Lesson 58: Reasons To Believe (John 10:30-42)Related Media
June 8, 2014
Sometimes we think that if we could have been on earth to have seen and heard Jesus when He lived, our faith would be stronger. Maybe, but maybe not! John shows us that some who saw Jesus’ miracles and heard Him teach still wanted to kill Him (and finally succeeded), while some others believed. Both groups saw the same evidence, but they went in totally opposite directions. A positive response to Jesus depends on more than solid evidence. It also requires a heart that the Spirit of God has opened to the truth (Acts 16:14). And so as we come to the Bible, our prayer should always be, “Lord, open my heart to Your truth!”
This is the end of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s Gospel. Opposition has been mounting since chapter 5, when He healed the man by the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus then because (5:18), “He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” Now, they pick up stones to stone Him (10:33), “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” But because Jesus’ time had not yet come, He leaves them and returns to the place beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist had baptized both Jesus and many others (10:40). There, in contrast to the hostility in Jerusalem, Jesus saw many believe in Him.
In our text, John is repeating some of the reasons to believe in Jesus that we have already seen (see 5:31-47). Keeping in mind his overall aim for writing (20:31), “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name,” John here shows:
Jesus’ words, His works, His person, John the Baptist’s testimony, and the Scriptures all show Him to be God.
Everything in the Christian faith depends on the correct answer to Jesus’ question (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” John hammers on that issue from every angle. If Jesus is not the eternal Word made flesh, who gave Himself on the cross for our sins, then there is no basis for Christianity. But if Jesus is who John proclaims Him to be, then you must submit your life to Him, no matter what hardships that may entail. There are five lines of evidence here:
1. Jesus’ Words Show Him To Be God (10:30, 34-36).
In 10:30, Jesus states, “I and the Father are one.” “One” is neuter in Greek, not masculine, indicating that Jesus and His Father are not one person, but are one in essence. John 1:1 showed us that Jesus is fully God and yet distinct from the Father: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus could not be “with God” if He were the same person as the Father, and yet He “was God.” John consistently shows this throughout his Gospel. Jesus repeatedly claims to have been sent to earth by the Father, which indicates a distinction of persons. Also, He prays to the Father, which would be pointless if He and the Father were the same person. Yet Jesus is God.
You need to be clear on this because there are a couple of churches in Flagstaff that deny the trinity, while still purporting to preach the gospel. One states in their beliefs (lifechurchflagstaff.com): “Everyone has sinned and needs salvation. Salvation comes by grace through faith based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” No problem there! But regarding God they state: “There is one God, who has revealed Himself as our Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God manifested in flesh. He is both God and man.” Again, the last part of that statement is true: Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, both God and man. But the problem is, God has not just “revealed Himself” as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the ancient heresy called Modalism (also called “Monarchianism” and “Sabellianism”). Rather, God exists eternally as one God in three distinct persons, each of whom is fully God (see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan], pp. 226-261). Jesus’ statement that He and the Father are one does not mean that they are one person.
Some say that Jesus’ statement here only means that He is united with the Father in their purpose and actions of keeping the sheep from the enemy. But, Jesus’ claim that He gives eternal life to His sheep (10:28) and His claim to be able to keep them from all predators unto eternity are claims to deity. Also, the Jews clearly understood Jesus to be making the claim to be God. They state as their reason for attempting to stone Jesus (10:33), “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” They got it backwards, didn’t they? The truth is, Jesus, being God, became a man, not vice versa. But at least they understood His claim to be God.
Back in chapter 5, when the Jews accused Jesus of making Himself equal with God, He did not tear His garments in horror and cry, “God forbid that you would think such a thing!” Rather, He went to great lengths to affirm the charges. So here, rather than deny the Jews’ accusation, Jesus proceeds to defend His claims to be God (10:34-36):
“Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”
This is a rabbinic form of argument that some (including the Jehovah’s Witnesses) misunderstand. They claim that Jesus was toning down His claim to deity by showing that the term “gods” can legitimately be used of men in certain ways. Thus He, a man, may be called “the Son of God.” But if Jesus had been toning down His claim to deity, the Jews would not still have tried to seize Him (10:39) after His explanation.
The quote comes from Psalm 82, which condemns corrupt judges in Israel. Their proper role should have been to act as God under His authority in the administration of justice. The psalmist referred to them as “gods,” not because they were divine in some sense, but because they were acting as God in their role as judges (see, Exod. 7:1; 21:6; 22:9). Jesus’ argument is from the lesser to the greater: “If mere men can be called ‘gods’ because of their position as judges, then how much more should I, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, be called the Son of God?” Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 528) adds, “Jesus is not classing Himself among men…. He separates and distinguishes Himself from men.” So both here and consistently throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ words show that He is God.
2. Jesus’ Works Show Him To Be God (10:32, 37-38).
Jesus repeatedly appealed to His works, which backed up His words. Replying to the Jews’ demand that He tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah, Jesus states (10:25), “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” When the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus after His claim to be one with the Father, He answered (10:32), “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” Then after His verbal defense to be God, He again adds (10:37-38), “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” In each case, He pointed out that His works backed up His verbal claims.
The term “works” in John refers to all that Jesus did to promote the Father’s purpose, but often specifically to the miracles that He did (see Morris, pp. 688-691). In the general sense, Jesus told the disciples (4:34), “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” After He healed the paralyzed man by the Pool of Bethesda, in defending His equality with God, Jesus referred both to the totality of His works and to the miracle of healing that man (5:19-20):
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.”
