There are seasons when hard times don’t just turn difficult, they go from bad to worse to impossible. In the face of pain or death, even those who have a solid commitment to faith can lose hope and ask the age-old question: Where is God? Does He even care?
Remember the story of Lazarus? He was a beloved friend of Jesus, as were his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus often spent time with them in their home outside Jerusalem.
Then Lazarus got gravely ill, and Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus. They had seen Jesus feed 5,000 people, heal the paralyzed, restore sight to the blind. Surely He would come quickly to minister to his friend. Or if He was tied up, He could do one of those long-distance miracles, as He did for the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10).
But the 11th chapter of John’s Gospel says Jesus stayed away until it was too late. Lazarus died. Did Jesus fail them?
Have you ever had a situation like that? You’ve cried out to God. You asked and asked for help. You feel like you’ve been a good Christian and done what was expected of you. But then it seems as if He’s not listening, or maybe He’s too busy elsewhere, or maybe you just don’t rate.
God doesn’t show up according to your expectations, in your timing, to fulfill your agenda the way we think He should. He has His own timing, His own agenda. And it always provides hope to the hopeless.
Jesus chose not to give Martha and Mary what they asked for, because He wanted to give them much more than they could ever imagine.
After four days, Jesus and His disciples travel to Mary and Martha’s home in Bethany, near Jerusalem. As is the custom, the whole community is around them, mourning with them. Martha hears that Jesus has arrived and runs to confront Him.
“’Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:21).
She goes back to get Mary, who runs out to Jesus with a similar grievance.
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:32).
They are hurt and distraught and confused and feeling hopeless. Martha, the pragmatist, deals with the issues intellectually. Mary—she’s the woman who poured perfume at on His feet and wiped it with her hair, and she’s the one who sat at Jesus’s feet listening to His teachings—is broken and wailing at His feet.
Martha had the right information in her head. Mary had the right connection in her heart. But Jesus was going to show them that the fuller reality isn’t just a proper belief system or emotions. It’s a relationship with the living God, the light of the world.
What does Jesus say to Martha? “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Martha hears the abstract concept through the filter of theological learning. Yes, Lord: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). Blah blah blah…
But then Jesus proclaims what He is truly saying. Something beyond what Mary or Martha or all the Jewish people around them or every person since, including you and me could ever dream up.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26)
I am going to conquer death. I have come to do more than fix your problems, He is saying. I want to do more than just fulfill your expectations. I want to forgive all your sins. I want to give you a brand-new life. I want to live inside of you. I want an intimate relationship with you.
This is the Second Person of the Trinity, who took on flesh in the womb of a teenage girl. Fully man; fully God. And in two or so days, He was going to die on a cross for your sin and my sin and the sins of all people. And after that He would defeat death and be resurrected, as He was going to resurrect Lazarus.
Then He looks at Martha and He asks, “Do you believe that?”
Do you believe that?
This isn’t some angry God who we must appease with ritual practices. This isn’t some God who is some invisible force that you can somehow reach via higher levels of consciousness and hope that your next time around you come up and come back a little bit better than you were. This is a very personal God who weeps at the sight of Mary weeping, and then does the impossible.
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)
Then He speaks and Lazarus comes from the grave. When He speaks to me, He says, I want you to follow Me. I want you to walk in the light as I am in the light. It doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges and hurts and pains and difficulties (death) in this fallen world. But I’ll be with you and I will never forsake you. I didn’t come just to fix your problem. I came to give you a new life.
Today, no matter what you are facing, this is your hope.
Struggling? Feeling like God is a million miles away? Don’t miss the Easter message from Chip Ingram: Hope for the Hopeless.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip