BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 22, 2020
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
— John 12:20-26, ESV
Americans come to Christ casually. Getting baptized, confirmed, or otherwise joining one of the churches on every corner is virtually a birthright. Even Tom Petty’s main squeeze in Free Falling “Loves Jesus, and America, too.”
We Americans do love Jesus. But do we really know Jesus? Do we really understand Jesus? Do we accept the claims Jesus makes on the lives of those who claim to believe in Him?
In this first passage past the Triumphal Entry into the last Passover, some obscure characters come to Jesus’ disciples to request an audience with the Messiah. “We wish to see Jesus,” they said. Don’t we all? But let us be careful what we wish for.
A Closer Look
Almost nothing is known for certain about these “Greeks” who approached Philip and Andrew. Remember, a million or so people crammed into Jerusalem for the festival, the devout and the demure and the deranged. They could have been committed Hellenistic Jews, curiosity seekers from Alexandria or the Mediterranean, or just a bag of nuts. But I think they should get credit for coming to the Lord in a serious way.
These Greeks obviously knew the two Greek words for “see,” one that refers to sight (ref. 9:25) and the other insight (vs. 21). One can see the light, by looking at sun, moon, or stars; or, one can see the light by gaining an understanding of a complex problem or person, like Jesus.
They chose the latter word. They wanted a lengthy, personal interview. They wanted a deeper dive, a better understanding, some satisfying answers to the four diagnostic questions suggested by the late James M. Boice: Who is Jesus? What did He do? Why did He do it? What does it require of me?
The typical American Christian has not taken the time to seriously ask and seek answers to these questions. Don’t be typical. Do be Christian. But make sure you’ve taken a long second look into what Christ and Christianity is all about. Jesus is about to tell us.
A Critical Hour
As far as we know, Jesus did not meet personally with the Greeks. There was just not enough time. Christ had arrived at the final, desperate “hour” of His earthly life and ministry. Of course He is not speaking of a literal sixty minutes, but of the last few days spent in His incarnate body, which was predestined for a long, slow walk to the cross.
Jesus addresses His farewell address to His current addressees, Philip and Andrew. He was equipping them for the Great Commission, for the taking of the gospel to Jews, Greeks, and all the nations. It is short, precise, and powerful, containing tips for all earth travelers who want to understand Christ and the Christian life.
Christ is fully committed to God’s glory. Everything Jesus ever did was calculated to give God the most glory. This includes being silent for most of His life. Did you ever think about how not saying something can give God the most glory? When Jesus finally spoke up, however, He did so in full allegiance to God, not man. He spoke of the sinfulness of man and the necessity of sovereign grace. This, of course, got Him killed. This was that desperate hour.
Christ’s death results in life. Jesus explained, pre-cross, that He had to die in order for others to live. This is true, as any good doctrine of the atonement or a discussion of double-imputation can prove. Jesus sowed seeds of blood that have yielded a crop of believers going on two thousand years now. And the first full resurrection was His own.
Christ’s life now exists on a higher plane than this present world. Jesus left the earth but is still with us, in Spirit. Therefore, His concerns are overwhelmingly spiritual, not earthly. This is not to say He does not care about Covid, or your electric bill, or your final exam in math class. He does, He is a loving God. But He is mainly concerned about matters of holiness and righteousness. He wants to see those who see Him partaking in worship, discipling the nations, and loving one another.
Christ is rewarded in Heaven. We cannot see Him now, but one day we will crown Him with many crowns. His trophy case will be full, and it is doubtful there will be any golden hammers there for winning “Carpenter of the Year.” Such prizes give a temporary high, but one that does not last higher up.
Do you “wish to see Jesus” in this way, not as some Santa Claus in the sky, but as a real man who really died to prove He really is God, the God who demands complete worship and comprehensive discipleship? See Jesus, then take a second look at the Son of God. Now take an honest look at yourself.
A Call to Discipleship
To understand Christ, you have to absorb the things He said about Himself. To understand Christianity, you have to apply them to yourself. Here is a clarion call to Christian discipleship.
The Christian must be fully committed to God’s glory. Lot’s wife turned back, and she died. Achan took back, and he died. Ananias and Sapphire held back, and they died. God will not settle for half of you, and you cannot know and enjoy God until you are fully committed to His glory. As Westminster informs us, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Christian faith is sacrifice, trust, obedience, and the joy of pleasing God.
The Christian's death results in life. Jesus repeatedly admonished those who would be His disciples to take up their own crosses and follow Him. Paul taught we must die to ourselves to have life in Christ. And it is our many crosses, our many deaths, our many sacrifices, that bear the fruit of other souls coming to Christ as well. Do those closest to you know you are so close to Christ than they can see your cross?
The Christian’s life now exists on a higher plane than this present world. Jesus, James, and John taught us to love God and His kingdom far above any earthly loves. Some of these sayings are cloaked in hyperbole and contrast, but the meaning is clear. If you love anything more than the Lord Jesus Christ, then you don’t love the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian is rewarded in Heaven. God has not come to us to give us glory, and He will not accept our works for salvation. But if you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you will get an astounding reward: honor. Do you know what it feels like to be honored by your spouse, your children, some school or organization? Imagine what it will be like to be honored by God, when you see Him face to face.
You can wish for an understanding of economics and investments, make a lot of money, and leave it all behind when you die. You can wish for fame, notoriety, and practically nobody will remember you two days after you are gone. Or, you can say, “We wish to see Jesus,” come to Him on His terms based on His word and live for Him in this life, and this flicker of a life will give way to an amazing, unimaginable place of glory and honor. The glory is all God’s, but the honor can be all yours.
Do be careful what you wish for.
A TALE OF TWO TOMBS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 8, 2020
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
— John 12:12-19, ESV
All four Gospels record Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the holiest week in human history. John’s account stands out by letting the resurrection of Lazarus linger over the proceedings. This is because this Gospel is essentially a tale of two tombs.
The first half of John’s Gospel ends at an empty tomb. So will the second. But to get from one empty tomb to the other, Jesus had to enter a certain place, as a certain person, for a certain purpose. Such certainties will become crystal clear in this triumphal text.
The Place: Jerusalem
Jerusalem is the most significant city in all of human history. The name is derived from Yeru or Jeru, which is best translated as foundation or place. Salem, or Shalom, definitively means peace. Jeru-Shalom, then, is the foundation or place of peace. And it is there where Jesus Christ paid the price for our peace with God.
Jerusalem is the most significant city in biblical history, too. It is the capitol city of Israel, the Old Testament people of God; and, it is the birthplace of the Church, the New Testament people of God, born out of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Passover and the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These things happened in that certain place, the city of Jerusalem, to consummate the Old Covenant and inaugurate the New Covenant.
The event described in the text took place at Passover, the setting for Christ’s most important work in this most important place. The historian Josephus wrote that over two million people packed into Jerusalem during Passover week, though most of his critics say he exaggerates two fold. Still, a million people is a lot of people.
Most of the citizens piling into the city on the Sunday before Passover Friday were pilgrims from Galilee. They were much more familiar with Jesus than the Judeans, since most of Jesus’ words and works were offered in Galilee (as covered by the synoptic Gospels, while John’s focus is Jesus in Jerusalem). I doubt the Judeans would have welcomed Jesus with such a “triumphal entry,” but the mostly Galilean crowd was glad to do it.