In the same discourse, He added (5:36), “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” Later, in the Upper Room, after Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus replies (John 14:9-11):
“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”
Later in the same discourse, Jesus indicts the Jewish leaders for rejecting both His words and His works (15:22-24):
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.”
So, all that Jesus said and did, but especially His miracles, confirm that He is God in human flesh. In our text, Jesus appeals one last time to these hard-hearted Jewish leaders (10:37-38), “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” “Know and understand” are the same Greek verb, but with different tenses. The idea is (Morris, p. 529), “Jesus is looking for them to have a moment of insight and then to remain permanently in the knowledge that that moment has brought them.” He wants them to come to full faith in Him as they consider His works and then to understand His unity with the Father. They are two distinct persons, and yet, with the Holy Spirit they comprise the one true God.
It’s no accident that liberal theologians and skeptics invariably attack the miracles in the Bible, including the miracles of Christ. Sometimes they sneer, “Just show me a miracle and I’ll believe.” But these Jews saw many miracles, yet they did not believe. In chapter 11, they will witness Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, but their response is not to fall before Jesus in faith and worship, but rather to intensify their plans to kill Him. You have to ask, “Why is this? Why did people in Jesus’ day reject miracles that they witnessed with their own eyes? Why do people in our day reject the eyewitness testimony of credible witnesses who reported the miracles of Jesus?”
I think the only answer is that they realize that if Jesus really did these things, then He is Lord and they will have to repent of their sins and submit their lives to Him. In the case of the Jewish leaders, they liked their place of power, so they didn’t want to yield to Jesus as Lord. In the case of modern liberal scholars, they take pride in their intellectual abilities and in the recognition that they get by writing books that attack the credibility of the New Testament. But in both cases, the skeptics don’t want to repent of their sins and bow before Jesus as Lord. So they attack His miracles. But those miracles are a powerful witness to Jesus’ deity.
3. Jesus’ Person Shows Him To Be God (10:39).
The Jews put on hold their attempt to stone Jesus until He finished speaking. But they did not accept His testimony to His words and works. So we read (10:39), “Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.” This could have been a miracle, where God blinded their eyes long enough for Jesus to escape. But rather, I think that Jesus’ person was so commanding and in control of the situation that His enemies dared not to lay a hand on Him. As we’ve seen repeatedly in John, no one could harm Jesus until His hour appointed by the Father (5:13; 7:30, 32, 44-46; 8:20, 59; 12:36).
I read recently that someone is going to do a remake of the movie “Ben Hur.” I hope that it’s as well-done as the first one. It’s been years now since I watched it, but I appreciated the way that it portrayed Jesus and His commanding presence. Ben Hur had been imprisoned by the Romans and was being taken to a galley ship to become a slave. He had dropped to the ground from exhaustion and was thirsty. He cried out, “God, help me!”
At that moment, the film showed Jesus from behind (the film never showed His face), stooping to give Ben Hur a drink. The Roman soldier in charge yelled to Jesus to leave the man alone and raised his whip. Jesus turned and looked at the threatening soldier, who just stood there in awe as he looked at Jesus’ face (which, as I said, the camera did not show). Slowly, he lowered his whip and turned away while Jesus gave Ben Hur a drink of water. That scene effectively communicated that Jesus’ commanding person showed Him to be God. As Jesus stated (10:18), “No one has taken it [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” Jesus was not a helpless victim. He was always in control, even over His own death and resurrection. His words, His works, and His person all show Him to be God.
4. John The Baptist’s Testimony Shows Jesus To Be God (10:41).
John concludes this section about Jesus’ public ministry by reporting that Jesus left Jerusalem and went away beyond the Jordan, where John was first baptizing. By this time John had been executed, but the effects of his ministry lingered on, as we read in 10:41: “Many came to Him and were saying, ‘While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true.’”
We first encountered John’s witness in 1:6-8: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” In 1:15, John testified of Jesus, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” Although Jesus was six months younger than John, the prophet recognized Jesus’ pre-existence.
There follows an extended section where the Jews sent to John to ask if he was the Messiah, which he denied. Rather, he identified himself as the prophesied forerunner of Messiah. Pointing to Jesus, John proclaimed (1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” After stating that Jesus would be the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit (1:33), John added (1:34), “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Later, when some of John’s followers were concerned because of Jesus’ growing popularity, John stated that Jesus was the bridegroom and he (John) was only the best man. Then he added (3:30), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus told His Jewish critics (5:33), “You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth.” So if John was mistaken about who Jesus is, then Jesus was also mistaken, because He affirmed that John spoke the truth.
Note that John never performed a miracle, but he testified faithfully to the truth about Jesus. The result was that even after John was beheaded, these people in this region believed John’s testimony and through him came to believe in Jesus. That’s a great legacy to leave behind: Tell people the truth about who Jesus is so that they come to believe in Him. We’re like those pointing tubes at the Grand Canyon that are fixed on a point of interest. Our job is not to point people to us, but through us to Jesus.
So, Jesus’ words, His works, His person, and John the Baptist all give sufficient reasons to believe in Jesus as God and Savior. But the response is not automatic:
5. The Inerrant Scriptures Show Jesus To Be God.
We have already seen this from Jesus’ citation of Psalm 82:6, which He uses to support His claim to be the Son of God. But here I want to focus on the parenthetical remark that Jesus throws in (10:35): “(and the Scripture cannot be broken).” This is a remarkable, comment! Morris (p. 527) says, “It means that Scripture cannot be emptied of its force by being shown to be erroneous.” Scripture, in its original languages, is authoritative and inerrant.
