There is some literature that most of us are familiar with that sometimes speaks to our very human nature. We find part of our nature in a gray donkey named Eeyore. We find Eeyore in the classics of Winner the Pooh.
Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
"Pathetic," he said. "That's what it is. Pathetic."
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
"As I thought," he said. "No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that's what it is."
From Winnie the Pooh
Enough for children’s literature for the moment.
John 11 surely has 11 big ticket sermons in it.
1. People are coming to believe in Jesus even as he has just been run out of town.
2. John the Baptist had no signs for his own works, but everything John spoke about Jesus came true.
3. Jesus heard that his friend was dying and stayed right where he was for 2 more days.
4. The day has 12 hours so walk in the light and don’t stumble.
5. The disciples don’t get it again when Jesus uses a euphemism for death.
6. Lazarus is dead. I was glad that I wasn’t there to save him.
7. Martha and Jesus—Lord, if you had only been here.
8. Mary and Jesus—Lord , if you had only been here.
9. Confident of the Resurrection at the last day.
10. I am the resurrection and the life.
11. He who believes in me will never die.
12. Do you believe this?
13. Jesus wept.
14. Lazarus, come out!
15. What if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name? Read John 5:28-29 and see if that would make a dandy of a message.
16. Some believe in Jesus, others report to the Pharisees.
17. It is better that one man die so that Israel won’t perish.
18. Except, we had better kill Lazarus too (OK, you have to spill over just a little into the 12th chapter to catch this tidbit).
19. That he would gather together in one the children of God.
OK, so preachers are about as good at math as they are at telling time. “I’ll just preach a few minutes…”
And even with this rather substantial list, I left a big one out.
How about when Jesus said, “let’s go to Lazarus” and the disciples said, “Hold your horses, Master, don’t you remember we just left that neck of the woods because there are a whole bunch of people there who want to kill you?”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
That we may die with him.
That we may die with him?
Thomas was likely not having a pre-Pauline moment in thinking of dying to the world and living in Christ.
He was likely thinking, “Let’s just get this over with.”
His thinking was, “We are just lambs to the slaughter.” He didn’t understand that when the time was right, one Lamb would willing give up his life as a sacrifice.
Thomas just didn’t get it, but he was along for the ride anyway.
Thomas’s thinking was probably more akin to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s thoughts.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
These memorable words from the Crimean War 160 years ago are about men riding into certain death. But they kept on riding.
Thomas was certain that death awaited this merry band of men, but he said, “Let’s go anyway.”
Is this courage or ignorance?
Is this loyalty or C'est la vie?
However you want to classify this attitude, Jesus said we are heading back to Judea and Thomas said to count him in even if it killed him.
Now the only disciple who would die in the immediate future would be Judas and that was at his own hand. All of the remaining 11, except John, would be persecuted and killed, but not right away.
A few days before the greatest thing that Thomas had ever seen would take place; he had resolved to begin a journey to certain death.
Maybe he was just being stoic.
That we may die with him.
But in Thomas’s near future were words that revealed more than he had ever considered. Witnessing Jesus telling Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Thomas would witness Jesus calling Lazarus by name, 4 days after he had been placed in the tomb and was good and stinking by then for sure, and Lazarus came back to life. Jesus raised this man from the dead!
Thomas might have been on his way to his death, but along the way there was still a lot of living to do. Along the way, there was some incredible living to do.
The world was before Thomas and before he died, he would see and hear and do fantastic things in the name of Jesus.
We can pile on Thomas and just say, “Well, that’s the way he was. Remember, he wouldn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw the holes in his hand. That’s just the way he is.”
We could do that or we could ask ourselves, Do I do the same thing?
Do I enter the new day with Good Morning Lord or with Good Lord, it’s morning?
Do I consider the day ahead of me and think, Well, somebody’s got to do this?
Do I look at the nursery schedule and think, Me again, maybe I’ll survive?
Do I think, Great, another school day, maybe I can just get to the end of the day?
We shouldn’t blame Thomas too much. The last time they were near Jerusalem, many people wanted to kill them. But maybe Thomas suffered from short term memory loss. Maybe it was selective memory.