Their messianic expectations were very high. They shouted “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” They looked to Jesus as Savior. They quoted the messianic 118th Psalm, and they knew the difference between blessing someone in the name of the Lord and blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord. They looked to Jesus as Lord. They waved palm branches, which were plentiful in and around Jerusalem, as symbols of praise and peace. It is if they were saying, praise the Lord for peace with God through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
This was a God moment. This was a gospel moment. But what the people could not fathom at the time was the price God would pay for the gospel. They did not expect on this first day of the week that by the last day of the week Jesus would be buried in a tomb, just like Lazarus, and that He would rise again, just like Lazarus. So begins the tale of two tombs.
Of course, Jesus knew what He was doing, which is why He rode in to the exact place where He needed to be, Jerusalem, the city of prophets, priests, and kings.
The Person: Jesus
Jesus came to Jerusalem to present Himself as three persons in one: Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus was a proven prophet, and He would prove to be the prophet, the messianic fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18. Prophets speak truth to power. Prophets often rub people the wrong way. Prophets are seldom popular. And, prophets tend to get themselves killed, especially in Jerusalem.
Jesus knew this exactly and had said earlier, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” So in this certain place, Jerusalem, Jesus came as a certain person, the Messiah the Prophet, the Prophet who would fulfill prophecies, like Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 53.
Jesus came to Jerusalem as a priest, too, the most high priest. Unlike prophets, priests were particularly popular in Israel, for they offered sacrifices according to the word of God that symbolized the forgiveness of sins. Who does not want their sins forgiven? Priests were valuable people.
Jesus is unique, however, insomuch that He came to the city on that fateful Passover to be both the high priest to offer the sacrifice; and, the sacrifice offered by the high priest. The Lord and the lamb are the same, hearkening back to the words of Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29).
Jesus came to Jerusalem as prophet, priest, and king. The crowd acknowledged it, calling Him “the King of Israel.” They just did not understand, at the time, what kind of king He was when He came the first time to earth.
Jesus was a servant king, riding a donkey instead of a white horse. Just wait until He comes again, however. In the first advent He was a suffering servant king, lifted up before the people on that Palm Sunday, lifted up on the cross on Good Friday.
Know with certainty that this is the person of Christ. He is the Prophet, He is our High Priest, and He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He came to a certain city, Jerusalem, as this certain person, for this certain purpose: to save God’s people.
The Purpose: Salvation
The people cried, “Hosanna,” save us, we pray. The Pharisees seethed, and repeated their jealous mantra that Jesus needed to be killed. It is a great gospel irony that one could only be accomplished by the other.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die, as He prophetically preached throughout His ministry, especially in the final year. Prophets preach about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation through atoning sacrifice. Prophecy preaches salvation.
Sacrifice accomplishes salvation. Those of the Old Covenant were symbolic and ritualistic. Holy Communion in the New Covenant is symbolic and ritualistic. The tragedy and beauty of bread and blood is about salvation, accomplished by the sacrifice of our High Priest, Jesus Christ, on the cross in Jerusalem.
Death, however, as Jesus foreshadowed at the death of Lazarus, is not final for Christ and Christ’s followers. For Christ is risen today, and He is King and Lord over all. You just cannot see it, yet, except with eyes of faith.
The salvation celebrated on the original Palm Sunday led to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. There is salvation in no other prophecies or prophetic texts, other than Jesus Christ and the word of God. There is salvation in no other priests or religions, other than Jesus Christ and Christianity. There is no other king and kingdom above the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
So walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, from Lazarus’ tomb to His own. Believe in the miracle, believe in the Messiah. Lay down your life for what happened in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose again, and enjoy the salvation of the Lord forever.
DISCIPLESHIP ON DISPLAY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 1, 2020
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
— John 12:1-11, ESV
The Gospel of John was written to promote faith in Jesus Christ and for use in making disciples for Him. Nowhere does it ask you to ask Jesus into your heart and become a member of the church. Rather, it calls you to totally repent and fully believe in order to become a true follower, or disciple, of Jesus. Just like the verb “believe,” John handles the noun “disciple” frequently and mostly positive. Of over eighty mentions of disciple or disciples in the Gospel, almost all of them sing in high fidelity, with the exception of a few bad notes (ref. 6:66, 11:4).
All sorts of disciples are on display in this story, which depicts a delightful dinner party in Bethany. The occasion is a celebration of Jesus in view of the recent raising of Lazarus from the dead. It had to be delayed for a few days while the Lord laid low in Ephraim (ref. 11:54) to escape momentarily from the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were laying a trap to arrest and kill Him. Jesus needed to compose Himself before willingly walking right into it.
The text now takes us to the beginning of the last Passover. The family is all together. Friends have gathered around the table. Jesus is the guest of honor, as He should be, and He is surrounded by His disciples: real ones, fake ones, and potential ones.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are three of the most real and robust disciples of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Gospels, even though the sisters only appear twice (ref. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-12:11), and Lazarus once (ref. John 11:1-12:11). Despite their scant mention, we feel like we know them. They each have their own individual traits, but they share a common love for the Lord, a sincere faith in the Lord, and a willingness to sacrifice for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Like Emmylou Harris was “Born to Run,” Martha was born to cook, and serve. That is what she is doing in both of her biblical appearances, and by the second time she’s learned not to complain about it. Serving is what God made her and called her to do. She is like most Christians are supposed to be, serving Christ by serving others. It is the mark of a true Christian, for if you ain’t serving, you probably ain’t saved.
Mary is the most glamorous of the three, given Jesus’ compliment of her sitting at His feet in the Gospel of Luke. She tops that in the Gospel of John with her extraordinary act of sacrifice and worship. By the way, she should not be confused with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50, who invented perfume anointing near the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Mary simply repeats it, perhaps sensing the Lord’s ministry is now near its end. In doing so, she shows the primary purpose of Christianity, to publicly worship Jesus Christ.
Lazarus doesn’t say much. No biblical quotes are attributed to him. As we said about his older sister, not every disciple is on display for speaking or singing. Lazarus simply shows the evidence of a changed life, of one brought back from the dead to walk in newness of life, following Christ, listening to His word, bearing witness to the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though there were distinctly different, they shared one important thing in common. They all paid what the late, great Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Real discipleship is just that, costly. God’s grace is free, faith is a gift, but following Jesus costs you everything you have.
For Martha, it was her time and her culinary resources, a great sacrifice in her day.
For Mary, it was a year’s salary spent on a special perfume for her yet to be realized wedding day. Perhaps she became the first Nun, married to Christ, so to speak, as she gave her life and her life’s greatest treasure away, broken and spilled out upon the Lord.
For Lazarus, living for Jesus raised the specter of dying for Jesus, as many heroic missionaries and martyrs have done over the past two thousand years.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are poster children of real disciples. Your need to be on the poster, too. But remember, it will cost you.
Honest John always gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly. We boo when the Pharisees appear on the screen. Now it is time to hiss, as Judas Iscariot, one of the first and foremost fake disciples of all time comes to the forefront.
The irony of the Pharisees and Judas is that they were among the most respected men in Israel in Jesus’ day. Judas may have been the most admired of the twelve Apostles. He is suspected to have been a Zealot, renowned for their faith and courage. He had been appointed the treasurer of the Jesus of Nazareth Evangelistic Association, which implies a great deal of trust. And in this scene, he is an outspoken advocate for social justice and helping the poor.
But the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, cuts him open and exposes his sin, his selfishness, his spurious discipleship. Judas, like most phonies, was hyper-critical and hypocritical. He wasn’t following the Lord for what he could give, his soul, his life, his all. He was getting close to Jesus for what he could get, monetary gain, power and prestige, much like the infamous televangelists of our day.
