120. God in action!

[John 11]

What is a miracle? It is an event in the lives of men that can only be explained in supernatural terms. The official definition underlines the mystery aspect of a highly improbable or extraordinary event.

As the dictionary puts it: It is a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

 A miracle is described as surprising and welcome, a positive outcome. It is the opposite of the crisis or circumstances that gave rise to the need for divine intervention. In other words, it is the inexplicable rectification of a catastrophic or heartbreaking situation.

A miracle is God in action. It is our loving Father, almighty creator-God, who intervenes and does the impossible for our benefit. A miracle is welcomed as a relief where relief was not humanly possible.

Miracles are answered prayers.

God is a mystery, operating in the unseen. Where shall we find Him and how will we “see” His action. God is the God of His people. We “see” Him active His community.

William Barclay explained how a certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4:”You shall walk after the Lord your God.” He said that text commands us to imitate the things, which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked (Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick (Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners (Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead (Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.

In this section of John 11:17-27 we meet the household of Jesus’ friends in Bethany. Martha is true to character (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha loved action, and Mary sat still. Martha was up to meet Jesus.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Martha’s words were half reproach that came out in desperation and half with faith that is now so disappointed:

If you had been here,”she said, “my brother would not have died.”

Through her words she is asking: “Jesus, why are you late. If you had come when we sent the message, Lazarus would live.” Still there is faith in her words: I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha mentioned the general resurrection on the last day. It is very important words from Martha:

One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol or Hades. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. (Psalms 6:5;30:9and many others). It is Hezekiah’s pessimistic belief that:

“For Sheol cannot thank You,

Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.(Isaiah 38:18).

In Psalms 16:9-11and 73:23-24 the Psalmist wants to believe that not even death can separate him from God. This immortal hope we find in Job. While facing all his disasters, Job cried out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

In the time of Jesus the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, but the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. Those who died saw God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. Martha reached out in faith to this belief.

Jesus answered:

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” We have faith in Him for life. His life in us makes NO provision for death of any kind.

Not even a lifetime’s thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.[William Barclay]

Life is so much more than physical. Even if life is so hard, it makes it almost not worth living, Jesus can make him alive again.”

There is life to come. Death is not the end. Death is just a door into the invisible.

Physical death is the sunrise, the dawn of eternity.

It was the custom, especially for the women, to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion, for a week after the burial. Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha.

We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. The word comes from the verbembrimasthai. It is used three other times in the New Testament. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to.

Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy – artificial grief raised Jesus’ wrath. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthaiis a horse snorting. Such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.

Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. 

If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. 

What a different picture Jesus gave! God’s heart is wrung with compassion for the anguish of his people. God cares.

The usual Palestinian tomb was a natural cave or a space hewn out of the rock. The bodies were wrapped in linen but the hands and feet were enfolded in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. In front of the opening ran a groove in which a great stone like a cartwheel was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.

Jesus asked the stone to be moved. Martha thought that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. She did not think this a good idea and pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for three days, seeking re-entrance. But after three days the spirit finally left. A decayed face was not easily recognizable.

Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose. 

Lazarus came forth.It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to loosen the grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go. Most probably everybody around the grave stood stunned and just stared, not believing their eyes and not moving.

When Jesus spoke the power of God flowed through him.

Jesus spoke this miracle into being to honour God, just like Elijah when he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you are God”(1 Kings 18:37).

In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It might be possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma.

Burial had to take place quickly in the hot climate of Palestine. Evidence in graves pointed to the fact that people were sometimes buried alive. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death.

But there is no parallel for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.

The Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation. The miracle of Lazarus forced their hand.

In the Sanhedrin there were bothPharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party. They lived the law. The Sadducees were political. They were wealthy and aristocratic. To retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they collaborated with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. They did all the talking.

They were notoriously discourteous. Their contemptuous arrogance is a stark contrast to the accents of love of Jesus. 

They were set on the retention of their political and social power and prestige. Jesus might gain a following and raise a rebellion against the government. Rome could never afford civil disorder and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. The Sadducees would be dismissed. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong.

A man can set his own career before the will of God. 

History shows an example of dramatic irony. The Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated to prevent the Romans to take their authority away. In 70AD that is exactly what happened. The Romans besieged Jerusalem and left it a heap of ruins. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus!

Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his very ironic, very true statement: Better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish.

The High Priest’s role was to ask God’s counsel for the nation. Moses told Joshua when he wished for God’s counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest. (Numbers 27:18-21)

God can speak through the most unlikely people.Sometimes He sends his message through a man without the man being aware. He can use even the words of bad men.

Jesus was to die for the Jewish nation and the world.

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people for the Passover. The Jews had to be ceremonially clean for the Feast. Any person would become unclean by touching a corpse. Purifications were carried out in the Temple.

One can just imagine the talk. The people knew what was going on. People are always interested in the man who bravely and stubbornly faces fearful odds. This was Jesus against the authorities.

The conclusion of the gossip was that Jesus could not possibly come to Jerusalem. He could not take on the whole might of Jewish leaders and political authorities.

But they had underrated Jesus. Nothing on earth would stop Him coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem openly. He drew attention upon himself with death-defying courage.

 

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73. One day to another – no greater contrast ever.

I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the main activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There were also huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.

Later during high school years and university, I studied through many Easter weekends, but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, in their hearts.

Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.

My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye” service. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long line of needs.

My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.

I will never forget the talk. People talked about God, all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.

Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall; the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun; always making sure the children under 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?

I know why.

Many years later in adult life, I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.

