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Nov 06, 2022

Encountering Christ in Crises

Passage: John

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Christ Connections

Keywords: death, trials, crisis, difficulty, encountering jesus


All of us need fresh encounters with Jesus. We need them even more in times of crisis. John 11 takes us into the heart of a deep personal crisis with death and Jesus' heart in it.


Crisis-Encounters with Christ

John 11

November 6, 2022


When it comes to responding in faith to Jesus Christ, most of us probably don’t remember how many times we heard the Gospel from other Christians, how many times we argued with other Christians about the Gospel, how many times we questioned or rejected or even ridiculed someone seeking to bring us near to Jesus.  Just out of curiosity, let’s do a show of hands:  How many remember…

  • Hearing the Gospel more than once before putting your faith in Jesus?
  • Questioning what you heard about the Gospel?
  • Arguing with someone about the Gospel?
  • Rejecting an invitation to surrender to Jesus?
  • Ridiculing the person presenting the Gospel to you? (You’re the special objects of God’s grace!)

Here’s my point:  the salvation journey for most of us is both a point-in-time and process that usually involves repeated challenges to put our faith in Jesus.  Even while the most faith-filled among us may believe in Jesus quickly or easily, Jesus doesn’t let us skate on easy-believism.  Some of us may have started with lots of skepticism and doubts and then had a radical, faith-fomenting encounter with Jesus along the way.  Others of us may have started with simple, child-like faith but then, somewhere along the way, had to mud-wrestle our doubts to the ground through some really challenging, really confusing experiences. 

            Either way, we’re going to see today that Jesus is always in the business of deepening faith that saves us—not just initial salvation faith but faith that will save us IN some really difficult and confusing situations of life. 

  • It is the kind of faith our brothers and sisters in persecuted countries are having to develop today as we speak.
  • It is the kind of faith you and I will need if we are to finish life’s journey well.

John 11—The death and resuscitation of Lazarus…OR “The crisis of faith for Mary & Martha.” 

Now a certain man was sick: Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 

  • Interesting that the Gospels give far more attention to these two sisters, Mary and Martha, than to their brother, Lazarus. Why?  Because God’s word is written “so that we might believe” (Jn. 19:35 & 20:31). It is the growing faith of these two women, particularly in the face of life’s pain, that the Holy Spirit wants us to encounter.  It isn’t Lazarus’ faith that is on display here.  It doesn’t take a lot of faith to die.  To die WELL, yes!
  • Bethany—what we would consider a ‘suburb’ of Jerusalem now. But then it was 2 miles outside of Jerusalem.
  • John refers in 11:2 to an event (anointing of Jesus by Mary with expensive perfume) that hasn’t happened yet but which he will address in chapter 12:3. Why? I think just to make it clear that what is unfolding in chapter 11 is going to be the very thing that leads Mary to her action in chapter 12.  Our successive encounters with Jesus in life will change how we live. 
  • Three apparently single siblings living together and dependent upon each other for survival.

So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not meant for death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.) So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 

  • Jesus is probably in Bethabara, about 30 miles away, on the east side of the Jordan where John the Baptist had been baptizing (see 10:40). It’s a good long-day’s journey away from Bethany. So the sisters sent word of his serious illness.  The messenger may have arrived late on day 1.  Jesus doesn’t move for 2 more days (so we’re now at day 3) and then it will take at least a day for Him to travel to Bethany (day 4).  If that was the progression, then Lazarus would have died on day 1 when the message was first sent to Jesus. 
  • These sisters are interceding for their brother who is really sick. Notice that John keeps the focus of the story on them and the faith-battle they are going to have in this story. 

APP:  how many of us struggle with faith when we “send word” to Jesus in prayer about the concerns we have for those we love who are suffering or even dying?

  • John also makes it clear that the family knew Jesus loved [phileo—brotherly love] their brother Lazarus.

APP:  It is good to affirm this when we are desperately interceding for others, not because God needs to be reminded of that fact but that we do!  Ill:  praying over Pastor Belsa’s wife in ICE 10 days ago just 2 hours before she died. 

Notice what Jesus says to his disciples about this particular crisis, this “sickness”, in vs. 4.  “This sickness is not meant for death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” 

TRUTH #1:  Our life crises are there ‘for the glory of God’…to make God’s greatness visible in our world.  What crisis are you in now…or struggling with?  Whatever it is, we can confidently affirm that, while we may not be able to make sense of much, one thing is true for every follower of Jesus:  this crisis is in my life so that somehow God is going to be revealed in this world more. 

