Monday, June 02, 2014

A Life Transformed by Jesus (John 12:9-11)


In 2010, a biography entitled Unbroken brought a man named Louis Zamperini into the public eye.[1] His story is a fascinating one, and later this year, it will hit the big screen in a major motion picture. What is it that is so captivating about the tale of this now-96-year-old man? As a young immigrant boy in California, he gained a reputation as a troublemaker. He was so good at outrunning police officers, that one officer told him he needed to use his speed for something good, like athletics, to keep him out of trouble. He did just that, and qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. During that Olympiad, Zamperini roomed with Jesse Owens, was invited to a personal meeting with Adolph Hilter, and was apprehended by the Gestapo for climbing a flag pole on a government building to steal a Nazi flag (which they let him keep when they released him). During World War II, he was a bombardier on a B-24 Bomber that crashed into the Pacific, killing most of the crew. Zamperini and two other crewmen survived for 47 days on a liferaft, even being shot at from a Japanese aircraft as they drifted. Eventually they were captured as Prisoners of War by the Japanese. He endured torture in the prison camp for three years until the war ended. Any one of these details of Zamperini’s story worthy of attention. But it was what happened after the war that really makes his story remarkable.

In 1949, a young upstart evangelist named Billy Graham had begun preaching in his first crusade in Los Angeles. Louis was an alcoholic, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his marriage was falling apart. Tormented by his dreams and memories of Prison Camp, he fantasized about tracking down his tomenter and killing him in cold-blooded vengeance. At her wits end, Zamperini’s wife attended the Billy Graham Crusade, and there she met Christ. She came home and begged her husband to attend the crusade with her. Zamperini recounts the tale: "I was a mess.… I fell apart after the war. I was a drunk. I suffered terrible nightmares and was having marital problems. But my wife was a determined woman who dragged me down to see Graham. I walked out mad the first time. I didn't want to hear that I had sinned. Just to shut her up, I went back." And when he went back, Louis Zamperini gave his life to Jesus Christ and his life was radically changed. He says, “That night when I got home from the Crusade, it was unbelievable. I didn’t have a nightmare, and I haven’t had one since.” His marriage was restored, and he and Cynthia stayed together until her death in 2001. Louis began to travel the world speaking to audiences about his faith in Christ. He became a missionary to Japan, and found opportunities to preach the Gospel to the very guards who had tormented him, whom he had once dreamed of killing. Louis Zamperini is a wonderful, living example of a life transformed by Jesus![2]

His story is no less remarkable than that of Lazarus in John 11-12. And it is no more remarkable than the story of any sinner whose life has been transformed by Jesus Christ. Like Lazarus, we have been brought from death to life through Jesus. In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us,
You were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:1-7)

If you are in Christ, you have been raised from death to life, in an even greater way than Lazarus. You and I were dead in trespasses and sins, going through life according to the way of this fallen world, marching to the drumbeat of Satan, and fulfilling, or at least trying to, every sinful desire that we had with no regard for the things of God. But God saved us by His mercy, His love, and His grace, and made us alive in Christ. And now He intends to use our transformed life to bring glory to His name. Lazarus becomes a great role model for us in this, and here in our text we see the effects of a life transformed by Jesus. These things were true of Lazarus. Our prayer should be that these things would be true of us as well. So what are these effects of a life transformed by Jesus?

I. A life transformed by Jesus catches the attention of others (v9)

Have you ever crossed paths with someone who had changed remarkably since the last time you saw them? A few weeks ago I ran into an old friend I had not seen in over 20 years. He hardly recognized me. Let’s just say I’ve put on a few pounds since I saw him last. But there was one other thing that took him by surprise – I was at a Christian conference. The last time I saw this guy, I was a hard-hearted unbeliever. At first he was very confused to find me there, but I was glad to share with him how Jesus had changed my life.

Now, in our text today, we read about a group of people who came to the home where Jesus was having dinner. It seems understandable that they would want to come and see Jesus. They have heard amazing stories about this Man, and some of them had heard Him teach and seen Him do miracles. Now, word is going around that He’s in town and they want to see Him. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But notice in verse 9, “they came, not for Jesus’ sake only.” They also came “that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.”

Imagine the conversation. “Wow, Lazarus, you really look great. The last time I saw you was, let’s see, oh yeah, at your funeral when you were dead and wrapped up in grave clothes and placed in a tomb. You have really changed a lot since then!” He sure has! His life has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ! He’s been raised from death to life! And if you know Jesus, your life has been transformed in the same way. And that ought to catch the attention of others.

