These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
Last week we spoke of the place and value of prayer. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Or as another scripture has it, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21).
Jesus arrived in Bethany and proceeded to prepare the two sisters and all the onlookers for the miracle that was going to take place. Without their co-operation and the necessary faith Jesus would have been severely hampered in what he was going to do. You may remember that it is recorded that when he was in his home town of Nazareth “he could do no mighty work there” (Mark 6:5), “because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Similarly when we come to look at the healing of Jairus’ daughter Jesus had to put out the scornful mourners, and keep with him only the few who had faith.
So we see this week that Jesus deals separately with Martha and then Mary to tackle their grief and disappointment. He then raises their hope and faith. He also prays in front of the crowd, as he says, “for their sake” (v.42). Finally he gets them to take the first practical step of faith: “Take away the stone” (v.39). This opens up the possibilities. Either there will be a stink or there will be a deathly hush.
And now Jesus raises the dead, not through prayer, but through the creative word of command: “Lazarus, come out” (v.43). This loud proclamation was not said to the people or to God, but to Lazarus. As we have read earlier this week we are expected to speak to the mountain. In this case it is Lazarus who has to respond. That’s what faith is: hear and obey. James makes this very clear in his letter when he wrote, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Outside the grave of Lazarus, Jesus said the word. The young man came forth. The people were given a further work to do: “Unbind him and let him go” (v.44). Once again we are involved in the process of healing and deliverance.
Lord, it is incredible but true, you raised the dead. I believe, help my unbelief, and may my faith grow. Amen.
The prayer request of Martha and Mary for their dying brother, Lazarus, was non-prescriptive. They sent messengers to Jesus with the words, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v.3). This plea allows the Lord to do what is right in his time, but it becomes clear that the sisters had it clearly in mind what he should do. He should come at once, lay hands on Lazarus and make him instantly better, or simply 2say the word2 from where he was. That is why when Jesus eventually turned up they each in turn accused him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32).
Time and again we read of the accusation against Jesus that he does not care because he does not do what he is expected to do. They think that if he is loving he would do what they ask. They had faith to believe that he could heal the sick. But their faith ran out when Lazarus died. Yet Jesus was testing their faith and leading them on to greater faith. He said to them outside the tomb, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v.40).
Now Jesus knew what he was going to do. He had been in prayer to his Father whilst miles away in Bethany (not the Bethany where Martha and Mary lived!). He could have said the word whilst there and Lazarus could have been healed. He could have travelled back to Bethany and laid on hands. But no, he delayed until Lazarus had died. By the time he arrived the man had been dead four days (v.39).
So when he stood outside the tomb he was not trying to bring Lazarus back to life through prayer. He prayed for the sake of those standing by (v.42), to help lift their faith. He knew that God was a God of the ‘impossible’, but others did not. In this case the faith of all was needed for such a mighty miracle to be done. This is what prayer does; it brings us into our Father’s presence so that our spirits can be instructed and we start to think and believe with the mind of Christ. Next week we shall see the result!
Lord, you walked so serenely and confidently, knowing the will of your Father. Help me to listen and learn. Amen.
1 Where else do we read the accusation that God does not care?
During the following weeks we are learning how to exercise the authority that God through Christ has given us. We are not simply limited to asking God to do things, but are hearing from God what we should be doing, doing it and seeing the power of God at work.
Sometimes we are faced by an immovable object, a ‘mountain’ (v.23). This may be to do with money problems e.g. how to get a mortgage or overcome debt. The problem may be trying to achieve planning permission. It might be to do with a church leader who is blocking progress. Whatever the ‘mountain’, we first of all pray about it. We lay the problem before our God. It is not our place to tell him what to do! However, as we pray and listen we may discover that his purpose is to move that ‘mountain’. He then tells us: “You move it!”
We are not used to this task. Somehow we think that miracles take place if God chooses to do something. But the fact is that most miracles simply do not take place because we do not exercise our authority. We are instructed, “YOU say to the mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’” (v.23). This may sound incredible, but that is only because we have lost sight of the dominion that we have been given.
Of course we cannot do this on our own authority or to fulfil any selfish ambition. This authority lies with those who have faith. And what is faith? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). No wonder Jesus said that man shall live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
“Say to this mountain …” (v.23) follows the cursing of the fig tree by Jesus. In Matthew it follows the failure of the disciples to cast out the demon from the boy at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration. The faith that they lacked needed to be like “a grain of mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20); in other words, alive and growing.
I know O Lord that with you nothing is impossible. Help me to act upon that knowledge for your sake. Amen.
“only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v.8) RSV
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” This is true, very true
(see ‘Explore More’ below); but more often than not prayer needs to be followed by action, and without that action prayer becomes comparatively ineffective. Prayer is meeting with God, bringing into his presence our concerns, and then listening to him to know what he wants us to do. Once we know what his will is, we go out and do it. If, however, we continue to pray and to say, “Please, please” then we are not receiving any answers nor are we receiving any directions.
Prayer brings us into line with God so that we can then go and work in step with him. God doesn’t create gardens and husband cattle, we do. He said, “Have dominion …” (Genesis 1:28). God wields much of his authority and his control through us. If we do not move in this faith but wait for God to act then little will be achieved.
The centurion in today’s readings expresses it so well that Jesus is positively amazed. He remarks, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (v.10). So, what was this exemplary faith? The centurion knew that things happened through the exercise of authority: “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes” (9). Action is achieved by order not by request.
We shall see through the following weeks that Jesus healed no one through prayer! Oh yes, healings were preceded by prayer, for Jesus always found out what his Father in Heaven was doing, but when it came to the crunch prayer became action and authority: “Come forth”, Stand up”, “Come out”, etc.
The centurion knew that Jesus didn’t even have to come into his house or wave his hand over the sick servant. “Only say the word” was the message that the centurion had conveyed to Jesus. Again and again Jesus had healed and delivered the possessed through the word of command. This is the faith he wants us to exercise. He has given us authority, just as he gave the twelve and the seventy two. If we don’t it is probably because we have no idea what God is doing or what we should be doing. It is not our will that we are commanding, but his. We need to find that divine-will from our Father otherwise we will not only be ineffective but possibly also presumptuous.
Lord, thank you for the authority that you have committed to your people. Help me to minister in your name. Amen.
1 Who was healed without seeing Elisha, but by command?