Andy Stanley - Coexistence
Now here's something we've all wondered about. I've wondered about it. So I'm not pointing my finger at you. This is universal. This isn't a Christian thing or a religious thing. This is just a human thing. We've wondered and you may have asked the question differently than this but we all ask some version of this question, why would a good God allow bad things to happen? Why would a good God allow bad things to happen? This is a universal question and for some of you this question or when you began to wrestle with this question it marked the end or the beginning of the end of faith for you. That this question or some version of it may have have undermined faith completely.
In fact, your faith may be right now gradually dying a slow death around something that's happened in the world, or something that's happened to somebody you love, or just something that's happened in general and you just can't reconcile good God and bad things. And so consequently you're watching your faith slowly die or maybe the faith of someone that you love, or it maybe it died a long time ago because of some version of this question. But the interesting thing about this question is when we ask it, and we've all asked it, I've asked it. When we ask this question, let's just be honest, when we think about the bad things in the world isn't it true that we're focused on the bad out there and not the bad in here?
So let me ask kind of a follow-up question. Have you, don't raise your hand, have you ever done anything bad? Yeah and really don't raise your hand on this one, have you ever wanted to do something really, really, really bad but you knew you'd get caught and the only reason you didn't express your badness and your evil is because you did not want to go to prison but if you thought you could get by with it you might have done it anyway? Again don't raise your hand, right. And I'm guilty of that as well. But it's so interesting that when people begin to wrestle with the existence of a good God as it relates to evil it's always the evil out there. It's never the evil in here. In other words, I have never anybody make this case, maybe you have. How could a good Good allow me to happen? And here's another version of it, if God was good, he would have done something about me by now.
Now somehow when we start internalizing bad, and then we go like this, well wait no, no, no. I'm not talking about my version of bad or the evil I might do I'm talking about the big, bad things. But once you begin to look at the big, big bad things as opposed to the little bad things in your heart or the things that you've done you have changed the subject and you've changed the question and suddenly you're in the world of how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if woodchuck could chuck wood? And this way of thinking, and I don't wanna, we can cover all the bases today, but I just wanna just drop this in 'cause it points to where we're going today. This way of thinking ultimately leads to what's called an unfalsifiable premise which actually makes the argument meaningless. Because if you chase it down to its logical extreme and I understand it's so emotional we never get to the logical extreme because it's just an emotional question, but when you get to the end of the question here's what you end up with, I don't believe God exists, because I exist.
The only way, that's why it's unfalsifiable. The only way you could convince me there is a good God is for me to no longer exist but then I wouldn't be around for God to convince me. Did you follow that? Yeah, but again it's so emotional I don't think me saying that makes it go away. But I think if John were here, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John who wrote the fourth Gospel, John who followed Jesus around, John who saw everything Jesus did and heard everything Jesus taught, I think if John were to show up and would have heard what I just said or would hear the conservations you have about how do we reconcile good God and evil in the world, I think John would say wait, wait, wait. Hang on, hang on, hang on because I, John, he would say, I saw something that might help you with that dilemma. I saw God in a body co-exist with evil men. Evil men and I when I say evil I mean evil like you can barely even imagine evil. And the God that I saw in a body did not prove that he was God by eliminating all evil. He did something else. The God in a body that I saw did not eliminate evil. He actually, and he didn't even eliminate the evil in me. He loved me. And then he went to work eliminating the evil in me.
John, who spent time with Jesus, would say, I know it's a big emotional thing. I know it's a big emotional question. I'm not sure I can sort it out for you, all I can tell you is this. I saw God, and I saw evil. I saw a good God and I saw evil and they can coexist but it's nothing like you might imagine. We're in part six of a series, Bystander, where we're tracking along with the gospel writer John and his journey with Jesus. The subtitle is John and the Rabbi From Nazareth. And John in his gospel doesn't simply tell us what happens. John says, here's what happens, but I have an agenda. I want you to arrive at the same conclusion about Jesus that I did. I want you to arrive at the same conclusion about Jesus that I did and the only way to help you arrive at that conclusion is to tell you what I saw. But I can't tell you everything I saw, there's too much to write down. I can't tell you everything Jesus said, there would be too much to write down.