Does anyone who has known you for a really long time ever say things like this to you? Do they ever say, “You know there’s something different about you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but ever since a certain time, you’ve just changed.” Maybe they notice that you talk about God, about Jesus, about the Bible more now than you ever did. Maybe they notice that you’ve cleaned up your vocabulary, changed some lifestyle habits. You’re doing strange things now, like hanging around the church a lot. They notice that there is a peace and joy in your heart that you never had before. Your attitude and outlook on life is changing. You are talking about things you are praying for, and how God has answered. You’re loosening your grip on the things of this world and clinging more tightly to a steadfast hope in Jesus. Maybe you haven’t even noticed the change that much in yourself, but it has caught the attention of others. When you’re not around, they are talking amongst themselves, “Hey, have you noticed this about our old friend? What’s going on with them? Something’s changed about them.” Yes indeed, something has changed. Your life has been transformed by Jesus Christ.

You know, the transformation process is ongoing throughout our entire lives. God won’t be finished changing you until you get to heaven, but the process has already begun. Sometimes, the progress is slow, and we can get discouraged as we wrestle with thoughts and habits that we want to put behind us, but they keep rearing their ugly head. Here’s something you can do if you are wondering about your progress in the Christian life. Find someone who has known you a long time, maybe since before you were a Christian, a friend or a family member, and say, “Can I ask you something? I want you to be very honest with me. Can you see any difference in my life today from all those years ago?” They may notice changes that have taken place in your life that you don’t even notice yourself. And if they don’t notice any changes, let that be a cause for you to reexamine your faith in Christ. If He isn’t changing you, then something is wrong. Maybe you were not really saved when you thought you were. You might think, “Oh that would be a terrible thing to realize!” No, actually it is a wonderful thing to realize, because you could see the need to turn urgently and desperately to Christ here and now and be truly saved! But if Christ has saved you, He is transforming you! He has begun a work in your life that He will be faithful to continue and complete.

He’s still working on me, and He’s still working on you. The change that is taking shape in you is evident to others, even if you don’t notice it in yourself. John Newton, that great pastor and hymn-writer who gave us, among many others, “Amazing Grace,” was at one time, before he became a Christian, the captain of a slave-trading ship. After years of growth and transformation in the Lord, in his old age, he said, “Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be—yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan!”[3] Can you say that of yourself? I’m not what I ought to be or what I want to be, but thanks be to God I am not what I used to be! Can your friends and family members say that about you? A life transformed by Jesus catches the attention of others. They can see that you were once dead, but have been raised to life by Jesus Christ. You are being transformed, and they notice it.

II. A life transformed by Jesus leads others to faith in Jesus (v11)

I hope it is OK to say this here without being judged too harshly: I love watching movies. And when you go to see a movie, you have to get popcorn right? I think it is a law. For $27 or something like that, you can get a little bag of popcorn that has 12 pieces of popcorn and 9 unpopped kernels down in the bottom. But for 10 cents more, you can get a tub of popcorn that large enough to hold baptisms in, and they slather it with that gooey butter and all of that salt. Popcorn never tasted better than when you’re watching a movie. Now, why do movie theaters sell popcorn? Well, in case you didn’t know, they make very little profit off of your movie ticket. They make their greatest profit off of two things: popcorn and drinks. They know that if you eat that big tub of salty popcorn, by half-way through the movie, you’re going to come back out to the lobby and pay $39.50 for that barrel of soda that it cost them 12 cents to serve you because the salt has made you thirsty! That’s pretty smart of them, isn’t it? They make a huge amount of profit on one very simple principle. Salt makes people thirsty.

Jesus Christ said two things that are related to that very simple principle. First, when He was speaking to the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). He has a soul-satisfying, living water that He can give to thirsty souls which, unlike any other fountain in this world, can quench the thirst forever. That living water is Himself. Nothing else in the world provides everlasting satisfaction. You know that. You’ve tried. You’ve drank from other fountains, as it were, seeking satisfaction, and you got thirsty again. But Jesus satisfies forever. He is living water. But Jesus also said to His followers, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). There are many points of application to these words, but certainly one of them is this: Salt makes people thirsty. Your transformed life is being used by God to awaken a spiritual thirst in people that only Jesus can satisfy. Your life catches their attention, and then, amazingly, God uses you to bring others to Himself.

