The Lazarus Experience

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" - Ephesians 2:4-5

John 11: Lazarus has been dead and buried four days. His sisters both blame Jesus for not being there to stop it. Jesus is moved by their emotion and by their grief, but also by their inability to understand who he is. Jesus didn’t want to be there to stop Lazarus from dying. He allowed Lazarus to die so he could use him as the ultimate object lesson:

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” - John 11:41-43

“Lazarus, come out.” Lazarus was dead. You don’t make choices when you are dead. You don’t do anything of your own initiative or will when you’re dead. You have zero influence, zero control. You can’t speak or move or think. Dead, nothing, no one. But, Lazarus, in the blackness of a tomb and the eternity of death was still subject to the will and sovereignty of God. God spoke and Lazarus had to hear because God’s voice is power unbounded by the merely material, and it renders physical death meaningless. God’s will in spoken Word, “Lazarus, come out.” 

Lazarus is commanded to re-enter the physical creation he had departed four days earlier. Lazarus response was the only one possible, he obeyed. Lazarus’ obedience to the voice of Jesus is ultimate proof of Jesus’ claim “I and the Father are one.” And, it is ultimate proof that the boundless power of the Holy Creator God of the universe has come to fulfill his purpose of grace. Lazarus, come out. Lazarus, live! Lazarus, death is only for as long as I permit it. Come out! How awesome!

I don’t think it too far fetched to see myself in the cold darkness, hands and feet bound with linen strips, when the irresistible Word said to me, “Come out.” Isn’t that what Ephesians 2 says? “…we were dead…” Dead, nothing, no one. Zero influence, zero control. Dead and condemned. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his love, sent Jesus to speak the words we could not refuse to hear. “Come out.” God… made us alive… by grace. The same voice that called Lazarus out of his tomb has called us out of ours. You didn't decide to rise from the dead. I didn’t. God made us alive in Christ.

The book of John is the story of how, by the power of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we are made alive. But our joy in the how is rooted in remembering the why: “God…because of the great love with which he loved us… even when we were dead…” Because of his love God made us alive together with Christ.

It is ironic, and tragic, how often in my life the voice of God does not sound like the love that called me to come out of the tomb of death my sin purchased for me. Instead, so often it sounds like… interference or restriction or something that burdens. I wonder if that is because in the buzz and distraction of life I just don’t hear the voice, or if I have the freedom to not listen.

So, I ask God for the Lazarus experience. That is, the faith to put to death all the things in my life that distort or drown the voice that called me to “come out.” The faith to be dead to the things of the world so that in silence and clarity I can hear! I ask for the faith to believe the voice that is rooted in love and spoken in grace so I have no choice and no other desire but to obey. “Come out.”

Jesus Is...

As you read the book of John, I encourage you to slow down and take your time. Read and reread each day’s chapters so you can fully engage with what John is trying to teach us. There is so much you will miss if you read through it too quickly, so spend some time!

As you read, take note of the names, titles, and descriptions that are given to Jesus. John intentionally includes them all to try and reveal a full picture of who Jesus is. I circled them as I read. Here are the names given Jesus I found in the first eight chapters of John:

  • The Word
  • God
  • Light
  • Flesh
  • Son from the Father
  • Jesus Christ
  • Lord
  • Lamb of God
  • Son of God
  • Rabbi
  • Messiah
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • Son of Joseph
  • King of Israel
  • Son of Man
  • Teacher from God
  • Bridegroom
  • Prophet
  • Christ
  • Bread of Life, the Living Bread
  • The Light of the World
  • I Am

If you just look at that list, a few things become obvious. John proclaims...

Jesus is... God in the flesh (the Word became flesh, and he is Joseph’s son - flesh).

Jesus is... Lord (He is God).

Jesus is... the Christ, the Messiah; that is, he is the anointed one of God. He is the One the prophets said would come. 

Jesus is... the Lamb of God. We know that means he is the sacrifice for sin, the one who’s death pays the price of atonement for our sin. 

Jesus is... rabbi, teacher, prophet. He is the one who reveals the truth about God and fulfills the Scripture’s teaching about God’s law and grace. 

Jesus is... the King of Israel, the who comes to perfectly fulfill the spiritual role of Israel’s kings - to lead the people to be faithful to God. 

Jesus is... the bridegroom. He is the lover who comes to claim his bride (his church) as his own, to purify and sanctify her that the two may become one.

Jesus is... the Bread of Life. He is true nourishment, eternal nourishment. He is the one source of life all men need.

Jesus is... the light of the world. He is truth. He is hope. He is pure. He is holy.

Jesus says of himself, “before Abraham was, I am” (See Genesis 3:13-14).

You can see with just that very cursory summary that John is proclaiming Jesus to be the fulfillment of everything promised in the Old Testament. Jesus is everything man needs for life and salvation. Jesus is the fullness of the truth and grace of God, come to save his people.

Take your time. Read it slowly. You don’t want to miss anything.

