death to life.  They are no longer under God’s condemnation:

John 5:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

The life of the blind beggar was a physical example of this spiritual truth.   

People who refuse to admit that they are sinners (spiritually blind), will not be able to accept the gift of salvation, because they don’t think they need it.  They will despise and reject the gospel message.  As a result, they remain in spiritual darkness or blindness, and they fall under condemnation. 

Matthew 23:27-28 – Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

The lives of some of the Pharisees presented a physical example of this truth.    

Scholars also see a bigger picture here as well.  They believe that the meaning of this verse goes beyond each individual and refers to the Jews and Gentiles.  It can be said that the gospel/salvation message was taken away from the Jews because they rejected it, and given to the Gentiles who received it with joy (Romans chapter 11).    

John 9:40-41 – Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see’, your guilt remains.”

What is Jesus saying here? 

The context of his comment is still the blind beggar.  He was physically blind and he knew it.  In fact, he was acutely aware of it.  This knowledge caused him to seek a cure for his blindness.  Man could not help him, but eventually Jesus crossed his path and healed him.

On the other hand, no one else in this narrative (including the Pharisees) asked Jesus to heal their blindness, because they didn’t have any.  They believed they could see perfectly. 

Spiritually speaking, sin is like blindness.  If you realize you have it, you can seek God.  You can ask him to heal/forgive/remove your sin, just as the beggar asked Jesus to heal his eyes.  Once you do, you are free from guilt/condemnation.

But if you refuse to believe that you have any blindness/sin, then naturally you will not seek God for a cure, because you falsely believe you are in perfect spiritual health.  Therefore, since you did not seek a remedy for your sin, it stays with you and your guilt before God remains.  This is the situation of many of the religious leaders of that day.       

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus performed hundreds of miracles on earth, yet his miracle power is not diminished in the least.  Are you in need of a miracle today?  Don’t let someone convince you that God is no longer in the miracle business. 

Remember, we receive the blessings of God by faith.  So take steps to build up your faith and ask God for whatever is on your heart.  He is a good Father, and he wants to bless you!  

Let me offer you some relief:

There are many good reasons why Jesus instructs us not to judge each other. 

For one thing, we cannot possibly understand the motivations of another person.  Only God can do that (Hebrews 4:12).  Therefore, only God can righteously judge their situation. 

Another reason we are not qualified to judge is because we too have sin in our lives.  Jesus tells us not to pull the splinter out of our brother’s eye until we have removed the log from our own (Matthew 7:3-4)! 

Fortunately for us, Jesus instructs us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1).  Frankly, that is a relief – I don’t want the responsibility of judging someone else! 

Let me offer you some strength:

The beggar provides an excellent example of strength that we can learn from: 

The Pharisees were wealthy, popular and educated. Very few Jews would disagree with them or confront them.  But the beggar wasn’t afraid to stand up for the truth, even though he knew they would despise his opinion.

The Pharisees behaved like school bullies.  If any Jew failed to agree with them, they would use their authority to banish them from the temple.  But the beggar didn’t bend to that kind of pressure.  His stand for the truth did eventually get him excommunicated from the temple, but in the long run it was worth it – he found Christ.

In this day and age, it takes a lot of strength to stand up to the wicked compromising world around us, but if we stay close to Christ, he will give us the strength we need to stand strong in our faith. 

  

 

  

John, Chapter 9, Part 2

John 9:13 – They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

Our last post ended in verse 12, where many of the Jews were asking the formerly blind beggar to tell them the whereabouts of Jesus. 

Evidently, some of them brought the beggar to see a group of Pharisees who were part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of the Jews.  They also happened to be the sworn enemies of Christ.  

Why would the Jews do this, since they knew this group of Pharisees was committed to opposing Christ?

