Background Scripture: John 11:17-27
Quotes of the Week:
When we have lost everything, including hope, life becomes a disgrace, and death a duty.
W. C. Fields
We continue the study on our needs. This week's lesson focuses on hope. How important is hope, and what is hope? In general, hope is the feeling that what you want can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Usually, there is some reasonable confidence in the thing that you hope for. For example, if I lived in Florida, I could say that I would hope that it would snow in the middle of July. That hope would not be valid. However, if I lived in Florida and I said that I hoped that it would not rain tomorrow afternoon, there can be 'some' confidence in that.
In answers to a question "what are the top ten things people hope for" on yahoo, some of the common answers were money, love, luck, friends, gifts of all sorts and so forth. One that I found interesting was the ability to make up with lost loved ones. Unfortunately, that is a sad hope that can never be realized in this lifetime. We hear about hopes and dreams of people and we realize that hope is an important part of our life. Often, it is hope that propels us to do things that we may not otherwise do. For example, if you hope to have a successful career, you realize that you need to exert effort towards that goal. In that case, we know that there are things that we can do to help improve the odds of getting what we hoped for.
If you have no hope, it can be that you begin to lose the desire to exist. As I've written in several lessons, I've been diagnosed with ALS. I don't want to be known as the 'guy with ALS', but I've seen how it has caused me to look at things in life from a different angle. At this point in time, there is no cure for ALS. There is nothing that can assuredly halt the progression of the disease, and there is nothing that can restore lost capabilities. From one angle, it would seem that it is a hopeless situation. And, if it was all about being cured from this disease, that would be true. I can see how some people who have such a diagnosis would lose all hope. However, I maintain hope, as I know that God intends to use me and others around me to continue to share His love and our faith. In essence, we all have a terminal diagnosis and we don't know when our lives will end. Certainly, some don't have a named disease for their diagnosis, but they are still terminal at some point. The issue is not that we will die, but rather how we will live. And, hope is a huge factor in how we face the life that we do have.
The passage chosen for this lesson is not one that I would have chosen on my own. This is the story of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. To me, the true purpose of the miracle performed by Jesus was that He had power over death. I've seen this same passage be used for grief, but it is an unfair passage to look at the story of a man who died and was raised from the dead, to examine how we should grieve. Throughout history, people die. You can go to different parts of the world and find different types of graveyards. Some are cremated and sprinkled, while others are buried in tombs or in cemeteries. None of us have seen a person rise from the dead. We know of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There may have been some people who were declared to be dead, but they came back to life in a short time. The average lifespan may increase. People may be healthier the older they get. Diets, exercise, watching your cholesterol and all of that is good, but the mortality rate remains at 1. I guess my point is that the point of this lesson is for us not to have hope that we will not die, as we all will - we just don't know when.
I am sure that Mary and Martha both knew that Jesus could heal their brother prior to him dying. That was why they sent a messenger to Jesus. By the time that Jesus made it to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Many friends had come to mourn alongside Mary and Martha. What do you think was going through the minds of the sisters? I believe that in most cases, when someone dies, it is natural to wonder what 'could' have been done. When an accident occurs, we may wonder what would have happened if they hadn't gone on that trip or been in that situation. In some cases, there is nothing that could be done, but for Mary and Martha, they knew what 'could have been'. Martha was wanting to go meet Jesus, but Mary had no desire to see Him, as she likely felt that Jesus had let her down.
Martha was not unlike any of us in the same position. We know what can and can't be done. We have the bounds of practicality and tangible outcomes. As long as Lazarus was alive, Jesus could have power, but her ability to trust Jesus was limited by practicality. It is also interesting to realize that the bounds of what they saw as possible was even greater than what we see today. For example, Jesus healed the lepers, who were unable to be healed in any other manner. As I think back to our own situation, I realize that Jesus is capable of healing my disease, but my practical mind says that this is beyond what has been done before. And, similar to Martha, we look forward to the life to come. Is it is a sign of weakness in faith to believe that I am not likely to be healed by God, when I know that God, the Creator and Sustainer of all could say the word and I would be healed? It is an enigma, to be sure.
I've heard it said that our eternal life starts when we trust in Jesus. Although our bodies will age and eventually die, our eternal life continues forever. What does it mean to have eternal life in this life? This is more than assenting to facts, but to allow the Spirit of God to change us. This doesn't make us better people, but it does give us an eternal hope. That hope goes with us as we endure circumstances and situations in our lives. Certainly, we have hope that our circumstances will improve, and they often do, but our true hope in what resides inside of us.
Often you hear of this hope at funerals, as the lives of the deceased are shared. Have you been to different funerals and seen the differences between a true believer and merely a good person? I've been to a funeral where the words spoken were about this great life that was lived and the many accomplishments in life. I've seen where people have had an impact by donating money and time to organizations, but you find that the funeral is all about that person. On the other hand, I've been to other funerals where the emphasis was not on the life of the person that died, but on the resurrection of Jesus. You may or may not hear about great civic awards, but you will hear of lives that have been impacted. I think of my grandmother, Monnie, who though respected in the community, found her real impact in working with 6th grade kids for many years in Sunday School. She was a great witness and testimony to her family and so many friends that she had. Her example was one that had an eternal impact on many lives, including my own. Certainly, Monnie had a notion of eternal life in this life.
Jesus asked Martha if she believed and she said that she believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Martha's belief was based on what she had seen in Jesus, as He lived. We can read about the miracles of Jesus and read about His teachings. However, the basis for our belief is what we celebrate on the day for which this lesson is based - Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 says "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone." Everything we believe is hinged on the resurrection of Christ, and not merely His miracles and teachings.
Martha confessed her faith. Have you ever thought about the difference between pronouncing, believing and living faith? There are many people that can share the facts of what Jesus did. Historians can highlight the miracles and teachings of Jesus and be great teammates in Bible Trivia. However, when a person can only call Jesus "the Lord", they are missing a key point. You will never take hold of the eternal life until Jesus becomes 'my Lord". Many people seem to want to claim Jesus as their Savior, but they have not identified Him as their Lord. Our hope in Jesus can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus that will result in eternal life that starts today.
There are so many things that can be said about the authenticity of the Bible. Anyone who really wants to take a look at it will come away with the understanding that is not a mere work of man. There are people who want to point to apparent contradictions or focus on the words that were applicable for certain cultures. Certainly some passages as less relevant, but there is always applicability that can be found in any culture. However, if anyone really seeks the truth, they will find that the Bible is more reliable than any other manuscript we have today, even when documents are put together with today's technology. I put my full faith in the credibility of the Bible, as I have seen it actually change the lives of many people. In the Bible, it is said that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is not one of many, but is the way to eternal life.
The real question that needs to be asked is whether or not you have eternal life. Are you putting your hope in your own goodness? Are you thinking that you are the one that is responsible for the provision and sustainment of eternal life? We need to realize that everything about the hope we have, and the ability to have eternal life is based upon Jesus Christ. When you put your faith in the resurrection of Jesus, and realize that your life is impacted by the word of God, you can rest assured that you have eternal life. When you have eternal life, you have a desire to share that with others. Do you see a desire to share the hope that you have with others? Our prayer for each person that reads this lesson is that they will grasp the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and experience the hope that only comes through life eternal.