They say that Benedict Arnold looked like the quintessential U.S. soldier. He had even received high praise from General George Washington before he sold out his fellow Americans. Now his name is synonymous with traitor.
Even more so is Judas Iscariot. The character Pete, when betrayed by his first cousin in the film O Brother Where Art Thou, lashed out and called him “Judas Iscariot Hogwallop.” Traitors, however, can find forgiveness. Thieves can make restitution. But there is no remedy for the false disciple, their guile is too great and their hearts are too hard. They go through their lives pretending to be Christians, fooling their fellow church members, deceiving members of the community, but you cannot lie to the Lord. He knows who His real disciple are, and who they are not, the faithful, and the fake.
At the end of this story, which concludes the first half of John’s Gospel (the second half will be devoted to the final week of Jesus’ life), a “large crowd” gathers. Jesus was not particularly fond of crowds during His ministry, but He keenly looks into this one. I suppose they are a good group of potential disciples, some who will follow, some who will fake it. What would you do, if you were in the crowd.
You would have to make up your mind about Jesus. There He is, eating, talking, laughing, celebrating. Is he a mere man, a mad man, or is He the Messiah, God and Savior?
You would have to make up your mind about Lazarus. Was he really dead? Did Jesus really, miraculously bring him back to life? Can the messages and miracles of Jesus really be trusted?
You would have to make up your mind about the chief priests’ plans. They were going to kill Jesus, the most dastardly deed ever done in this old world. But Jesus came to die, the most wonderful thing ever done for this whole world. Why did He do it, and what does it require of you?
You would have to make up you mind about “believing in Jesus.” It is something to be embraced, totally, heart and soul and mind and strength. Would you trade everything you own to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Would you really follow, or would you fake it?
My son-in-law is a United States Marine and we love him. He is one of the few and the proud being trained to run into the storm, rather than away from it. That’s love for your country, that’s faith in your fellow Marines, that’s saving lives.
Jesus is about to run right to the cross, not away from it. That’s love for the world, that’s the basis of true faith, that’s saving souls.
Souls that are saved show it by being real disciples. Disciples believe, sincerely. Disciples follow, fully. Disciples pay the cost, entirely, for grace and glory that money cannot buy. Be a disciple, and let it be displayed for Jesus and the whole world to see.
ENEMIES OF THE GOSPEL
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 25, 2020
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
— John 11:45-57, ESV
The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead is the perfect vindication of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The miracle emanates from the power of Jesus’ short sermon, “Lazarus, come forth.” Furthermore, the episode aptly illustrates the irresistible grace of God in salvation when one is called from spiritual death unto everlasting life.
How could one have witnessed this seventh of seven signs in the Gospel of John and not become a believer in Jesus Christ? “Many ... did believe in Him” (vs. 45). Praise the Lord! But most did not, and still do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unbelief is not neutrality. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (ref. Matthew 12:30). Unbelief is enmity (ref. Romans 8:7). Unbelief is the natural condition of an unsaved human being (ref. 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1). Unbelief, often cloaked in garments of faith, eventually exposes itself in obvious ways. We see some of these enemies of the gospel in the aftermath of the resurrection of Lazarus.
Legalism Without Grace
Ungodly unbelief, masking itself in godliness, often reveals itself is in a legalistic view of salvation that pledges no allegiance to the grace of God. It is any sort of salvation by works, or salvation by superiority, that mistakenly thinks it merits favor with God. It is actually unbelief, and its poster child, once again, is the Pharisees. Boo!
After the resurrection of Lazarus, after a few more people professed faith in Jesus, the unfaithful made a fast track to the Pharisees. The Pharisees had already set themselves up as superior to Jesus, adversaries of Jesus, and therefore enemies of God and the gospel. Christ’s message, announced in the seven “I Am” statements and illustrated in the seven signs (most notably Lazarus’ resurrection), offered the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Him, in Christ, alone. The Pharisees begged to differ, and poor beggars they were.
Works righteousness is a false gospel touted by religious legalists that seeks to legislate a person into Heaven. Whether it be keeping the Pharisees’ meticulous Sabbath rules, or keeping off of alcohol and caffeine, or even keeping actual Scriptural commandments, any attempt to treat salvation like a prize for keeping rules is an enemy of Jesus and the gospel. As is moral superiority, which the Pharisee played to the hilt when he prayed with the tax collector (ref. Luke 18:9ff). Just because you are morally superior to others does not make you acceptable to God, and feeling morally superior to others usually indicates a total absence of grace.
Jesus’ true gospel of salvation is for sinners, for those who know they are sinners, and for those who are sick and tired of their sin. It is grace, God’s grace, that makes us aware of sin’s estrangement and enmity, and grace gives us the desire for making a place for Jesus, first place, in our lives.
Legalism runs and tells the Pharisees. Grace runs as fast as it can to God. Which way are you running?
Religion Without Faith
Though the Pharisees were the populists in Jesus’ day, they did not sit on the top of religious power in Jerusalem. The high priest’s office was held by Sadducees, Annas and his son-in-law and successor, Caiaphas. Unbelief ran to legalism, and legalism ran to religion, religion without faith, which is another arch enemy of the gospel.
The Sadducees liked the pomp and circumstance of religion, but without the dogma. They did not want to be bogged down in beliefs, doctrines, truths. They did not believe in the supernatural, in persons and powers you cannot see, so they really did not believe in God, at all. So when Jesus came, claiming to be God, the Sadducees teamed up with the Pharisees to ensure the deluded Jesus would be destroyed.
There are beautiful religious edifices, Christian church buildings, that I have seen all over America, eastern and western Europe, and both sides of Russia. Their steeples are gold, their architecture is ornate wood, their facades are beautiful brick and stone, their chancels or altars draw your eyes to astounding crosses. But inside there is no faith. There is ritual, moral instruction without biblical standards, and therapy for the parishioners. But there is no belief in the authority of Scripture nor the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, there are trendy megachurch warehouses franchising themselves all over the world now, offering rock music, amusement park amenities for kids, social justice coffees for millennials, smooth marketing, and state of the art technology. What they don’t have, however, are orthodox statements of faith, pastors who’ve taken a class in systematic theology, verse by verse Bible study, and reverent prayers and hymns that honor God.
Today’s world is long on religion and short on faith. It sells out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, or political prestige, or merely a big crowd. It makes even spiritually dead people feel good about themselves, and the pomp or pop music is so loud, they cannot even hear if Jesus should come calling.
It is tempting to give lip service to the gospel. It is easy and personally beneficial to join most churches, where the perks and programs are many and the demands of discipleship are null and void. Christianity is more of a passing culture today than a primary faith.
But gospel faith holds the whole counsel of the word of God to be true, and preaches the Lord Jesus Christ as the only one who can take away our sin and impute His saving righteousness, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, all false-hearted or half-hearted attempts to follow Christ are enemies of the gospel.
Politics without God
So what did the legalistic Pharisees and faithless Sadducees do when they got together to get rid of the Lord Jesus Christ? They turned to the greatest worldly power and enemy of the gospel. They played politics.
Politics is the governing of a people. When informed by God and God’s word, like the experiment that became the United States of America, it can make a nation a city on a hill, a bright beacon of hope, an arbiter of justice. Without God, like atheistic communism or secular socialism, it becomes immoral, tyrannical, unjust.
