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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

January 2020

John 11:38-44: A resurrection revisited.

John 11:38-44: A resurrection revisited.

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.NIV

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

When I took a second look at last Friday’s passage, I saw that Jesus shows the way to meet life’s greatest problems and obstacles. We need to greet them:

  1. With compassion (38): ”Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.” ‘Once more’. There was no compassion fatigue with the Lord. ‘Jesus, please fill up my tank with your high octane love.’
  2. With humility (39a, 44b). Don’t be afraid to reach out to others; to ask for help; to seek strategic partnerships. Recognise that there will be those who can help you fulfill what God has placed in your heart, and who will delight to do so.
  3. With patience (39b, 40). Some folks haven’t yet seen what you have caught sight of in prayer. They aren’t as far down the road as you. So tread kindly and gently with them. Challenge them courteously to join you on the sunlit uplands of faith.
  4. With prayer and faith (41, 42). Jesus had clearly prepared for this moment in prayer, and when the hour struck He recognised it. ”The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16).
  5. With authority (43). I believe it may be possible to so prepare your heart in prayer that there comes a crisis moment where you know that you can command the mountain to move and cast itself into the sea, and it will do so.

John 11:38-44: ”Take away…Take off…”

John 11:38-44: ”Take away…Take

38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”43-44 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”NIV

Someone observed that it’s a good job Jesus put a limit on His command: ”Lazarus, come out!” (43). If He’d just said, ”Come out!” He would have emptied the cemetery!! I see that point, and it makes me smile.

This story got me thinking again about how we are often invited to partner with Jesus in performing miracles. There is no doubt that Lazarus’ emergence from the tomb – alive – was a God-given miracle (40-44a). Jesus did it in answer to the prayer of faith (41, 42). 

But people got to play a part in the miracle. This is reflected in the two commands: 

”Take away the stone” and ”Take off the grave clothes…” (39a, 44b).

”Take away the stone…So they took away the stone” (39, 41). When they were obedient, all heaven broke loose, you might say (or it was revealed that heaven had already broken loose inside that cave.)

The ”stone” speaks of an obstacle in the way of the full manifestation of the miraculous.

It is a big thing; a heavy thing; a daunting thing. It’s a something which will require concerted effort – possibly with others: ”…they” took away the stone (41).

It may be easier to raise unbelieving objections than to get on with the work being asked of you (39b). You can also imagine objections being raised to taking the grave clothes off a corpse having just come to life (44b). ”And the dead man comes out – a heart-stopping moment of shuddering horror and overwhelming joy, mixed together like dark mud and liquid gold…If we don’t feel it’s power, and feel ourselves driven to awe and thanks and hope, then either we haven’t learned to read or we have hearts of stone.” Tom Wright: ‘John for everyone’, part 2, pp.13, 14.

But when we play our part, Jesus does His. We are ”workers together” with God.

How does this speak to you today?

Is there some resurrection life miracle awaiting your involvement? What will you do in response to this challenge?

What is the stone and where is that stone you need to ”take away”? Are you willing to do it, or making an excuse?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me for expecting you to do what you ask me to do. Help me now to rise up and take action.

John 11:28-37: Tears.

John 11:28-37: Tears.

28 After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”29-32 The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”NIV

This ‘vale of tears’ they sometimes call it. 

I know the world is filled with laughter, but it is also flooded with tears. Rivers of tears will be shed in the next 24 hours.

This section of John 11 is tear-stained. In particular, do you see how the tears of Mary encounter the tears of Jesus? It’s like they mingle. He is ”touched with the feelings our infirmities.” The Lord keeps our tears in His bottle. I don’t think ”Jesus wept” because He was bereaved. He knew He was about to raise this beloved man (36). Jesus was not powerless, frustrated and defeated in the face of mankind’s last great enemy. But maybe He wept to see the pain of His loved one’s? Maybe He wept as He saw what death has done to the world? Maybe He wept to think that He would bring Lazarus back, only for His friend to have to go through all of this trauma again? (I believe there is a really strong word in verse 33, translated ”deeply moved”, sometimes used of a snorting horse. It’s like you can feel His anger towards death too.)

