Imagine your best family friend and mentor was a skilled physician. If someone in your family got seriously ill, your doctor friend would be the first person you’d call. And though your friend had other responsibilities, you’d expect him to come as soon as he could.
Mary and Martha must have felt that way when Lazarus was sick. Jesus was not a doctor, but He was a healer. He was their friend. They knew He was the Messiah, though they didn’t understand fully how His role would work itself out. But they had every reason to expect that Jesus would come to them right away.
But He didn’t.
“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 11:5-6).
Knowing that Lazarus was ill, and the family wanted Him to come, Jesus delayed. He didn’t wait an hour or a day. He waited two days.
What struck me in my recent reading of this familiar passage was the little word “so.” The passage doesn’t say, “Jesus loved them, but he stayed.”
It doesn’t say, “In spite of the fact that Jesus loved them, He delayed.”
Instead, “He loved them. So He waited.”
He waited because he loved them.
If you’re not familiar with the story, Lazarus dies before Jesus comes. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been in the tomb four days. Mary and Martha are crushed and greet Jesus with, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Why didn’t He come before Lazarus died and save everyone the heartache by healing him?
Jesus told the disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”
Jesus told Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?“
Just before He raised Lazarus, He prayed, “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.”
He wanted them to know who He was and believe in Him. The disciples and Mary and Martha knew, but He wanted to manifest Himself to them in deeper ways. The crowd was a mixture of people, many of whom did not know Him yet.
Jesus had healed a girl not long after she died and a young man at his funeral. But someone could have said, “Maybe they weren’t really dead in the first place. Maybe He just revived them.”
But Lazarus had been buried for four days. When Jesus told men to roll away the stone in front of the tomb, Martha objected because of the odor that would arise from his corpse. There’s no question that Lazarus was actually dead.
Jesus could have performed a miracle to heal Lazarus beforehand. But He performed a greater miracle by raising him from the dead, that His friends might be strengthened in their faith and that others might believe.
Jesus’ raising of Lazarus was a precursor not only of Jesus’ future resurrection, but of that of all believers. How many people through the ages have been comforted by what Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Jesus showed His love in other ways as well.
He came to Mary and Martha though His life was in danger. When Jesus told the disciples He was going to Judea, they reminded Him the Jews there wanted to stone Him. When He insisted, Thomas was so sure of danger that he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus was “deeply moved” and wept, even though He was about to raise Lazarus. “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17).
We often want to remove all the hard places from the lives of those we love. As parents especially, we want to make things as easy as possible for our children. And that’s not a wrong desire. But it’s often through the hard things that we grow in our faith and in our character. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). That doesn’t mean we go too far the opposite direction and heap hard things on them. We need God’s wisdom and balance.
God doesn’t take away all the hard parts of life. He uses them to deepen our knowledge of Himself, strengthen our faith, to mature us, to comfort us that we may comfort others.
“Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:32-33).
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