Walking in the Light
This weeks devotional is written by Katie Moon.
Do you live a lifestyle of faith?
Today we’re going to examine John 11, and see how Jesus called those dearest to Him—those who believed in Him, who followed His every step, who learned from Him daily, who knew and loved Him most— to wake up and smell the coffee. Ok, maybe not the coffee. But He did want them to open their spiritual eyes—to awaken—and see what they could not actually see. He urged them to walk continuously in the daylight of faith.
How could such committed followers of Christ lack faith? If they lacked faith, could we be lacking in the faith-department as well?
Please grab your Bibles and open to John 11. Please read it in full first, and then follow along below. Consider taking the time to make this your Bible study today or some time this week. Studying this passage was literally life-changing for me. I pray it might be for you as well.
In John 11:1-46 we see an episode within an episode. Only in studying them together can we gain a clear understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach Martha and Mary in the greater Lazarus story.
The narrative begins (v.1) with the sisters, Mary and Martha, sending word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Jesus’ response was, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” This is likely the message that was brought back to Mary and Martha, since in verse 40 Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Of course in verse 4 we do not see Jesus saying “if you believe”, but as we’ll see, His words were intended to elicit their faith.
Has God given you word on something—specifically, through His Word—that He wants you to believe?
Next we see that it was out of Jesus’ love for the sisters and Lazarus (v. 5-6) that He waited two more days before He moved toward them. Why would Jesus wait two days? What was He desiring to accomplish? How was this an expression of His love?
Why does God often wait to answer our own requests?
Now we jump into the secondary story (v. 7). Jesus tells His disciples they’re going to go back to Bethany (from a safe place beyond the Jordan River), which meant they would have to travel back through Jerusalem where they had just been (10:40). The disciples’ response was in essence “Teacher, they were just seeking to kill you there! Now you want to go back through again?!” Jesus’ amazing response sheds incredible light on the rest of John 11. He contrasts walking in the light and walking in the dark. In their literal case, they could pass through Jerusalem secretively under the cloak of night. Or they could walk in broad daylight, exposed, for the Jews to see. However, we know that Jesus is speaking in spiritual terms—in a figure of speech—because He says that those who walk in the night do not have the light in them. No person has a literal light beam inside of him. And Jesus didn’t say people stumble because they don’t hold a lantern in front of them. So now we see that Jesus is talking about spiritual sight; vision on the inside. Therefore “walking in the light” is like walking in literal daytime, because the person has spiritual vision. He sees (v.9b). In his inner man. Now we begin to see the connection between light and seeing (or faith), and darkness and blindness (or lack of faith).
What do you think “walking in the light” means? What other passages mention this?
Jesus then says he goes to awaken Lazarus from sleep (v. 11). We know this too is a figure of speech because Jesus did not plainly say He intended to “raise Lazarus from the dead” and because in verse 14 we are told that Jesus then changed to speaking “plainly”. Clearly Rabbi Jesus still has the subject of faith in mind here. Throughout God’s Word, faith can be characterized as awake or asleep. And further, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:7, ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’ indirectly reference day and night, light and darkness. For those who sleep sleep at night. And those who are awake are awake during the day. So we see the natural flow in the discussion. Jesus’ intention to ‘awaken’ Lazarus is reminiscent of Ephesians 5. And in fact that passage sheds greater light on John 11. Ephesians 5:14 says “For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” Again, this is a figure of speech referring to spiritual lethargy. Jesus, then, must be challenging His disciples to have spiritual vision. He wants them to spiritually see, not only physically perceive that which is physical. He wants them to awaken—open their ‘eyes’—in faith. For the sake of their faith, Jesus stated that He was glad that they weren’t present when Lazaras was about to die. As Martha and Mary later suggest, Jesus’ presence with the dying Lazarus likely would have prevented Lazarus from dying at all (v. 21, 32). With no death, there could be no resurrection. The disciples needed to witness a resurrection and see their own need for resurrection.
Do you need to be awakened? Do not answer quickly.
Of course the contrast between what Jesus was calling them to (faith) and how they were spiritually walking (lack of faith) is sharp. We see this in Thomas’ sarcastic, yet ironic, statement, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” (v. 16). Indeed, they would come to learn that they truly must die to themselves in order to raise to spiritual awakeness.
Notice the continual movement in this passage. Jesus invited them to come with Him (v. 15b) back through Jerusalem, and they chose to follow. Although they (or at least Thomas) remained in doubt, their choice to follow would be rewarded.
What do you think it means for us today to follow Jesus? (More on this next week!)
Now we jump back to our main storyline. Remember, Jesus’ physical presence had been requested by Mary and Martha (v. 3). Finally, four days after Lazarus’ death, He came. Based on the context we know that in verse 17 He had not yet arrived at the house of Mary and Martha, nor at the tomb where Lazarus was buried. There must have been people all along the way, for someone told Jesus Lazarus had been dead 4 days, and someone told Martha that Jesus was close. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. It is worth mentioning again here that Martha would have already received Jesus’ message that Lazarus’ illness would not end in death (v.4). Perhaps she took this to mean that Jesus would arrive in time for Lazarus to be healed. For she said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21). Martha thought that Jesus’ physical presence was the assurance of a life saved from death. She wanted Him to come to her, however He wanted her to come to HIm—in faith. She did show faith when she said that even now whatever Jesus might ask from the Father, God would give Him. (It’s almost like Martha was thinking, maybe Jesus DID mean that He’ll raise Lazarus now.) Again, Jesus clearly tells her that Lazarus will rise again (v. 23). As if afraid to believe and be wrong, that Jesus could mean Lazarus would resurrect yet in this life, Martha seems to test His Words. “I know he will raise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Oh Martha, believe what He’s telling you! What He’s already told you!
