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What is really going on when we experience trials? What do we usually assume about God's nature and His plans for us when they happen? What are we to make of a Messiah who would withhold His healing touch and let His dear friend Lazarus die? The fact that closeness to God doesn't always guarantee distance from trouble is just one of the applications we can draw from this familiar text on loss, confusion and God's sovereignty.
No Mean Love
The Sovereignty of God in the Sabotage of Judas
When Jesus Took Up the Towel and Loved us to the Uttermost
Israel and You: A Good Example or a Horrible Warning
For This Purpose He Came: Unveiling God's Glory in His Humiliation
John: Where We've Been and Our Intention Moving Forward
A Perfect Message if you "Wish to see Jesus"
King Jesus: Why the Leaders Missed Him, Why You Must Not
Albert: A Living Picture of Lazarus a Man Once Dead
Lazarus: A Dead Man Who Becomes a Picture of Life
The Pivot Point That Is Personal Belief and The Rightness of Radical Response
What Should and Shouldn't Matter To You
Jesus versus the Ultimate Predator
The Reason for Everything and How We are to Respond to It
The Identity of the Good Shepherd and the Attributes of His Sheep
The Good Shepherd: What He is Doing, Why He is Doing It, and How it's Going to Get Done
A Blind Man You'd Better See Yourself In
Sons, Slaves and Freedom Indeed
We are at the crescendo, really, before you get to the crescendo's crescendo in the gospel of John, this section when we're telling this story about who this Jesus is, this visible image of the invisible God, this one who was with God and who was God, the one whose glory we beheld, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, the one who explains who God is.
This little section in John 11 that we're about to look at is a spot we can't rush through, so we're going to look at it two ways. I'm going to walk you through with just some basic principles that screamed out to me as I spent some time with this chapter, and then next week, I'm going to be speaking to about 3,000 college students who are getting ready to deploy for the summer, so I won't be here with you. JP will encourage you.
Then two weeks from now, I'm going to come back and go all the way through John 11 again and just take a look at death and Jesus, but this morning, I want you just to see some great truths that I think are going to help you. I am well aware of the fact that, every week when I come in here, I come in this room with thousands of people who have every kind of circumstance in their lives.
There are a lot of people who have been away from God for a long time. Some don't even know God loves them. Some have had abusive fathers and role models, and they're just wondering, "Is there a God? Is he there? Does he love me?" Some people have made decisions that have offended God, and you're out there, and you're wondering, "Could God ever, if he is there, accept me again?"
Some of you guys are people who have known God for a while. You haven't enjoyed him. You're not walking with him fervently, or those around you are not walking with him, and your life is defined by chaos and pain. You want to know if there's something that can happen that can bring order and beauty back into your life.
I mean, I realize there's a great diversity, folks that have never married, folks who wish they'd never married, folks who were married and can't be anymore, people who are right there at the beginning and life is beautiful. It's kind of a hard thing to kind of communicate to all those folks. Isn't it? Let me just tell you something. I believe that God's Word, when you look at it, is always ready to help you wherever you are.
All I want to do this morning is just show you some truths that, I don't care where you are, you need to get your arms around, I need to get my arms around. Being reminded of these things as I prepared, being reminded of these things as I get to teach them several times a day is going to help me. These are truths that you have to meditate on, wrestle with, and hold onto if this life is going to be what it should be, and I will offer one last thing to you. These are not easy truths. This is just the truth.
One of the truths I'm going to tell you, if I could wrap all of John 11 up in one sentence, should probably be that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, but I'm not going to choose that. It's this. Because he's the resurrection and the life, you need to realize that this life you have is not really about you, except it's about you knowing that he's the resurrection and the life that you might run to him. Now how we get there isn't always the way we want.
Father, would you just allow us to learn this morning, wherever we are, all of the diversity of experience and need that's in this room? I know that you in your perfect, sovereign love want to connect with every heart here. I just pray you do that as we read this little passage, as we meditate on the truths. Would you just open the eyes of our hearts that we might see you in all your glory, in all your grace, so that we would love you the way you love us? Amen.
