“Now a certain man was sick Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha…But when Jesus heard it. He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was…. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe but let us go to him.’” (John 11:1,4-6,14-15 NASB)
Have you ever had a time in your life when you thought you were following God and doing the right thing but found yourself running into dead ends and obstacles that seem impossible to overcome? As a result, have you found yourself thinking that you have done something wrong and you have brought these bad tidings on yourself? Have you feared that somehow you have displeased God, so He has sent these roadblocks to come in your path? Consequently, have you found yourself in a tailspin into doubt, fear, confusion and despair?
We recently went through a season of challenges as we embarked upon a faith journey of renovating and selling our home and buying a new one. In that process, we faced some challenges that seemed insurmountable. We faced many delays and distresses which in some instances appeared to be denials. We found ourselves bewildered at times because we believed that we embarked on this journey at God’s leading. Would He lead us to failure and further indebtedness and forsake us? That is NOT the God we know. As I struggled with the incongruence of our circumstances to our faith, God lead me to the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead as recorded in John chapter 11 to show me that sometimes Divine delays make a way for a greater miracle. To further confirm that, He reminded me also of the story of Joseph in Genesis and the story of Moses before Pharaoh in Exodus and of Abraham being promised a son in his old age in Genesis. They did nothing wrong! They were not out of the will of God! God had a greater plan that would bring greater glory to Him which would in turn lead to greater faith in others.
In this article, we will explore how this concept is revealed in the death and resurrection of Lazarus so that your heart may be encouraged as mine was to hold on to God and stay in faith.
Exploration and Application
Where we pick up the story in John 11, Jesus had just escaped being seized and stoned in Jerusalem for asserting His oneness with God (John 10:30,31,38,39). He left Jerusalem to a place on the other side of the Jordan where He continued to minister and many believed. While He was there, word came to Him that His beloved friend, Lazarus, was sick. Because of their confidence in who Jesus was and in His love for them, Lazarus’ sisters (Mary and Martha) sent the message of Lazarus’ illness to Jesus. They knew that everything would be fine once He arrived. Mary and Martha loved Jesus and they did the right thing. They sought His help. This is similar to when we go to God in prayer seeking His help in our situations knowing that He is able to heal, restore, make a way, provide, etc. However, something unexpected happened. Jesus did not respond right away. He waited until the unthinkable happened. He waited until Lazarus was dead (v.6). What is the Lazarus in your life? Is it a dream? Is it a relationship? Is it a job, a ministry, a promise unfulfilled? Imagine how Mary and Martha may have felt at this time. Why hadn’t Jesus come? How is it that their brother was allowed to die? How is it that He was not there for them in the time of their greatest need? What will they do now? Then the mourners arrive to partner in their grief.
The truth is that Mary and Martha did nothing wrong. They were still loved by Jesus and He had not forsaken them. There was a greater Divine plan that had the salvation of others in mind. Jesus states it when He first hears the news. In verse 4, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” His love is further proven as he embarks on the journey close to where the Jews had sought to stone Him. His disciples warned Him of the danger but He went to Bethany anyway. Many people from Jerusalem were there to mourn Lazarus’ death. Upon hearing that Jesus was coming, Martha runs to meet Him before He arrives. She greets Him with an expression of her grief and disappointment then she expresses her faith his power (v.21,22). When Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, Martha moves from faith in Jesus to the limiting factor of her own knowledge of doctrine (v.24). He then reveals to her something that had not formerly been revealed that is that HE is the resurrection and the life and that those who place their faith in Him will always live even if they die. He then asks her to bring her faith to the level of this revelation that life extends beyond what we experience on earth and it is found in him (v. 25,26). Martha confesses her faith in who Jesus is and gets her sister Mary.
Here we see the crises of faith that we all may experience in our times of disappointment. It is where we come face to face with the nature and character of God in contrast to our circumstance and how we feel. Doctrine or what we have heard of God may not be enough. We need revelation from God and that begins with our own declaration of faith. We can tell God how we feel as Martha did but like her we need to assert our faith in Him based upon our prior experiences of His faithfulness. Then we must turn to the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to give revelation of Him beyond our understanding.
Another delay occurs as Jesus remains in that place till Mary arrives. His heart is grieved as Mary arrives, falls at His feet and in tears speaks the same expression of grief that her sister said – “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (v.32,33) Though she said the same thing, the effect on Him was totally different. He was so moved by her grief that He Himself wept (v.35). This reminds me of the verse in Hebrews 4:15 that states that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. All through the Gospels, we see over and over again the statement “He was moved with compassion.” He always performed miraculous deeds following that statement. The nature and character of God is revealed here through Jesus. It was previously revealed to Moses in Exodus 34 when he asked God to reveal to him His glory. As God passed by Moses, the first thing God declares about Himself was that He is compassionate and gracious (Exodus 34:6). In Exodus, we see that God’s glory is revealed in the manifestation of who He IS more than in what He does. What He does is the overflow of who He is. To put it simply, what He does is the manifestation of who He is. For example, God does good things and gives good gifts because He is good. God loves because He is love. He extends mercy because He is merciful and gracious.
