Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Testament Lesson #19 "Thy Faith Hath Saved Thee"

Luke 18:1-8, 35-43; 19:1-10; John 11

Preparation: 

Enlist the help of one or two Primary children or Deacons to act out the modern-day parable.  If you're in a Young Single Adult ward, you can probably still find a fairly child-like Elder.  Ask them to listen at the door of the classroom and begin their act as soon as the prayer has been said.  Do not let the class know that they are part of a skit.  It will fool the class even more if the actors are your own family members, or if they are known by the ward or branch to be a little impish or obnoxious. 

You will need a plate of cookies or a bowl of treats--enough for the class members and a few extra.

INTRODUCTION:  TWO PARABLES ON PERSISTENCE

Skit (Modern-day Parable)
Place the plate of cookies on the table in the classroom.  After the prayer is said, the child or children (or obnoxious Elder) enter the classroom and ask you for some of the cookies.  You tell them no; the cookies are for your class.  You begin to write the reading assignment on the blackboard.  The children continue to pester you for cookies.  You tell them no, they must go to their own class.  You walk them to the door and send them out into the hall.  Back in the classroom, you say, "Now, where were we?"  But the children reenter the room and continue to plead.  You ignore them.  You begin to personally pass the cookies around the room to the class members, and the children follow you.  They are even so dramatic as to get on their knees and clasp their hands, crawling behind you and begging for cookies.  You continue to tell them no.  Finally, one of the children wraps his arms around your ankle and hangs on tight so that you must drag him along with you as you pass the cookies.  At this point, you finally give in and let the children have some cookies.  They happily say, "Thank you," and leave the class in peace. 

(This skit was a huge hit in my class years ago when my impish son and his like-wise impish friend acted it out--my class was incensed by the time they left, and then greatly entertained when they discovered it was a part of the lesson.)

Announce to the class:  That was "The Parable of the Irritated Mother" (or Roommate, or Teacher, or whatever your relationship is to the children who participated in the skit), otherwise known as "Whining Pays Off."

There is a parable just like this in the New Testament.

The Parable of the Unjust Judge
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:  And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 

"And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 

"And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.  And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" (Luke 18:1-8).

When we know that even an unkind, unrighteous person in authority will aid us eventually if we continually beg, so much more will Heavenly Father, who loves us greatly, be willing to help us, but sometimes he requires us to persist in asking, in order to strengthen our faith.

A MAN HEALED PHYSICALLY BECAUSE HE PERSISTED

Blind Bartimaeus (his name is mentioned in Mark 10:46), sitting by the roadside, asks why a multitude is coming (Luke 18:35-36).  When he is told that is is a group following Jesus, he immediately begins to cry out, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me" (v. 38).  Although people try to quiet him, he only gets louder and more obnoxious until finally Jesus hears him and asks that he be brought to him (v. 39-40).  Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he would like him to do (v. 41), to which the blind man answers, "Lord, that I may receive my sight" (v. 42).  Jesus then restores his sight, telling him, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," (v. 42), and Bartimaeus joins the crowd following Jesus, and rejoices.

 A MAN HEALED SPIRITUALLY BECAUSE HE PERSISTED

Zacchaeus, a tax-collector and therefore a sort of traitor in the Jews' eyes, wanted to see who Jesus was (Luke 19:1-2), but because he was short, he couldn't see over the others, and because nobody particularly liked him, he could not get through the crowd (v. 3).  He didn't give up, though:  He ran ahead and climbed up into a large tree where he could look over the heads of Jesus' followers and see Jesus himself (v. 4).  This also allowed him to look over (or overlook) the way the disciples of Christ were treating him.

When Jesus came near to the tree, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus, called him by name, and invited himself to Zacchaeus' house (v. 5).  Zacchaeus received him joyfully (v. 6).  The crowd was amazed because their perception of Zacchaeus was that he was a sinner (v. 7).  But Zaccheaus knew his own worth and came before the Lord confident to report his standing--that he gave 50% of his salary in fast offerings (so to speak) and any time he made an error in tax-collecting, he returned 4 times what he should in order to make it right (v. 8).  Jesus affirmed that Zaccheaus was a good man and that now that he had found Christ, salvation had come to his household.  He told the crowd, Zacchaeus "also is a son of Abraham," or in our modern-day verbage, "Zaccheaus is a child of God, too."

