The Resurrection and the Life

Ever since I can remember, I’ve known a God who seems to have the disturbing habit of leaving the scene when I most needed Him. When things got rough, He would often disappear.

At least that’s how it seemed.

The Lord will not always rescue you when you want Him to. And He certainly will not act according to your timetable every time.

Sometimes He will let you die. In fact, He may wait until you’re quadruply dead and stinking in your tomb before He does anything.

So when things become black in your life, and there seems to be no way out, your situation has the fingerprints of Jesus Christ all over it.

Death is invincible. It’s also hopeless. But four days after death is beyond hopeless.

Lazarus’ death was beyond human ability and aid. Only the living God could do anything about it.

There was a Jewish belief that the human soul remains near the grave of the deceased for three days, hoping to be able to return to the body. On the fourth day, however, the soul leaves the body permanently.

If the first-century Jews believed this, then the only hope of Lazarus’ recovery was an act of God’s power.

Mark it down: Jesus Christ will sometimes wait until you are long dead. But then … when you least expect it … He will come leaping over the hills in some strange and unforeseen way to do what you never dreamed.

Yes, God will allow you to get into situations that are beyond human aid. And at such times, His grace will not be sufficient. All evidence points to this at least. Why? So that He might display the glory of His resurrection life.

Resurrection is God’s act alone. And that’s why it always brings glory to Him.

So there was a crisis in Bethany. There was sorrow and suffering, even death. But there was also a resurrection. And the Lord cannot dispense the latter until we are willing to embrace the former. This is written in the very bloodstream of God.

The power of His resurrection always follows the fellowship of His sufferings.

Never forget: Jesus Christ is Resurrection, and He is Life. And if you outwait Him, He’ll eventually roll the stone away and raise you from the dead.

While death is mighty, Jesus is Almighty. And His shocking and surprising presence will often make its appearance when you least expect it.

by Frank Viola, author

Death in Bethany

John paints the scene with graphic interest. Here is Bethany, the only place on earth that the Lord could feel at home. And tragically, the sweet oasis of Bethany is disrupted by death. Bethany, as Jesus knew it, had come to an end.

Lazarus died.

When Jesus became aware of this, He was master of the situation. He was in complete control, free of worry and hurry. He heard from His Father on the situation and obeyed His leading. Even though He was visibly disturbed, there was no tremor in His voice.

It was dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea because of the fatal fury of the Jews. Judea’s death squads had recently tried to kill Him. So He lingered by the Jordan.

Perhaps that’s why Mary and Martha were reluctant to call for Him. Yet they eventually sent Him a message informing Him of their brother’s sickness.

When Jesus approached the village, Martha acted according to character. She ran impulsively to see Him, almost chiding Him for not coming sooner.

Mary also acted according to character. When she came into the presence of Christ, she fell at His feet and began to weep.

The scene was chaotic, the air thick with grief. Mourning and sorrow were everywhere. A chorus of women from Bethany and nearby Jerusalem bemoaned the death of Lazarus. God’s greatest enemy had taken the one whom Jesus loved.

So there was death in Bethany. But there was also resurrection.

In resurrection, God starts all over with a new creation. But resurrection always follows suffering and death.

Herein lies an important lesson. If you will make a home for the Lord Jesus Christ, hard times will come. Crisis will come. Suffering will come. Even death—in some form—will come.

Suffering is worldwide and neck deep. But for the Christian, suffering has a special purpose. It’s the chiseling of God designed to transform you into the image of His Son.

Information doesn’t produce transformation. Suffering that leads us to embrace Christ does.

Imagine a strong-willed Christian in his early thirties. We’ll call him Jeff. Jeff is naturally gifted to preach. People follow him easily. He is strong in himself, opinionated, quick to answer. But though he speaks powerfully, you don’t sense Christ from him.

Jeff is serving God with all burners cranked too high. Through various circumstances, God brings a crisis into his life, one that causes him to become unglued. The gears come to a halt. God stops him cold, and Jeff is left sucking air. The Lord knows exactly how to take the wind out of our sails to slow us down.

