Friday, March 29, 2013

Passion of the Christ - Communion (part one) ...

After opening his gospel with a prologue, and spending a great deal of time discussing at length all of the miraculous witnesses to the divinity of Christ; John now turns his attention to the fulfillment of the ministry of the Messiah.  Though miracles would still be a significant part of the completion of the mission of Jesus, the idea of the magnitude of His sacrifice warrants our undivided attention.  The time of His mission was nearly complete.  He would only be with them a short while now.  The immediacy and the priority of what He must share with His few faithful companions, His friends as He called them, was now of paramount importance.  These final hours would be the thing most prevalent in their minds as events were about to unfold.  So only the most important truths must be shared.  Everything else could wait, everything else could be discovered later, or revealed by the work of the Holy Spirit.  What He must share with His disciples now, had to be what was of utmost importance as time was nearly at an end.  Against this backdrop, Jesus begins by sharing the most important thing between God and man, He shares communion.
Communion is more than a tradition of the newly established Christian church.  It is fellowship between God and man.  As time is nearly out, Christ takes precious moments to “be” with His disciples.  As He used to enjoy His walks with Adam and Eve in the Garden at sunset, and even set aside an entire day to be “Holy” just to be with us; so now He takes out a moment to simply “be” with His disciples.  They will eat, drink, and commune together.  From the point of view of the disciples this is a celebration of the feast of Passover.  From the point of view of the Messiah, this is the last meal He will ever enjoy with His disciples.  With all the burden that must come upon Him in just a few short hours, He makes time to be with His disciples and speak, and do, what is most important to them.  John sets the stage for us, in his gospel account beginning in chapter 13.  It is the time for the feast of Passover, but John puts his emphasis on the truth of the character of Christ.
He opens in verse 1 saying … “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”  The love of Christ never wavered.  He loved all of His disciples right up to the end of His life.  That love was paramount.  That love was the reason why He had come to our world.  Jesus did not restrict His love to only those disciples He knew would be faithful to Him in all things.  If He had so restricted it; who would have been left to enjoy the meal with Him?  For all deserted Him in His time of greatest need.  Judas was at this dinner.  Judas enjoyed this meal with His Lord like John, Peter, and all the rest of them.  Jesus did not restrict His love to Judas even knowing what Judas was about to do.  Nor did He restrict His love from Peter knowing how Peter would deny Him openly.  Both dined.  Both enjoyed the company of their Lord.
But John, with the benefit of hindsight, writes now what he knows about that night.  He continues in verse 2 … “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;”  Judas had too long refused to be changed by the Messiah he spent his every waking moment with.  His greed and avarice, and thirst for power and prominence had never given way to the simplicity of humble service that the life of Christ exemplified.  That life was not the one Judas wanted.  Judas wanted the life of a great leader.  He wanted the power and fame that comes from a position of authority.  He was not alone in his ambitions.  Right up to these moments the disciples often jockeyed for position in who would be the next greatest leader in the kingdom of Christ.  Judas was no different in that respect, if perhaps only in that he was more ambitious and more secretive about his own desires.  What he was not; was transformed.  He lacked the humility to be transformed.  He was “happy” with who he was, and only wanted more of it, not less.  In that respect, does he sound like the person in the mirror who stares back at you every day?  Are you so comfortable with “who” you are, that you believe you need no transformation into something else, something more humble, something resembling more of servant and less of a king?
Christ had a knowledge of the thoughts and desires of His disciples.  He knew that what Judas wanted was not so different than any of the others, though only Judas was willing to betray His Lord to acquire it.  John continues in verse 3 by revealing what Jesus knew … “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;”  His death is nearly upon Him.  His mission is nearly complete.  So does He finally accept the glory and praise He is due?  Does He seek out the people to praise Him, for the act of sacrifice He is about to perform for them?  Wouldn’t we?  We seek praise for our accomplishments.  We seek adoration when we do something good for others, if only to remind us of how good we are.  Yet Christ makes no such moves.  Instead John continues with what He does with time so short, and burden so high.
John relays in verse 4 … “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. [verse 5] After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.”  He served.  He took upon Himself the most humiliating duty of a servant and performed this act of humility on those who SHOULD have done it for Him.  Their feet were dirty.  Their feet were smelly.  They had no Dr. Scholls to reduce the smell, or orthodic shoes to protect their feet from the dirt, mud, and animal waste they must walk upon.  They had only sandals of rough leather to protect them from dusty, rocky roads.  They had no chance to bath regularly, or rub oils on their feet, or keep themselves well maintained.  Yet Christ who considered Himself willing, was willing to wash and dry the feet of these men.  All of them.  Judas included as well as Peter.  Jesus stooped to serve the one who would choose to be His enemy.  He did not restrict His love from Judas, nor did He refrain from serving one who would choose to do evil.  Every opportunity would be offered to all who were there, regardless of what they would choose to do with the opportunity and love He offered.
It was a stark contrast in the minds of those who were only moments before thinking to themselves what greatness would be theirs in the kingdom He was sure to establish.  Here was their King, serving them in the most debasing of ways, the most humiliating.  A King who served?  Who had ever heard of such a thing?  This was too much for Peter to accept.  Peter says in verse 6 … “Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? [verse 7] Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”  Peter had to question this.  Peter thought it his place to remind the Lord that servants do this kind of work, not Kings.  If he accepted Jesus performing this act of humility upon him, it was like admitting that his own pride had kept him from even considering doing this kind of work.  Not an easy pill to swallow.  Jesus however, tells Peter that while he may not understand this act right now, it will become clear to him later as to why He would do it.  Peter responds in verse 8 … “Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. …”  Peter response is “forget it” Lord.  I am not going to allow you to humiliate yourself or me in doing this kind of work.  In effect, Peter was too proud to accept that.
But the words of Christ in response were overwhelming as Jesus responds continuing in verse 8 … “… Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”  Peter was blown away.  They were all just thinking about the establishment of the kingdom of Christ.  For him to have no part in it would be devastating.  Peter still does not understand why Christ would do this, but he will not risk becoming a power broker in the new anti-Roman kingdom Christ is surely about to setup.  So he quickly answers in verse 9 … “Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”  If this is about cleanliness perhaps, then go ahead and give me a full bath.  Whatever it takes to be the number one general, or number one secretary of state, or number one chief council, just go ahead and do it Lord.  Ironically Peter was really asking to be the number one servant, but he just could not comprehend that yet, as Christ had just told him.
