Monday, March 24, 2014

Joining Jesus in His Work (John 11:7-16)

I recently read the memoir of Marty Sklar. You may not know who Marty Sklar is, but a good many of you have probably visited a place that he helped design and create – Walt Disney World. For the better part of his 54 year career at Disney, Marty Sklar was the head of the Imagineering team – the team behind the creation of Disney’s theme parks, resorts, and attractions. As a young man, he was invited to join the staff at Disney just prior to the opening of Disneyland. Though Walt Disney only lived to see one theme park opened in his lifetime, Marty Sklar is the only person who had a hand in the opening of all eleven of Disney’s theme parks around the world to date. Yet, you won’t find a Sklar-Land, Sklar-World, or any other reference to him when you visit a Disney park. And Marty Sklar never seemed to mind that. As the head of Imagineering, he often told his staff to keep one thing in mind: There is only one name on the gate, and it is none of ours – it is Walt Disney’s – and together the Imagineers could make that name great or mediocre in the entertainment world.[1]

As I thought about what a great privilege Marty Sklar had been given to join in the work of Walt Disney, I also thought about the even greater privilege that has been given to every Christian. We have been invited to join in the work of the greatest name of all – the name above all names (Php 2:9), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19:16), Jesus Christ. When He called you to believe in Him and know Him, He was calling you to serve Him, to join Him in His work in the world. His mission did not end at the Cross. It continues on today and reaches to every tribe and nation of earth, transforming lives as His message of redemption goes forth through those who join Him in His mission. His work in the world is being done through us. We are in the service of the King for the sake of His Kingdom. There is only one name on the door of this Kingdom, and it isn’t any one of ours. It is the name of Jesus, and we have been invited to join in His work to make His name glorious in all the earth.

In our text today, we find Jesus once again inviting His disciples to join Him in His work. Let’s remind ourselves of the context. As Chapter 11 begins, Jesus receives word that His dear friend Lazarus is sick. But Jesus did not go to Lazarus right away. He delayed going to Him until this point in verse 7. But He does not plan to go alone. He could, but He doesn’t. He desires to involve others in the mission. He says in verse 7, “Let us go to Judea again.” That is an invitation to be part of His work.

Jesus is still doing this today. We need to understand that God does not need our help! The Lord Jesus is perfectly able to do all He desires to do in the world without any of our involvement. But He will not do it that way. Because He loves us, He has determined to use us in His work. Every morning that we wake up alive, Jesus is calling out to us, as if to say, “Let us go do this thing together.” I believe that our text today has relevant application to what it means to join Jesus in His mission. There are at least four essentials for us as we join Jesus in His work that we find here in these verses.

I. We must not be deterred by risk (vv7-8).

Let us be clear right off the bat – serving King Jesus is not safe. Now, to be perfectly clear, serving Him is safer ultimately and eternally than not serving Him. But if you think that because you are serving Jesus that no harm can come your way, you are mistaken. I can point you to thousands of people throughout Church History who were exactly where God wanted them to be, doing exactly what God had called them to do, who were severely harmed and even killed in the line of duty, beginning with the Lord Jesus Himself. We would do well to remember the words of C. S. Lewis in his marvelous little work of fantasy, The Lion, the Witch, and theWardrobe. As Mr. Beaver tells the children about Aslan, the great lion who represents Jesus in the story, the children ask the question: “Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” And the response they receive from Mr. Beaver is, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”[2] So it is with the Lord Jesus, whom Aslan represents. Following Him and serving Him is by no means safe. But He is good. And He is the King. Better to embrace the risks on behalf of Good King Jesus than to not do so.

What do we mean by risk? A risk is an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss, injury, or death.[3] By nature, risk is something that we are averse to. We don’t like the idea of loss, injury, or death, so we are prone to avoid it whenever possible. So were the disciples. Notice their response to the invitation of Jesus. When He says “Let us go to Judea again,” they say, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” They are remembering what happened earlier in Chapter 10 after the Feast of Dedication. There, when Jesus made a clear and bold claim to be God, the people tried to stone him to death. Two things I want you to notice about their response: (1) They are exaggerating things a bit. “Just now” is a bit of an overstatement. It has been two to three months. Risk-averse people always tend to exaggerate things when they are trying to slide out of it. And thus (2) notice that they are trying to slide out of it. Jesus said “Let us go.” They said, “Are You going there again?” Simple answer: No, He is not going there again; We are going there again. He has no plans to go there without them, and He isn’t going to let them slide out of this.

