Christian, Uncategorized

Reflections on John 12

Earlier this month I challenged the folks at Midway to join me in a journey through the gospel of John by reading five chapters of the book a week.  I did this for several different reasons.  First, I believe that the word of God is powerful and able to change the life of the reader.  Second, I believe that our average church member has not yielded themselves to this life-giving word.  Finally, I believe that people are more willing to engage with the text if they are held accountable by their peers who are also reading it.  That being said, whether you have been traveling with us on this journey from the get-go or you’re just beginning your journey, let me share with you some reflections from one of this week’s chapters.

Chapter 12 marks somewhat of a shift in attention in John’s gospel.  Jesus does the impossible:  he strikes his first blow against that enemy death by calling Lazarus out of his grave.  By doing so Lazarus becomes a walking billboard for the Messiah.  It’s hard to argue with a formerly dead man.  I’d like to draw your attention to another change that has occurred from chapter 11 to chapter 12.  In John 11:1, John introduces Lazarus as “Lazarus of Bethany” but when we arrive at John 12:1, Lazarus receives a new title.  He is identified not as “Lazarus of Bethany” but instead as Lazarus “whom Jesus has raised from the dead”.  Again in verse 9, we read that the crowds came to see Lazarus, “whom (Jesus) had raised from the dead.”  This leads me to my first reflection:

  • When Christ raises an individual from death to life our identity changes.

Lazarus was no longer average “Lazarus of Bethany” instead he was well-known as Lazarus, the one who lives again.  What, then, is our identity in?  Do we find our identity in our jobs? “That’s so-and-so the mechanic.”  Maybe we find our identity in our family.  “That’s whats-her-names son.”  Maybe people know us because of our hobbies.  They know us as a golfer, hunter, camper, or cook.  Yet, we’ve been given a new life that brings a new identity.  We are the born again.  We, like Lazarus, were once dead, but Jesus spoke and now we live.  Our identity must be in Christ.

  • Our new identity should point people to Christ.

Next, because of Lazarus’s new found identity, verse 11 says, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”  Once again, it’s hard to argue with someone who has been brought back to life.  The evidence is clear.  His heart is beating, his blood is pumping; his lungs are operating.  There is no doubt that Lazarus is alive.  This natural draws a crowd.  People are not impressed by someone coming to a new-found intellectual conclusion.  Thank God, that is not biblical conversion!  Biblical conversion is reanimation.   It is a “quickening”.  Christ brings us back from the dead.  The heart of stone that was formally ours is replaced by King Jesus with a heart of flesh that will beat!   Verse 18 says, “The reason why the crowd went to meet (Jesus) was that they heard he had done this sign (raised Lazarus).”  Our transformation should be undeniable.  I pray for a work of God in our church where we see many come out of their graves at the mighty shout of Jesus.  I pray for a work in which all we can say is, “Look what God hath wrought!”

  • Only Jesus can bring this change.

Through the gritted teeth of the Pharisees came the amazing testimony, “Look, the world has gone after him.”  May God grant this again!  No politician can bring this change!  No country can bring this change!  Only Jesus brings this change!  Immediately after this statement John shows us that even the Greeks proclaimed, “We wish to see Jesus.”  If we desire that these statements be made again then we must do one thing:  lift up Jesus.  Jesus says in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Today we must lift up the person and work of Jesus to a dead world.  It is only through death – Christ’s death – that we can live.  Church, point to Jesus!  Lift high the person of Jesus and God will draw all people to him.  Our message has not changed; we must tell every man the sweet words of Jesus, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” – John 12:36

I hope you continue to see and savor Jesus in the book of John.  What a blessing are these words of life!



A Plea for Empathy

Empathy.  Though violence abounds, empathy is scarce.  Though opinions abound, empathy is rarer still.  Yet, in the midst of this firestorm of a world, the church must become a beacon of hope and empathy.  This increasingly amoral cultural will not offer empathy, indeed they cannot.  Empathy has no place in a world dominated by a “survival of the fittest” mentality and those honest with their world view will admit this.  Our churches then must be bulwarks of this precious human characteristic.  Why then is empathy hard to come by even amongst those who claim the cross of Christ?  Allow me ramble.

Empathy is hindered when we are forced to think in an “us versus them” mentality:

Regardless of your recent tragedy (take your pick, we’ve had plenty) men will be tempted to systematize the situations in an “us versus them” frame.  You are either against the men in blue or you are for police brutality.  You are either for homosexuality or for the mass murder of homosexuals.  Our world loves a good false dichotomy.  Yet, this is simply not true.  We can love justice AND seek mercy.  God has created us as intellectual and emotional beings.  We can and we must weep with those who weep without demonizing the supposed “other side”.   We must feel the pain of the families that have lost husbands, fathers, and brothers.  We must seek to understand what it would be like if we were in that situation.  It matters not whether we speak specifically about the tragedy in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, or Orlando our first response must be empathy.  What if it was my brother?  What if suddenly, I would never get to talk and joke with him again?  What if things were left unsaid that should have been said?  What if we were the children that just wanted to curl up with our fathers one more time and feel breathe and life?  What if we realized that regardless of lifestyle, occupation, or skin color we were all made in the image of God?  We cannot empathize if we have previously de-humanized.  We must see the precious Image of God in every living being.  It is not a quality that can be earned or taken away.  Therefore, it is a grievous thing when an Image Bearer loses his or her life.  Brothers, it is not time to “tell it like it is”, it is time to weep and pray.

Empathy is hindered when our thoughts are influenced by inferior sources:

Regardless of how much we assert that we are “independent thinkers” our thoughts are always influenced by something.  We all have hidden presuppositions that are difficult and near impossible to divorce ourselves from.  Therefore, when we frame the recent tragedies in terms of “conservative” and “liberal” we are allowing our minds to be influenced by inferior sources.  The only source that can sustain a consistent and effective worldview is the word of God.  We must be more Christian than we are partisan.   We must feel the weight of human suffering so that we can truly proclaim, “I know a better way!  There is one whose burden is light!”  Yet, many of us will seek instead to line our viewpoints up with which ever national analyst or political pundit that we like the best.  Instead, we must put our faces into the word of God and pour our hearts out in prayer.  May our hearts be sympathetic.

Finally, the source of empathy is the heart of God:

Recently I read Martin Hegel’s fascinating book on the historicity of crucifixion.  He concludes this:

“The earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the ‘solidarity’ of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”

Crucifixion was reserved for the most hardened criminals.  For insurrectionist, murderers, and slaves.  Though it was common in the early centuries, it was not polite to even mention it in casual conversation.  Yet, Christ came to be crucified.  It was his predetermined form of execution.  He came to be marked among the criminals.  God in his incarnation sought to empathize with the very heart of human suffering.  For the stain of sin has reached its filthy hands to our throats and snatched the very life from us.  But the Master, the ever wise and perfect Master, came in the form of a slave, even taking the death of the cross, in order to restore life to us.  He came not for the self-righteous.  He came for the low.  Therefore, we must be made low in order to enter his kingdom.  Woe to us, if we proclaim the name of Christ, but we do not stoop to help those who are hurting.  Woe to us if we do not practice empathy.

“Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us.

for we have had more than enough contempt.” – Psalm 123:3