Jesus responds to Peter’s overdoing-it by saying in verse 10 … “Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. [verse 11] For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.”  Obviously none of them had recently bathed, nor was Christ trying to say that a literal clean-up of our feet can take the place of proper bath when it comes to cleanliness.  However, being served in humility, is by definition humiliating.  We are cleansed by a power outside of ourselves.  That fact is humiliating.  To admit we are unable to cleanse ourselves is not something most Christians are comfortable with, let alone non-believers.  Christians like to think they can remove the sins from themselves by their power, or determination, or abundance of good works.  They like to think that at the worst case, they are in a partnership with God, where the Christian does his best work first, and only THEN does God do “His part”.  But none of this is true.  The disciples feet did not clean themselves, they were not allowed to participate in the cleansing.  They did not even necessarily want to be clean or at least want it enough to do it to themselves, let alone for others.  The act of cleansing their most exposed and dirty part was done solely by Christ.  They were clean only as they allowed Him to clean them.  They had NO partnership.  They did NONE of the work.  Christ did it all.  All they did, was let Him.
With time for Christ as short as it was, He takes time out to eat and socialize and commune with His closest followers.  And now with time growing even shorter, He serves them all in the most humble of ways, taking the part of the lowest slave to do work, none of them would even consider.  This is the heart of our God.  This is the level of service He will do for us if we but let Him.  He will cleanse us from the filth we have embraced like a patient parent who cleans up his baby from an accident in going to the bathroom all over themselves.  Sin is that distasteful to God, but He cleans us up from it because He loves us that much.  And in this act of humility, Judas participates.  He allows Christ to wash his own feet as well.  But his heart is unmoved by it.  We may allow Christ to clean us, but we do not remain clean if we do not choose to do so.  Judas was only growing more indignant that this purported King would so humiliate Himself and them.  And Jesus recognizes Judas resistance to being made clean by a force outside of himself.  Thus He offers out loud to all of them, the idea, that one has not accepted the cleaning He is offering.
Now because it was still a mystery in the minds of those He had just served, Christ must explain to them why He did what He did.  Jesus asks in verse 12 … “So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?”  Notice that it took Christ a minute to get his own clothing back on, and to sit back down at the table.  Notice too that no-one took the initiative to clean the feet of Christ with basin and towel.  Jesus continues in verse 13 … “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. [verse 14] If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. [verse 15] For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. [verse 16] Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. [verse 17] If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
First Jesus acknowledges that He is indeed their Lord and ours, the title is not lost on Him, or inaccurate in any way.  He is God after all.  For God to be willing to stoop to serve man, in the most humble of ways, should show us that we should not be reluctant to serve each other in equal humility.  Christ was not setting up a feet cleaning business, or stating the clean feet are the mark of His followers.  He was however plainly stating that no act of humble service from one to another is something we should think ourselves “above” doing.  Often we continue the tradition of feet washing in our churches in times of performing an ordinance of communion.  We follow the literal words of Christ, but lose the deeper meaning.  Washing another member of our churches feet, is a much different proposition today, when everyone is sure to have bathed and worn appropriate footwear for just such an event.  But to bring a member in need groceries without being asked, or even desired, is something we are more reluctant to do, as it might embarrass him or us in the process.  To take the initiative to serve another in tasks we consider unpleasant do not spring to mind.  We reserve our service for more convenient actions that require less of our time, and perhaps only more of our resources.  Digging a latrine in a mission is not considered “glory” work … by anyone other than God.  The message of Christ to us, is that when we love each other as He loved us, no act of service is beneath us.  No need should go un met if we can meet it.  And there is no room for pride in any part of the equation of love and service.
To wash each other’s feet in our day, can hardly breach the gulf of an entrenched pride that refuses to be made humble.  And there is ancestor who felt that same way.  One who had the benefit of the literal company of Christ, but would leave that very night to betray Him to His death.  Is it the path of Judas we follow?  Or is the path of our King, who put aside his garments, took basin and towel, and washed each of the feet of his disciples in the condition they were in?  There is nothing wrong with following the traditions and ordinance of humility our communion services offer.  But the heart of the transformed by Christ can hardly stop serving before or after such an event.  When the heart is transformed, it values love above all else, and must express that love in humble service meeting every need it can, in any way that it can.  We can choose to express our love to our parents, our siblings, our spouses, or our children.  Or we can love greater, by loving those we know less, and associate with more.  Or we can love greater still, by investing our time and energy on those who seek to call themselves our enemies, and desire nothing but our destruction.  To love those who would do us nothing but harm, is to love as Christ loved.  For He showed that same tender love to the eleven as He did to the twelfth (Judas).  Nothing was ever held back by Christ despite what we would choose to do with it.  The same is true today.  But communion was not over yet …

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Public Display of Faith (witness number twenty three) ...

John continues his account of the fulfillment of prophecy of the work of the Messiah in chapter 12 of his gospel and beginning in verse 20 he notes that due to the Passover, there were Greek believers in attendance who also wished to see Jesus.  They approached Phillip who took their request to his brother Andrew, who took it to Christ.  This was all happening at what the people believed was the zenith of His ministry.  The people were sure this triumphal ride into Jerusalem was to be the day of His coronation.  They were still bent on Him becoming King whether He wanted it or not.  The Greeks who were there, were intent on witnessing this event up close.  But what the people wanted from their Messiah, was not the mission of the Messiah.  Jesus reading the intents of His listeners must try once again to correct their misinterpretations of scripture for His mission.
Jesus responds in verse 23 … “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.”  It is important to note that how God measures glorification is NOT how we measure it.  God does not seek adoration, or praise of His name, as the means by which He is glorified.  His ideas of glorification come from acts of love He performs for someone else.  For the name of God to be glorified from the perspective of Christ, it must indicate an even greater act of love, than anyone has given witness to so far.  Only then can the name of God be truly glorified, not from vanity, but from love in action for others; for our God lives by His own ideas of service and love to others first and always.  Jesus then continues in verse 24 to describe what act of love and sacrifice will now accomplish the goal of glorifying the name of God … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  The Messiah must die to bear the punishment of us all.  The death we have earned He will take on in our stead.  The hopes of the people to witness a coronation that day were not to be met.  Crowning Christ King would not glorify the name of God, but offering the world the crowing act of love and sacrifice would.
Then Jesus continues by offering what the results of His crowning act of love and sacrifice might bear in verse 25 He continues … “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”  When we seek the redemption and transformation that Christ offers us, we begin to see sin and the pain it causes with clearer vision.  We begin to see how our actions and our apathy have hurt others and hurt ourselves.  This revelation of our lives and of ourselves can cause us to hate what we have become; hate what we have done with our short lives on this planet.  We know that sin causes pain, yet we perpetually choose to embrace it; out of control, spiraling towards even more pain.  It is this life we come to hate through the revelation of its reality, by the transformative power of Christ.  It leads us to want something more, something else, something better.  It leads us to want the life Christ has prepared for us in perfection, to want that perfection to begin here and see its fulfillment in heaven.  If we love sin, we do not seek an escape from it, and it kills us.  But if we hate the sin within us, we find a re-creation through Jesus Christ is possible in the here and now, and redemption and reformation are only a request away.
