Jesus and His disciples were ministering on the east side of the Jordan, in the same area where John the Baptist baptized thousands of Jews. Miracles were happening and Jews were being converted when Jesus received the message from Mary and Martha, stating their brother Lazarus was extremely ill.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany, which was a day’s journey from the Lord and His group. So, what does Jesus say?
But when Jesus heard it He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
Most of the time when we study John 11, we reflect on how Jesus heard the voice of His Father and did not move unless the Father showed Him to do so, even in dire cases like this. This time, let’s not do that, but let’s instead think about what the messenger thought about Jesus’ words.
Now, I would suppose the messenger was a trusted friend, relative, or servant of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Maybe Jesus had even met the messenger when He visited Bethany earlier in His ministry. Maybe Jesus even had a close friendship with the messenger and that’s why he was chosen to carry the message. Scripture doesn’t reveal anything about the messenger, but I believe human nature has changed little over the centuries since this happened.
It’s my guess the messenger was stunned and dumbfounded when He heard Jesus’ reply. You see, there’s no doubt in my mind the messenger believed Jesus would drop everything and follow him to Bethany because otherwise why would Martha and Mary have sent him? After all, didn’t Jesus do exactly that when Jairus, the ruler of a synagogue, implored him to come and heal his daughter. And also, Jesus was instantly ready to follow the centurion to his house for a sick servant.
These healing stories were known and repeated over and over throughout Judea, but in this particular case, Jesus did not move. He stayed on the other side of the Jordan.
Can you imagine how sad and confused the messenger felt on the twenty-five mile return trip to Bethany? Their last hope to heal Lazarus was gone. Jesus would not come!
Then for the next day or so, the messenger watched Lazarus get sicker and sicker until he finally died. Wouldn’t you think the messenger thought Jesus had failed them?
Okay, this is only the beginning as we consider why believers suffer and how the Lord may use it for His glory.
What was God thinking about when He placed Adam in the Garden of Eden? Didn’t He know that the clever serpent (Satan) would attempt to take the Kingdom away from man through deceit and spiritual warfare?
This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. (2 Thessalonians 1:5)
God wants royal sons and daughters who are worthy of His kingdom. He wants His royal family to learn how to trust, obey, and worship Him in all situations, but achieving this status takes time, training, and testing of our faith in Him.
For Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden was their classroom. They were trained over a period of time, maybe even decades, and then the serpent (Satan) administered their final test to them.
Now, remember: Adam and Eve had authority to rule over everything on the earth as God’s ambassador. They could have ordered the serpent to shut up and go away, but they didn’t use their authority that day to do so. Instead, they listened, believed the serpent’s lies, and sinned.
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. (Luke 16:10 NLT)
Because Adam was unfaithful with the handling of his authority to rule in the Garden of Eden and to keep just one commandment, Adam never received full authority to rule over the whole earth.
Therefore, Adam’s treason in the Garden resulted in his (and through his lineage all of mankind’s) spiritual death, a life apart from the Spirit of God. So, instead of being a son in the Kingdom of God with royal benefits, Adam and all the rest of mankind after him became slaves in the kingdom of darkness, under the cruel god of this world: Satan.
But even with Adam’s failure, our Father had another garden and a second Adam in mind so the Kingdom of God would eventually rule on earth.
(Excerpt from Storming the Kingdom by Larry Nevenhoven, © 2014, Amazon eBook)
The first reason why believers suffer – even though God loves us – is that we live in a fallen world because of Adam’s sin.
“If you can’t pay the truck payments up to date by Monday afternoon, bring us the truck. No more stalling because it has to be one or the other,” said the Ford Motor Credit official.
I hung up the phone, wondering if the Lord had another financial miracle in His basket to deliver me out of this predicament.
The new Ford F-150 pickup became a part of my life just five days before that dreadful morning on July 8, 1994. A special offer to businessmen lured me into the Ford dealership in Ames and the zero down payment financing sealed the deal. The dealership even filled the dual tanks with gas before I drove off the sales lot. What a blessing, I thought at the time.
Then, my financial nightmare hit.
The $300 monthly truck payment and insurance expenses added millstone weights to my downward death spiral. On the one hand, I needed the truck to remain a painting contractor so I could earn enough money to pay off my bad checks and painting debts. Yet, on the other hand, there never seemed to be enough money left over from my painting jobs for truck payments.
I eventually trusted the Lord to work out all of my other financial problems, and even had peace about each of them, but the Ford F-150 was a different story. I could not remove the nagging fear of losing it. It haunted me day and night.
The truck payments were ninety days late four times in the year after July 8, 1994. My problem was not an imaginary fear, but rather, a real one. I awoke each morning and looked out the window, checking if the truck still remained outside in the parking lot or had been repossessed during the night.
A friend grabbed my shoulder one morning during a prayer meeting, turning me around to face her.
“The Lord spoke to me about you, and said the cares of the world are pulling Larry under,” she said, staring into my eyes.
“Yeah, that’s right. It’s the truck. I can’t quit worrying about it. Pray for me.”
She prayed, but I still had no peace about the situation.
I fasted and prayed against every possible demon. I read Psalm 37 and countless other scriptures to bolster my faith, but still, the fear of losing the truck sucked every bit of joy out of my life.
The Lord finally spoke to me in a vision while I slept one night: “The truck is Mine − not yours. It is My responsibility to watch over it. If I choose to give it back to Ford Motor Company, that’s up to Me, and not you. So, quit worrying about it.”
My fears evaporated that morning. Why worry about someone else’s problems, right?
Ford Motor Company repossessed the truck six months later. I washed, waxed, and cleaned it before returning it to the dealership. It was the Lord’s truck and I wanted Him to know how much I appreciated driving it.
(Excerpt from The Hunt for Larry Who by Larry Nevenhoven, © 2014, Amazon eBook)
Upon my salvation in 1985, the old man, with its sin nature, didn’t just go away. I needed to renew my mind. This trial revealed some seeds of sin — fear, doubt, unbelief — from my old nature were still blooming and growing strong in my soul.
You see, much of our suffering comes because we reap what we sow.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
It’s fun to think how God might have called a big assembly in heaven to discuss how to best train me for my calling:
All the top angels might have arrived on time for the special meeting in the Throne Room and sat around a large conference table. God would have asked for suggestions on how to handle the problem child named Larry. Perhaps, Gabriel raised his hand.
“Yes Gabriel?” God would have asked.
“Let’s have him fix and clean hundreds of toilets. It might humble him enough so that You can eventually use him as a worker in Your kingdom.”
“Hmm! Good idea, but let’s hold that one for later.”
“What about moving him all over the country so he feels like a pea in a tin can, with You constantly shaking him around?”
“Yes, Michael, another good idea. We can train him like we did Israel in the wilderness. But still, we need to put him between a rock and hard place to squeeze the pride out of him. Clarence, do you have any ideas?”
Clarence would have shrugged his wings. “Why not try the car crash routine again? It worked well with George Bailey.”
“Brilliant! That’s it! We’ll send Larry to at least ten dealerships as a salesman. Let’s work it out so he’s fired at the first four dealerships and totally unsuccessful at the last six. He’ll weep and shake with fear whenever he walks into dealerships from then on,” God might have said, while gazing at His ministering angels. “Now, each of you, go out and make this happen. We’ll have fun watching Larry die daily.”
The Lord spoke to my heart a month later at Lambdi Car and Truck Center when I was washing my hands in the men’s restroom: “You’re going to be fired again.”
The Lord’s words angered me. I walked to my desk, grabbed my coat, and went outside. There, I walked all over the car lot, telling the Lord what I thought of His handling of my life.
“I’m sick and tired of being fired. This is wrong! What kind of testimony does this demonstrate to unbelievers and my wife? This is terrible! Can’t You do better than this?”
On and on I ranted for over thirty minutes while Leo Lambi, the other salesman, a financial officer, and secretary watched, wondering if I had flipped out. I eventually came to the conclusion that God was going to do what He wanted with my life. After all, He is God.
“Okay, Lord, do what You want to me.”
Two days later, Lambi called me into his office.
“Larry, I’m letting John and you go. Business is slow, you know. I’m hiring a former sales manager from Fort Dodge. The two of us can handle the business in the future.”
“The Lord told me you would be firing me the other day. So, what do you want me to do? Finish out the week or what?” I asked.
His face revealed shock about my statement.
“You can work or go home now. John has already left.”
I worked the rest of the week and sold the most expensive car on the lot on my last day of work for Lambi Truck and Car Center.
(An excerpt from The Hunt for Larry Who (a Memoir) by Larry Nevenhoven, © 2014, Amazon eBook)
We have to remember there were other people involved in my life when I worked at the auto dealerships. The income was needed to help provide for them. So, why would the Lord allow my family and me to endure such pain and suffering?
God hated my pride and wanted to rid me of as much of it as possible. Period.
Trials are meant to change us. We need to embrace them and allow them to change us.
We Evangelicals major on talking about “being born again,” but do you know how many times our Lord spoke on this issue? Just one time. Period.
Yet, there are more than thirty instances in the four Gospels where Jesus cast out demons, gave power to His disciples to cast out demons, or taught about casting out demons.
Now, how is it that we Evangelicals can talk for hours about the importance of being “born again,” but yet, we draw blanks when it comes to casting out demons?
So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)
Paul wrote the above verse in reference to a man who had committed sexual immorality with his father’s wife. The apostle recommended that the man be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the man’s flesh. Then, the man repented and Paul recommended the man should be accepted back into the fellowship.
But the important point is this: Satan has schemes and plans to destroy the effectiveness of us believers.
Okay, who benefits the most by us believers not being able to cast out demons? The Kingdom of God? Or the kingdom of darkness?
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28)
It’s obvious that if we believers do not understand how to cast out demons, the kingdom of darkness rejoices at our ignorance. Why? Because our power and authority in Jesus’ name bows impotent before the god of this world: Satan.
Oh dear! What should we do?
(The above is taken from my 9-part series, “Do We Still Cast Out Demons,” which can be seen in its entirety here.)
Christians suffer many needless defeats because we do not know how to use our authority to defeat Satan and his horde of demons. We need to remember that Jesus won the victory at the cross, but we still must enforce it.
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith… (1 Peter 5:8-9)
As believers, it’s our responsibility to take authority over demons and cast them out. God will not do it for us because He has given us the tools to do it.
Mike Bickle has a great teaching on the authority of believers which can be seen as a video format or read in a PDF format here.
(Continued in Part 6)