Tag Archives: John 11

No Matter What You Feel . . . You Can Trust God

This morning in Vacation Bible Adventure our children experienced John 11 when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Today’s theme was “No matter what you feel . . . you can trust God.”

John 11 certainly has a roller coaster of emotions along with the challenge to trust God in the midst of the emotions.

Too often when John 11 is read, we want to jump immediately to the end when Jesus shouts at the tomb, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man walked out, his hands and feet still bound with strips of cloth. The raising of Lazarus verifies trust in Jesus.

But I think most of us live not at the end of the story, but rather the middle. We live with Mary and Martha, the two sisters who cared deeply about their brother Lazarus and worried when he became ill. They knew and trusted Jesus, so they immediately sent word to him, asking for his help. Jesus’ response is puzzling,

Jesus said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:4-5).

Jesus’ delay puzzled the children at today’s VBA and it puzzles me as well. Jesus cared but delayed. Jesus tells the disciples that it will be beneficial to them and others that he was not there to heal Lazarus (John 11:14).

This story has shaped some of my thinking on emotions.  First, after Mary and Martha sent the message, they would be hopeful that Jesus would respond quickly. Then their emotions would move to disappointment as Lazarus nears death and still no Jesus. When Lazarus died, they would be devastated, shocked, probably angry. Did their friendship with Jesus count for nothing?

Finally, when Jesus showed up four days after Lazarus’ funeral, I sense resentment. Martha said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). A little later, Mary says the exact same words to Jesus. One can hear the disappointment, hurt and anger in their statements. Yet there remains also a note of hope. Even in this most difficult moment, they call Jesus, “Lord.” Even in their pain they see Jesus as the true ruler to be trusted.

Lord Jesus, help me to trust you no matter what I feel.

Our Part in the Fifth Act

N. T. Wright, the New Testament scholar, helps me understand the Biblical story as a drama with five acts.  The first act is creation, beautiful and good, Genesis 1-2.  The second act is the human rebellion against God (also known as the Fall), Genesis 3-11.  The third act is the entire story of Israel, from Abraham to the Messiah (Paul sketches this out in Galatians 3 or Romans 4).  The story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the climatic fourth act of the drama, the hinge on which everything turns.  The fifth act is the story of the church beginning with the book of Acts, and this is where we live today.

Wright goes on to explain,   

When we read the story of Jesus, we are confronted with the decisive and climatic fourth act, which is not where we ourselves live – we are not following Jesus around Palestine, watching him heal, preach and feast with the outcasts, and puzzling over his plans for a final trip to Jerusalem – but which, of course, remains the foundation upon which our present (fifth) act is based.    Indeed, telling the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel and the focal point of the story of the creator’s redemptive drama with his world is itself a major task of the fifth act. (The Last Word, N. T. Wright, p. 124)

This story structure is central to our understanding of scripture, how we read and interpret it.  We are still in the story and it has not been completely written, but the main outline is known.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is now our assurance that evil and death has been defeated.    We live in confidence that God has won the war.  There may be individual battles and struggles ahead, times we feel discouraged or in grief.   Yet God’s victory is assured.  The centrality of Jesus’ death/resurrection is why we retell over and over the Good Friday/Easter story every year.

That is also why we can read the story of John 11, the raising of Lazarus, as our story, thinking at times like Martha and Mary that death has won the day.  But we know that Jesus’ resurrection has happened and we live in that new reality.   A new creation is present now and will be fully realized in the future.

How has the story of Jesus become your story?

Martha Thompson Story

Disappointed Martha

Martha Thompson faced a family crisis.  Her brother was gravely ill, near death, and she turned to someone she trusted.  She asked for her pastor to come, to pray with them.  Martha really loved her pastor and thought he was someone very special, very close to God.  His prayers for the family had always worked in the past and his ministry would be critical for her brother’s healing. 

 Unfortunately, the pastor was out-of-town.  Being the resourceful person that Martha was, she found out where he was vacationing and sent word that he should come right away.

This pastor loved Martha and her family.  He had spent time at their home, eaten at their table and laughed at their jokes.  But after he got the message, he did not come back to town right away.  He deliberately delayed two days before coming.

And by the time he arrived, Martha’s brother had died, a neighboring pastor had done the funeral and the brother’s body had been in the grave for four days.  Needless to say, Martha and her sister Mary were a bit ticked with their pastor.  When they heard he was in town, Martha marched right up to him said,

Jesus, if you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died.” John 11:21

This is the point where our lives intersects with the Biblical story.  When we face disappointments, trials or set backs, we wonder where God is.   What happened to Jesus?  Isn’t Jesus suppose to protect us from such pain and grief?

What amazes me is Jesus’ response.  He reminds her of the resurrection, the hope of eternal life.   Martha responds that such a hope is in the distant future, not much comfort now.  Jesus then gives an incredible promise, a fantastic promise: I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).   Not in the future, “I will be the resurrection,” but right now, in the middle of disappointment, pain and sorrow.  I am the resurrection and the life.

Then to demonstrate the power of his promise, he raised Lazarus from the dead.  

Jesus makes the same promise to everyone who believes in him.  Either this is the promise of a crazy man, or the Son of God.

I get goosebumps when I read this story, especially now that I am serving Resurrection Lutheran Church.  

How have you experienced Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life?

Stories, Butler Bulldogs and Lazarus

As shown in my recent posts, I am a big fan of stories, especially how the Biblical story intersects with our own individual and community stories.   I am an advocate of narrative theology, the idea that the heart of the Bible is not an instruction book of regulations and rules, but a story of God’s creative and redeeming that we live into.   Yes, there are commandment and rules to follow; all stories have those.  The commandments guide and shape the story but they are not the essence of the story.   Stories have surprises, twists and turns, which the story actors discover along the way.

Bulter Bulldog Prior to Game

Last night NCAA championship basketball game had its own story.  Butler University, a non-major University from Indiana, was playing for title against an established powerhouse, the University of Connecticut.  The Butler Bulldogs was poised to write a new chapter in the “David versus Goliath” motif.  I confess my own fascination in the developing storyline.  

Then the game was played.  Butler could not buy a basket, and the expected story fell apart.  Now the Butler team and fans will have to adapt to a different conclusion to their story.  

Stories have a way of doing that, not following the established plot line.  Lives have that trajectory as well.   One can follow all the rules, do all the hard work, follow the established norms and still not achieve the desired outcome.  Or a surprise or twist of grace can intervene and a new story begins.

This Sunday the gospel text is John 11, the story of Lazarus.   Lazarus was sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for their friend, Jesus, to come quickly that Jesus might heal their brother.  One would expect that Jesus would have honored their request.  The story explicitly states: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5).

The story, however, takes a strange twist.  “Yet when he heard that Jesus that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”  Jesus deliberately chose not to rush to Lazarus’ aid. The story catches us off guard.   That twist opens us up to a new perspective on Jesus and life.   Jesus is not a magician who serves our needs.  Jesus is like an author shaping the stories we live. 

More on Jesus’ part in our story tomorrow.

Who are active writers in your life story?