Dr. Ray Pritchard

Author, Speaker, President of Keep Believing Ministries

Bethany: A Dead Man Rises

“Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43).

Lazarus was already dead for four days when Jesus arrived in Bethany.
He had been dead long enough for his body to begin decaying.

Now Jesus is here. What will he do? Lazarus has been dead so long that any thought of an immediate resurrection is out of the question. But that doesn’t seem to be on Martha’s mind. She thought Jesus could heal Lazarus, and she also believed he would be raised on the last day. It apparently never occurred to her that Jesus could raise Lazarus right then and there.

Jesus wept.

He ordered the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb.
He declared that this would be for the glory of God.
He called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”

Someone has commented that if Jesus had not said the name Lazarus, every dead person in the world would have been raised. Certainly the raising of this one man proves Jesus can raise every person.

Death has no power over him, but he has absolute power over death.

There’s an old gospel song called Since Jesus Came into My Heart. One of the verses contains this phrase, “There’s a light in the valley of death now for me, since Jesus came into my heart.”

That light is Jesus.

If you know him, you need not fear death. To borrow a phrase from John Stott, death has become a “trivial episode” for the believer. It doesn’t seem trivial to us at the moment, but Jesus has taken the sting from death. One day we will live in a land where death no longer reigns.

Lord Jesus, what would we do without you? Where could we go but to the Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life. Thank you for the hope we have that goes beyond the grave. Amen.

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“When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:6).

Why did he wait two more days?
Why not come now, right now, while Lazarus is alive?

If he really loved Lazarus, why delay at all? 

It’s easy to understand the disciples’ confusion. “Lord, this man is your friend. We’ve seen you heal people you didn’t even know. Lazarus loves you, and you love him. Why are you waiting?”

When at last Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already died. He is met by Martha, sister of Lazarus, who speaks her mind to the Son of God:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21).

Martha is partly right. Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but she was wrong on one point. Jesus could have healed him from the other side of the Jordan River. He’s the Son of God. He didn’t have to personally come to Bethany to work a great miracle.

But that’s precisely what he does.

Strange as it may sound, Jesus stayed away from Bethany so that after Lazarus died, he could raise him from the dead, bringing great glory to God, and confirming his own words when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). 

The Bible explicitly says that Jesus loved Lazarus, yet he let him die. He delayed returning so that Lazarus would die. That too was an act of love.

We will never understand this unless we see that Jesus always intended to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples didn’t see that, the sisters didn’t see that, but Jesus had it in mind from the beginning.

This teaches us something about the “delays” of life. Although God may seem slow to us, he is never “slow,” but he does move according to his own purposes. We will rarely understand in advance why things happen the way they do.  As we will see tomorrow, there is more to this story. For the moment, let’s remember God’s love comes in many varieties, and he loves us even when nothing he does makes sense to us. 

Lord Jesus, some of us desperately need your comfort right now. Forgive us for doubting your purposes. Help us trust even when we don’t understand. Amen.

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Jericho: A Little Man with a Big Problem

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately” (Luke 19:5).

He was a little man with a big problem. Jesus was coming to town but the crowds kept Zacchaeus, who was a short man, from seeing him. A familiar Sunday school song tells the story:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.

As the chief tax collector of Jericho, he was not a popular man. Since he had cheated many people, he had many enemies. So climbing up in a sycamore tree was both ingenious and prudent. The same Sunday school song explains what happened next:

And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in that tree
And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today
For I’m going to your house today.”

Zacchaeus climbed the tree because his heart told him he needed what Jesus had to offer. Deep inside he knew he needed forgiveness and a new life. Jesus came to the house of the most hated man in town because he did not follow public opinion. He will eat with a Pharisee or a tax collector (or with anyone else, for that matter) because he came to seek and to save the lost (v. 10).

Jesus made the first move (v. 5). That’s grace.
Zacchaeus welcomed him gladly (v. 6). That’s faith.

Salvation could not be simpler than this. When Jesus calls, receive him gladly. Zacchaeus made a lifetime of mistakes and had many things to make right, but he was smart enough to come to Jesus. The little man with a big problem turns out to be the smartest man in town.

Gracious God, you are amazing! You save people who don’t deserve it. Thank you for making room for me in your family. Amen.

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On the Road: No Turning Back

“Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61-62).

Let’s call this fellow the Divided Disciple, which is a contradiction in terms, if you think about it.

In military terms, this man is a weekend warrior. He’s ready to serve the Lord but he wants to tie up some loose ends at home first. And his request does seem reasonable. All he wants to do is to say goodbye to his parents, his friends, maybe his girlfriend, and so on. Maybe they will throw him a farewell party and make speeches in his honor. No doubt there will be tears shed and a few people will question his decision. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it? So why can’t he go home and bid his family goodbye?

Evidently this man wanted to keep the back door open. Perhaps he wanted to make a deal to protect his family. Certainly he wanted their approval. None of this is wrong in itself. But remember the words of Jesus in Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” You can check the word “hate” in the Greek and you’ll discover that “hate” is exactly what it means. But the “hate” of this verse doesn’t refer to personal animosity. Being faithful to Jesus Christ and following his call on your life may mean you will do things from time to time that seem to your loved ones as if you hate them. You don’t hate them at all, but your obedience to Christ may cause them to think that you hate them. Such is the price we all must pay to be a disciple of Christ.

The real meaning of our text is quite plain. Following Jesus is the most important thing in life. Everything else pales by comparison.

It is not an emotional, spur-of-the moment decision.
It is not a decision that can be postponed till later.
It is not a phase we go through while we keep our options open.

Following Jesus means signing away the rights to your own life. You sign on the bottom line and let him fill in the details. It means Jesus first. No conditions. No delays. No buts. No excuses.

Lord Jesus, I pray for the courage to follow you without delay, whatever it costs, no turning back, wherever you lead. Amen.

You can reach the author at [email protected]. Click here to sign up for the free email sermon.

About Dr. Ray Pritchard

Dr. Ray Pritchard is the president of Keep Believing Ministries, in Internet-based ministry serving Christians in 225 countries. He is the author of 29 books, including Stealth Attack, Fire and Rain, Credo, The ABCs of Christmas, The Healing Power of Forgiveness, An Anchor for the Soul and Why Did This Happen to Me? Ray and Marlene, his wife of 39 years, have three sons-Josh, Mark and Nick, two daughters-in-law--Leah and Vanessa, and four grandchildren grandsons: Knox, Eli, Penny and Violet. His hobbies include biking, surfing the Internet, and anything related to the Civil War.

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