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About this series
How to be a Christian Without Being Religious
Is it possible to be a Christian without being religious? More than a list of activities, behaviors, and rules, this series will show you that the Christian life is, at its core, an ongoing relationship with the living God. You will discover how to live a life of faith; how to portray Christ's love and character in your everyday activities; how to know if you are growing spiritually; and how to develop a dynamic, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.More from this series
Martha’s first question when she sees Jesus, “If You would have come, Lord,” translation: “Why didn’t You fix my problem?” Mary’s first question, “Lord, if You would have been here, on my time schedule, on my agenda, You could have fixed my problem but You didn’t.” Now we’ve got the Jews and what do they say? “Now wait a second. Yeah, it seems like He really loves her now but, my lands, if He really cared, He would have got here earlier and taken care of this problem.”
Does everyone here now understand the dynamics of what’s occurring in this passage? People whom Jesus loved, and people who love Jesus deeply, have a big problem and they bring the problem to Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t make it better, He doesn’t even make it worse, He lets it go from bad to impossible.
Why? Why does He do that? Why did He do it here and why does He do it in our life? And I would suggest that the key is going to be found in a very interesting word. And before we see the end of the story, which you know, I want you to begin, in your mind, to be thinking about what He said to the disciples. Why was He glad? Why was He glad the disciples weren’t there? So that they may – what? So they may believe.
Well, what do you mean “believe?” They already follow Him, right? “I’m glad I wasn’t there so you believe.” When He responded to Martha He said, “Martha, if anyone does,” what? “in Me, he’ll never see death.” If you believe. He has given us clues. Let’s turn the page and let’s find out what happens. Jesus solves the problem.
And I want to suggest that the better gift that He gave to Martha and Mary and the one He wants to give you, I don’t want to miss it, is this: so often we want God to solve the big problems in our life and what God is saying is, “I want to give you a better gift.
And that problem, when it won’t go away, when it goes from being hard and difficult, to worse, to impossible. There are a lot of you, like the guy talking, who never get desperate, and you never seek Me, and you never weep, and you never get afraid, and you never cry out to Me and say I am all you really want, until it goes from bad to impossible.
And you’ve gotten so used to Me fixing things, because I do because I love you, and taking care of things, and answering prayers, and doing this, and doing that, you have subtly fallen into thinking that I am here to fix your life, to make it work out your way for you, and that is too small, and too limited, and that’s not what I’m about. I don’t want to fix your problems. I want you to know Me as a person.
I want to revolutionize your life. I don’t want you to know some facts about resurrection. I want you to look into My eyes and see the face of the living resurrection. I want to be with you, I want me and you to have intimate relationship. I want you to understand it’s not Me plus a good marriage is life. It’s not Me plus kids that is life. It’s not Me when I get a mate someday it’s life. It’s not Me plus a good job is life. It’s not Me plus when your body works right is life.
I am all you need. I am the resurrection and the life. And I will orchestrate circumstances in your life and I will purposefully put you in impossible situations to get you to the point where you come to Me with a level of desperation, where what you really need is Me, instead of just what I can do for you.
Does it make sense? It’s what He did for them. Now, it’s only until, this is a theory, but the theory is: It’s hard to resurrect people until they die. You just think that over, deeply. It’s very hard to resurrect people until they die.
Until it’s impossible, you can get bailed out and you can get help but when it is impossible. Not a day dead, not two days dead, not three days dead. Four days dead. And, by the way, after the second day, he’s about as dead as he’s going to be.
Some of you are saying, “If God would just wait four days, I could take a four-day delay.” Well, He might have a four-month delay with you. He might have a four-year delay with you. I don’t know.
But what I know is, He loves you. And what I know is, He will allow some things to go from bad to impossible until you die to yourself, until you die to your agenda, until you and I die to our demands, until we get where if we could just be with Jesus and if He would look us in the eye, and if His Spirit, through His Word and through His family would speak life into our soul that would say, “He’s the resurrection and He is life.” He will take you through some times like that.
And then after you die, He will do what can only happen when you die. Now, by the way, the process of dying spiritually is painful. Just like the process of dying physically is painful. But until you die, you never experience resurrection.
And Jesus does a miraculous thing because He allows Lazarus’ situation to go from bad to impossible.
We pick it up, “Jesus, once more deeply moved,” verse 38, “came to the tomb. And it was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ He said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha,” always the practical one, “the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’
“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you,’” what’s our word? “‘if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe.’”
