One of the questions that has often puzzled me from the raising of Lazarus is why did Jesus wait two days until He left. In john 11:38-44 it gives us some clues. In verse 38 Jesus says that if we believe, we will see the glory of God. So Jesus delaying was about people hearing about the miracle and seeing God’s glory.
In today’s Our Daily Bread there is some extra insight that I thought I would share. It shows a couple of extra things that are not obvious from the text…
After Jesus learned Lazarus was gravely ill, He waited two days to go to the home of his sisters, Mary and Martha (John 11:1–6). When Jesus and His disciples arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days (v. 17). This allowed a day for the news to reach Jesus and a day for Him to reach Bethany. So, Lazarus may have already been dead when the news reached Jesus that he was ill. That it had been four days was significant because in that warm climate, Lazarus’ body would have been severely decomposed (v. 39). If Jesus had left immediately and resurrected Lazarus, naysayers could’ve easily denied his resurrection, suggesting he’d only been in a deep sleep or coma. It was also significant because in that day some Jews believed the soul hovered over the body for three days, hoping to reenter. But by four days, even that hope would have expired.
This week I want to take my sermon from the first heading at the start of the Book of James. For most of our translations the heading says something like, “Faith and Endurance”.
And before I start, I have to say that James is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I became a Christian in July of 1989. I went to a Baptist church with some friends from work. They invited me to a Bible study at their house. They said we are starting a new study on the book of James. A year later I felt God wanted me to find a more local church to where I lived. So I went to my local Church of Christ. I got invited to a Bible study during the week, they were starting a new study on the book of James. I went to that church for about 5 years and then I met Larissa. We then looked for a church we both could attend. When we found one and when we were attending regularly, I got invited to a Bible study. Guess what…it was a new study on the book of James. It seems God had some practical things for me to learn on how to live as a Christian.
So you could say I am reasonably well versed on the book of James.
Points for today
Today I have three main points I want to bring out.
1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way.
Verse 2 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”
This verse really got my attention when I sat in that first Bible study all those years ago. I remember hearing, “When bad stuff happens, I should be joyful”. I sat there and quietly thought this is crazy. Only a crazy person would be joyful in tough times.
But as I sat there and listened to the rest of the study I soon realised that the next verses gave that context. Verses 3 and 4 say, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing”.
James was saying that faith that is tested, grows. And faith that grows comes to maturity. And when we are mature, we lack nothing as it says in verse 4.
James who wrote this book knew what it was to face trials. He saw His half-brother Jesus die on the cross. He was there for the early persecution of the church. History tells us that James, like the Apostle Paul and Apostle Peter were all martyred for their faith.
The thing I find interesting about James is how he started his book. Of all the themes he talks about, he chose to touch on trials and temptations first. It is almost like he is saying that if want a live a life that really makes an impact for the Kingdom, you can expect trials and temptations to be part of your journey. After all in verse 2 he says, “When trials come your way”, …not if they come your way!
Sometimes in this life, God allows trials to come our way. This is not because He is a mean God. It is because He loves us and He wants us to grow and mature. As I have said before, “God loves us the way we are. But He loves us too much to leave us that way”.
Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest put it this way. “Saints [believers] are like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”
The arrow can’t fly as far, if the bow is not pulled back far enough. So trials are necessary for our growth and for God’s purposes in us to be fulfilled.
So years on from that initial Bible study, and being a little bit more mature, I can see what James means when he says, “consider it pure joy when trials come your way”.
2. James tells us that if you need wisdom ask God
James 1: 5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking”.
Who knows that when we go through trials we need wisdom? Wisdom from God is so vital when we are going through trials.
When I was a new Christian and bad things happened, I would throw my hands up in the air and whinge at God. I would say things like “How could You let this happen?” or “Why have You left me alone?” or “Are You really there God?”. Over time my questions changed as I matured. I said things like, “Where are You in the midst of this Lord?” or “What are You trying to teach me Lord?”. Rather than whinge at God I prayerfully proclaimed His faithfulness and all the times He had helped me in the past. And how I knew this trial would not last forever. I would see things through the lens of eternity, not just the here and now. I believe this is a more mature way of looking at things.