Let's read this thing. Let me just set it back up. John 10 stopped with Jesus saying, "Hey, I and the Father are one. There is no distinction in our essence, in our character, in our nature. There's distinction in person, but we are one in purpose. We are one in heart, and we are one in mission, and we are one in perfection," and they wanted to kill him, so he responded by reminding them of a few things. Then they wanted to arrest him.
They were trying to rid themselves of this Jesus, so he left, we find out, Jerusalem and kind of went out to the east across the Jordan, where John the Baptist originally was doing his ministry, and that is where we pick it up. We don't know how long it is after John 10, just a couple of months, max, and this is what we read.
"Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair…" Now what's really interesting about this is that hadn't happened yet. In John, chapter 12, we're going to read that story, but John just assumes that you are familiar with the other the Gospels. See, John wrote this gospel in order that you might believe.
He knew that the historical record of Christ was being clearly presented through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but he, decades after those three guys had already written their gospels, said, "I'm going to tell you this story one more time so that you might know who this Jesus is and so that, believing who he is, you might experience the joy he came to bring."
I think there are two things in mind here. He's trying to set up something. This is no ordinary relationship between this family and Jesus. This is the inner circle. I mean, listen. You're pretty tight with somebody if you're dumping perfume all over them and washing their feet with your hair. Let's just call that close. Let's just say you really loved Jesus, and he trusted you and knew you loved him. This is there to show that, and it's also there because I think John assumes you know who this Mary is. You've read about her in the other gospel accounts.
I'm going to tell you more about her in John 12, but watch what he says. He says, "So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.'" Watch how many times this word shows up. Watch how many times he's emphasizing that point. "But when Jesus heard this, He said, 'This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it' Now Jesus [wasn't just loved by Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; Jesus loved them] "
" [Therefore] when He heard that he was sick, [Jesus] then stayed two days longer in the place where He was." That doesn't make any sense to me. We're going to talk about that. "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…?'""Why are you going to go there?"
I'll give you a little tease. I'm not even going to explain what this means. I'm going to come back and get that when I go all the way through the text. Jesus makes kind of a cryptic statement when he says, "Hey, there's 12 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." See you in two weeks.
"This He said, and after that He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.' The disciples then said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.'" Jesus said, "Now you guys aren't paying attention. He ain't just asleep. He is dead."
"Lazarus is dead, and I am glad [he's dead] for your sakes…""I'm glad I wasn't there." "…so that you may believe; but let us [now] go to him." I love Thomas. Thomas says to his fellow disciples, "Well, what the heck! We're not going to talk him out of it. We may as well go die with him. We've kind of gone all in with this Jesus. There's nothing to hang out here for. Let's just go die."
"So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.'
Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection [of the dead] on the last day.' Jesus said to her…""No, there is something else going on here, Martha." "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and [Martha] everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.""Here is my question." "Do you believe this?"
What are we going to do with that? There is much to do there, and as I said, rather than teach the metanarrative, what I want to do a little bit this morning is just go through and just make some basic observations that you need to know in life.
I think this text is so monolithic, is so significant in the gospel of John that I really want to take on the idea of what is happening here in a macro-view in two weeks, but today, I'm just going to give you a bunch of little truths that just come to me as I walk over this. Some will be easier compared to others. Are you ready?
1 . Closeness to God does not guarantee distance from trouble. Now the reason I want to say that is because there are so many folks who sometimes say to me, "Man, ever since I've trusted God, things have gotten a little bit more chaotic because I'm living now in a way that I seek God with all my heart, but it's not necessarily going better for me. There's not prosperity," and we confuse abundant life with certain circumstances in life.
All I want to do is just share with you that there is no expectation in Scripture that the closure you are to Jesus, the less there will be trouble. In fact, I'm going to show you in John 16 when he says to the folks, "Hey, look! You're going to have trouble in this world." He's saying that to his disciples.
Yesterday, I was flying back from speaking to a men's conference in the Washington, DC, area, and I got on the plane, and there was somebody from Watermark who was on that plane with me. I sat down in front of them, and I heard her go, "All right! Well, good! I'm safe now." I turned around, and I looked, and she goes, "I'm glad to see you on the plane. I know I'm going to get home safe."
