April 6, 2014: Welcome to God’s Graduate School for the Soul!

Dear Savior, You tell us through the inspired words of King Solomon to: “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding.” Likewise, You tell us in the Psalms that “The fear, or respect, for the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Today we ask that both statements may come true in our lives. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH AND DESPAIR!

TEXT: John 11: 17-27; 38-45

Fellow Redeemed Students of God’s Grace:

Welcome to God’s Graduate School for the Soul! As with all graduate schools our goal is to build on your previous knowledge and hopefully provide you with an advanced degree in soul truth. I’m sure your elementary studies in Sunday School provided you with the basics. Likewise, in confirmation class and various other adult Bible classes many of you have received your high school diplomas in Godly truth. Still others of you have gleaned college credits through home devotions, and special studies of God’s Word. But today we’re going on to a graduate level course. You might be wondering why we’re doing this if you already possess the basics? The answer is: just as none of you enjoy being stuck in kindergarten or 7th grade, or repeating such classes, I’m here to challenge you and get you to advance even further for your own well-being.

I

The hardest thing in any learning program is remembering what you’ve already been taught and then building on those truths. For example, if you’ve experienced a difficult divorce, or the pain of a loved one’s death and God has gotten you through it by healing your pain, it’s easy to forget the lessons you learned along the way. It’s easy to backslide into old, bad habits. But if you do that, God has to re-teach you those life lessons all over again. Since life is short and repeating a grade is always difficult, we all need to build on the past thereby learning new truths. Today we have an excellent example of such graduate school teaching in the form of Mary and Martha.

No doubt you’ll recall that famous story of Martha busily preparing a meal for Christ and getting upset with the lack of help her sister Mary provided. Recall Jesus’ gentle chiding of Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” The grade school view of this exchange is that Mary was more spiritual than Martha. That’s a bit of an oversimplification of the truth, but it is true that Martha needed to refocus her priorities. If learning from Christ isn’t all important in life, than what is? After all, having Christ, the Son of God, as your personal professor teaching all about life and death, well, that’s nothing short of awesome.

Anyway, today we see that Martha has learned her lessons well. Her brother Lazarus, a personal friend of Christ, has just died. Jesus was late in getting there—4 days late. A crowd has gathered at their home, about 2 miles outside Jerusalem, to console the sisters. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.”

Did you catch that? Martha takes the spiritual lead in the family! She knows He is God’s Son and her Savior. She knows He has power over life and death. No doubt she remembered the stories of Him raising Jairus’ daughter and that young man of Nain from death. And she now confesses her confidence in His power by saying: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

The Master now seeks to lift her to a higher level of Christian confidence by saying: “Your brother will rise again.” Will she accept this answer even in the face of Lazarus’ death? Will she rise above her grief to give all glory to God—even at this terribly difficult moment? Yes! “Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Martha is not stuck in the past. She is not stuck in human grief. Her focus is heavenward where life reigns supreme!
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'” ‘”Yes, Lord,” she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.'”

Do you think Martha would have given this bold confession if Lazarus hadn’t died? Well, we’ll never know. But we do know that God always uses tough times—a divorce, a job layoff, the pain of disease, broken relationships, even the death of a loved one in order to draw us closer to Him and thereby uplift our faith. Yes, an advanced degree in His Graduate School for the Soul doesn’t come without pain—both ours and His.

II

That pain is now clearly seen. For when Jesus walks to the tomb of Lazarus and sees the pain in Mary’s face, and the grief of those in attendance, we’re told: “Jesus wept.” Yes, Christ weeps over the pain of His loved ones—you and me included, since we’re His children by faith. “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But Lord,’ said Martha, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for her has been there four days.'” Like all graduate students, Martha doesn’t totally comprehend the lessons of her Teacher all at once. She needs to think outside the box of her life experiences. She needs to trust her Teacher explicitly in order to grasp this soul saving lesson. And then like all great teachers Christ opens up her mind to cosmic understanding.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would 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.”

Our admission of God’s graduate school for the soul occurred when we were baptized. Our graduation will occur when we die and enter glory because of the total sacrifice Christ made in purchasing our life and our souls with His blood on the cross. But today it’s the in between times that we need to focus on. Will you backslide in your faith, or grow and build on it? Do you see that coming to church has calmed your anger, helped you to resist temptations, made you a more stable person, and opened your eyes to real blessings, or do you simply grow apathetic to all those Godly gifts over time? If apathy, or a take-in-for-granted mentality has gotten the better of you, God has only one recourse. Because He loves you He’ll make you repeat those grades all over again. My friends, spare yourself that pain! “Trust in the Lord will all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding!” Embrace Christ for He has already embraced you! He put His life on the line for you. So trust and follow Him. Be a Martha and build on your past lessons of faith. And then, like her, your tears will be dried, your pain will be healed, and joy will follow. Amen