Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
“Death is not optional.” Do you agree with this statement? Well then, how about “Death is optional,” do you agree with this statement? Maybe you agree with both statements. Actually you could agree with both statements and be totally rational since the two statements are not contradictory. How can that be? Today's devotional will answer that question by noting one of the better known events in the New Testament.
“Jesus said to her [Martha], 'Your brother [Lazarus] will rise again.' Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'” (John 11.23-27).
Concerning Lazarus' illness, Jesus had said to His disciples, “This sickness is not unto death.” (John 11.4). A bit later He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” (John 11.11). Still later, but while remaining where He was when He first received news of Lazarus' sickness, He told His followers, “Lazarus is dead.” (John 11.14). All of the above statements are true just like the two opening statements of this message are true. In fact the statements of Jesus are true in the same manner as my opening statements are true – that is to say that the explanation that shows the consistency of Jesus' statements is the explanation that shows the consistence of the statements “Death is not optional,” and “Death is optional.”
First, let's note the use of the word “sleep” as a metaphor to describe death. When Jesus used the term, however, it is likely that it had an even deeper meaning. To Jesus, the state of Lazarus was not important – dead or alive - regarding His ability to wake him. It took no more effort on Jesus' part to raise Lazarus from the dead than it took to wake him from an afternoon nap! It is an amazing metaphor that fully communicates the ease with which Jesus is able to wake people from the “sleep of death.”
When Jesus said that Lazarus' sickness was not “unto death” He was not saying that death would not visit; rather He was just saying that death, should it visit, would not linger. The end result of the sickness would not be death. Even though Lazarus died, Jesus was able to raise him back to life.
Finally, we want to note the statement that Jesus made indicating that those who believe in Him need never die. In the context, i.e. the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it is obvious what this saying does not mean. Lazarus, like his two sisters, was a great friend to Jesus. Including his two sisters it is virtually certain that the three of them were all believers. Yet, Lazarus died! Therefore, we can know with certainty that Jesus did not mean that those who believe in Him need ever taste of physical death.
The affirmation that death will never come to those who believe in Him is an affirmation that hinges on the definition of the word death. Jesus used it in an ambiguous way; first He spoke of physical death; then He spoke of spiritual death. Physical death comes to all men (see Hebrews 9.27), but spiritual death will never come to those who continue to believe in Jesus (present and ongoing action)! Noting these two definitions, physical death is not optional, but spiritual death is optional. That brings us full circle to where we started. Our opening statements are accurate and so are Jesus' statements regarding death and the believer. Choose Jesus; choose to live and never die!
1. What did Jesus mean when He said Lazarus' illness was not unto death?
2. If all Jesus was going to do was wake a sleeping man, why couldn't others do so?
3. The faith that keeps one from dying spiritually – is it one time faith, or ongoing faith?
4. Death is optional. Explain how this statement can be true.
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