But even more noteworthy is the fact that Jesus picks a rather obscure psalm and then picks a single word in the psalm, “gods,” to make His point. This means that the very words of Scripture are true and authoritative. Some argue that only the ideas in Scripture are inspired, but not the exact words. Others say that we can’t determine the meaning of words, because meaning is always filtered through our subjective interpretations.
But all such caviling goes against the Savior’s high view of inspired Scripture. Jesus often appealed to Scripture as the final, infallible authority, sometimes basing His argument on a verb tense (Matt. 22:31-32). He defeated Satan by quoting Scripture three times (Matt. 4:1-11). He often cited Scripture as the basis for His actions (Matt. 13:14-15; 21:13, 16, 42; Mark 7:6-13; 14:27; Luke 4:18-19; etc.). Jesus said that the Scriptures testify about Him (John 5:39, 46; Luke 24:25-26, 44-47). The inspired, inerrant, authoritative Scriptures show Jesus to be God.
In spite of all this evidence, some reject Jesus while others believe in Him (10:39-42). Note the contrast between 10:39, “Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp”; and 10:42, “Many believed in Him there.” That last word, “there,” emphasizes the contrast: In Jerusalem, where you would have thought that Jesus would be welcomed as Messiah, He was rejected. But “there,” outside of Judea, many believed in Him through the witness of the martyred forerunner coupled with the presence of Jesus Himself. There seems to be a parallel here with chapter 4, where the despised Samaritans believed in Jesus, not only because of the woman’s witness, but also because of direct contact with Jesus.
There are several practical lessons here. First, you may never live to see how God uses your witness, but you should faithfully try to point people to Jesus anyway. John did not live to see these people come to faith, but his witness was a key factor in their faith. Second, we learn how hard the human heart is apart from God’s grace. These Jewish leaders had more than sufficient reasons to believe in Jesus, but they still were intent on murdering Him. When you get opportunities to tell people about Jesus, pray that God will soften their hard hearts and open their blind eyes. Finally, if some reject your witness, don’t give up. Some seed falls on the road and doesn’t even sprout. Other seed sprouts up, but quickly dies because it has no root. Still other seed gets choked out by the weeds. But some seed bears fruit to eternal life (Matt. 13:1-8). Keep sowing the seed and pointing people to Jesus! He is the Lord!
- In light of the Jews’ rejection of the evidence for Jesus’ deity, to what extent should we use apologetics in our witness?
- Can people who profess to believe in Christ but knowingly deny the trinity be saved? What key truths are at stake?
- Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but not God the Son. Why is denying Jesus’ deity spiritually fatal?
- Must one believe in the inerrancy of Scripture to be saved? If not, what is at stake? What problems inevitably follow a weak view of Scripture?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 59: Loved, But Suffering (John 11:1-6)Related Media
June 15, 2014
In Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23), it’s clear that how a person handles trials is a test of genuine faith. The seed that fell on the rocky ground sprouted up quickly, but it quickly faded when the sun, representing trials or persecution, beat down on it. The seed sown among the thorns lasted a bit longer, but eventually the worries of the world choked it out, so that it did not bear fruit. The only seed that represented genuine faith was that which persevered to bear fruit.
But trials can be a source of doubting, even for strong believers. In difficult trials, our emotions flood us with questions like, “If God loves me and He is all-powerful, then why am I going through this terrible trial?” As he languished in prison, even the godly John the Baptist seemed to question his faith in Jesus. He sent messengers to Jesus to ask (Matt. 11:3), “Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” In other words, “If You’re the Messiah, why am I, Your appointed messenger, still in this stinking prison?” If even a great man like John could doubt in a time of trial, it’s important for all of us to think biblically about trials, both before they hit and also in the midst of them.
John 11 gives the account of Jesus’ most dramatic and powerful miracle in His entire ministry: raising Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days and his body was beginning to decompose. Because this miracle is not mentioned in the synoptic gospels, liberal critics have argued that it is not genuine.
While it may be difficult to explain why the other gospels omit this important miracle, it also creates huge difficulties to explain why John included it if it was not genuine. As one commentator wrote (G. R. Beasley-Murray, cited in D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 404, italics his), “One should … keep steadfastly in mind that he who wrote the Gospel of the Word made flesh viewed history as of first importance; he would never have related a story of Jesus, still less created one, that he did not have reason to believe took place.”
The story reads like an eyewitness account. It’s absurd to think that John would have fabricated such a fantastic story and presented it as a true event, knowing that others easily could have refuted it. The synoptic gospels relate two other resurrections from the dead that Jesus performed which John omits (Matt. 9:18-26; Luke 7:11-17). So we can’t know exactly why the inspired writers included some incidents and omitted others. But we do not need to conclude that the events were fabricated.
Jesus had left Jerusalem because the Jews were seeking to kill Him and was ministering across the Jordan River, where John was at first baptizing (10:40), when word came to Him from Mary and Martha that their brother and Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick. John emphasizes more than once that Jesus loved Lazarus, as well as his sisters, Mary and Martha. But then, contrary to what we would expect, rather than rushing to Lazarus’ side to heal him, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where He was. By the time He arrived in Bethany, about two miles outside of Jerusalem, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, setting the stage for this miracle.
