Meditations on “God of Transformation: 19: Is it too hopeless?
Jn 11:16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
There are certain things in life that we are all sure about: if you jump out of a plane you fall to the earth because of gravity, if you’re locked up in a room you cannot get out because you cannot walk through walls, if you cut a major artery and can’t stop the bleeding you will die, and when you die you stay dead. When loved ones die you accept it, you mourn and you attend their funeral. That’s what you do with dead people – and you leave them there and get very offended with grave robbers. No, dead people stay dead and are to be allowed to remain in their grave. You can understand Thomas’s response to the current situation therefore. Let me remind you of it.
Lazarus is a friend of Jesus, but Lazarus has become ill, (Jn 11:1) seriously ill, so ill in fact that he dies. But it’s not that simple because while he is still ill, his sisters send for Jesus (v.3) but Jesus seems to think it is all right and so delays going (v.4,5). After two days pass, he lets on to the disciples that in fact by now Lazarus will have died, but it’s all right, he’s going to wake him up (v.11,14).
It is at this point that Thomas makes this flippant comment – and it is a flippant comment IF it refers to Lazarus because it appears he doesn’t believe Jesus can do what he’s said. But actually in the midst of the conversation there is the recognition that Bethany is back in Judea (v.7) and the disciples remembered that when they had been there before, the authorities had tried to kill Jesus there (v.8). Thomas’ remark now seems to have a different feeling about it but I would personally question whether Thomas genuinely felt ready to die with Jesus because when it came to it, he along with the others fled. So we have Thomas raising this conundrum for us: is this a flippant comment about Lazarus or an unreal comment about Jesus. You know what this says to me? It says that when we come to the impossible – specifically resisting death – we are all over the place.
Have you ever been involved with praying for a seriously ill person, a person perhaps with a life threatening illness? I have more than once and it is chaotic. There are those who just give up and accept that this person is going to die and talk spiritually abut the healing that comes after death, and there are those who call for prayer and fasting and settle in for the long haul – until the person dies – and there are those who fluctuate in faith from one day to the next, praying fervently one day and then giving up the next, but praying fervently the next and so on. The point is that death is challenging and God’s will is rarely clear. I gave up praying on one man because it dragged on for months, but he was healed and is still around six years later. I gave up on praying for one lady in hospital because she looked so bad, and so just committed her to the Lord (if I’d been of another persuasion I’d have given her the last rites!) but amazingly she revived and is still around fifteen years later.
But then there are those for whom we have prayed, full of faith, and they died and we all wondered. In fact only a few days ago I was reading of a man who had had cancer, and it had gone into remission but then several years later it flared up again and the prognosis was death – soon. The church prayed for him and he was miraculously cured and the doctors were left scratching their heads in amazement. Four years later the cancer came back and despite more fervent prayer, he died. Why did God heal him earlier but not later? I don’t know; perhaps He just wanted to give him four more years to achieve certain things but then wanted him home. We must hold the reality of heaven and sometimes just let the Lord take His children home when He sees fit.
But generally the coming of death is a mystery and so when Lazarus dies it is an open and staying shut case! But not with Jesus. He is in the transformation business and the greatest transformation must be from death back to life again, and only he can do that. The is the ultimate “impossible” situation and when we are confronted with such things we are reminded again of Ezekiel and his valley of dry bones: “Can these bones live?” “You know Lord.” Yes, God’s will is the all important feature of these situations. In Lazarus’s case it was to raise him from the dead, as it was for the young man at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) and the rich young ruler’s daughter (Mt 9:18,23-25). Let’s establish THE key fact – Jesus CAN raise the dead, Jesus can transform the impossible situation, we’ve seen it again and again already. Death just seems doubly impossible and is complicated by our emotions when it is someone we love.
But we’ve got to accept a second key fact – sometimes He doesn’t. When challenged his followers to “Leave the dead to bury their dead,” apart from the obvious teaching, there is the implication that there people dying all over place in Judea and Galilee in the three years that Jesus was ministering there, but I can only find the examples above for when he raised the dead. Usually he leaves the dead to stay dead.
However, we have been hinting at ‘impossible situations’, those circumstances that seem utterly impossible to change. In world terms there are despots who hold an iron-fist reign over their people and there appears no way they can be removed. But think again of Idi Amin or Mao Zedong. In their day they seemed ‘impossibilities’ to remove. Or think of the Berlin Wall, another impossibility to remove – until it did in 1989. Again and again in life we seem to be confronted with impossibilities – until they are gone! I think while we face them we need to remain godly (keeping close to Him) and faithful (holding fast to what we know as a child of God) and trusting (simply believing that nothing is impossible for Him) and giving thanks for all the good things while we wait for the bad thing to be dealt with. Impossible things are called impossible because without God there is no hope but with Him…… He can transform! Lazarus, come forth! Watch for faith to be released to enable you to be the human voice that God uses to declare the transformation just before He does it.