Sure the people wanted to kill Jesus and his gang, but had Thomas forgotten that he was traveling with the man who turned water into wine, healed a government official’s son without even having to visit the boy, healed a pitful man by the pool of Bethesda, fed more than 5,000 people with only a little bread and fish and had more leftovers that what he started with, walked on water, stepped onto a boat and immediately transported it to shore, and healed a man who was born blind.
Was Jesus not the man who time and again confounded the Pharisees? Did he not call these men who studied God’s word more than 99% of the people ever did or would—did he not call these leaders blind?
He called them blind and so far had lived to tell about it.
What was it in Thomas that prompted him to follow Jesus wherever he would go, even to a place where a lot of people wanted Jesus dead, but that also brought out this darker side of humanity?
Perhaps we will never know.
We probably don’t need to know in order to understand the good news of life in Jesus Christ.
But what if the same nature exists in us?
How many times do we follow Jesus but move forward reluctantly?
I guess someone has to do it.
It will probably kill me, but I’ll do it.
I don’t know how I will make it through this.
It seems like the world is out to get me.
I know this isn’t going to work out, but I’ll go along.
We all have to die sometime.
How many times could we catch ourselves saying we follow Jesus but we do it without much hope?
We are just doing our version of the Bataan Death March, just waiting for it to be over.
I’m just running out the clock of my life waiting for heaven. Come Lord Jesus.
Again, I must delve into some fairly complex theology: THAT DOG DON’T HUNT!
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. When we believe in him we not only get an unlimited supply of life at the end of this life, but we get to live life unlimited starting now.
When we believe in Jesus we have passed from death to life.
Jesus came so we could fully live right now and forever.
And sometimes that abundant life means following Jesus into dangerous places.
That’s not quite true. Sometimes abundant life means following Jesus into dangerous places and cherishing the adventure of it. Do we not understand that it is Jesus whom we follow?
Jesus didn’t say that he had come as a safety net. He didn’t come just in case this life thing didn’t work out. He didn’t come to keep us comfortable in our old ways.
He came to bring us life.
He came to bring abundant life.
He came to bring eternal life.
He is the resurrection and the life.
He is the way, the truth, and the life.
He came to set us free from sin and from death.
He came to liberate us.
We are free!
Can we follow Jesus as free men and women?
That means setting aside all pessimism, casting off the things that weigh us down, and knowing that the Lord is good and his love endures forever, his faithfulness endures to all generations.
That means stepping out of the dark side of our nature by knowing that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Do we follow Jesus out of a sense of duty or because we think we have to?
Or do we follow in response to God’s love?
Is Jesus really our Master? Do we respond to his voice?
Do we trust him even when the wisdom of the world says it will probably kill us?
Do we obey him and not feel like his commands are burdens.
Is living in God’s love a burden to us?
Following Pentecost, the disciples were excited to be persecuted for the Name of Jesus. They were not governed by their circumstances; they had joy in all circumstances even if those circumstances led to persecution or death.
They were excited about following Jesus.
Is that who we are, or are we closer to the donkey we discussed earlier? How many times do we say that we are following Jesus but have an attitude like that of Eeyore the donkey?
"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."
From The House at Pooh Corner
I enjoy some very dry, even gallows type humor every once in a while, but that can’t be our life philosophy if we are following Jesus.
We can’t live in this Thomas sort of mindset that says, “Let’s follow Jesus so we may die with him.”
Jesus is about life, life eternal, life abundant, a real and fulfilling life that began when we said, “Jesus is Lord!”
Sometimes we latch on to the salvation and forget the life part of professing faith in Jesus. We go on living as if life, even this new life in Jesus, is just something that happens.
It is just an ordinary thing that one day will just end, ok, and then we will go to heaven?
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
We are people of the light. We follow Jesus and do so knowing that he is showing us the way. We live in the light. We bring light to this present day world as followers of Jesus.
We do so knowing the plans he has for us are good.
Can we not also muster a little enthusiasm about being a part of the greatest story ever told? Can we not get a little excited about following the King of Kings?
Can we be excited about following the King of Kings wherever he leads us?
That means that we rid ourselves of pessimism, despair, and hopelessness.
Death has no power over us for we know Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Our life is in him.
So we live knowing that while we follow Jesus every step is ordained and purposeful and is the path set before us.
And even if that path appears to lead to the death of this mortal body, we follow and follow with enthusiasm, saying: I have already died to this world. I follow Jesus that I may live with him.
That I may live with him.
That I may live with him.