Some commentators think that Jesus was only one day’s journey away from Jerusalem. In this scenario, Lazarus would have died shortly after the messengers left to go to Jesus, so even if He had gone immediately, Lazarus still would have died. But He stayed where He was for two days. Then on day four, He arrived at Bethany and performed the miracle. But that reconstruction of events seems at odds with the sisters’ complaint that if Jesus had only come sooner, their brother would not have died. So others think that Jesus was much farther away. Lazarus was still alive when the messengers got to Jesus, but he died just before Jesus left to return, which Jesus knew supernaturally (11:14).
In either case, Jesus could have spoken the word and healed him from a distance (as in 4:50). But Jesus makes it clear that He has some higher purposes for this sickness and death, namely, for God’s and His own glory and for the disciples’ and the sisters’ increased faith (11:4, 15, 26, 40). So He delayed going immediately, which resulted in Lazarus’ death and in the sisters’ grief over the loss of their brother. Because He loved them, He allowed them to suffer for greater purposes that they did not understand until later. To summarize the lessons for us:
Although we often can’t know why we’re suffering, we always can take our troubles to Jesus and know that He loves us and will work for our good in His time, not our time.
There are five practical lessons about suffering here:
1. The Lord Allows Those He Loves To Suffer.
Three times here John either directly or indirectly emphasizes the close, loving relationship that Jesus had with these three. In 11:2, John identifies Mary as the one who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair. Interestingly, John doesn’t relate this event until 12:3. Perhaps, writing decades after Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9) reported this event and it was widely known (Luke 7:37-39 refers to a different incident), John assumed that his readers were aware of it. But, Mary’s anointing the Lord showed her love for Him and Jesus’ tender feelings for her.
Also, in 11:3, the messenger reports to Jesus, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” And, John adds (11:5), “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” But then follows the surprising connection (11:6), “So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” (The NIV’s “Yet when He heard…” mistranslates the Greek text.) John is saying that Jesus’ special love for these three was His reason for letting them suffer. His love did what was best for them.
But Jesus’ delay in coming didn’t feel like love to Mary and Martha, much less to Lazarus. (They hadn’t read this chapter yet!) We don’t know the cause of Lazarus’ death, but it probably involved pain and discomfort. The sisters helplessly watched their beloved brother go downhill. But their suffering did not mean that Jesus did not love them, but the reverse: He loved them, so He stayed two days longer where He was.
This refutes a popular, but spiritually destructive, heresy of our time: the teaching that it is God’s will for every believer to be healthy and wealthy. This falsehood is flooding into many poor nations, where it entices those who are suffering from disease or poverty with the false promise that if they will believe in Jesus, He will give them miraculous healing or financial success. The false teachers themselves flaunt their wealth, which they have gained from the gullible who contribute to their coffers. When health and wealth don’t happen, they teach that it’s because of your lack of faith. It’s hard to imagine a more heartless and cruel doctrine! Of course, the false teachers don’t mention the fact that they get sick and die with the same regularity as everyone else!
But the Bible is clear that the godly suffer and their suffering is not due to a lack of faith or to the lack of God’s love for them. But, you may wonder, why does He allow difficult tragedies?
2. We Cannot Always Know The “Why” Of Our Suffering.
“Why?” is often the first question that pops into our minds. Why this? Why me? Why right now? Did I do something to deserve this? Is God punishing me?
Several years ago in a letter to supporters, John MacArthur told about a pastor and his wife from Utah who traveled to The Master’s College to enroll their oldest daughter. Their second-oldest daughter planned to attend also in a year or two, so she was on the trip, along with their younger son. They had also brought two Italian foreign exchange students with them, hoping to have some opportunities to witness to them on the trip.
They looked around the campus and planned to attend Grace Church, where MacArthur is the pastor, the next morning. But as they drove away from the college, their car was broadsided at an intersection by a large van traveling at full speed. The force of the impact catapulted the two girls out the back of the car, killing them both instantly. The car quickly caught fire and their son and the two exchange students were badly injured and rushed to the hospital. The van had struck them on the driver’s side, just behind the front seat, so the pastor and his wife only had minor injuries.
MacArthur hurried to be with the couple at the hospital. They were shocked and shattered by their sudden loss, of course. But the father amazed and encouraged MacArthur when he said, “My sweeping thought is this: isn’t God good, that He took my two daughters who knew Christ and loved Christ, and spared these two Italian boys who are not saved? Isn’t God good?”
I’m sure that those parents didn’t have the “why” question answered then, and now, more than 25 years later, they probably still don’t know why that accident happened. But in that moment of tragedy, they were able to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness.
Someone has said that rather than ask, “Why?” a better question is, “What?” What can I learn from this trial? Or, to ask, “How?” How does God want to use this trial? We can’t always know the answer to these questions, since God often works in ways that we don’t know about. But consider three avenues:
God-ward, the suffering may be to display God’s glory. Jesus says (11:4), “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” We saw the same thing with the man born blind (9:3), “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Does it shock you that God would allow a man to be born blind and live many years in that condition so that God would receive glory through his eventual healing? What about God taking all ten of a man’s children, all of his material possessions, and his health, so that God would be vindicated before Satan and the angels? That’s the story of Job.