So John organizes his account of the life of Jesus around what he calls signs. We would call them miracles. John says, no, they're not just miracles. A miracle is a stand alone event. A sign is an unusual event that points to something. And John is so clear throughout his gospels. He says, I'm not trying to point your direction. I don't want you to fasten your affection and direction on the miracle, I want to make sure that you look toward what the miracle and the sign pointed to and that was Jesus. Because Jesus's miracles were not random acts of kindness. They were specific events in order to substantiate what he said about himself.
So today, we come to in our order the sixth, some people call this the seventh, but the sixth sign in the story of Jesus. Now, real quick catching you up if you haven't been in part of this series. Throughout Jesus's ministry and this is what makes reading the gospels a little bit confusing, throughout Jesus's ministry, he's constantly making the trip from Jerusalem north to the region of Galilee. Jerusalem is in Judea. Northern Judea is Galilee. He's from Galilee and he's constantly going back from Jerusalem in Judea to Galilee, back and forth, back and forth. His friendly people, his family, the folks who embraced him earliest were in Galilee. But whenever he came to Jerusalem, and to the temple in particular, there was always conflict. And where we left off last time, Jesus is in the vicinity of Jerusalem. He goes to the temple, which always made his disciples, or his apostles, so nervous, and while he's there, once again, he gets into an argument or a conversation with the temple leaders and they ask him the question they'd been dying to ask him, and they say to Jesus, Jesus, how long, how long will you keep us in suspense? Are you, or are you not the Messiah? Are you claiming to be the Messiah or are you not? Just tell us plainly.
And Jesus responds like this, he said, "I did tell you, but you don't believe me". And I haven't just told you, I haven't just preached it, I've done more than that. The works I do, the things I do, the miracles I perform. The things that are unexplainable that I do in my Father's name testify about me. In other words, I didn't just tell you, I've shown you. I didn't just tell you. I showed you. I've given you evidence. You just won't embrace it. And they wouldn't embrace it, because as we said last week, they, maybe like some of us, were willfully blind. They would not look at what could be seen. They would not try to discover what could be discovered. And Jesus preached and he taught openly. And he performed his signs and miracles openly. And they just couldn't bring themselves to arrive at the conclusion he wanted them to arrive at.
So, Jesus decides at this point in the series of and the life of his ministry and in his life, at this point, at this point Jesus decides to go all in. He decides to go all out. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes just a little bit of a distance away to where people would know where he is and knew what he was, and they would know what he was up to. And Jesus performs a sign, in fact as we're gonna discover and this is what makes this story so disturbing. Jesus actually manufactures a sign in that community so that no one would have any doubt he is who he claimed to be. And the sign was so indisputable that it forced the hand of those that were willfully blind and just could not embrace or accept the fact that Jesus was who Jesus claimed to be.
Here's what happened. Now a man named Lazarus was sick. And he was from Bethany, about a day and a half days walk. About a day and a half away from Jerusalem if you were walking. In the village of Mary and her sister, Martha, who were friends of Jesus. So the sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus and they said, "Lord," The messenger said, "Lord, the one you love is sick". So they send the messenger and Jesus is about one day's walk away. He's about a day away. They send the messenger. The messenger shows up. He finds Jesus and the disciples and the messenger says, "Mary and Martha sent me, they told me to give you this message. The one that you love is sick".
Imagine being so close to Jesus that someone doesn't even have to tell you, tell him your name, they would just say to Jesus, the one you love is sick, and they would know that Jesus would know immediately who you were talking about. That's amazing. So the messenger say, the one that you love is sick. When Jesus heard this, and if you grew up in church, you've heard this story, it's so unusual. When Jesus heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness," that Lazarus has, "Will not end in death". But the fact of the matter was, by the time the messenger got to Jesus and the disciples, Lazarus was already dead. He died while the messenger was on the way.