When we try to slide out of risk, we are unwittingly exposing a little hypocrisy within ourselves. Think about it. If we were to avoid all risk, we would never get in an automobile, because we never know when a terrible accident might occur. We would never board an airplane, because planes can crash, they can get hijacked, we have even learned recently that they can disappear completely in mid-air. We would be very careful about what we eat and drink, because we don’t know that we might not get food poisoning. We would want to go to the doctor more often, or maybe just check in permanently to a hospital, but then again, we never know when a staph-infection might occur. If we wanted to completely risk-proof ourselves, we might never get out of bed. But then again, as we saw in the news not long ago, we never know when a sinkhole might open up and swallow our whole house. The thing is, we take risks every day. We like to pick and choose them though. But is it not hypocritical for us to willingly take risks on a regular basis, and yet refuse to take them when we are invited to join King Jesus on His mission?

This comes up every time we plan to do something in service to King Jesus. Someone will say, “Is it safe to go to South Asia or the Middle East? Is it safe to be a part of the night club ministry?” Well, in point of fact, it is not safe. But neither is it always safe to go to the grocery store. Might the trip to Judea go badly for Jesus and His disciples? Yes. In fact, it will end in Jesus’ death and the scattering of the disciples. But never is a risk more worth taking than we are gloriously and graciously invited to join King Jesus in His work. When you join Jesus in His work, is there risk? Certainly. Will you always be safe? By no means. Could you get sick, injured, persecuted, or killed? Yes. Then why would you would take Him up on this invitation? Because those things could happen to you every day as you do things far less significant than journeying with Jesus in His mission. So, what the disciples had to learn, and what we have to learn, is that it is essential for us to not be deterred by risk. He is worth all the risk that is involved when we join Him in His work. That’s the first essential we see in this passage. Now, here is the second …

II. We must walk in the Light and work in the day (vv9-10).

Recently, a number of you experienced a rather unexpected, prolonged power outage due to the ice storm. Times like that remind us that we often take for granted our dependency on electricity. I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to turn on a light switch or the television while the power was out. We are used to having light any time we need it. One of the most difficult adjustments to make for our mission teams when we travel abroad is the unreliable availability of power in many parts of the world. In Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, for example, power is out every day for 8-12 hours, and you never know which hours those might be. If it occurs in the nighttime hours, there is nothing to do but sit around in the dark. The same is true for much of the world today, and what we often forget is that for the entire world, this was the way it always was until the last hundred years or so. We might wonder how people functioned when there were no lights after sundown. Well, they walked while they had light, and they worked in the daylight hours. At night, they went home and went to bed.

Jesus says this as a general truth in verse 9. “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.” In both the Jewish and Roman cultures of the first century, a twenty-four hour day was divided into the time of daylight and the time of darkness. Everyone knew this. They worked in daytime and walked while there was light, because after dark, they could not work, and traveling would be exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it might seem like this has absolutely nothing to do with the point of the text, but in point of fact, it is an essential for joining Jesus in His work. You see, Jesus knew that His life was in His Father’s hands. He would not die before the predetermined time set by His Father. As long as that time had not yet come, it was in a sense “daytime,” time for Him to work. When the time came for His death, it would be “nighttime.” But it was not dark yet, metaphorically speaking. He had to maximize how He spent the limited time He had been granted by the Father, and work while He could. The enemies of Jesus down in Judea could not shorten His life by one minute from what His Father had planned, and the cautious reserve of His disciples could not lengthen His life one minute beyond that plan. They need not worry what will happen to Jesus in Judea when He returns, because nothing will happen to Him unless and until the Father has ordained it.

Now, in saying this, Jesus is also encouraging His followers that the same is true for them. And it is true of us. Did you know that God already knows how long you will live? You do not know, but He does. He knew what your last day of life would be before you had your first day of life. Psalm 139:16 says, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”  So, in the same sense that Jesus could serve the Lord without fear, knowing that He would die until the Father’s predetermined hour came, His followers can as well. The disciples do not have to fear Judea. You do not have to fear what Jesus is calling you to do. When that last day that has been written in God’s book for your life comes, it won’t matter where you are, what you are doing, or how you go. You cannot die a moment too soon or a moment too late, for God has already ordained the number of your days. Since you don’t know how many of them you have left, it is imperative to join Jesus in His work and make the most of each day that comes along. We have daylight left in our lives! Let’s not waste it sitting around as if we were in darkness. Let’s walk in the Light and do the work of the Lord. Jesus is the Light of the World, and as long as we walk with Him, we can join Him in His work. Let’s not worry that something could happen to us. Let’s not make excuses about why we cannot do it. Let’s use the rest of our days to labor for Him as He has invited us.

