The Smell

In the interval between the obedience and the seeing

“Take away the stone,” [Jesus] said. “But, LORD,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:39-40

Every time I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead I think about the same thing. The smell. Martha warns Jesus that there will be a bad odor of death if they take away the stone. But, Jesus commands them to remove the stone anyway – I always imagine them moving the stone and backing quickly away, covering their faces. And then, as they are standing there trying not to breathe too much — Jesus prays for a while.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

So, there was this interval between their obedience in taking away the stone and actually seeing Lazarus walk out. They must have stood there gaging on the strong odor after four days in the heat as Jesus prayed. Did Jesus do this on purpose? Jesus says he prayed “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you [the Father] sent me.” Did Jesus let them wait in the smell of death for their benefit?  I think so.

Remember when he told the disciples that Lazarus was dead he said, “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He wanted there to be absolutely no doubt as to it being a miracle, and that nobody but God could have done it. Like a man seeing who was blind from birth. Like an old woman giving birth to a son. Like Elijah pouring water on the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:30-33) until it filled the trench.

I grieve that many of us are there in the interval between obedience and answered prayer. And it smells like death and it looks like death and we are trying not to give in to despair. Then, all of a sudden I realize something gaspingly wonderful. What were they waiting for standing outside the tomb? What are we waiting for now? We are waiting for Jesus to pray. It says Jesus prayed. Jesus is always interceding on our behalf. He has not forgotten us, he has not given us up to hopelessness, death and despair. He is praying for us. That gives me hope for which I can joyfully wait.

Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me (in the past tense)” even before he called Lazarus out. Even in the midst of the hopeless smell of death, in the interval between the obedience and the seeing, Jesus thanked God for hearing and answering. Then he called the dead man out. They all must have breathed deeply about the same time as Lazarus did.

I have been there a lot, standing in the smell of death, waiting for God. Waiting for the tears to turn to joy. I am there now holding my breath. Like the world held its breath in the darkness before the Resurrection. And time stretches long when you are trying not to breathe. But I know that Jesus is praying for me, and in this dark time he is working life in me and in you. And I believe that God keeps his promises. I believe that God’s Word is true. I believe that Lazarus will walk out.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NASB)

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. John 11:41

Image in the Public Domain, Detail from The Raising of Lazarus illumination on parchment, c. 1504

 

My Impossibles List

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer.

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

Impossible = Greek adunatos: without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible

Possible = Greek dunatos: able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible

I’ve started keeping an impossibles list. All the impossible things I’ve been praying for. The unable to be done, not possible things. So much of what I am praying for seems impossible. Sometimes the impossible thing is to just get through the day; sometimes it is the healing of a brokenhearted nation. We all have that same struggle right now, to keep from sinking into hopelessness and despair at the impossibilities.

But recently, God has been showing me – no that is too wimpy of a word – he has been blazing this light of truth into my darkness, that he, and he alone, is the one who can do the impossible things. All the stuff with what is going on in the world and our own problems – our kids and financial problems and job problems and health concerns. All our impossible things. The things that wake us up weeping and gasping in the middle of the night. If fixing these things are just up to me and you they are without strength, impotent, powerless, weak, disabled, unable to be done, impossible. Not possible.

But all things are possible with God. That’s what Jesus impossibly proclaimed. So, I have been making a list of all my impossibles. And then, like Hezekiah I take it and spread it out before the Lord.

Hezekiah was the king of Israel when King Sennacherib of Assyria came to lay siege to Jerusalem. His armies had already roared through Judah, capturing the fortified cities. And now they were surrounding Jerusalem and mocking Hezekiah’s God (Isaiah 36), sending letters full of sneering impossibilities.

Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Isaiah 37:11

But Hezekiah took those impossibilities to the Temple and spread them out before God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.  And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” Isaiah 37:14-16

It seems the whole world has an impossibles list right now. And, I don’t know about you, but my list just keeps getting longer. And this impossible army surrounds me and mocks my God, either in anguish or arrogance. Even in writing this it besieges my mind and heart with black-hole doubt and ancient fear. But I am spreading my list out before the One who is able, powerful, capable, mighty, strong, possible. The One enthroned between the cherubim, the One who alone is God. And I’m saying, “OK, God here are some more impossible things for you. I am giving them over to you. For, nothing is impossible for you.”