Are you getting the message? Are you beginning to understand that the organ through which life with God, through Christ, is experienced is faith? And God will take your bad situations and make them impossible so that you learn to believe. That’s what He’s up to in your life. That’s what He’s up to in my life. He’s up to that more than fixing the problem.
And so here He does it. So, they took away the stone and Jesus prayed the prayer. “When He said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linin, and a cloth around his face. And Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”
Whoo. Isn’t that just a little bit better than Jesus saying, “You know what? We’re on this ministry trip. Excuse me, guys, we got a close friend, he’s back in Bethany, why don’t you hold My place right here. In fact, Pete, you’re doing pretty good at the preaching. You do a couple sermons. John, why don’t you pray? Thomas, watch him, you’re going to need help later. Okay? I’m going to go back. Lazarus, Martha, Mary, good to see you, everybody. Lazarus? Feeling kind of bad? Oooh, unconscious. Okay. Lord, Father, heal him. Thank you. He’s better. Okay, see you a little bit later.”
That would have had a significant impact in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ life, wouldn’t it? Would it have this impact? Huh-uh. It would have been a loving act but because He didn’t do the good thing and didn’t fix the problem, instead He waited to do something, He made the impossible possible in people’s personal experience where others could see it. And guess who they really got to see. They got to see who Jesus was.
And that’s the goal. By the way, that’s what faith is all about. Faith isn’t about trying harder and mustering up emotions. Faith is seeing Jesus for who He is to the point that whatever He says, you do because of who He is.
And, by the way, it’s faith in His Word. Did you notice He didn’t say, “Open the tomb,” and did He go in and touch him? How did He, how did He resurrect Lazarus? This is not a trick question. He spoke! He spoke! What’s behind this? How did the world come into existence, Hebrews 11? He spoke the world into existence. You have the very Word of God. God breathed. It is life unto your soul. Faith is that you may believe.
And when He says, “Do relationships this way, that you might believe.” When He says, “Prioritize your money, that you may believe.” When He says, “This is how to handle your sexual life, that you may believe, that it might be well with you.”
Even when the culture is going this way, even when the stock market is going down, that you may believe. And it’s that step of action that demonstrates you believe.
And so sometimes, to teach you that He does miracles and that He loves you, He won’t fix your problem and He won’t fix mine. He’ll let it get impossible.
Now, by the way, as it gets impossible, some people don’t go back. They get mad. They turn inward. They can’t stand the pain; they go into denial. They start smoking stuff, and drinking stuff, and eating stuff, and watching stuff, and turning stuff on, and then they get busy, and it’s impossible, and they get disillusioned. And they don’t cry, they’re not like Martha and Mary. They don’t weep, and cry, and cry out.
See, a lot of people when there’s a difficult situation, they say, “I’m afraid! You want to go back there, Jesus? I’m not, You go! I’m not going.” But Christians everywhere, God says, I’m going here. You come with Me. I want you to come that you might believe. I’m going to take you to a place that is scary! I’m going to scare the daylights out of you. “But there are twelve hours in the day, aren’t there? And when you walk in the physical daylight of light, you don’t stumble. But if you try and walk in the night, you fall and get hurt.”
As long as you’re with Me, you’re in the light. When I call you to walk by faith and to follow Me and you say, ‘I’m afraid and won’t go there,’ you’re in darkness. It is safer with Me. That you might believe.
What happens when we believe? The epilogue, verses 45 to 48, “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.” Are we getting an idea of what this whole thing was about?
Now, notice, this is classic. Notice what happens. “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.” Can you, would you, wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall and hear that conversation?
“You’ll never believe what He’s doing now! You’ll never believe what He’s doing now. Mr. Jesus is a bad guy who is taking away all of our power and all the people are…you know what He did, you know what He did? You know? Hey, you think that feeding the five thousand and four thousand, oh, it’s getting worse, it’s getting worse. And that one lady He healed with the issue of blood? Well, you know, that got a lot of press. You know Lazarus? Four days dead, he’s back!” Is that unbelievable? [applause]
How do you respond when God does the supernatural? Do you come up with one more reason why not to follow Him with your life, your heart, your relationships, your future? Or do you put your faith in Him?
There may be some here tonight and you know what? God brought you, you came with a friend, whatever reason, you’ve never placed your faith in Christ. You don’t know Him personally. You’re in your sins. You have violated a holy God like all the rest of us here.
Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sin and He loves you and He brought you here tonight to tell you, “If you’ll repent,” that means have a change of mind, turn around, and if you’ll come to Jesus and say, “I need You. I’m sorry. Forgive me of my sin. I believe when You died on the cross You paid for my sin and rose from the dead. I turn from my sin, I want to be Your son, I want to be Your daughter. Come into my life, I put my faith in You, and Your work and resurrection.”
And He’ll save you. And He brought you here tonight so that in the chair that you’re sitting in, you can bow your head and call out to the God of the universe. And His promise is that He is the resurrection and the life and if you believe in Him, you’ll never die.
If you don’t believe in Him, you are judged already because you have rejected the grace of God. And you’ll die in your sins. We all get exactly what we deserve, unless we cry to God and ask Him for mercy and grace, freely available.
And we make up reasons why. Did you ever wonder why people don’t believe? The text will tell us. “When they went to the chief priests and the Pharisees,” verse 47, “they called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. ‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked.” What do you mean? What are we accomplishing? How do we get rid of this guy?
“Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this,” we could have a big problem, right? “everyone will” – what? “believe in Him.”
Why are they saying this? The evidence is overwhelming. The evidence is so overwhelming they realize everyone will believe in Him, but they won’t. Why don’t people believe? Why don’t people come to Christ, number one? And those who are already Christians, the majority in this room, why won’t you believe God? Why won’t you believe Him?
The answer is in the next verse. You want to know what it is? Very, very simple. “If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe Him, and then the Romans will come and take both our place and our nation.”
Our place is position; our nation is power. To believe in Jesus, you have to give up your position, and step off the throne of your life, and give Jesus the throne, and you bow the knee, and you surrender, and you say, “From now on, Your Word, breathed, that created the world will be my guide, and if You say it, I believe it to the point of acting on it. If it says to be sexually pure, I’ll be sexually pure. If it says to only put good things in my mind, things that are wonderful, beautiful, and praiseworthy, that’s what I’m going to do. If it says give the first portion of my money because it all belongs to You, I will do that. If it says that You long for my heart, that I will spend each day in Your Word and talk to You. If it says that I need to tell the truth, even if I lose the sale, I’m going to tell the truth.”
And the reason we don’t do it is we lose our position and our place. And you know what those two things have to do? It’s called pride. It’s called ego. It’s called, “We want to be little gods who run our world.” And you can’t have faith and pride. You can have one. You can have your position and your place, or He can have His position and His place, and yours under Him.
And we have a generation of American Christians who think because they intellectually believe in God, and because they’ve prayed a prayer, and they come to church now and then – but their lives don’t match up, because why? They don’t want their place, and their position, and we receive unbelievable consequences of a life that is in passive rebellion.
And so, you know what He’ll do in your life when you’re like that? He’ll take your hard situation and He’ll make it impossible. And you’ll come to the point where, in that hard situation, you’ll either turn away or it will get so impossible, you’ll start to cry. And I don’t mean theoretically cry. I don’t mean – I mean cry. I mean weep. I mean, Oh God, save me! Help me! I can’t make it. I can’t make it another day.
And as you cry out, He will have compassion on you. And He’ll do things in you first, and then he’ll do things through you that you never imagined. And He’ll resurrect you because you’ll end up dead. You’ll get to where you think, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I can’t work this out. I can’t make this work.” And He’ll meet you.
The conclusion is sometimes God lets our problems go from bad to impossible so that we might believe. My question, are you ready for this? Do you believe? Do you really believe? Do you believe in Jesus? I don’t mean just as your Savior. Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus to the point that what He says, you will do?
What are the two things that we learned? He wants us to believe. He wants us to learn to trust, first, the depth of His compassion. If things wouldn’t have gotten impossible, guess what. We would never have seen Jesus weep. We would never have seen Him emote, at a level that we see nowhere else in all of Scripture.
Until your situation gets impossible and you cry out, and you weep, and you fall at His feet, both figuratively and literally, you will never experience the great compassion of God. He loves you. He will weep over your problem when you come desperate. He’ll never turn you away.
His timing won’t be your timing, it may not happen the way you want it to happen, He may not answer it all in the way you want Him to. But it’s so that you might believe. And part of what He wants you to believe is that He loves you, and that He’s for you, and that He wants to meet you.
The second thing He wants you to believe is in the extent of His power available to you.
When things are dead, He can make them alive! He can make relationships alive again, He can make people alive again, He can make organizations alive again, He can take any situation – emotional, spiritual, or physical – and when it gets to the point where it’s completely impossible, He has the power to make it alive. He wants us to believe that! Believing it to the point of acting on it.