Sunday, March 15, 2009

Come Forth

Directly in front of me I see the ancient walls of the Holy City. To my right, Bethpage. This is the road that was the gateway to Jerusalem and in which Jesus rode on a donkey as the people shouted Hosanna and worshipped Him with words and palm branches. Directly behind me rises the Mt. of Olives which many believe Messiah will return upon. I’m standing in the small village of Bethany. I respectfully walk down the stone stairs of an ancient grave that held the stench of death. I opened my Bible and read John 11. The tomb before me contained Lazarus who lay decaying for four whole days. As I meditate on John 11 my imagination races back in time. Outside of this tomb, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’s family, friends, and some religious leaders gather to mourn the loss of their beloved. Five days prior Mary and Martha send a desperate plea for help to Jesus. Mary once gave herself fully to worshiping Him as she annointed Jesus with ointment and used her hair to wipe His feet. She and Martha knew Jesus was their best hope for their brother’s life. Their desperate cries seemed to melt into heart wrenching grief as Lazarus met his early demise. Jesus begins the long walk back to the very city which vowed to stone Him. Jesus tells His disciples “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified by it.” “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there so that you may believe, but let us go there.” Days later Martha and Mary receive word that Jesus is on His way. Martha runs to meet Him and just as her sister spilled ointment over Him as an act of worship, Martha spills her grief and pain on the feet of her Savior. “Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha’s disappointment in God has been echoed by many of us. Jesus consoles her grief by pointing to the reality of His Kingdom in heaven in which He will pay an unthinkable price for all who accept His sacrifice. “Your brother shall rise again.” This was not the answer Martha longed to hear. She desired to hug her brother, she longed to laugh with him and to share life with him. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus promises Marta something so amazing that these words have become the hope of millions of followers throughout time. “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe? Martha in her grief utters the most important words of her whole life. These words will bring Angels to celebrate and these words will print her name in the Book of Life “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Jesus continues on to the tomb to meet Mary who falls at His feet as she mirrors Martha’s disappointment. The man who identified Himself moments ago as the Resurrection and the Life joins Martha and Mary in their grief as He begins to weep. When Jesus stood outside of the tomb He commanded, “remove the stone.” Martha gives the all knowing all powerful Savior some kind advise, “My brother has been dead four days and he is really stinky.” Jesus responds “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus after a short prayer speaks words of either God Himself or a crazy lunatic. “Lazarus come forth!” Lazarus who was worshipping the God of the Universe in His Kingdom in heaven is now face to face with the same God incarnate outside of this tomb. "Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus says with authority. Those that gathered together in grief and mourning must have been in absolute shock and disbelief. The roller coaster of emotion on that day was earth shaking. The depth of grief and despair melted away to the heights of joy and gratitude.

In October my pastor became seriously ill. John Stumbo is loved by everyone. He is a man of humility, compassion and faith. I would describe John as authentic. God uses him to challenge, encourage and convict us to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. I have been very blessed by John. As John’s condition became increasingly desperate, so became our collective pleas to the God of our hopes. The Lord prompted many of us to intercede several times a day. My children joined hundreds of others and prayed for him at meals and before bed. John seemed to be spiraling down the dark stairs of death. His systems began to shut down. He was unable to process fluids. John’s dehydrated body retained 50LBS of water. His life hung by a thread as the whole church was called to an emergency prayer meeting. The church was filled. Through this crisis we would unite. We pleaded for help. We sang and worshipped. We hoped that God would rescue. That night John was given a last chance controversial drug. I suppose my pastor was as close to death as one could technically be. That night John’s spiral to death stopped. The God who boldly called Lazarus from his tomb intervened. Each day we offered thankfulness to the Lord as John very slowly pushed forward. Two steps forward and one back. “It may be over a year before your husband would be able to walk again,” the doctors informed his wife. The past months have been marked by small victories and some set backs as John slowly reclaims his strength. Last weekend our church gathered once again for worship. John and his wife Joanna addressed the church via a video. I was overwhelmed with emotion as they shared their journey with humor and grace. There wasn’t a dry eye in that place. As the video faded to black and the lights slowly were brought up, and a lone figure slowly walked to the platform. Every person in that church stood in awe as Pastor John made his way to the podium. The place erupted in applause and shouts of joy. I was completely blown away. I was so overcome with emotion that I began to weep. My heart overflowed with gratitude to the Lord as John addressed those of us that God has entrusted to his care. My mind raced back to that old tomb in Bethany and to that crowd that gathered to mourn their friend. At that moment I believe we all shared their awe, joy, and thankfulness. John spoke of the goodness of God. He spoke of his gratitude for his family, friends and for the prayers of the church. Every word that came from his mouth was a special gift from the Lord. John joked that we prayed him out of heaven. Jesus said to Martha “Did I not say to you, if you believe in Me, you will see great things." On this amazing Sunday, Salem Alliance Church witnessed the great power and glory of our God and we celebrate His goodness.

John’s recovery is far from over. Just as the blind man in Mark 8 received his miracle in stages so will it be for John. Until that time we will continue to unite, pray, worship, and offer gratitude to the Resurrection and the Life.

You can read John’s Blog and order the interview DVD at .

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