Gospel of John

How Jesus Used a Woman to Strengthen His People

I have lady friends who love their beauty sleep. Seems to really work! So, keep on loving it! But there are other sleeping beauties in Jesus’ church that may need awakening. Jesus woke up a sleeping beauty with the kiss of His commission. Once she was awake, Jesus used her to strengthen and prepare His people. I’m hoping this blog post will be the kiss that nudges some sleeping sisters to open their eyes just enough to see prince charming. Maybe you’re one of these sleeping beauties that need a gentle nudge.

Burning away the Fog about Jesus

Following Jesus in a Fog

Are you following Jesus in a fog? Is your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth limited by the fog of confused identity?  Do you follow Jesus as an earthly friend, a comforting teacher, or a personal guru?  If so, you might be trapped in the same fog as Mary of Magdala. Mary of Magdala followed a version of Jesus that only existed in her mind. Yet she was as sincere in her devotion to Jesus as you might be. But she followed Jesus in a fog.

Perhaps the same fog darkens your understanding of Jesus’ identity. If so, you might consider the case of Mary of Magdala. John’s Gospel portrays her as following Jesus in a self-made fog. But at the right moment, Jesus burned away the fog from her senses. Once the fog was lifted, she recognized Him as He really was. It was a life changing moment for her. Her tears finally stopped. It could be for you as well. Is He trying to burn away the fog for you? Is this moment the right moment for you?

 

Mary’s First-Hand Advantages

Mary of Magdala was a devoted follower of Jesus.  She knew Him well; at least she thought she knew Him.  She had seen Jesus work miracles.  Her sincere devotion to Him motivated her to follow Him all the way to scene of the cross, staying after most of Jesus’ disciples fled in fear. They fled. She stayed. Mary was devoted. She had the advantage. There’s more.

 

Sees Jesus Die on the Cross

At the cross, Mary watched Jesus give His mother to John to care for. But the presence of Jesus’ mother failed to lift the fog. Mary heard him say, “I am thirsty.” She saw him drink the sour wine given to him while hanging on the cross. She heard Him say, "It is finished." The fog remained. There’s more.

Mary saw the blood and water flow from his side after it was pierced by a Roman lance. She watched Jesus give up His spirit and die. But Mary was lost in a fog.

To Mary, Jesus was a close friend and teacher who had died. Mary could not sing, “At the Cross, at the cross…where I first saw the light…” Mary was at the cross of Jesus, but she failed to see the light. The fog shrouded the light.

 

Sees the Empty Tomb

But that’s not all. She was the first person at the tomb early Sunday morning, the first to peer inside and realize that His body was gone.  The fog still shrouded her eyes.

She spoke to Peter and the beloved disciple. She saw two angels inside Jesus’ tomb and even heard their pointed question, "Why are you crying?" But she didn’t get it. Their question about her tears didn’t register. Imagine ignoring two questions from angels. The fog was thick.

 

Sees the Risen Jesus

Last, but not least, Mary was the first to see the risen Jesus.  She saw Him with her own two eyes. Mary even heard Jesus ask her two penetrating questions: “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you searching for?”

You’d think the fog would have lifted immediately when she saw Jesus and heard his personal questions. Yet, she didn't recognize Him. Not even a, “Wow, that voice sure sounds familiar to me. The voice sounds just like Jesus’ voice. Could it be Jesus?”

Still looking for a dead body, Mary assumed the risen Jesus must be the gardener. Despite all her advantages, Mary remained in a fog and her tears still flowed.

 

The Veil of Fog Remained

Mary of Magdala had the advantages of witnessing the key moments and people in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet with all of first-hand experiences at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, she still was determined to find the dead body of Jesus. The veil of fog remained over the eyes of Mary’s heart. Her advantages failed to lift the veil.

Mary needed more than devotion, advantage, and determination. We all do.

 

Why the Fog?

