John 11: If only you had been here

I used this chapter for a devotional time with the Deacons here at PEMC just the other week. John 11 is a passage of scripture that stood out to me very strongly as I was reading ahead through our Bible readings a couple of weeks ago, and it is still speaking to me strongly.

How do you deal with crisis situations? I used to think that I dealt well with them, and in a sense I guess I still do. Send me to an active fire or a car accident and I’m cool as a cucumber and as steady as a rock. But put a number of situations in front of me where there is no immediate solution or that seem too big to handle, and my steadiness wavers. I went through a period of time during the later part of the summer here at the church where things just kept building up. We had a number of costly repairs that came up one after the other. I had a couple of people type situations that I couldn’t see my way out of; and on top of that I was going through my own internal crisis of feeling pretty discontented with things. There’s a vulnerable admission for you.

Then things started to turn around a couple of weeks ago. The physical repair issues in the church seemed to begin to find solutions. We had some pretty major damage done to our electronics because of a lightening strike and the insurance claim got underway. We found a solution to keep our failing sound board on its last legs. Then, just since this past Sunday, I’ve had two people approach me about giving some money to begin upgrading our sound system! One of the people type problems got opened up by a very calm, very constructive conversation. God has been dealing with me about my discontentment.

But it was only after that stuff started to fall into place that I read John 11. In this chapter, Lazarus (one of Jesus’ friends) dies quite suddenly. Jesus is away teaching at another town when he gets the word, but he waits two days before returning to visit the family. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty bad pastoral care by today’s standards. Jesus says this to his disciples when they finally depart to visit the family: “Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”

Jesus arrives at the town. Both Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) greet Jesus in the same way: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Then what does Jesus do? He weeps over his friend and then he commands them to remove the stone. This is four days after death in a society that did not utilize embalming. The smell would have been bad. So why does Jesus do this?

First, to make sure people understood that Lazarus was really dead and this was not some cheap trick. Second, he does it to prove to his disciples, Mary, Martha and all that are gathered there to witness this even that His power is not restricted to time or space. Jesus told his disciples that he was glad Lazarus had died without his presence because it would grow their faith. How many times have I said what Mary and Martha said. Man, God, if only you had been here things would have been different. If only you had shown up two days earlier…

Jesus shows Lazarus’ family and his sisters that Jesus’ power to act is not limited by our understanding of time or circumstance. Jesus healed Lazarus, had the power to heal Lazarus, regardless of whether he was dead or not.

God uses difficulty to strengthen our faith, as long as we remain fully convinced that he has the power to act in all times, in all circumstances, regardless of what we think the “right” timing is.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Luke 17:11-18:14

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