Jesus continues in verse 26 … “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”  To live as Christ lived, to serve as He served, and love as He loves, is to “follow” Christ.  To be “with” Christ, is to join Him in His ministry to others, for the benefit of others, both physically and spiritually, to meet every need we can meet.  This service of love is how Honor is measured in heaven.  When we serve despite our lack of ability, or skills, or means, the Father God honors our efforts and results are His gifts to us all.  We are reformed in the serving; others are brought to Christ by the love we reflect.  This is how we “follow” Christ, and how we “serve” Him – in the form of the least of these we encounter.  We do not serve to find praise for it.  We do not serve with the intent of receiving some reward in the future from those we do good actions upon.  Our reward is the service itself.  Our honor is to reflect the love of God to others and to be joined with Him in mission and in spirit.  To be in union with heaven is already more reward than we are capable of comprehending.
Though He was divine, He was also human.  The humanity in us fears death, and dreads its arrival.  It is no easy thing to suffer and die, made worse for Him in that this would happen to Him by the very cherished children He had come to save.  Christ had full knowledge of what was coming.  While the people still hoped for a coronation, what was actually soon to occur was His torture and death.  Even before His final struggle with the burden of bearing our sacrifice that would occur in the Garden of Gethsemane, here Christ publicly proclaims His human apprehension for what must occur.  He states in verse 28 … “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.”  Christ sees His eminent torture and death and it troubles Him deep in His core.  It is not only the human part of Him that dreads death.  It is the divine part of Him that cannot see past the grave.  What if, having born our sin He is forever stained with it?  What if, having been stained with our great evil, He is no longer allowed in the presence of His Father – for sin cannot endure the purity of the love of His Father.  What His divine side is risking, is potential eternal separation from His Father – which is the definition of Hell itself.  There is only one way for our salvation to occur, but it is a risk for Him, not a sure thing.  His act of love might cost Him everything, not just His human existence, but His proximity to His Father for all time.  Yet this was the only way, that we could be redeemed from the clutches of evil that we had embraced.  And so it must go forward.
But despite the risk, despite His apprehension, He must continue, for His love for us is just that great.  He declares in verse 28 … “Father, glorify thy name.”  The mission of the Messiah must continue, the sacrifice of love that would confound the angels and sentient life across the Universe for the depth of the love of God must be made.  Those standing around Christ could still not understand why He was so troubled.  They were about to make Him King, yet He seemed so pre-occupied and resolute.  Jesus needed for those in His hearing to know once again that His act of love, was not one of simple humanity, but that it was ordained and shared with His Father God.  The risk of losing a Father, was not less felt, than the risk of losing His Son.  Then verse 28 continues … “Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  The literal voice of God the Father in response to the request of His Son: all the miracles and acts of love and service done throughout the ministry of Christ were the glorification of the name of God.  In every miracle, Christ attributes His acts of love to the will of His Father in heaven.  He takes no personal credit, but offers all to God His Father.  In this, the name of our God has been glorified.  Then the further promise … “and will glorify it again”.  The sacrifice Christ is about to make, will be the ultimate glorification of the name of God.  It will forever stand as a reminder of how deeply God loves.  And it will forever seal in the minds of all the sentient Universe that God is love, and Satan and the serving of self is evil.  This final knowledge of good and of evil will seal the fate of evil forevermore throughout the universe, only possible from the act of love and sacrifice Christ is about to make.
The response of the people to hearing the literal voice of God the Father was mixed.  Some said it sounded like thunder (likely those who were so steeped in their embrace of evil, they were simply unable to perceive the words clearly).  Some said an angel spoke to Him (these could discern the words, but not their meaning, or perhaps were just not ready to believe that they had just heard the literal voice of God the Father).  Jesus was used to having private conversations with His Father in prayer.  But on this occasion with His eminent death so close, He wanted them to share in the dialog with His Father.  He states in verse 30 … “Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.”  Jesus knew the people and His disciples would want evidence of His authenticity.  This was particularly true, because He was about to greatly disappoint them, in not becoming their earthly King, instead choosing to make the sacrifice of offering His life for ours.  That was a radical departure from their understanding of scripture, and He hoped that hearing the voice of God the Father, might help them realize their error in interpreting scripture once all had come to pass.
Christ continues in verse 31 … “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”  The reign of evil, the control of evil over the hearts of men, was about to be broken.  What Christ would do would establish His Kingdom in our hearts, His dominion over our minds, hearts, and souls.  No more could the devil make a claim that we belonged to him.  Christ was indeed to reassert His kingship, but not over politics, instead over the human heart.  The “judgment “ that was to occur would happen in the minds of the unfallen angelic beings who chose to serve God in faith, never sure if the claims of the devil had merit at all or not.  The sentient life throughout the universe who had denied the devil a foothold in their worlds would now know their choice of loyalty to God was a good one.  The absolute defeat of evil was eminent.  No more doubt.  Every claim of the devil that God was a cruel dictator, would be discovered fully as a lie.  The truth would be revealed, and with it the contrast of what love will do, versus what evil would desire.  The devil lost his universal audience and his foothold over us, all in the same event to come.
Jesus continues in verse 32 … “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. [verse 33] This he said, signifying what death he should die.”  Jesus knows what is coming, and how He is to die.  What is more, in His words are the ultimate promise of the Gospel.  He will draw “all men” unto Himself.  Not just those of Jewish ancestry, or even of Jewish faith, but all men.  The salvation of every person who has ever lived will be made possible by what Christ is about to do.  The hold of Satan over us is to be broken by the power of His Love to re-create us anew.  In His death is to be our redemption.  But the people who up to now, were not quite sure what He was talking about, clearly understood the reference to His coming crucifixion.  Their understanding of scripture precluded this idea.  They believed the Kingdom of the Messiah was to last forever, and the supremacy of Israel was never to be undone.  Thus if He were to be executed by Rome on a cross, it would discount His ability to be the Messiah at all (from their understanding of the scriptures).  So they respond to Him in verse 34 … “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?”.  Perhaps Jesus was referring to someone else.  Perhaps he had mis-spoken.  Any other idea than His own death would be preferable to the crowd of witnesses before Him.  If He died, what hope was there for Israel to defeat the Romans?  After all, how could the Son of God die anyway?  Who could kill Him?  Their own logic precluded this idea, their understanding of scripture precluded this idea, they simply could not accept it.