Why the fog? To Mary, Jesus was a close friend, an earthly companion, and a teacher to whom she was devoted. To Mary, Jesus was a human teacher (a “Rabbi”). To Mary, Jesus’ origins were from the earth.

Her limited understanding of Jesus’ true identity generated the fog. Her faulty assumptions of Jesus’ true identity jumbled her mind and emotions into confusion, tears, and disappointment at his death. Mary was in a fog and she needed someone to burn it away. She needed someone or something to help her stop grieving.

 

Jesus Called Mary by her Name

Then the risen Jesus did what no one else could do.  Jesus called Mary by her name. He said to her, “Mary.”  The name did it. Speaking her name broke the foggy spell. The fog burned away in that one moment. She recognized him not through seeing the risen Jesus but by hearing his voice calling her personally.

 

Jesus Gets Personal

The veil over Mary’s eyes lifted when Jesus spoke her personal name. “He calls his own sheep by name.” (10:3). “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (10:14); the risen Jesus knew Mary’s name. He called it and her recognition followed immediately.

 

The Voice of the Good Shepherd

Mary had searched unsuccessfully for the body of a dead friend. The fog remained over her eyes despite her first-hand experiences with Jesus at his most-important events. But Mary’s case is not so unusual. Many people are shrouded in the same fog and do not recognize the real Jesus. They, too, have advantages. But they need personal intervention. Perhaps this is the case with you as well.

Mary needed intervention. Do you? She was looking for the wrong version of Jesus, an earthly Jesus. Are you? But because Mary was eternally destined to be a member of His own flock, the risen Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, called her by name and burned away the fog. It was the voice of the risen Good Shepherd calling Mary’s name that made the difference.

 

Is Jesus Getting Personal with You?

Do you find yourself in the same fog? Is Jesus calling you by your personal name? Is the voice you are hearing in your mind the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd? Is Jesus getting personal with you?

 

Are You Searching for a Jesus that Doesn’t Exist?

Perhaps you are searching for a Jesus who doesn't exist. Perhaps like Mary, you view Jesus as your guru or spiritual teacher. When we look for a mere teacher or popular hero, a powerful friend, or even a gifted example, it is hard to recognize the true identity of the risen and exalted Son of God. The fog is just too thick to see clearly. That is why Jesus intervened in Mary’s case.

 

The Risen Jesus Still Calls People by Name

The risen Jesus, the exalted Good Shepherd, still intervenes into the fog-bound minds of men and women when He calls them by name. Jesus still barges into our human experience to lift the veil from our eyes. Without Jesus’ radical incision into the mind of Saul of Tarsus (“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9: 4), he would have remained the antagonist of Jesus. Calling Saul’s name made the difference.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by calling his personal name: “Lazarus, come forth.” (11:43) Calling Lazarus’ name made the difference. Is Jesus calling you by your name?

 

Which Version of Jesus are you Following?

Are you following Jesus as an earthly friend, a comforting teacher, or a personal cheerleader? Like Mary, you, too, will be soon disappointed. Jesus is far more than an earthly companion.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended to His Father in heaven. He is the One with whom we must meet to find God as our Father, to experience the forgiveness of our sins, and to dry our tears of disappointment and grief.

 

Is Jesus Calling You by Name?

So, is Jesus calling you by your personal name (i.e., Jessica, Valerie, Jerry, Jake)? Has Jesus come to you in your tears and called you by name so that you will recognize his true identity? Have you responded by faith to His call? This might be the right for moment for you.

 

Leave the Fog Behind

Why not respond right now. By faith, leave the fog behind and trust Jesus as God’s risen and exalted Son, the One upon whom you depend completely for the forgiveness of all your sins, to guide you through life as a Good Shepherd, and one day, to take you home to your Father in heaven.

Your decision to trust Him will be a destiny changing moment for you. Clear skies, bright Son, and no tears or fog there. And you’ll meet Mary of Magdala and be able to share your own fog story with her. You can laugh about the fog together.

