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Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” - John 11:40-42 (NLT)
We’re talking about community this week, which I am endlessly passionate about. But I should tell you why: the tragedy that was high school. My friends in high school were pretty solid, but they were very few; I was never invited to things and struggled to find a table at lunch. I wondered if I would ever feel like I belonged. But in the lonely process and the years to follow, I came to know Jesus as a friend. Now I count community as one of the biggest and clearest blessings in my life; fostering it is something that comes naturally and is such a source of joy. But my friendships are what they are because of the relationship I found with God first.
I love clearly seeing Jesus’ relationship with the Father in this passage, so sure and so personal. He is grieving the passing of His friend, the crowd continues to question and frustrate Him. But He vocalizes this as a comfort and confidence to the crowd; it is a tangible reminder that despite all circumstances, Jesus’ ultimate dependence was on the Father, and that the Father loved Him.
The same relationship is available to us. As much as community is an integral part of faith and as much as the Lord designed us to need relationship with one another, we only have that capacity because of the God who wants that deep friendship with us. In Him we find the place we belong. The more we learn to echo the example of Jesus in confident dependence on the Father, the more we can reflect Him to the people we care about most.
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” - John 11:25-27 (NLT)
If I were to tell you my whole story, it wouldn’t take long until I started mentioning community. Trusted friends played a huge role in my story, not only in being there in my big or difficult moments, but also in their willingness to speak truth to me in love, even when I didn’t want to hear it. These conversations are some of the most difficult, but have been some of the most fruitful; I wouldn’t be who I am today without people in my life who know me and love me well, and who have license to speak hard truth because of that. Faith grows best in community.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus uses the question, “Do you believe?” to invite people to deeper faith. He asks Martha the question in her grieving, and she responds in comfort and confidence. In their friendship and in this crisis, Jesus reminds Martha of truth and of who He is, and invites her to believe boldly.
Community is essential for the same reason. We need other people running in the same direction to be our biggest cheerleaders -- sometimes that looks like encouragement, or simply being there, or sometimes that looks like accountability. Particularly in difficult seasons, we may not be able to see our situation or ourselves clearly; having trusted friends in our lives means we have someone to affirm what is true or not true of our character and God’s character. Ultimately, we need the people who will remind us of the truth and of Jesus and who will ask us, “Do you believe?”
Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” - John 11:35-36 (NLT)
My 20-person extended family went on a beach trip this summer, and because my aunt is a photographer, we of course had to take a beach photo. As you can imagine, coordinating my family for this is a challenge, but makes a beautiful photo. Below is not one of those. My cousin Noah, who is clearly perfect, was coaxed into taking this with me by my uncle letting him watch a cartoon on his phone as we were taking the photo (this worked for a limited time, with condition, as you can see). The reality of family doesn’t always match the pretty beach picture, does it?
Community works similarly. There’s a temptation to befriend people exactly like us, that we get along with perfectly, that we always have fun with, that are convenient to our schedules. But community as Jesus demonstrated--it looks a lot more like family -- sharing good and bad experiences, committing to one another, encouraging each other, carrying burdens. Real community is messy, but it’s what we were created for.
These verses are short, but they are weighty. Jesus is mourning the loss of Lazarus -- He grieves over His friend, and He grieves with His community. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable; He didn’t shy from expressing His emotion, and He was a comfort to the people around Him. And in this, He modeled what our community can look like, even in loss or tragedy or trial or conflict. We need community not just to eat and laugh and be friends and take the cute pictures with; we need one another in our simple, messy, every day walk as we become more like Jesus.
“...as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death” - John 11:51-53 (NLT)
My friends and I have started a practice of using Venmo to send coffee or treat money to one another on difficult or momentous days. I sent first-day-of-grad-school coffee money to one friend; another did the same for me when I was having a rough week; my roommate and I fairly regularly pick up pints of ice cream to eat together (we are single-handedly keeping Ben & Jerry’s in business). Maybe all this says is that there is a mutual caffeine or sugar addiction; but it’s also proved a sweet and simple way to support one another. We have a lot of fun together, but we also know we’re in each other’s corner, for the good or bad or ugly.
You may have heard the story of Lazarus before because it’s one of Jesus’ most outstanding and well-known miracles. But its importance actually goes beyond the inherent impact of raising someone from the dead; this miracle was what drew enough attention to lead Jesus to the cross. Jesus knew that giving His friend life meant the end of His own, and He did it anyway.
Later in John, Jesus says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), and this is the tangible reality of that. The story of Lazarus isn’t just miraculous, it’s a clear reflection of the gesture Jesus extends to us -- that He gave up His life so that we could not only live, but so that we could call Him “friend” as He has called us.
Jesus’ example tells us to love our friends sacrificially, because He’s done the same for us. We may not get the opportunity to literally lay down our lives for our friends. There will be the big moments of sacrifice -- the “drop everything” moments -- and there will be the ones in between, with coffees or conversations or extended arms. The way we love our friends can be a reflection of Jesus’ love for us.
“...for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.” - John 12:11 (NLT)
This week of devos ended up being more relevant to me than I originally thought; we’ve read through the story of Lazarus and Jesus and talked about how to grow friendships that will have an eternal kind of impact. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence this pre-assigned set of devos comes weeks following the unexpected passing of a good friend of mine. I’ve read and reread this passage and felt Jesus grieving with me.
But alongside shock and grief, I’ve felt an overwhelming peace and comfort. This friend loved the Lord in a deep way, had always intentionally chosen hope, and made everyone a friend. The gathering of people that came together on his behalf, the way friends became family, and the way we clearly saw the Lord through it all, was inspiring and peace-filled on an otherwise tragic occasion.
Lazarus’ story ends with this verse, as the Pharisees conspire against Jesus. It’s this last miracle He does for a friend that leads to His crucifixion, and it’s Lazarus’s life that speaks a story so powerful people turn to and believe in Jesus.
We have the power for the same kind of life -- not only a glory-filled hope beyond the grave, but an abounding and love-filled life this side of heaven. And ultimately, this is why our relationships are important and why we were made for community. Heaven is an overflowing-joy, Kingdom-family, bring-everyone-you-know kind of thing. It’s our friendships that help us run toward our goal, lead others the same way, and echo the glory of friendship with the Father. I’ve seen it first-hand recently, and it’s stunning. Because of Jesus, our community and our love is never wasted; it’s a starting line for eternity.