Lesson 19: “Thy Faith Hath Saved Thee”
[Luke 18:1-8, 35-43
Purpose: To help class members develop greater faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Note: This lesson plan, which draws on the raising of Lazarus to the exclusion of the other suggested scripture stories, seeks to “develop greater faith” in two distinct ways: faith that the Lord will keep his promises even when blessings are delayed, and faith that Jesus is the Christ who laid down his life voluntarily and took it up again.
[1. Jesus presents the parable of the unjust judge and the widow. (Luke 18:1-8)
2. A blind man demonstrates his faith and is healed by Jesus. (Luke 18:35-43)
3. Jesus is received in Zacchaeus’s home. (Luke 19:1-10)]
4. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. (John 11)
[Display map of Palestine in the days of Jesus, and indicate places as mentioned throughout course of story]
The events of today’s lesson took place about four months before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. He had gone to Jerusalem in December to celebrate the Feast of Dedication. This was not one of the great feasts established in the days of Moses, but was one of the holidays that marked more recent events in the history of Judaism – in this case, the rededication of the Temple about 200 years before this time, when the Jews had cleansed the temple after retaking Jerusalem from the Syrians.
As always happened, Jesus’s presence in Jerusalem had caused a stir, with people demanding to know whether or not he was the Messiah. As always, the anger of Jewish leaders, and their fear that a revolt by the people in favor of Jesus as their new king could touch off reprisals from Rome and threaten their own comfortable power, was stirred to the point that they sought an excuse to take Jesus’s life. The threat, or at least the disturbance, was great enough that Jesus left Jerusalem, crossed the Jordan River, and went into the Perean desert.
Jesus was familiar with this vast desert. It was the site of John’s ministry, and the place where Jesus had been baptized. The people of Judea had followed him there in earlier days, and he had taught them – the parables that we discussed last week were probably given in Perea. While he was there, he received a message from Mary and Martha, two of his personal friends with whom he had stayed earlier in his ministry. Let’s read John 11:1-7:
1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
Lazarus was sick when Mary and Martha sent their messenger to find Jesus; it must have taken him a full day to travel from Bethany, outside of Jerusalem, across the river and into the desert to the place where Jesus was staying. By the time the messenger could have returned to Bethany with Jesus’s message that “this sickness is not unto death,” Lazarus had already died.
Now, we all know what is going to happen next. Mary and Martha, though, did not know. That’s an important thing to keep in mind when we look at events of the past. It’s past to us, but it was present to those people. Mary and Martha did not know what was about to happen. What they knew was that their Lord had sent a message that Lazarus would survive his sickness – and there he was, already dead before the message arrived.
What do you suppose Mary and Martha felt when they received Jesus’s message?
[Accept all answers; if anyone suggests that Mary and Martha had any idea that Jesus could or would raise Lazarus from the dead, read John 11:21-22
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
and note that while Martha believed Jesus had great favor with God, she did not seem to understand that Jesus was divine and that he had the power of life and death. The sisters probably did not have any clue what was about to happen.]
We have probably all had some experience similar to Mary’s and Martha’s, where a promised blessing seemed to fail. Perhaps a priesthood blessing promised life to a loved one who then died. Perhaps there are promises in your patriarchal blessing that cannot be fulfilled in mortality. How do you feel when you are faced with what seems a broken or unfulfillable promise? How do you explain those failed promises?
[Try to postpone discussion of how people cope with these situations by prayer and exercising faith and so forth, for a later point in the lesson. Try to keep discussion on the feelings of incomprehension or puzzlement or betrayal. It should be a brief discussion, but I think it’s important that people can admit that they feel disappointment and not pretend that everything is always all right and that we’re all always superhuman models of faith and fortitude.]
[Someone is bound to give a pat answer, something about our not having faith enough to claim the blessing, or about patriarchal blessings to be fulfilled in the next life. Don’t accept pat answers without comment; say: That is certainly true, and knowing that can satisfy your intellectual need to understand. Does it always satisfy the emotions, though, and instantly erase the hurt and confusion?]
Mary and Martha were left with their grief for several days, because rather than hurrying to Bethany, Jesus decided to stay in Perea, as we’ve just read, for two days before he began the day’s journey to Bethany. Why do you suppose he didn’t start back immediately, along with the messenger?
We often try to harmonize the four gospels – to take all the stories from all four books and arrange them into one chronological biography of Jesus. Each of the four evangelists, however, was writing separately, intending his gospel to be a self-contained book, without reference to other writings. If we think only in the familiar structure of a biography, we miss some of the points the gospel writings were trying to make. That would be the case with the story of Lazarus.
Let’s look at some of the episodes that John chose to arrange in order. These episodes didn’t happen one immediately after the other in time, but John wants us to recognize something by the way he tells us these stories close together. Let’s back up a few verses and read from John 10:11-15:
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
So, what are some differences between a shepherd who truly loves and cares for his flock, and an employee who tends the sheep only because he is paid to do so?
