The focus in John 11, the resurrection of Lazarus, is usually on Jesus. How He waited before responding to the news of his friend’s illness. How He wept. How He told a dead man to rise and walk.
But read the chapter again and consider the supporting cast – everyone around not named Jesus or Lazarus, everyone around who was neither son of God nor dead man walking. Friends, family, disciples, rubberneckers, critics. Consider what must have been going through their mind. Consider their responses.
In John 11, we learn that there are degrees of faith. We learn what true, strong and living faith looks like – and conversely, what faith that is not so strong looks like.
6 DEGREES OF IMPERFECT FAITH
#1 FAITH WITHOUT HOPE
The first degree of imperfect faith we see is from the disciples.
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (John 11:8)
Fear, hate, grudges, division, past hurts – the disciples allowed fear to dominate their thoughts, like a dark cloud, like a long shadow, overshadowing everything else, until they couldn’t see the people in need, the purpose of discipleship, or the power of Jesus.
Faith demands the courage to do the unthinkable, to cross over into the land of giants, to put love before life. Faith without courage means you never put yourself into that place where you see God overcoming the impossible. Where you would rather be inoffensive, and face no stones thrown, rather than learn to hold up the shield of faith to ward off all attacks.
How are you going to bless your enemies if you won’t go find them? If you’re scared they’ll throw stones?
#2 FAITH WITHOUT WISDOM
Jesus 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.” (John 11:11-12)
Let’s say you go to a doctor and tell him your symptoms. But once he gives you his diagnosis, you immediately dismiss it, telling him he’s wrong, suggesting your own diagnosis instead. If that sounds silly – that’s what the disciples did.
The great physician had given his diagnosis, that Lazarus must wake up, but they said no lah, you’re wrong, let him sleep, that’s better for him.
We don’t know better. So sometimes when God speaks, we need to shut up and listen. Failing to do is demonstrating faith without wisdom.
Wisdom is the discernment to unpack knowledge and apply it into our daily decisions. Don’t be like these unwise disciples, who literally can hear Jesus but completely miss His point. But God values wisdom. He says to gain it even if it costs you everything (Proverbs 4:7)
Are we so hungry for the wisdom of God that we prioritise it and pursue it no matter what? Are we so directed by the wisdom of God that we experience how it protects and watches over us?
#3 FAITH WITHOUT HOPE
So then he 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.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:14-16)
Thomas is the defeated Christian.
Here in John 11 we see him a long way from acknowledging Jesus as his Lord and his God. He’s fatalistic. He follows believing they will all fail. He follows Jesus believing the story will end at the grave – both Jesus’ and his own.
The Christian life should be based on good things, not bad. Do you believe in God for love of God or fear of hell? Are you running to the loving arms of God or running from the alternative?
All of Christian life should be about running to something, not from something. That’s the lesson of Philippians 3:14: We have an upward calling. In some translations, it says, God calls us heavenwards.
Hope is the definition of that posture. Hope means I look up, not down. Hope means I look forward, towards the prize, not backward, over my shoulder, worrying about things.
Faith without hope is … sad. Without hope, what is there to be faithful about? What are you clinging on to? Faith without hope is no real faith at all. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
God cares enough about us that he sent Jesus as a messenger of hope. Hope not just for the afterlife but even in this lifetime. As Psalm 27:13 reminds us, I remain confident in this: Surely I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living!.
Hope! Something to look forward to! If your life is an advert, what are you selling? When people watch you, do they say, I want some of that? Or do they say, why would I want to be like you?
#4 FAITH WITHOUT APPLICATION
“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.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:22-27)
This exchange is fascinating. Jesus keeps trying to gently hint to Martha what’s literally about to happen. To paraphrase the conversation:
Jesus: “Your Brother will rise again.” (Nudge nudge wink wink)
Martha: “Oh yes. In eternity.”
Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (Cough! Ahem!)