The death and resurrection of Lazarus led directly to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The miracle performed at Lazarus’ tomb was the last straw for the unbelievers, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. It was at this moment that the high priest, with ironic credit from John, decided to mix the politics of Jerusalem with the power of Rome and hatch the plot that would punish the Lord Jesus Christ with crucifixion.
Jesus would duck it for a few days by leaving Bethany and taking cover in nearby Ephraim. But as this central chapter turns to the second half of John’s Gospel, Jesus will go from Ephraim, to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to the Passover, and to the cross.
At the cross, Jesus faced the enemies of the gospel: legalism without grace, religion without faith, and politics without God. We must face them today.
Face them squarely by asking a few questions:
Are you saved because of what you’ve done for God, or because of what God has done for you? Are you trusting in your own goodness (ref. Romans 3:10), or the atoning death and imputed righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8-10)?
Do you abide by the external etiquette of a religion you’ve mostly made up for yourself, or is your conscience held captive by the word of God? Is faith simply your personal interpretation of select Bible verses (ref. Deuteronomy 12:8; 2 Peter 1:20), or is the faith the cardinal and systematic doctrines presented in the inspired pages of the word of God (ref. Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16ff)?
If you could only devote yourself to one cause, the success of your particular political party, candidate, or cause; or, the cause of Christ expressed by regular worship, responsible church membership, and world missions, which would you choose? Is politics your god, or does the true and living God reign over your politics and every other area of your life?
These questions, and the answers you give, will determine whether you are a friend of God or one of the many enemies of the gospel.
I AM LAZARUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 18, 2020
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
— John 11:38-44, ESV
In the seven signs recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus turned water to wine (ch. 2), healed an official’s son from a distance (ch. 4), healed a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (ch. 5), fed the five thousand (ch. 6), walked on water (ch. 6), made a blind man see at the pool of Siloam (ch. 9), and raised Lazarus from the dead (ch. 11). Each miracle is also a parable that points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
The same can be said for the seven “I Am” sayings. Jesus is the bread of life (ch. 6), the living water (ch. 8), the door (ch. 10), the good shepherd (ch. 10), the resurrections and the life (ch. 11), the way, the truth, and the life (ch. 14), and the true vine (ch. 15). Each metaphor bears witness to the miracle of God coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save us. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
Only one scene in the Gospel powerfully couples both a saying and a sign in one capsule. It is the funeral of Lazarus, where Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” then proceeds to resurrect and give life to her previously deceased brother. This event caps the first half of the book, and provides the impetus for the drama played out in the second half, the final week of Jesus’ life, which ends in His own death and resurrection.
Please pay close attention to what we are about to see in this scene in Scripture. It is supremely important. It is central to the gospel story and it is central to the gospel itself. It is a miracle and it is a parable. It is a physical (and temporal) resurrection of a body being raised that points to the spiritual (and eternal) resurrection of a soul being saved. He was Lazarus, He is Lazarus, and in the end, you will want to say, “I am Lazarus.”
He Was Lazarus
He was Lazarus. He was the brother of Martha and Mary, a good friend to all, and a very close confidant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was devout in his faith, diligent in his work, delightful to be around. Now he was dead, gone, buried in the tomb, his body decaying for four days. Many had gathered around the grave. Many tears were shed. The mood was extreme sorrow, which was about to turn to shock and awe.
Because Lazarus was, Jesus was. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was there, right by the family’s side, bunkered in the safety of Bethany for a moment before making the Passover trip to hostile Jerusalem. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was grieving, even unto His own tears. Jesus love him, this we know. Because Jesus loved the man so, He hated his death. John writes that the Lord was “deeply moved” (vs. 38).
This is an unusual and very descriptive New Testament term, used only five times, three of which occur in the Lazarus narrative. It speaks of someone who is upset, agitated, tinged with anger. Jesus is well known for His righteous indignation. He called unbelievers dogs, He called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes, and He literally whipped the tar out of money changers and others who were profaning the place and time of holy worship.
This time, the Lord was angry at the corruption of the world by sin, the fallenness and frailty of human flesh, and that old slewfoot the devil, too. He was angry that Satan had lured all mankind into sin, that sin had made man selfish and separated him from God, and the curses of infirmity and mortality had finally tagged someone Jesus particularly loved, the man named Lazarus. At least, he was Lazarus.
Lazarus was, so Jesus was about to do something astounding to reverse Lazarus’ curse, and give gospel hope to sinful people everywhere.
He is Lazarus
No one expected what happened next, except Jesus, who was about to change Lazarus from a “was” to an “is.”
It is important to understand and believe that Lazarus was stone cold graveyard dead. He was not asleep. He had not fainted. He was dead, and long enough so that his sister Martha knew “an odor” would be released if they rolled back the gravestone.
I was once told, “All you preachers know how to do is just preach.” Well, all dead people know how to do is be dead. They cannot see, hear, walk, or talk. They cannot take the first step and let God take the rest.
When Jesus raised the Nain widow’s only son from the dead (ref. Luke 7), He touched the casket and spoke to the dead, and he arose. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed (ref. Mark 5; Luke 8), He touched her hand and spoke to her, and she arose. To raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did not touch a thing, but once again He used words, “Lazarus, come out.”
These are three different people, in three different places, with three different means of handling, but one consistent thing. Jesus spoke and the word of God, literally, was heard by the dead and the power in those words raised the dead to life. It was the word of God that quickened Lazarus’ heart and lungs, jumpstarted his brain, reversed his rigor mortis, enabled him to rise and walk, and out of the grave he came.
Lazarus was, now Lazarus is. He was dead, now he is alive. And Jesus did not charge him a penny. “Mercy there was great and grace was free.”
Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus was a miracle that overcame Lazarus inability to raise himself, unconditionally preferred Lazarus to other dead people in the world, was limited to raising Lazarus from the dead, irresistibly enticed Lazarus to come out of the grave, and kept Lazarus alive until God was ready to call him to his permanent home.
The miracle of Lazarus is also a parable of saving grace. I know. Because, I am Lazarus.
I Am Lazarus
There is a captivating scene in the movie “Spartacus,” near the end, when the hero played by Kirk Douglas and his fellow freed slaves have failed in their final revolt against Rome. The survivors of the battle faced the penalty for rebellion, which was death by crucifixion. However, the Romans promised to let the survivors live, albeit in slavery, if they would simply identify and turn over the leader of their army, Spartacus.
One by one the men stood and spoke. “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” They loved Spartacus, they experienced life with Spartacus, they identified with Spartacus, and did not want to live without Spartacus and the freedom they enjoyed together. In the end Spartacus was crucified, then symbolically resurrected, as his only son was smuggled out of Rome to freedom. I am Spartacus, no I’m not. But let me tell you who I am.
I am Lazarus! I was dead spiritually because of my sinful nature, choices, and acts before Jesus came to me and gave me eternal life (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff). Being dead, I could not seek Him or reach for Him (ref. Romans 3:10ff), but He sought me and bought me.
I am Lazarus! I do not know why, but He chose to save me before I was born again, before I was even born, before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4). He did not choose me because of anything He saw in me (ref. Romans 9:10-18), but because He sovereignly chose to love me and save me.
I am Lazarus! I am a member of a short list of the world’s population to receive the benefit of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death on the cross (ref. Romans 5:8). Not a drop of Jesus’ blood will every be wasted, and one of those drops hit me.
I am Lazarus! When I heard the word of God effectually (ref. Romans 10:17), I irresistibly repented (ref. Acts 11:18) and believed (ref. Ephesians 2:8) and followed the Lord. I could not have remain lost and unfaithful any more than Lazarus could have remained dead and camped out in the tomb.
