Just Say Yes, Part 4

Faith may be defined as saying “yes” to Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with the old nighttime prayer said by children, written by Joseph Addison in The Spectator, dated March 8, 1711:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self up to His Direction,
Amen.

Now, if that sounds the slightest bit off, you’re probably thinking of the version that would appear a little later in The New England Primer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

That’s not a bad prayer if you mean it when you pray it. Otherwise it’s collection of words that are easily said because they are easily memorized.

But I prefer the words of Gerhardt Tersteegan. Not sure who he is? You’re in good company. Tersteegan was born was born in Moers, Germany in 1697. As a young man, he was a very successful merchant, but gave it all up to move into an isolated cottage to search for God.

In 1727 a revival took place and Tersteegan’s time of solitude took a new direction as people from all over began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move out of his small, isolated cottage and into a large house that suited his ministry. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. One of his teachings was glommed onto by Kierkegaard, who popularized it and it’s simply this: Christians are simultaneously great and small, rich and poor at the same time because they are in a relationship with God. Our greatness, our wealth, our wisdom, our righteousness comes from Him.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Here are some lines from one of his classic hymns, “Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God”:

Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.

Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes
To every dear command of Thine.

And that pretty much sums up the idea of saying “yes” to Jesus; “yes” to God’s will. You can’t go wrong when you say “yes” the Lord.

Previously, we looked at the blind men, followers of Jesus, who said “yes” to God’s mercy (Matthew 9:28); the disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 13:51); and the foreign woman said “yes” to being a dog! In other words, she said “yes” to Jesus’ estimation of her: she was a Gentile – one who needed Him and was in desperate of what only He could do for her (Matthew 15:27).

The fourth person who said “yes” to Jesus was a hard-working woman whose name was Martha:

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

That’s something you and I would have no trouble saying. It’s obvious, after all. Jesus Christ IS the Son of God. We all know that. But Martha didn’t. She didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian culture to fall back on. She didn’t have hymns and sermons to remember and she didn’t have the Bible to read or K-LOVE playing in the background to constantly remind her that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. She came this conclusion all on her own. And she came to this conclusion after the worst week of her life: Her brother had just died.

The death of Lazarus, John 11:1 – 16

We all know about Lazarus. Every kid who ever went to Sunday School knows the old, old joke: “Jesus called out: Lazarus, come forth! Well, he came fifth and lost the job.” That was James Joyce’s paraphrase of the story. It’s funny but not at all accurate in the case of the Biblical Lazarus. He did come forth, but he came forth a winner; he came forth alive after being dead for days.

This has been described as the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life and career and it illustrates perfectly what our Lord Himself said in the previous chapter:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 | NIV84)

The story is found only in John; none of the other Gospels records it. In fact, Lazarus, who was apparently a good friend of our Lord’s, isn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Of course, Jesus raised other people from the dead during His earthly ministry: Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, but here the stakes were high.

Having heard about the dire circumstances of Lazarus, Jesus’ reaction was, to say the least, curious indeed:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5, 6 | NIV84)

Lazarus is what Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to as “the McGuffin” in the story. He’s totally passive; the only reason he’s mentioned is because he was sick and died! His sad end was merely an excuse for Jesus to teach an important lesson, which had nothing to do with Lazarus, but everything to do with Jesus and the two sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s all about them.

The dreadful sickness of Lazarus is really the condition of every single human being without God. The sickness of the human race is sin and everybody is afflicted with it.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

Every human being without God is dying, and there is no hope for them.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in a Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Some people with tender hearts have real difficulty with what seems to be a paradox. If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, why did He not rush off to see him? We are people who are mired in sentimentality, but our Lord was not. Everything Jesus did and said were designed to teach people something. One scholar noted this and remarked:

Because the Lord loved the family He went at the exact moment when His visit would be most fruitful, and not just when He was invited.

God’s timing is always perfect. When we pray about something, we expect God to hop to it and answer it, post-haste! But that’s not how He works. God knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you don’t. For example, in this story, Jesus knew this:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4 | NIV84)

But of course, Lazarus did die, didn’t he? So what was our Lord getting at? Simply this: Jesus knew the death of His friend was merely temporary for He knew what God would do. Second, Lazarus was sick and would die temporarily to glorify God. And, lastly, the cure administered by Jesus would result in the people seeing God in action, giving Him the glory.

Another tidbit about this incident, and it’s only noted here in John’s Gospel, is this:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place c and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48 | NIV84)

The raising of Lazarus was a catalyst for the occasion of Jesus’ trial and death. There’s a big picture we never see. We may have our needs and offer up our prayers – as we ought – but there is a much bigger picture that we can’t see, but that God sees.

Saying “yes” when you don’t want to

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 | NIV84)

Jesus finally got there, but by all appearances He was too late. His friend was long dead and Martha was not happy, but she still had faith.

Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21, 22 | NIV)

Martha had faith – even though Lazarus had died, she knew that he would rise again at the resurrection. That’s the equivalent of saying, on the occasion of a loved one’s passing, “I know I’ll see him in heaven.” It’s one of those sentimental elements of faith we bring up at the right time, but we otherwise don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not real to us most of the time. But to Jesus, all elements of our faith are important. For Martha, her faith exceeded her grasp. In other words, she knew the words – she knew the right thing to say – but it wasn’t real to her. In a few days, she’d stop thinking about Lazarus like that and accept the fact that he’s gone.

Jesus, though, wouldn’t let this go, though. And that’s the whole point of the story.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26 | NIV84)

Jesus needed to make Martha’s faith real. She needed to know that she was in the presence of the Resurrection. Martha thought the resurrection was an event that would happen at some time in the future; an event at which everybody would be passive participants; that the Lord would do the work of bringing us all back. But the resurrection is not just an event. The Resurrection is also a Person, and He was standing right beside her. It is impossible for death to prevail in His presence. This is not a doctrine or an idea or a hope. It is a personal reality. Anybody, Lazarus included, who has faith in Jesus Christ, is living eternally already. He may pass through something called “physical death” but it is impossible for him to die eternally because of Jesus Christ. As Godet wrote,

Jesus means: In me the dead lives, and the living does not die.

The question Jesus put to Martha penetrated to the heart of the matter. Like so many others, she may not have grasped the total meaning of what Jesus had just said, but she accepted Him. She confessed that Jesus is the Christ.

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

So while we give Martha credit for giving the right answer, Mary and the others weren’t quite there yet, as evidenced by what happened at the tomb:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:32, 33 | NIV84)

Jesus wasn’t upset that Lazarus was dead. He shuddered and was full of grief and even anger because of what He saw: All of Lazarus’ friends and Mary, weeping and full of sadness and sorrow and grieving for no good reason. He was standing face-to-face with people who had no hope because of unbelief. Jesus didn’t cry because He loved Lazarus so much. He knew Lazarus was on his way out of the tomb, alive. He cried because of what unbelief had done to these people.

Unbelief is what kills hope and robs faith of its power. Lazarus fared well. He left that tomb alive. His sisters and his friends realized who Jesus was. For Martha, all it took was a simple confession of faith and saying “yes” to Jesus.

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