Again the minds of His listeners were clouded by the darkness of misinterpretation of scripture, and the greed it fostered in their hearts.  So our tender Savior tries once again to clear away the darkness and states in verse 35 … “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. [verse 36] While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.”  Jesus was and always will remain the light of the world.  He is the light by which scripture was to be interpreted, not the other way around.  It remains so today.  When we examine Old Testament stories and find ourselves tempted to think God was cruel, we need to remember those stories are also referring to this same Jesus.  If His life was one of such love and service it had to have been the same in the first testament to His character.  Perhaps upon closer inspection we can find the love He intended, and the demands of men to have their own way interfering with it.  Yet the light remained in front of them.  Were they to accept it, they would have understood His mission was greater than a mere earthly crown of temporary power.  But they would not.  They remained intent to crown Him.  The time was right.  The people were gathered.  It was going to happen whether He liked it or not.  And so “He hid Himself from them”.  Once again in the middle of a huge adoring crowd of followers and lookers-on, He simply disappears from plain sight.
John continues his epilogue in verse 37 to 41 by stating that despite His plain words, despite hearing the voice of God the Father Himself, there were those who simply would not believe.  Isaiah had prophesied it.  The crowd had fulfilled it.  Perhaps it was prudent that the devil was able to harden their hearts not to believe.  Had they accepted His true mission and understood it, they may have refused to see Him sacrifice Himself.  As much as I want to be saved, I am certain His sacrifice is more than I will ever deserve, better He should live and I should die, than the other way around.  The crowd of believers might have also followed that course if they truly understood it.  But as Isaiah had prophesied this was not the case.  The people chose to trust their own ideas about the interpretations of scripture over the words and evidence and miracles of Christ.
The mission of Christ to reach the rulers of the people as well however, did not go entirely without success.  There were those of the educated class, the ruling class, the noble class who had more access to scriptures and were familiar with the prophesies as well – John tells us there were some of these who did come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  But though they came to believe, they also remained conscious of their place in society.  The edict of the Pharisees that any who should publicly declare in favor of Christ would result in being put out of the Temple posed a problem for these new believers.  Social class and standing was a big part of “who” they were.  So John tells us in verse 42 and 43 that they loved the praise of men, more than they valued their faith in the Messiah.  Is it any different with us today?  Are we vocal about our faith in Christ ONLY when things are going well for us?  When the world seems at our feet, and our blessings are high, and our health is good – do we only then declare our faith in Christ?  But when temptation has brought us low, and our wisdom has come to naught, and we face a life threatening disease – are we then more quiet about our belief in a saving Christ?  Our certainty of a savior is more subject to ridicule when we are broke, sick, and publicly humiliated.  We value admiration of our peers and working associates, and it is hard to give glory to a saving God when it appears we do not carry His blessing.  Yet it is then that our faith is most of use.  It is then that a public display of faith may make the most impact.  To declare for Christ when it is bound to cause ridicule to us, is to allow for a change in our condition to put the reminder in our audience “Who” controls our fate.
When one has experienced the transformative power of Christ to free us from ourselves, the joy and peace that comes with this freedom from a former sin, is overwhelming.  It is life altering.  It is the kind of thing you can hardly keep quiet about.  When you experience this for yourself, your other conditions of life seem hardly relevant.  Whether burdened by wealth, or free in your poverty – the internal freedom of Christ liberates the soul and transforms the priorities.  In the care of Christ, you have enough for what you need, and perhaps more than you thought when you give it away.  Whether healthy with a vigor for life, or ill and unable to climb the highest peaks anymore – The reformation Christ conducts within you renews your soul and gives you hope for a life of even more, unencumbered by the pain and death of sin.  Though your victory may not be complete as yet, though your struggle to surrender is not always full, and you fall again into a sin that seems to bind and control your life – Jesus is still the method of your freedom, your forgiveness, and your perfection.  A declaration for Christ is a recognition of where we are, and an investment in the hope of where He will bring us.  Though our failures belong to us, our victories are wrought by His grace and love.  There is nothing in the admiration of our peers that can compare with this kind of life altering experience.
Jesus knew that a belief in His ability to transform our life was critical to becoming in harmony with the love of His Father.  To allow any other concern to inhibit this belief was to make a trade far and away in our worst interests.  So he declares to those still evaluating the “cost” of a belief in Him as the Messiah in verse 44 … “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. [verse 45] And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”  This is not the creation of a fan-club for a popular man in Jerusalem.  It is rather the establishment of a faith that leads to God the Father.  It is an acceptance that there are NOT many roads to God, but ONE way only – through the transformation that Jesus Christ alone offers to our sin-sick souls.  Jesus says to His listeners, this is not about my humanity, but about my connection to Him and His Divinity.  The Son of God offers us the only bridge to the Father God, and a real up-close insight into what His Father is like.  This revelation of God is one of love, of hope, and of service.  This was why it was so important to have faith in the “method” of our Salvation in the form of Jesus Christ.
He continues in verse 46 … “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. [verse 47] And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”  Christ remains the light by which we are able to find the truth in scripture, and the meaning of the written word.  He states that even those who refuse to believe are not condemned at this moment, for His mission was not one of judgment, but one of salvation.  How ironic that we believers who call ourselves Christians are known so much more for our judgment and condemnation of the world around us, than for our participation in the redemptive love Christ showed to bring non-believers to His transformative power.  Jesus stands alone, the only method of our salvation.  Non-believers will not find redemption in accepting our word for how the gospel works.  They will not find redemption in accepting that their lives are ones steeped in the sins of self service, particularly because we keep harping on those facts.  They will find redemption and reformation only in Christ, as they experience it for themselves.  Our whole mission should be to love them to Christ.
Jesus tries again to simply state the facts of a how a real transformation takes place, He continues in verse 48 … “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. [verse 49] For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. [verse 50] And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.”  The mission of the Messiah is a united Godhead both Father and Son for our redemption and restoration.  If we reject Christ and His offer, we remain “who” we are – creatures bound to the slavery and addiction of sin and self-service.  Having heard the offer of Christ to save us, and rejected it – we are left no other course but one of our own design.  There is but one road to perfection, but an infinite variety of pathways to self-destruction.  This is the best deceit of the devil.  He tells us there are many pathways to God, so we are able to find the one that pleases us and pursue it.  But the pathway to God that we accept because it “pleases us” remains rooted in self-service, and does not transform our lives.  Only Christ can do that.  Only Christ makes the offer to change fully the core of “who” we are.  Without that kind of transformation, we will continue to want the wrong things.  We will continue to pursue the wrong path.  We are our own worst enemy.  It is only the death of self, that can see us re-created into the people He intended us to be.  This is not possible without our Creator.  Christ alone is the ONLY pathway to God.