Jesus knew Lazarus had probably died by this time.  Yet he says, “This sickness is not meant for death.”  Another way of translating that would be, “This sickness is not about death.  It’s ending is not death.  It’s going to be about something else.” 

APP:  Death of those we love is THE most difficult and troubling of trials most of us will face. Yet God wants us to be mindful… even when death actually happens…that death itself isn’t meant to focus us on death; it’s meant to focus us on God!  That doesn’t mean there won’t be or shouldn’t be a lot of sorrow or questions or even wrestling with God around death.  As this story will reveal, there should be.  But Jesus is reminding us that death for the child of God is meant to be something that brings glory to God even as it brings pain and sorrow and struggle to those who are left behind. 

ILL:  How any people are going to be in heaven forever with Christ because the death of a beloved friend or family member put them in touch with God or the Gospel?  This is why every funeral or graveside I am privileged to do I will share the Gospel because grieving people are in a much better place to hear truth about life, sin, death and salvation when they cannot run from reality…and death is the hardest, most troubling and inescapable reality for living people to face. 

APP:  before you die (i.e. SOON) write out your testimony of faith and life in Jesus that you want to say to those who will be at your funeral.  You have no idea the power your words will have in the lives of the friends and family that will be at your funeral. 

TRUTH #2:  God’s delays are divine decisions, not divine disinterest.  We’re told later in this story that by the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for 4 days.  Why on earth would Jesus wait an extra 2 days?  Why would he put Mary and Marth through any more grief than absolutely necessary?  Why not show up after Lazarus has been dead 2 days instead of 4?  Honestly, the text doesn’t tell us.  What it does tell us is that Jesus’ delay was a deliberate decision that had profound implications for literally millions of people.  We can surmise that…

  • Maybe Mary and Martha needed to wrestle with their grief longer to take them deeper in their faith in Jesus?
  • Maybe the villagers needed to be totally convinced that this was past a possible miracle of healing?
  • Maybe the disciples needed to learn some things about God’s timetable that didn’t fit theirs?
  • Maybe Israel’s religious leaders needed to confront the power and nature of Jesus in this miracle (which we will see they did… and rejected Him because of this miracle).
  • Maybe God wanted to teach us and millions of believers in Jesus over the past 20 centuries something about hope deferred and His timing in our crises?

What we all know is that painful life situations, particularly death, drives us to either question God’s wisdom, goodness, love, etc. OR leads us to deeper faith in Him and what He is doing despite what we wish He were doing.  God’s timing and methods may be deeply disappointing and even disillusioning.  But they are not a sign of God’s disinterest or distance from us.  Quite the opposite!  They are designed to set us up for closer encounters with Him.

Which brings me to another closely related TRUTH #3:  Our crisis-produced Christ-encounters may have a much bigger audience than just us. This story will go on and not just dramatically affect Mary and Martha.  It will impact their village, the faith of dozens of people in Jesus, Jesus’ enemies and eventually be the one miracle that catalyzes the murderous intent and rejection of the Jewish leaders.  Jesus knew that this encounter with Mary and Martha would impact them, their village, their nation, his disciples and eventually the whole world, even us. 

APP:  Far more people are going to be affected by our repeated encounters with Jesus than we can imagine.  This is why HOW we process crisis and pain is so important.   Which brings me to probably the central truth I’d like you to remember if you forget everything else today.

TRUTH #4:  Crisis-encounters are meant by God to be fresh Christ-encounters.  What a different perspective this is on suffering and pain in life!  Friends, we must develop a sound theology of suffering.  Life will bring all of us suffering.  Some of us have or will suffer greatly.  And unless we see suffering through God’s eyes, it has the potential like nothing else to move us away from the One who loves us more than anyone in this life and eternity. 

  • This is WHY the “prosperity” and “health-wealth gospel” is no gospel at all. It is a fraud, a liar and a destroyer! 
  • This is WHY so many Christians lose their faith rather than grow in their faith when suffering comes.

We must see that God allows suffering in our lives to help us encounter Christ.  Those encounters may not be easy.  They may be tear-filled as we’re going to see.  They may be filled with tough questions and real suffering.  But Jesus longs to meet us IN our pain. 

ILL:  Story of Daniel Ritchie—a dad of 3, author, brother in Christ, speaker…and paraplegic.  He writes,

“I was born without arms.

