I’ve decided to read John for Everyone, which is basically the book of John with some helpful notes and thoughts by Tom Wright. It’s kind of like a commentary for those who need something in plain language. I started to read it because Joel was enjoying the “for everyone” commentary series and has been buying them up at Archives (a new and used theological book shop). I really like them! And, I decided to start with John because I learn so much about Jesus when I read it, which makes it probably my favorite book in the Bible.
So, I have part II of John, chapters 11-21, and it starts with a story about Jesus and his interactions surrounding the death of Lazarus. Faith is demonstrated by Jesus with striking perfection, and His disciples (often dogged for having “little” faith) though conflicted, as I more personally relate to, still have some moments of true shinning faith.
I never realized that Jesus was outside Judea at this point in John’s story (which included Bethany where Lazarus dead body layed), because the Judeans were seeking to kill him, and more specifically, tried to stone him earlier. In a sense, he was hiding out when Lazarus got ill and died. This has much to do with his practical delay in coming to the situation. Of course, it’s also obvious there were unseen reasons for his delay, that only God understood at the time. When Jesus finally starts heading toward the mourners and Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) in Bethany, his disciples think he is basically committing suicide and seem shocked he would walk into such obvious danger.
What is danger in the face of God’s will? What place does fear have when we trust God’s will is good and will be done in our lives? I think of this when reading this passage. Jesus displays this perfectly as only He can. He knows that nothing can happen to Him outside of God’s will and timing and He trusts God’s will and timing are best and good. I personally think He knows it’s not his time to die yet, but I feel awed by Jesus, that He follows His Father’s will down to Lazarus not only when He knows no harm will come to Him, and a glorious miracle will take place, but He equally follows his Father’s will later in the story, when He fully knows it will lead him to pain, suffering, and death. Jesus life displays faith in whole, not in part! Not just in the happy ending stuff, but in the “hard to swallow” stuff.
Thankfully, God never wills for us to die brutally for the sins of the world (this was a task unique only to Jesus and will never be required of His followers), but the Bible does make it clear, that those who believe are called to live out God’s love for all people through acts of goodness, and to proclaim the truth of Jesus death and resurrection. This can certainly cause believers to face some scary and sticky situations. Some have and currently face death, imprisonment, and brutalities for that cause. I know God has a special grace and place in His heart for these people! Death is obviously extreme faith and I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily foresee that happening to me in the United States (I certainly hope it won’t anyway), but through Jesus example, even though I’m not facing terrible death, I am personally encouraged to trust God with faith and without fear, even when things are hard or I experience my own types of sufferings.
Something I remember well, when I was on a short-term mission trip, with a medical team, in the back jungles of the Philippines, was a comment our local contact and leader made. His name was Pio, and he lived and breathed the missionary long-term lifestyle in these remote, rather dangerous tribal areas. The danger he encountered regularly didn’t quite compare with my daily U.S. experience ☺ As we were trudging along in the mud and rain, on our way to a village, he said, “The best place to be is in God’s will, even if that is in a plane about to crash.” That always stood out to me, because I sensed he wasn’t just pulling a random example, but had actually experienced that very situation. There was a genuine tone in his voice. That comment has provoked my thoughts for quite some time now.
Though the disciples, in John’s story, do not have striking faith like Jesus in the situation, I have to give them some definite faith credit here. They followed him right down to Bethany. It seems that Thomas makes, what I imagine was a sarcastic remark, as they head off along the lines of “We might as well die with him.” But… they went and Jesus even states that the whole situation is good for the disciples faith, to help it grow.
Seems God is still equally concerned about His disciples’ faith growing today. In fact He not only implies we will face hardships the Bible clearly teaches that we Will face hardship. Our faith is often tested and we find ourselves feeling half crazy, going out on a limb of faith, probably much like the disciples felt in this passage, walking into what seemed a death trap in Bethany. Maybe they were even starting to imagine what the blow of being stoned would feel like if they were caught? But, they had enough faith from God to keep walking and it’s obvious the disciples had ultimate confidence in following where Jesus led, or they wouldn’t have gone, even if they didn’t understand the events around them. I can relate to this! Can’t every believer! None of us seem to escape this sort of testing and refining of our faith!
Imagine if the disciples did not go with Jesus to Bethany out of fear? They would have missed such a glorious event! Because they followed Jesus they saw a man, and not just any man, but their friend, raise up from death! Now, from this story, I can’t conclude that these “faith growing” experiences always lead us to wonderful feelings, that I’m sure the disciples, in this instance, where feeling as they witness their friend’s literal resurrection. I would be making a conclusion based on one story, without a larger balance of many stories and teachings in the Bible, but I think I can safely conclude, that following Jesus, with faith, leads us to God’s glory. And that is a gem worth more than I can imagine now, but have only tasted on my discipleship journey! Experiencing this glory, I am convinced has something to do with abundant life and lasting, not fleeting, deep joy, which is really true happiness. Faith leads us to God’s glory where true joy and meaning is found.