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Lesson 60: Using Time Rightly (John 11:7-16)

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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.

Application Questions

  1. 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?
  2. How can you decide when to play it safe and when to take risks for God’s kingdom? What factors should you consider?
  3. How can you know the proper balance between necessary “down time” and using your time for eternal purposes?
  4. 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

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Life