Now notice the third essential for joining Jesus in His work.

III. Do what He calls you to do, and trust Him to do what He alone can do (vv11-14).

In Exodus 3, God speaks to Moses through the burning bush invites him to join in His work. He says, “I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land.” Notice the first thing that Moses says to God in response. He says, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” You see, Moses misunderstood God. God had not said a word about Moses doing anything. God said He had come down to do this. He was merely inviting Moses to be a part of the work He was going to do. So, the Lord speaks again to Moses and says, “Certainly I will be with you.” You see, Moses knew that He could not do all that was necessary to bring the people out of bondage. What he did not know was that God never expected him to do more than was possible for him. Moses was to do what God called him to do, and to trust God to do what only God can do.

In our text in John 11, Jesus has invited His disciples to join Him in His work. He says, “Let us go to Judea again.” But then notice how in verse 11, He changes the subject from us to I. He says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” Jesus was using the language of sleep to describe Lazarus’ condition, as the Bible often does to speak of the death of the righteous. But the disciples didn’t get it. They thought Jesus meant, you know, sleep. So they again try to wiggle out of the invitation by saying, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” In other words, “Let’s just leave him alone for now. After all he’s been through, he needs his rest. Let’s don’t disturb him. He will wake up feeling like a million bucks again soon.” So Jesus responds, and the Bible says He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”

Dead? That’s a whole different issue from sleep! I mean, if he is just asleep, you know, we could wake him up. But he’s dead! There is nothing we can do to help a man if he is dead! If you have seen the movie “The Princess Bride,” you will remember that scene where the hero Westley is believed to be dead, and so his friends bring him to Miracle Max to see what can be done for him. Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, says, “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do. … Go through his clothes and look for loose change.” Well, for Lazarus, you see, he was all dead. There was absolutely nothing that any of the disciples could do for him. Even if they could have recruited Miracle Max, all he could do for Lazarus would be to search his clothes for loose change. He was DEAD. But Jesus never called or expected the disciples to bring Lazarus back from the dead. He said that was what He was going to do. They didn’t have to do that. What was their part? To go to Judea with Him. That they could do.

Friends, the invitation to join Jesus in His mission often strikes us as intimidating – even terrifying! After all, the lost souls with whom we have been commissioned to share the good news of Jesus are as dead spiritually as Lazarus was physically. When someone comes to believe in Jesus, it is as though they were being raised from death to new life. Who among us can do that? There is not a single one of us who can! But He did not ask us to raise the dead. He did not ask us to save anyone. Jesus does not ask us to do anything more than follow Him, live for Him, love Him, love others, and speak the truth in love about Him. That, we can do, and all the more when we consider that His Spirit indwells and empowers us. We do not even have to do it in our own strength. He fills us with His own supernatural and divine power to do what He has called us to do. But the miracle part, the raising of the dead and the saving of souls, well, that is His part. He didn’t call us to do His job. He called us to join Him as He does it. We do what He calls us to do, and we trust Him to do what only He can do. That is essential if you are going to join Jesus in His work.

Now, we come to the fourth and final essential. If you are going to join Jesus in His work, …

IV. Maturing faith and obedience at all costs are necessary (vv15-16).

Perhaps you think that you have not grown in your faith enough to really serve the Lord. Maybe you think you are too new in the Christian life, too inexperienced, or maybe you think you are not quite “holy enough” to be involved in Jesus’ work. Well, here is the good news. He is not inviting perfect people to join Him in the work. That’s good news because none of us are. The disciples were far from perfect when Jesus invited them to go with Him to Judea. If Jesus was determined to only use perfect people, He wouldn’t be able to find anyone to invite to join His mission. He does not expect you to be perfect, or for you to be a well-seasoned veteran, or for you to be “fully mature” as a Christian to take part in His work. But you must be open to being stretched in your faith, and allowing Him to grow you and continue the process of maturing you as you serve Him.

