Throughout John so far, we’ve studied how Jesus’s speech, miracles and signs often have dual meaning. There’s the physical (what we see here and now) and the spiritual or eternal. For example, we’ve seen Jesus turn water into wine and feed 5,000+ people from 5 loaves of bread and two fish. We know these were not just neat tricks. They pointed to the spiritual joy and satisfaction we would have through Him. We’ve heard Jesus tell his listeners he would “Destroy this temple and raise it in three days”. He told Nicodemas that he would have to be born again and the Samaritan woman that if she believed springs of living water would flow from her. These were physical illustrations of an exclusively spiritual reality. As you know from the study, there are many more.
This week, we see the last and probably the greatest sign: Jesus raises Lazarus, a mere man, from the dead. He does this as a picture of what He will do for all of us. Jesus will die on the cross and rise from the dead. This is also a picture of what His death accomplishes for us – He takes sinners like you and me who were once dead in our sins and trespasses, and raises them to new spiritual life.
So with the physical and the spiritual dual meanings of this sign in mind, I’d like to take spend this time applying John 11 to our lives in the area of suffering, and that’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our time today. You’ll be helped if you keep your bible open to John 11. For the note-takers, here are my two points:
In the story of Lazarus, we see that:
I. Jesus cares about our physical suffering
II. Jesus cares most about our eternal suffering
So, first, we see in this chapter that Jesus cares about our physical suffering. Though fully-God, Jesus is also fully man. He has real relationships and emotions. In John 11:3, Mary and Martha send for Jesus saying “the one you love is sick”, and then later in verse 36, the Jews remark in seeing Jesus weep, “See how he loved them”. Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters. Theologian Don Carson writes, “[This] hints at friendships and relationships that are barely explored in the gospels.” John gives us lofty spiritual truths about who Jesus is so that we believe that he is the Word who existed in the beginning, the Son of God, the anointed one. This makes it easy for me to imagine Jesus as God, loving the world on a cosmic scale, but hard to imagine loving me intimately, relationally the way a spouse or a parent does. But we see here that though Jesus is divine and has a divinely inspired purpose, he knows his sheep by name and cares for them individually. I hope that encourages you today.
Jesus’s care for his friends’ suffering shows itself in the strong emotional language that John uses. In John 11:33-35 we read that Jesus is deeply moved and even weeps at the scene of Lazarus’s funeral. Though He knew the Father’s purpose and what he was about to do, He was still moved to tears at the sight of grief in his people. His love was genuine, and like a true friend, he wept with those who were weeping.
But Praise God! Jesus care for those suffering extends past mere feeling. He brings their suffering to an end….and in an even better way than they or anyone else could have hoped or imagined.
What is more miraculous than healing a fatally ill man? Raising a dead man! Wow! And so many people saw, and praised God and believed in Jesus that the Pharisees called a meeting they were so worried about Jesus and his influence.
Amidst this joy, there is a challenge for us in this passage. People were undoubtedly joyful and awestruck by this miracle. But before the miracle, they were not happy with Jesus’ timing. As we examined in our lesson, verse 6 looks illogical. It says Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, and so he stayed away when he heard he was ill. Some translations say, “Jesus loved…Lazarus. Yet, …” As if to say Even though Jesus loved them, he stayed away. But many scholars agree that the more accurate translation is and. It was because of his love for people that he stayed away. Verse 15 even confirms this. Jesus says to his disciples, “For your sake I am glad I wasn’t there, so that you may believe.” Jesus has a good purpose in his absence, but all the disciples, Mary, Martha and the Jews knew then was how dark and terrible things seemed. In this darkness, did they respond in faith to Jesus? No, three times they questioned him. In verse 21, Martha questions Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Mary interrogates him with those same words in verse 32. And then the Jews in verse 37 – “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”. Think of what they are really saying here. “If you had been here, Jesus” in other words, “If you loved me/us/him”, “if you were good”, “if you were powerful”…then my brother would not have died. Commentators say that actually when it says three times in this passage that Jesus is deeply moved, that part of it is grief, but part of it is anger over their unbelief.
The response of the people to Jesus should cause us to look into our own hearts. Do we trust that Jesus is going to end or use our suffering for our good? Or are we like these Jews, only comprehending what’s immediately in front of us, only desiring our own comforts. Suffering hurts. But do we endure the hurt fundamentally with an attitude of trust in God, or of questioning His plan, His love, His goodness? I know one test for me is when suffering comes my way, whether big or small, is my immediate reaction to complain about it, in my head or out loud? Or to endure suffering graciously, patiently, without a murmur? I so often fail this test. Sometimes I complain so much that I start complaining about how much I complain!
Another test on whether I’m trusting God in suffering is do I lash out at the people around me when I’m suffering? If I’m not trusting God in my suffering, I focus inward. I just want others to fill my void, to serve me, make me feel better now. When they don’t, or when they get on my nerves, I say harsh words.
