Monthly Archives: February 2019

Such Faith! John 11.17-37

Such Faith! John 11.17-37


Imagine the scene! The little village of Bethany is under two miles away from Jerusalem, an easy walk. So, when Lazarus died and was buried, crowds of people from Jerusalem came out to Bethany and crowded round his grieving sisters, Martha and Mary. It is into this situation of much wailing and tears that Jesus comes.
Having somehow heard that Jesus was coming (in the Greek it is a present tense – “Jesus is coming” – which may convey a sense of anticipation and excitement), Martha goes out of the village to meet him. She greets him with the words, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11.21), repeated by Mary when she meets Jesus (11.32). Had Martha and Mary been discussing with some criticism Jesus’ delay in coming? But any sense of criticism quickly gives way to an expression of Martha’s faith (11.22).
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Martha’s faith

1. “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (11.22). Martha has that assurance that Jesus in his oneness with the Father has immediate access. Such perfect love and unity of spirit exists between Jesus and his Father that he can ask his Father for whatever he wants and the Father so trusts him that he will certainly grant it. So Martha still has the faith to believe that even now Jesus can do something wonderful to help.
We too can have that same confidence. Still today Jesus is “at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8.34). In this passage Paul assures us that God will “graciously give us all things” (Romans 8.32). How amazing it is to know that Jesus brings our needs to his Father, prays to the Father for us and the Father will assuredly grant his requests! These brilliant words of Paul match the constant promises of God in John’s Gospel that whatever we ask in Jesus’ name will be granted to us (e.g. John 14.13/14) – of course our prayers must be “in Jesus’ name”, suited to his character and will.
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2. Jesus follows Martha’s words of faith by assuring her that “your brother will rise again” (11.23). Although in those days belief in the final resurrection was highly controversial, Martha boldly affirms her confidence that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day”.  In his wonderful response Jesus gives us the tremendous “I am” statement, “I am the resurrection and the life”. In the context we might have expected “I am the resurrection”, but once again (as so often in John’s Gospel) Jesus also affirms that he is “the life”. Jesus has  the fullness of life and also eternal life in himself. So he declares that all who “believe in him will live”. In the stark context of Lazarus’ death no wonder that Jesus feels the need to ask Martha whether she really believes this (11.26).
3. Martha’s reply challenges us too. What sure faith she had in Jesus! 11.27 almost sounds like a credal statement.
a)  “I believe (the Greek perfect tense means a past action that is still on-going) that you are the Christ”. Throughout Israel’s history the promise of a coming liberator remained in the hearts of God’s people. Then in the days of suffering under the oppressive and pagan rule of Rome this hope rose to the surface with a strong political interpretation. False messiahs dogged the history of Israel at that time. But Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah comes in the context of him being the Resurrection and the Life. He is God’s anointed servant who brings his followers both into resurrection life here on earth and that eternal life in which “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11.26).
b) “The Son of God”. Already in the New Testament this title for Jesus was beginning to express the divine nature of Jesus as God incarnate. But in the Old Testament it had not yet developed this understanding. The expression “Son of God” did not yet express divinity. Thus Israel was known as God’s children, but there was no thought of Israel as somehow divine. So what did it imply? In those days it was expected that a son should be like the father and should bring honour to the father. Adam and Eve were created to be in the very image and likeness of God, but sadly their sin negated God’s purpose for them as his children. They no longer showed forth the likeness of their Father in heaven, nor did they bring honour to him. So God called Abraham and his children to fulfil that calling. Thus Israel as God’s children should reflect the perfect holy nature of the Creator and their national and family lives should bring him honour among the nations. Sadly Israel has failed, but Jesus as the perfect Israelite and perfect son of Abraham has fully lived as the perfect and only true son of God. In his life he reflects the very image of God, being perfectly like his Father in heaven. He also brings glory and honour to his Father. Jesus alone actually is truly and gloriously the Son of God, demonstrating this by perfectly fulfilling a son’s calling.
United with Jesus as his children we are now called to live the life of Jesus as the adopted children of God. Both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus are now called to be true children of God (John 1.12/13). Sadly the history of God’s church and our own personal lives move us to confession of our failure to live as God’s children, showing forth the very character of our Father in the holiness of our lives and so living that people around us honour and glorify our God.
A right understanding of the title “Son of . . . ” has become vitally important in our times because of our Muslim neighbours’ strong rejection of Jesus as the Son of God. It is perhaps helpful to them to explain that the title “Son of . . . ” does not necessarily signify literally a baby born physically. Thus in the Indonesian language the digit of a finger is literally “the son of a finger”, an arrow is “the son of a bow”, a key is “the son of a lock”, the crew of a ship or plane is literally “the son of a ship or plane”. No Indonesian would ever think of taking these words literally! Unfortunately, the only English equivalent is the old defamatory accusation “you son of a bitch!” Of course this was never meant literally! So we need to explain the background understanding of the title “Son of God” in the Christian faith.
c) “who was to come into the world”. In John’s Gospel Jesus repeatedly underlines the fact that he had been with the Father, came down into the world and would return to the presence of his Father in glory. Martha has come to understand that Jesus fulfils the calling of the Christ/Messiah in coming into the world. From all eternity he was with the Father in glory, but now has condescended to come down to this world as a human being.
We may notice yet again the word “world” which is so characteristic of John’s Gospel. Already in John 1.9/10 it is repeated four times to underline its absolute central importance in the message of this Gospel.
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As we saw in our blog on the Prologue in John 1, the word “world” comes in the context of Jesus giving light to”all people” who believe, to “everybody”. He has come not only for his own Jewish people, but for “all” who receive him and believe in his name (John 1.12). Even in those early days, Martha’s faith has widened to include the fact that Jesus as the Messiah had come not only for her Jewish people, but also for “the world”. What a rebuke for those of us whose gaze is firmly fixed on our own country and people only!
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Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”

Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”

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Thank you so much to all of you who prayed for us while I was in Singapore. I had felt a bit anxious about leaving Elizabeth for just over two weeks, but she did excellently and continues to regain health and strength. The consultant has even allowed her to apply to get her driving license back which is so encouraging. Wheels turn slowly with English bureaucracy, so patience is required.
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Singapore is an amazing city which makes London look a bit slow and dingy. The over 300 churches also flourish and grow apace. I was invited by the Bible Church where we served as new missionaries back in 1960 – and I stayed with a delightful couple, the wife having been in my Bible class in those early days. It was so good meeting again so many old friends. The Bible Church has a superb new building, but still has to have five Services each weekend to cater for their people. While in Singapore I also did some teaching in Covenant Evangelical Free Church, with which we have associated in more recent years. They have some 6,000 active members and a passion for overseas mission. All very exciting. It was most heart-warming to note the response to my teaching. And lots of people talked with me and took me out to superb Chinese meals. I took with me large numbers of our books, but they all sold during my first weekend!
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“Jesus loved them” – John 11.1-16

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What a build-up to the climactic miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead! In contrast with the previous verse (10.42) in which “many believed in Jesus there”, 11.1 states that “someone was ill, Lazarus from Bethany”; so his sisters sent to Jesus, saying “the one you love is ill” (11.3); Jesus responds that “this illness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” and so he “remained two days in the place where he was” (11.6). Then he says to his disciples, “let us go again to Judea”. The disciples knew only too well the dangers that awaited them in Judea (11.8). After a brief word about walking in the light, Jesus tells his disciples that “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going in order to wake him up” (11.11), but Jesus was really meaning that Lazarus was dead and he would bring him to a new resurrection life. Jesus’ purpose is “that they might believe” (11.14). And this passage concludes with Thomas’ bold words, “Let us go too, that we may die with him” (11.16). These words of Thomas have inspired and challenged Christians to sacrificial service of Jesus ever since.

Love (11.3, 5 and 11)

John’s Gospel underlines the wonder of love, revealing the most perfect of intimate relationships. The Father loves the Son and Jesus loves his Father. This divine love comes down to us in this world because “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (3.16). God’s love reaches out not only to the world, to all nations (3.16), but also personally and individually to his disciples (e.g. 21.7). This love then extends out to us as his followers today. As we richly enjoy his heart-warming love, we are commanded also to love the Lord, to rest in his love (15.10) and to love one another (15.12).
In 11.3 and 11 (the word translated “friend” has the same stem as “love”) we observe Jesus’ close relationship of love with Lazarus. This love becomes doubly evident when Jesus joins in Mary’s grief and tears (11.33). His deep love comes across in the starkly brief verse, “Jesus wept”. Seeing Jesus’ tears people noted how much Jesus loved Lazarus (11.36). In John 11.5 John then uses an even stronger and more emotional word to denote Jesus’ love not only for Lazarus, but also for his two sisters. We too may revel in the warmth of Jesus’ perfect love for us. John also reminds his readers how Mary in return loved Jesus, poured costly perfume on him and wiped his feet with her hair (11.2).
It is noteworthy that in John’s Gospel the final resurrection appearance of Jesus stresses the central importance of love. Three times Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him. In the first two times Jesus uses the stronger word for ‘love’, while Peter with his sense of failure and shame replies with the weaker verb, “You know that I love you”. Finally Jesus adapts his question and uses the weaker verb for ‘love’, but now Peter uses a richer word for ‘you know’, although he still can only bring himself to use the weaker verb for ‘love’. So Peter comes to a greater humility before the Lord and, at the same time, a deeper sense of Jesus’ all-perceptive understanding of him.
Walk in the light (11.9/10)
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Knowing how the Jewish leaders had tried to stone him when he had been in Judea before, Jesus faces the pressing question of his disciples, “Will you go there again?” (11.8). In response Jesus intimates that he walks in the light and therefore he cannot fall from God’s perfect purposes for him. He states the general truth that there are twelve hours of daylight and those who walk in that daylight will not stumble. They (and he himself) will not stumble, “because he sees the light of this world” (11.9). Of course we think back to Jesus’  declaration that he himself is the light of the world (8.12), the one who gives light to everyone in the whole world (1.9).
This more Jesus-centred understanding of these words about walking in the light becomes acceptable when we read of those who walk by night that “the light is not in him” (11.10). Like Jesus as he faces the dangers of Judea, we too can walk in quiet confidence as we have Jesus, the light of the world, in us.


Finally, let me now encourage you to look again at my blogs on John 11 in the “Archives” at the right of your screen! In the blogs of September and October 2016 you will find an exposition of Jesus’ words about God’s glory and the glory of Jesus through the death of Lazarus (11.4). You will also see an explanation of the word translated “clearly/plainly” in 11.14.

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