That is the best way to summarize my story. I stepped into suffering at birth. My physical body is a billboard for my pain. This has brought mocking, cruel jokes, stares, and the constant feeling that I am not like anyone else that I meet.

I have never been able to hide. Many people can bury their pain, but my heartache is written all over my two empty sleeves. Those sleeves tell a story without my mouth ever saying a word. My pain almost swallowed me. But Christ showed me how much greater he was than my empty sleeves.

I used to think that being born without arms was the most horrible thing that could happen to a person. In Christ, he has helped me say that the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me is also the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I am thankful for my pain. All of the frustration that has come with it has reaped a bounty that I never could have produced on my own. God stepped in and carried me along in my weakness, letting me taste his strength, grace, and love in new ways. In my pain, he has magnified so many of his attributes.” ,   [Found at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-shouts-to-us-in-our-pain on 11.5.2022]

He goes on to quote C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain.  Lewis lost both his mother and wife to death way too early in life.  His life had plenty of pain in it.  But as he processed that pain, he encountered Christ in much deeper ways.  And he wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We really need to remember this when we are felling pain in this life.  Crisis-encounters are meant by God to be fresh Christ-encounters. 

Let’s skip down to vs. 17--17 So when Jesus came, He found that he [Lazarus] had already been in the tomb four days. 

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia [2 miles] away;

 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them about their brother. 20 So then Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house.

Here's another truth:

TRUTH #5:  Jesus wants to encounter us in our crises but He will not force his way into our pain.  Jesus came to town but he waited somewhere away from the house for the news of his arrival to get back to the Lazarus sisters.  And when it did, they had two slightly different reactions.  Martha immediately went out to find Jesus.  Mary wasn’t ready to yet.  And Jesus was just fine with both responses. 

APP:  This is the choice every one of us will have in whatever life crises we encounter.  God will not force his way in.  He will patiently wait for us to reach out and ask Him to come into the experience.  Some will do that quickly.  Others may take longer.  And some may never want to speak with Jesus again.

This is why different people can have very different reactions to life crises.  We all know people who have pressed deeper into Christ the deeper the crisis.  Many of those seated around you today are just those people.  Some have tragically lost loved ones.  Others have suffered grave, life-altering injustices.  Others have had to navigate debilitating diseases, have lost their livelihoods and fortunes, have been betrayed by spouses or had to accept disabilities totally out of their control.  And they are better, more gracious, more kind, loving and Christ-reflecting people because the went searching for Jesus in the midst of it all.

And we all know people who, in the face of similar or even less-severe crises drift, walk or sometimes run away from Jesus.  The result is always harder on them and harder on the people around them. 

God always respects our free will…and longs for our freely-given love.  This is why our response to God in any crisis is far more important than the crisis itself.  We have a fellow brother in this town, Jerry Sittser, whose wife, daughter and mother were killed by a drunk driver in the same auto accident.  He went on to raise the 3 surviving children alone, press into Christ and write one of the most profound and thoughtful books on how God grows our souls through grief that you will ever find.  

Contrast that with Charles Templeton, a Canadian evangelist, media figure and contemporary of Billy Graham who, like Jerry Sittser whom I just mentioned, went to Princeton Seminary and entered the ministry.  But at about the same age when Jerry lost his family members, Templeton ran across a picture of a starving child somewhere in Africa.  He started questioning God’s goodness, turned away from Christ and dove headlong into agnosticism, becoming an apologist for both agnosticism and later atheism.

Tell me which of them had greater existential suffering from evil in this world?  Looking at a black-and-white photo of someone’s suffering you have never met OR walking through the life-long suffering from someone else’s sin that robbed you of 3 of your closest family members?  Jesus wants to encounter us in our crises but He will not force his way into our pain. 

We keep reading.  21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 

I really admire Martha.  She’s wrestling with a huge “IF only” question in the face of the death of her brother.  So often, when someone is take from us in death, we’re plagued by “if only” questions: 

  • If only we hadn’t taken that trip or that
  • If only we had gone to the doctor sooner.
  • If only I hadn’t said that thing.
  • If only I hadn’t taken that drink.

With much of life’s crisis, we know that God had the power to spare us from it or change it to be lighter.  But Martha didn’t choose to get stuck in the “if onlys” of life.  Instead she chooses to affirm what faith she can still find in her heart in Jesus.  “I know you would have changed things if you had been here…and I still believe that God will give you whatever you ask from Him.” 

