Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”- John 10:31It was winter. Jesus and his disciples had gone up to Jerusalem for an annual festival that every able Jew attended. The festival was known as the Feast of Dedication and celebrated a time when the Jews, led by a family known as the Maccabees, had revolted against the Greek invaders and succeeded in fighting them off. The Maccabees had become a sort of legend among the Israelites. They represented the last time Israel had been free from oppression. However, it wasn't long until the Jews were under foreign domination again and by the time Jesus arrived they were well and truly under Romes control. In a sense, the Feast of Dedication was the celebration of short-lived freedom.
About 200 years after the Maccabean revolt, Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate their short lived victory. As he walks through the temple courts with his disciples people begin to notice him. "There he is" some of them whisper as they point at him, "Hes the one who claims to be the hero of Israel."
"Not exactly" others retort. "He hasn't been very clear about who he is".
The crowds begin to debate and then they grow. And with every floating rumor the tension in the air grows thicker. Who is this Jesus? Is he the one who will finally end our oppression? Will he pick up where the Maccabees left off?
The disciples begin to feel the tension. Thomas looks around and everywhere he looks there's someone staring at them. Suddenly, Jesus stops. Thomas looks up and sees a group of men standing in the way - some look angry, others annoyed. In seconds the entire group is surrounded. Things don't look so good.
“How long will you keep us in suspense?" Asks the leader of the pack, "If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe" (25).
Thomas gulps. Jesus answer was like a slap in the face. But Jesus didn't seem scared. He continues to talk but Thomas doesn't even hear what hes saying anymore. The men surrounding them are growing angrier with every word Jesus speaks. Then suddenly, they recoil in horror and begin yelling at Jesus. The leader of the pack reaches to the ground and grabs a loose stone on the path. The crowd follows, each of them picking up stones to throw at Jesus. Thomas and the other disciples freeze, not knowing what to do. Jesus keeps talking but as he does the crowds gather around him even tighter to the point that the disciples are completely blocked off from Jesus. "What in the world is happening?" Peter yells. "I cant see Jesus anymore!" In moments the angry mob grows even larger. They come from every corner of the temple - men with stones dashing madly toward Jesus. The disciples find themselves in this wild mosh-pit and desperately struggle to get out. "Stone him!" The crowd yells. "Hes a fake!" others cry out. Then, suddenly, the crowds begin to yell all at once. Thomas can't understand a single word. But something even stranger happens. The crowds begin to turn and look in every direction. "Where did he go?" He hears the cries. "He's gone! He disappeared!"
Shortly after the crowds disperse. The disciples gather themselves together again and are found by Jesus. Together they leave Jerusalem and cross the river Jordan to the place where Jesus was baptized. Thomas takes a deep breath. That was close.
Days go by. The disciples are still recovering from their frightening experience. Questions are going through Thomas' mind. Am I really cut out for this? I mean we almost got killed. Am I really ready to die for Jesus? I'm not even sure if he's the one...
But their moment of peace was short lived. A messenger arrived from Judea where the disciples had just barely escaped with their lives. "Lazarus, the one that you love, is sick" said the messenger. "You have to come with me and heal him" (John 11:3).
Thomas eyes shot wide open. No way, he thought, we just barely made it out of Judea, please don't tell me you are going to do this. Jesus spoke to the messenger and assured him all would be well, then sent him back. However, much to Thomas' surprise, Jesus did not go with him. One day passed. Nothing. Two days went by. Nothing.
The disciples started to feel a little better. Thomas was definitely feeling better. But then came day three and Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea" (7).
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back”(8)?
We can only imagine the fear and anxiety in the disciples hearts at that moment. One by one they desperately tried to reason with Jesus - to persuade him to stay away from Judea. To perhaps use his power to heal Lazarus from afar like he had done with the Centurions servant only a few months before. But Jesus reply was simple, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up" (11).
The disciples didn't give up. “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better” (12). they said. In other words, "Whats the point of risking our lives again if Lazarus is just sleeping? It's not that big a deal. Just let him be."
And Jesus replies, "[Guys], Lazarus is dead" (14).
The disciples aren't through arguing yet. But Thomas had had it. He knows there's no way to dissuade Jesus. So in a moment of cathartic sarcasm Thomas blurts out, "“Let us also go, that we may die with him” (16).
For some, Thomas' words are words of bravery. I am more inclined to think they were said in scorn. "Forget it guys. Whats the use? He's not going to change his mind so fine, lets all go so we can die too."
In other words, Thomas was willing to follow Jesus, to walk with Jesus and even to die with Jesus but the truth is he had no idea why. He was just like, Hey why not? I've got nothing else going on. Let's just do it. Thomas was following Jesus yes, but he didn't seem to really know why.
Why are you following Jesus? Some of you reading this may be just as gung-ho for Jesus as Thomas was and yet not really know why. Some of you may be leaders in your churches, you may be at church every weekend, you may even give time and money to the church but at the end of the day if I asked you why you do it, would you really know why? Apart from the cliche answers we usually give would we really know why we are living for Jesus?