Jesus continues, "No," he says to the men around him, "No, it is for God's glory". To which, if you didn't know the story and you hearing it or reading it for the first time, you would say, wait, wait, wait, what? Sickness for God's glory? So Jesus believed that bad things could happen to good people and it does, not only does it not disprove God, but somehow it underscores the existence of God? Sickness for the glory of God. As John would say, yes, but we're just getting started. Jesus finishes the statement this way, "so that", because there's a purpose, "so that God's son," Jesus, "may be glorified through it". In other words, this is amazing, this sickness, this evil, and this particular sickness and evil and I think that's why Jesus manufactured this particular sign, it was a sickness or a disease or an evil or a bad thing found in nature. It wasn't simply the bad behavior of another person.
Now he's delved into the issue of nature. And why do all the things in nature work against us and why are there so many natural disasters and how could we possibly believe in a good God, when nature seems to be our enemy at times? This sickness, this evil as it relates to Lazarus, was actually left unattended on purpose because Jesus had a purpose in it. And in this story, Jesus, for his disciples and for many of us, for many of you, creates a brand new category. Sickness for the glory of God. Now, that is so uncomfortable. That is so not intuitive. That John knows his readers and the people who are following along this story are gonna immediately think, what? And so he jumps into this story and he makes an editorial comment so that we won't just close the book and go, that's ridiculous.
Now Jesus, John tells us, now Jesus actually loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And why does he tell us this? Because it doesn't look like he does. He said, now don't, don't check out too soon. Jesus actually loves these people. But wait a minute, Lazarus is sick and somehow it's for the glory of God and this isn't making sense and John's like, look, I know, I know, it was confusing to us too, believe me. Just hang with me. Jesus actually loved these people and John tells us that because it didn't look like it. And sometimes in your life it doesn't look like it either, does it? This is why I believe Jesus manufactured this sign. It wasn't simply, as we're gonna see, for the benefit of the people sitting around that circle. It was for you. And it was for you. And it was for you. And it was for you. And it was for me.
So, John says, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he stayed where he was two more days. Which is astounding to the people around him. Because Jesus has healed total strangers. Why would he not get up and rush off to heal his friend, Lazarus? And the answer was, he was up to something. He was staging a sign with a purpose in mind. And then he said, so two days go by. The messenger goes back to Bethany, Jesus and the guys are just hanging out doing whatever they're doing and suddenly, unexpectedly he stands up and he says, okay, to his disciples, "Let us go back now to Judea". And let's go specifically back toward Bethany. Now immediately his guys confused because the last time they were in that area it didn't go so well, in fact, as he's about to say, the last time they were in that area when they were at the temple during that conversation I mentioned earlier, they picked up stones to stone Jesus. And the problem with being around someone who's being stoned is people aren't always accurate. So you do not want to be around someone who's being stoned. You step back.
And so they realized if his life is in danger, their life is in danger. And they kind of tip their hat to this in this next statement. John's there and he's part of 'em. They said, but, but, but Rabbi, they said. In case you have, we know you're Jesus and all, but in case you've lost some memory, but Rabbi they said, "A short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back"? The real issue is, and you want us to go with you? Could you possibly either not go or could you go without us? So there's all this tension. And then Jesus does his Jesus thing. Where he seemingly changes the subject. This is why I believe these are actual narratives. These are actual conversations. These are the part that nobody would write into the script because they're so off script. These were the moments that the disciples were so confused. And often times we're as confused as well. But this is the brilliance, this is the beauty, this is Jesus bringing heaven to earth in a moment of crisis.
And Jesus turns to them as they're trying to talk him out of going and he says, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight"? What? Yeah, are there not, wait we were just talk- Are there not 12 hours of daylight? Anyone he says, c'mon guys. You know this. Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world's light. It is when a person tries to walk around at night, it's when a person walks at night that they stumble for they have no light. And they're like, thank you for that. That's not any new information. What does that have to do with anything? And as this narrative unfolds and as this manufactured sign unfolds in history, the point of what Jesus says here becomes clear. The 12 hours he was talking about were twelve hours of opportunity. Here's what he's saying to his guys. Gentlemen, you need to follow the light of the world. You need to follow the light of the world while the light of the world is in the world.