I am Lazarus! I stand here now, spiritually and eternally alive, and will still be standing for the Lord until the day I die, by the Spirit and the word of God (ref. John 10:28; Philippians 1:6).
I am just one example of how this great miracle, the seventh sign in John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, is also the greatest parable of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And Scripture reveals God saves by sovereign grace so that He alone with get the glory. Remember that “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’”
So “come out” and experience the glory of God in the grace of salvation. Hear the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Climb out of the tomb you have built with your own sin and rebellion against God. Breathe the spiritual air of the Christian life. Follow the Lord in this life until in the next you see Him, face to face. When you do, just tell Him, “I am Lazarus!”
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 11, 2020
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
— John 11:23-27, ESV
Central to the Gospel of John is the story of Lazarus. Central to the story of Lazarus is the fifth of seven “I Am” statements given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all seven, this “I Am” decree proves and preaches. It proves Christ’s claim of being essentially equal with Almighty God. It preaches the gospel, extolling the benefits of bodily resurrection and eternal life to the one who believes.
Furthermore, this particular proclamation provides us with perhaps the finest funeral sermon ever preached, given as it was at the graveside service of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. It was brief (no amens, please), God-centered, and brimming with hope. On day, all funerals for followers of Jesus will end up like this one.
Life and Death
As far as we can tell throughout human history, everyone who has ever lived has died. Exceptions should be made for a couple of Old Testament dudes named Enoch and Elijah, and maybe a few folks out west who were allegedly abducted by aliens. Those of us who are living now have to face the fact that we too are likely to die, which brings us to the age old question. Is there life after death? The answer coming from every corner seems to be yes, according to people of all faiths and even those with no faith.
That is why the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids of great treasure, for they thought they would somehow take it with them or come back and get it. That’s why radical elements of Islam blow themselves up, for the sexcapades and extra-planetary pleasures promised in the next life. Mormons follow a dreamer named Joseph Smith who schemed a similar heavenly scenario. Even secularists who practice no religion at all speak of death as a passage to a so-called better place to meet the anonymous man upstairs. It seems everybody is working for a never ending weekend to enjoy after our workaday lives are through.
Why is this, that everyone seems to have some belief in life after death? It is because the eternal God has made all of us, faithful and faithless and even those of false faiths, in His own image (ref. Genesis 1:26). God is eternal, and “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out” (ref. Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, the human race strongly suspects there is life after death, we just can’t see past the finish line. The great prophet Jackson Browne sums it up:
“I don’t know what happens when people die,
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try,
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, that I can’t sing,
But I can’t help listening.”
Lazarus’ family and friends, including Jesus, were all devout Jews. They had a bedrock belief in life after death. The Psalmists (ref. Psalm 49:15, 71:20), the author of Job (ref. Job 19:26), the prophets Isaiah (ref. Isaiah 26:19) and Daniel (ref. Daniel 12:2), and others taught the grave is not the end.
Martha reflected this belief in her first exchange with the Lord on this matter: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know.”
Jesus did not say anything new to Martha, yet. After all, she was Jewish, and the majority of the Jews of her day did not follow the Sadducees on this subject, the sect who did not believe in resurrection or life after death (which is why they were sad, you see?). The Pharisees laid out the majority Jewish position of an afterlife (so don’t boo them in this case).
Most Jews believe. Most Christians believe. Most Muslims believe. Most everyone believes in some kind of life after death. This time the majority is right.
Resurrection and Life
Long before Lazarus’ funeral, Jesus had promised a resurrection for everyone. This Gospel of John recorded it: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (ref. John 5:28-29).”
Based on Christ’s prior teachings, everyone will experience one of two types of resurrection. One of them results in life, eternal life. The other is for judgement, resulting in an eternal death sentence and permanent separation from God. Jesus now makes a bold claim which guarantees a good resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus says seven times in John, including here, “I Am,” ego eimi, YHWY, the name of Almighty God. This means Jesus is speaking for God, as God’s Son and essential equal with God. We believe the God of the Scriptures is almighty, sovereign, eternal, powerful, and truthful. What He promises He provides, on His terms.
Jesus is not promising a resurrection, but the resurrection, one of the two. His declaration should be interpreted as the one for the good and godly that leads to life with Him, forever. He had already proven His power to resurrect, with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s only son, and He was about to prove it again with Lazarus. Christ's soon coming death would liberate five hundred more from the tombs, and His own bodily resurrection on the third day would crown the promise.
But who can claim this gospel promise? Who gets in on the good resurrection and life, and who gets the evil resurrection and judgment? It is a matter of good works verses a lack thereof? Sort of, but remember something else Jesus had said well before the funeral: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ref. John 6:29).
Belief and Unbelief
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Life after death is not dependent upon race, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. Life after death is not guaranteed by baptism or church membership, either. You have to “believe,” and you have to “believe this,” and this is the gospel.
The Gospel of John is the Gospel of faith, but not just any faith. It has to be a faith in God as God has revealed Himself in the person and work, the resurrection and the life, of Jesus Christ. And it cannot be a simple faith, as in simply believing the facts about Jesus. Yet it is not overly complex, either.
To teach on true faith, The Apostle John consistently prefers the verb “believe.” Almost always it is in the present tense. So what Jesus and John taught is that simple, saving faith in the gospel must have some complex layers. It must be a deep, abiding, active, and ongoing faith conjoined with faithfulness. The faith God requires and the faith God gives must first convince the mind of the historical facts in question about Jesus Christ. Faith must move the heart with the anguish of of sin and love for the One who forgives. Faith must temper the will to be conformed with God’s will, forged by the Spirit and the word. Only then can a person really say they “believe” in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Take Martha, for example.
Present and Perfect
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus demanded faith in the present tense. Martha’s response was literally and literarily perfect. She called upon the name of the “Lord” and said, “I believe.” She professed her belief in the perfect tense, which speaks of a past action with present evidence and future consequences.
Martha had been justified by faith, as indicated by her great confession, a conclusion she had come to even before Lazarus’ death and resurrection. She was being sanctified by faith during the dramatic events at the tomb, for she was leaning on the Lord and being led by the Lord Jesus Christ in the present moment. Therefore, she was assured of being glorified by faith, of her own future experience of resurrection and eternal life in Heaven.
This is a picture of perfect faith. You do not have to be perfect to obtain faith. You will not be perfect when you have faith, until its final stage. But you have to have a perfect faith, a complete faith, a valid past profession, a present proof of a spiritual life, and a future hope of resurrection and life with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.”
The Bible has much more to say on this subject, and Jesus did not address the resurrection of the evil and faithless here. It is true that all of mankind will experience a resurrection before God, be judged by God, and consigned to an eternity with God, or without Him. The difference will be faith, its object, and its genuineness. Please believe Him, presently and perfectly.
The stage has been set by Lazarus’ death. Crying time is about to be over. Jesus has seized the day by preaching the gospel of who He is and what He offers to those who truly believe. Now He is about to show off, and show us, in the most dramatic illustration of faith and its rewards found anywhere in Scripture.
SOMETIMES I NEED TO CRY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 4, 2020
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
— John 11:17-37, ESV
In this part of the Lazarus story we come to terms with our tears. We don’t talk about them often, as sadness and its subsequent shedding of tears is a difficult subject to address. We’d rather avoid it altogether, having inherited a stiff upper lip from our British ancestors and adopted the American adage that big boys, and in this egalitarian age big girls, don’t cry.