Thank you for reading.

2 Sisters 2 Giant Disciples, Part 2

Women: MVP of Faith

Are you a Martha? Are you watching the work of Jesus from the sidelines? Is that where you believe you belong? Do you feel marginalized in church? Do you feel relegated to second class status in terms of being a disciple of Jesus?

Have you experienced major disappointments as a Jesus’ follower and are content to ‘sit out life on the bench”? John has a word of encouragement for you to consider. So do I. Modern-day Martha, you have a place on his team, but it is not on the bench.

John may have had you in mind when he put the zoom lens on Martha in John 11. John considers Martha a key player, a heavy hitter in the Christian community. A MVP of faith.  Marthas were not meant to be in the grandstands watching, but on the playing field where they can make a difference. So, where are you sitting today?

Elizabeth Elliot and Gracia Burnham

I have been encouraged by the discerning faith of Marthas, women of God in Jesus’ church.  In my seminary days, I read Elizabeth Elliot’s, Through Gates of Splendor, the story of her missionary husband’s (Jim Elliot) death in the jungles of Ecuador, and her additional writings. 

Recently, I have been inspired and encouraged by the teaching and discerning faith of Gracia Burnham, whose missionary husband (Martin Burnham) was killed by terrorists in the Philippine jungles. 

Both women experienced tragedy and grief.  Both experienced wounds and disappointments.  But the disappointments and wounds of life failed to confine them to the sidelines. Those disappointments only served to awaken and stretch their faith in Jesus. Their discerning faith in Jesus brought hope and encouragement to many, including me.

Disappointments

Perhaps you can identify with similar disappointments and wounds. Perhaps you were abandoned by your father and were raised by a faithful mother.   Perhaps you observed your father mistreat or abuse your mother.  Perhaps as a young wife, you discovered that your “knight in shining armor” was little more than a self-focused man without armor.  The career that seemed so promising to you has faded away.  The children you had high hopes for might have brought you public embarrassment and even shame.  Perhaps death claimed a loved one early in life.  Disappointments, wounds, and Christian women are not strangers.

But those experiences, while sad, do not translate into bench sitting. Jesus has other plans for you. Martha’s case is one I think you can identify with. So, I ask for you to consider her as your role model.

Disadvantaged Women

Martha, sister to Lazarus and Mary, bore the burden of disadvantage.   She was a marginalized woman in a male dominated society.  She was single. She suffered the loss of the only male in her household (Lazarus).  She had not witnessed any spectacular miracles performed by Jesus. 

Yet in the Gospel of John, Martha emerges as the champion, the MVP  of faith. You, can, too. Jesus elevates marginalized women.

Disappointed Martha

We meet up with Martha in the midst of deep disappointment.  When their brother Lazarus became critically ill, Mary and Martha sent an urgent message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick”. They needed immediate help.  They believed that Jesus, if only He would come, could work a miracle and heal their sick brother.

But Jesus chose not to answer their urgent request.  He remained two additional days in the area across the Jordan River and when he finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead.  He had been in the grave for four days.  Jesus was too late.  Too late to heal Lazarus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:21)  Martha clearly had faith in Jesus, even in her disappointment.  Despite her brother’s death, she half expected that Jesus would still do something.  But Jesus saw that her faith, though real, was under developed and inadequate.  She didn’t yet recognize his full identity.  She saw his power to heal, but didn’t realize that the one who loved her also had the power to give life, reverse death, with a simple word.    

Purposeful Delay

And so Jesus orchestrated a purposeful delay, motivated by His love. His delay provided an opportunity to push Martha’s faith in Him up to a new level, a major league level. Martha’s personal disappointment opened up a personal appointment with Jesus.

 “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus tells her.  “The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 25-26).  

Rather than giving Martha assurance about the future resurrection, Jesus unveils to hera marginalized woman--the most significant truth about himself in John’s entire Gospel. Those future expectations of resurrection from the dead are realized in the here and now--today.