Have you ever been afraid to believe God and be wrong?
Jesus then clarifies that He is not speaking of Lazarus’ eschatological (end-times) resurrection. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Based on our context He seems most likely to be saying,
“No no Martha. Don’t you see the picture I’m showing you? If anyone believes I am the Resurrection (having the power to resurrect the dead)… in Me he’ll resurrect! If he dies to the flesh, he’ll live again in Me! (Rom. 8:13; 1 Peter 2:24). I will give him new life. Even now. (cf. Rom. 8:12-13) Moreover, if you are continually living through Me, and if you are continually believing that I am the Life (the only source of life), then you will in no way, not ever, face death. (cf. John 8:51) No, instead you will be rewarded abundance of life! Right here and now… (John 10:10; 1 John 5:11) AND at My judgment seat! (cf. Rom 2:6-7; 1 Pet. 1:9) I died in your place, please let me live in your place! (Rom. 6:11-13; Rom. 8:11-14)” This understanding of the first part of the passage (v. 25) would be supported in John 12:24-25 (its close context) if this is correct. Because Jesus was suggesting that His disciples (who were likely present) be willing to die to their desires to save their own necks, and in belief follow Him to Bethany, I believe this may be an appropriate interpretation of verse 25. The second part of the passage (v. 26) stating that the one who lives and believes would never die, either means that a) this alive believer will stay alive as long as he keeps on believing (this would not be a reference to position in Christ—whether he’s eternally saved or not, but to active fellowship with Christ—whether the believer would be walking with Christ), or b) this phrase may indirectly refer to the future judgment seat of Christ (understood by the time reference ‘never’), at which point the persevering believer would receive reward for how he lived his life (see John 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 3:14-15). In this case, the phrase “never see death” is likely a litotes, in which an affirmative is emphasized by a negative (cf John 6:37, 8:51; like saying ‘not a bad day’ means it was actually a very good day.). In other words, this person would see exceeding life—even abundant life. This is the most likely explanation.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10). Are you living with a ‘lifestyle faith’ that produces abundance of life?
This is why Paul could exclaim: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day… (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
“Do you believe this?” (vs. 26b) Notice, Jesus did not say, “Do you believe in Me as your Messiah and Savior?” Martha responded as if that was instead Jesus’ question. By her answer, we know she was already a believer in Jesus as her Savior, her Messiah. By her answer, we also know that she didn’t understand Jesus’ point. Jesus was not asking her again to believe in Him for eternal salvation. He was inviting her to believe Him in order to presently experience eternal life. Yet you can almost hear her exasperation and tone of voice as she said, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Her sudden exit here supports the idea that she completely misunderstood Christ’s intent in the discussion, and felt He misunderstood hers. Summoning her faith was His intent. Accusation and exasperation was hers. She could have left encouraged and alive in faith. She left confused, frustrated, and filled with doubt.
Next, Mary came to Jesus, along with others, mourning her brother and bewildered why Jesus had not come when they asked Him to. Notice, Jesus stayed where He had met Martha. They came to Him. But they came weeping and mourning, not believing the message He had sent to them in verse 4. Mary here shows the same lack of faith that Martha showed. And this deeply moved and troubled Jesus. The lack of faith is most evident by their request that Jesus “come and see” where Lazarus was laid. They could have simply told Him where he was, as Jesus had asked them to. Instead, it seems, they still believed Jesus’ physical presence was best. And so He wept. In verse 9 Jesus had told the disciples that if they would walk in the day they would see the Light of the World. He wanted them to see with spiritual eyes. They wanted to see with their physical eyes.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) What are you, dear brother or sister, having trouble believing because you haven’t seen physical
Finally, Jesus did as they wanted. He came to Lazarus’ tomb. In their continued unbelief, He came. He had desired that they believe Him before He come, and He was grieved that they didn’t, but He still came. He was teaching them to have faith without sight, but if it took sight for them to learn faith, He would give them sight first. He is more—much more—pleased when we believe without seeing. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Heb. 11:6). Yet at times He’ll still allow us to see first. Jesus often refrains from coming to us with visible manifestations longer than we’d like. He withholds tangible expressions of Himself, because He wants us to come to Him in belief first. Jesus prefers that first we believe then He manifest Himself.
What might happen if you chose to believe God about what you answered in the previous question?
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death ; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. (Heb. 11:5)
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Heb. 11:7)
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance… Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God… (Heb. 11:13-16)
Yes, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8)
Throughout the narrative, we observed the movement between the sisters and Jesus. They sent word to Him, wanting Him to do their bidding. He came closer, wanting their faith. They came closer to Him on the road, disappointed and disillusioned. He came to the tomb, grieved in His heart. He, in His eternal mercy, showed them His power. And finally… they saw.
We too can slowly arrive at spiritual vision this way: first walking in the dark, blind, stumbling along the way (v10).
“But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
But this is not God’s will for us. Rather, He desires that we walk in the light, seeing Him (V. 9). If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.
In this way we bypass the tears and regrets: choosing to believe Him from the beginning, pleasing God by walking in faith, storing up future reward for doing so, and in God’s determined time and way, seeing His glory.
Are you willing to believe Him today? To begin a lifetyle of faith? Oh how it would please our Savior!
Faith first, sight second.
“Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v.40)
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