If that sort of thing bothers you, then you don’t have a big enough view of God. That was the answer that God finally gave to Job: for several chapters God hits Job with questions like (Job 38:4), “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” And (40:2), “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” Job’s final reply was (42:6), “Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” Although Job was the most righteous man on earth in his day, he had to learn that God’s glory and God’s purpose was far greater than any suffering or loss that Job endured. John Piper (desiringGod.org, “This Illness is for the Glory of God”) writes:
Love means giving us what we need most. And what we need most is not healing, but a full and endless experience of the glory of God. Love means giving us what will bring us the fullest and longest joy. And what is that? … The answer of [John 11:4] is clear: a revelation to your soul of the glory of God—seeing and admiring and marveling at and savoring the glory [of] God in Jesus Christ.
Self-ward, the suffering may be either constructive or corrective. When I first preached through John, 37 years ago, I came to this text the week after our six-month-old daughter had been diagnosed with a congenital hip problem that required being hospitalized in traction and then put into a body cast for several months, followed by a couple of years in a harness to correct the problem. She hadn’t done anything wrong—she was just a baby. And as far as we knew, we hadn’t sinned so as to incur God’s discipline. But because we loved our little girl, we had to correct her problem even though it was painful for her and she didn’t have a clue why we were doing all that to her. Hebrews 12:10 says that God “disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” He adds (12:11), “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Other-ward, the suffering may be to bring comfort to other Christians or to be a witness to non-Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul says that God “comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Also, our suffering may be used as a witness, as happened in the death of Lazarus. Many of their friends who were there to comfort Mary and Martha saw the miracle that Jesus performed and believed in Him (11:45). Even later, many of the Jews who heard about this miracle and saw Lazarus were putting their faith in Jesus (12:9-11).
In her first book (Joni [Zondervan]), Joni Eareckson [Tada] tells of the tragic diving accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. She chronicles the agony she went through in the aftermath and how eventually she came to trust in Christ and submit to Him. She ends the book by telling of speaking at a rally to hundreds of young people and her hope that scores of them would come to faith in Christ. Then she adds (p. 228), “But I will be pleased if only one person is drawn to Christ. Even one person would make the wheelchair worth all that the past eight years have cost.” That was many years ago and she is still using her suffering to bring others to faith in Christ.
So, this story teaches us that the Lord allows those He loves to suffer. Also, we can’t always know the “why” of our sufferings, although we sometimes can figure out “what” God wants to teach us or “how” He can use the suffering for His glory.
3. We Can Always Take Our Troubles To Jesus.
I don’t know how the sisters knew where Jesus was, but somehow they got word to Him (11:3), “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” Note three things regarding their message: First, they didn’t demand that Jesus come and heal their brother. In fact, they didn’t ask Him to do anything. They just humbly presented the need to Jesus and left it up to Him what to do about it.
Second, they didn’t “claim Lazarus’ healing by faith” and command Jesus by a word of faith to do as they said. The “health and wealth” heretics tell people that we can command God: “Just speak the word of faith and it’s already done.” That’s nonsense and presumption, not to mention the height of arrogance! God is the sovereign of the universe and He has plans and purposes that we cannot begin to fathom. I’ve heard such false teachers say that we should never preface our prayers with, “Your will be done,” because that reflects a lack of faith. No, it reflects submission to the sovereign God.
Also, note that the sisters did not say, “Lord, he who loves you is sick.” That was true, of course. Lazarus loved Jesus. But rather they said (11:3), “Lord … he whom You love is sick.” They didn’t appeal to the Lord on the basis of anything in them or in Lazarus, but rather on the basis of His great love. George Muller, the godly man of faith and prayer, set forth these conditions for prayer that I have found helpful (from George Muller of Bristol [Revell], by A. T. Pierson, combined from pp. 170, 455, 456):
- Ask only for that which it would be for the glory of God to give us.
- Ask in dependence on the name of the Lord Jesus, that is, expect it only on the ground of His merits and worthiness.
- Separation from all known sin.
- Believe that God is able and willing to give us what we ask Him for.
- Continue in prayer, expecting God to answer, until the blessing comes.
So, take your troubles to Jesus.
4. Always Interpret Your Suffering By God’s Love; Don’t Interpret His Love By Your Suffering.
I’ve already pointed out the emphasis here on Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Love always seeks the highest good of the one loved, and the highest good for all of us, as John Piper pointed out, is not that we be healthy or wealthy, but that we get a bigger vision of God’s glory in Christ. Joni Eareckson made this amazing statement about her accident (ibid., p. 154):
God engineered the circumstances. He used them to prove Himself as well as my loyalty. Not everyone had this privilege. I felt there were only a few people God cared for in such a special way that He would trust them with this kind of experience. This understanding left me relaxed and comfortable as I relied on His love, exercising newly learned trust. I saw that my injury was not a tragedy but a gift God was using to help me conform to the image of Christ, something that would mean my ultimate satisfaction, happiness—even joy.
She was interpreting her suffering by God’s love, not interpreting His love by her suffering. So should we!
5. Realize That Love Sometimes Involves Delays That We Cannot Understand At The Time.
The sisters did not understand the Lord’s delay. Both of them blurted out the same complaint that they must have said to one another over and over (11:21, 32), “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” They couldn’t figure out the reason for the delay that had resulted in their brother’s death.
But as we’ve seen, the reason for the delay was Jesus’ love. By delaying, they would see more of God’s glory in Christ and know more of His power. They would grow in their faith in Him. The Lord’s deliberate delay was out of love, although they didn’t understand it at the time. Romans 8:28 is always true: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
There is much in Scripture about waiting on the Lord. If He answered us instantly every time, we would not recognize our need to depend on Him. God never delays because He is indifferent to our need or too busy or away on vacation! Peter exhorts us to cast all our anxiety on Him and then reassures us (1 Pet. 5:7), “because He cares for you.” So never doubt His love, even though you don’t understand His reasons for delaying.