  • It is possible that they were inclined to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, so they brought this beggar to the unbelieving Pharisees as ‘proof’ that Jesus was divine or at the very least, a prophet sent from God.
  • It is also possible that these Jews were just as opposed to Jesus as the Pharisees.  Perhaps they were rewarded in some way for providing the Pharisees with a reason to further persecute Christ.
  • Then again, they could have been motivated by fear.  The Pharisees had already determined to excommunicate anyone who confessed Jesus as the Messiah so perhaps they brought him to the Pharisees to ensure their place in the Jewish community. 

Regardless of their motivation, they clearly put more fuel on the fire of hate, anger and opposition of the religious leaders.  This is part of an overall pattern that is evident all throughout time – we often see violence where the truth of the gospel comes head to head with evil.

I believe that some of the violence we see in our nation (and world) today has this same basis.  As Christians stand up for what is true, it angers Satan.  He does not want to give up any part of his kingdom, so he reacts violently.  Apparently, he still mistakenly thinks this will stop the gospel.  No one wants or seeks to be involved in this kind of confrontation, but as Christians, we MUST stand firm against darkness and advance the kingdom of heaven.  

John 9:14 – Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

On the Sabbath people paused from their normal activities to honor God and rest/restore their minds and bodies.  This day of rest was good for people spiritually, mentally and physically.  God felt that this day of rest was so important, he made it part of the law; anyone who violated this command was to be put to death (Exodus 31:15).   

The problem is that over the years the Pharisees had used their authority to set up a hierarchy of traditions that far exceeded the law and purpose of God.  The Sabbath had become a legalistic quagmire of rules and regulations.  Instead of being a source of comfort and healing and a day where people recognized the love of God, the Sabbath had become another heavy burden for the common man to bear.

Mark 7:9,13 – And he said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.  Making the word of God of no effect through your tradition…

The truth is that the law did NOT forbid ALL work done on the Sabbath, just that which was servile or unnecessary (Jesus proved this in John chapter 7 with the example of circumcision).

On the other hand, works of necessity and mercy were NEVER forbidden on the Sabbath.  Indeed, how could it be wrong to do good on the day that was set aside to honor the God of infinite mercy and love?

During his time on earth, Jesus constantly went head-to-head with the Jewish rulers over this issue.  He ‘took back’ or restored the Sabbath back to its original intent.    

Luke 6:9 – Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil?  To save life, or to destroy it?

One reason Jesus often healed on the Sabbath was because this was the normal day for preaching the word, and Jesus confirmed his teaching with miracles.  Hence, miracles were bound to occur on the Sabbath.  But there was more to it than just that.

By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus discredits the extraneous traditions of the elders of Israel.  He also proves that he is Lord of the Sabbath, and therefore divine. 

Furthermore, by stirring up these controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus attempts to once again draw the Jews into a quest for the truth.  Over and over again he tries to motivate them into impartially examining the evidence.  Over and over he tries to get them to objectively examine Old Testament prophesy and find/discover him there!

Actually, this is not the first time God has used this technique.  He has a history of stirring people up with something that attracts their attention or piques their curiosity.  Then, as they investigate further, he reveals himself or he imparts truth to them.  For example:    

How did God get Moses’ attention?  That’s right – through a bush that was burning, but never consumed (Exodus 3:2).  Moses found the Lord when he attempted to understand the burning bush, and God assigned him to lead Israel out of bondage.   

How did God get the attention of Balaam?  That’s right – by allowing his donkey to talk (Numbers 22:22-35).   Once the Lord had Balaam’s full attention, he gave him strict instructions not to curse the Israelites.

Proverbs 25:2 – It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.

 God still works this way today.  For instance, he may give you a dream or vision which you don’t fully understand.  You might witness a move of Holy Spirit or receive a word of prophesy that you don’t understand. 

Whatever the event is, it should cause you to seek the Lord for an answer.  In your seeking, God will reveal new aspects of himself to you and/or reveal his truth to you.  So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t ignore the invitation!  Make time to meet with God.  It will definitely be worth it!   