Notice in verses 14 and 15, Jesus says (quite puzzlingly), “Lazarus is dead and I am glad.” Wait, what? He is glad Lazarus is dead? No, keep reading. “Lazarus is dead and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.” His delay in going to Lazarus is now going to benefit to the disciples – He is not glad for His own sake, or for poor Lazarus’ sake, but for the sake of His disciples. Why? He says, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Now, they already believed in Him, so He isn’t talking about initial faith. He is talking about them advancing in their faith. As they join Him in His work, their weak and imperfect faith will be strengthened and matured by what they see and experience. And the same is true for us. You might think you need to attain to a certain level of spiritual maturity before you can serve the Lord, but I am telling you from experience that you cannot progress beyond a certain level of immaturity until you join Him in His work. You will see and experience things as you serve Him that will stretch and strengthen your faith in Him to a degree you never thought possible!  Jesus invites His disciples, and all of us, to join Him in His work so that our faith might be strengthened as we engage the mission with Him.

We see a surprising example of this kind of maturing faith in one of the disciples. When you think of Thomas, what comes to mind? Doubting Thomas, right? We always tend to associate him with that post-resurrection encounter where he refused to believe that Jesus was risen unless He could see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands. It is unfortunate that Thomas gets such a bad rap. When we see him here, we don’t find a skeptical doubter. We find a person who is committed to joining Jesus in His work and obeying Him at all costs. It is Thomas who says in verse 16, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” He is the first to respond to the invitation.

Now, in fairness, we need to admit that we don’t have an audio recording of this statement. More than a few have come away from this assuming that Thomas is being overly pessimistic about future prospects. In my mind, I can hear him saying this kind of like Pooh’s friend Eeyore: “Well … come on … we might as well go … and die with Him.” But is it not also possible that Thomas could have spoken these words with confident faith, like a warrior enjoining others to march with him into battle? “Let us also go! Let us go and die with Him!” How exactly he said it, we will never know. Probably somewhere between those two views. But even assuming the worst of ole’ Thomas, let’s give credit where it is due. Even if he is being pessimistic about the whole venture, he does not let that stand in the way of his obedience to the Lord Jesus’ invitation. Thomas is wise enough to know that it is better to journey with Jesus, even if the path leads into the valley of shadow of death, than to take the ultimate risk of journeying without Him. The cost of discipleship is high. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship can be summed up in one word: “Suffering.” It will mean doing things that are not comfortable, popular, or safe. It could mean death. But the cost of discipleship is not nearly so high as the cost of “undiscipleship.” A stubborn, disobedient spirit that refuses to follow Jesus is a mark of unbelief, and the consequence of unbelief is dying in one’s sins and entering hell for eternity. Better to go with Jesus and face death and find heaven, than to go it alone apart from Him and find hell.

Thomas wasn’t excited about what might lie ahead. For all we know, he was reluctant and afraid. But, he was willing to obey the Lord at all costs, and that is a mark of maturing faith. Jesus might call you to join Him in His work in a dangerous place, doing a risky thing. He doesn’t expect you to always be jovial about that. It is a fool who rushes headlong into danger without considering the possible outcomes. If you are timid and terrified, it is perfectly understandable. Jesus already knows it, so you might as well be honest with Him about it. But we must not allow our timidity and trepidation to become a barrier to obedience. A willingness to obey Him at all costs – even when the cost is frighteningly high – is a mark of a maturing faith. Those two things, maturing faith and obedience at all costs, are absolutely necessary essentials if we are going to join Jesus in His work.

There is no greater privilege in the universe than for the Lord Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to invite us to join Him in His work. We don’t deserve that privilege. We have done nothing to earn it. Frankly, He doesn’t even need us. He could probably do His work better without us. But He has sovereignly and graciously determined to do His work with us, and through us. When He called you to follow Him – to trust in Him for salvation – He was calling you to join Him in His work of extending His Kingdom to all nations. There is no higher calling than this, no greater privilege. If you would join Him in His work, you must know: there will be risk, but do not be deterred by it. Walk in the light and work while it is day, for your life will not come to an end a moment before or after the Lord has already determined it to. While you have life, use it to glorify Him. Do what He has called you to do, and trust Him to do what only He can do. And continue growing into maturity in your faith. That process continues even as you journey with Him into His work. As you mature in the faith, your desire to obey Him at all costs becomes greater and greater, leading you to say with Thomas, “Even if joining Jesus in His work leads to death, let us do it.” It’s not like you are going to avoid death by disobeying Him. Let there be no regrets of things left undone for Him when you stand before Him.

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