While listening to Pastor Beaty's message this morning, I started thinking about the idea of our race against time. As runners it can be all-consuming. The pace, the personal record, the splits, the tempo, the long run, on and on, it seems that every workout, every run, comes down to our desire to set our own time and meet it, or beat it. We expect that if we train a certain way and follow the plan, then it will result with the time that we establish as the goal. And, to be honest with you, in running it can usually work that way.
However, in life, and along our spiritual journey, we can't always control the timing of our plans, wants and desires. This week, our small group study continues with a closer look at John, chapter 11. The passage is a very familiar one to many of us; Lazarus dies, Christ returns to the village in Bethany a few days later than others wanted Him to return, and "for God's glory" (verse 4), He raises Lazarus back to life. There are many points to explore throughout this chapter, but the focus on God's timing is one that we will discuss at length, beginning with a little background.
Early Jewish custom, as recorded in several non-scriptural texts, held that until three days after death, the soul returns to the grave, thinking that it will go back into the body. However, when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons the body. This was also taught by Bar Kappara, a 2nd century Jewish Rabbi. He explained why mourners would continue to come to the tomb over the first three days, as the dead person was actually still present. On day four there would be no more reason to visit the tomb.
In considering this tightly held custom, the following verses take on greater significance. First, in verse 6, "So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days," intentionally delaying a trip back to potentially heal His ill friend. In verse 17, "On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days." And finally, in verses 38-39, "Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
The real takeaway for me is that everyone wanted Christ to return and perform this miraculous sign, but only on their time. Once it seemed that it was too late, their faith in His power was diminished. As Pastor Beaty said, had He performed this miracle within the first three days, it is likely that many would simply believe that the soul elected to return to the body; in other words, no miraculous sign. But as we find in verse 45, "Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him," His timing was absolutely purposeful. For us, it gives reason to persevere. Just as we might lose hope, there remains a possibility for our struggles and a definite plan for His glory. An extremely difficult application to live out, but one that is worth working on together. Have a great week.
"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.