For God’s Glory and Our Good
The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead has to be one of my all-time favorite stories in the Gospels, but probably not for reasons you might think. I mean, it’s amazing that Jesus has the power to raise the dead, and thank goodness He does, because that means I can be raised to new life too.
But the main reason I love this story so much is because I get to look at it partly through the eyes of Mary and Martha. And when I do, I gotta believe we were related somehow! (More on that in a minute!)
Take a minute to read John 11:1-6. Jesus gets word that his dear friend, Lazarus, is sick, really sick. And his sisters, also precious friends of Jesus, are longing for Him to come do some of that healing He’s become so famous for. Jesus seems rather unconcerned, says that Lazarus won’t die, and somehow his sickness will bring glory to God. He also chooses to stay put for a couple of days.
The sisters haven’t even entered the dialogue of this story yet, and I’m already feeling their anxiety. Where’s Jesus? Why hasn’t He come yet? Has He been delayed? Doesn’t He care? I see them caring for their brother as best they can, but Lazarus’ health quickly declines. They are holding on to the hope that Jesus will arrive in time to save him. But what if He doesn’t?
Read John 11:11-15. Jesus announces to His disciples that He’s going to Bethany to wake Lazarus up. They say he must be doing better if he’s sleeping, so why bother. Then Jesus plainly states, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” (v.14,15). It sounds a little heartless, doesn’t it? Lazarus is dead, and Jesus is glad He wasn’t there to prevent it! Man, this guy is hard to follow sometimes! Does He care about us and what we’re going through, or does He not? Ever had that question pop into your mind?
Now read John11:17-21. Enter Martha. You may remember her from the story in Luke 10:38-42 where she gets snippy with her sister for sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on His every word, while she does all the cooking. (It scares me how much I identify with this woman!) Anyway, back to the story. Jesus finally shows up in Bethany, four days too late for Lazarus. He’s dead, and Martha can’t understand it.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21)
Every time I read that, I want to cry with Martha. Her words are heavy with sorrow, confusion, even bitterness. I can guess at all the other things she might have been feeling but didn’t say. Jesus, why didn’t You come? I thought You loved us. How could You let this happen? I can guess because I’ve had those feelings too.
There have been numerous times in my life when circumstances were not as I had hoped. My plans were not falling into place. There were roadblocks and stumbling blocks and mental blocks that just seemed to be preventing what surely had to be “best” for me. Or so I thought.
It can be so hard to trust Jesus’ plan in times like these. We know He has the power to do whatever He wants. And we want to believe that He truly loves us and wants what is best for us. The problem is that we have our own idea about what is “best” for us. But Jesus has an even better idea.
Read through John 11:22-32. Ok, we have to give Martha some credit here. She confidently states her belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that He has the power to do anything, even raise the dead. When we’re hurting, we may be able to say this as well, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy to understand what He is doing or why. Martha’s sister Mary comes and repeats the painful statement made by Martha - “Lord, if You had been here…” (Is it just me connecting with the sisters here???)
Let’s finish the story. Read John 11:33-44. Some of you may have memorized verse 35 when you were kids. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but so full of meaning! Jesus wept.
Here the question of whether or not Jesus cares is answered. Our sorrow is His. The wounds that sin has inflicted on humanity break His heart. Aren’t you glad verse 35 is in there?
Go back to verse 4 for a moment. Why the delay on Jesus’ part? Why was Lazarus left to die and the sisters left to mourn? Maybe we can answer that with another question. Which event would bring more glory to God, Lazarus being healed before he died or after? Raising him in sickness would certainly show God’s power, but raising him in death put a punctuation mark on it!
Ok, so pain can be for God’s glory. That’s good to know. Those of us who are His children want Him to receive glory. It is rightfully His to receive. But there’s more purpose to our pain than that alone.
Look at verse 42, and we’ll wrap this thing up. Jesus stands before the crowd that has assembled at the tomb of Lazarus. He’s about to call him out of the grave. He stops to say a prayer of thanks to God, not to make sure that God hears Him, but “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe…”
Why does God allow such suffering? Let’s ask another question. What would strengthen their faith more, Lazarus being healed before he died or after? It’s hard to ignore a dead guy walking out of a tomb! Certainly a faith-building experience!
I think sometimes our problem is we’re asking the wrong question. Instead of saying, “God, why didn’t You ______?” (you fill in the blank), maybe we should ask, “ Lord, will You please do what You know is best, for Your glory and for my good?” Surrender your heart and your circumstances to God, and watch Him do a miracle.