OUR FAITH IS STRENGTHENED THROUGH PERSISTENCE AT ANY STAGE

Zacchaeus did not know much about Jesus.  "He sought to see Jesus who he was" (Luke 19:3).  His faith was at a beginner stage.  He had only the desire to believe. 

Bartimaeus was further along.  he knew Christ and already had a testmony of him (Luke 19:38).  He called Christ by his title as the Son of David.  Both of these men, at their own levels, had their faith strengthened through their persistence.

Do you think that Jesus did not know that Bartimaeus was there beside the road until he called?  Do you think that Jesus did not know that Zacchaeus was on the outside of the crowd until he climbed up the tree?  He did, but Jesus requires us to exercise our faith in order that it be strengthened.  Faith is a principle of action. (Bible Dictionary)

CHRIST REQUIRES PERSISTENCE EVEN FROM THOSE OF GREAT FAITH

Even those with great faith are required to stretch it even further, as exemplified by the experience of sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  All three were dear friends of Jesus' and had great faith.

Lazarus fell deathly ill (John 11:1-2).  Mary and Martha had no doubt that Jesus could heal him, so they immediately sent for Jesus who was in another town (v. 3).  Jesus immediately knew the gravity of the situation.  He could have healed him without even going to Bethany.  He had done that before for the nobleman's son in John 4:43-54.  Why did he choose not to do that?  He gave the answer to that question before he even started his journey:  "for the glory of God" (v. 4).

Now, before the story progresses any further, the Apostle John, the narrator, assures us that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus" (v. 5).  Why does he make a point to tell us that?  Because very shortly it is going to appear that he doesn't care about them much at all. 

Purposely, Jesus took his time.  He waited for two more days and then headed to Judea (v. 6-7).

His apostles thought that he didn't go to Lazarus immediately because the Jews in that area had tried to kill him and surely would again, and when he did go, they questioned his wisdom (v. 8). A beautiful note from The Harper-Collins Study Bible"Having spoken of himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, Jesus now risks his life to give life to his friend Lazarus.  The result of this life giving is Jesus' own death." (p. 2034-35)

But Jesus was so filled with light and knowledge in his role as the Savior that he told them, "I do not err, because I am walking in the perfect light of the Spirit.  Someone else without any light in him might stumble and wonder what to do or whether to go, but I know exactly what will happen and at what time" (v. 9-10).  In fact, he stated that he knew already that Lazarus was dead (v. 11-14).  Then once again he stated that this was for a purpose; that Lazarus' death will cause their faith to grow: "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe" (v. 15).

Now here is another story of great faith:  The apostles did not have a perfect understanding of what Jesus had just said to them.  In their experience, there was great cause to fear.  In fact, they were certain Jesus would be killed.  Even so, they had enough faith that they were willing to go with him, to what they were certain would be their death.  Thomas did not play the part of a "doubter" here! (v. 16)  He was willing to die for his faith.

"Then when Jesus came, he found that [Lazarus] had lain in the grave four days already" (v. 17).  Jesus had waited two days, and then taken his two-day journey purposely so that Lazarus would have been dead for four days.  Why did it matter that Lazarus be dead for four days?  Twice before, Jesus had raised someone from the dead.  In Matt. 9:18-25, he raised the nobleman's daughter.  In Luke 7:11-17 he raised the widow's son.  The nobleman's daughter had still been in her bed, just recently dead.  The son was being carried on the funeral bier, only dead two days.  In a common tradition of the day, the Jews believed that the spirit lingered near the body, hoping for a chance to re-enter it for three days.  Then it left forever and the body began to decay.  Lazarus therefore, being dead four days, was dead beyond all hope of revival in their eyes.  He was dead and gone.  (Harper-Collins, p. 2035)

Mary and Martha heard from their home that Jesus was coming.  Martha, always the woman of action (she was the dish-doer in Luke 10:38-42), got up and went out of the town to meet him (v. 20).  Her first words to Jesus were an expression of her faith:  "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" and she added, "even now, I am sure that you could raise him, if you will" (v. 21-22).  She had not given up!  She was still asking, like the children after the cookies at the beginning of class, but with the spiritually mature clause, "if thou wilt."  She knew that Christ could raise him from the dead; she was just not sure if it was his will. 

Jesus told her that she was right; he did have the power.  "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."  He asked Martha if she believed, and she answered that, Yes, she knew he was the Christ, the Messiah (v. 23-27).