Martha: “Oh, umm, sure. Actually I really don’t know what you mean. Wait ah, I ask my Sister ah …”
The lesson here is this: God speaks clearly and plainly. But some of us are guilty of overthinking things. God says we are healed. We think ourselves into knots. Oh, healed not physically, only spiritually. Oh that only applies to salvation, not disease.
What is faith without application? It makes us hearers but not doers. Such faith is dead, the Bible tells us. Application is not just hearing what Jesus says, like Martha did, but actually believing in it, and acting on it!
#5 FAITH WITHOUT AN OPEN MIND
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
Now, we turn from Martha to her sister Mary. You know Mary – while Martha busied herself in the kitchen, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. So you know Mary is that much closer to the heart of God. But even she is found slightly wanting in this instance.
Here we have a bit of sympathy for Mary. I mean, her statement wasn’t one of a lack of faith in the power of Jesus. But somehow in her human mind, she limited the power of Jesus to only preventing death, rather than conquering death. She didn’t know yet that Jesus had a better plan.
Sometimes we need to let God work beyond this box we seem so fond of putting Him in. Maybe we haven’t seen how He can work in certain realms yet. So we say, I think this is how God works, and surely He can’t work in other ways.
And the answer to this is not to limit God, but to give him a blank canvas to work on. Instead of saying, God, do this which I ask you, try saying God, do that which you choose to.
Remember when Jesus died and rose again and came out of the grave? Who was the first person who saw Him walking out? Mary! Jesus completed her faith! He remembered her words, her spirit of wanting to believe, so He gave her that blessed honour and experience. So that she could now say, without the tears and the grieving – I believe in the resurrection!
Faith demands an open mind to the infinite power and possibilities for an infinite God.
#6 FAITH WITHOUT REVERENCE
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:35-37)
These Jews are right and wrong. But it’s completely different from the case of Mary. Like Mary, they are right in their acknowledgement of Jesus’ power. Yes, He can. But unlike Mary, the spirit is all wrong. This wasn’t an acknowledgment in awe. This was an accusation.
I thought you were some great hero? I thought you were supposed to be the Saviour? Go on, prove yourself! Why didn’t you do it the way we think is better?
This is us when, instead of focusing on the good that God has done, we focus on the bad. Instead of being grateful for what we have, we are ungrateful for what we do not. Instead of revering Him, sometimes we revile Him.
No reverence. No acceptance of Jesus’ wisdom, power, love. No willingness to see things His way.
#7 A GREATER DEGREE OF FAITH
By this point we have 6 examples of faith which, in their imperfection, fall short.
No one benefits from such degrees of faith. Lazarus remains dead in the tomb. The families are still shattered, in mourning. The disciples and the Jews remain weak in the faith, fearful, sceptical.
Then Jesus shows them a better way. You saw 6 degrees of imperfect faith. But 7 is a perfect number – and Jesus says, let me show you what perfect faith can achieve.
Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:40-44)
When your faith is fully aligned with God, blessings follow. Miracles follow.
Jesus’ love wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, not a hollow promise. You hear it so often: Someone shares a real need, and what they get is a bunch of Christians saying “I’ll pray for you” – and no more than that.
The lesson here is that a blessing cannot just stay in the head and the heart.
Jesus’ love wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, not a hollow promise. A blessing cannot just stay in the head and the heart.
The blessing is in the hands. It’s what we DO. If Jesus had just wept, and then walked away, leaving Lazarus dead in the grave, then it would literally have been faith without deeds – a dead faith, literally.
The blessing is in the mouth. It’s what we SAY. If Jesus had just kept quiet, never speaking life into dead men, then Lazarus would have stayed in his grave clothes, in his grave. Are we telling people about the Gospel? Are we speaking blessings into their lives?
We need to live out a faith where we are a blessing to others, because as we sow love, we sow hope. And between faith, love and hope, somewhere, triangulated in that holy place – maybe the dead will hear the voice of Jesus and arise.