He said a similar thing last week when we talked about healing of the blind, and this is his message. You guys, you have a unique opportunity. You are in the physical presence of the light of the world. And if you are in the physical presence of the light of the world, you follow the light of the world while the light of the world is in the world, because the light of the world is leaving the world and when light of the world leaves the world it will become oh so dark. Gentlemen, he was saying, you will never see more clearly than you see right now. And if you stay here out of fear, you'll miss the opportunity of a lifetime. If you stay here out of fear, you'll miss an opportunity to see the light of the world bringing light to a situation that will change the way people think about life and death forever.
And he would say to them, and he would say to all of us, If you refuse to follow the light of the world, you'll stumble around in darkness. You'll stumble around in a world that has no meaning and has no purpose and has no result that you look forward to. But you'll stumble around in darkness trying to make sense out of a world that really doesn't make sense. You'll stumble around in darkness trying to make sense out of good and evil. You'll stumble around in the darkness trying to figure out, how do I even know what evil is? I'm comparing it to a God that I don't even believe in. That apart from the author of life, this is his point, apart from the author of life, you'll never understand life. You will eventually find yourself backed into a corner of despair. Where as Richard Dawkins I think accurately says, "Where there is, at bottom, where there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference".
And Jesus was saying to his apostles, and Jesus says to us, follow me. Follow me. I am the light of the world who came into the world to bring light to your world and apart from the author of life it will all seem meaningless and you will stumble around in the darkness, trying to piece together things that you'll never piece together. After he had said, hey, you wanna go? After he had said this to them, he went on to tell them plainly, okay guys, I know. "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep". But, I'm going to Judea and I'm going through Bethany to wake him up. So who's in guys? Who wants to go with me? Well, they don't wanna go. So they start giving Jesus medical advice. If you've ever given God medical advice when you're praying. You let God know about what the doctors could do and the surgeons and God's going, I got this.
So they begin to, they're just like us, they begin to give Jesus medical advice. Lord, they say, 'cause they don't wanna go. Lord, if he's asleep, you just said he's asleep and you're going to wake him up. You shouldn't wake him up. Okay, see Jesus, when people are sick and they fall asleep, they're getting better. Their fever's broken so, shh. Let's not wake him up. Lord, if he sleeps, he'll get better. In other words, we don't wanna go. Well, thank you for that Andrew. I hadn't thought of that. We'll just stay here and make S'mores and just let him get better on his own, right? But Jesus, John tells us, because he's writing this after the fact, Jesus had been speaking to them. Jesus had been speaking to them about Lazarus' death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told him plainly, okay guys, Lazarus is dead. To which they thought, wait a minute. You just told us two days ago this sickness will not end in death and now you're telling us, he's dead. But, if you haven't been listening, listen to this. What comes next? What comes next to this story is so horrible for Mary and Martha and Lazarus. What comes next in the story is terrible for them, but it is wonderful for you. It is wonderful for the future generations that would hear this story. He continues, he says, "and for your sake," I mean, this is horrible, this is so harsh, nobody would put these words in Jesus's mouth. And for your sake, talking about the disciples, but I think he's talking about for your sake and my sake as well. "And for your sake, I am glad I was not there".
I am glad I was not there to keep my friend from going through the agony of dying and his sister's watching him die. I'm glad I was not- Who would say this? Who would put these words in Jesus's mouth? I'm glad I was not there, he said to his disciples for your sake. And for your sake. And for the sake of every parent who's ever buried a child. And for the sake of every husband who's ever buried a wife. And for the sake of every child who's buried a parent way too early. For the sake of every friend who's buried a friend, or a friend who's buried the child of a friend. For all of us. Jesus manufactures a sign. He says, so that, on the other side of this. So that on the other side of this moment where Jesus is actually, this is why it's so disturbing, where Jesus is actually creating a brand new category. This was new to them, for many of us, it's new to us because this was brand new to the world.
