A Reflection on John 11:1-44
Our Prime Minister, our public health officials, our newspapers, our friends and family have left little space to think about little else: The world is sick. Really sick. Uniquely sick. I think that the story of Jesus’ response to the sickness of Lazarus might have something to tell us about the way he responds to the sickness of this world. After all, Lazarus and the world share something deeply in common. Let me read two verses for you. After Jesus received the note from Mary and Martha,” which said “Lord, the one you Love is sick,” we are told, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Compare that with John 3:16: “This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God’s new age. After all, God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved by him.” Did you notice what the world has in common with Lazarus? Jesus loves them both, so much so that he does not fear risking his life to bring them life.
The world and Lazarus, of course have something else in common. They’re both terribly sick. This brings me to wonder if we might expect Jesus to respond in a similar way to the world being sick, as he did to Lazarus. Perhaps, in the story of Lazarus, we can see how Jesus responds to the troubles of the ones that he loves, you, me, and the world. I’ll just walk through the story and point out a few things.
First, notice that it’s not only Lazarus whom Jesus loves in this story. It’s Mary and Martha. He loves this family. Bear this in mind as we walk through this story.
Because they know that Jesus loves Lazarus, Martha and Mary send a note saying, “Lord, the one you love is ill.” And notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t jump in His metaphorical car and step on the gas. He does not rush to their rescue. He stays put. Now, that doesn’t seem very loving to anyone. But the passage tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. SO! When he heard that he was ill, he stayed where he was for two days!” He doesn’t stay put because he was sort of lukewarm to Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He doesn’t stay put because he had better, more pressing things to do at the time. Jesus stayed put because he loves them! Jesus stayed in the same place, Jesus let things go from bad to worse, Jesus let things become bad beyond repair — he did this because He loved them. Jesus puts it this way. This illness won’t lead to death (although Lazarus did in fact die), Its all about the glory of God! The son of God will be glorified through it!” When Jesus allows the world he loves to unravel, he does it so that God’s glory might be revealed! If he is tarrying right now to stop the Corona Virus, he is doing so out of love, out of a desire for God’s glory to be revealed. For whatever reason, He is taking His time. Our sovereign Lord has let the virus spread to every continent but Antarctica. People are dying. Economies are failing. Jobs are grinding to a halt. Hospitals are overcapacity. Medical Professionals are pushed beyond limits. Families are going stir-crazy. Cashflow is drying up. People are scared. And Jesus waits, allowing Lazarus to die so that over death God might reveal His incomparable power glory. From this we learn that it is not preferable to avoid suffering and miss out on seeing God’s glory. He loves us through suffering, so we might witness the Power and Glory of God.
This takes faith. Costly, painful, faith. Jesus does show up, but too late. Martha comes out to greet him. Remember, Jesus loves Martha as much as he loves Lazarus, as much as He loves the world. As Martha comes out to greet him, she greets him with disappointment. You showed up too late. Martha says, “Master, if only you’d been here! Then my brother wouldn’t have died!” As Martha speaks, she works valiantly to hold on to her faith. She says, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him for.” Jesus shows up too late, after death has become cold, after rigour mortis has set in, after things begin to stink. And Martha greets Him with faith, and He invites her to have more faith. “Your brother will rise again.” Martha responds again with faith, the faith that things will finally work out in the end, at the grand finale of history — “I know he’ll rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Again, Jesus pushes her to have even greater faith — He says, “I am the resurrection and the life, anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die. Do you believe this?” In the face of rotting, stinking death, Jesus comes to us, to those He loves, and invites us to stand firm in our faith. Picture Jesus standing before you now, asking “do you believe that I can bring life even after all that has happened. Do you believe even now I can overcome death? Do you believe this not only as some distant far off hope, but as a present reality?” In the midst of our grief, our fear, our experience of the world falling apart around us, Jesus comes to us and asks us to have faith. From this we learn that it is not preferable to avoid suffering and miss out on the opportunity to express our faith in the life-giving power of God. Because God loves us, He gives us the opportunity to stand firm in our faith.
But Mary, whom he also loves. She comes wracked with grief. She falls at the feet of Jesus, crying, “If only you’d been here, my brother would not have died. “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judaeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked. And when Jesus saw the tomb of Lazarus, He burst into tears.” Pay careful attention to this. Jesus does not protect Himself from our pain by saying, “through this trouble you will see God glory.” When Jesus shows up, He does not protect Himself from our pain by expecting us to have faith and not be sad. Jesus enters deeply into our grief. He enters into the world’s pain. He enters into the world’s tragedy. He enters into the world’s despair. And He weeps. He weeps even though He knows that He can and will make things right again. He weeps with those he loves. When you despair, when you hurt, when you are afraid, when you find yourself weeping for lack of faith — God comes alongside you and does not rebuke you. He weeps with you, He weeps because He loves you. When Jesus wept, the people said, see how much he loved him.” And when he weeps with you, with us, with the world, he weeps for the same reason — for He loves much. From this we learn it is not preferable to avoid suffering and miss out His comfort in our pain — joining with Him in our tears.
Yet the story does not end in tears. Jesus is not burried, incapacitated or overwhelmed — not even by death. ‘“Take away the stone.” “But Master” said Martha, the dead man’s sister, “there’ll be a smell! Its the fourth day already!” “Didn’t I tell you,” said Jesus, “that if you believed you would see God’s glory?” So they took away the stone. Jesus lifted up his eyes. “Thank you, Father, he said, “for hearing me! I know that you always hear me, but I’ve said this because of the crowd standing around, so that they may believe that you sent me.” With these words, he gave a loud shout: “Lazarus — come out!” And the dead man came out.”
If Jesus came sooner, he could have avoided all this. But then we would not experience the full joy of seeing His glory triumph over sorrow. But then we would not have risen to the challenge of showing Him our faith is stronger than despair. And we would not have experienced the comfort of Jesus weeping with us in our pain. When Jesus is slow to show up, He does so out of love.