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A Lesson about Persecution
From the day of Lazarus’ resurrection, the chief priests and Pharisees sought to kill Jesus (John 11:53). They could not but admit that He was performing miracles (vs.47). They could no longer make a reasonable case against His divinity. So they decided just to get rid of him…destroy the evidence. It’s funny how they had just seen Jesus concretely exhibit power over the grave and yet they thought they could contain Him in one!
The most amazing part of their reasoning, though is found in the next chapter: “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (John 12:10-11).
Lazarus had become a spectacle to curious Jews. People were coming from miles around to see this Lazarus… to touch flesh that had spent four days in the cold tomb… to ask Lazarus about the other side. Understandable. But the Pharisees, upon seeing the numbers of believers ever multiplying, felt threatened. This walking, talking dead man was drawing people to Christ. What if these Christ followers were to raise an insurrection and attempt to overthrow the Jewish government? They were certain such an insurrection, should it occur, would draw the wrath of the Romans, and what little control the Jewish leaders retained would be quickly stripped by the powerful Roman Empire. So the desperate, power hungry priests and Pharisees sought the life of Lazarus. Amazing, isn’t it, how they thought the grave could hold him this time if they could just get him in it one more time?!
Now think about it. Lazarus had already experienced the bliss of the bosom of Abraham for four days. Do you think he could remember those four days? Assuming he could, do you really think he preferred the life of a hunted man here on earth to that indescribable happiness on the other side? Not a chance. Would he have thought it a great tragedy to go back to bliss? Hardly. But Mary and Martha, remember, were still living with our perspective…that powerful survival instinct that God gives us. They wanted to protect Lazarus and each other from the jealous enemies of Christ who would stop at nothing to silence Him. They faced real persecution.
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12).
Do you suffer any sort of persecution because you are His? If not, are you sure you are His? It is unfathomable to me that a person living in America today could boldly stand for principles of truth and righteousness for a lifetime and never face the modern American persecution of ridicule. Has anyone ever told you that you are intolerant? If not, are you silently tolerating sin? Has anyone ever called you a religious fanatic or a moral extremist? If not, are you faithful to every service of the local congregation and do you dress modestly, use pure speech, and abstain from worldly forms of entertainment? See, people who are serious about Christianity today will frequently find themselves in situations where doing the right thing means drawing ridicule and criticism from the society in which we live. I know teens who suffer exclusion on a weekly basis because they refuse to see the dirty and profane movies that even their “Christian” friends are seeing. These courageous teens are suffering persecution. Persecution, many times is the telling difference between those who say they are Christians and those who are Christians. Mary and Martha’s bond with Christ became even closer after Lazarus’ resurrection. They were suffering with him so that one day they could be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). I believe the impending death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus –the gospel, became a very real cause to these sisters as they undoubtedly tried to protect their brother from those who were bent on sealing Jesus permanently in a tomb. I believe this persecution was a factor in leading Mary to the point of anointing Jesus for His burial. Perhaps the aroma of the precious ointment was the same fragrance she had smelled only days earlier when she anointed Lazarus for his burial. One thing is for sure. She had a stronger faith at the death of Jesus than at the death of Lazarus and it was a faith that demanded suffering.
Suffering is a token of salvation given from God in behalf of Christ (Phil.1:28,29). I have some tokens that are precious symbols: a lock of hair representing the babyhood of my daughter, Hannah, a golden band representing the sacredness of my marriage, a diploma representing my graduation. Suffering is the tangible token of salvation. I tell those young people who suffer exclusion, ridicule, and loneliness for the morality of Christianity that this is the token you can now hold that shows you are Christ’s. Jesus says it best in Luke 6:22 and 23. He specifically mentions those who would suffer reproach and exclusion. Then he says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” Leap for joy! Mary and Martha, two thousand years hence in a place of bliss, do not think it strange that Jesus said “leap for joy”. They have seen the “great reward” .