Wisdom as we know is so much more than knowledge. Knowledge means we know stuff. Having wisdom means we know what to do with the knowledge we have. It is about making right decisions at the right time.
James tells us ask God if we lack wisdom. He tells us to ask the One who knows the beginning from the end. He tells us to ask the One who is all powerful and all knowing. He tells us to ask the One to where our help comes from, the maker of heaven and earth. If you need wisdom, you just need to ask God.
James also warns us in this section to make sure we look to God alone. Verses 6-8 remind us that, “6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
James is saying we can’t look to God for wisdom or guidance about the future and then look to the world for answers. We can’t ask for wisdom and then go to a psychic or read our horoscope. We need to look to God and wait on Him for answers. Our loyalties can’t be divided. We have to stay the course. We have to believe God will answer our prayer for wisdom and in time He will guide us in what to do. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to look to God and lean not on our own understanding, and He will show us which path to take.
If you need wisdom in your current trial, seek God and ask for wisdom. He will give it.
3. James tells us that God promises to bless us in our trials
Verse 12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterwards they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him”.
All of us here could probably stand up and tell us of a trial they are going through or have been through. Health issues, family issues, problems at work, financial issues, legal issues, or issues with other people. None of us are immune. We live in a fallen world that is effected by sin. As hard as it is when we are going through it, if we walk through it with God, we are not alone. And if we walk through our trials with God, we grow our faith through them. On the other side of the melting pot of the trial, we are made mature. We have a deeper faith and trust in God and we are better able to handles the stresses of life. We lack nothing as James tells us.
Those of you who know me well, know that I am into keeping fit. Fitness is one of those things you have to work at consistently and if you want to improve you have to put the work in. I have been doing weights since I was 18. I started with light weights to strengthen my body that was ravaged by Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I started I could lift a 3kg dumbbell for some exercises. Over the years I have gradually got stronger and I now do the same exercise with 20kg. I couldn’t do squats at first and now I squat over 100kg. I couldn’t do dead-lifts, but now I dead-lift over 100kg. To do this I have had to work hard and be consistent to build strength, build fitness and build my body.
It is the same with building our faith and trust in God. We read our Bibles, pray and come to church to encourage each other. That helps our spiritual muscles to grow. But we need something extra to really build our maturity, we need trials and the blessing that comes from going through them. We need to archer to stretch the bow.
Would I want to go through the things I have been through in my life again? No way. But I am glad I have been through them. Because I have a depth of relationship with God, the blessings He has given me and an unshakeable trust in Him, I would not have know if I didn’t go through my trials.
If you are going through some sort of trial at the moment, I would encourage you to look to God. Look for His strength to help you through. Look to His wisdom to let you know what to do next. Look to the future with hope knowing that once you are through this, your level of faith and trust in Him will be greater than you have ever known. You will know a level of maturity that only comes through walking through the valleys of life. This to me is one of the great promised blessings God gives us in this life.
Stand firm, stay the course. God promises that blessing is coming. And a crown of life as it says in verse 12.
Some words from Paul…
2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies…
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Today we have looked at the first part of the book of James. My hope and prayer is that you have been encouraged. I hope that if you are going through a trial at the moment, or when the next one comes, that you will remember these three points.
1. James tells us that we should be joyful when struggles come our way – because it a chance for growth.
2. James tells us to ask God if we need wisdom – He will give it to us.
3. James tells us that God will bless us if we endure through trials – we will grow and receive a crown of life.
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, I have heard a lot of stories of her faith and service of God. One story I heard was a my favourite. It talks more about her sense of humour.