Throughout the years I have met people who are willing to die for Jesus and kill for him too but they don't actually know why. They are patriotic Christians. They are used to the idea of Jesus. Mom and dad took them to church. It's all they have ever known. So why not? Why not follow him? Every one else seems to be doing it. But when you squeeze them hard to find out why they are so hardcore for Jesus they don't really seem to know why. What about you? Are you reading this because it seems interesting? Are you at church each weekend because you enjoy doing church stuff and organizing church events? If I pushed you to the max, could you really tell me why you are here?
Thomas was all out for Jesus but at this point in his life he didn't seem to know why. But let me pause now and say, that I actually think that's OK. I know I just drilled you on the why question, but the truth is, I think its OK to not know why. It's part of the journey. It's part of how we experience God. We have to go through different stages. In yesterdays post I mentioned that the first step toward experiencing God is to recognize that he wants you and is calling you. The second step is to then respond to his call over your life. And here is the third step: To follow him even though you may not have it all figured out.
There are people who miss out on experiencing God because they are waiting to have all their ducks in a row - to have it all figured out. Forget that. You don't need all the answers. You don't need everything sorted. Just give it a shot. You have nothing to lose. Walk with Jesus. Serve with Jesus. Get involved in your church. Get active in ministering to others. Live with Jesus. And if need be, be willing to die for him. It's OK to not know why you are here. God is just happy that you are.
But the story doesn't end there. God doesn't want your faith-journey to be void of meaning. He's happy that you are here but ultimately he also wants you to know why you are here. And Jesus wanted his disciples to know too. He wanted Thomas to know. Notice what Jesus said to them:
"Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe..." (14-15).
The mob in Jerusalem weren't the only ones wondering if Jesus was really the hero. The disciples were wondering as well. Jesus was glad they were there. But now he wanted to give them a reason why. He wanted them to go from knowing about him to truly knowing him. To knowing his heart, his power, and his purpose for them. So he said to them, "Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go..." (John 11:14-15, The Message).
Days later, the disciples stood by as Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus. The stone had been rolled away, and then Jesus said a prayer:
Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me (41-42).Jesus' prayer is awesome. He's asking God to give the people around him who don't believe a reason to believe. He wants them to have a moment with him where their faith goes from being a head thing to a heart thing. Thomas was included in this prayer. And so are you. Jesus was giving Thomas and all those doubters a new ground to believe, a new experience with him. And then it happens.
"Lazarus, come forth! The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (43-44).The story doesn't say, but something tells me Thomas was one of the ones Jesus was talking to when he said, "Unbind him...". In those days, the dead were wrapped up in cloths. Lazarus had come out of the tomb yes, but he was still wrapped up in cloths. Jesus calls those around him to go unbind Lazarus. But why? Why not do it himself? I think the answer is clear. As Thomas reached out to Lazarus and began taking the cloths off of him, loosening and untying, the whole thing became awfully real to him. With ever bit of cloth that he removed, Thomas came face to face with the wonder that is Jesus. There before him stood a man 3 days dead. He didn't stink. His skin was bright and healthy. His smile was real. I wonder, what was Thomas thinking at that moment? Was he still doubting who Jesus was? Or was he beginning to rethink his doubts? Did the act of unbinding Lazarus rock his world to the core? Did Thomas finally have a reason to follow Jesus? Did his faith go from knowing about Jesus to knowing him? I think so.
Why are you here? Some of you believe. Some of you don't. God's just glad you're here. But he's also excited to give you a whole new reason to believe. So if you want to experience him, don't wait until you have it all figured out. Realize that God want's you. Respond to his call. And start following Jesus even if you don't understand it all. And as you follow him, walk with him, and listen to him he will take you to the place where he will rock your world to the core. He will do amazing things and call on you to be a part of them. He will transform the life of a drug addict and call you to pray for him, he will deliver a child from abuse and call you to be there to comfort them, he will rescue a friend from alcohol, from suicide, from brokenness and he will call you to be there to unbind him from that left over mess that lingers on. And as you do that your faith will come alive. Because experiencing God is not about seeing a vision of angels, its about walking with him and working with him.
When I was 17 I started following Jesus. I had no idea why. I just knew he was calling me. I started preaching and I understood very little of the Bible. I knew nothing about theology or any of that other stuff. I hadn't even graduated High School yet. But I knew Jesus was calling me and that was enough. And God brought me from one crazy journey to another. I have never seen a man walk out of a tomb that needed to be untied, but I have met all kinds of people from convicts and addicts to broken and empty people and in each case I have had the joy of working with Jesus in unbinding their mess and through that, experiencing how real Jesus is and how good he is at changing lives. So I ask you today, don't wait to have it all figured out. Just walk with him and work with him and he will rock your world.