PRAYER: Lord, I would like to be like Mary:

  • even in tears, she heard your voice, and eagerly responded to your call (28, 29);
  • Even in sorrow, she was at your feet in adoration (32).

Help me to follow her example too (31). May tears never blind me to the overwhelming reality of your Lordship.

John 11:23-27: World without end.

John 11:23-27: World without end.

23 Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.”24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.” NIV

It seems that Martha may have taken Jesus’ words in (23) as a commonplace of consolation – the type of comforting, well-meant thing you might find in a bereavement card. It was good that Martha could say what she did (24; and see also 27). Although her faith still had ‘growing room’, what a profound confession of faith she made. Martha often gets a bad press in sermons, as the complaining busy one, while her sister Mary is lauded for choosing ”the better part”, sitting at the feet of Jesus. But we need to balance up that picture with the one painted by John. Martha was a woman of great faith.

In (25) we find another remarkable ”I am” saying of Jesus. Resurrection and life are bound up with His Person; with who He is – Jesus who died and rose again. If I am ”in” Him I can say that He is my resurrection and my life” (see John 1:4; 5:26 and 14:6). In Jesus we experience resurrection and life:

  • We experience these realities now. Jesus raises people from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-11; John 5:24) to enjoy the life that truly is life, whilst still in the midst of this life. This new quality (and endless quality) of life is one of John’s repeated themes;
  • We will experience these realities in the future. There is coming a day when all believers will live in the fullness of the restoration of all things that Jesus came to bring about. Then we will have brand new bodies and we will inhabit, and enjoy, a brand new universe (John 5:28, 29; 2 Peter 3:18).

 You can see in Jesus’ wonderfully comforting words (25, 26) that a Christian who dies will still be alive, and so there is a very real sense in which he/she will never die. They just move home; they switch locations:

”The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” The Message.

Death does not win in the end. It will not have the final say. Someone wrote about Jesus: ”He death, by dying, slew.”

The question, ”Do you believe this?” (26b) is an important one to face. It can be seen as an invitation as well as a challenge.

In Bishop J.C. Ryle’s book, ‘Holiness’, he talks about what happens to a Christian after death. Ryle admits that there’s a lot we don’t know about the after death state, but he emphasises that we will be better off by far because we will be with Jesus. We may not be as blessed as we will be on resurrection day, but even in a disembodied state we will be blessed. We will be with the Lord.

So, if you are a believer, try to let these inter-related truths grip your heart:

Jesus is the life and He will never die;

In Jesus, you are alive, and you will never die.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you have called me out of the tomb of sin. It is taking more time than I like to remove these constricting grave clothes, and I need the help of brothers and sisters to get me out of them. But I do not belong in the grave any more, and. I am not going back there. Life is my destiny – praise the Lord!

John 11: 17-22: Even now.

John 11: 17-22: Even now.

17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.21-22 Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” NIV

This was a grave situation! Literally!!

You will note:

  1. The gravity of the problem. Verse 17 underlines just how serious matters were from a Jewish point of view. It wasn’t just that Lazarus was in the grave. That was serious enough. But there was a Jewish belief that when someone died, their soul hung around the grave for three days, hoping to re-enter the body. But on day 4 the soul moved on. So Lazarus, from a Jewish angle, had reached the point of no return. We are being prepared for something remarkable. Jesus can do the impossible.
  2. The gravity of the danger. The Jewish people took seriously the responsibility to comfort the bereaved. Verses 18, 19 speak of friends and neighbours carrying out this solemn duty. (By the way, it is a very special and important ministry to care for those who have lost loved ones. It’s all too easy to avoid them, or to not talk to them about the deceased, out of fear or embarrassment and the like.) But they also remind us that in going to Bethany, Jesus was putting His head close to the lion’s mouth (see 7, 8 and 16). Jerusalem crackled with the electricity of danger. Jerusalem and Judea were the focus of concentrated hostility towards the Lord. In going to help Lazarus, Jesus placed Himself in grave danger. Indeed, the raising of this man from death was going to precipitate plans that would lead to Jesus’ own death (45ff.)
  3. The gravity of her greeting. Maybe there was a gentle rebuke in verse 21 (see also 32)? It’s hard to say. But I know that we can misjudge others because we do not fully understand the inner workings of anyone else’s mind. There is always a danger that we will fill in the gaps and wrongly attribute motives and meanings that are not there. We can also find ourselves similarly misjudged. It’s not nice. Martha could not read the greater purpose which had caused Jesus to delay. (Perhaps she hadn’t heard that Jesus could heal at a distance (Matthew 8:5-13; Mark 7:24-30.) But a verse that speaks of the gravity of her greeting, also indicates the greatness of her faith. This short section we are concentrating on today begins and ends with the message that Jesus can do the impossible, and ”even now” things can change. Even on the fourth day – when all seems lost – Jesus is able. This was a great expression of faith on Martha’s part. (Although see also verse 39. At best our faith is often tinged with doubt. That’s reality. That’s how it is. But our wavering does not diminish the resurrection power of Christ one iota.)