I go, "Well, let me just tell you, I don't think it makes you safe, but good and loud to start some conversation around my safety," but I said, "But I'm ready. I'm ready if it's not." I'd also gotten upgraded, so I'd rather go down when I'm back there crammed in coach. I said, "Let's not go down now. I'll take these two and a half hours of reading and rest."
I'll tell you, you know, this idea that, "Hey, because Wagner is on the plane, it's not going to go down…" Well, first of all, I appreciated the compliment that she thought maybe I was close to God, so it wouldn't. Second of all, she has not paid much attention in history. I'm sure there were some guys who said, "Hey, we're with Jim Elliot. This will be a nice walk on the beach in Ecuador." "Hey, I'm with Keith Green. This is going to be a nice little plane ride over Van, Texas." That is not the expectation of Scripture.
Let me just read some Bible to you; Hebrews, chapter 11, verses 32 through 40. This chapter in your Bible is commonly called the Hall of Faith creatively by pastors for 2,000 years. Basically, this is a list of some guys and some gals who have gotten it done, good folks. Now watch the way this chapter ends.
"And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith…"
I'm reading that, and I'm going like, "That doesn't sound like they gained much approval. It sounds like their plane went down, and these are the ones who were close to God, who had great faith and to whom God said, 'I love you. I love the way you love me,' and that doesn't sound really good." Let me just remind you of this, family of God. This is the inner circle in John 11, and closeness to God does not guarantee you distance from trouble.
It is error whenever somebody thinks in a default mode, which is, "You must've screwed up royally for that to be there in your life or your family." Who is the pinnacle expression of a guy who suffers in the Bible? Go ahead and say it. Job. What does Job, chapter 1, verse 1, say about Job?
It says, "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil." Now listen. Put that on my tombstone, but how many of us want the life that that upright man had? If you come with an expectation that your drawing near to God is going to mean health, wealth, and prosperity, you ain't reading your Bible. You're selling something.
2 . Everything…everything…should always be viewed in relationship to the glory of God. Nothing is about us except the glory of God's love for us. I want to say that again. This is a truth that we have to get our arms around. Our lives, our health, our kids, our successes, and our deaths are not ours. This is not about us. We are his, so all we have is his, and he is good, but you need to know this. Everything should always be viewed in relationship to the glory of God. Nothing is about us except the glory of God and what it means for us and his love for us.
This is why it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, whether you die, whether you get sick, whether you get well, whether you own thousands of shares of Facebook stock or you invested deeply in Enron, it's all for the glory of God. Everything in your live is not about you. Don't we often live like it's about us? In fact, we often treat God like he's there for us at our whim and our pleasure. Do you know what's so funny? It's that he is.
God wants you to know who he is, but he wants you to let you know you live in a world that is broken that is not his world. Let me just say this. You're going to find out that Jesus is not a fan of death. You go, "Well, why is death around?" It wasn't his idea. He told us what to do to avoid death. We go, "Well, we don't think that's that big a deal," so we just march right off to it in the choices that we make.
Why? It's because God says, "I am life. In my presence is fullness of joy. In my right hand are pleasures forever." "I don't think I'm going to hang out with you. ""Great! That means you're leaving fullness of joy. That means you're leaving pleasures forever."
What God is going to do is he's going to let the course of human history now run for a good, long while while he reveals who he is to a bunch of humans in a world that is broken, in a world where people are sawn in two, in a world where planes go down, in a world where things we think are reliable prove to not be reliable because only one thing is good and reliable, and it's God.
God lets us see the fleeting nature of everything except himself, who is good, because when I invest in fleeting things and they let me down, I start to look where else I might invest. All the while, God is over here going, "Invest here. Invest here. Invest with me. Everything else will let you down. Some things will give you a short-term return of pleasure, of joy, of prosperity, of fame, but if you pursue those things and don't pursue me…"
By the way, how are we to eat and drink to the glory of God? The answer is that we do that in a way as if that meal isn't our life. We accept it for what it is, an expression of God's provision for us who need something outside of us to give us life, so we thank him for it. I'm going to tell you again. When you share a meal, if you're a believer, don't go through one of these token prayers that has become so infused within Christianity that it's meaningless.
