Self-Inflicted Suffering

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:15-19 ESV

As a student of human nature, Peter felt the need to address the topic of self-inflicted suffering. He knew from his own experience that not all suffering was for righteousness’ sake. His three-part denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest had resulted in a period of prolonged emotional suffering. The shame and humiliation he bore for having denied the one very whom he had confessed to being the Messiah had left him devastated and demoralized. And he did not want his brothers and sisters in Christ to confuse suffering for the sake of sin with suffering for the sake of righteousness. That’s why he told them:

…remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” – 1 Peter 1:17 NLT

The whole point of Peter’s letter was to encourage godly living among those who were privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God. He had been very clear regarding his expectation of their behavior.

God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

To do good was to emulate the character of Christ Himself. It was to live as Christ lived. And that kind of selfless, obedient, and righteous lifestyle would result in suffering. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. Those who followed Christ would experience the same resistance and rejection that He did. Their attempts to spread the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrate its power through their own reconciled lives would be met with hatred and hostility. But Peter reminded them, “if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2L20 NLT).

Suffering was inevitable. But Peter wanted his readers to know that there were two different causes for suffering and they were not to be confused. Living for Christ was a sure-fire way to experience suffering. The world hated Him and it would hate His own. But Peter reminded the recipients of his letter “if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). Righteous suffering in this life would be graciously rewarded in the next one.

But every minute of every day, believers are faced with the constant decision to choose right or wrong. They must decide whether they will live in the flesh or according to the power of the Holy Spirit. They can choose to live in obedience to God and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the world, or they can choose to compromise their convictions and live according to their old sinful nature. But that decision will also result in suffering.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! – 1 Peter 3:17 NLT

Sinful decisions always produce sinful consequences. But when believers choose to live in disobedience to God’s will, their choices result in God’s loving discipline.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

After quoting from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the author of Hebrews went on to explain, “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all” (Hebrews 12:8 NLT). The loving discipline of God can be painful but it is a reminder of His love. Yet Peter would prefer that his believing friends avoid that kind of painful discipline by staying away from such things as “murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT).

It is not clear why Peter chose to list these four particular sins. But each of them reflects a decision to do harm to another individual. They are inherently selfish sins that show no care or concern for the other person. Peter seems to be describing four different ways of life: That of a murderer, a thief, a troublemaker, or a meddler. These four ungodly pursuits stand in stark contrast to the life of a Christian. Those who practice such behavior deserver to suffer and bring shame upon themselves – even among the unbelieving world. “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16 NLT). A murderer will not only suffer the penalty for his crime but he will have to endure the added pain of public shame. He will get what he deserves.

But while a Christian might suffer for doing what is good, he will have no reason to be ashamed. He can hold his head high because he is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is following in the footsteps of Jesus.

One of the things Peter wants his readers to understand is that their suffering is relegated to this life. As long as they live in this world, they will be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT), and they will experience the unpleasant reality of living as strangers in a strange land. But their eternal future will be suffering-free. Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Corinth.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Rome the very same thing.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

And Jesus told His disciples, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). For the believer, the future holds no judgment or suffering. Yet, for all those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, the future is one of judgment and eternal suffering. That is why Peter states, “what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT).

Peter understood the reality of God’s coming judgment against sinful mankind. He alluded to the fact that we live in a time of judgment. As Jesus stated, mankind lives under the righteous wrath of God and already stands judged and condemned by Him. Their only hope is to be found in Jesus. But rather than turning to Him in faith, they were turning their hatred of Him on His followers. It was just as Jesus had said it would be.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:19 NLT

The world is “judging” God’s people. That is what Peter means when he writes, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). The sinful are judging the righteous. But the day is coming when the Righteous One will judge the sinful. All those who have refused to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus will face the Great White Throne Judgment and an eternity marked by suffering and pain.

Peter paraphrases Psalm 11:31 in an attempt to illustrate the difficulty with which the believer must navigate from this life to the next. It will not be easy. We are “barely saved” in the sense that our future glorification is preceded by suffering and pain in this life. Again, Peter’s emphasis is on present suffering and future glorification. This is exactly what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:14 ESV

Peter is unsparing in his disclosure that this life will not be easy for the follower of Christ. It will be marked by pain and suffering. But we are to remember that all our suffering takes place this side of glory. For us, eternity is suffering and judgment-free.

“He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 BSB

So, that is why Peter was able to provide his readers with the following words of encouragement.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT

You can suffer now or you can suffer later. For the believer, the choice is a simple one. It makes much more sense to suffer the momentary light afflictions of this life, knowing that there will be no more pain, suffering, or judgment in the life to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

I Once Was Lost…

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke 17:14 ESV

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

That You May Believe

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it 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.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “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. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:1-16 ESV

Chapter 11 marks a major point of transition in John’s gospel account. Jesus has left Jerusalem and returned to the area near the Jordan where His ministry began. His face-to-face confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders have come to an end, but not their quest to see Him put to death. And with the opening lines of chapter 11, it is clear that death, including His own, will become the primary theme of the second half of the book.

