In John 11, the amazing story of the raising of Lazarus unfolds. Not long ago, I was studying this passage and it occurred to me that there were three distinct groups of people at this resurrection, and those groups are still pretty much “alive and kicking” in today’s local churches.
Picture the scene—Jesus has waited for Mary outside of town, and “the Jews” have followed her, weeping (John 11:32-33), as she goes to meet Him. Then together they go to Lazarus’ grave, and the Jews follow. In the next few moments an unbelievable miracle occurs—Jesus raises a man from the dead! And in the midst of this amazing event, we see three groups:
First, meet the skeptics (11:46)—amazingly, these were people who, though a man was just raised from the dead, all they could do was run to the pharisees to stir up trouble! When I read that verse, I want to scream at them, “Are you kidding me?! What are you insane?! A man was just resurrected! Are we living on the same planet here?” Plainly, these people were nuts—absolutely disconnected and dysfunctional in every way.
Skeptics. They are everywhere, and no matter what happens, they just can’t accept truth. In modern ministry, these are the people standing in the shadows, arms folded, sporting an obviously cynical attitude—no matter whose life is changing! They are self-appointed, self-righteous cynics who set out in any endeavor to doubt and question the actions and motives of others. They are professional murmurers whose built-in paradigm paints everything in a negative light, regardless of how pure or true it may be. Skeptics never participate in God’s work. They just tag along with those who do, so they can criticize them later.
Second, meet the spectators (11:33, 11:45)—at the same scene were Jews, friends of Mary and Martha, who were not yet followers of Jesus. But they were curious about Him. They followed Mary to meet Him. They watched as He spoke with Mary. They even commented and speculated as to what Jesus was saying and how He was feeling. And a few moments later, they saw the miracle and finally believed!
In modern ministry, these are the people standing on the sidelines without an attitude or negative paradigm. They are intrigued—curious. They are interested in what’s happening. They are still evaluating. They like the excitement of a growing church, a dynamic environment, or an energetic group of joyful people. But they are not participating—yet! (Emphasis on yet.) For now they are just watching. Spectators don’t have any ill-will. They aren’t an enemy. Sometimes they are just a bit fearful or hesitant to take a risk, make the sacrifice, commit to a decision, or really “get involved.”
Spectators are inviting you to convince them—to win them. They are looking for a compelling reason to believe. They are waiting to see if you are for real. And notice that Jesus didn’t chase them off. Quite the opposite. The whole miracle was for these people, that they might believe (11:42). Don’t be a spectator hater. Just patiently help them see and believe. And be patient. Sometimes it takes time.
Finally, meet the servants (11:41)—somebody moved the stone. The Bible says, “they.” I don’t know who “they” were, but I sure like them! They weren’t skeptical, and they weren’t spectating. They were obedient. They stepped up, heard Jesus’ seemingly nonsensical command to “take away the stone,” and they just did what He said! Amazing! What faith. What hearts. What simple, servant-hearted people.
In modern ministry, these are the people fully engaged in the work of God. They are immersed in the ministry, the effort, or the energy in motion—simply because they love the Lord and want to obey Him. They are gladly giving of themselves and willingly expending themselves in faith. They are engaged in serving so that others around them might believe. They are up earlier, awake longer, working harder, and loving every minute of it! They relish not just seeing God work, but actually participating in God’s work! They don’t want to criticize a great work. They refuse to just watch a great work—they have to be in the work! They are addicted to the ministry. (1 Corinthians 16:15)
Simple question—who are you? Are you a skeptic? A spectator? Or a servant? When you are found in the midst of a ministry miracle, which group do you join? Are you standing in the shadows, arms folded, sporting a scowl and eager to run to your lair to pick it apart? Are you watching on the sidelines with curiosity and intrigue, not quite sure you believe? Or are you rolling up your sleeves to join the guys who are moving the stone?
As for me—I don’t want to live my life in the critic’s lair or on the spectator’s sideline. I want God to thrust me into the action of authentic ministry! Let me be one of the guys that moves the stone so that others might see God’s miracles and believe!