Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

A Far Green Country

A return from death, only to face it once more

John 12:1-2, 9-11

1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

There is a scene in the movie “The Return of the King”, based on the third novel in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, that always makes me catch my breath. Gandalf the wizard and young Pippin the hobbit are helping to defend the city of Minas Tirith from the armies of the dark lord Sauron and they have come to the last ditch. 

Together they crouch behind a wall as a seething mass of the enemy pound thunderously on the last set of wooden gates leading to the heart of the besieged city. Defeat is creeping into the hearts of the few exhausted defenders who remain and Pippin, the diminutive, normally cheerful hobbit begins to despair that the end has come:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”

Watch the clip here:

Chapter 12 of John’s Gospel finds Jesus and His disciples returning to Bethany and the home of one who had recently returned from that “far green country:” Lazarus. The world must have seemed a waking dream to him who had not long ago had died and lain in his grave a body-corrupting four days before being called out into the sunlight once again by the firm, loud voice of Jesus.  

Have you ever stopped for a moment to think of what Lazarus may have experienced in those first few days and weeks since his return to walk again among the living? To go from the presence of God where His holy light surrounds you and His loving presence fills your being and an eternity of glorious joy awaits…to awaken again in a cool, dry tomb of stone may have seemed in many ways a huge disappointment.  

After experiencing the pure bliss of heaven and an eternity in God’s presence, how dirty, sinful and dark this world must have seemed in comparison. 

Of course we know little about what happened to Lazarus in the years after this incident. Some traditions hold that Lazarus never smiled for the rest of his days and that he became a leader in the early church, eventually migrating to Cyprus where he was appointed a bishop. An Eastern Orthodox tradition holds to this. 

Whatever Lazarus’ future held as someone returned from the dead, the days immediately following his resurrection had quickly taken on a circus-like atmosphere: friends, family, well-wishers, curiosity seekers, travelers, rubberneckers and the deeply religious all flocked to the house at Bethany where the “man who came back from the grave” sat bewildered at all the attention. 

If his sister Martha had fretted over organizing a huge funeral and running the family home in Bethany, she must have been beside herself dealing with the visitors, trespassers and sightseers trampling her gardens and needing attention at all hours.  

Lazarus was the man of the hour, the talk of the town but no one seemed to know where the Miracle Man–the rabbi from Galilee–had disappeared. 

Jesus had good reason to leave. Not only did the fanfare around Lazarus threaten to force His timeline, Jesus knew of the dark plans brewing against him by the Jewish leaders–and their decision to kill him. Therefore He and His disciples had left Bethany and gone into the wilderness and the town of Ephraim to lay low (John 11:54).

Soon, however, he could stay away no longer. Word arrived of a banquet planned in His honor, hosted by Lazarus and his grateful family:

1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.–John 12:1-2

The time had come to return to Jerusalem and the fulfilling of His holy promise. The journey to the cross had begun. 

Jesus and His disciples were warmly received by Lazarus, Mary and Martha and they were soon enveloped in the adoring crowd that swirled through Bethany. In addition to curious locals, pilgrims were now flocking into Jerusalem and many were detouring past the home of the resurrected Lazarus and the miracle rabbi:

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.–John 12:9

Jesus knew that many had come because of the miracle. A faith based on a miracle was not a deep faith–but it was faith nonetheless:

38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.”–John 10:38

But this growing faith in Jesus, now boosted to new heights by the return of Lazarus, only served to finalize the plans of His death by those who feared and hated Him:

10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.–John 12:10-11

So this is what Lazarus has returned to from beyond the “far green country.” The crowds, the attention, the poking and the prodding–and now a murder plot. It is one thing to understand why Jesus is in the crosshairs of the Jews, for everything He has done in the past three years has been a thumb in the eye of self-righteous religious leaders. 

But Lazarus? Lazarus wants to sit in his courtyard under the shade of a tree and bask in the love of his family, the pain of death and the grip of the grave a fading memory. He is no rebel leader, no challenge to their authority. Or is he?

Lazarus’ very existence is a beacon that points others to Jesus, and this will not be tolerated. Jesus has healed the lame, the blind and the dying - but a man returned from death itself leaves them horror-stricken and furious with rage.

The Jewish leaders see Jesus in Lazarus and desire to put him away. I am reminded of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird and the trial of Tom Robinson. Tom, a field hand and a black man in the segregated south, has been accused of rape by a white woman and is on trial for his life. His only chance is a defense by attorney Atticus Finch who knows that the charges against him are false and reveals that they come from somewhere deep in the heart of his accuser:

What was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being. She must put Tom Robinson away from her. Tom Robinson was her daily reminder of what she did. She tempted a negro. - To Kill a Mockingbird  

A woman’s lust and fear of the judgment of others made her willing to send an innocent man to his death to cover her shame.   

The witness of Jesus in the very life of Lazarus threatened and infuriated Jesus’ accusers–and so Lazarus had to die too.

 Do you see the price of following Jesus? Hundreds, if not thousands were flocking to Jesus and passing through Bethany because of the miracle resurrection. Lazarus, a living, breathing man was marked for death again. 

To follow Jesus is to invite persecution. Jesus warns of this and later tells his disciples to prepare themselves for what is coming:

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.–John 15:18

The Light who has come into the world overcomes the darkness (John 1) and the darkness cannot stand this. Satan and the sinful world despises all that is holy. To follow the holy Lamb of God is to be marked for this hatred.

Have you ever suffered persecution for your faith?  What does it mean to be suffer for being a Christian? 

Jesus taught this to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:10 

So what does it mean to be persecuted? In his incredible book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, welsh pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes first what being persecuted for your faith does not mean:

It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are objectionable.' It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are having a hard time in their Christian life because they are being difficult.' It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are being persecuted as Christians because they are seriously lacking in wisdom and are really foolish and unwise in what they regard as being their testimony. –Martyn Lloyd-Jones “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”

With this, you quickly see that there is much more to suffering for your faith than being banned for arguing politics on Social Media or tactlessly pointing out the sins of others when a loving word would do.

Much the same way that Moses had to wear a veil to cover the reflected glory of God on Mt. Sinai, Lazarus reflected the glory of Christ. a Christian who reflects this glory–the righteousness of Jesus may draw negative attention from a lost world that does not understand. 

As Paul warns Timothy in a letter: 

12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.–II Tim 3:12

Millions of Christians worldwide have been persecuted for their faith and many have been killed simply for following Jesus. 

Do you reflect the glory of Christ? Lazarus was a living, breathing testimony of Christ’s power. Do you reflect the power of Christ in your life in your own existence? This is easier said than done. It means more than saying the right words or hanging with the right crowd. It means the giving of yourself to others in Jesus’ name, emptying yourself as Jesus did (Philippians 2), to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your life lost in Him.  

You may be called to speak to a friend at work who is suffering in their life, to share the gospel with a neighbor–at the risk of embarrassment or even a violent reaction. You may be called to the mission field in a foreign land, where hardship and even death await. You may be called to simply love the unlovable–for you, though a sinner and a rebel–were loved first by Jesus. 

Which Jesus do you follow? Has your Jesus been tamed–is He a friendly teacher or philosopher who gives you good life principles to follow–or is He holy in His devotion to the Father and in His life of sacrifice?   

The world hates the Holy one of God and will hate all who follow him. You will be hated but there is hope and strength in the One whom they despised: 

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
          “For Your sake we are killed all day long;
          We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.–Romans 8:35-39 

They may hate you, but they hate Jesus more–and nothing will take you out of His everlasting arms. 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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