            I really don’t think she is expecting Jesus to resuscitate her brother.  Her responses to Jesus later clearly indicate that.  I just think she is saying, “I still believe you are good and that God is showing himself through you.”  This is an “even now” statement.  She moves from “if only”…to “yet even now”.  She understood that she couldn’t change the past BUT she could still find God in the present. 

TRUTH #6:  In the midst of crisis, look for the truths you can still affirm about Jesus.  You may not feel like you have much left to hold onto.  But drill down into your previous experiences and faith in Christ and affirm the faith you still have in Him. 

            But don’t expect Jesus to always reward your faith-claims with easy-believism.  Jesus went on to press her faith even more.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise from the dead.”


            That response to a grieving woman doesn’t fit what I was trained to do with grieving people:  “Just listen.”  In fact, it sounds like something that I might criticize a young pastor for saying.  “Don’t just mouth theological platitudes when someone is grieving!” I might chide if I heard someone saying that.  And maybe that would be appropriate…and maybe not.  Jesus is more interested in calling us to reinforce existing faith so that He can build fresh and greater faith.  So he turns the conversation about death to the resurrection.  “Your brother will rise from the dead.” 

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

            Martha affirms her belief in Jesus’ assertion about the resurrection when she affirms her faith in the final resurrection of the dead “on the last day.”  Having done that, now Jesus can challenge her with fresh faith in Him.  Which is really the 7th truth:

TRUTH #7:  Crisis encounters with Jesus will always call for FRESH FAITH.

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies,

 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

That’s a very tough question to be asked when you just buried your brother who was a believer in Jesus.  “The one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies.” 

“Okay Jesus, my brother is going to live even though he has just died?” 

And then Jesus drops the hardest one of all, “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die!” 

“So why is my brother stone-cold dead right now???” she must be thinking.  I know that my brain would at least have been grasping for what the correct answer was. 

Then Jesus drops the hammer with the personal question, “Do YOU believe this?” 

This is why crisis-encounters with Jesus are SO important.  They force us to define, to reinforce and to grow our own personal faith in Jesus.  And Martha comes back with THE most faith-filled answer possible at a time when her faith probably felt very weak:  27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, and He who comes into the world.” 

I want to see the replay of this moment when I get to heaven.  Did Jesus say anything more or did he just maybe give her a hug to affirm her faith?  I’m sure his heart must have filled with joy and pride to hear such faith from the mouth of someone in such pain.  Martha’s growing faith was what was blazing the path for the greatest and most defining miracle of Jesus ministry.  And it was moving her to go help the hurt faith of her sister Mary.

28 When she had said this, she left and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard this, she got up quickly and came to Him.

We all need more Marthas in our lives when we’re in crisis—close family or friends who we know understand and feel the grief we’re in but who will nonetheless relay the truth of God’s continued love for us to us.  Curiously, it wasn’t Mary who had sat at the feet of Jesus and “chosen the better part” when Jesus was earlier over for dinner at their house who blazed the trail of faith in crisis in their family.  It will surprise you how people respond to God when they are in crisis.  Expect the unexpected.  And don’t lay a lot of expectations on them.  Just help them see that Jesus is still calling to them. 

We don’t have time to dissect much of Mary’s response to Jesus in this story.  It is very similar to Martha’s in that she makes the same initial “if only” assertion.  But there is no record of any “but now” declaration of faith.  She is so consumed with her crisis that she falls at Jesus’ feet weeping.  The next paragraph focuses on the effect her grief and that of her friends who are also weeping had upon Jesus.  John uses phrases like “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and then simply says, “Jesus wept.” 

Oh, that we could have this image of Jesus forever seared on our hearts whenever we are grieving loss or questioning why God would allow such crises in our lives.  Satan would have us believe God is aloof, dispassionate, emotionally distant and disinterested in our pain and suffering.  The truth is, He’s crying with us!  Mary apparently wasn’t ready for the faith-challenge Martha was.  She needed a love-confirmation.  Which I’ll make into another truth:  TRUTH #8:  Jesus wants to confirm His love for us during the worst times in life.   But we must get close enough to Him to allow him to show us His love in fresh ways, even if it means getting closer to the very source of the pain.  What do I mean? 