Music helps and hurts. Roy Orbison made a big hit out of “Crying” in 1961. Much later, lesser know recording artists Homer and Jethro made a mockery of tears with their infamous “I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back Crying Over You.”
So should we hold our tears back, let them flow, or laugh them away? Why don’t we let Holy Scripture decide for us?
Sometimes I Need to Cry
I’d already been a parent for fifteen years when my fourth daughter came along. I didn’t know I was doing it all wrong. When Christie, Ashley, or Emily got hurt and cried, my response was typical. “There, there, don’t cry,” I would say. That didn’t work on Courtney Grace. She began speaking her mind as soon as she learned to talk. If you tried to comfort her by telling her not to cry, she’d stomp her feet and look you in the eye and say, “Sometimes I need to cry!’
She was right. I think Lazarus’ sisters and the Lord Jesus Christ would agree. Just look at all the tears in this text. Martha’s words can only be interpreted through tears. Mary, the more emotional of the two sisters, went to Lazarus’ tomb “to weep there” (vs. 31) and “Jesus saw her weeping” (vs. 33). “The Jews who had come with her also [were] weeping” (vs. 33), a rare sympathetic thing for the Jewish John to write about “the Jews,” opposers to Christ during His ministry and a diaspora people by the time the Gospel was written.
And finally, in the shortest verse in Scripture, one memorized by all former students of the late, great Dr. Gray Allison who required a hundred memorized verses written verbatim on his mid-term and final exams, “Jesus wept” (vs. 35). The word translated wept is unique, used only here in the New Testament, and means that Jesus cried, and cried, and cried. Weddings and funerals lasted for days, not minutes, in the old world, and this funeral for Lazarus was soaked in tears from beginning to abrupt end. Sometimes, even God needs to cry.
There Are Good Reasons to Cry
Sometimes we need to cry because sometimes there are good reasons to cry. A loved one’s death is at the top of the list. Lazarus, the godly helper, must have been greatly beloved by all. His sisters, his Bethany neighbors, even the Lord Jesus Christ wept profusely at his funeral. Death is not final for Christ followers, but death is still a proper, legitimate, and biblical reason to cry.
The is a good reason why we cry at deaths, even though death is not the end for a Christian. The separation caused by death, albeit temporary, is very real and painful. People cried over Lazarus, not knowing at the time he would be raised again on the fourth day. Devout Jews cried over Lazarus, even though they affirmed the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine championed by the usually annoying Pharisees. We cry when we lose someone we love, because of the unspecified lost time we will experience without them. We miss their smile, fellowship, giftedness, good works, and more. These are good reasons to cry.
Death and lost time hurt. The pain is real, and pain is the thing that produces the tears. Physical pain can make you cry. Emotional pain can make you cry. Spiritual pain, knowing that all suffering and death is ultimately caused by our collective sin against God, can make you cry.
And here is what the pain, the loss, and the tears are all about. Life and death are about relationship, covenant, community. God did not create us to be alone. He created us for a covenant with Him, relationships with one another, and fellowship together on earth, as it is in Heaven. And when that relationship is broken, even temporarily for true believers, it is a sharp pain, it is great loss, and it is crying time, for good reasons.
Consider the odd truth that the Bible says plainly in the Old and New Testaments that God hated a man named Esau. Do you know why? Esau thought little of, actually despised, you could even say hated, the covenant relationship between a son and his earthly and heavenly fathers. God hates that which, and those who, destroy godly covenants and important relationships. That’s why God is on record for hating divorce, because it is the destruction of a covenant and the collateral damage of broken relationships ripple abroad. Death can break covenants and relationships, too, which is one of the many good reasons God wept at the death of Lazarus.
So while there are good reasons to cry, and to observe why even God cried in this episode, there is also a reminder while we are living to cherish our God-ordained relationships, for this is what we are made for. Hold on to the Lord, your church family, your family and friends. Be true to covenant and relationship, so much so that it will hurt deeply if they are broken, even temporarily, by death. And know that when death happens, God is there.
God’s Responds When We Cry
We need to cry because there are good reasons to cry, especially when a relationship is broken into by the uninvited guest of death. But through eyes of tears there is wonderful news to read in this story. When we cry the most, when we hurt the deepest, God is always there to help, comfort, and guide us.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His presence. He did not send flowers or a card, as appropriate as that might be in certain circumstances. He did not video chat, since Covid-19 was not the culprit that took Lazarus. He showed up, in person, as befits the close, covenant relationship He enjoyed with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. What a difference it made when the family saw Jesus’ smiling, and crying, face! Good relationships can be maintained and broken hearts can be mended when we show up for one another, the way God does for His children. It’s well over half the battle in victorious marriages, families, friendships, churches, and any relationship oriented entity.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His word. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That’s where Job’s friends blew it, they should have shown up and shut up. But Jesus shared vital, gospel words with Lazarus’ family even before the big event of the resurrection. They constitute the fifth of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, and the next sermon will be devoted entirely to them. But for now, suffice it to say that the greatest words you can ever share with anyone anytime, especially in times of death and sorrow, are words that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His actions. He took the bull by the horns, the body by its death, and with His presence and with His word Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We will say much more about this in the following studies, but for now observer Jesus’s pattern of comfort: presence, words, actions. You and I cannot heal on demand nor raise the dead at a funeral, but there are plenty of other actions we can take to comfort and support those who are hurting. Let God show us the way.
As far as Lazarus is concerned, not many in history have experienced an earthly resurrection like his. There are only a very few cases in the Bible. Some say the rarity of resurrection is happening today, where the light of the gospel is going to the darkest places on earth. But by grace through faith, all of God’s people are privy to the promises Jesus spoke at Lazarus’ funeral. Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25), and all who enjoy a covenant relationship with Him will never die. Earthly death is just a door that leads us from the lesser to the greater, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earth of pain and sorrow to the Heaven where tears will flow no more.
But for now, there are times when we need to cry. When we do, God is there, in Spirit and in word. So when someone you love is crying, don’t be the dumb parent I once was. Go to them, tell them it is okay, say “Sometimes I need to cry,” and keep it up until the promise of the Lord is fulfilled:
“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes … death shall be no more … Amen … Come, Lord Jesus” (ref. Revelation 21:4, 22:20), especially when we need to cry.
DEATH SETS THE STAGE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 27, 2020
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 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
With ten chapters behind it and ten more to follow, chapter eleven centers John’s Gospel in more ways than one. The author’s overall aim is to magnify the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he does so magnificently from beginning to end. But the middle chapter reveals to us that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ may have never happened except for the death and resurrection of a dear friend of His named Lazarus.
This death and resurrection of Lazarus is the last straw for Jesus’ enemies and sets a great stage for the grand finale of the gospel. The seventh sign is also the best illustration of the gospel anywhere in Scripture. All human beings are spiritually dead because of sin, but those whom God chooses to save are raised to life by the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the first sixteen verses we build the stage to see the grand play, a stage set by the news of the death of Lazarus. Grab a seat in front for the first scene and see a special man, extraordinary love, pure sacrifice, and some surprising faith.
A Special Man
Chapter eleven begins with “a certain man” (vs. 1). His name is “Lazarus,” which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Eleazar,” which means, “God helps.” There are seven men with that name in Old Covenant literature, and all of them are good men who, with God’s help, helped others to know and love God.
Lazarus was the brother of two sisters, Martha and Mary, and we will speak more about their special relationship with Jesus in a moment. They had a home in Bethany, a small village on the edge of Jerusalem. Bethany is a one-hundred mile, two day journey from Jesus’ home base of Capernaum.