The commandment of God, is only a commandment when we are not in harmony with it.  When it is natural to us, it is no longer a commandment but a part of “who” we are.  But even in His use of this term, Christ identifies the “commandment” as being “life everlasting”.  The goal of Jesus and of His Father is that we should LIVE forever, not merely exist in the tortured state of the addiction to self and self-service.  His first and foremost goal is to offer us a real “life” that can begin now and does not end.  This was the message to those in His hearing that day, and throughout the ages of time.  When we are transformed by His power, our faith grows whether quietly or on public display.  When His transformation takes hold of us, our surrounding conditions matter little, and His work matters most of all.  For His transformation changes “who” we are; and puts us in harmony with Him and His Father.  Then the adoration of men, appears as it truly is, of no value at all.  We can begin to measure Glory like God measures it, in actions of love for others.  Gratitude and praise mean little, but the chance to serve, means everything.  It is this way for our God, as the life of His Son demonstrates completely.  So it will be for us, as we allow Him to bring us into harmony with God His Father …

Friday, March 15, 2013

To Kill The King (witness number twenty two) ...

The plot thickens.  The resurrection of Lazarus was definitive public proof of who Jesus was.  He was the true Son of God.  No one else could raise the dead back to life, not man, not even Satan; this was something only God could do.  And it was something the people were simply not going to ignore; the Messiah had come.  They did not understand why He had not declared Himself King.  They did not understand why the Romans seemed oblivious to His arrival since they were surely soon to be driven out of Israel.  But one thing was certain, only God could raise the dead back to life.  From a purely military perspective this would make their new army invincible.  Their soldiers could fight fearlessly and if they lost, Jesus would simply reattach the dismembered pieces and bring them back to life again to keep on fighting.  The Romans, and no other power on earth, could resist that kind of army.  And the Pharisees could see it; they were losing the hearts and minds of the people entirely to the new Messiah.  So their desperation was raised, and in the last few verses of John’s Gospel account in chapter eleven they issue a public edict that if anyone knew where Christ was, they were to tell them, so that He could be taken.
Knowing the Passover was near they reasoned among themselves that Christ would probably be coming to it.  After all, Jesus had attended prior feasts.  He taught in the temple on Sabbath when He was there.  He healed on it too, but that was the source of all this righteous anger in the first place, if you asked them.  Jesus in fact, had done nothing to deny the validity of the Jewish faith, or destroy its system of worship, or deny its law.  But how Jesus amplified the law, and focused on the motives of the heart rather than the actions of public display, was a stark contrast between the intent of the law, and the perversion of it.  The Pharisees sought to use the law and the scriptures to hold power over the people.  Christ sought to use the law to free the people from the chains and bondage of evil and serving self.  Christ sought to teach the people that harmony with the law begins and ends with loving others, and can only be achieved through a transformation of character – a resurrection from the death of evil, to the life of loving others through Himself and His transformative power.  Christ was not interested in a hierarchical system that preserved power for the few.  Instead He was keenly interested in a one on one relationship with every hurting soul, to make them free from the pain they embraced.  While the Pharisees were obsessed with Politics and Power, Christ was passionate about redemption and reformation within us, not around us.  Christ was a true revelation of what the Jewish faith was supposed to be about, not what it had become.  And so those whose highest ambition was to rule, had reached the inescapable conclusion, they must kill the one who cared nothing for ruling, but would completely destroy their power.
In chapter twelve, John begins by marking the time – six days before the Passover, which would be the last Passover for Christ in this world.  Then John gives us the precious location of Christ, He had traveled back to Bethany to be with His newly risen friend and his sisters who were so loved by Christ.  And in verse 2, a special meal is prepared for Jesus and his disciples.  It was not His famed “last” supper, but it was probably the last supper He would have occasion to enjoy before the intensity of the burden He must bear for us would occupy His every thought.  This was a special dinner with friends and adopted family.  John notes, that Martha would serve at this meal, and Lazarus would sit at the table with them all.  Perhaps Martha understood best of all who were there that night that serving is the highest honor one can enjoy.  Perhaps the faith of Martha who was the only one of them to open the door to an immediate resurrection of her brother before it happened, and the only one to declare openly and assuredly that Christ was the Messiah before He raised her brother – understood it the best.  A life with Christ who transforms us, is a life of service to all.  Lazarus would enjoy His company.  Mary would make her finest gesture of love to Him.  But Martha would quietly serve and in so doing would understand better than everyone else there, what life was to be about, and where joy comes from.
Then in verse 3, John describes the act of Mary on her Lord, the best and only offering she could think to make.  Verse 3 states … “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”  She could have used a towel to wipe her Lord, Lazarus was wealthy and there would be no shortage of proper towels for that purpose.  She could have been less extravagant in selecting the ointment to use on His feet.  It would have been less noticeable and less costly.  But that would not due.  A life savings of money would hardly be enough to express her love to Christ.  He wore no finery, or gems, so she could not buy him some object to keep.  And though this gesture would only last a short while, it was something she believed He would accept.  The source of her funding for this gift was likely not the best.  It is possible being caught in the act of adultery some time ago was a pattern by which she was paid for her services.  It is one possible explanation for how a woman would gain access to a year’s worth of earnings at a single point in time.  It is also possible this was her share of the family inheritance, or perhaps what remained from the process of burying her now risen brother.  We are not told, how she came across this gift, only that she did.  Mary was overcome by grief to think that love would allow her brother to die.  But now she knew why, and she now knew, that nothing could interrupt the love Christ had for her, or her brother, not even death.  She had hope now, no matter what would come to be.  And so her gesture must be comprised of the best of all she would ever have. And even then it could not equal what He had done for her.
But to one who cares less for love, than for self, this act must be due criticism.  Enter Judas.  John rarely records the interactions of the other disciples with Christ throughout his Gospel.  He usually only records what they say when it is critical to the story.  In this instance, Judas asks the question why this ointment was not sold and given to the poor?  This does appear to be the model for the early Christian church.  New converts would sell everything they owned and give the money to the church for distribution as there was need.  So while this question may appear as though it was motived by a better ideal, John is quick to point out that was not why Judas asked.  John lets us know, that Judas was also a thief, and he stole from the bag for the poor that he kept on him at all times.  An interesting question might be, what did he spend the money on?  Whatever it was, appeared not to quench his greed.  This is the fundamental problem with serving self – self never reaches contentment, it always wants more.  No matter how much money we feed our greed, our greed can envision more.  Self is a perpetual unhappy customer, because all the joy in serving it, is temporary at best, empty at worst.  Whereas the joy of serving others can be never-ending, to make another happy is perhaps our highest honor and opportunity.  Mary would pour out her love to Christ with everything she had, holding nothing back for herself.  Judas would endlessly take from the bag for the poor, and never find enough in there to make him contented with what he had already taken.  The contrast again was stark.