Healing the Sabbath

Both Matthew, in 12:9-14 and Mark, in 3:1-6 (and Luke 6:6-11 when we get there) record Jesus entering the synagogue on the Sabbath and noticing a man there with a withered hand. Jesus calls the man to him and then asks the men in the synagogue a question about the Law (see the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11 - “Remember the Sabbath day… the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…”). Jesus asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

Jesus is confronting the religious leaders of Israel with an object lesson in how they have distorted and corrupted the Law. What does it mean to do no “work?” Could anyone who knows the loving and merciful nature of God possibly answer anything other than “Of course it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath!” But the religious leaders couldn’t say that. They are sitting there reciting Exodus 20:8-11 in their minds. The answer according to the Law is obvious to them, they can quote it - do no work on the Sabbath! But now they are faced with a choice that exposes how their way of understanding and using the Law is both wrong and destructive. They believe there is a choice between obedience and mercy, a choice between honoring God’s truth and demonstrating God’s love to people - but the Law never requires that choice. So they couldn’t say anything. They were trapped in their convictions about the Law and they weren’t about to be pried out of them - even at the expense of a man’s health, or a person’s life.

Mark says Jesus “looked around at them in anger.” Luke says the Pharisees were furious with Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say the Pharisees went out and started planning to destroy Jesus.

It is obvious that Jesus knows the answer to the question is yes, he heals the man’s arm. But why is everyone angry? Why is this such a huge bone of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees? And why do we need to carefully and honestly reflect on Jesus’ question for ourselves?

Jesus came in grace and truth. Jesus doesn’t set aside the law but he graciously fulfills the law. Jesus reveals to us in flesh and bone what it looks like to live a life where God’s law and God’s love are in perfect harmony.

The minute we break the harmony between law and love we get in trouble. If we choose law over love (like the Pharisees did) we can harden our hearts to the needs and struggles of others. We can quote verses at them like throwing stones of condemnation, without caring about their soul or body. And, we tend to fall to the temptation to leverage God’s law for our benefit: power, prestige, image (like the Pharisees did).

But, if we neglect the law and just choose “love,” perhaps the way our culture currently defines love, we have no basis to act against sin or to encourage obedience to the law. People destroy themselves while we “lovingly” accept their destructive behavior.

The reason Jesus’ question is as good for us as for the Pharisees is we face the same tension between law and love all the time. It is always easier to do one without the other, always. To live out the wisdom and tension of law and love is expensive. Insisting on God’s truth can cost us relationships. Demonstrating God’s love costs us time and money.

Jesus’ crucifixion shows us that the more fully we live into the perfect unity of God’s law and love the more expensive it gets, but that is exactly what we are called to do.

Jesus was so angry because the people who supposedly knew and loved God’s law most had ripped God’s heart out of it. They were callous and uncaring, and in the synagogue that Sabbath day they were convicted but unrepentant.

Jesus is “healing the Sabbath” by healing on the Sabbath.

God with Us

A few things to notice as we begin reading the New Testament with the book of Matthew. First is, I’m back… summer was too much for my blogging efforts. I'm now back at it!

Matthew begins with a genealogy that introduces Jesus as next in the line of the faithful fathers of the nation of Israel, Abraham and David. Through their lineage comes Jesus who is called Christ. Christ is the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament title Messiah, or Anointed One. Jesus is unique. He is the culmination of the faithful ancestry of Israel. He is the one who comes to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s offspring all nations on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The title Messiah means Jesus is perfectly qualified to simultaneously execute three roles no other could: Prophet, Priest, and King.

Matthew also makes sure those who hear his gospel account understand Jesus is the Christ the Scriptures point to and promise as the One who was to come (See 1:23; 2:6,18; 3:3; 4:15-16 where Matthew cites Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet’s words).

The other thing that becomes obvious as you read any of the gospels, including Matthew, is how fast the narrative progresses. Mathew goes from Jesus' birth to the calling of the disciples to the Sermon on the Mount to stories about Jesus healing people to a series of parables in just a few pages. As you follow the reading plan, it flies by so fast it is challenging to grasp the intricacy of the book and the significance of all the stories and details (the Bible Project videos are a big help for this). So at some point, you are going to want to come back and reread Matthew slowly and carefully so you can spend time considering what Jesus is doing and saying. 

As we begin reading the New Testament, I want to make just one observation about the beginning of Matthew and encourage you to reflect with me. I love Christmas. I love the story of Jesus’ birth and I look forward to it every year. But Matthew tells a story of Jesus' birth that we don’t sing carols about. Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt to hide (Ch. 2) because Herod sets about killing all the first born male children in the area in and around Bethlehem who might be the “king of the Jews” he has heard was just born. No room for rival kings in Galilee. It is a difficult part of the story. Matthew includes it because it helps us understand the One True God entered the real world.

God came to us knowing his advent would cause pain - the prophet predicted it (2:18). God came to us knowing he was vulnerable to the whims of cruel rulers and to subject to plight of the downtrodden and powerless. God came to us knowing he would grow up with flawed parents who didn’t and couldn’t understand that he was the great I AM, Immanuel. 
Before you get absorbed in the stories of Jesus teaching great crowds and calming storms at sea, take a few minutes to rub the glitter off the story of Christmas and consider why the way he came to us matters so much. 

There is no pain or plight in the human experience Jesus isn't familiar with. There is no injustice or oppression he hasn’t lived through. The wealthy people didn’t notice him. The powerful people tried to kill him. His own nation and even his home town rejected him. 

I believe Jesus knows what I feel like when I feel like life is wrong and unfair. I believe Jesus empathizes with me when I get taken advantage of or falsely accused. I believe Jesus understands how I feel when even the people I love don’t seem to love me. 

I can tell him how I really feel. I don’t have to fake “spiritualness” or feel guilty because if I had more faith I’d bear up better. I can just go to him and know he knows. Jesus is God with us.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)