Further up and Further In


Further up and Further In


“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His faithful servants.”​ — Psalm 116:15

The next two sections of this retreat were written by Fil Anderson, founder of Journey Resources; a former senior leader in Young Life; and a member of the Good Way lead team in Atlanta.


In a few moments, you will read one of the simplest and most beautiful stories that John ever tells about Jesus' life. It reveals how profoundly human and utterly divine Jesus is. It is about Jesus loving people and hating death. It is a story that begs our imaginations to run free. It is a story that offers endless insights that are too deep for words.


Please read the story slowly, as if you are reading it for the first time. Take your time, allowing the scene to come alive in your imagination. See the drama as it unfolds. Imagine that you are one of the characters in the story. Engage your senses as you relive all that is happening. ​ What do you see, hear, feel, taste and smell?


Okay, now it's time for you to read, John 11:1-44.

Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. It could have been an occasion for gladness, yet, Jesus was not smiling. It's difficult to translate the two Greek verbs John uses describing Jesus' disposition. Both words are filled with emotion.


Jesus shudders. He is in anguish, and He gives out a cry of pain. Clearly, Jesus is living something hard to explain. Jesus is generally serene and peaceful. We have seen Him passionately angry with those who were turning the Temple into a place of commerce, but here we observe something different: Jesus is in emotional pain. Something seems broken in Him. Never have we seen Jesus so profoundly human.


What has happened? Is it because He is confronted more deeply with human grief, the pain of ultimate separation? Is He being confronted by the grief that his death will bring to his mother, friends, and disciples?


The rest of the story shows how the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is the last straw for the Jewish authorities. It is because of this miracle that they decide Jesus must die. So, when Mary and Martha summoned Jesus, He must have been torn between His love for them and their brother and the certainty He felt that if He does respond, He will be condemned to death. It is a threshold moment for Jesus that seems to provoke his shuddering, this deep turbulence within him, bringing with it, tears. Jesus is so profoundly human, vulnerable and loving.


Reflect for a moment. Have you ever wondered why Jesus was angry and weeping? Will you wonder now, or even dare to ask Him? Can you imagine His answer to you?

Might He explain that He's angry because death was never part of God's plan? I can't imagine Jesus thinking otherwise, least of all, "They think this is a crisis, but it's not a problem! In a few minutes, Lazarus will be living again. It looks bad, but it isn't. Actually, it's really very good! It's a great opportunity to demonstrate my power." Not on your life!


Jesus wept because the death of one of God’s children is bad, short, and simple. The story of Lazarus being brought back to life does not give a sweet, diminished view of grief, saying bad things are actually blessings disguised. There is no silver lining in the dark cloud of Mary and Martha's grief.


Standing in front of the tomb of Lazarus, the utter finality of death must have swept over Jesus. His anger proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, grief, alienation, pain and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to enter this broken world and experience it all himself so that eventually he could demolish it without it demolishing us.


The story of Lazarus reminds us that there is no immunity from crisis and grief. ​ The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren't bad; they're really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and He'll work them for good in the entirety of our life.

For too long, I lived in the illusion that Jesus promised a life without struggle, suffering and sorrow. He did, after all, pledge to give us a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10). Foolishly, I lived with the mistaken idea that Jesus was offering worldly comforts and pleasures rather than the indescribable gifts of His incomparable friendship. However, "rich and satisfying" has nothing to do with the absence of grief.


I shudder when I recall the countless times I have led broken people to believe that if they entrust their lives to Jesus, their troubles will cease, and they will enjoy full and fulfilling lives. As much curb appeal as this message may have, it's not even close to what God promises. What we see in the Scriptures is actually much greater. We find the implausible promise that God has broken into our brokenness to find us there, and yet—this is important—there is no promise anywhere that having found us He will paste our fractured life back together the way we want. There is a promise, however, that He will meet us in our grief and give Himself to us completely.


When our children were little, I often returned from out-of-town trips with small gifts. We called them "sursies"—short for "surprises." I still recall the thrill of them running into my arms and smothering me with kisses. However, my delight would often fade when they asked the inevitable question, "Daddy, did you bring me a sursie?" This question always had a way of exposing their sincere interests. They wanted me, but they were quick to look for the latest sursie!


To my dismay, I find that my interest in God often has more to do with the condition of my circumstances than my longing for intimacy with God. I'd rather have his healing and restoration than his friendship. I've spent a good portion of my life hoping and praying that God would make everything in my life good and, for Pete's sake, just take away my disappointment and grief! But there is one gift that God promises, and that gift is God.


My mentor used to tell me, "Fil, you were made for God, and nothing less will ever satisfy you." Today, more than ever, I know it's true.


Take a few minutes to engage with the following video. It was produced by two students at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. It is their visual and musical interpretation of the story about Lazarus that we read in John 11:1-44. As you listen to the words of the song and the images of their art, notice what stirs within you.


Questions for Reflection:

As you reflected upon John 11, what caught your attention? Linger with whatever it was for a few moments. Listen for what the Lord might be revealing to you through what you noticed.

If you were Martha or Mary and could say to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had…”, what would you say to Him today? How do you imagine Him responding?

Think of a time when you experienced loss. Recall the experience as fully as you are able. How did you experience God in that loss? What conversation would you like to have with Him about that experience?

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