Jeff has just met a God who he thought he understood. However, the Lord is suddenly elusive, and Jeff finds himself reeling for a while. He feels stuck. Limited. Confused. Frustrated.

Jeff puts his ministry on hold. In his confusion, he begins to seek the Lord, and he also receives counsel from an older believer seasoned in suffering.

Several years pass, and the cloud lifts. Jeff is different. He’s not so quick to answer. He’s less sure, less opinionated. But when he speaks, you sense the Lord. You touch the life of Jesus Christ.

What happened? There’s been a resurrection, and with it, some transformation.

Chisel it in stone: you can’t have a resurrection without a death. And you can’t know the transforming triumph of Christ without a crisis. You can’t know the hills without the valleys, and you can’t make a sailor with calm seas. We easily forget this when we’re going through the northeast corner of hell.

A word of encouragement: if your foundations are in Jesus Christ, then you can weather the storm. You can endure the crisis. You can put your asbestos suit on and walk through the fire because you are standing on Him who is the Immovable Rock.

Sometimes God will deliver you from trouble. Oftentimes He will deliver you through it.

Yet resurrection is always on the other side … if you stand and endure.

A Spirit-led man or woman is someone who has faced tragedy, faced loss, looked unbearable and exquisite pain in the face … and has stood his or her ground.

With their garments still smoking, these men and women have said before God, mortals, and angels: “It is well with my soul. The Enemy has thrown his best at me, and I’m still here. I’m still on the Rock. I’ve not sunk. I’m still standing. I’ve not been destroyed, and I’ve not gone under. I will continue to follow my Lord, come hell or high water. He is still on the throne!”

“Having done all, stand. Stand therefore” . . . on the Rock that never moves.

Be encouraged, dear child of God. If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?

No matter how tight the screws get, you press on … by Him, through Him, and to Him.

As Winston Churchill once put it, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Adapted from one of Frank Viola’s book, frankviola.org

Shocking Beliefs

Frank Viola, author, continues his series on his Patheos blog – frankaviola.org – featuring articles on the shocking beliefs of John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

Future articles are planned for John Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Moody, and others.

Tis That Look

‘Tis the look that melted Peter,
‘Tis the face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.

In Revise Us Again, I made the statement that as high as God is going to elevate you is as deep as He digs to lay the foundation.

Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places. And what doesn’t destroy you ends up defining you in some significant way.

These truths boldly emerge in this narrative.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is regarded by many Bible students as the crowning gem of Jesus’ miracles, the climax of the seven signs of John’s gospel.

The raising of Lazarus also foreshadowed the Lord’s own resurrection, which was closely at hand.

Interestingly, Lazarus is the shortened form of a name that means “God helps.”

We don’t know what Lazarus’ illness was. Since it’s not named, it was probably unremarkable. Common terminal diseases in the ancient world were scabies, smallpox, tuberculosis, various eye diseases (opthumla), dysentery, leprosy, and malaria.

Some scholars speculate that Lazarus was inflicted with the eastern fever.

In John 11, we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and that they were His friends.1

In John 15:15, the Lord said to His disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Love and friendship. These two words sum up the heart of Bethany.

Bethany is the place where Jesus loves His own, and His own love Him. It is also a place of friendship … friendship with the living God.

Jesus desires friends, not servants. He desires love, not servitude.

In the cold temple of Jerusalem, God was merely served. But in the warmth of the Bethany home, He was befriended and cherished.

When I read John 11, I see a Lord who is saying, “I didn’t come to this earth to be served. I came to have friends. I came to love and be loved. I came to take a people into My heart. I came to unveil the secrets of My heart to My friends.”

But what do love and friendship look like according to Jesus?

Think about this: Jesus allowed Lazarus to suffer illness. He allowed Mary and Martha to experience the agony of watching their brother fade away.

Even worse, Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. And in so doing, He allowed two precious women to lose their only brother.

And all the while, Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and regarded them as His friends.

Keep this in mind the next time you get sick, lose a loved one, or face a crisis or tragedy.

