The miracle of Lazarus being raised from the grave presents us with a vivid illustration and proof of Jesus’ assertion that he is the Resurrection and the Life. While the resurrection and the life represent two different realities, they are closely related. And both are found in the person of Jesus and both come to us through faith in him. Twice in 11.25/26 Jesus links them to believing in him. It is common to differentiate between a mere head-knowledge belief and the more significant and trusting ‘believe in‘. But perhaps we also need to note John’s common use of the preposition ‘in’ (literally ‘into’) to denote movement. Our faith moves us ever closer to Jesus and even right into union with him – ‘into’ Jesus.
Although Martha associated resurrection with “the last day” (11.24), Jesus’ resurrection meant his continued life on earth before his ascension back into the full presence of his Father. With Lazarus too his release from the grip of death and the grave meant renewed life on earth. But of course Lazarus must have died again – but his new resurrection life doubtless led on into eternal life. In Jesus and through our faith in him we also experience a new life.
So in John Chapter 3 Jesus teaches the necessity of being born again. This is not religious jargon for right-wing Bible-belt American believers. Together with Jesus in his resurrection we can enjoy the thrill of starting a totally new life, in which “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5.17). As we come to follow Jesus, we become “a new creation”. Former failures and sin are washed clean. The loneliness of non-Christian life is replaced with the joy of Christian fellowship together with all the multitudes of sisters and brothers in his church worldwide. Friends of ours recently began to sense that “there must be more to life than what we have got”, went to a church for the first time and have now begun to find the reality of the new life of the resurrection in Jesus.
Of course the resurrection life here on earth leads on to God’s gift of eternal life. So we have already begun to move on from the resurrection to “life” – Jesus is both the resurrection and the life. In his Gospel John stresses the present tense of ‘life’. We already have eternal life now. For example, we may note the present tenses in John 3.15, 16 and 36. We have already begun on what we shall have perfectly in the future. We have already begun to be with Christ in the glorious presence of the Father. So in Colossians 1.1 Paul delightfully repeats the preposition “in” – his believing readers were simultaneously “in Christ” and “in Colossae”, in Christ in glory and yet at the same time still here on earth. Although we remain in this world, we have already begun to enjoy the reality of God’s amazing gift of eternal life. The resurrection leads inevitably into the ascension.
So we have the new life of the resurrection now, but it will lead on into eternal life. We also have the assurance of eternal life into eternity, but it has already begun here in this life. What glorious grace! We can only worship the Lord with deep gratitude.
I am so impressed with the depth of Martha’s faith even before Jesus assured her that he is the resurrection and the life (11.21-24). May the Holy Spirit give each of us a vital faith in Jesus like Martha had! Do read John 11.21-25 now and be excited by it!
“What draws Muslims to become followers of Jesus as Lord and Saviour?” I asked someone who was working in the heartlands of Islam. He had told me how more and more Muslims in his area of the Middle East are being drawn to faith in Jesus in spite of the extreme danger of conversion in this strongly Muslim country. “Islam is a rigidly authoritarian and legalistic religion”, he replied, “They are drawn to Jesus by the reality of his love for us and our love for each other”.
The story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead strongly emphasizes Jesus’ love. We have seen in earlier blogs how John stresses the relationship of Jesus and the Father by the Spirit. It then shows the wonder of our relationship with Jesus and through him to the Father. The next step is that we as followers of Jesus love one another. So John 11 shows us Jesus’ wonderful love.
Already in John 11.3 Lazarus is called “the one you love” and in 11.5 it becomes clear that Jesus not only loved Lazarus, but also his two sisters Martha and Mary. So when Jesus sees Mary’s distress at the death of her much-loved brother, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (11.33). Indeed he wept (11.35), so that people observed “see how he loved him!”.
It is remarkable how Jesus seems to have had different levels of love and intimacy with his followers. Evidently he had a special love for this little family, for the three leading disciples and particularly for John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23 and 19.26). But he also deeply loved the other disciples and indeed everyone who believed in him. All of us too as his followers will have some who are particularly close to us, while others remain less intimate although we are called to love them too as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This love between Christians is a clear mark of our having become God’s beloved children – “we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” (1 John 3.14). I remember God’s Spirit working in me when I first became a committed Christian. I just longed to meet other Christians and I loved them. Still today after many years as a Christian I love to meet up with fellow believers in Jesus, my sisters and brothers.
So let us rejoice in the glorious fact that Jesus and his heavenly Father love us. What a mind-boggling truth! And let God’s love for us overflow by his Spirit in love for our fellow Christians.
After my blog about Norway it was pointed out to me that it was not correct about Fjellhaug in Oslo. Their one-year Bible School is indeed without accreditation, but the Fjellhaug International University College does offer accredited BA and MA courses. I do apologise to our friends at Fjellhaug and also to any who have been misled by my error in this.
We have just settled back home after an excellent visit to Norway. Norway is an annual high-light in our diaries. It is such a beautiful country, their hospitality is always warmly welcoming, students and congregations also receive our teaching with rich appreciation.
As usual, we started at Fjellhaug Bible College in Oslo. Their courses are of a good standard in Bible and theology, but unfortunately the Norwegian government system does not allow them degree accreditation. We teach mainly on a one-year course for young people who will serve in some form of mission or social ministry in Norway or another country as part of their course. They particularly enjoy us sharing on lessons from our life experience as missionaries in East Asia and back in Britain.
After Oslo we moved down the east coast to Porsgrunn to stay with our special friends Nora and Per Gimse. Our more recent visits to China have been under the wing of Nora and her father who love China, speak perfect Chinese and are brilliant in developing relations with key Christians in the open churches of China. Nora is pastor of the Free Lutheran church in Porsgrunn and each year we enjoy the privilege of sharing in seminars in her church and preaching on the Sunday. The Gimse family are close friends and we so enjoyed some three hours with their oldest son Johan as he drove us home from Oslo. He is a keen student at a theological college in Oslo to be a priest in the Lutheran church. Sadly we could not meet up with their second son Martin and his wife this time. Per is tragically far advanced with MS and no longer able to talk or do anything for himself, but he always much enjoys listening to our conversation and laughs a lot with us.
A bus brought us further south to the Bible School in Grimstad, not far from Kristiansand. They have a one-year course for school-leavers which incorporates some months in a team working overseas. A few stay on for a second year. The school is on a hill just above a beautiful fjord and has wonderful views over the fjord mouth and the sea with lots of little islands. We love the typical Norwegian granite rocks with lots of trees by the edge of the fjord. Again we were given a very warm welcome and the students were wonderfully open to all we had to give them on mission.
Our final stop was further north on the west coast in the city of Trondheim. We had never been there before and so enjoyed the ancient cathedral, the fjord and old Norwegian buildings. The mission school is a development from the Hurdal school where we taught for some 35 years until it closed two years ago. Again it has a one-year course for 18-19 year-olds which incorporates some months in teams overseas. Most meals we were hosted by one particular team and discussed with them the country to which they were going. So from meal to meal we hopped from Cambodia to Ecuador to Israel to Kenya etc. They also have a smaller course for people wanting to serve overseas more long-term. In Trondheim we also had an evening’;s inter-church seminar evening on Islam and meetings in a large Lutheran church with hundreds of students and young couples.
Norway is lovely, its people are delightful, the Lutheran church there has great strengths. But we feel strongly that Norwegians going to serve overseas also need something wider and would love to see more of them coming on to All Nations for a term or more. They would benefit so much from the college’s international student body (and staff) and our interdenominational character.
Thank you so much to those of you who prayed for this visit. Keep praying for on-going lasting fruitfulness in mission as a result of this visit in the three colleges and various churches.