by Rich Eggimann on August 12, 2007
Goal: The Glorious Delay of Jesus was to Display the Love of Jesus; (v.3) to Reveal The Glory of God; (v.4) and to Strengthen our Faith (v.15)
As we study this familiar story in the life of Christ you will remember this is shortly before His death, burial, and resurrection. His earthly ministry is almost at a close.
The story records the events in the life of His close friends, Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. They live in a town called Bethany, about 2 miles from Jerusalem. Their home was a favorite stopping place for Jesus and His disciples. One of the sisters, Mary is recorded in the next chapter as the one who anointed the feet of Jesus as a memorial for His death.
In the culture of that day, Lazarus would have been the primary bread winner, the provider, protector. With his death, you can imagine the upheaval his death caused for their town, their friends; their family; and for his two sisters. Some of you have experienced what Mary and Martha lived through.
A little over a year ago my younger brother died unexpectedly. When I heard the news I drove to Seattle to be with my family. During the next 2-3 days, I not only experienced the shock of his death, I also observed some things it appears that both Mary and Martha experienced also.
When we first came together, there were the expected tears, hugs, and the "telling of the story" of how my brother died. We expressed our shock, the hurt, the sadness, the unreality of his death. Many expressed unbelief, anger, a sense of hopelessness. We rehearsed the "if only" clause; if only he had exercised more, if only he had gone to the doctor sooner, and so on and so forth. After that, we began to reminisce about the good times we had, and we laughed. Each time a new family member arrived we "lived through" the same cycle. This happened time and time again. With each new family member or friend, it seemed to drain me more and more. After greeting several new arrivals, it was like I was comforting them rather than the other way around. It was bizarre, surreal. By the end of the first day I was absolutely exhausted.
The next day was a repeat of the first day. This continued until the memorial service, the graveside service, and the reception following. The best way I can describe that time of my life is like a piece of drift wood during a winter storm along the coast. Time and again I was thrown up against the rocks, and then pulled back by the current, only to be thrown up against the rocks again and again. I suspect some of you have felt the same as I did.
I think I see some of the same themes in the expressions of Martha, Mary, and their friends.
John 11:21 "Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." (If only)
John 11:32 "Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."(if only)
John 11:37 "And some of them said, "Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?" (If only)
John 11:18-19 "And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother." (The visitation of many people and the telling the story time and again...exhaustion)
So here is the background for our study today. These dear women are facing a future of uncertainty, I suspect they are feeling a sense of helplessness; they are probably feeling vulnerable.
Before we delve into our study today, I want to focus on an astounding event that takes place. Notice with me in v. 6,
6 "So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."
This passage troubled me for a number of years both before and after becoming a Christian. On the surface it seems so cold, callus, and uncaring. This certainly isn't the picture I had in my mind of the compassionate Jesus. It did not sound like the Jesus I was getting to know. This is what we will focus our study on today. Why in the world would Jesus, who loved Lazarus, delay for two more days before coming to His friend?
As we study this passage today, we want to look at three reasons why Jesus delayed coming to His friends:
1. Because He Loved Them
2. Because He was about to reveal The Glory of God
3. Because He was going to Strengthen their Faith
Let's look at the first reason:
1. Jesus delayed His coming because He Loved Them
There is ample evidence of the Love of Jesus for this family
v. 3 "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."
v. 5 "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus"
v. 33 "Jesus groaned in His spirit and was troubled"
v. 35 "Jesus wept"
v. 36 "The Jews said, see how He loved him"
v. 38 "Jesus groaning in Himself"
There are expectations in love aren't there? You see this clearly as a parent. We watch over, protect, provide, and care for our children. You have all seen or perhaps all have done ourselves, the "dance" of teaching your child to ride a bike. First come the training wheels, then comes raising the training wheels. Then the big moment, we take off the training wheels and hold tightly to the bike while our kids "ride by themselves" for the first time. Then we run alongside the bike with our arms outstretched to make sure if they fall we will catch them. Why do we do this? Because we love them. Today, I ride with my son Jake. Trust me, I no longer run along side to catch him if he falls (he is more worried about me falling). That doesn't mean I love him less now then before. But the expressions of love change. As people mature the way we express our love changes.
I suspect that even most of us in our Christian life have or at one point have had expectations as to what we expect from God. I know I do and have. For instance, I was under the impression that if I was faithful to God, good things would always happen to me. Good things meant I would be insulated from trouble, trials, and heartaches. I grew up with the teaching that if I "came to Jesus" all my problems would be over.
What I am continuing to learn is that the Love of Jesus doesn't preclude me from times of trouble or heartache. The Love of Jesus doesn't surround me or insulate me from trials. In fact, in some sense the Love of Jesus will ensure that I will experience trials, trouble, and heartache.
I think Martha and Mary were confused as to why Jesus delayed. They expected Him to be there, to rescue them from this time of heartache, to insulate them from their time of trouble. I'm convinced they were hurt and confused by His delay of two days. I think this is why there is a sense of indictment in their identical comments of "If you had been here, my brother would not have died".
Beloved, it was the Love of Jesus that caused Him to delay two days. It was the Love of Jesus that allowed these two dear women to experience the death of their brother. It was the Love of Jesus that forced Martha to confront eternity in the face of death. It was the Love of Jesus that gave Martha the opportunity to declare in John 11:27 "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
Beloved, it was the Love of God that sent Jesus into the world so that He was "...wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities." Is 53: 5
Beloved, it was the Love of God John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..."