I know why I remember that Easters of my past. No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!

This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.

This week, is the week after the celebration of that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Where are you these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?

Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.

He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see Him.

Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.

19. Resurrection light on your path.

What you decide on will be done,

    and light will shine on your ways. [Job 22:28]

Easter is over. In North America, April is busy. It is the end of the academic year; exams and summer plans are priority. It was, after all, just the usual, annual celebration of the crucifixion.

Imagine for a moment how tense and excited the days after the resurrection have been to the followers of Jesus. Since that Sunday that Mary came running with the news, the story spread. The grave was investigated and found empty, the tongues were busy: analyzing, doubting, hoping, believing, remembering. Please read all 50 verses of the victorious Luke 24. In the 40 days before the ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples three times. [John 21:14]

Mary stayed behind in the garden when the other disciples returned to the bolts and locks to keep them safe from suspected Roman retaliation. Her lingering there brings her in direct contact with the risen Christ and becomes her ultimate comfort. She will never doubt, she saw Him and spoke to Him. This is still today the core experience in our walk with Christ. No theology, no church, no argument will ever replace the personal and powerful encounter with the risen Jesus. Grief is relieved and fear flees in the Presence. Restoration is guaranteed.

John 20:19:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

He will find you, even behind your locked doors and bolted windows. You are His special possession. Isaiah 43:4:

Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, and I have loved you.

He did it for Thomas again, 8 days later, to give him the very same experience that the other disciples had, so that he will have peace in his heart. The darkest day on earth, marked in heaven, that created chaos in the hearts of Jesus’ followers, are lightened and enlightened by the presence of the risen Christ. Exactly in the same way, Jesus will appear within the walls of your doubt and fear and give you peace in your darkest days. The victory of the resurrection is yours. Jesus did not blame Thomas for his desire to make sure and to investigate. He invited him to touch His hands. The Bible does not say if Thomas actually did, but I think the presence of Jesus was so overwhelming and comforting, no further investigation was necessary.

The notes on the appearances of Jesus read like a suspense story. He appears and disappears. He walks with the two persons [Luke 24:13] to Emmaus and listens to their confusion and uncertainty. They were privileged to hear the utmost in theology ever, when Jesus explained Himself to them in the Scriptures. Even after this superior teaching, they did not know Him. Only when he was invited in and broke the bread in their midst, they recognized Him. Teaching and theology, church and worship will only bring you so far. It is only when you invite Him into your heart and sit down at the table to take the Bread (the Word) from His own hand, that you will recognize Him. Only after this encounter with the living Christ, theology makes sense.

Some time after the resurrection, the disciples made their way back to Galilee and went back to their old trade. They were busy with the nets and boats, fishing for a whole night and returning with empty nets. Jesus is on the beach with them, just like the days of their calling to follow Him, but they do not recognize Him. He asks if they have something to eat and they say they have nothing. He tells them to throw out the nets to the right of the boat. On His command they do it and haul out a huge catch, without tearing the nets. Something stirs in John and he recognizes the miracle and declares: It is the Lord. Peter jumps out of the boat and run through the shallow water to get to the beach quicker. Can you imagine that encounter?

After a lovely breakfast – oh, fresh fish on a fire on the beach – in conversation with their beloved friend in awe of His presence after His death and released of fear and doubt, Peter is forgiven and restored and receives His godly mission, to propel him into what he has never thought possible.

Acts the first chapter states the reality of the resurrection:

Acts1:3:

 to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

This is the truth – grab hold of the truth so that it lives in your heart. These are the days before the ascension. The days of expectation are coming – the 10 days in the upper room waiting on the Holy Spirit. These are the days to lift up your eyes and bump up your expectation of what God can do in your life. It is time to prepare for the celebration of the first fruits.

It is the time for confusion and fear to make way for victory and faith. It is the time for new insight into your circumstances when the risen Christ will cause you to bring in the miracle catch with nets that do not tear.

On what is your eye fixed? On the current situation that drags along and negative talk to darken your vision.

It is time to submit to God’s miracle-working plan.

2 Corinthians 10: 4,5:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…

Pray with me Psalm 121:1:

I lift up my eyes…

And how will we see? With the prayer of the blind man: Mark 10:51:

Rabbi, I want to see.”

In essence – open the eyes of my heart, Teacher. From Whom do we learn – from the words of the Son of the Living God. His words are Spirit and Life. [John 6:63]

Do you see the risen Christ? Do you experience the breakfast on the beach? Raise your expectation. This is not the time for doubt and fear.

Exodus 14:13:

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.

Deuteronomy 1:21:

Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.’

The ability of man to be blind for the truth is mind-blowing and outright scary. The way you direct your sight is life giving or destructive. It is always your choice, even within the Kingdom. This is life’s challenge – do I react with the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit exalting God as my loving Father or do I react as my own god like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, relying on my own mind and reason to interpret my life?

Beloved of the Father, let the Holy Spirit dwell in you to convict your inner being of the truth, the life and the way to God. Let Him reveal your sin, let His blood cleanse you and buy the eye salve according to the counsel of Revelation 3:18:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

What is your alternative? To be found: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. [Revelation 3:17]

Jesus talks about our eyesight in the strongest terms: Matthew 6:22,23:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Let us lift up our eye and make sure to see the risen Christ.

How wonderful to realize where God’s eye is:

Psalm 32:8:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

2 Chronicles 16:9:

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are blameless toward Him.

Praise God – His eye is on us.

Psalm 139:16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape…

 

Be greatly blessed with anointed eyes and clear insight