Given For the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 2/16/04.
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).
The eleventh chapter of John includes the thrilling story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Most people know the story well, and it fits right in with our on-going discussion of the difference between religion and Life in the Spirit. By the time Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee, Judaism, the glorious link between God and His chosen people, had become a stale, impotent religion, burdened down with rules, regulations and dead rituals. "A voice crying in the wilderness" (Matt. 3:3), John was sent to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand. Weary Jews flocked to the Jordan where he was baptizing, drawn to his message of repentance, as he declared, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt. 3:11, RSV).
Jesus came into a world of dead men walking. The sons of the Patriarchs had deteriorated from their former glory and fellowship with God, to being servants of Rome, prisoners in the land God promised Abraham. They fully expected God to raise up Messiah, the promised leader, who they mistakenly believed would lead them to physical victory over their hated Roman overlords. One hallmark of religion is that the participants do not seek God themselves, but instead, like the foolish virgins, go to men to get their needs met, rather than to the Seller of Oil Himself (Matt. 25:8-9). Sadly, direct contact between God and man was a distant memory, as four centuries had rolled by since they heard His voice. Imagine Zechariah's surprise, then, when the angel Gabriel announced the birth of a son whom he was to name John, "..... he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared" (Luke 1:15-17).
Like some Christians today, Zechariah was surprised to hear about this miracle, probably thinking that God didn't do such things anymore. On the one hand, Abraham's experience of siring Isaac in his old age was an integral part of their heritage, but on the other hand, religion tends to suck the life's blood out of spontaneity, revelation and personal experiences with God. Life often creates structure for protection, like a seed within the pod, but structure never produces life, because by its very existence, it depends on organization. Life is an organism, a living being, as Lenny puts it, while religion is an organization, often without life.
Serving God as a priest, Zechariah was lighting the incense when Gabriel appeared to him. The fact that he was startled and afraid shows that he was performing a meaningless ritual, not expecting to hear anything from God. Some Christians I know and love, look at me like I have slipped a cog, if I say, "The Lord told me," this or that. They have relegated the voice of God to the leather bound book we call the Bible, and like the first century Jews, they study it diligently, trying to learn more about this God whom they serve. A friend e-mailed me this week to tell us about a recent experience she had in a bible study called, "Knowing Jesus."
She reports, "I enjoyed the worship time, testimonies, praise reports, and prayer requests and learned to see Christ's humanness by the scriptures shared. But again, I was in a setting where I was hearing about Christ and not hearing Christ per se; it was more shadows, rather than the reality of Christ." End Quote.
Learning ABOUT Christ, is not the same as knowing Him personally. Zechariah knew all about the history of Israel and God's dealings with them, but when he met Gabriel, he panicked because the vitality had been gone for so long in his service to God that he didn't know what to do with it when it appeared to him. Like all his peers, Zechariah was a walking dead man, serving God by rote. We are not told if he later submitted to his son John's ministry and was himself baptized for the remission of his sins, but we know that it would have been particularly difficult for him, a priest, to follow Jesus, for he would have run afoul of the Pharisees' determination to shut up this man who claimed to be the Son of God. Still, Paul exults, "For if their (the Jews) rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15, RSV). And this is our topic today, being raised from the dead, being delivered from the frustration and bitter disappointment of religion, which promises so much, and delivers so little.
I am sure you remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. He knew his friend was dead, but delayed going to him. When Lazarus first became ill, his sisters sent word to Jesus asking him to come. "When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it" (John 11:4). This is the same thing he said about the blind man in chapter 9, of whom the disciples asked, "Who sinned, him or his parents?" Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3).
When Jesus and his disciples got to Bethany where His friends lived, the man had been dead for four days, and all the friends and neighbors were gathered to mourn his passing. Both sisters, at different times said to Him, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (Vs. 21, 32). I'm not sure if this was both faith and disappointment expressed, or if it was an attempt to lay a little guilt on Jesus for His failure to appear in time. In any event, it mirrors a popular but, unscriptural conviction among Christians today, that if God is present, nothing bad can ever happen to us. According to the notes in my Recovery New Testament, the word used for "weep or mourn" in Verse 31, as well as in Verse 33, means "to wail." We see it today in that part of the world, where people really let loose and howl and mourn their loss. Maybe they are ahead of those of us who feel we have to be dignified in our grief. Whatever it was, it was loud and very public.
The text continues, "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept" (Verses 33-35). The other mourners said, "See how He loved him" (Vs. 36). The footnote explains that the word translated "wept," here, "means to shed tears, to weep silently," and further notes that it "is the only time the word is used in the New Testament." I have always thought it strange that Jesus should weep over Lazarus' death since he knew he was dead before he came (Vs. 13), and He also knew He was going to raise Him from the dead "so you may believe" (Vs. 15). As I was meditating on this chapter, it came to me that Jesus was weeping over the human condition. He saw that all of them were dead in trespasses and sins and He knew that He, the Shepherd of the sheep, would go upon the mountain dark and bring the sheep back home. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5-6, NIV).
It seems clear to me that the Lord's burden, the things that He suffered, began when He left the realm of glory and was clothed in flesh like those of us He came to save. The Hebrew writer tells us, "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8, RSV). That includes far more than the hours He spent in agony on the cross. It encompasses His whole life on earth as He walked among men and saw how far from the kingdom of God we were. Paul was talking about the Gentiles in this passage, but, because of their blindness and hardness of heart, brought upon them by God (John 12:40; Rom. 11:5-8), it is equally true of the Jews: "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:12,13, RSV). Perhaps it was His compassion for these lost souls which caused Jesus to weep.