Jesus asked everyone to take him to the tomb of Lazarus.  And then he started asking things people didn’t want to do, things that didn’t make any sense to anyone.  “Roll away the stone.”  There were 4 days of reasons why that wasn’t a good idea. 

Then others had to eventually unwrap the grave clothes from what had just moments before been a dead man.  That was certainly a new experience! 

TRUTH #9:  Don’t expect your encounter with Jesus in your crisis to follow an expected process.  Jesus probably isn’t going to raise our loved ones from the cemetery days after they have died.  But expect that He will ask you to do some things that will require additional faith in Him. 

ILL:  The wives and relatives of the “Auca 5” killed in Ecuador as missionaries in 1956.  Elizabeth Elliot, wife of Jim Elliot, with her 3-year old daughter, along with Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, eventually went to live in the tribe that had killed their husband and brother, the Wuaorani.  I doubt that was what they expected God to do in their grief. 

One year after the “Auca Five” (Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian) were martyred by Wuaorani Indians, their wives wrote a powerful prayer that was published in Christianity Today, (January 7, 1957, pp. 6-8).

First, they prayed that Christ would be glorified in their own lives:

Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the privilege He gave us in beings the wives of men who were chosen to be slain for His sake. None of us is worthy. It is all of His grace, but we know that the Lamb is worthy, a thousand times, the lives of our husbands and of us.  He chose to glorify Himself in their death—may He now glorify Himself in our lives.

Then they prayed for their children:

Not only do we ask that Christ be glorified in the Aucas and in us, but also in our children. Most of them will have no recollection of their fine fathers. But our Lord gave His word, ‘All they children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of they children.’ We ask for His wisdom in training them, for His Spirit in us, that they may be as obedient as their fathers. How wonderful it would be if He should prepare one or more of them to go to the Aucas! We would give them to Him for his use, asking that they come to know Him as Savior and Lord at an early age. Far be it from us to withhold from the Lord the lives of these little ones, children of the men who did not withhold their own lives. May they sing from true hearts,

Faith of our Fathers, Holy faith
We would be true to Thee till death.

Don’t expect your encounter with Jesus in your crisis to follow an expected process. 

Let me end with a 10th truth that really comes from what happened some time later.  The rest of John 11 tells us how many people believed in Jesus because of this miracle…while the Pharisees and religious leaders somehow found this even more reason to oppose him and set in stone their determination to kill him so he wouldn’t gain any more followers.  The sad reality is that even the most convincing of miracles will not compel belief in those who love their own false gods more than they the Living God.  In fact, for them it will solidify their rejection and lack of faith in God. 

            But John 12 follows John 11.  It opens with one more story about Mary, Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister.  She is found there extravagantly pouring very expensive perfume on Jesus, whipping His feet with her hair and, in the process, incurring the ire of Judas Iscariot for not selling that perfume and giving the proceeds to the poor.  It’s the final act that makes Judas determined to betray Jesus to the authorities.  Interesting how an extravagant act of worship by a believing follower of Jesus will incite murderous hatred in the hearts of those who refuse to believe in Jesus. 

            But the truth I want us to end with is this.  Fact is, perfume was a sort of “insurance policy” or “401K” plan in ancient days.  This is what Mary and Martha had stored up against those days that were sure to come when they would probably have to care for themselves once their brother was gone.  But here she is, pouring it all out on Jesus rather than saving it for some future crisis. 

TRUTH #10:  Once you’ve experienced Jesus carrying you through your worst fears and crisis you will be able to let go of everything else you were counting on for security and worship Him as never before. 

As much as we naturally hope to avoid crises and suffering which they bring, encountering Jesus IN the crises of life will bring us a freedom and faith that non-crisis experiences with Jesus simply cannot. This is why we must not run from crisis.  This is why Jesus invites us to meet him in our crises. 

May God give us this perspective when we so desperately need it in the crises of life.


  • Do you have the most basic faith-relationship with Jesus that you need to navigate life—a salvation relationship with Christ that is the foundation to ongoing encounters with Him? Is not, I invite you to receive Jesus today.  Respond to his love for you.  Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and invite Him to be Lord and Savior of your life.
  • What crisis are you facing right now? If you’ve been angry with God or running from Him in it, why not stop?  Why not ask Him to meet you right where you are?  Why not affirm whatever level of faith you may still have in Him and ask Him to encounter you afresh?
  • Who do you know who is in crisis right now? How may God want you to help them encounter Jesus afresh in this trial?