Prayer: Lord increase our faith. In the ‘even now’ situations, when all looks lost and bleak, please give to us more faith.

John 11: 7-16: ”Let us go…”

John 11: 7-16: ”Let us go…”

7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” NIV

There comes a time to get up and go when God shows you the clear path of duty. Get up and go and take others with you, to learn, and to help meet the need you have become aware of.

  1. Go – if it is God’s will – even though it may mean danger (8). Don’t let fear stop you doing the right thing. Don’t allow the discouraging words of others to keep you pressed up against the buffers when you should be rolling down the track.
  2. Go – if it is God’s will – according to the ”light” He gives you (9, 10). If God gives you ”light” on a matter, that is not merely for scribbling a note in your journal. Chances are He’s giving you something to DO. You may need further light on the timing of the action you are being shown. But the basic principle is, if God shines ”daylight” on your path, walk in it.
  3. Go – if it is God’s will – even though the company may often be disappointing (11-13, 16). The disciples repeatedly failed to understand Jesus – like here, where they thought He was saying that Lazarus had just dropped off: ‘ ”Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.’ (The Message.) And Thomas’ words (16) may have been full of courage, but they sound rather gloomy and resigned, and may have spread negativity like a cloak around the others. (Thomas was also ”called Didymus”, which means ‘twin’. We don’t know who his twin was, but I can sometimes feel that I am!! I can be so negative and doubting.) We are called to partner with fellow Christians, and we can regularly feel disappointed with one another. We are sinful by nature, and even though we are being changed, the sin repeatedly shows through, and we hurt each other. But as much as other people may disappoint me, when I look in the mirror I frequently see a disappointing reflection. As someone said, in the church we are ”Building with bananas.” We are all a bit bent out of shape. Jesus takes us with Him on His mission. We may let Him down, and fail each other; but the call remains to pull together for the sake of the Kingdom.
  4. Go – if it is God’s will – though the challenge is huge (14, 15). It doesn’t get bigger than raising the dead, but Jesus is more than equal to it, even though we are not. As William Carey said, ”Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” If God is for us…!!!
  5. Go – if it is God’s will – but go in His timing (6). It may be hard for people to understand God’s timescale; but He knows what He is doing. Trust Him. There’s a purpose, and one day you will see the other side of the tapestry, whereas now you see only a mass of tangled threads.

Just one final thought. The disciples did misunderstand Christ here (12, 13). Nevertheless, throughout the New Testament, death, for the believer, is spoken of in terms of ”sleep”. Bishop Thomas Ken wrote:

”Teach me to live that I may dread,

The grave as little as my bed.”

John 11:1-6: Tell Jesus.

John 11:1-6: Tell Jesus.

“Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days,” NIV

Jesus had people in His world who got sick (1) Such an experience isn’t unique to you and me. The Lord knows and cares and understands how it feels when you have those close to you who are suffering. Jesus, it seems, had such a special relationship with Lazarus, that the unwell man could be referred to simply as ”the one you love” (3). The fifth verse seems to underline Jesus’ love for each member of this family. It was a personal love for ”…Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It is important that we, the readers, should grasp something of His heart for these dear three, because, superficially it could be appear that He was uncaring (6). But the Lord’s delays are not necessarily His denials.