John 9:15 – So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight.  And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”

Here we find the Pharisees asking the wrong question.  The correct question was not how the beggar was healed; it was who healed him. 

At this point in the narrative we begin to see that the Pharisees are caught in a downward spiral of unbelief:

  • It began with a dogmatic and unyielding belief that Jesus was not the Messiah.  No amount of evidence was sufficient to convince them that Jesus was the Son of God (and there was A LOT of evidence).   
  • Their next step was to try and weaken or destroy the credibility of the witness.  Perhaps this man was NOT the beggar who was outside the temple gates day after day, or perhaps the beggar and Jesus were involved in an elaborate scam to make appear that a miracle had taken place. 
  • When the witness couldn’t be shaken, the Pharisees were forced to admit the fact that a true miracle had occurred, but they immediately attempt to charge Jesus with a crime because of the manner in which he did it. 

This is why they asked the beggar how he was healed – they wanted to condemn Jesus for making mud on the Sabbath! 

Truly, their spiritual blindness and unbelief was of their own choosing; had they turned to Jesus, he would have healed their spiritual blindness as surely as he physically healed the blind beggar. 

John 9:16 – Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?”  And there was a division among them.

Not all of the religious leaders are against Jesus.  Some of them (including Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and possibly Gamaliel) acknowledged the miracles of Jesus as the hand of God.  Therefore, Jesus cannot be the sinner some of the Pharisees accuse him of being.

Thus, God made a division in the Jewish ruling body so that they could not put Jesus to death until his work was finished and his time had come.

John 9:17 – So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”  He said, “He is a prophet.”

The rulers were divided as to the true nature and mission of Jesus.  Those who were against him were still determined to disprove this miracle. 

In an effort to intimidate the beggar, they ask for his opinion.  But the beggar will not be bullied.  He gives a sound answer:  Jesus is obviously a prophet or representative of God.  Otherwise, he would be unable to do such a miracle, especially on the Sabbath.   

In the presence of this undeniable logic, you would think the Pharisees would just keep quiet, but they don’t.  They keep on talking, desperately trying to discredit this man’s witness.  But the more they argue against it, the more the truth of God becomes apparent. 

Since the beggar refuses to agree with them, they now turn to his parents.    

John 9:18-20 – The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How then does he now see?”  His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.”

The Pharisees turn to the parents because they are hoping for some kind of admission that their son was not totally blind, or that the beggar was not really their son.  They are searching for anything they can use to cast doubt upon the miracle and label Jesus as a fraud.

But God is not going to allow that to happen.  In fact, his hand is clearly evident in this narrative.  The goal of the unbelieving Jews is to prove that the beggar and Jesus had colluded together to fool people into believing a miracle had taken place.  Their motive was malice and their intent was destruction, but (glory to God!) the end result was confirmation of the truth! 

The final outcome of their biased investigation is a vindication of Jesus and his doctrine!  

John 9:21 – “But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him; he is of age.  He will speak for himself.”

The parents answer the questions of the Pharisees very carefully.  They affirm that the beggar is their son and that he was born blind.  However, it appears they were not present when the healing took place.  Therefore, they will not speculate about how that happened, or who did it. 

Instead, they refer the Pharisees back to their son for an answer.  The minimum age required to legally give evidence was 13, and he was well past that age.    

John 9:22-23 – (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)  Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

What do you think about the response of the beggar’s parents? 

Clearly, they are referring the religious leaders back to their son to avoid the responsibility of expressing an opinion themselves.  They knew full well that Jesus had healed their son, but they didn’t want to admit/confess it.

What does it mean to confess Christ?

Confess means to acknowledge or to declare a person or thing to be what it really is.  So to confess Christ is to acknowledge Him for what he truly is:  the Son of God, God in the flesh and the Savior of the world. 

How do we confess him?