The sisters sent a SOS to Jesus. “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (vs. 3). In other words, “Lazarus! Eleazar! God help us! Our brother is sick and about to die.” It takes two days for Jesus to get the message, then Lazarus expires. Jesus waits two days before beginning the two day journey to Judea, thus Lazarus will have been dead for four days when the Lord arrives.
God’s specific plan for this certain man is calculated, planned out to the minute. It is the same for you and me. It is so ordered “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vs. 4). Whatever happens to one of God’s children, even something as appalling as death, can set a stage for God to act for His ultimate glory and our overall good.
A Higher Love
The motivation behind God’s plan for this certain man was love. And it was no ordinary love. It was a higher love.
Think about it, there must be higher love,
Down in the heart or in the stars above.
Without it, life is wasted time,
Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine.
— Steve Winnwood
Though Jesus obviously had a special relationship with Lazarus and his sisters (ref. Luke 10:38-42), I’m not sure they knew how much Jesus loved them until death placed them on this particular stage. Sure, the message Martha and Mary sent said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (vs. 4). But they word they chose for “love” is phileo, friendly love, family love, fond love. It’s as if they said, the one you are so fond of is dying.
The late, great author Brennon Manning was known for being terminally happy, in spite of his many trials and tribulations. When asked why he liked to say, “The Father is very fond of me.” Indeed He is, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Jesus was fond of this family. He liked talking to Lazarus. He liked teaching God’s word to Mary. He liked Martha’s cooking. But the Apostle John, who could look inside Jesus’ heart as well as anyone, found in Him a higher love.
John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (vs. 5). In a world where koine Greek was the official written language, John could have used eros, selfish and sensual love, but he did not. He could have repeated the word the sisters used, phileo, friendly love, but he did not. He used agape, a higher love, a deeper love, a sacrificial love. This is John’s favorite word to describe the love of God, and for good reason, for such great love requires great sacrifice.
A Great Sacrifice
John will use the word agape again when he writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (ref. John 15:13). Consider how Jesus showed His love for His friend, Lazarus.
Jesus did not merely say a prayer or send an encouraging word. He walked a hundred miles to be with the family in person. In doing so, He put Himself at great risk. Remember our last episode in the Gospel of John? Jesus disciples did. “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’ (vs. 8).”
Jesus was sacrificing His own life by going to see Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He was walking in the day or in the light, another favorite expression of John, which means He was doing the will of God, whatever the cost. The opposite, symbolized by walking in night or darkness, means sin, dishonoring or disobeying God, and this Jesus could not do, even if it meant giving up His own safety and security. Jesus knew the risks of going back into Judea, He new the next Passover was at hand, and He knew this time, He would be the lamb.
When you commit to a life that honors and obeys the will of God, and you do so in response to God’s great love for you and your true love for Him, you will sacrifice. You will always sacrifice your time, often your resources, sometimes your health, and maybe even your life. Yet, as we will see in the subsequent acts of this great play, no child of God ever really dies.
A Surprising Faith
As Chapter eleven continues, there is much more to see about Jesus. There is much more to say about His dearly beloved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. But the last verse that sets the stage is a quote from a more obscure, often misunderstood disciple.
Thomas was not his real name. Thomas was his nickname. Everyone called him the twin, didymus in Greek, to-ma in Hebrew, Thomas in English. We don’t know his real name and we don’t know anything about his twin brother or sister. We think we know something about his character from his other nickname, Doubting Thomas.
Since the New Testament era unfolded, anyone who doubts anything, anywhere, anytime is called a Doubting Thomas. Christians use the term, non-Christians use the term. Thomas is shrouded by doubt now everywhere he goes. But he should not be called Doubting Thomas, he should be called Courageously Faithful Thomas.
When the other disciples were trying to talk Jesus out of going back into Judea, listen to what Courageously Faithful Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It takes a special man to say that. It requires a higher love to say that. It involves personal sacrifice to say that. It is not doubt, but a strong and living faith in Jesus Christ.
You are special to God. His love for you is higher than you could ever know. He has sacrificed for you, died for you. Are you willing to die for Him?
You could be like Thomas and those original disciples, who almost to a man did die for the gospel. You could be a historic martyr like Jim Eliot, who died in Ecuador giving out the gospel. Or you could me a more ordinary Christian, dying one day at a time just trying to do the will of God. You’ll have your doubts. You’ll have difficult days. And unless you live until Rapture, you will die. But as we will see in the subsequent acts of the play, no one who knows the Lord will every really die. Death just sets the stage for the greatest life of all.
EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 20, 2020
30 I and the Father are one.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
— John 10:30-42, ESV
One of Bob Dylan’s first and most enduring hits contains the repeated chorus, “Everybody must get stoned.” Those who don’t know Dylan well or listen carefully to his Nobel Prize winning lyrics think this is a song advocating the use of illicit drugs. But Dylan, by his own testimony, never wrote a drug song.
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (a much debated title that does not appear anywhere in the lyrics) is a song about persecution, persecution for being someone different or doing something differently. Dylan wrote it in the mid-60’s during his transition from folk/acoustic to rock/electric. His fans booed him and the critics trashed him. It was professional persecution. Hearkening back to his Jewish upbringing and the Old Testament Scriptures, Dylan felt like people were throwing stones at him.
Dylan is pretty cool in my book, but Jesus is the coolest, ever, and everlasting. He was a distinctive person. There is no one else like Him. He did things differently for His day, or any day For being distinctive and doing things differently, as you can see in this text, “The Jews picked up stones to stone Him.” If someone as divine and perfect as Jesus is to be stoned, then everybody must get stoned.
The Distinctive Person of Christ
The Jews, especially the religious leaders, should have known that when Messiah appeared, He would be an “only begotten” (ref. John 3:16), which literally means “one-of-a-kind,” being who is both fully God and fully man. Consider the prophecies of the most quoted Jewish prophet, Isaiah:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
— Isaiah 7:14
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
— Isaiah 9:6
The virgin-born man who is “God with us,” and the God-man who is both “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace” is Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord Jesus Christ. So it should be no wonder, and certainly nothing worth being stoned over, that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
But it freaked the Pharisees out something awful. Not even Jesus’ reference to Psalm 82 could convince them that He had not blasphemed the true and living God. How could He, when the Father and the Son are two persons of the exact same being, the same substance, homoousian.
Remember, they were not looking Jesus the Divine, but for another Judah the Hammer. They were playing politics, looking for military might and an economic policy that favored them. They were looking for a leader who would codify their extra-biblical rules, not God’s word.
Besides, if Jesus and the Father are one, they thought, they would have to bow down and worship Him. They would have to follow and obey Him. They would have to love and honor Him. They would have to put the sovereign Lord above their autonomous selves. Perhaps this is why the vast majority of Americans today, and up to 30% of confessing evangelicals, deny the deity of Christ.
So, it was decided, Jesus had to go. “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him,” as they had at least once before (ref. John 8:59). And if they are going to stone Jesus for being Lord and Christ, then everybody must get stoned.
The Different Work of Christ
“Believe the works,” Jesus said to them. But they would not. They weren’t that kind of works, done in the kind of way, that the Pharisees wanted.
If the religious rulers of Jesus’ day could have captured the power of God and put it in a bottle, they would have poured it out upon certain people in a certain way. They would have used it against their enemies, to destroy them. They would have used it for financial gain, to enrich themselves. They would have used it to enforce a smothering legalism upon the population, whereby they could control them and make them conform to their image.