You stop. God says, "When you eat and drink, you do it in remembrance of me." This good food… I'm okay if it's a beautiful meal. I'm okay if it's rice and beans. Either way, it's going to give you sustenance. If it's an especially good meal, an especially glorious moment, thank him for it.
But say, "Lord, no matter how wonderful this wine or this steak or this fish or this glaze and sauce is, ultimately, the thing I'm really thankful for is your body that was offered up for me, your blood that was shed for me, and that is the sweetest thing I could ever partake of. This meal is a reminder of what you've done, and until you return, I'm going to declare it, and I'm going to live in right response to it."
We always say, "Lord, give us strength from this food that we might live to serve you." What you really want to say is, "Lord, you've given us strength through the provision of your Son, and all I want to do is respond to that." That's how you eat and drink to the glory of God. You use everything in your life as a reminder of God's perfection and everything else's inadequacy. It's our job to make sure everything directs ourselves back to that.
Where do I get that from here in John 11? Let me just show you. Chapter 11, verse 5, says, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister…" Verse 6 says, " [Therefore], when He heard that [his good buddy] was sick, He then stayed two days longer…" Now does that make any sense? John is doing this intentionally. He is setting you up. He is saying, "God loved these folks, so he let him die."
Now watch why he let him die. It says in verse 6, "…He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was." We have to go way back up to verse 4. It says, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it." Can I just tell you something? Everything that happens, healings and death, is for the glory of God. Everything is for the purpose so that God's glory might be revealed and the Son of God may be glorified by it. Period.
Look at verse 11. It says, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." In other words, I'm going to go do something now, and it's going to be well with you that I do it. You get down to verse 15, and it says, "…I am glad for your sakes that [Lazarus is dead] …" Why?
I'm going to give you a little tip to where I'm going in two weeks. Is there anything as scary, as awful, as final, as complete and certain as death? One of my favorite lines about death is that statistics related to it are impressive. Scientists have studied this for thousands of years. Do you know that one out of every one person who is born dies? Now that is an impressive statistic. It is overwhelming.
There might be lots of little trinkets, lots of little activities, lots of little idols that you can worship that give you fleeting pleasure inside 80 years, but who can conquer death? I mean, this is why it's the crescendo. It's good for you that we're going to now engage death this way, so you might see…what?
What would you say to somebody who walks into a cemetery to somebody who is not just dead but good and dead, four stinking days dead, and goes, "Come on out, unwrap, and let's dine"? I think you'd go, "Oh, my goodness! Who is this?" He would say, "I am the resurrection and the life. I am God. I love you. Let's fellowship."
See, there is nothing in your life that God doesn't do so he can basically look at you and go, "Do you know who I am? I'm the one who won't fail you. I'm the one who will always be there. I'm the one whose love you really need to trust in. Let's fellowship. Hey, do you know who I am? I'm the one who gave you prosperity. I gave you prosperity for a purpose. Are you going to use it for that purpose?"
He says, "Just like you're excited I gave you that prosperity, are you going to be excited to use it the way I gave it to you, or are you going to now cash out on me and use it the way you want? You can do that. It just won't work out well for you because every time you leave me and do something for you and your glory and your end and not my end, you're going to leave life."
Every now and then, what God does is take away things we think we want, and every now and then, even if we're using them well, he takes them way just to show people that this isn't the endgame because it's all about him. God's love doesn't always make sense to us, but I will tell you, it always makes us safe. I mean, it doesn't make any sense.
That word in verse 6 where it says, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [Therefore] …" He stayed and let Lazarus die. That makes no sense to me except that a good and sovereign and loving God is right in the middle of it. There's a great quote by a guy named Charles Spurgeon who said this. He said, "God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand [when we don't see the fingerprints of God all over something], we must trust His heart."
The bottom line is it comes back to us understanding that God is good, that God is loving, and that we can trust him. Even when he stays, even when he tarries to the inner circle and children die and brothers die and best friends die, he is still at work. He's up to something good. You're like, "Well, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, I'll wait four days to see if he is up to something good because that's what they waited for."
Let me just tell you something. Whether it was four days or 40 years, frankly, it didn't make any difference to Lazarus. Once he was dead, he was dead. It made a lot of difference to Martha and Mary, and it makes a lot of difference to you and me, but I'm going to get ahead of myself here, so let me just dive on to the next point.