In general, confessions should be publicly made.  Part of our public confession involves our actions/conduct – we should be baptized in water and we should partake of communion on a regular basis.  Our daily lifestyle should also be a confession of our faith in Christ. 

But we should also confess him with our mouths:

Romans 10:9-10 – That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.  For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Confessing Jesus as Lord honors him, strengthens our own faith and serves as a witness to the lost. 

Sometimes there is a price to be paid in this life for making your confession for Christ. 

  • The price may be relatively small.  This was the case with the parents of the beggar; their confession would only have resulted in an excommunication from the synagogue.  But sadly, they felt the price was too high.     
  • On the other hand, the price may seem to be quite steep.  There have been (and will be) many, many people who died for their confession of faith in Christ (Revelation 6:9-11).

Luke 12:8-9 – Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:  But he that denies me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.

Let us remind ourselves that no price is really too high to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.  If we confess him, he will also acknowledge us – for eternity.   

John 9:24 – So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God.  We know that this man is a sinner.”

 Why would the leaders tell this man to ‘give glory to God’? 

This expression seems to be a form of administering an oath in the presence of God, indicating that you have at last confessed the truth.  The same expression was used back in Joshua 7:19 when Joshua was obtaining a confession of guilt from Achan. 

Essentially, they want the beggar to admit that he and Jesus conspired together to fool people into believing his healing was a miracle.  They want him to admit it was all a sham or a trick. By ‘coming clean’ and revealing the deception, he would be giving glory to God, who condemns all forms of lying. 

As a inducement for him to confession, they declare that they know it wasn’t really his fault… Jesus was clearly a vile sinner/imposter and a liar.  They are willing to blame Jesus and let this man walk away, if he will only side with them.    

John 9:25 – He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind now I see.”

The beggar is not as easily intimidated as his parents were.  He reminds the religious leaders that the point of their inquiry was not to examine the character of Jesus, but to determine if he had performed a healing or not. 

And in that regard, the beggar once again firmly sticks to his story – there was no fraud being perpetrated.  Jesus had healed him.

John 9:26-27 – They said to him, “What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”  He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you also want to become his disciples?”

We can’t help but notice the boldness and irony with which the beggar answers them.  The Pharisees are obviously wicked and hostile towards Christ.  They have already decided what to believe; they are merely searching for something (anything) to substantiate their point of view, regardless of the facts.

So the religious leaders, who consider themselves to be far above their common fellow man, are put in their place by the lowest member of their society – a (formerly) blind beggar! 

The words of the apostle Paul are so appropriate in this place:

1 Corinthians 1:27 – But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;   

You and I may not be mighty or wise in the eyes of the world, but that should not intimidate us.  We have Jesus Christ, the hope of glory, living within our hearts.  Knowledge of him far exceeds anything this world has to offer!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

God still speaks to his people today, just as he has done all throughout history.  Sometimes he speaks in dreams or in visions or through his word.  Sometimes he speaks to us in our spirits.  Sometimes he gets our attention with a word, a concept or something unusual. 

Whenever and however God speaks to you, consider it an invitation to meet with him and get to know him better.  He is anxious to reveal himself to you, to fellowship with you and to impart valuable truth to you as well.    

Let me offer you some relief:

There are many people who are wise by the standards of this world, but in the kingdom of heaven, they know less than a little child!  Don’t be intimidated by their superior ways, their education, their wealth or their position in society.  And don’t be afraid to confess Jesus before them.  God has promised that when that time comes, Holy Spirit will give you the words to share with them (Luke 12:11-12).

Let me offer you some strength:

There are many ways to confess Christ.  One of the most important is to live a holy life that glorifies God.  That is not always an easy thing; although we are Christians we can still fall under the spell of temptation! But remember, Jesus has promised that if we look to him, he will always provide a way of escape for us, so that we can resist temptation and continue to be a shining light for the truth (I Corinthians 10:13).  As we shine for him, he will open up doors of opportunity for us to share his gospel message.