Next, let’s read John 10:29-40, which occur at the end of Jesus’s brief visit to Jerusalem:
39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,
40 And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.
Wait a minute! Has Jesus just fled, leaving his flock behind in Jerusalem? Does that seem to fit the description Jesus has just given of himself as “the good shepherd”?
When a blessing you earnestly want is delayed or denied, have you felt deserted? Did that mean you in turn abandoned God and refused to believe his promises any more?
Back in John 10:27 we read:
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me
and we can see that that is exactly what happened, that after Jesus had gone away beyond Jordan (John 10:41-42):
41 And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true.
42 And many believed on him there.
Still, although part of his flock followed him into the wilderness, some of his closest friends have been left behind. He was not with Lazarus when he died, and was not there to comfort Mary and Martha when they lost their brother. Even after getting the message that Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stays in the wilderness for another two days.
Let’s read John 11:7-16:
7 Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judæa again.
8 His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Here Jesus enacts what he had earlier taught was the mark of the good shepherd: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Not only that, but the disciples who agree to go with him are beginning to act – or at least express the willingness to act – as good shepherds along with Jesus.
Let’s read on with the story, John 11:17-27:
17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
Jesus goes to Bethany to find Mary and Martha mourning in the Jewish way, sitting “shiva” at home. As we’ll learn in a few verses, Jesus did not go directly to their house, but waits discreetly in a place he will not be noticed, and apparently a disciple goes to the sisters home. Martha learns of his coming first. How do you interpret her greeting? Is she scolding Jesus (“you should have been here, and then Lazarus wouldn’t have died”) or is it an expression of great faith (“even though he has died, I know you can still do something about it”)?
[If it was not discussed earlier, note that although Martha possesses great faith in both Jesus and the resurrection, she may still quite realize that Jesus himself has the power over life and death, because speaks of Jesus as one who has great favor with God, not as someone with the power of God.]
Then Martha went home and spoke quietly to her sister. Let’s read verses 28-37:
28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
Note that “the Jews” spoken of here are apparently the believing disciples that came with Jesus from Perea – not the people in general, and not the Jewish authorities who are unaware of his coming.
Mary says pretty much the same thing to Jesus as Martha had said: “If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.” This is echoed by the disciples, who – believers though they were – said “Couldn’t Jesus have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Doesn’t this seem to be both an expression of faith – “you could have saved him” – and the grief of disappointment – “why didn’t you save him?”
At times when prayers are not answered, or when promised blessings seem to fail, don’t we do the same thing? “Lord, you promised!” or “Lord, you could have!’ and “Lord, why didn’t you?”
I keep going back to that question – “didn’t you feel abandoned?” – not because that’s the way I want you to feel, but because I want us to realize that sometimes we are in exactly the same position as Mary and Martha and the other disciples. When we’re hurting, and even if we hear ourselves asking “Lord, why didn’t you?” we aren’t necessarily expressing doubt. It’s still an expression of faith – “Lord, I know you could have done this thing.” And just as it was with Mary and Martha, the promised blessing is not denied, but only delayed:
John 11: 38-44
38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Back while Jesus was in Perea and the messenger came to him, Jesus sent word to Mary and Martha,
4 … This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Did Jesus tell the truth?
Although Jesus and the disciples had come to Bethany quietly, and had done what they could to escape the notice of the authorities, the news that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead could not be kept secret. It didn’t take long for the news to reach the chief priests and the Pharisees. They realized that if Jesus were allowed to continue his ministry, more and more people would believe and follow him. The social order would be disrupted, the ruling Romans would intervene to put down the disturbance, and the comfortable positions of the chief priests and Pharisees would be at risk. Caiaphas, the chief priest, spoke in their council and echoed an idea that we are familiar with from the Book of Mormon story:
50 …it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
But Caiaphas turned Nephi’s statement on its head: Instead of one man – Laban – dying so that the Nephite nation could have the Word of God, Caiaphas meant that Jesus must die so that the Jewish nation – and his own position – could continue undisturbed.
53 Then from that day forth [John tells us,] they took counsel together for to put him to death.
This would be Jesus’s last spring in mortality. Within two or three months of the time he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus himself would lay down his own life – he would prove himself “the good shepherd [who] giveth his life for his sheep.” Almost immediately after, of course, he would also take his life back – not the mortal life to which he had restored Lazarus, who would one day have to die again, but to the immortal life of the resurrection.
I think we all have occasions in this life when, like Mary and Martha, a promised blessing, or a blessing which we want more than anything else, fails to materialize when we want and need it. It is human nature, evidently, to be disoriented, to be hurt, perhaps even to be angry – but only because, like Mary and Martha, we don’t know what to expect next. These two sisters, after all, had never seen anyone restored to life, certainly not one who had lain in the grave as long as Lazarus had. The Lord kept his word to them in a way they could not have foreseen.
Like Mary and Martha, when our faith or our knowledge isn’t complete enough to know how the Lord will make good on an apparently failed promise, we need to hang on to whatever faith we do have. “You could
have granted that blessing” is still faith – it still expresses confidence that the Lord has the power to bless. We need to add to that the patience to wait on the Lord, and the confidence to know that sometime, somewhere, he will keep his promises.