“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters went to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘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.’ 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 11:1-6
Crying out to Jesus for rescuing intervention, He opened His ear to their pleas and He loved them. So He waited. His love for this dear family so close to His heart that it compelled Christ to do something that it appeared to all those who watched from the outside as cruel – He purposefully delayed to let Lazarus die.
Allow that pause to settle into your heart.
He whom Christ loved, He intentionally allowed to perish. The glory of God and His goodness seem irreconcilable to my human logic here, to the disciples and Lazarus’s sisters as well.
In the group conversation, disciples asking, “do we stay or do we go?” Christ, in His shocking ways, says this.
“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there…”
Calling death good? Glad that Jesus was not near when Lazarus died? The story is over. Lazarus’s body cold and rigid. And their friend Jesus is glad. Beware believing that His heart is cruel, friends. We do not have the full story yet.
You’ve cried out in desperate sobs, haven’t you? Begged God to intervene however He chooses, just to make the wretched waiting end? He is your friend! You are beloved to Him! He is good and glorious, we bank our lives on that. But Lord, please would You cause the chemo to work this time? Please let the MRI bring the results you hope? Please let this application be the one that lands the interview and then a job? Please let this month bring the positive pregnancy test? Please let this date go well?
Our hearts are so fragile to hold out hope, would You be gentle with us, God?
And instead He seems to dawdle. Our souls struggle to find a category for His holy stalling. Humans delay because there is no clear solution, or we are unable, or tardy. We apply our logic to His character and find Him lacking, our hearts left wanting a different God.
But God is God.
“Jesus delayed coming to his beloved friends until he was certain Lazarus was dead. Martha and Mary were incredulous about Jesus’ decision to wait. ‘Lord if you had been here…”. The discipline of delay is one of the hardest lessons we must learn, as followers of Jesus, especially when it is God who does the delaying. Only grace can enable us to accept God’s rich vocabulary of answers to our earnest prayers—“yes,” “no,” “not yet,” or even “yes, but its going to feel like a no,”—because we trust that He is “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask for think” (Ephesians 3:20)… Jesus is always writing better stories than we could ever pen. Martha and Mary would soon find this to be true.”¹
“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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” John 11:32-37
Mary knew. She knew Jesus could have stopped her crushing heartache. She was honest with her confusion. But friends, look and see how our King Jesus was moved and troubled. He was not glad because He delights to see us writhe in torment, we must finish the verse from above in order to snap in place a critical piece to the puzzle.
“…and for your sake I am glad that I was not there so that you may believe.” John 11:15
Martha’s belief was so tender. Christ’s response was heaven-shaking. “‘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’… Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again…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. Do you believe this?’”
He who formed Lazarus in the womb, allowed Him to die, knew this narrative from beginning to end, Emmanuel was with them in the tears. My friends, He is not stoic or distant or apathetic to your plight. He would, in fact, undo death itself for this family. Lazarus would, in fact, face earthly death again, the poor man! But in the darkness of death, Christ exposed His grandeur for who He is – the resurrection and the life. Mary and Martha’s waiting would yield not only life again for their dear brother, but unfold His authority over death to life eternal.
Words fail me to make what William Cowper describes “feeble sense”. Neither understanding into His purpose of waiting, nor the actual receiving of my heart’s desire is His end game. Though He certainly does not shame us for the asking. No, belief in His loving and perfect and sovereign character is undergirding His purpose in waiting. He hides a smiling face, my friends. His countenance to you is collective suffering, the very essence of the passion of Christ. Loving presence, too loving to intervene according to my earthly schedule. Our waiting is not a waste.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.”
1. Gospel Transformation Bible footnotes from Luke 11:17-27. Bryan Chapell, General Editor. 2013.