It was the understanding of the nature of God that enabled me to stand in faith through the trails of the selling and buying process of our home. When it looked like things were literally falling apart, I reminded myself of His nature. That was my life raft through the storms. His nature is the constant. It is the one thing you can count on for it never changes (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).
The people could only identify Jesus’, weeping as an expression of His love for Lazarus. They then asked a question among themselves that was similar to the statement the sisters made to Jesus but with a very different tone. Mary and Martha’s statement that Jesus’ presence would have prevented Lazarus’ death was out of the faith and knowledge of who Jesus was. The people posed a similar concept but out of skepticism and a bit of ridicule. Whatever the motive, it is a logical human assumption that Jesus who performed so many healings could have come sooner and healed Lazarus. What none of them understood was that God had a greater plan that would produce greater results. The people had obviously seen or at least heard of His many miracles, yet they still did not believe. Also, based upon what He said to His disciples earlier that it was for their sake as well (v.15). They still needed to grow in their faith. God sees the bigger picture that produces eternal results.
We can be the same way. Since we believe that God is sovereign, powerful and personal and we have a relationship with Him, that we will escape troubles. That is not Biblical. Psalm 34:19 states, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” It is not a matter of will we go through but how we go through. When we have placed our faith in Christ, we can go through in faith like Martha still believing that there is still something God can do (v.22). This faith grows as we get to know Him through the Bible and in our daily experience with Him.
When things went bad for us in the selling/buying process, there was the temptation to blame God and be angry with Him but because I knew His nature, I knew not to entertain those thoughts. Instead, I declared what I knew was true of Him that He is good, kind, gracious and that He loves me and hears my prayers. I rebuked the negative thoughts and exposed them as lies. I did not judge God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I embraced God with my praise. It was how we went through that process that was a witness to those around us. The realtor and others involved in this process were inspired and strengthened in their own faith because of how we went through and how God came through for us. It was for their sake that we went through. As much as He loves us, He also loves others. As we face our trials in faith that He is in control and will bring us through, we partner with Him in His quest to increase the faith of others. God always has a plan and it is always bigger than us. We can be assured that He always works it out for our good (Romans 8:28). He came through for us in greater ways than we could have ever imagined.
As we come to the conclusion of the story, Jesus shows that His power is not limited to just healing people but that He can raise the dead. He arrives at the tomb prays to God to demonstrate the source of His power then calls Lazarus’ name. Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Jesus commands the astonished people to remove the grave coverings revealing a man who is alive and well after being in the grave four days. Many people believed in Christ that day which was the ultimate goal.
The miracle was not denied. It was simply delayed that God may get a greater glory and produce an eternal result – faith in the one who is “the way, the truth and the life”- Jesus (John 14:6).
What trial(s) are you facing today? How are you feeling? Like Mary and Martha we must acknowledge our feelings but we don’t have to let them become the source of our theology – the teaching concerning God. Scripture is our source of knowing who God is and who He is to us. Scripture tells us that we can cast our anxiety upon God knowing He cares for us (1Peter 5:7). We are also told that He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows on the cross (Isaiah 53:4). He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). He said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). He said that He has “not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). In addition, it is written that His “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). As previously stated, we also have the promise that as believers, He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). There are many more precious promises.
Declare those things about God in the midst of your trial to reign in your feelings. At the same time, deal with any negative thinking. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to cast down reasoning and thoughts that “exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” Thirdly, rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to Him for He is good (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:4; James 1:2; Psalm 136:1). Ask God for what you need or desire to see happen with thanksgiving and He promises to give you peace (Philippians 4:6-8). Lastly, as you go on with your daily life in the midst of the storm remember that God operates in ways that is above your “pay grade” (Isaiah 55:9) and follow these verses:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
(Proverbs 3:5,6 NASB)
Any delays that you may be experiencing, know that it is not necessarily a denial but instead it may be a set-up for a miracle that will be a testament to His faithfulness and glory. Stay faithful that His glory may be revealed in you and through you. Let’s pray.
“Thank you God for loving me and being the rock upon which I can build my life. You are faithful and true. You are loving and good and Your intentions for me are good. I put my trust in You to bring me through this trial (name it). I exult You above my circumstances. You are sovereign and in control. I bless You and honor You. Help me Holy Spirit to cast out the lies and cling to the truth of God’s word. Restore my joy. Perfect me in love that You, Oh God, may be glorified in me and through me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Article Written by: Shermaine Jones