It was the Love of God that:
Sent His Son into this world from heaven
Gave His Son the frail form of humanity
That drove His Son into the wilderness to be tested and tempted for 40 days without food and water
That allowed His Son to be betrayed and arrested
That planned for His Son to be brutalized on a cross
That planned for the death of His Son
That made God turn His back on Jesus while on the cross
Love is protecting, providing, and caring for others. But it is much more, isn't it?
Beloved, the Love of Jesus is the reason He delayed His coming. He orders everything in our lives by His great love for us ALWAYS. Romans 8:38-39 says:
"38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord".
Let's Look at the second reason Jesus delayed His coming:
2. Jesus delayed His coming to Reveal the Glory of God
When Jesus hears the report about Lazarus' sickness, He makes two more astounding statements.
First he says in v. 4 "... This sickness is not unto death..." however we know that Lazarus dies, and Jesus knows he will die. So, He is taking the word death to a deeper meaning.
Secondly, Jesus goes on to say in v. 4 "...This sickness is not unto death, but for the Glory of God..." is a major disconnect for some. Many years ago as God was drawing me to Himself, I remember reading through the Gospels several times and being amazed at Jesus. There were some passages, however, that troubled me, like the one we are studying today. When I read that "sickness isn't unto death, but for God's Glory" I had some troubling thoughts:
Am I a pawn to be used for "Gods" enjoyment?
- Greek mythology of the gods using humans for their own ends
Does Jesus really care about me and the suffering I am going through?
Is Jesus really so self-centered?
- The basis of that thought is that I am really the self centered one.
Why is God's glory so important that He would cause someone to get sick and die? I guess the answer depends on who I think the center of life is. If my own life and my own welfare is the center of my life, then it seems unfair that God would use my sickness or my death for His Glory.
If, however, I think that God is the center of all things, then I can accept sickness or even death if it brings glory to God.
More importantly, what does God think about His Glory. The Bible is replete with passages that talk about His glory. Let's look at a couple of them.
9"For My name's sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off. 10Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. 11For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another." Isaiah 48:9-11.
God is blunt and straightforward in this passage. God is serious about His glory. He tells them He is testing them in the furnace of affliction, this is strong language isn't it? And He concludes that He does it for His own sake and that He will not give His glory to another.
A couple more sobering passages are found in the NT in the book of Acts:
20"Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king's personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king's country. 21So on a set day Herod arrayed in royal apparel sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22And the people kept shouting, "The voice of a 'god' and not of a man!" 23Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the Word of God grew and multiplied". Acts 12:20-24.
24"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. 27Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify Your name". John 12:24-28
Jesus knew that His death would Glorify the Father. Jesus also knew that the sickness and death of Lazarus would Glorify the Father and in turn the Father would glorify Him. This is why Jesus delayed His coming.
Raising up Lazarus from the dead drew attention to the Glory of God, and Jesus' authority over death. It magnified His unique power. We need to know how glorious and powerful Jesus and His Love really are. Neither life nor death can separate us from the Love of Jesus. Romans 8:38.
Let's Look at the third reason Jesus delayed His coming:
3. Jesus delayed His coming to Strengthen the Disciples Faith
14"Then Jesus said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead. 15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there that you may believe.'" John 11:14-15.
Jesus is concerned and compassionate for His disciples as He prepares them for the future when He will be crucified, buried, and resurrected. He will show them the power of God when He calls Lazarus from the grave. While we know they didn't capture the entirety of the truth that God is always in control of all events, He used this event to prepare them for His own death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus is teaching and preparing His disciples that God is able to take the most agonizing events, the greatest disappointments and hurts of life, and use them for His Glory and gives us the opportunity to trust Him in all things. How gracious is He!
So the question that most of us have to answer as we read this passage is where is the center for me? Can you or I trust God even in the trials and disappointments of life? Can we trust God during His Glorious Delays?
The death of a loved one?
The death of a marriage?
The death of a dream?
- The loss of a business?
- The loss of never achieving what you really desire?
When the doctor meets with you to discuss the results of the biopsy?
When you lose your home due to financial reverses?
How do you think Mary and Martha answered these questions?
Notice the transition that Jesus leads her through. First of all He ignores her indictment in v 21, and also ignores her implied request in v. 22, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you." And then leads her to eternity, "your brother will rise again". He moves her from the temporal to the eternal. He elevates her thinking. She responds with her affirmation of the resurrection in the last day. He then leads her to Himself in v. 25 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live". He then asks her for her response, and this is His great love for her. He allows her to affirm in v. 27, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
What a blessed moment for Martha. Jesus in His compassion and love leads her to the gospel. He led her to the fact that only in Jesus can my heartaches, disappointments, trials, and troubles be resolved. Jesus is the only one who makes sense out of the senseless. Jesus teaches her and us that there is more to this life than living. That Jesus Himself is the center of life; this is why Jesus delays His coming. He wanted to strengthen their faith by leading Martha and Mary to Himself.
Notice also that He leads Martha to the truth of the gospel BEFORE he raised Lazarus from the dead. He wants her faith to be strengthened in HIM not her circumstances. Jesus wanted her to trust Him not in the circumstances she finds herself in. This is critical. It is easy to say thank you Jesus when you are enjoying a season of blessing, (and we should). But Jesus wanted Martha, Mary, and us to be able to trust Him even when the circumstances aren't easy, or things aren't going our way, or like Martha and Mary when our lives have been turned upside down. Even during Jesus' Glorious Delays. Every one of you, and I today are either where Martha and Mary were, or we have been.
The questions we need to ask our selves are, can we believe that it is the Love of Jesus that placed us where we are? Can we believe that Jesus uses these circumstances to Reveal the Glory of God? Can we believe that Jesus uses these times to strengthen our Faith?
We can, if we say like Martha, "Yes Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world?"
May the Lord add His blessing to His Word. Amen.