Again, the light of the world had come to shed light on one of the dilemmas mankind had wrestled with for thousands of years. How do I reconcile the idea of a good God and an evil world? How do I reconcile the idea of a good God and world that doesn't cooperate. And Jesus said, I'm glad I was not there. So that, you may believe. But let us go to him. And then, one of the more humorous parts of the New Testament. Basically, 'cause they don't wanna go, right? So Thomas speaks up and he says this to the rest of the disciples, okay, "Let us also go, that we may die with him". Translated, Lazarus is dead. Jesus is gonna die and we're gonna all go be dead together. So let's just all go die. This is not going to go well. We know it's not going to go well, right?
Meanwhile, back in Bethany, you know what that conversation's like, right? Back in Bethany, it's where's Jesus? I mean, Jesus didn't get here in time to save Lazarus. But we're gonna leave laid out here, ya know. We're gonna wait two or three days because that's kinda what they did. But finally, that third day is coming to an end and they've gotta put him in a tomb. And Jesus misses the embalming. And Jesus misses the entombment. And Jesus misses basically the funeral. John says, I was there. It was so embarrassing but by this point we really didn't wanna go. We weren't sure what to fear most. The embarrassment of seeing Mary and Martha, or the fear of losing our lives. He says, but on our arrival here's what happened. On our arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
And when Martha, Lazarus's sister, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. "Lord," she said. And she says what we say. Again, this is so honest. And if you've ever said something like this to God or you've ever expressed something like this in your prayer, it's appropriate. And if you've ever been afraid to you should know in this moment you get permission to. Because people who are close to Jesus express exactly what we feel in moments like this. And she said, "Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died". This is partially your fault. God, you could have. But you didn't. Isn't it good to know, there's nothing wrong with your faith. When something doesn't go your way. Bad things happen to good, friend of Jesus, people all the time.
In this case Jesus actually manufactured a sign for your sake and for mine. But she's like us in this way as well, she's trying to cling to whatever faith she has. It's like, Jesus, you should have been here. I shouldn't be angry with you, you're Jesus. I believe you've been sent from God, but you could have stopped this from happening. I'm so conflicted. I'm so upset. But, but, I have shreds of faith in you, but I know that even now, even though you are so late, I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. And Jesus smiles and he says to her, "Your brother will rise again".
Well now she assumes that he's going into preacher mode. Where you know, somebody walks up and gives you a verse in a time of crisis and you're like, you know what? Later, that's not what I need right now. Somebody says, hey, you need to listen this sermon. Okay, I don't want a sermon. Somebody says, well, you know the bible teaches- Hey, hey, hey. I'm in crisis mode. I've lost somebody I love. I don't want a bible. I don't want a sermon. I don't want theology. And so she thinks that Jesus is trying to give some sort of theological spin on this crisis to make her feel better. Martha said, "I know, I know, I know, I know. I know my theology. You know, I've been to synagogue, okay. I know he'll rise again in the resurrection on the last day".
But I'm not concerned about the last day. I wanted you to get here so we didn't have to wait for a last day. And what comes next is so breathtaking. We miss it because we're not there. And we miss it because very few of us have ever felt the emotion and the frustration perhaps that Mary and Martha felt in this moment. Jesus looks at her and says, "Look at me. I'm not here to give you a sermon. I'm not here to talk about theology. And I'm not ever here to correct your theology. And I'm not asking you to put your trust in what you've always been taught about death and the afterlife". He looks at her and he says, "Look at me. I am the resurrection and the life".
Phew. This is a new category, Jesus says. You are looking at the resurrection and life personified. I am the living embodiment of everything you've hoped for. What you think about me is the most important thought you'll ever have. I am the resurrection and the life. The light has come into the world. Pay attention, because when I leave, it will be dark. But don't ya know, I will leave a testimony and a record of the fact that the light of the world touched down and the light of the world brings hope in hopeless situations. I am the resurrection and life.