3 . God is always up to something much more glorious than providing for us temporary comfort in today's circumstance. I mean, I'm going to keep coming back to this point. He's always up to something much more glorious than providing temporary comfort in today's circumstance. Again, in this situation, it was love that moved Jesus to let Lazarus die. It's love that always allows sin to have its effect. He wants to show us this world is not our home. He wants to reveal how worthy of trust he is.
That was what the whole Job exercise was. Satan said, "Well, of course, he serves you. He's abundantly prosperous. He has a great family. He has great kids, and he's famous in the entire region." God says, "No, no, no! You don't understand my relationship with Job. He loves me not because he's in a good circumstance. He loves me because I'm a good God, and when his circumstances change, it'll be a more difficult day for him, but it will not make me a more difficult God. Go get him, just don't let him suffer personally."
"Okay, well, yeah, so the family is gone, but Job's still strong and virile. He can start another family." "Okay, go get him. Just don't let him die." In the midst of all that, God was up to something much more glorious. By the way, what was God up to? It wasn't really for Job. He was going to let Job be used to reveal his goodness and his glory to a world for generations.
You're like, "Hey, I'm checking out. If that's the way God is going to use me, if that's what God is up to, just having me be a little pawn in his great chess game of revealing what a brilliant master of the game he is, I'm out."
I go, "No, no, no! You don't know who God is, and whatever your lot in life is, if you'll play it well, this God who is good and glorious and who says, 'Trust me. I know it's not four days. It might be four decades. It might be your entire life in a wheelchair. It might be your entire life (like my friend Nick Vujicic) with no arms and no legs. Trust me. I am good.'"
"How good are you?" "I'm good enough to have you in a place where you could never rescue yourself to enter into it and take your punishment to separate myself from myself from all eternity, bury your sins on a cross, redeem your life from the pit, reconcile you to me, and make you a co-heir with me where you will live forever in a world that is more glorious than any world you have ever seen."
Now that's either crazy, or he's good. That's either crazy, or it's good, and here's our problem. We keep acting like it's crazy, so we drift back to thinking this world is our home, and we don't live as radically as we should. Boy, I need this text! There are so many places I could go just to talk about this, but you know, James, chapter 1 is a classic spot. I'm not going to read that. In Jeremiah 29:11, in talks about, "I'm telling you. I have good plans for you." Psalm 84:11 reminds you how good he is.
I love Ezekiel 18:29 because this is the little phrase you want to go back to and tattoo, if you will, on your heart. Ezekiel is a little passage where God is revealing himself through a group of people who will really cash in on him because the house of Israel was experiencing judgment for some things they had done. Specifically, they gave their hearts to their idols. They gave their hearts to other ways, and God let them have the fill of their ways.
He sent leanness to them. He removed his hand of protection to them. This is not a Job situation. This is, if you will, a Jonah situation, where God said, "Sail this way," and he sailed that way, so trouble came upon him. They were like, "This isn't right." In Ezekiel 18:29, they say this. "But the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not right.'""This is not appropriate and proportionate punishment. You say you love Israel. Why are we going through this?"
I'll tell you why in just a moment. God says, "Are My ways not right…?" He says, "I think it's your ways that are not right." Whenever you are tempted to kind of go, "Hey, God can't fix this one. This is crazy. That rape? There is no way for this to be used for his glory, and I won't serve a God who says there can be one," what you have to do is just go, "He is sovereign. He is good. He is infinite and perfect. I am finite and fallen. The ways of the Lord are right." You have to hold onto that.
See this story in John 11 is for you and me because, the inner circle, man, we pray, and he tarries, and we go, "This ain't right. What kind of God are you?" He says, "Hang in there." If we are willing, everything in our lives can and will make Jesus look amazing, even the death of someone we love.
What we have to do is just say, "Look my job is to make this look amazing. When my baby came out, I didn't want him to have a life expectancy of six days, but we're going to make this look amazing. We're going to sing God's praises, not because things are going to fall out the way I want but because God is good."
