“So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” …Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” John 11v3,5&6
Jesus loved Lazarus, yet allowed him to die.
What to think of that hey? You might well regard it mean and, perhaps, a bit lazy on Jesus’ part. You might be inclined to imagine Jesus (upon hearing of his friend’s illness) reclining, arms stretched, yawning wide, using the excuse ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Has that ever been your response to a call for help? Can you help me unload the dishwasher? Can you help me clean the bathroom? Well, yes, you may well have done that (slapped wrist) but you’ve never sat on your laurels when someone you loved was dying, right? It’s somewhat inconceivable.
In my immediate human wisdom, I don’t understand. Here it’s clear that to trust in the Lord means to trust regardless of my own understanding. What I’ve explained is just the beginning of a miracle in which Jesus is in control and sovereign.
You see, nothing worries Jesus or stresses him out. He doesn’t need a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day (although I’m sure he liked his Galilean Malbec) and he is ALWAYS good. So where is the treasure in this? Jesus tells us, after hearing about Lazarus’ illness, that “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” v4
There’s the carrot to keep us hopeful of a good outcome.
Jesus traveled to Judea to see Lazarus after prophesying to his disciples that Lazarus had fallen asleep (v11). It was time to go to Lazarus then because he had died, rather than going to him earlier when he was ill. A bit leftfield you might think:
“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” John 11v17-22
It’s true what Martha says here, Lazarus would not have died had Jesus come earlier, and Martha would not have been grieving for 4 days with the Jews. However, throughout this whole devastating situation, it’s important to note that God never stopped loving that family, he never gave up on his plan and he was always in control. I know personally I’ve moaned at God with an ‘if only’. When my prayers haven’t been answered in the way I’ve wanted, I’ve moaned and groaned and told God of the opportunities he has missed. In these instances, in my view, God has missed a trick, and it has felt so obvious to me how God has failed to shoot in an open goal. Oh how I’ve been humbled when I’ve subsequently witnessed the plan B, which, really, was the plan A all along…
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,” John 11v38-45
Wow. Imagine being Martha or Mary. You’ve had over four days to process what has happened, and then suddenly your brother is alive and well. There’s no immediate mention of their reaction at the tomb, but in chapter 12 Mary pours a large bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. I’d like to think this is a complete surrender to his will and a sign of her devotion to Him, having been trained by the events of chapter 11. You see, Mary also said the same thing as Martha in verse 32: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” so her faith in his power was strong, although I imagine she was utterly confused about his timing and his good plan for the situation. In chapter 12, Mary has seen the purpose in God’s actions, and has humbly realised who and what is important.
I know often I don’t understand why things happen the way they do, or why I have to suffer hardships or difficulties. I am often more of a chapter 11 Mary: “Lord, If you had been here”, than the Mary of chapter 12. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I know that through my own trials and tribulations, confusion and pain, I’ve seen the glory of God more powerfully than when all is ripe and rosy. Someone once said to me that nobody ever learned their biggest lessons through the good times, and I wonder whether Jesus’ version of ‘good’ is rather a lot different to ours. There is still hope, even when all seems lost. There is ultimately still hope beyond the grave, but in the everyday, when your own plans don’t work out, we can trust that Jesus is still good, still sovereign, still in control, and working all things together for his good pleasure.
And finally, though rather importantly, the pain that Martha, Mary and not to mention Lazarus suffered served to bring many Jews to faith through Jesus’ miracle resurrection. If we can suffer whilst still trusting in God, if we can wait patiently in confusion, utter songs of joy through the pain, I know we will be growing and shaping into the kinds of Christians God wants us to be, and who knows who that might impact.