Around 2005, the Queen and her Personal Protection Officer, Dick Griffin, were walking alone one afternoon in the hills near the Scottish royal castle, Balmoral. Two tourists approached them, and engaged in conversation. Griffin recalls:
“There were two hikers coming towards us, and the Queen would always stop and say hello. “They were two Americans on a walking holiday. “It was clear from the moment we stopped that they hadn’t recognised the Queen, which was fine. “The American gentleman was telling the Queen where they came from, where they were going next, and where they’d been in Britain. “I could see it coming, and sure enough, he said to Her Majesty: ‘And where do you live?’ “She replied: ‘Well I live in London, but I’ve got a holiday home just the other side of the hills.’ “He said: ‘How long have you been coming up here?’ “She replied: ‘I’ve been coming up here ever since I was a little girl, so over 80 years.’ “You could see the cogs whirring, so he said: ‘Well, if you’ve been coming up here for over 80 years, you must have met the Queen.’ “Quick as a flash, she said: ‘I haven’t, but Dick here meets her regularly.’ The hiker then asked Griffin what the monarch was like in person. “Because I was with her a long time, and I knew I could pull her leg, I said: ‘Oh, she can be very cantankerous at times, but she’s got a lovely sense of humour.’ “The next thing I knew, this guy comes round, puts his arm around my shoulder, and before I could see what was happening, he gets his camera, GIVES IT TO THE QUEEN, and says: ‘Can you take a picture of the two of us?’ “Then we swapped places, and I TOOK A PICTURE OF THEM WITH THE QUEEN. “And we never let on, and we waved goodbye. “Afterwards, Her Majesty said to me: ‘I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he shows those photographs to his friends in America, and hopefully someone tells him who I am’.”
The title of my message today is “Let us…” Not lettuce that you have as a part of a salad! But “let us” as in let us do this or let us do that together.
In the Bible the term “let us” is used on a number of occasions. In the very first chapter God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit says “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26-27). That is a positive example. A more negative example is found 10 chapters later. “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…” (Genesis 11:4). In 2 Samuel 10:12 it says, “Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” So we see the term “let us” can be used in both a positive way and a negative way. Like last week we said “let us have a service in Westonia”. We did and it was a really nice time as a church.
The passage I want to look at as our main text today is Hebrews 10:19-25. This passage looks at some key things that helps us to stay on track as individuals and as we do them together it helps us to stay of track as a church. I will also look at some other verses to fill in the things we need to do.
In this passage, it uses the term “Let us” four times. I am going to use this as the main points of my message today. Hopeful this will help you to remember and every time you re-read it, you will remember.
1. Let us draw near to God
Verse 22 – Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Today’s text tells us because of Christ’s death on the cross for us we can have confidence to enter the most holy place of God.
In Old Testament times the people had to sacrifice animals to be right with God. It was the shedding of the animal’s blood that placed a temporary covering of the persons sin. And we read in the Bible that only the High Priest could enter the most holy place where God’s presence was. After prayer, fasting and ritualistic behavior could he go in once a year. He had to wear elaborate garments with everything just right. Only one person, once a year.
Now we can enter in to the most holy place because of Christ and what He has done. His shed blood cleanses us from our sin and we are free to enter in. We can enter in any time.
Ephesians 3:12 tells us, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
Hebrews 4:16 also says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
We can approach God with freedom and confidence. Drawing near to God is a key part of the Christian life. It is also a key component of church life. We have direct access to the Father through Christ. We can enter in.
Church, let us draw near to God. Because the Bible promises that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:6).
2. Let us hold tightly to our hope
Verse 23 – Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.
Let us hold tightly to our hope. The original Greek word used in the text means to hold down, keep, possess, retain, seize on, or stay. All of these give us the thought of holding tightly and not letting go.
What does the writer want us to take hold of? He wants us to take hold of the hope and faith we have in Christ. We know Christ is with us in this life and He helps us through. We also have a great hope that Jesus is coming back for us. We have a great hope of spending eternity with God. We have faith that all God says is true and correct and will come to pass.
As I was praying about hope this week I thought of the letters used in the word hope – H O P E. They can stand for “Hold Onto Promises Eternal”. That is really what hope is about.