Look, death is not the point. Jesus starts out by saying, "Look, this sickness is not going to end in death. The point is this is going to make me look good." That's what he said. Let's go back again. I'm going to keep taking the same verses. Verse 4: "This sickness is not to end in death…""This is not about Lazarus being sick, so I'm not going to respond to Lazarus' sickness. The point of this is for the glory of God and so the Son of God might be glorified by the glory of God, but God is glorious. He will conquer death."
You're like, "Well, when?" I mean, for Martha and Mary, when he showed up, it may as well have been four decades. That death to Lazarus was a real and terrible death. He didn't know that his death was going to end in a resuscitation. He knew there was going to be a resurrection one day. They had that Old Testament view that was there. The saints always believed that God was going to come back, but at the end of the day, they just go, "This isn't good." He goes, "It's not about this. It's about me. It's about something greater than this. Are you willing to trust me even if I tarry?" How about this?
4 . The most loving thing, therefore, that anyone can do for you is to let you know more of the glory of God and the glory of God's Son. Do you know what we usually do when someone says that? We say (31:14), "I agree. Now raise my brother from the dead."
We lived through this recently as a body. Our dear friend, Ann Piper, has a son with significant disability. Laboring away with her loving husband, Ann gets cancer, comes through cancer, goes to bed, and wakes up. Her husband is dead. This is a young couple. She is a young widow. There are needs in the family that are pretty immense, and we're like, "This isn't good," but something is going on here that we just don't always see, and John 11 is either true or it's not.
He's going to say, "This really isn't about Matt's death. This really isn't about her children's needs. This isn't really even about Ann's 'widowness.' This is about me, the way Ann responds and the body of Christ responds around her, what the world's going to see, and what I'm going to do." The most loving thing anyone can do for us is to let us know more of the glory of God and the glory of God's Son.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say this in my life. "Do you know what? Looking back, I wouldn't have changed a thing because God used this. I mean, there were days I constantly prayed that he would change everything, but looking back, I wouldn't change a thing." We don't always all say that, by the way, on this side.
I guarantee you, Joni Eareckson Tada, my friend who has been in a wheelchair for 40 years, and Nick Vujicic, who has been without arms or legs every day of his life… There are moments I've heard them say on this side of the grave, "This is good. I'm grateful for the way God made me." I've also heard them say, "This is not good, and I wake up every day and I'm angry at God all over again, and I have to let his Spirit kick in and remind me and whisper to my heart, 'The way of the Lord is right.'"
I promise you there's not a single one of us who believes in Christ who, at the end of our life when we look back on the other side and we see and know fully then as we are fully known now that we won't say, "You're even better than I thought. I had no idea how you used what you used. You used that brokenness, you used that death of my brother to lead people to believe in you. You are the Eternal One, and people's eternity pivoted on my 60 years of service. Are you kidding me? I wouldn't change a thing."
This, by the way, is Parenting 101. I see more parents fail on this issue than almost anything else. They don't want kids to see the goodness of righteous and truth, and they can't stand to let their kids miss out on something for a moment. Even though their kids have made a choice right before prom, right before we go to Disney World, right before the party of their best friend, they say, "I'm not going to have a consequence to that right now."
They say, "I'm not going to let them miss this because I love too much them loving me and liking me, and if I lose this moment that I've invested a lot of money and time to prepare for, if I stick to my guns and I execute on what I say, then they won't like me and, frankly, I'm too selfish to miss it myself."
So, their kids just grow up believing it's always going to work out, that they're always going to get what they want, even though they don't do what they should do, and they expect the world to always turn out until, finally, our government or the world around them or their wife says, "No." Do you know how many times God has heard from us these kinds of prayers? "Hey, listen. I'm out of here if you don't fix this thing the way I want you to fix this thing. I can't trust you if it doesn't roll this way."
Now, if you're God, don't you want to go, "I want you to know what a great God I am. I'm really a good God,"? He just says, "Go ahead. I understand. I've felt what it feels like to be a human. I've wanted the Father's will to be different. Rail against me, but I'm not going to stop loving you, and please, don't leave me. Say what kids say when they don't understand what their parents are doing."
