Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”
Singapore and John 11.1-16: “Jesus loved them”
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.
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!
“Jesus loved them” – John 11.1-16
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.
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)
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.