Lent Readings: The Story of Jesus, Day 36

During this time Jesus got word that His friend Lazarus was seriously ill. Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? Mary was one who had anointed the Lord’s feet with fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair. Jesus had a very special love for them and often stayed at their home in Bethany.

So when the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick,” Jesus told His disciples, “It’s alright, this sickness won’t result in death. Rather it will provide a good opportunity for God to express His power through Me.” That’s why, in spite of how dearly He loved them, He chose to wait two more days before heading to Bethany.

“We’ve got to go back to Judea again,” Jesus said.

His disciples were very troubled and asked, “Rabbi, is that a good idea? Aren’t the Jews looking for You to stone You? Are You sure You should go back now?”

Jesus explained to them that His work was not finished and that Something inside Him (the “light of the world”) was compelling Him to go in spite of any dangers. If He let Himself be controlled by what might happen, He’d just be stumbling around going nowhere.

He told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep and I need to go wake him up.” That made no sense to the disciples who understood that a good sleep was necessary for someone to get better. Jesus, of course, was referring to Lazarus’ death, but the disciples didn’t know that.  Jesus explained, “Lazarus is dead. For your sakes, I’m glad I didn’t go there sooner. Come now, let’s get going.”

Thomas, not too thrilled with the risk they were taking, said to his companions, “Let’s go; we might as well all die together.”

Upon arriving in Bethany, they discovered that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Martha and Mary had many friends, some from Jerusalem (about two miles west), who were there comforting them in their loss. When they got word that Jesus was near, Martha left the house and ran to where He was. “Lord,” she burst out, “if only You had come sooner, my brother wouldn’t have died. But I trust You; I know that God listens to You and gives You whatever You ask for.”

Jesus comforted her, saying, “Your brother will rise again.”

“Yes,” Martha agreed, “in the great day of resurrection, I know.”

But Jesus responded, saying, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, will surely live. In fact, whoever lives and believes in Me won’t ever die. Do you believe this?”

Martha, choking back tears, said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who came into the world.” After saying this, she hurried back to where Mary was and said, “The Teacher is here and He’s asking for you.” So Mary hurried out to where Jesus had met Martha. When the crowd saw her leave, they followed her assuming that she was going to the grave to mourn there.

Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and repeated what her sister had expressed earlier, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

When Jesus saw all of them overwhelmed with sorrow, He groaned deep in His spirit and was troubled. “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked, weeping. They offered to take him to Lazarus’ tomb. Along the way the mourners noted Jesus’ tears and said to one another, “He must have really loved Lazarus!” Others remarked, “Yes, but if He could open blind eyes, shouldn’t He have been able to prevent this death?”

Jesus’ spirit was still groaning deep within Himself as they arrived at the tomb. He ordered them to take the large stone away from the entrance to the cave. Martha recoiled at this, saying, “But, Master, he’s been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus simply said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you trust Me you would see God’s power at work in a glorious display?”

At His command they took the stone away. Jesus lifted up His eyes toward heaven and said, “Father, thank You for hearing My request. You always listen to Me, but I long for these standing here to know and believe that You sent Me to them.”

Then Jesus looked toward the tomb and in a loud voice shouted, “Lazarus, come out of there!” Moments later Lazarus shuffled out of the cave with the grave-wrapping wound around him from head to foot. “You’d better untie him,” Jesus said.

Needless to say, this was enough to convince many of the Jews to acknowledge Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. But there were some who rushed off to Jerusalem to alert the Pharisees about Jesus’ latest exploit.

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The Pharisees were beside themselves. They called a council to discuss their dilemna. “What can we do?” they pondered. “If we let Him keep working these miraculous signs, everyone will believe in Him. Then the Romans will surely come and wipe out everything we’ve got left.”

One of them, Caiaphas, who had the honor of being high priest that year, said, “Can’t you all see now that it’s either Him or us? Getting rid of Him is the only way to save all the people.” (What Caiaphas didn’t realize is that, as High Priest, God had caused him to prophesy that Jesus would die for the nation and, in fact, for all people.)

With this, they determined to find a way to kill Jesus.  Having to avoid public places, Jesus took His disciples out to the remote areas of Ephraim north of the city.

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As they passed through one of the villages, a group of ten lepers, keeping their distance from the rest, called out, “Jesus, Master, won’t You have mercy on us?”

Jesus looked in their direction and simply told them to go show themselves to the priests. This was the requirement in the Law of Moses for any who claimed to be cleansed of leprosy. Trusting Jesus’ word, they began to make their way toward the Temple.  Every one of them got healed.

A while later one of them, the only Samaritan in the group, came back, found Jesus, and fell at His feet overwhelmed with thankfulness. Jesus asked, “Where are the others? Weren’t there ten that got healed? How is it that you, a foreigner, were the only one who came back to thank God for the miracle? My blessings on you, friend,” Jesus said. “Your obedient trust has made you well.”

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Now the Pharisees, who were forever saying that one day the Kingdom of God would come and deliver them from all their troubles, asked Jesus when He thought that might happen. He answered them by explaining many things about the Kingdom.

“You are looking for a physical event, but you need to know that the Kingdom of God is not external but internal. It is something that takes place inside you.”

He directed further insights to His disciples, “There’s a time coming when you will wish I was with you like I am right now. And you will hear rumors that I’ve returned to this place or that place, but don’t believe it. You’ll know it when I return; it will be as obvious as lightning that lights up the sky from one end to the other. However, before any of that, I must endure excruciating pain and be rejected by this generation.

“When I return, it will be as sudden and unexpected as the flood in Noah’s day. The people went about their lives as if this life were all there was, right up to the day Noah entered the ark. And just like that, the flood destroyed them all.

“Or like the residents of Sodom: everyone was going about their routines. Who would have believed that, in a matter of moments after Lot left the city, fire and burning sulfur would fall from heaven and consume them all?

“That’s how it will be when the Son of Man is revealed. Everyone will be going about business as usual. But I’m warning you not to be part of that crowd, not to so love this life that you lose everything. Be ready to run and don’t look back.  Remember what happened to Lot’s wife.

“This will happen so suddenly that two will be working side-by-side or sleeping in the same bed and one will be lost while the other, rescued.”

The disciples, intrigued by these predictions, asked Jesus where this was going to take place. Jesus answered with a cryptic analogy, saying, “You know where the carcass is because you can see the vultures circling.”

As grim as this scenario was, Jesus, not wanting His disciples to lose heart or give up praying, He shared this story: “In a certain city lived a judge who was not particularly respectable. Once, a widow approached his court with a desperate appeal, saying, ‘Please protect me from this predator who is harassing me.’

“The judge couldn’t care less about the woman’s plight, so for the longest time he did nothing. She kept coming back until finally he said to himself, ‘I wish she’d leave me alone. The only way I’m going to be relieved of her nagging is if I take care of the problem’ which he did.”

Jesus said, “Do you see what it took to get that judge to take action? If he, being selfish and ungodly, was finally willing, how much more do you think God is ready to avenge His dear children who are crying out to Him day and night for deliverance? Yes, it may seem to be taking a while, but He will avenge and it will be sudden. But,” Jesus went on to say, “when I return, will I find that kind of persistent faith?”

Knowing that some who were listening to Him felt superior in their status before God and looked down on the rest, Jesus told this story: “One day two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a tax-collector; the other, a Pharisee. The Pharisee stood in a prominent place and lifted his voice, saying, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like these wicked people around me — thieves, adulterers, and that tax-collector over there. I hasten to remind Thee that I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all my possessions.’

“Meanwhile, the tax-collector, off in a corner and ashamed to lift his face toward heaven, kept beating his chest in remorse, saying, ‘God, have mercy on me. I am such a sinner.’

“I want you to know,” Jesus explained, “that it was this tax-collector who went home at peace with God and not the Pharisee. God lifts up those who are humble, but He humbles all who exalt themselves in His presence.”