I'm telling ya, nobody would put those words in Jesus's mouth and John is there taking it all in. And Peter's there taking it all in. Who would say that? And then he says to her, the one, of any generation at any time, the one who believes in me, and the little Greek phrase, the one who places their trust in me. Not simply believes that, you see the signs, you believe that, but ultimately you place your trust in. The one who places their trust in me, will live even though they die. And, little bit of a tongue twister, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
There's no way she could have taken all of this in. There's no way that most of us can take all this in. Just as he said Lazarus wouldn't die, but he died. Jesus says, you'll die, but you won't. Because Jesus could not have been any more clear in this moment. That death is simply a door. That death is simply a transition. And then he looks at her and I think he smiled. And he sees the pain and he sees the confusion and he sees where theology meets the real world and he sees that this is a person, they've had relationships. He's eaten in their home. She and her sister and Lazarus had supported him financially. And he looks at her and says, "Do you believe this"? Do you believe this?
And this was so hard for her to believe. It's so hard for me to believe sometimes. C'mon, it's so hard for you believe sometimes. Mary felt the same way. And so, she musters up as much faith as she can find in the moment. She says, "Yes, Lord". Yes, Lord, I believe. I don't understand and I don't know how all this comes together and I don't know why you were late, but I've seen too much. I don't understand everything, but I realize I don't have to understand everything to believe something. And then she just goes to her default. The one thing she's certain of. I'm not sure what's gonna happen. I'm not sure how it's gonna happen, but I'm convinced of this. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world. Jesus, I believe somehow, in some mystical, marvelous way, you are the light of the world that's come into the world. But that's all I know in this moment.
Martha goes back to her house and tells Mary that Jesus is on the edge of town. She goes out and meets with Jesus. They have a similar conversation. And the text says and John gives us all this detail 'cause this is slow motion. John says that when he saw her weeping, when he saw both of them weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her. 'Cause they went with her out to see Jesus. He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. And he asked, "Where have you laid him"? And they said, "Come and see". And Jesus went. And then this extraordinarily tender moment. Maybe this was the reason Jesus manufactured this sign. And this extraordinary moment, Jesus arrives outside the tomb knowing what he's going to do. And he pauses and he enters in to the emotion of the moment. Divine empathy.
And Peter was there. And I think maybe why Peter wrote what he did later. Many years later, Peter would write two letters to the church. And in one of those letters, Peter would say this to Christians, he'd say, look, it's okay to cast your cares upon him because you can know with confidence He cares for you. You can cast your cares, you can cast your unanswered prayers, you can cast all your disappointments, all your unresolved hopes and fears on him, because you can know with confidence, He cares for you. To which we would say, Peter, how do we know he cares for us? To which Peter might say, that day, standing outside the tomb, not knowing what was going to happen, but then seeing what he ultimately did, I'm telling you, in that moment, Jesus entered in to the pain and the tears and the fear and all of the human emotion there was in that moment.
I'm telling you. You may not see it and you may not feel it, but I saw it. He cares for you. Because I saw him care for Mary and Martha. I saw him care for a community. I saw him not rush to the resolution, but he entered in with mankind. You can cast your cares upon him. I saw it, Peter would say. You can know with confidence, He cares for you. And that's why what John records next is not a trivial detail. I'm so grateful that whoever chopped the New Testament up in chapters and verses, so it's convenient for us to find our way through, when they got to this next statement, they gave these two words it's own, their own verse number. Because John says what happened next is that Jesus paused. Knowing what was about to happen, and Jesus wept. And the Jews who had come from Jerusalem to comfort Mary and Martha said, "See, you see," it was so evident, "Do you see how he loved him"!
