Jesus and His disciples made their way towards Jerusalem from the region of Perea. Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Him. The religious leaders were plotting to have Him killed, but the Lord was responding to the will of His Father, and so He set His face like a flint to the City of David (check out Isaiah 50).
Meanwhile, in the town of Bethany, about two miles away from Jerusalem, a man had become very ill. His name was Lazarus, and he was a good friend of Jesus. Lazarus’ two sisters lived with him, and they loved the Lord as well. We have met them before. Their names were Mary and Martha (see Story 122).
Lazarus’ illness grew more and more serious, and finally, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus. “‘Lord, He whom You love is ill.’” When Jesus heard the news, He understood more than what the messenger told Him. The women and the messenger could only see things from a human’s point of view. Jesus listened through the power of the Spirit, and He understood God’s will perfectly. He said, “‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”
It is interesting what the author, the Apostle John, wrote next. He said that Jesus greatly loved Martha and Mary and their brother, so He stayed away from them for two more days. Instead of going to His sick friend immediately, He stayed out by the Jordan River. Doesn’t that seem strange? If He loved them, why didn’t He rush to their home as soon as possible? Why didn’t He heal Lazarus right then and there so that he wouldn’t have to suffer? He had healed others, like the centurion’s servant, from far away.
But Jesus didn’t choose to do any of these things. Instead, it says that because He loved them, He stayed away. Why?
After two days, Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea. They were finally going to visit their sick friend. The only trouble was, that meant they were heading back towards Jerusalem. All of his enemies were there, ready to kill Him! It was very, very dangerous.
Hadn’t Jesus stayed away to avoid the danger? And if so, why go now?
His disciples said, “‘Rabbi, the Jews are just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?’” It must have seemed crazy! They would all be risking their lives if they went with Him. Imagine how terrifying that would be. What would you do?
Jesus said, “‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”
Jesus often used light to describe Himself. If the disciples trusted Him, that also meant they had His light. They could go wherever He went and know that they would not stumble. The religious leaders were living apart from Jesus, and so they were like those who stumble around in the dark. In other words, the Lord and His disciples had nothing to fear from them. The only thing they needed to worry about was obeying God. God wanted them to go to see Lazarus in Judea! So Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’”
For you see, the Lord knew that Lazarus had already died. God had prepared a great miracle for Jesus to perform. He was going to raise Lazarus to life. The Lord Jesus already knew exactly what the Father had planned, and He was totally confident that God would do it through Him. But His disciples didn’t understand at all. They couldn’t imagine that Lazarus was already gone. Even after seeing all the miracles, it didn’t cross their minds. “‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, then he will recover.’” So Jesus told them plainly, “‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”
Why did Jesus say He was glad He wasn’t there? Well, if He had been there, He would have healed Lazarus before he died, and then the miracle wouldn’t have been so clear and obvious. He wanted His friends to see the greatness of His power so they would believe in Him. They could not only be free from fear of the power of their religious leaders…they could be free from the power of death.
It wasn’t as if His disciples had no belief in Jesus at all. They were already willing to risk their lives for Him! When they first started walking with Him, they had no way of knowing how famous He would become and the breathtaking miracles He would perfrom. They also didn’t know that the religious leaders would turn on Him, and that following Him would mean becoming their enemies as well. They already believed…but had room to grow deeper still. True belief is something that keeps growing deeper and more certain over time. In God’s discipleship of those who follow Him, He crafts situations and circumstances in life that grow their faith.
As Thomas listened to Jesus, he still didn’t understand. He knew that heading back to Jerusalem was dangerous. He also knew that he was willing to risk his life for the Lord. So he declared to his fellow disciples, “‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him!’”
Wow. The disciples were convinced that going back meant certain death! Yet they all agreed to go with Jesus anyway. They still didn’t have faith to believe Him when He said he was in control of time and life. They didn’t believe Him when He said there was nothing to worry about. But they believed in Him enough to offer up their lives for Him.
Imagine if you were living in that moment with Jesus. Here He stood, your beloved Teacher…the perfect One who spoke words of such beautiful truth that you were willing to cast everything aside for the sake of His calling. Imagine knowing that there were powerful people who wanted to destroy Him and His message. Imagine having to decide if you were going to let Him go down among those wolves alone…or if you were going to go there with Him and take a stand, right beside Him.
When the time came, would the disciples really be able to do it? Would their courage stand or fall?
There are people all over the world this very minute who are having to make that decision. They are being persecuted for their faith, losing their jobs, homes, family, and sometimes, even their own lives for the sake of their devotion to the Lord Jesus.
If you are one of them, please know that your brothers and sisters stand with you and pray for you.
If you would like to know more about how to pray for the persecuted Church, you can go to Voice of the Martyrs to get your start.
All of us have ways that we can decide if we are going to stand with Jesus or with the world that hates Him. We take a stand every day by the way we treat others, whether we choose to soak our minds in His Word or in the things of this world that act like a toxin to our souls, in how we spend our finances, in how we choose to spend our time…the Spirit of the Lord wants to draw us into deeper, richer, ever-growing depths of Christlikeness. This surrender is the way we are meant to stand with Him…it is the simple surrender of faith in every aspect of our lives. Do we want to be like the religious leaders that attacked Him? Or the people that stood by and watched? Or like Thomas who chose in that moment to stand with his Lord regardless of the cost? The choice we make about this is the most important choice we make each day: Will use our time for Jesus…to be with Jesus..in His eternity, constant goodness and presence with us? Or will we spread our focus out all around, on broken and deceptive things, and choose that which is untrue, unlovely, or meaningless…the Kingdom of Darkness?