The One You Love Is Ill

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Reading the Word

John 11:1–16 (ESV)

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus received word that his close friend, Lazarus, was very ill. We get a sense of the closeness of the relationship from both verse three and verse five, where we read of Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters. Does it seem strange to read that Jesus stayed two more days in the place where he was before going to see Lazarus (cf. John 11:6)? Why did Jesus remain so long? Why did he not go immediately to Lazarus?

The reason for Jesus’ delay is given in this passage. Jesus told the sisters, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The illness that Lazarus was dealing with was for the purpose of glorifying God and bring glory to Jesus Christ. Jesus went on to tell the disciples that it was for their sake that he was going to wake Lazarus from his sleep (John 11:15). The faith of the disciples was going to be strengthened through the coming events.

For the believer, all of life is about bringing glory to the Lord. In sickness or health, in times of plenty or times of need, we glorify God by continuing to trust in him. We know that he is able to fulfill his plans and purposes in our lives and we know those plans are good. And we know that in the end, we have an eternal home without pain or suffering or death, so our deliverance is guaranteed because of what Jesus has done for us. He bore our sins and died in our place and then rose victorious from the grave to give us life. May we live to glorify him!

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When You Do Not See Results

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Reading the Word

John 10:40–42 (ESV)

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Have you ever felt like your service to the Lord was accomplishing nothing? Perhaps you have shared the gospel with many people, but have not known any who have actually come to trust in Jesus.

When Jesus escaped the people who wanted to seize him (see yesterday’s post), he went across the Jordan to where John the Baptist had ministered. John’s ministry took place before Jesus’ and he served as a forerunner to tell people of the coming Messiah. However, many did not believe John. Then he was arrested and later killed. When Jesus arrived, the people saw that everything that John had told them was true. As a result, many believed in Jesus. John never saw the fruit of his labor, but his faithfulness had a profound impact on the lives of many.

We too must remember that God has called us to be faithful to proclaim the Good News. We may not see the results, but we may be laying a foundation for someone else to continue building. Let us not lose heart, but instead let us pray for those who need the Lord and continue to trust in the One who gives new life.

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I and the Father Are One

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Reading the Word

John 10:22–39 (ESV)

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Understanding and Applying the Word

During the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, Jesus was confronted about his identity. He was asked to just plainly state if he was the promised Messiah. His response was that he had told them, but they simply did not want to believe what he said. Jesus went on to tell them that if they did want to believe his words, they should at least believe the works that he was doing in their midst that gave evidence that what he said was true.

The Jews were greatly offended when Jesus proclaimed that “I and the Father are one.” They immediately picked up stones to stone him when they heard those words because Jesus made himself out to be equal to God. This was blasphemous and deserving of death. As the Jews readied to stone Jesus, he explained to them that if he truly was doing the works of God then his claims were not blasphemous, but it meant that he truly was the Son of God. Once again the Jews wanted to arrest him, but he escaped them.

Jesus said many things about his identity and made great claims. He claimed to be one with the Father and the Son of God. Jesus claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath and the great I Am. He not only made bold claims, but he performed great miracles to prove what he said was true. Many believed, but many did not. We must make a decision on who Jesus is also. Was he the Lord or was he an impostor? As C. S. Lewis stated in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

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God’s Amazing Grace

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Reading the Word

Matthew 20:1–16 (ESV)

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this parable, Jesus tells a story about different workers who were hired to work in a vineyard. The master of the house hired workers at the beginning of the day and agreed to pay them a denarius for a day of labor. A denarius was the standard pay for a day of work. A few hours later, at 9:00 AM, the master hired more workers. He did the same at noon, 3:00 PM, and at 5:00 PM. Each time hiring more workers and promising to give them fair pay for their work. A typical work day was 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

At the end of the day, the workers went to receive their pay. Those hired last, at 5:00 PM had only worked for an hour, but they received a denarius as pay. When those hired at the beginning of the day saw that the late-comers received a denarius, they thought they would receive more. They were mistaken. The master paid all of the workers the same. It did not matter when they started. This angered the workers who were hired early in the morning. They believed they deserved more! The master explained to the workers that he paid them exactly what he told them he was going to when he hired them. If he chose to pay others the same, why should it be an issue?

The lesson of this parable is that God’s servants should not spend their time comparing themselves with other servants. God is generous to all of his people and gives us all far more than we deserve. God is a God of amazing grace and his mercies are new every morning. Take the time to reflect on the Lord’s goodness and thank him for it.

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A Man Willing To Give It All Back

Luke 1910 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 19:1–10 (ESV)

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

If you grew up going to church, you are probably familiar with this story. You may have even learned a catchy little song about this incident. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were despised by the Jewish people and thought of as traitors and thieves. They both worked for the Romans and cheated their own people out of money to line their own pockets. This is why we often read of the “tax collectors and sinners” listed together. They were thought of as the lowest of the low.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. To get a better view, he climbed a tree. While he was in his tree, Jesus passed by and called up to Zacchaeus to climb down because he desired to go to his house with him. Zacchaeus immediately got down and welcomed Jesus. Of course, many grumbled that Jesus would spend time with someone so unworthy!