Jesus has already broached the topic of death before, insisting that He was the key to victory over death and the source of eternal life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” – John 8:54 ESV

Back in chapter four, John records the occasion when Jesus healed the official’s son who had been “at the point of death” (John 4:47 ESV). The young man had been restored to health – in an instant and from a distance. Whatever his illness had been, it had come close to taking the young man’s life. But at the father’s impassioned plea for help, Jesus had interceded and provided an instantaneous and full recovery. That story is important to consider when reading the details of all that takes place in chapter 11.

John records that Jesus received a report that His good friend, Lazarus, was sick. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent word to Jesus informing them of their brother’s illness. Unlike the official from Capernaum, Mary and Martha make no mention of the severity of their brother’s condition. Their message to Jesus, while urgent, does not suggest that their brother is near death. Even Jesus seems unconcerned, suggesting that Lazarus’ condition is not life-threatening.

“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.” – John 11:4 ESV

But there is far more to this statement than the disciples of Jesus understood. Perhaps they recognized something familiar in Jesus’ words. On an earlier occasion while still in Jerusalem, they had come across a blind man and had asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). And Jesus had responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

Here we have Jesus making a similar statement regarding the illness of Lazarus. Once again, He seems to be indicating that there is a sovereign plan unfolding right before their eyes. A divinely ordained encounter was about to take place that would reveal the glory of the Son of God like never before. While giving the gift of sight to the beggar who had been born blind was proof that Jesus was doing the works of His Father, something even more glorious was about to take place.

The next verses create a rather strange image of Jesus. John reveals that Jesus had a great love for Lazarus and his two sisters. And yet, rather than drop everything and head to their home in Bethany, Jesus chose to delay His departure for two days. This was clearly a conscious decision on Jesus’ part – a premeditated plan designed to  allow the events to unfold “so that the Son may be glorified.”

After the two-day delay, Jesus informed His disciples that it was time to go. But they resist, questioning the wisdom of making the trip to Bethany, which was just two miles east of Jerusalem. With respect and a bit of poorly veiled incredulity, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (John 11:8 ESV). Jesus’ decision to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem so soon after His less-than-pleasant run-in with the religious leaders made no sense to them. It was risky at best and potentially deadly at worst.

But Jesus, in His inimitable way, answered their question with a cryptic response that had to have left them staring at one another in confusion.

“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.” – John 11:9-10 ESV

Jesus’ disciples were clearly concerned for His safety. They knew that Jewish religious leaders were out to kill Him, and they were simply trying to protect Him. But Jesus was indicating that as long as He was acting in accordance with His Father’s will (walking in the light of the day), He was perfectly safe. And as long as they remained in step with Him, they would not stumble.

Jesus’ words are in keeping with what He said concerning the man who had been blind since birth.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 ESV

He had repeatedly told His disciples that He was the light of the world and that as long as they walked with Him, they would be safe.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Jesus knew that their fear of the religious leaders was justifiable. But He also knew that His fate was securely in the hands of His Heavenly Father. The time was quickly coming when the light of the world would be extinguished but until then, He had work to do. And the illness of Lazarus was part of God’s divine plan that would jump-start the final days of Jesus’ ministry and life.

The disciples were works in process. Their understanding of Jesus was incomplete and not always accurate. In their hearts, they truly believed Him to be the Messiah, but their comprehension of what that meant was clouded by their preconceived and somewhat selfish preconceptions. They were expecting Jesus to be a conquering hero, a warrior-king like David had been, who would deliver the nation of Israel from the oppression of Rome and restore God’s people to power and prominence. But Jesus was slowly exposing their misconceptions and preparing them to embrace the true purpose behind His mission and their calling.

Jesus, knowing exactly how His disciples would understand His words, informed them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV). And they didn’t disappoint Him. They responded, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover” (John 11:12 ESV). In their minds, there was no longer any reason to risk a trip to Bethany. If Lazarus was sleeping soundly, that was good sign that he was on his way to a full recovery. But, as usual, Jesus was saying far more than they realized, and John points out the gap between Jesus’ meaning and the disciples’ understanding.

Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. – John 11:13 ESV

But Jesus, refusing to leave them in the dark, explained exactly what He meant.

“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” – John 11:14-15 ESV

It is so easy to read this statement and miss the impact it must have had on Jesus’ disciples. We know how the story ends, but they did not. In their minds, Jesus’ words must have sounded callous and confusing. How in the world could He be expressing joy at the news that His friend has died? Now, rather than going to Bethany to witness the healing of a sick man, they would be attending a funeral. And one that could have easily been prevented.

But Jesus informs them that there was a purpose behind His delay and Lazarus’ death: Their belief. Jesus was preparing them for what was to come. This entire scenario was intended as a precursor for an even more significant event that would soon be taking place. What they were about to witness would establish Jesus as the Son of God in a way that would have been unimaginable and impossible.

Yet, after informing the disciples that Lazarus had died, Jesus told them, “let us go to him” (John 11:15 ESV). And Thomas, aiming his words at his fellow disciples, responded with what appears to be pessimism and sarcasm: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16 ESV). There are those who believe Thomas was expressing his expectation that Jesus was headed to His own death at the hands of the religious leaders, and was declaring his willingness to die alongside Him. But it seems much more likely that Thomas was expressing his belief that, if they followed Jesus’ plan, they would all end up dead, just like Lazarus. In other words, in Thomas’ mind, this trip was a suicide mission. But his fears were unjustified because the light of the world was still shining, and as long as they walked in the light, they would remain safe and be witnesses to the glory of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson