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Summary: I’m calling God’s people in my care to develop a faith in Jesus that goes beyond mental assent (belief) to include emotional reliance (trust) and active obedience (loyalty).

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Introduction:

The Bible tells us that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). The Bible says, "The righteous will live by faith" (Romans 1:17). That makes me think that faith is very important -- even vital. But what is faith?

The Bible commands us to "stand firm in the faith" (1 Corinthians 16:13). And it calls Christians to "examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5). That implies that faith can be solid and strong or it can become shaky and scrawny.

What is faith?

Text: Perhaps a story from the life of Jesus will help us know.

A man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who [later] poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus (who was across the Jordon River twenty to thirty miles away -- about two days walking time), "Lord, the one you love is sick."

When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it." (He meant that death was temporary although, as we will soon see, the disciples thought he meant that the illness was temporary. He knew that many people would see God in action through his actions in Lazarus’ situation. In fact, what is about to happen will launch the parade of Palm Sunday and all the events of Holy Week.)

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Why would Jesus wait? Why didn’t he drop everything and run to Bethany? Could it be that he knew that waiting would make his arrival more fruitful?

[After waiting two days Jesus] said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

"But [Teacher]," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?"

Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."

It seems that Jesus believed that as long as God had work for him to do that he would be safe -- even in the presence of his enemies.

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."

His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." So you don’t need to risk your life to visit him.

Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

There we see the contrast in perspectives. Jesus viewed death as a temporary symptom of the struggle between God and the forces of evil. To him, death was like taking a nap. The disciples could only imagine a nap as being temporary. Death was a permanent problem to them.

So then [Jesus] told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

The miracle Jesus has in mind will become one of the most convincing in his life’s work. This book of the Bible records the fact that Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

Then Thomas … said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Let’s do some quick math work. Lazarus was buried four days before Jesus arrived. Jesus had walked two days to arrive at Bethany and had waited two days before starting the trip. That means Lazarus was dead when Jesus received the message about his illness.

Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Here’s the first clue about the nature of faith. It involves trust -- a feeling of confidence in Jesus’ character and power. Mary trusted Jesus and God’s willingness to work through him. "God will give you whatever you ask." But faith is more than trusting Jesus’ connection to God.

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