Martha then went to get Mary, while Jesus stayed outside town, apparently hiding.  Knowing that there were enemies to Christ in the home, "mourning" with them (see v. 45-46), she whispered to Mary that Jesus was come (v. 28).  immediately Mary arose and went to meet him.  The Jews assembled in the home noticed Mary leaving and followed her, assuming she was going to the grave once more.  She met Jesus outside of town and said the exact same thing her sister did, obviously the lament they had been repeating to each other, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (v. 28-32).

Here follows the part of the story that most impresses us, the shortest and yet possibly most poignant of all scriptures:  "Jesus wept."  This verse is so important, we will come back to it in a moment.

Jesus then asked them to lead him to the grave and roll away the stone.  He knew where the grave was, and he could have rolled away the stone with a wave of his hand, just as he could have healed Lazarus without ever entering Judea.  But he required the exercise of their faith.  He wanted them to be participants.  Faith is a principle of action.

He thanked God out loud, and then called Lazarus to come forth.  He did not even remove the burial clothing from Lazarus and allow him to come out fresh and smiling, but asked for that one last action of unwrapping the cloth.  He wanted them to be a part of freeing Lazarus from the tomb.

In front of friends and enemies, disciples and unbelievers, Jesus presented Lazarus as an undeniable proof, demonstrating beyond any doubt that he had power over death:  "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (v. 25).

JESUS SHARES OUR SORROW, EVEN AS HE STRETCHES OUR FAITH

Jesus had great love.  He loved Mary and Martha enough to stretch their faith, even though it was extremely painful to them.  Even though he knew he was doing the best thing for them, and it would all come out beautifully in the end, and they would be grateful to him, he felt terribly sorry that they had to go through the pain.

When I was a young mother, I took each one of my innocent, trusting, happy little infants into the health clinic to get them immunized.  It was always such a traumatic thing for me to have a little baby sitting on my lap, smiling up at me and cooing, obviously feeling total confidence that in my care he or she was completely safe...and then came the vaccination!  I can remember as plain as day the look of disbelief, of horror, that always spread over my babies' faces as they looked up at me, incredulous that I would allow this pain in my presence!  I always felt so awful I wanted to cry myself, because I had wilfully hurt my precious baby, even though I knew it was for their safety and health.  I always tried to make it up to them the rest of the day, holding them, and rocking them, and rubbing their little legs where the needle had gone in.  It was a painful and sad experience, but I knew it was necessary for their healthy growth and development.  I loved them enough that I allowed the essential pain.

I think that is something like how Jesus felt when he saw Mary and Martha asking in their innocence why they had to have this pain and sorrow.  Why, when they knew Jesus had the power to prevent it?  Why, when they had the faith for Lazarus to be healed?  He had sent a message to them on the day of Lazarus' death, trying to let them in on the whole story, telling the messenger who brought him the news and would surely be reporting back, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God" (v. 4).  But like a baby being immunized, they had not understood and had only felt the pain.

Jesus feels the same pain for us when our faith is tested almost beyond its strength.  He is always sending us messages, like he did to Mary and Martha, through the scriptures, through the prophets and apostles, through Sacrament meeting speakers, through visiting teachers or Ensign articles.  He tries to fill us in on the whole plan; he tries to help us see the whole picture so that we will not have so much pain, but in the end, he knows that we may have to go through pain in order for our faith to grow.  It was even a part of his role as the Savior of the world to "bear our griefs and carry our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4), going forth "suffering pains and afflictions...that he might know how to succor his children" (Alma 7:11-12).

He knows that our faith is more important than our pain.  But he knows it still hurts.  And if we can realize that he loves us much more than a mother loves her baby, we can know that as we go through our trials, he sheds his own tears for our suffering.  And once we've gone through the worst of the pain, his arms will be around us, assuring us of his love, comforting us all the more.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful testimony and reassuring insights of this lesson.

Janae said...

Beautiful insights as always. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Monti Poulson said...

Excellent, thank you for helping me with my own lesson.

janel said...

You were right; the skit was a huge hit! Thanks for such a nice outline to tie all those stories together, culminating in the powerful Lazarus account.

Indrani Solano said...

Dear Sister Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to help us see more light... I am not a teacher anymore, but I still come to your blog to get more light and understanding, may the Lord keep on blessing you and your family, I am from Mexico City, but been living in Chihuaha city much longer...