But Jesus knew both the heart of Mary, as well as the one in Judas.  So Jesus defends Mary and her act of complete selflessness and charity.  In verse 7 He says … “Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. [verse 8] For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.”  Here Jesus appears to reveal that Mary perhaps understood better the true mission of Messiah was one of sacrificing His own life for ours.  He accepts Mary’s gift not from a sense of greed, but from an understanding that she is offering the best of anything she will ever have.  Then He offers a solemn reminder to His disciples, His time with them is growing short and He will not always be with them.  To Judas, His phrase … “the poor always ye have with you” … was to subtly remind him that he would always have an opportunity to give to others, particularly those in need.  The giving was not about changing the lives of the recipients, it was about changing the heart of the giver.  This was the lesson underway with Mary, and unfortunately a lesson Judas would seem to never learn.  It may have been that in this subtle rebuke, the heart of Judas was offended, and he realized that this humble Man would never take the power everyone wanted Him to have.  He may have seen that His death was more inevitable, than any power Judas may gain if He ascended to the throne of Israel.  Who knows; all that is sure, is that John’s commentary was hindsight for all of them.  Had John or any other of the disciples known that Judas was stealing from the poor, the crime would not have gone unmentioned.  Only his suicide would come to reveal these facts.
Meanwhile, verse 9 reveals that many people had gotten the news that Jesus was with Lazarus in Bethany.  This gave an occasion for them to travel there, because they would not only see Jesus, but they would be able to speak with Lazarus and meet the only man who had ever come back from the sleep of death.  This irrefutable proof of His divinity had to be addressed from the Pharisees point of view.  Nothing they could say about it could crush it.  It required action.  The best plot they could come up with was to kill Lazarus once again.  If Lazarus was back in his grave, perhaps people would believe he had never left it.  Dead is dead after all.  It is perhaps this revelation of John regarding the fate the Pharisees intended for Lazarus, the prompted Jesus to keep secret some of his earlier miracles recorded in the other gospel accounts of His ministry.  Jesus had brought a young girl back from death as well, but told her and her parents to keep it secret.  Perhaps Jesus knew, that the Pharisees would not have thought twice about re-killing her as well.  Living, walking proof had to be dealt with.  The logic of course is ridiculous.  If Christ raised Lazarus once, what was to prevent Him from doing it again.  But then evil rarely makes sense in its plots against love.  There is a reason why it is referred to as the “mystery” of iniquity – because it hardly ever makes sense to choose it, yet we do.  How does one kill the source of life anyway?  Perhaps this is why Jesus said He had to lay down His own life, that no man could take it from Him.  John records in verse 11, that because of Lazarus, many Jews, even those in leadership “went away” and believed on Jesus.  Even the threat of being put out of the Temple was losing its grasp.
John begins in verse 12 saying … “On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [verse 13] Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  Battle over, priests had lost.  Nothing was going to keep the people from openly declaring in favor of the coming of the true Messiah.  It was to be His coronation day, today, whether He wanted it or not.  The priests had lost the PR war, and the actions of the masses of the people proved it.  They went to greet the proposed King of Israel in the traditional manner dating all the way back to King David.  The joy of Israel was unbridled and unrestrained.  All they could imagine was that this would be the last day of Roman occupation, the last day of servitude, and the first day of the ascendency of Israel to the preeminence among the nations.  The joy therefore was great, but the understanding misguided.
How like us.  We come to Christ and find great joy in the belief that from now on, all our prayers will be answered in the affirmative.  We never stop to think that our hearts have not been changed enough yet to “want” the right things.  So we treat Christ more like Santa Clause, than like our Savior.  When the answers to our prayers do not come in the way we wanted, we go away sorely disappointed.  Just like the people who would leave to greet Him with palm branches expecting to return with a new King, and instead would return only with the memory of that day.  Our disappointment comes because we want things that are not in harmony with the will of God.  We see through self-centered eyes, and with the limited scope of human vision that cannot see past the grave.  God sees what is best for us, now, and for the eternal life He wants to give us, which is really the only one that truly matters.  If we saw things through the eyes of God, we would gladly accept His answers, and realize what we ask for is not always in our best interests.  How different would the lives of those aspiring servants of Christ been, if He had granted their requests to overthrow Rome, but did nothing to overthrow the evil in their hearts.  Israel would have amounted to only another dictatorship ruling by fear and the sword, and the greed of men.  Instead Christ did nothing to change the political status of those servants, choosing rather to offer them freedom from within, that no power on earth could ever take away, and a life of service that would be the only one worth living.  It does not matter if Rome is in charge on the outside, if Christ is in charge on the inside.
Verses 14 through 18 outline the fulfillment of prophecy, in Christ riding in to Jerusalem triumphant, and on a young colt of an ass.  The people were drawn there in great numbers, singing, praising God, and expressing great joy.  The resurrection of Lazarus was the crowing miracle of achievement in His ministry, it was the confirmation the common people and leaders alike could only attribute to being divine.  And in verse 19, the Pharisees state the facts … they have lost the war of hearts and minds of the people.  The people flock to Christ no matter what threats they can conjure.  Against this revelation of truth, they could have responded by giving in, yielding, and joining the crowds in acknowledging Christ as divine.  They too could not dispute the resurrection of Lazarus.  The facts were plain.  But when a choice is made, to refuse to believe, facts do nothing to persuade.  The Pharisees knew the truth, and refused to accept it.  And so the only path laid out to them was one of death.  They thought to kill Christ and be done with it.  But in truth, they were signing away the only hope for redemption that would be offered to them.  It was their own death warrants they were issuing.  To refuse Christ, to refuse truth, to refuse redemption, was to embrace not only the first death, but the eternal one as well.  This is where the pursuit of self, and of power, will ALWAYS lead – to the death of the pursuer.  This is why the wages of sin is death, because death is the only welcome release from the pain of sin.  And the choice to refuse to believe, in spite of what they knew, left them no other path to follow.
We face an equal danger.  There are those Christian who treat the holding on to a cherished sin, or pleasure of self, as if this choice bears no fruit and carries no consequences.  We hold back from Christ that thing which we do not want Him to change.  And so our sin remains, and our pain remains with it.  Instead of being willing to lay all on the alter, we keep some cherished pleasure hidden away.  But like a cancer it grows and grows, until it reaches a point where we begin to question whether we want God more than we want that thing we have been holding on to.  Our sin begins to cloud our judgment until we begin to think there is no moral conflict at all with it.  We can have BOTH God and our favorite sin.  We rationalize that we do not need to change anymore.  And like the Pharisees of old, we plant seeds in ourselves that reap a harvest of pain on a pathway to death.  Refusing to accept redemption can lead to no other outcome.  Redemption is designed to spare us from ALL pain.  Redemption and recreation teaches us to want different things, and let go of the things that are hurting us.  But we must be willing to be re-created completely, not just in part.  We must learn to trust God with ALL of us, not just the parts we think need tuning up.  And when we do, we find relief from the pain, and a pathway of life, not a highway towards death.  Let us never refuse to accept what we know to be true … and perhaps we can avoid finding ourselves in a plot to kill The King.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sleep of Death (part 2 of 2) ...