It is happening here in the text. Notice in verse 11 that “on account of him [Lazarus] many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” They were going away from their empty religious traditions. They had tasted of them and drank deeply from that well for years, and it left them entirely unsatisfied. Their religious upbringing had done nothing to help them with the real problems and issues they were facing in life. They have offered sacrifices a plenty, they’ve memorized rules and tried hard to keep them, they’ve gone through one ritual after another. And inside, their souls are as arid as the Sahara Desert. But then they notice Lazarus – a guy who was dead just a few days ago, and today is eating dinner at a table with Jesus Christ, who raised him from the dead. Here is a man whose life has been transformed in a way that none of them have experienced! And here is a Savior who made it all possible. Is it any wonder that, because of Lazarus, many of them were turning away from their former beliefs and turning to faith in Jesus?

When I think about how God brought me to faith in Jesus, I think about some wonderful people that He placed in my life at just the right time. I began to notice something different about them that I did not have, but I desperately wanted. They had a love, a peace, and a joy in their hearts that I had never seen before. It wasn’t that they were perfect – I saw them sin often with my own eyes. But I also saw them wrecked by their sin, and repenting of it before the Lord with brokenness. I heard the delight in their voice as they talked about Jesus as if He was a living person who was in the same room with them. They didn’t grumble and complain about their church. They loved going to church, and wouldn’t miss it for anything. They loved their Bibles, and read them on their own time, even when they didn’t have to, and they loved talking about the Bible. And as they talked about it, it was like they were giving me CPR. They were being salt in my life, and I was getting thirsty for the living water that Jesus Christ can supply. So, like these in our text, I can say that “on account of Nate, and on account of Mike, and on account of Dick and Judy, and Paul, and Steve, I went away from my old way of life and belief, and believed in Jesus.” They were as surprised by it as I was when it happened. But God wasn’t surprised. This is the way He chooses to operate. He uses the salt of a life transformed by Christ to awaken a thirst in other people’s souls that can only be quenched by Jesus.

And you will find that it happens to you. You’ll be spending time with someone, just living your life for the glory of Christ, and speaking of Him and His Word as you interact with them, and one day, they will say to you, “Friend, you have something I don’t have, but I really want it.” And you will have the glorious privilege of leading them to Jesus. Because of you, they will believe in Him. So, a good question to ask yourself is, “Can others tell that the difference they see in me is because of Jesus?” Is Jesus creating in you something that is attractive to them, something that they want for themselves? Now, if you are a cantankerous curmudgeon who is always grumbling about stuff that bothers you, they probably don’t want that. They already have enough of that. But, if they see the sweetness of Jesus flowing through you in words and deeds that express faith, and hope, and love, and joy, they will want it. If you will make it your singular aim each day, for God to use your transformed life to bring someone else to faith in Him, it will happen. There is nothing God wants more for you than for your life to be used for His glory in bringing others to faith in Jesus. I don’t know that God has ever let this prayer go unanswered: “Lord, please use my life today to impact someone for Christ.” Can you pray that prayer? If you can, God is able to answer it in ways that you have never dreamed possible.

Now, you may have noticed that we skipped a verse. Well, we can’t do that. We need to back up to verse 10 and see one more effect of a life transformed by Jesus.

III. A life transformed by Jesus invites opposition from others (v10).

When your life is being transformed by Jesus, you are raising a gigantic banner for Christ over your life. Your life is becoming a gigantic flagpole for Jesus, and you know what happens to big flagpoles? They get struck by lightning. Not everyone you meet is going to be delighted about your newfound faith in Jesus. We don’t do a very good job covering this in our new believer discipleship courses. We talk about assurance and Bible Study, and Baptism and prayer and all that, but we don’t usually say, “Oh, and by the way, there are going to be some people who hate you now because of this.” We don’t say that, but we should. Just look at Lazarus.