It would have been a lot easier on the whole family, their friends and neighbors, had Jesus not delayed His coming. It would have saved them all the grief, heartache and pain, but I've noticed that God is not interested in that so much as He is dedicated to conforming us to the image and likeness of His Son. Whatever it takes to do that and to reveal His glory to us, is what He does.
He has shown me on a deeper level that part of my "religious" experience was an attempt on my part to limit my suffering, or to put it bluntly, to control God. I wanted to conduct my religious life in such a way that I would escape what I saw so many others having to endure. Though I pursued such attempts diligently, much like Job, God had other plans for my life.
Like Zechariah, I had practiced the family religion with a will and a passion. Determined to be the best follower of Christ I could be, I studied the scriptures as though my very life depended upon it. Like John's father, I had an encounter with the living God It was not an angel, but the Lord, who baptized me in the Holy Spirit, and showed me how dead the religion I was practicing really was. Somewhere along in there, in my euphoria that Christ is real and that the Holy Spirit had not gone back to heaven as I had been taught, I encountered a well known Word of Faith teacher
What He taught was so seductive and so enticing, that I leaped for it, hook, line, and sucker. In His mercy, God showed me rather quickly, who sits on the Throne. It happened when a woman with terminal cancer, who did the right things, confessed the right things, and believed the right things, died a horribly painful death right in front of my eyes. After the bitter disappointment, I was riding my bicycle one day, complaining to the Lord about why He didn't heal her since all of us had the faith to believe He would. He said rather sternly, "Ruth is my business, not yours." OOPS, that stopped me dead in my tracks, and after 34 years of wrestling with Him about the promises for healing that abound in the New Testament, I have come to peace over it, knowing that it is His will, not Jan's which is done.
God has grounded me in the finished work of Christ on the cross, in the assurance that there is nothing man can do to aid or hinder the will of the Father as He accomplishes His purposes in the lives of men. Having said that, I notice in my own life, and in the lives of many others, that the Holy Spirit continues what I call, "The mopping up process." Let me explain it this way. I read a story once about some Japanese soldiers on a far flung island in the Pacific, who had been stranded there in isolation since World War II. When they were discovered, it took a lot of convincing for them to believe that the war was really over. For fifty years, the end of the war had no benefit for them, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT KNOW IT.
Many Christians are like that about the finished work of Christ. They do not know that the war against sin is over and we are victorious in Him. Because they do not know it, they still suffer pain, disappointments, guilt and shame, and other "neurotic stuff," which I believe are the sins of the fathers passed down to the children, to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:5; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9).
I had such an experience recently, which I'll share it with you. Our old computer system finally gave out in December of last year, and the Lord provided a newer computer and printer from dear friends of ours, who were upgrading their system. The computer is excellent. The printer is not. My main concern was the cost of operation. Printers are like cell phones. It's not the purchase price, but the operating cost that determines whether it is affordable.
I anguished over this because of our limited budget and also because I did not want to hurt our friends by rejecting their gift. The situation worsened until I was distraught over it. My back began to hurt, horribly, and Lenny reported an emotional black cloud hung over my head. We were discussing this last week, rather heatedly, until he finally said, "Don't ask me, ask the Lord." Of course, I had asked and asked, but had heard nothing. When he said that, I put my head down in my hands and groaned, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" The words were no sooner out of my mouth, than a car drove up, and one of our friends came in, sat down on the couch and said, "The Lord told me to do something." When we asked what it was, he said nothing, but handed Lenny a crisp $100 bill. We both began to laugh and told him about the heated discussion we had, and my statement that God had said nothing to me, only five minutes before he arrived.
That $100 bill comforted me over the week end, and on Monday, I began to track down the best buy on replacement cartridges I could get, thinking I'd start backward and get a printer we could afford to operate. To my dismay, the $100 wasn't enough by the time I factored in all the costs, and I was very perplexed, commenting to Lenny, "Why would the Lord not give us enough money to buy what we need?" It reminded me of the good folks who seem to think Jesus didn't complete the job on the cross, and they have to add their own works to His.
I left to run errands, and stopped by our mail box. Inside was an envelope with a note: "Our Lord told me to send this to you, which I do with love," and a generous check, enough to buy the printer and pay for my new glasses! I rejoiced and repented for doubting the Lord's provision, and then called Lenny. We now have a printer which has ink cartridges we can afford, and miraculously, my back quit hurting immediately!! You can make your own deductions from this, but what I see in it is the Holy Spirit mopping up the last of the poverty mentality I grew up with, the "waste not, want not" platitudes. Our Father is NOT niggardly or stingy, as His gift to us of His only Son plainly reveals.
God has raised us from the dead religion many of us grew up in, called us forth from our tombs of rules and regulations, rituals and customs, and set our feet on Mount Zion with Him where we participate in His life by the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah. Father, open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears so we can see You and hear You as You are. Amen. Jan Antonsson. To be continued........
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Second Hand Religion, Part I"
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion, II"
"Beyond the Veil, Second Hand Religion, III"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, V"
"All things under His Power, Second Hand Religion, VI,
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"Connected to the Vine, Second Hand Religion, IX"
"Chosen by God," Second Hand Religion, X"
"Labor Pains, Second Hand Religion, XI"
"Coming Home, Second Hand Religion XII
"A New Beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIII"
"Declaring the end from the beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIV"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 2/15/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.