The people written into the gospel story are real people (2). They are not pain free. They do not float on soft, fluffy white clouds, far above the rugged rigours of real life. The Bible shows that those with great love for Jesus are not thereby exempt from suffering. They are not inoculated against tears (33).This Mary had a great heart (2). It throbbed with immense love for Christ (2; see 12:3).But it was also a heart full of love for her nearest and dearest; a soft and tender heart I believe. How precious it is to know that we can tell Jesus (3). Whoever it concerns; whatever the need, tell Jesus. Bring to Him all the pain and sorrow and earnest desires of your heart. ”What a Friend we have in Jesus…Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

But sometimes, Jesus may allow things to happen in your life and mine where it may look like He doesn’t love us. We know the Word states that He loves us, ”Yet…” (6). There is a ”Yet” that comes into our experience, and we have to take it by faith that He loves us while life seems to proceed in an unloving-looking direction. In reading this story it’s important to see that Jesus didn’t say that Lazarus would not die, but that death would not be the end of the matter (4). If Mary and Martha (and Lazarus) looked for healing, they were not wrong to do so. But they got far more than they asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20).

If people say that sickness can not be for the glory of God, let them be educated by verse 4.

And if you are praying and waiting for an important answer to come through, and you’re wondering why it’s got held up on the spiritual A1, do take on board that God’s delays are not necessarily His denials. In fact, as Ronald Dunn writes, He ”sometimes answers later in order to answer better.”

Prayer: I confess, dear God, that I can become impatient. But I know I need to accept that your timescale is not the same as mine. You graciously answer my prayers, but it has to be your way not mine; and your time, not mine

John 10: 31-42: ‘Liar, lunatic or Lord?

John 10: 31-42: ‘Liar, lunatic or Lord?

“31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’33 ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’34 Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are ‘gods’? 35 If he called them “gods”, to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, “I am God’s Son”? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.’ 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.40 Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptising in the early days. There he stayed, 41 and many people came to him. They said, ‘Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.’ 42 And in that place many believed in Jesus.” NIV

 

I once heard a preacher say that, whatever the human reasons given for the death of Jesus; the real reason He died was because He clearly claimed to be God, and His opponents realised this (33). For them, this was blasphemy. So Jesus had to die. (Although our passage again intimates that they could not take His life from Him before God’s appointed time: verse 39. As we have seen, Jesus had the authority to both lay down His life and take it up again: verses 17, 18). When Jesus declared that He was the good shepherd, that was tantamount to claiming equality with God, who is portrayed as the Shepherd of Israel in the Old Testament.

It has often been pointed out by writers, like C.S. Lewis, that a man who made the sort of claims Jesus made could not be just a good man. Either He is who He says He is, or we have to say something terrible about Him. Basically, when you consider the claims of Christ, you are shut up to three possibilities: He’s either, mad, bad or God; liar, lunatic or Lord. In His days on earth, many believed in His Lordship (40-42), and many still do.

It is also encouraging to note that, in later days, there was fruit from John the Baptist’s ministry that he never knew about (40-42).So, as someone rightly observed, judge each day, not by the harvest, but by the seeds sown.

John 10:19-29: Winter!

John 10:19-29: Winter!

“19 The Jews who heard these words were again divided. 20 Many of them said, ‘He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?’21 But others said, ‘These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The Jews who were there gathered round him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’25 Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” NIV

We should not be surprised if we find ourselves on the receiving end of the same responses Jesus got. It may be disappointing, but it will happen. We have seen a similar pattern of reactions in earlier parts of John. Jesus came to ”bring a sword” and people were, and are, divided over Him (19). Some are interested and open (21). Others are angry and abusive (20). There are those who even want to kill Him (31) – and now that translates into violence towards His people. Some are just plain obtuse (24, 25), and they leave you scratching your head!!

”It was winter…” (22b). It was winter in more than one sense. It was deepest, darkest winter in terms of Jesus’ relationship with His Jewish opponents. You can feel the icy chill in the air. But in this highly charged atmosphere, Jesus just kept right on walking with the Father (25, 29/30), doing His works and preaching the word. He did this in the belief that His ”sheep” would hear His voice and come to Him (27, 28).

Let us do the same. His sheep are out there in our communities. We play our part and expect them to be drawn.

PRAYER: Whatever people say or do, keep me Lord faithful to you.

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