In verses 17 to 19 of chapter eleven John sets the scene for us.  He first tells us that Lazarus has been in the grave for 4 days by the time Jesus arrives.  It is unknown how long they may have waited to bury him there where he would have been dead in the home (but this is believed to be a short time).  Next, John tells us that Bethany is only 15 furlongs away from Jerusalem, and given the reputation of Lazarus, there were religious leaders who had traveled to the home of Mary and Martha to pay their respects and try to comfort them.  In fact, John uses the words “Many Jews” came to comfort the sisters of Lazarus, a testament to his fame, fortune, and character.  It is against this backdrop that Jesus arrives in the area.  Martha hears of it, and runs out to greet Jesus, and much more importantly to find out – “why”?  Why did He not come?  Why did He delay?  Why would He “let” her brother die?  From Martha’s perspective it is too late now.  The damage has been done.  The thing that cannot be reversed has happened.  A good prophet and man of God might have been able to prevent death, but now that it is here, and it has already been so long, all hope is lost.  History demonstrates this.  Reality is defined by this.  Nothing but this has ever been our lot.  So for Martha, the only question left to know, is why?
Martha begins in verse 21 … “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.”  Her faith in His ability to heal and prevent death was absolute.  But something more was going on here.  Martha must have sensed it.  Perhaps it was a look of love in His eyes.  Perhaps it was His non-verbal responses, His gestures, His motions, an intention of His that she could not put a finger on, but spoke volumes about potential still to come which she could not understand.  So she continues in verse 22 … “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.”  There it is.  Martha swings the door wide open on the possibility of resurrection right here and now.  What else is there to ask on behalf of her brother.  He is dead and sleeping.  But even now, she knows that His Father listens to His Son, and gives Him what He asks.  Jesus responds to her instinct in verse 23 saying … “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.”  He means right here and right now.  He means, the door of possibility you just opened, I have every intention of walking through.  You are about to witness His restoration from the grave.  But her mind goes instinctively to what she believes from the scriptures as she responds in verse 24 … “Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  She is sure he will be saved in the Kingdom of God, and that on the “last day” of our world, when calamity is falling on the wicked, Lazarus like all the rest of the dead who put their faith for Salvation in Jesus Christ will rise again.  Notice, this happens at the end of time, not throughout it.  Lazarus will sleep until that “day”, not be aware of everything between now and then.
But Jesus has a larger point to make.  He wants to assure her that on that great day, the mechanism by which the dead will rise, is the same mechanism that is standing before her, he continues in verse 25 … “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: [verse 26] And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”  Jesus is the mechanism by which all who sleep will be awakened as He promised.  Jesus is the mechanism by which all who desire Salvation, restoration, and perfection will find it.  He will create it within us, raising us from death unto life, and a more abundant life at that.  Jesus asks Martha, the true question that matters, do you believe it is ME who will do this?  It is different to believe that “God” will do it, than that Jesus is “God” who will do it.  Knowledge of scripture is not the same as knowledge of Christ that is experienced first-hand as He saves you and does what He promises.  Those who have a first-hand testimony of the saving power of Christ are sure about what He is doing, not just a theoretical discussion about what He can do if we let Him.  Jesus is making this very personal for Martha.  Notice this conversation John records is the very essence of Salvation between man and God, and it is being held with a woman.  This is the meat-and-potatoes of the gospel itself, and the question and the faith is between Christ and Martha.  Mary may often get top billing for her sensitivity and love for Christ, but here is Martha questioning the very source and origin of life itself.  Here is the faith of Martha being verified, despite the logic and the history, and the reality of what she “knows”.
In verse 27, Martha makes her stand, her choice, and her declaration for now and all time.  Her brother is still dead and in the grave.  Nothing has been “proven” to her yet.  But live or die, sickness or health, there will only ever be ONE true Messiah, and ONE true Son of God, and ONE true hope for her own restoration and redemption and He is standing in front of her.  She declares … “She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”  She has made her choice about what she will believe – BEFORE – any actions or proof are offered that Christ can do what He says He can do.  And with this declaration, the “why” question is no longer important.  In point of fact, it was never answered.  Jesus never told her “why” he delayed, and did not simply heal her brother.  He never answered why.  But he offered so much more.  And now, no matter what, she was at peace, and returned inside the home.
On arriving back through the grieving crowd of support, Martha finds Mary and tells her that Jesus has arrived and is asking for her.  Mary immediately gets up and runs to Jesus.  John records that Jesus was still where Martha had left Him, He had not made much progress to getting to their home.  So when those who were trying to comfort Mary, saw her get up so quickly and head out of the house, they just assumed she was running to the grave site in order to continue to grieve.  For Mary was as sad, as sad gets.  Her heart was broken for her brother to the core.  Those who were with her just assumed she was going to the grave to weep.  But Mary, like her sister, wanted to know “why” as well.  She may have come at this question from a different point of view.  For her it was about love.  Her brother treated her well despite her life and past.  He was merciful and loving to her.  To lose that kind of love was a loss she could not bear.  Then complicated because the love of the Master was so great, having restored her life when she should have lost it; how could a love that great seem apathetic in the time of so great a need?  Love could not do this.  So for her, the “why” was even more important.
In verse 32 John records … “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.”  Having said this Mary began weeping.  She was literally on the ground at the feet of Christ, no pride left, no hope left, only a sadness that cut her to the core.  How could love not have responded to a pain only Christ might fully understand.  The empathy of Christ was keen.  He saw through human eyes what it was like to lose one who was loved so much.  He saw through Mary, how great a loss death is to us who have no vision beyond the grave.  Love laid on the ground in front Him weeping.  And for the first time in John’s record of the gospel, He records that this sight moved Christ to His own core.  John records of this experience in verse 33 … “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, [verse 34] And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.”  Those who were with Mary still thought she was on her way to the grave to weep.  Mary wept because she could not reconcile how love could let this occur.  She knew that Christ could have prevented it and did not understand why He would not.  She knew she had lost a love of her brother and would not see him again.  For Mary the possibility of resurrection is not something she will be entertaining today. 