You know, we still laugh about moments in our family. I'll never forget when my son had a splinter in his foot, and his mom was trying to get it out. She couldn't get it out. It was a deep splinter, a good one. He was walking like this. He wanted it out and didn't want it out.
Finally, I just got home and said, "Coop, I love you. We're going to get this splinter out, and it's going to hurt for just a second, but it has to hurt, so you can run." We laid on the boy. We didn't have general anesthesia, so we laid Mom generally on him, and Dad wrapped one leg and grabbed the other one and put it in a little locked position and went to work. He was like, "I hate you! You are so mean!"
He said that about three times, and every time he said it, I hated it. I knew he didn't hate me. I knew I loved him. I actually was laughing when he was doing it because I knew what was going on. Listen, when you have (my wife was on top of him) about 85 pounds on top of him (she might weigh 90), and you have a guy locking down on him, and you have pain coming, all you know is what you know.
He was just a kid. I'm a loving father. I know what splinters do. I know infection. I know long-term effects. I know I'm good. I didn't create splinters. I didn't want splinters to be in his life, but he lives in a broken world where splinters come in, and I'm going to deal. I'm going to even use those splinters for glory. It became a lesson. Right? "Hey, trust me."
God has given me splinters. He didn't put these splinters in my life, but even through those splinters that came, (sometimes awful people had shot splinters into my foot), he goes, "You can trust me. I'm good." You have to say, "This is really about God's glory and you seeing what's right and true and not about your opinion of me in the moment." How about this one? This is the key. This will be the most important thing I think I say today.
5 . Most of us don't struggle with the idea that God truly exists. We struggle with the idea that God is truly good. That's where we struggle. See, at Watermark, we don't really have a hard time wondering if God exists. We're not people being critics of Christianity, for the most part. Boy, don't we struggle this way? "God are you really good? Do you know what you're doing?" This is the reason that sin is still so tempting.
The original lie that pulled us away from God and that brought death into the world that he hates and wants to conquer is because somebody whispers in our ears, "Hey, God is not really good. If he was really good, would he really tell you not to do that? By the way, you're smart enough to figure this out on your own, and when you disobey him, it's not that big a deal."
Go back and read Genesis 3. It was the original lie. That's always what happens to me. "Does God really love you? Is that why he's just going to limit you to one man and one woman? Does God really love you? Is that why he tells you to be generous? Does God really love you? Is that why he tells you, '(just plug in your favorite little thing)'? He gives you such strong cravings and urgings and not give you a way to manifest that? Does he really love you? Would he do that if he really loved you?"
We start to go, "Do you know what? You know, maybe he isn't as good as he advertises." Every single time…every time you sin; you decide to respond in anger, you decide to pursue materialistic satisfaction, you decide to be bitter and not have an attitude of thanksgiving; every time…it is always because you deny the goodness of God. Period. He gets it. He's not mad at you, but it grieves him, and that's why I have to go back to this one moment where I just kind of go, "The ways of the Lord are right."
You go, "Well, how do you know that?" Here's how I know that. It's because the most awful act in the history of the world was not the death of Lazarus. It was not cancer to a little girl or a little boy or a tragic accident or a rape or a fleeting 30-year run by a dictator who oppressed people. The most awful act in the history of the world is when God came to love us, and we killed him. Why would we do that?
Why would God let that happen? Jesus was here to institute the kingdom. Why? It's because he was up to something that was too wonderful for me to understand, that his perfection which is beyond what I can get my arms around could only be satisfied with a perfect sacrifice. Since there were no perfect sacrifices here, he became one himself.
I would've done what Peter did. "Lord, forbid it. No. You're not going to a cross. They'll have to kill me to have that happen." He's saying, "You're not thinking like me. You're thinking like a man. You're thinking like a devil, Peter. I'm going to do what I'm going to do because it's good, and you may not like it, but this ain't about you."
I keep going back to the cross. If the cross happened, if the tomb is empty as evidence that the cross happened because the wages of sin, which is death, have been paid, then everything else, man, all other bets about God not being good are off. If he made him who knew no sin to become sin on my behalf that I might become the righteousness of God in him, I ought to pay attention. How about this?