Here, we learn from the delay that Lazarus’ resurrection was a prototype of ours. Through it we see that although we all die, one day we all will be raised. If Jesus could raise a decomposing body from the grave, He won’t have any problem raising our bodies from the grave (1 Cor. 15:52-53; 1 Thess. 4:14). We also learn that Jesus Himself is the resurrection and the life and that by believing in Him, we will never die eternally (11:25-26).
A woman still overwhelmed with grief approached her church on the Sunday after her mother had died. Just outside the door, a 7-year-old boy met her. With tearful eyes he looked up at her: “I prayed for your mother,” he said, “but she died.” For a moment, the grieving woman wanted just to hug him and cry with him. But she could see that he was seriously disturbed because he thought his prayers had not been answered. So she silently prayed for wisdom and then said to the boy, “You wanted God to do His best for my mother, didn’t you?” He nodded slowly. “Well, God answered your prayer. His best for her was to take her home to live with Him.” The boy’s eyes brightened as he replied, “That’s right, He did!” Then he ran off to meet his friends, content that God had taken her to heaven. (Adapted from “Our Daily Bread,” 5/77.)
So although we often can’t know why we’re suffering, we always can take our troubles to Jesus and know that He loves us and will work for our good in His time, not our time.
- Has a time of suffering ever caused you to doubt God’s love? How can you fight this in your next trial?
- Why is it not only futile, but sometimes defiant, to ask “why” when you suffer? What assumptions lie behind the question?
- The “name it and claim it” folks claim that they are believing Christ’s promises to answer our prayers. What’s wrong with that? Why is their practice wrong?
- How can we know whether God is saying “no” or whether we should keep waiting on Him in prayer?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 60: Using Time Rightly (John 11:7-16)Related Media
June 22, 2014
In a conversation with Woody Allen, Groucho Marx said he was often asked what he’d like people to be saying about him a hundred years from now. “I know what I’d like them to say about me,” Woody replied. “I’d like them to say, ‘He looks good for his age.’” (Reader’s Digest, exact issue unknown)
We chuckle, but we all know the reality: None of us (except perhaps a few babies) have any chance of being here a hundred years from now. But our main aim should not be to live a long life, but a life that counts in terms of eternity.
For many people, life consists of getting up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, spending a couple of hours watching TV or being on the computer, going to bed, and repeating that cycle for 40 years or so. Their goal is to save up enough money to buy an RV so that they can travel around taking videos of the National Parks before they die. But to live like that is to waste your life. As believers, we have a higher purpose. Jesus said (Matt. 6:33) that we are to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Whether God grants us a relatively long life or a short one, our focus should be on using the time, abilities, and resources that God entrusts to us to seek His kingdom.
When you think about the life of Jesus, it’s amazing that in three short years He chose, trained, and equipped the disciples to carry on what He began. To do that, He had to use His time rightly. Our text gives us a glimpse of how He used His time rightly and taught His disciples to do the same.
Jesus was ministering on the far side of the Jordan River to avoid the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who were seeking to kill Him (10:39-40), when word came that His friend Lazarus in Bethany, near Jerusalem, was sick. John says that because Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was (11:5-6). Jesus knew that the highest good for them was not just for Lazarus to be healed, but for them to get a bigger vision of God’s and His own glory so that their faith would grow.
But then, after the two days, He said to His disciples (11:7), “Let us go to Judea again.” By saying “Judea” rather than “Bethany” or “to Lazarus,” Jesus triggered a shocked response from the disciples (11:8), “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” Note that Jesus said, “Let us go” and the disciples replied, “Are You going there again?” Their reply reminds me of the joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, his Indian sidekick. The Lone Ranger said, “Tonto, we’re surrounded by hostile Indians. What are we going to do?” Tonto replied, “What do you mean ‘we,’ White Man?”
Well, with Thomas’ glum resignation (11:16), they all go back to Judea with Jesus, but they probably thought that it was a suicide mission. But Jesus’ reply shows how, in spite of the threats against His life, He used His time rightly to further God’s purpose. Applied to us, the principle is:
We use time rightly when we make wise decisions in light of eternity, fully surrendered to doing God’s will.
Consider three main factors:
1. God has given each of us a certain amount of time to be used in light of eternity.
To the disciples’ incredulous question Jesus replied (11:9-10): “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. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” There were no clocks back then, but they divided the day into twelve equal “hours” from sunrise to sunset, no matter what time of year it was. I’ll say more about what Jesus meant by this as we go, but for now note that one point of having twelve hours in a day is that we all have only so much time allotted to us to do what we’re supposed to do for God. We should take advantage of the time we have, because night is coming, when we cannot work for God (9:4). There are four things to note here:
A. From God’s perspective, we cannot live longer or shorter than the time that He has ordained for us.
The disciples were concerned that returning to Judea would not only get Jesus killed, but they’d probably die with Him. But Jesus is saying, “A day’s time is fixed. Nothing you do can lengthen it or shorten it.” He was constantly aware of the hour that the Father had fixed for Him (12:27). As we’ve seen repeatedly, until that hour came, no one could lay a hand on Him. Or, as David said (Ps. 139:16), all our days were written in God’s book before we were born. We won’t live a day longer or shorter than He has ordained. While that’s a great comfort, there is another side of it to consider:
B. From our perspective, we need to be prudent and sensible.
J. Vernon McGee once told of a man who had been studying the doctrine of predestination and he had become so convinced of God’s sovereign protection of the believer under any and every circumstance that he said to Dr. McGee, “You know, sir, I’m so convinced that God is keeping me no matter what I do that I think I could step out right into the midst of the busiest traffic and if my time had not come, I would be perfectly safe.” In his folksy manner, Dr. McGee replied, “Brother, if you step out into the midst of busy traffic, your time has come!”