Jesus worked differently. He catered to the poor and marginalized and even reached out to Gentiles. His followers were fisherman, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He used His power never to harm, only to help, never to confine, only to liberate.
Jesus kept a woman they would have stoned from being stoned, lepers they shunned from being shunned, and the blind they kicked out of the synagogue from remaining in darkness. Jesus did so many of these works on the Sabbath day, which was no violation of God’s word, but a strict rebuke against the Pharisees’ ridiculous rules.
“For which of them are you going to stone Me,” Jesus asked. All of them, I suppose. But if you are going to stone Jesus Christ for doing God’s work God’s way, then everybody must get stoned.
The Distinctive and Different Life of Christ
Jesus knew He would not get stoned that day, it was not yet His time. But Jesus did know, omniscient God that He is, that they would not fail to kill Him in four months time.
With this in mind, Jesus retreats from the aborted stoning, lingers into the shadow of the cross, and takes time to reflect. We would do well to reflect with Him, to consider the great price God’s Son paid for God’s people, and come to the conclusion that if Jesus Christ had to have the cross, all of His followers must take up their cross, too.
At this time of reflection we only know about a mere three years of Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke do describe His birth, and Luke ads a caveat at age twelve, but the bulk of the Gospels, especially this one well chronicled by John, covers a little over three cycles of the annual Jewish feasts and festivals.
It began with John the Baptist, which is why we find Jesus here, “Across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first.” Jesus, with about a hundred days to live, thought about they day just over three years prior when He was baptized by John to begin His public ministry. He thought about His first followers, Peter and James and John and the others, who must have been by His side at this moment. He thought about all the sermons and miracles He had done to prove His deity and preach the gospel. He thought about all the joy at the meals and festivals, and He thought about the pain and suffering, which He could now see through His front windshield.
Ironically, at this out of the way place, it is written, “Many believed in him there” (vs. 42). John’s Gospel of belief sometimes plays fast and loose with the term, sometimes superficial, sometimes sincere. How can you tell if it is distinctive, different, saving faith? Do you pick up stones against Jesus, or are you willing to take them with Him?
Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be good,
They’ll stone you just like they said they would;
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home,
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
— Bob Dylan
Jesus did not just try to be good, He was and is the Good Shepherd. They killed Him just like they said they would. He went back home, to Heaven, with the promise to bring sheep with Him. He died alone on the cross, but Jesus will not be alone, if you will take up your cross and follow Him. Everybody must get stoned.
SHEEPING IS BELIEVING
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 13, 2020
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
— John 10:22-30, ESV
The Gospel writer John must have really loved sheep, even though they have always been considered dumb animals. They do make an apt metaphor for Christians, though, and John mentions them more than the other three Gospel writers combined. Though he was a fisherman in his youth, and a fisher of men under Jesus Christ, he preferred to picture the King and the kingdom of God as a Good Shepherd with His sheep.
This was not the image of the Messiah the Jews were looking for in the first century, however. They wanted a warrior. They wanted a shrewd and powerful politician. They wanted a candidate for president who would make Israel great again by overthrowing the deep state of Roman overlords.
The Jewish religious rulers had been watching Jesus of Nazareth for about three years. He showed promise, with His insightful parables and undeniable miracles. But He was not militant enough, not material enough, not manly enough for them. So they ran out of patience with Jesus at this feast, and at the next one, they would kill Him.
Jesus Was Not Their Messiah
The “Feast of Dedication” is the setting for this story. It was not one of the big three (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), so it did not require a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But it was important and symbolic, and Jesus decided to attend, for the last time.
The celebration, also known as the "Festival of Lights,” occurs in the month that corresponds with our December. While we celebrate Christmas, Jewish people commemorate “Hanukkah” (the Hebrew word for “dedication”).
Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!
— Adam Sandler
Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of Israel in 164 B.C. from a tyrannical overlord named Antiochus IV “Epiphanes” (a self-given nickname of a madman who thought himself a manifestation of the gods), who had profaned the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing swine on the altar. After the war was won and the Temple was cleansed, a small oil lamp was found and lit. Instead of burning for the normal eight hours, its light shone for eight days and nights.
The hero of the Jewish revolt was Judas Maccabeus, or Judas “the Hammer.” Hammer-time was about the only time the Jews lived freely and independently in the promised land from the time of the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. to the United Nations’ recognition of the State of Israel in 1948.
This is a significant part of the story because this is the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day. They wanted a hammer, not the humble, holy, and hard-to-understand person embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not their kind of messiah and they were not Jesus’ kind of sheep.
They Were Not Jesus’ Sheep
The Jewish religious rulers and the people at large did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus said this was due to one simple fact. “You are not among my sheep,” Jesus said, which is perhaps the saddest and most tragic thing a person could ever hear from God. But God knows, and it is not too difficult for others to tell, who the sheep are not.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to go where the other sheep go. Jesus’ sheep form an assembly of born again believers who gather on the Lord’s Day for worship and serve the Lord every day as ambassadors of Christ’s church. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” because they generally shun the church.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to eat what the other sheep eat. Jesus’ sheep feed upon the word of God, the Bible. It is the centerpiece of their Sunday worship and their daily diet throughout the week. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep” by the way they ignore or attack the Bible.
When you are not a sheep, you do not follow the Shepherd like the sheep in love, devotion, and obedience. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they follow their own way, their own will, and spend their time and money on things they want, without reverence or respect for God and His sheep.
When you are not a sheep, you will not wind up where the other sheep are ultimately going. Christ’s sheep are going to Heaven, according to the precious promises of God given by God’s Son in this passage of God’s word. On the Day of the Lord it will be painful and obvious to tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they will be banished from the presence and kingdom of God and experience the awful wrath of God.
John Chrysostom said, “If you do not follow Jesus, it is not because He is not the Good Shepherd, it is because you are not a sheep.” When you are not a sheep, you just don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when you do, sheeping is believing.
Sheeping Is Believing
John’s Gospel is about believing. John’s Gospel is about sheep. Sheeping is believing.
What people believe wrongly about believing in our day is that it is a singular act of belief. But believing is not a singular act. It is a new life and an ongoing lifestyle. It is becoming a sheep, behaving like a sheep, and receiving the blessings and benefits of sheephood.
We become sheep by being “born again … through the living and abiding word of God” (ref. 1 Peter 1:23; see also John 3). “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said. It is a real epiphany, unlike the ungodly claim of Antiochus IV. Sheep hear the voice of God when by grace the gospel is preached to them and in faith they understand it and accept it. When a non-sheep turns from sin and selfishness and turns to the Lord, they turn into a sheep.
We behave like sheep when we obey God’s word and God’s will in our lives and lifestyles. “Follow Me” becomes the two most important words the Good Shepherd ever spoke. True sheep, Jesus said, “They follow Me.” John also wrote, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (ref. 1 John 2:4-6). Sheep are not perfect, they get wounded and weary, but the warp and woof of their lives is to follow the Lord and obey His word.
We get the benefits of sheep in the double blessing of eternal life and eternal security. Sheep, and sheep only, are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Sheep who know the Lord can know they are saved and kept and guaranteed an abundant life now and an eternal life forever, with the Good Shepherd of our souls.
And just who is this Good Shepherd? He is Jesus Christ, and He is God, for Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” I’ll have much more to say about this in the next sermon. For now, believe in sheeping, for sheeping is believing. Sheep are not so dumb, after all.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org