Do you see how he loved him? But some of them said, "Yeah, he may love him, but could not he who opened the eyes of a blind man have kept this man from dying"? I mean, there it is again. There we are again in the story. Why didn't he do something about this? If he could have, right? If he could have, he would have, but since he didn't, he can't! But as it turns out, he could have. He just didn't. And I'm convinced he didn't for your sake and for mine. He chose instead, and if you haven't been paying attention please don't miss this. This is just the brilliance of Jesus in this painful, painful moment.
In this moment, Jesus condenses all of eternity into the span of a single afternoon. Jesus takes all of eternity and he condenses it to the span of this single afternoon. The pain, the disappointment, the fear, the anger, the unanswered prayer, the faith anyway, the tears of God and then finally, the resolution. Your entire life experience as you wrestle with the goodness of God and the pain in the world, all condensed, for all mankind, for every generation that would follow, Jesus condenses the entire experience to a few hours in one afternoon. So that future generations could live with hope.
John continues, Jesus once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. And then he shocked everybody. "Take away the stone," he said. The mourners fell silent. Mary and Martha gasped. "But, Lord," said Martha "by this..." How do I say this? By this time, because see, you're late. You're so late. By this time there will be a bad odor for he's been dead for four days. And Jesus said, "Did I not tell you if you believe you will see the glory of God"? Can I pause here and say something to all of us? On behalf of Jesus. Did he not tell us, in this moment, that if you believe that you will see the glory of God? You say, I want to see it now. That's the point of this story. All of eternity. Your entire life. My entire life condensed to this span of an afternoon. I need to see it now. And Jesus says to you and he says to me, did I not tell you? Did I not demonstrate for you? That if you believe, if you trust in me, you will see the glory of God.
So Mary and Martha give the men their permission to move the stone. And everybody, I guarantee you, this isn't in the text, everybody took a step back. They removed the stone. And then Jesus looked up and he prays. This is my favorite prayer of Jesus of the New Testament. Let me tell ya what he says before I read it to you. Basically, in this prayer, Jesus says, dear heavenly father, you and I know what's going on. And you and I are so connected at the hip. In fact, we are indistinguishable. It is so important for me that his group and future generations know just how connected we are. "Father," he said, "I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but said this," I'm praying this out loud, "for the benefit of the people standing here," and the benefit of future generations, "that they may believe that you sent me".
You see, the most important question to wrestle to the ground is not the question of good and evil and God and evil. The most important question for any of us to wrestle to the ground is who is Jesus? Because if Jesus is who Jesus claimed he was, then all of those things get reconciled and explained in Jesus. And when he had finished this prayer, when He had said this, he called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out"! And John who dictates this to us as an old man remembering this moment, and then he thinks to himself, and we couldn't believe what we saw. The dead man, I'm telling ya, he says, I was there. The dead man came out, his hands and feet were wrapped with strips of linen, so it was him, this wasn't a trick. And a cloth was still around his face. And nobody moved.
In fact, everybody took another step back. And Jesus said, come on, take off the grave clothes and let him go. And everybody finally woke up and came to their senses and they rushed Lazarus. And they freed him from the bonds of death. And he was alive. And then a statement that John didn't need to make, but he did anyway. He said, therefore, this is kind of a duh. This is kinda a you could have guessed this was coming. Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. I bet they did. Don't you? And get this, many who would come, and here's John's formula, Here's what John wants you to take away, here is the gospel. Many who saw, believed. Many who saw, believed. Before they saw it, they just couldn't believe it.
And this is John's message, he says look, I don't want you to simply believe in Jesus because of belief. I'm not asking you to have faith in faith. I'm not asking you to follow Jesus because of faith. I just want you to know what I saw. Because if you saw what I saw, if you hear the story of what I saw and if you trust me as somebody who's giving a testimony that's true, then perhaps you'll arrive at the same conclusions I did. Not simply about what Jesus did, but about who Jesus was. Skeptics, skeptics, most skeptics agree, skeptics who don't believe Jesus was anybody special. Skeptics agree that Christianity could not have grown to the numbers it had grown by the third century if there had not been an explosion of activity and an explosion of followers early on as in toward the end of Jesus's life.