Church, we know that life has a way of throwing curve balls at us. Some times bad things happen at the least expected time. We can be knocked down. But if we hold on to our hope, we can jump back up again, dust ourselves off and continue on. Hope acts like an anchor for our souls and the wind in our sails. It helps us moving forward with a confident expectation that God will do all He promised to do in His Word. The Bible tells us that all God’s promises are Yes and Amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). they are true and they will happen. Because the promises of God are sure and firm, we can hold on to our hope without wavering as the text says today.
So, let us hold of tightly to our hope.
3. Let us consider how to spur one another on
Verse 24 – Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
This is the third let us in this passage. There are two things I like in this verse. The first one is “let us think about ways”.
We should think about ways in which we can be more inspired to serve the Lord. Imagine if we all came to church thinking about how we could encourage someone. I am encouraged by hearing testimonies or praise reports of things that have been happening. I like to hear about the impact people are making in their work for the Lord. It inspires me on towards love and good deeds. Things like we have in our God Talk time where we share of Bible verses God has encouraged us with, breakthroughs we have had, and the impact we have made. It is not about big noting yourself. It is about encouraging others in their journey with the Lord and their service.
The second thing I like in this verse is, it uses the word motivate. So, what are the good deeds would should be motivated to do? When we use our gifts for the good of others. When we share our faith with others. When we give people a helping hand when they are in need. When we are a listening ear when someone is going through a hard time. When we help others grow in their faith. When we provide Bibles and resources for people who can’t afford them. When we take someone into our home who has nowhere to live. When we provide food for someone in need. There are endless things we can be inspired to do – things that are both practical and things that are spiritual. If we do them in love and with a heart to serve God, most good things we do would be considered good deeds.
So today before I go on to my last point. How can you we inspire each other? Who can you inspire on to love and good deeds?
Church, let us motivate one another to love and good deeds.
4. Let us not give up meeting together
Verse 25 – And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Let us not give us meeting together as some are in the habit of doing. Habits are easy to form and a lot harder to break. Just as anyone who has ever started a diet or started to exercise knows. It is much easier to fall off the wagon, than get back on and stay on.
When I think about church attendance I think of Jesus. He is my Lord and Saviour, but He is also my example. Jesus was raised a Jew and He followed Jewish tradition. On the Sabbath, He went to the Temple or Synagogue.
Luke 4:16 tells us that, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.”
Jesus, as the Son of God, saw attendance on the Sabbath as important. I need to too. We all do.
Why is church attendance so important? Today’s text tells us that we need to encourage one another. In a world that can at times be so discouraging, we need encouragement regularly. We hear about wars, earthquakes, famines, tornadoes, floods and people just treating each other badly. We need a safe place to come to where we can see our friends and our church family and just enjoy the Bible, prayer, worship and fellowship. We need to fill up our encouragement tanks.
Years ago I heard of a story of a man who stopped attending church. Life’s circumstances had just got on top of him and he stopped going. People went over to see him but it didn’t help. One day the Pastor knocked on his door. The man let him in and they went and sat by the fire. The man did not speak and the Pastor remained silent too. They just sat and stared at the fire. After about 20 minutes the Pastor scooped at hot coal out of the fire and left it on the hearth. Slowly over the next 30 minutes it went cold and black. Still no words were spoken. Then all of a sudden the man stood up and shook the Pastor’s hand and said “Great sermon Pastor, I will see you Sunday”. The man realised for him to stay on fire in his faith he needed to be with the church, not at home by himself. The simple illustration of seeing the coal lose its fire made him realise, his faith was growing cold.
For us as Christians it is so vital to be here when we can or watch along online. We need to fill up our encouragement tanks and we need to love and support each other. After all we are all in this together. That is how God wants it to be.
Church, let us not forsake meeting together. Let us continue to meet and encourage each other as the return of Jesus comes closer each and every day.
Today we have looked at Hebrews 10:19-25. A great passage that calls us to love God, and to love and encourage on another. We saw four main things.
1. We need draw near to God.
2. We need to hold tightly to our faith and hope in Christ.
3. We need to think of ways to encourage each other to love and good deeds.
4. We need to not forsake meeting together.
As a member of this congregation I need to commit to these things. We all do.