When Zacchaeus came to face to face with Jesus, he promised to give back all of the money he had cheated from people and to give back four times what he had taken! In response to Zacchaeus’ words and willingness to do what was right, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

This account comes after a series of passages where Jesus addresses money, possessions, and coveting. In the previous chapter (cf. Luke 18:18-30), we read of the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his possessions to gain eternal life. Zacchaeus serves as the contrast to that mindset. Zacchaeus was willing to give up all that he had to receive what truly mattered: salvation and eternal life. Through his words and actions, Zacchaeus showed where his heart was and what he truly valued. He desired Jesus and the things of God. He wanted to do what was right and turn from what was wrong. In short, he was repentant and trusting in the words of Jesus and it changed his life.

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Your Faith Has Made You Well

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Thank you for reading Shaped by the Word. This is a daily, Bible-reading devotional to encourage personal reading and reflection on the word of God. I do not publish devotional material on Sundays, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can read along every day.

Reading the Word

Luke 18:35–43 (ESV)

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

They Understood None of These Things

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Reading the Word

Luke 18:31–34 (ESV)

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Parallel Texts: Matthew 20:17-28; Mark 10:32-45

Understanding and Applying the Word

In these verses, Jesus predicted his death for the third time (cf. Luke 9:22 and Luke 9:43-45). In this third occurrence, Jesus also tells the disciples of his resurrection. However, they did not understand what he was telling them. It was hidden from them. It would not be until after the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection that the disciples would understand how Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Messiah.

It can be easy for us to think poorly of the disciples, wondering why they seemed to miss it so often. Why did things seem to go right over their heads? It is easy for us who have the completed Scriptures and the ability to read the entire story to understand Jesus’ ministry. We understand that he entered the world and lived a sinless life so he could go to the cross as a sacrifice for sin. We understand that this had to happen if mankind was going to be saved. And we understand that the resurrection was essential if sin and death were to be defeated and if we were going to have hope.

The disciples did not have what we have today. They did not have the completed Bible. They were living in the middle of the events and they were trying to make sense of it all. It would take hindsight and Jesus explaining the events for them to understand (cf. Luke 24:13-35). Let us not take for granted the blessing we have in having the completed word of God available to us so easily, which teaches us about our Savior and the importance of all he said and did.

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The Danger of Riches

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 18:18–30 (ESV)

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Once again, we read Jesus’ teaching on money and possessions. This time, a ruler (i.e. a wealthy person with power) went to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus told him that he needed to keep the commandments as recorded in the Old Testament law. Jesus specifically mentioned the commandments not to murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness, as well as the command to honor father and mother. The young ruler replied that he had done all of those things.

After the rich ruler’s response, Jesus told him there was one thing that he lacked. He needed to sell all of his things and distribute his wealth to the poor. This last statement touched on the last of the commandments traditionally found in the Ten Commandments. It is the commandment concerning coveting. This ruler obviously had a problem with coveting material wealth as he was unable to part with his things. In exposing this sinful problem, it also exposed a problem with the ruler’s relationship with God. Money, wealth, and possessions were far too important to this man. They had taken a place in his life and passions that should be reserved for God alone. Wealth had become an idol. The rich ruler was guilty not only of the last commandment, but also the first four that deal with a proper relationship with God.

Wealth and possessions can easily entangle us. We must be careful not to allow them to become our focus or source of security and happiness. The Lord must be all of those things. He is far better than anything we could ever possess and there is nothing that we could ever give up that will compare to knowing and belonging to the One who gave his life that we might be his.

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Like a Child

Luke 1817 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:15–17 (ESV)

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

People were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” Such a touch would have been to bless the children. At first, the disciples sought to stop this from happening. They shared the cultural mindset that thought of children as a burden until they were physically capable of helping the family. Jesus, however, welcomed the children.

Jesus’ words “to such belongs the kingdom of God” should not be misunderstood. Jesus was not addressing the status of children in relation to the kingdom, but using children as an example. The emphasis of Jesus’ words falls on “for to such.” It is those who are like children that belong to the kingdom. Those who have a simple, childlike trust in Jesus and his teaching are those who belong to the kingdom. It becomes more clear in the last verse. There, Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of God must be received “like a child.”

We must be careful no to over-complicate the gospel. Jesus does not require us to have extensive knowledge or the answers to every complex question. All we need is childlike faith. If we know we are sinners and trust that Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection, we belong to him. It then becomes our delight to continue to learn, grow, and mature in our faith.

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The Self-Righteous

Luke 1813–14 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

This parable addresses the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus tells of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first, a Pharisee, thanked God that he was not like the sinners of the world. He even commented on his own righteousness by mentioning that he fasted twice per week and tithed on his earnings. The second, a tax collector, could hardly bring himself to the temple to pray. He stood far away and kept his eyes to the ground in shame and humility. He called out to God for mercy for his sins. Jesus ended the parable by saying that it was the tax collector who went home justified, not the Pharisee.

The reason for this parable is given in the opening verse. It was to address those who were self-righteous and looked down on others. Those who are in a right relationship with God have acknowledged their own sin and repented of it. We have asked God to forgive us based not on what we have done, but solely on what Jesus has done for us. He went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. If we believe we are righteous by our own doing and somehow deserve God’s blessing, we deceive ourselves and do not belong to God at all. Salvation comes only by grace to sinners who are undeserving.

When we acknowledge our own sin, it should make us humble. We should not look down on others. Instead, we should point fellow sinners to Jesus Christ and tell of the forgiveness and grace that are available to all who will believe.

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