In other words, as believers we’re invincible until it’s our time to die, but at the same time we shouldn’t take foolish chances with our lives and expect God to protect us. Jesus had left Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him and He did so wisely in the will of God. But now He knew that God wanted Him to return to Judea, where shortly after raising Lazarus from the dead, His hour would come to go to the cross. We see the same thing with the apostle Paul. There were times in his life when he wisely escaped from dangerous situations. But at other times, he risked his life to take the gospel into dangerous places. So we need the balance between trusting God to keep us all the days that He has ordained for us and yet at the same time, being prudent and sensible.
C. The time that God gives us is sufficient to accomplish what He wants us to do for Him.
Although Jesus was sometimes so busy that He didn’t have time to eat (Mark 3:20), He never seemed rushed or stressed out. Sometimes He left the needy crowds to get alone for prayer (Mark 1:35-37), but He always had time to do the Father’s work. As I said, it’s remarkable that at the end of three short years He could pray (John 17:4), “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” When life gets hectic it’s helpful to remember that God never gives us more to do than the time that we have to do it.
D. To accomplish God’s will, we must use our time wisely in light of eternity.
As Jesus said (John 9:4), “Night is coming when no one can work.” Just as there is a balance between God’s sovereign protection and our being prudent and sensible, there is also a balance between using our time wisely in light of eternity and knowing your limitations. I’ve known of people who are driven to make every minute count for eternity. The famous missionary, C. T. Studd (1860-1931) was so consumed with reaching the lost that he left his wife, who was suffering from a heart condition, in England while he went to Africa. When he received word there that she had suffered further heart complications, he refused to return home. He worked 18-hour days, took no time off, had no time for diversions, and expected all his fellow workers to do the same (see Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya [Zondervan], pp. 265-266)! I think he was way out of balance.
On the other hand, some Christians live with no thought of making their lives count for eternity. Except for going to church on Sundays, they live just as the world lives: to accumulate enough money to retire and then to live their final years for personal enjoyment. They don’t give any thought to how God may want to use them in His purpose. They don’t commit to serve Him because they don’t want to be tied down. They aren’t living wisely in light of eternity.
So, the first point that we can glean from Jesus’ resolve to return to Judea to raise Lazarus is that we all have been given a certain amount of time to be used in light of eternity. But how we use our time depends on the decisions that we make. Thus,
2. To use our time rightly, we must make wise decisions.
How we spend our time depends in large part on our priorities and the decisions that we make in light of our priorities. Jesus’ priority was to glorify God by accomplishing His work (4:34; 17:4). To consider how Jesus used His time, it’s helpful to note both how He did not make decisions and how He made them. To limit ourselves to John 11, note the following:
A. How Jesus did not make decisions:
1) Jesus did not make decisions based on the pressure of His friends or loved ones.
We saw this in the account of Jesus’ first miracle, when His mother subtly suggested that He do something about the lack of wine at the wedding, but He replied (2:4), “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” That comment was not impolite in that culture, as it sounds in English, but Jesus was making it clear that He would not act unless it was the Father’s time for Him to act. We saw the same thing in 7:3-9, when Jesus’ brothers advised Him to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles, but He refused to act on their timetable.
So here, even though Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, He didn’t drop everything and rush to their side the moment He got word that Lazarus was sick. Rather, He acted in a way that would display the glory of God and His own glory so that the faith of His friends and the disciples would grow.
2) Jesus did not make decisions based on the emotions of the moment.
No doubt in His humanity, Jesus was moved and concerned for the grave situation facing His good friends. But He didn’t act on the basis of His emotions, but rather, as I said, on what would glorify God and accomplish His purpose in the lives of others. Usually, it’s not wise to make decisions based on the emotions that flood in when a crisis hits. It’s best to pause, pray, and think through the situation in light of Scripture before you act.
3) Jesus did not make decisions based on the threats of His enemies.
Jesus knew that His enemies were plotting to kill Him, but that didn’t deter Him from doing the will of God. While, as I said, there is a place for caution and prudence, it’s also true that it’s safer to be in the will of God in a place of danger than to be outside His will in a place of seeming safety.
B. How Jesus did make decisions:
1) Jesus made decisions based on what would glorify God.
We saw this in 11:4, where Jesus said: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (Note that Jesus put Himself on the same level as God and His glory, which is a clear claim to deity.) Of course, Jesus raised Lazarus to relieve Martha’s and Mary’s sorrow and grief. I don’t know whether or not Lazarus was excited about leaving heaven to come back to earth with all of its sorrows and problems! But Jesus acted on the principle that God’s glory takes priority even above our relief from trials. The highest good for everyone is to gain a greater vision of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.
2) Jesus make decisions based on walking in the light of God’s presence and His purposes.
This is the point of Jesus’ word picture of walking in the day rather than at night (11:9-10). Jesus says (11:9) that the one who walks in the day “sees the light of this world.” There is a double reference here. On one level, Jesus is saying that those who walk during daylight hours do not stumble in the dark. But on a deeper level, since Jesus is the Light of the world (8:12), those who walk in the light of His presence and His purposes do not stumble. It’s always wise to make decisions based on whether you can do it with the assurance of God being with you because you are seeking to do His will.