And so John records in verse 35 the shortest and perhaps most profound insight into the character of God throughout scripture … “Jesus wept.”  Now keep in mind, that Jesus knows what He is about to do.  He is not weeping over the loss of Lazarus, because Lazarus is about to be alive again.  He is weeping because the heart of Mary is SO broken, that her sadness breaks His own heart.  Jesus feels and sees the loss of death through the eyes of Mary, and sees the question she poses of why Love could allow this to occur.  He knows the answer.  But the answer does NOT stop her pain right now.  He knows that in heaven, there will be an eternity of joy, with a life that Martha, Mary and Lazarus will never see end.  But that does not stop her pain right now.  She weeps right now.  And so, in the most tender sympathies He weeps with her.  He shares her grief, even though He knows what is about to happen.  He sees her pain and it cuts Him to the core. 
Jesus weeps, for all who experience pain, and death.  He weeps that pain and death exist at all.  It was NOT His intention.  It is why He came; to see removed from our lives.  But we cling to it.  We won’t let Him take it away.  We hold on to it like it is a prize, instead of the cancer it truly is.  And He weeps, because He cannot force us to let it go.  Jesus weeps because He is not allowed to end ALL death, all pain, all sin within us.  He wants nothing more than our joy, and He weeps with heart that is broken, because we will not.  He shares her grief, and experiences His own, on a more profound level than any with a broken heart from a love rejected will ever understand.  For His love for us is deeper than any we have ever known, and too often, it is rejected by us.  And so He weeps.
Those who accompanied Mary see Jesus weeping, and His profound sadness is rightly interpreted as an indicator of how much Jesus loved Lazarus.  But it is not just for Lazarus or Mary, that Jesus weeps, He weeps for all of us who reject His perfect love.  He longs that all would be saved from pain, death, and this thing we have made of ourselves.  Then those who are there begin asking the same question as Mary and Martha have posed.  If Jesus healed all these others, why not heal Lazarus?  This question causes Jesus much pain as well, for while He must act in overall best interest, sometimes the pain is still something we experience in the short term.  John continues his account in verse 38 … “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.”  But it was time now, for grief to give way to joy.
Jesus calls for them to take action in verse 39 … “Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. [verse 40] Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?”  It does not make sense to do what Jesus is asking of them.  How many times did what God asked of His servants not make sense from our point of view?  Martha responds to Jesus by citing Him the facts as she knows them; she gives Him the reason why this request is a bad idea.  4-day old dead bodies in a hot desert climate are not the stuff anyone is going to want to smell.  Logic, history, the facts, all support Martha’s concern.  But Jesus is asking Martha, if she is willing to believe in spite of what she “knows”.  It is the same question put to the Pharisees.  It is the same question put to us.  It was the same question Lucifer walked away from; trust his own instincts, or the word of God.  Ultimately it is the question that will see evil permanently extinguished.  When we trust God more than we trust our own wisdom, the facts will be revealed to be something more than we knew, and evil will be gone forever.
In verse 41, they obeyed the request of Christ, probably due to the urging of Martha to listen to Him.  Notice that Mary is still too overcome with grief to be functional in this story.  She is there, but the interactions are largely between Christ and Martha.  Each of us are different.  Yet each of us are loved by Christ for who we are, not just as a part of a larger group.  Christ interacts with Martha differently than Mary or Lazarus, but loves all three of them.  Jesus was moved to tears with Mary, not so with Martha.  And it will be the faith of Martha, to trust in Christ, in spite of what she “knows” that will see what transpires next.  Verse 41 reveals … “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. [verse 42] And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”  This prayer is a revelation.  It had already been answered to Christ, but He said it aloud so that those standing near Him could hear Him give His Father the glory of what was about to happen.
This was why Christ was here this day.  This was “why” He had delayed returning to Lazarus, and “why” He had not simply just healed him like He did for so many others.  He was here to establish once and for all definitive proof that He was the author of life and of our resurrection both from evil and from death.  He was more than just a prophet.  He was more than just a “good man” with good ideas.  He was and remains the only Son of God, able alone to do, what no other man will ever be able to do.  Christ alone would be our salvation.  Verse 43 continues ... "And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.”  An old professor of mine once told me, and I agree, that had He not called Lazarus by name, He might have called forth every dead person who had ever walked the earth.  In point of fact, this is what He will do at the last day that Martha described.  He was loud enough for Lazarus to hear, but more so, for the crowd thereabouts to clearly know what was going on.  John continues with the immediate results in verse 44 … “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”  What might have appeared like insanity at Jesus’ loud command, is now revealed to be a miracle ONLY God could perform.  He had now fulfilled His promise to Martha, and the crop would be a harvest of souls much greater than just her, his disciples, and the family and friends of Lazarus gathered there that day.
John records in verse 45 the two responses we have to the miraculous love of Christ … “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. [verse 46] But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.”  Some of the Jewish leadership there that day were willing to accept the proof and fight no longer against the Son of God.  Others only saw the conversions as a continued threat to their power and went to discuss the matter with the Pharisees who would not believe.  Verses 47 through 54 record the epitaph of this story among those who refuse to believe.  They acknowledged that something must be done about Him, or else “all” might believe in Him.  Then in a twist of fate that defied even their own expectations, they reasoned that if these conversions continued, the Romans would come and take away their place, and their nation.  So the high priest, rationalized that it was better for one man to die than for a nation to be destroyed.  All along they had looked for a Messiah who could undo the Roman occupation, now that they thought this might actually happen, they grew afraid, and decided it was better to kill Christ, than take the chance He might fail in that effort.  Hypocrites.   They could not even keep their motives of hate straightened out where it came to preserving their own power.  But when no proof will ever be enough, there is only one response to love – kill it, or be converted by it.  So John records that Jesus walked no more openly among the Jews, and went to a city called Ephraim.
Jesus had now done something that could not be ignored, or pushed off as merely being a prophet, or good man of God.  He had resurrected the dead.  This was done in front of a great many witnesses.  The story was not even argued by His enemies.  They knew it was true.  They knew it would something they could not refute.  So they opted to kill Him.  But for those who were watching a bit more closely, there was another hope revealed in the story of Lazarus.  It is not ONLY our physical restoration that Christ is capable of performing.  It is our spiritual one as well.  Though we are dead in our sins, and unable to call ourselves back to life – our Savior is more than capable of doing just that.  He is able to fulfill His promise to bring us back to life in the here and now, NOT just in the last great day.  This was a message in the story of Lazarus.  Hope does not need to be deferred to see life in the here and now.  We can be saved today.  We can have a new life that He is the author of.  It is a life without pain and death, and will never see an end.  This is the life He refers to as having no ending, and the only one that matters from the perspective of God.  This is what His mission was that day, and remains today.  The sleep of death is a mere nap, a moment of time we cannot recall.  The life He offers starts today, and lasts forever in His kingdom.  We can be resurrected from sin today, and from death at the last great day, and know life both now and then without the pain we embrace for ourselves.  That is His gift to us.