Martha’s Home Run

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks her.  Martha’s response, her confession of faith, ranks her as the MVP of faith in John’s Gospel.  Based entirely on Jesus’ words, without even a miracle performed, and her loved brother still dead in the tomb. Martha replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27) No hesitation on her part. Martha hit the first pitch into the seats.

In the Synoptic Gospels the place of honor is given to Peter to make the great confession about Jesus.   Peter’s confession is the center pillar in the building.  In response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am,” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt.16:16)

Martha Wins the Place of Honor

But, in the 4th Gospel, John replaces Peter’s pillar like confession with Martha’s confession.  Her confession of faith in Jesus is the Center Pillar in John’s Gospel.  Martha’s confession is World Series caliber. Martha wins the place of honor. She didn’t make that confession on the bench. She made it at home plate. That is the spot where you can be, too.

Faith in Jesus without Advantages

Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus’ identity, in my opinion, is superior to Nathaniel’s, Thomas’s and even to Peter’s in some respects.  They all enjoyed advantages she lacked.  She discerned Jesus’ true identity without the benefit of miracles or the resurrection.

Faith in Jesus Despite Grief and Sorrow

She made her confession in the throes of disappointment and grief.  Martha was only four days removed from the death of her brother.  But despite the grief, she believed the words of Jesus’ self-claim .Her faith was not based upon signs or miracles, but strictly in Jesus’ words alone.  She listened to Jesus.  She believed. She confessed. I’m impressed.  Aren’t you? But her case was meant for you to consider. Are you a Martha, but still on the bench? 

Faith Superior to Nathaniel and Thomas

When Nathaniel made a confession of faith in Jesus, Jesus spoke to him about his past history to persuade him that he was divine (1:47-50).

When Thomas made a significant confession of faith in Jesus (“My Lord and my God”; 20:28), he had seen the resurrected Christ, touched his side and fingered his nail--scarred hands.

But Martha’s discerning faith in Jesus, made without the advantage of witnessing miracles, made in the midst of grief and disappointment, is striking for its insight and strength. 

Are you a Martha?

John installed Martha’s confession as the center pillar in his book for a reason. Women, disadvantaged Marthas, can have great faith in Jesus, even greater than Jesus’ disciples.  Marginalized Marthas can exercise strong, robust, and discerning faith.

Does Martha’s portrait describe you? Does her case resonate with you? Do you identify with her discerning faith and yet feel marginalized? If so, consider my heart-felt plea to you.

Jesus’ church needs you and your discerning faith. There are men and women suffering grief and sorrow in his church who need to hear your discerning faith in Jesus. You can be used by Jesus to shore up their sagging hopes. You can be a strong pillar when the roof of their life is caving in with disappointment.

Jesus’ church needs you. Jesus wants you on his playing field. What are you doing sitting on the bench? I know. Some think that is where you belong. But John doesn’t. And so neither do I.

John included Martha’s story and faith for women like you to identify with. She was meant to be a role model for you. You don’t belong on the bench. You belong at the plate with a faith bat, able and ready for the next pitch.

John: Impressed by Martha

I’m impressed with Martha. But more importantly, John, under the Spirit’s inspiration, was impressed. That is precisely why he included Martha’s story in his Gospel. Is her story meant just for you? Consider it. Jesus may want you to be a modern-day Martha in your faith community.

But, Martha, you need an advocate. You need someone who believes in you when you’ve stopped believing in yourself, to make it happen. 

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I’m not quite finished with Martha. For you to become a twenty-first century Martha, and break free from a marginalized place on the bench, you need an advocate. Jesus advocated for Martha and elevated her. You also need a person who, like Jesus, can advocate for you. That issue, hopefully, will constitute part 3. Thank you for reading, Martha. J Hope to see you at home plate. I have a bat and uniform with your name on it.