3) Jesus made decisions based on helping others come to faith and/or grow in faith.
This story is all about building each person’s faith in Jesus. The disciples already believed in Jesus, but their faith needed to grow. So Jesus makes what at first sounds like an outrageous statement (11:14-15), “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Jesus wasn’t glad that Lazarus was dead, but He was glad for this situation because it would result in greater faith for the disciples.
Also, to the grieving Martha, Jesus states (11:25-26), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus knew that Martha already believed in Him, but He wanted her faith to grow so that she believed in Him as the resurrection and the life.
Also, when Jesus prays aloud at the tomb of Lazarus (11:42), He states plainly that He did so in order that the people standing around the tomb would believe that the Father had sent Him. Thus one of His main aims in waiting before coming to raise Lazarus was to bring some to saving faith and to strengthen the faith of those who already believed in Him. That should be a factor in our decisions about how to use our time: will it increase our faith and the faith of other believers? And, will it help bring others who do not yet believe to saving faith?
So, to use your time rightly, recognize that God has given you a certain amount of time to be used in light of eternity. To use your time rightly, you have to make wise decisions, as Jesus did. Finally,
3. To use time rightly, surrender it completely to doing the will of God.
Again, Jesus is our example here:
A. Jesus’ aim was to do the Father’s will and to accomplish His work.
We saw this when Jesus was talking with the woman of Samaria and the disciples were trying to get Him to eat the lunch that they had brought from the village. He replied (4:34), “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” In other words, He was saying, “Doing God’s will and accomplishing His work is better to Me than eating!”
To do the Father’s will and accomplish His work, we must be fully surrendered and committed to that goal. You must give God a blank check with your life. As Paul wrote (Rom. 12:1-2),
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
You’ll only know God’s will when you’re fully surrendered to Him and committed to do it, no matter what the cost. Thomas here was committed, although not excelling yet in faith. He glumly says (11:16), “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” The other disciples went along, too. Although they all fled in fear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:56), their defection was temporary. All of them later went on to be bold witnesses for Christ and most suffered martyr’s deaths.
B. God’s will and His work always have an eternal focus.
Jesus was concerned about relieving Martha’s and Mary’s suffering in the loss of their brother, but He was more concerned that they and the disciples grow in their faith and that the unbelievers who witnessed the miracle of raising Lazarus come to faith (11:42).
Note that Jesus uses the common biblical metaphor of sleep when He refers to Lazarus’ death (11:11): “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples misunderstood, probably because they really didn’t want to go back to Judea where their lives would be endangered, so they said (11:12), “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Sleep is good for those who are sick! But Jesus was speaking of Lazarus’ death, which He goes on to plainly state (11:13-14).
The “sleep” of death refers to the body, not to the soul. The Bible is clear that at death, the soul goes immediately to be with the Lord in “paradise” (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-23), but the body “sleeps” in the grave until the day when Christ returns. At that point, the dead in Christ will rise (1 Thess. 4:16) and receive perfect eternal bodies suited for the new heavens and earth (1 Cor. 15:35-54). The wicked will also be raised for judgment and cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:5-15). Because life is short and eternity is forever, doing God’s will and God’s work must always keep the eternal in focus. We should help people with their earthly problems, but the main thing is to help them believe in Jesus so that they go to heaven.
C. Doing God’s will always requires walking in holiness and walking by faith.
1) Doing God’s will always requires walking in holiness.
This is implied by the metaphor of walking in the day or light. God’s will is our sanctification, or growth in holiness (1 Thess. 4:1-8). In typical fashion, John doesn’t offer a mediating position, where you can walk in the twilight. Either you walk in the light with Jesus or you walk in the darkness and stumble, because you have no light. John wrote (1 John 1:6-7), “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (See, also, Eph. 5:3-10.) Doing God’s will requires walking in the light.
2) Doing God’s will always requires walking by faith.
As I’ve said, Jesus’ aim here was to increase the faith of the disciples and of Martha and Mary. Faith often requires taking risks in obedience to God to further His kingdom. It’s not always easy to know when it’s wise to flee danger and when faith would stay and face danger, since godly men (including Jesus) did both at different times. Jim Elliot and his four companion missionaries believed that God wanted them to risk their lives making contact with the fierce Auca tribe, and it cost them their lives. But God used it to open up that tribe to the gospel. J. C. Ryle observes (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], p. 42), “To make us believe more is the end of all Christ’s dealings with us.”
Probably this message applies to each of you in different ways. Some may need to surrender your life to Jesus. That is the starting point of using your time rightly so that you don’t waste your life. Others may need to sort through your priorities. What does it mean for you to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Jot down a few goals that will help move you in that direction. Don’t waste your life. Make it count for eternity.
- What one or two things do you most need to incorporate into your schedule so that you are aiming to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness?
- How can you decide when to play it safe and when to take risks for God’s kingdom? What factors should you consider?
- How can you know the proper balance between necessary “down time” and using your time for eternal purposes?
- Prayerfully think through and write down a purpose statement for your life and a few spiritual goals in light of that statement.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
This seven-part audio series by Bill McRae on Psalms 119 takes a look at the struggles of following God in this life, the pursuit of happiness, living a worthwhile life with a legacy, and the necessity of cultivating the habit of listening to and obeying God.