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard (too difficult, too high, beyond one’s power, extraordinary, wondrous, marvelous) for me? Jeremiah 32:27

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23-24

Photograph copyright 2018 by Derek Bair

Therefore

The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)

At Christmas time we see this verse a lot on memes and Christmas cards and in sermons. But today the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Israel is under attack by two kings, and Isaiah is instructed by God to go to King Ahaz with a message. So, Isaiah tells Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, to “‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’” (Isaiah 7:4). He assures Ahaz that what these two kings have in mind for Israel will not happen. And then, Isaiah gives Ahaz a blank check to ask anything he wants as a sign that God is telling the truth:

“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz refuses.

I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (7:11-12)

I will not – Ahaz continues his rebellion against the will of God. And then he puts on a fake and hypocritical religious posture in order to cover his fear and lack of faith in God, and to make himself look good – I don’t want to put the Lord to the test. After all, he could have added, isn’t that what the law commands? “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

The word translated “test” in both these verses is the Hebrew word nasah (נָסָה), which means “to put to the proof or test.” In the wilderness God was asking them to trust Him to take care of them, but they refused to trust and demanded that He prove it. Here in Isaiah, God wants Ahaz to put Him to the test. This verse reminds me of Psalm 34:8 (NIV).

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

But Ahaz does not want to taste, he refuses. God is offering Ahaz the world, anything at all, but Ahaz does not want to know the goodness, the power, the authority of this God. He doesn’t want to have his eyes opened to “see.” He wants to stick with his own ideas, his own feeble religion.

Doesn’t this kind of describe the whole human race from the beginning? Rebellion, fear, mistrust, unbelief, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, willful blindness. And yet, what is God’s response to all of this? Yes, Isaiah is more than a little irritated at Ahaz, exclaiming, “Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” But what does God say?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

What is God’s response? Mercy, redemption. God says, you don’t want to know me, you don’t want to see, you refuse all the good I long to give you, but I’m going to give it to you anyway! I will give you the deepest depths and the highest heights, I will give you Wonderful, I will give you Truth! I will give you Life! I will give you the Way out of your mess, the way back. I will give you all my love, all my goodness, all my power and authority! I will give you Myself. Me with you and you with Me – always!

Therefore, let us – all us rebels – take God up on his offer. Let’s put God to the test. Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s open our eyes and see and receive how much he loves us. Here is the sign. Here is the miracle. Here is the Gift.

Immanuel!

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

 

Image, photograph taken by ESA/Hubble Telescope, NASA

 

I Am the Good News

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish?

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)

This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.

As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.

I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).

So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)

Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).  Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)

 

Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/

“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”

 

[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.

 

As If I’d Never Seen a Miracle

I myself will tend my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NLT)

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10 (NIV)

This Advent time begins the celebration of Jesus coming to earth as Savior. I go to church and sing the inspired Christmas songs heartily. Yet, I go home and, as Susan Guthrie says, “I tend to live as if I’d never seen a miracle.[i]” I waver with unbelief, doubt, fears, depression, hopelessness. I struggle and kick against the Shepherd’s arms.

I tend to live as if he had never sought me out, chased me down in my lostness, carried me home again, bound up my broken places, strengthen my weak places – and still is. As if he had never come and died for me and saved me.

But he has done it – done it all! Whatever else is happening in my life, he has saved me – in all that the word encompasses – is saving me, will save me to the end. He was born for this. He came for this. That is the miracle I need to continually see. Actually, that I am a miracle too by his amazing grace.

Help me keep my eyes on Jesus. Let me live always, sovereign, mighty, compassionate God, as if I have seen the coming of your Son, his living as an offering poured out, his dying as the holy Lamb of God, sacrifice for my sins; as if I’ve seen his resurrection and known it giving me new life. As if I’ve seen a miracle.

He has come for us, This Jesus

He’s the hope for all Mankind

He has come for us, The Messiah

Born to give us life  [ii]

https://youtu.be/twQ631luCd4

 

[i] Praying the Hours, by Suzanne Guthrie. Cowley Publications, 2000 (p. 99).

[ii] He Has Come for Us, by Meredith Andrews