The Lord allows painful things to happen to those He loves. He allows tragedy to befall His friends. Yet He loves you while you’re sick. And He loves you even after you die.

by Frank Viola author, adapted from one of his books.

Lazarus Dies

I could not sleep most of the night. Tossing miserably, my mind refused to shut down. Neither would the pain vibrating throughout my body.

If I died, what will happen to my sisters … and my father? With the silversmith shop closed, who will provide for them? These were the worries that tormented my mind.

That evening my three closest friends, Nathan, Samuel, and Tobias, paid me a visit.

I opened my eyes at the pounding of feet up the stairs toward my room.

After the men entered, they each stood around my bed and began to speak.

Nathan leaned forward, his face the picture of sadness. Somberly he said, “Lazarus, you know that I lost my faith in God years ago. Like you, I was taught from childhood that YHWH would deliver our people from our oppressors. But there have been no signs of it. Not just for my generation, but for generations before me.

“All I see around me is pain, oppression, evil. And now here you are, a righteous man who loves God, sick and ready to die. Your sickness only confirms my doubts. A man must die with integrity. I want to encourage you, then, to give up your faith and die with integrity.”

Nathan stopped, and we looked at one another for a brief moment. I didn’t answer him.

Shaking his head in disagreement, Samuel leaned close to me and said, “Lazarus, as you know, I do not agree with our friend Nathan. I believe YHWH’s promises are true and the Messiah is coming to deliver us. But you are mistaken to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

“If Jesus truly was the person He claims to be, where is He when you need Him most? If He was truly a prophet, He would have known about your sickness and healed you. I don’t want you to die in a state of deception. Renounce your faith in Jesus and repent to God for believing this imposter. I believe God will forgive you if you do. There is still time.”

Tobias drew back, his face blank. “You know I love you, Lazarus,” he whispered.

I nodded.

“And what I’m about to say is with the kindest of intentions. We know that God heals the righteous and afflicts the sinful. This sickness has come upon you for a reason. There is something in your life, some unconfessed or unrepented sin with which you have not yet dealt.

“I want you to get well. I beg you, therefore, to search your heart. Confess the sin that you have committed and seek redemption. I am assured that if you do this, God will heal you.”

I was speechless. The pain in my body moved to my heart. My friends meant well, but their words brought little comfort.

My muscles froze. I willed my face to turn to stone. I didn’t want my emotions to show. My lips tightened. Devastated, the heart-wrenching was almost too much for me.

It took me a little time to regain my composure. Still lying flat on my back, I mustered up the strength to open my mouth. Their accusations still raged through my mind as I groped for an appropriate response.

“Friends, I know you all mean well. But I will tell you what is on my heart right now.”

I turned to Nathan. “I know that the God of our fathers lives, Nathan. Even though I cannot see it now, I believe He will fulfill His promises one day just as He always has. His timetable is not like ours. I will die trusting in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Nathan’s face sank into his chest.

At this point my throat tightened. Struggling to breathe, I looked into Samuel’s eyes and said, “I admit that I do not understand why Jesus hasn’t come to me yet. And I know that if He were here, I would be healed.

“But I trust Him, nonetheless. And I believe with all my heart that He is the promised One, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Of that I am sure. I expect Him to come and heal me soon. But even if He does not, I will die believing that He is the One to come.”

My heart pounded harder.

I looked over at Tobias. “Tobias, I have searched my heart before God, and I do not believe that there is anything I have done to bring this illness upon me. I cannot explain to you why I am sick. If I die, I will do so believing that I have not sinned against my God.”

My arms and hands went numb. My legs quickly followed.

With my hand I motioned to Nathan to move his head near mine. “Call my sisters and father,” I whispered in his ear.

Mary, Martha, and my father rushed up the steps to my room. I looked at each of them with love in my eyes, struggling to utter my parting words. Martha’s hands trembled. Tears slid down her cheeks. Mary sobbed on the shoulder of my father.

I could feel the blood leave my face. But before I could say a word, I fell asleep.

I died in their presence.

Adapted from God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola author