Sunday, 1 March 2020

Kingdom Signs II - John 11

We started this series looking at Kingdom signs. Today we look at the seventh (final) sign - the culmination in a progression that leads to Jesus raising a person from their grave. Note the next phase of the gospel (chapter 12 onwards) has Jesus going up to Jerusalem for one final time, leading eventually to his death. The signs attest to who he is, but these are not recognised by the leaders of the time.

The story starts simply enough: Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus because their brother Lazarus is not well. Yet Jesus gives a weird response: 'This illness will not end in death, it is for God's glory'. Its hard for us to understand, but the harsh or tragic circumstances might just be the place of God's working and glory. The next weird thing is that Jesus stays for two days - why not go straight away? Again it is hard for us, but Jesus works in his own time, not ours.

On the journey they have this almost comical dialogue. Jesus talks of Lazarus being asleep, which the disciples take literally. Jesus has to spell it out - but naturally the disciples understanding is limited so who can blame them. As they approach Martha runs out to meet him. Note the level of faith that she already has: 'its too late, my brother is dead, but I know even now God will give you whatever you ask'. That is faith: being fully aware of the reality of the situation and yet still looking to Jesus for what He might do.

Jesus says 'Your brother will rise again'. Martha of course thinks he is talking about eventual end times resurrection - again that is all she knew. To this Jesus replies: 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live despite death'. He asks directly: 'Do you believe this?'. This is Jesus stretching her faith - working with what she already has and expanding it. The question for us is:

Key Qn: [UP] Are you willing for Jesus to stretch your faith? 

Martha replies: 'You are the Messiah, the Son of God sent to us'. That is the starting point any of us needs: if we recognise and have faith for that, then Jesus can stretch our faith from there!

Jesus' declaration: 'I am the resurrection and the life' goes hand in hand with the signs. They attest that he is the Messiah, that he has mastery over everything including life and death: it is all in his hands. Again it is extraordinary that from this declaration he goes up to Jerusalem, where his life will be taken from him. Yet already he is hinting that despite this, death is not the end.

Eventually they come to the tomb and Jesus orders the stone to be removed. Martha now says the obvious: 'but there will be a smell!'. Here we have the tension between practical reality and the faith command of Jesus. Martha, for all her faith development, is still caught in the physical circumstances. This seems natural to me - any of us could find ourselves saying the same. Jesus doesn't chastise her for it, but remarks that it is about belief and seeing God's glory. In other words keep looking to Jesus who has the power over life and death, not to the physical circumstances - look to Jesus and see God's glory.<

We can summarise all that is happening here like this:
  • In general terms we look to Jesus expectantly in the midst of the physical situation
  • In specific cases we follow the actual instructions we hear God give
They are to follow the instructions (remove the stone) no matter how counter-intuitive they seem. They do so which allows Jesus to call Lazarus out ... and out he comes, alive!
If we too believe that Jesus is 'the resurrection and the life', then let us up our game with the challenge:

Challenge: Offer prayer with the words 'Jesus has the power to change things'

We want to see Kingdom Life across the city. Jesus who is the resurrection and the life intervening in lives. Myself with some of the community ministers in the church who can make it now meet approx fortnightly for a short focussed prayer time. One of the underlying prayers is for empowerment for our various ministries - to see Kingdom ministry unfold.

There are modern day examples of God restoring life. Whether it is the rescue of an abandoned baby who is fostered and grows to be educated and top of her class, or the literal raising of a dead person from their hospital bed - Jesus is restoring life today, here and now. It happens figuratively in general terms, and in some specific cases where people find themselves empowered to pray for the miraculous.

We don't chase miracles per se. Instead we put our trust in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. We learn to trust and be expectant across all we do in general terms. And in doing that let us also be open - with open ears and eyes - for Jesus (at His choosing) to do further Kingdom Sign among us, even the incredible that enables new life.

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