“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14, NKJV)
Can you imagine standing outside the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus raised Him from the dead (John 11)? Jesus had performed some jaw-dropping miracles over the course of His ministry. He had enabled the blind to see and the lame to walk. He had cast out demons. He even demonstrated His authority over the wind and waves.
But the raising of Lazarus belongs in a category of its own. For one thing, grief was in the air. Death had commanded center stage. It was in that setting Jesus turned the tables and proclaimed Himself as the one in whom victory over death was found. His actions could not have made His claims more convincing.
Who could possibly not be won over to Jesus at such a spectacle? We would expect the assembled mourners at the tomb of Lazarus to join Martha in declaring: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
What was the reaction of the crowd? John tells us that many of the mourners saw what Jesus did and believed in Him. Others, though, saw and did not believe. In fact, they plotted to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.
What makes the difference? How can there be such disparate reactions to same stimulus, particularly when they were eyewitnesses?
Our own lives could provide an example. Perhaps you share my experience. Growing up and into college, I was exposed to the tenets of Christianity but it was just information. Even when I was confronted with a more explicit and personal need for the gospel, it continued to be mere noise, irrelevant and unimportant. But there came a time when that same message became to me interesting, meaningful, and eventually necessary.
The Bible explains the difference in terms of being spiritually dead or spiritually alive (Eph. 2). The dead cannot hear. The Spirit gives life, with ears to hear and hearts to embrace. The Westminster Shorter Catechism describes this as effectual calling and credits God for it: “Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel” (#31).
The raising of Lazarus serves to illustrate. Jesus could have stood at the open mouth of the grave and called upon Lazarus to come forth for hours. He could have spoken in a volume that might be said to raise the dead. But unless Lazarus had been given the ability to hear and the capacity to heed the One who called him by name, he would have stayed in the tomb.
Contrary to the popular saying, when it comes to the claims of Christ, seeing is not believing. Getting information out eloquently, precisely, poignantly, and reasonably does not guarantee belief. We are not spiritual salesmen whose job it is to cajole for Christ. Rather, we are spiritual midwives who work in step with the Spirit. It’s been said that we are to talk to people for God and talk to God for people. Only He can open eyes through new life that carries the spiritual sense of saving faith.
Once the Lord in His mercy and grace does open eyes, one more job yet remains for pastors. We want to sharpen the visual acuity of their faith, fitting them with the corrective lenses of God’s Word so that they can better see the crisp lines of truth and behold the vivid beauty of grace. We do that through teaching God’s Word so that by God’s Spirit they might behold the glory of God in the face of Christ.
- In our witness for Christ, what is the difference between being a spiritual salesman and a spiritual midwife?
- How does spiritual sight and spiritual visual acuity depend on the Spirit? How does that affect our approach to discipleship?
Lord Jesus, You have said that whoever hears Your word and believes the One who sent You has eternal life. I thank You for bringing me from death to life, comforted and assured in the fact that Your sheep hear Your voice, and You know them, and they follow You; and they shall never perish. Grant me the joy of beholding Your quickening work in the lives of others.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.