In verse 10, we read that “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death.” At first glance you might think that is a typo. You might think that it’s supposed to say “they planned to put Jesus to death.” Well, they did plan that, but notice the word also. They also have their sights trained on Lazarus. Why? Because he is leading people to Jesus. They just thought that Jesus was the only problem they had to eliminate. No, Lazarus presents another, two-fold problem for them. First, he is living proof – literally, living proof – that Jesus is Who He claims to be and that He has the power of God to save and transform lives. That’s a problem, because they are trying to convince people that Jesus is a fraud. Lazarus walking around breathing air, eating dinner, and being alive is proving that Jesus is no fraud. But then also, he presents another problem. Notice that it is not the Pharisees who want to kill him, but the chief priests. Now, the chief priests are mostly Sadducees, and the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection – not now, not ever. (That’s why they were Sad-You-See … ba-dum-dum). This is a core tenet of their worldview and belief system, and here is this guy who is proving them wrong because he is in fact alive after being dead. That’s a problem.

Jesus warns us that this will be the case for many of us. He says in John 15:20, “A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” The Bible has some very specific promises about suffering for your faith in Christ, namely, expect it. First John 3:13 says, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.” You present the same problem to those who oppose God as Lazarus did. They say God isn’t there and Christ is not the Lord and Savior. And yet, here you stand, a life transformed. How can you explain it? Your entire life has been turned upside down. You don’t do the things you used to, and you don’t even want to! You are doing things that you used to think were strange, like praying and going to church and listening to long sermons. And a few of you even enjoy it! Strange people! How can you explain that? It is only the transforming power of Christ, and your life is a witness to them that they are lost and wrong and that their soul is in peril. They are mad at God for existing and mad at Jesus for saving sinners, and mad at you because you are living proof of it. You contradict their entire worldview, and they want you to just sit down and shut up. And in the worst cases, they will shut you up if they have to.

I always wondered, how do you threaten Lazarus? “We’ll kill you.” Lazarus would just say, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. What else have you got?” What about you? They say, “OK, you have crossed the line for the last time, and this means death.” Well, what are the promises of Jesus? “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” What’s that? You want to send me to be with Jesus forever? Not a problem! Paul says in Philippians 1:21 that to live is Christ and to die is gain! You can’t threaten a Christian who believes his Bible and longs to be with Christ. They can try, but they just can’t shake you.

Right now, the eyes of the world are on Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a 27-year old mother in Sudan, who has been charged with apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity. She is on death row. She gave birth to a baby girl last Tuesday, and is expected in coming days to receive 100 lashes, and once her baby is weaned at age 2, she has already been sentenced to death by hanging. They are telling her, “Renounce Christ, and you can live.” She has said that she would rather die than to forsake her faith in Christ. We are rightly outraged by this, and people are saying, “Call your Congressman and ask them to lobby the State Department to do something.” There’s nothing wrong with that. You can do that. But you should also pray. God can do what the State Department cannot. God can strengthen her faith so that she will cling to Jesus even if she is put to death. And God can use her transformed life to bring many in that nation that is held hostage by false religion to Jesus. We want to see her free. She wants to bring glory to Christ, by her life or by her death. And the steadfast resolve of her transformed life is powerfully testifying to the whole world that Jesus is better than life!

You can expect opposition if you follow Jesus. That is a promise. It might not be death threats, but it could be. It might just be mild inconveniences. It might mean severed relationships, a lost job, a dent in your income, a mark on your resume, or something like that. But when you embrace suffering for Jesus – and it is important that we clarify, for Jesus – you are demonstrating the evidence of a transformed life. Some people will hate you for that. You need to expect that. But, others will take notice, and by your living witness, even God forbid by your dying witness, some will be drawn to Jesus.

When the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel in Athens, Acts 27:32-34 says, “some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’ … But some men joined him and believed.” That’s how it goes with a transformed life. Some will take notice. They’ll say, “We’re not sure what it is that is going on with you, but we want to know more.” Some will be led by your life’s testimony to embrace Jesus for themselves. And others will just sneer, and oppose and attack you. That’s what they did with Jesus, that’s what they did with Lazarus, and that is what they will do with you. Many will notice, some will believe, and others will oppose. Those are the effects of a transformed life. May God grant that our lives would produce those same effects as we live this transformed life that He is working in and through us.




[1] Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (New York: Random House, 2010).
[2] Details drawn from various online sources: http://www.louiszamperini.net/?page=bio; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Zamperini; http://billygraham.org/story/louis-zamperinis-story-of-survival-and-redemption/; http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/02/local/me-then2. Accessed May 29, 2014.
[3] John Whitecross, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Illustrated: Illustrated by Appropriate Anecdotes (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1876), 57. 

1 comment:

RETA said...

Thanks for writing! May blessings abound for you.

RETA@ http://evenhaazer.blogspot.com