And why would so many Judeans embrace Jesus ultimately as their savior and as Messiah? Because of faith? No. Because of what they saw. Which leads us to John's little formula. That if you don't take anything else away from the Gospel of John, it's simply this. That seeing led to believing which led to trusting. That it was seeing that led to believing. That led to trusting. It was seeing that led to believing that is who he claims to be that led them to ultimately place their trust in him. And John's agenda isn't simply that you would know the story. John's agenda isn't simply that you would know what he said he saw, and it's not simply that you would believe that it happened. It would be that ultimately that you would place your personal faith in Jesus and who he claimed to be because of what he did on planet earth. The light had come into the world for the benefit of the world. The light had come, this was such indisputable evidence it turns out. That those who were willfully blind, decided they finally had to step in and do something. So much so that they called a meeting back in Jerusalem. So many people left Bethany and they flooded through the gates and they said, there is an indisputable raising from the dead.
There is no way to get around this. This wasn't done in the corners of the empire or the corners of the nation. This was done in a community where people had gathered for a funeral for a famous person and now there was no getting around it. Jesus had done something extraordinary and his enemies gathered and decided this has to end and this has to end now. And not only did they decide to have Jesus arrested and executed, they decided to have Lazarus executed as well. Here's what they said in their meeting. Someone later leaked this to John. They said, if we let him go on, what an arrogant thing to say, if we let him go on like this, I'm sure John chuckled as he dictated or wrote this down. As if they let him do anything. Jesus said, nobody takes my life from me. I lay it down, I take it up. Nobody lets me, nobody allows me. All authority is in me. All of the sacrifice I made, I made on purpose with a purpose with you in mind. But in their meeting, as they tried grapple with the undeniable reality of what had happened just two miles from Jerusalem, if we let him go on like this, everybody will believe in him.
They had no idea, did they? Two thousand years later, over a third of the world's population believes in him. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our temple and our nation. Right? There's so much for us to lose. They had no idea. All that there was to gain. Because God, don't miss this part, had come to dwell alongside evil. And God had come to dwell alongside evil men and women. And the light so bright and for some they were attracted. And for others, they were repulsed. Later, John would say it this way, the light has come into the world, but some people they just loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. But God didn't eliminate the evil.
John says, no, the story didn't go like that. He actually placed it on the shoulders of His son, so that you would not perish, but have eternal life. Even though, you're evil. For God so loved this evil world. For God so loved the evil people in this world, that he sent His perfect son, the light of the world, so that by placing your faith in him, we would not be lost to God, but could have the very life Jesus came to promise and to give. John would say, I'm nobody special. I'm just a bystander. And why God allowed me to live in the days when the light of the world was in the world to brighten up the world, I do not know. But I know you have to hear my story, because if you'd seen what I saw, you'd believe what I believe. If you'd heard what I heard, you would believe what I believe. If you had seen what I had seen, you would draw hopefully the same conclusion I drew, that Jesus was in fact, God in a body, the light of the world in the world for God's purposes for all mankind.
And eventually, he would get his story out and he would remind us toward the end, I didn't simply write this so that you would know what would happen, and so that you'd know what happened. My agenda was clear, these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, if you're Jewish and you've been waiting for a Messiah, and if you're not Jewish, that you would know he was in a unique way the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. If you had seen what I'd seen, you would believe what I believe. And once you decided to believe what I believe, you would place your faith in him and have life in his name. That's the invitation of the gospel.
And I think John would say, it's so good, it's so powerful. For us it was so real. After reading my account, I hope that you would want it to be true even before you're convinced that it's true. And I hope that you won't miss the final episode of bystander next week. Because next week we're gonna conclude with the final part of the story in the Gospel of John and the story of Easter all rolled into one. For those of you who are on the verge of losing faith because of difficulty in your life, I just wanna say to you, don't give up. Don't give up, don't give up. YOu're not the first, you won't be the last. And the light of the world came into the world and manufactured a sign just for you.