So what’s the solution? Do I just get on our game face and say, OK God, next time I’m suffering I’m going to act right, I’m going to be nice to people and not complain. I’m going to work hard at this? No, we already saw that the work of God is this – to believe on the one whom he has sent. Before or during suffering, we gaze on the beauty of Jesus. Not much later than the story of Lazarus, Jesus endures extreme torture and completely unjust death. Yet “like a lamb led to the slaughter, or a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”. He did not complain or lash out in anger. In fact, He died for all my complaints and angry outbursts, and yours. He trusted God’s plan and knew that God was good and that He loved him. By God’s grace, if we meditate on this truth and seek him in prayer, God will change our hearts, and then our behavior. If you would like more information on suffering well, our church has a class on this very topic that is currently going on during our Sunday School hour at 9:30a in (room #104). Childcare is provided.
In honor of Kelly, who loves John Piper’s teaching, I’m going to move on to our next point with a simple quote from him. “[God] cares about all human suffering…especially eternal suffering”. And that is point number 2.
Jesus raising of Lazarus is a picture of what He will do for us. But we will be raised to eternal life. Verse 25 says, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Praise God! But we must believe in Him. If we don’t, there is no eternal life. We’ve seen that earlier, back in chapter 3 verse 18, “…whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” None of the suffering we experience in this life holds a candle to the eternal suffering we will receive if we don’t believe in God’s one and only son. We want ourselves and others to avoid this terrible fate.
Because many of us in this room care for children in some capacity whether as mothers or grandmothers, siblings, caregivers, or children’s min workers, I’d like to apply this to us. Are we most concerned about our child’s eternal suffering or have the cares and worries of this life choked out that concern? We don’t know the suffering that our children will face on this earth. I don’t know whether S– will suffer a debilitating injury or illness or if he will be largely rejected by his peers or develop depression or be suicidal or addicted to drugs. I don’t know whether I— will suffer loneliness or have difficulty conceiving a child. She may suffer the effects of her husband’s use of pornography or even become addicted to pornography or pornographic literature herself. I don’t know whether S– will struggle to care for his family if he has one due to unemployment or underemployment. I don’t know if he will get divorced or bury a child. I don’t know whether either of their deaths will be painful. These things are speculation for me, but I know they are a reality for some of you and your children. I don’t want to minimize this suffering. I’m sure that some of you have experienced terrible suffering beyond imagination. But scripture says none of that will compare to suffering eternally in hell. So when we are upset by big and small things, realities or fears, let’s be sympathetic and bear one another’s burdens but also help remind each other that this life is short, and that these things, while significant, are not the most important. And that God is good and He will always do what is right.
Some of you more seasoned moms are probably going to laugh at me in this story. Recently, I realized that S– was going to be three soon (He turns 3 Saturday), so I said to my husband, “You know, the middle socioeconomic class is not doing so well right now and it’s getting harder for families to make it on one income, and I want S– to be able to support a family. With him turning three we need to start looking at what educational opportunities are available to him here so that he can get the best start, and we need to do some research…and on and on I went.” To which my husband replied pretty nonchalantly, “yeah, those are good things to think about, but let’s be careful not to get worried and let them distract from the most important thing.” In other words: Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. (Luke 10:41)
My children and your children need to know and see the Gospel from their mom and dad (and grandparents or caregivers). They need to know who they are before the God who created them – that they are loved by God, but they sinners who must be born again. As we’ve seen, only God can do the work of rebirth in their hearts, but Scripture commands us to be training them in this way (See Deut 6, Prov 22:6, Hebrews 13:14, and 2 Corinthians 4:17-18). If that sounds overwhelming to you, we have some great resources at this church. We have a parenting class that meets periodically during our Sunday School hour, we have books on our book stall on parenting that have been read and approved by our elders. One I’d like to point out to you is “Gospel Powered Parenting” by William Farley. Bill and his wife Judy were here for a parenting conference a few months ago and their talks are available for free on the Sermon section of our church’s website under “guest preachers”. I’d also be happy to talk with you or hook you up with someone to talk to about what it might look like to prioritize your child’s eternal life in daily life. I have found that books and classes on parenting can be very useful. However, even more useful is the example of godly women who have been willing to talk about these things with me and model them for me.
In thinking of all this suffering I want to close with a hopeful quote (and one of my favorites). I hope it will lift your eyes to heaven whether you are suffering right now or not:
The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more. The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. … Let us take courage. We are not far from home. (Ryle, J. C. (2010-04-27). Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (p. 82). . Kindle Edition)
Ladies, we have great hope today. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?Jesus, you are our hope and our future. Though we so often fail as sufferers and as parents, you have lived the perfect life for us and we give you all the glory. Let us see your strength in our weakness today, and when our hearts grow tired or weary, lead us to the refreshment of your living water. Give us fruit in every good work, Lord because we know that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. In Jesus name, Amen.