6 . There's almost always a gap between believing and seeing, knowing and experiencing, so hold on, and don't make your final judgment until the resurrection. Hold on! This is what Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 10, verses 28 through 31. "Hey, I know there are some guys who are running over you. I know there are some guys who look like they're sovereign and in control and that their god is more powerful than yours, but just hold on.
Don't fear those who can burn you at the stake if you deny me. Don't fear those who are going to cut your head off and put it on international media. Don't fear those who rape your daughter and mock your God in your face. You fear God who's going to raise you both and send some people away from me forever. I know it feels like you're away from me now, but hang around."
Listen, there is a gap between believing and seeing, and there are some people who cash out. They go, "I'm not going to wait. If God doesn't show up now on these terms, in this way, I'm out," and he just goes, "Oh, please, don't go out. Trust me." You might say, "I'll wait four days. I'll wait three days." God says, "No, just wait. Just wait." Death and grief are small prices to pay for life and joy. This is what Jesus had in mind, by the way, in Matthew 18:7-9 when he says this.
"Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 'If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.'"
Jesus is speaking in hyperbole here. What he's saying is, "Look, if there's something in your life that is so meaningful to you that it would take you away from me, then get rid of it. Get rid of it at all costs. You're kind of like, "Well, what kind of sense would it make to cut my hand off or pluck my eye out?"
He's saying, "You don't have to do that, but if that's really what you had to do in order to get who I am, then do it! What you really have to cut off is your dead heart, your demanding worldview that means 'I have to understand everything now and have what I want now.' You have to cut that off and get rid of it, that way of seeing life," but Jesus is saying, "Look, this is how good forever is. Whatever you have to do to yourself to get to forever, do it."
I'm just going to tell you something. Death and grief, sickness and cancer, betrayal and abuse are small prices to pay for life and joy, and Jesus says, "All this is going to lead to that eventually. Trust me. Trust me." Buy that ticket. Pay that price. Wait for him. God does not love us by sparing us suffering or providing prosperity but by revealing himself. That's the way God loves us. That is where love comes from.
Everything is about him revealing himself. What your job to do is to say, "God, where are you in this? Where are you in this prosperity? Where are you in this loss? All I want is you. The ways of the Lord are right. Drawing near to you is my good, so my prosperity or my suffering is not the issue. You're the issue, and I want to run to you." In 1 Peter 3:18, even the cross is this. It says, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust…" Why? "…so that He might bring us to God…" Let's just go in Jesus' shoes for a second.
"Father, this is not the way I wanted this thing to work out. Is there any other way?"
"No. There's no other way, Son."
"Come on, any other way? Take this cup and get it away from me."
"No. This is the only way they can be brought near to me."
Jesus says, "All right. All right. That's all I want, them to be near you, because you're life, and you're good." That is why Jesus could go to that cross singing, "It's well with my soul." It's because he didn't need prosperity. He didn't need to be enshrined. In that moment, he knew he'd be enshrined. He didn't need comfort.
All he needed to know is that what he was doing was bringing folks to the Father. I'll tell you, there's nothing in your life that can't bring people to the Father, even your suffering, and if he loves you enough, inner circle, Job, to suffer in order that you might show that he is enough, suffer. That's John 11.
Father, I pray that this song we sing right now would be true in our hearts, that it wouldn't just be a hymn but it would be a reminder that, in this world where "sorrows like sea billows roll," that a world that watches in amazement will say, "These people must know something I don't know because there is no way it is well with their souls now, so there must be something deeper, something more eternal than this moment that I need to know, because I want what they have."
Lord, I pray that they would understand what we have is intimacy, faith, confidence, and security with you, the one who, at the resurrection of the dead, will usher people into eternal intimacy with him or usher people away from that intimacy forever. Lord, we want nobody who is here to not know you now because it would mean they wouldn't know you then, so I pray we would be a mystery to them, that we would sing in the midst of the world we are in, and they would want to know the God who is the source of our song.
May they hear it now, that we believe that, one day, the clouds will be rolled back like a scroll, and you will come to those who have believed, and you will deal with sin and death, and you will take those of us who have believed in your provision through your Son, and you will usher us into that place that we could have never, ever attained for ourselves. May they understand the goodness of our God as we sing his song that makes our souls well, amen.