Why would God let our most difficult problems go from bad to impossible if he really loved us? You ever have that happen? I mean, it’s bad and you ask God for help and it’s not like it just stays bad. It goes from bad to impossible.
In John chapter 11, Jesus is going to ask and answer this question, “If God really loves me and you ask for help, how could he let something go from bad to worse?”
A problem is brought to Jesus in verses 1-3 of John 11. Now, a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sister sent word to Jesus, Lord, the one you love is sick.
Here’s what we know. Someone has a very serious illness. Second, what we know is these aren’t people that are out of God’s will. These aren’t people that are casual. These are people that Jesus, from the rest of the New Testament, hangs out with. They’re the most devoted followers. He cares deeply about them.
Hey Jesus, you’ve hung out at our house. We know you. We love you. We’ve worshipped you. They have a problem so they bring it to Jesus. Our brother is sick, the one that you love.
Jesus in verses 4-6 responds to the problem. When Jesus heard this he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.”
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. You might just put parenthesis in your notes there. It’s just a parenthetical comment. Jesus makes a pronouncement. This sickness has a purpose. The purpose is that God’s reputation and God’s son, Jesus, will be glorified or be made known. Then because of how Jesus is going to operate, he wants to remind his listeners and us that Jesus really loves Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
Circle that next word “so” or in some of your translations, it’ll say “yet.” There’s a contrast. So, when he heard that Lazarus was sick he stayed where he was two more days.
Now, I don’t know about you but when I get on the phone and I’ve got a critical situation and I call a close friend and I say, “You said if I ever, ever really, really need you to just pick up the phone and you’ll be there.” I call them and their response is “I’m not coming.”
I don’t know about you but that does not communicate a lot of love in my direction. A little bit later, after a couple days with his disciples, he announces a plan to solve the problem in verses 7-16.
Then he said to his disciples, let us go back to Judea. So, we’re going to go on a trip together, Jesus and all the disciples.
But, Rabbi, they said, a short while ago, the Jews tried to stone you. And yet, you’re going to go back there?
In other words, wait, Jesus. Wait, wait, wait just a second. We like following you. You’re feeding the poor and a lot of great things are happening. You’re an amazing teacher, but the last time we were there, they tried to kill you.
Translation: You know, like, we’re your closest followers and they want to kill you. Kind of, do the math, Jesus. They want to kill us too. Let’s not go back there.
Their response to Jesus solving the problem is fear. Jesus does what he often does. He says, sort of this obscure statement and you wonder what in the world he means. In response to their fear, Jesus answered. “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles for he has not light.”
I’m sure they just felt like, well, that solves it for me. After he said this, he went on to tell them. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I’m going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, Lord, if he sleeps he’ll get better.
Translation: We don’t have to go, right? He’ll just wake up on his own. Jesus had been speaking of his death but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then, he told them plainly. Lazarus is dead and for your sake I’m glad I was not there. Would you underline that sentence? Lazarus is dead. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a bad thing.
But Jesus says I am glad for your sake, disciples, that I was not there. Here’s the purpose clause, So that, you may believe.
If you’ll circle the two little words “may believe.” As we walk through this passage, every time the world “believe” or “faith” comes up, I want you to circle it because later today you can go back through and see there is something important about believe.
So, he’s glad he’s not there. Lazarus has died. Something’s going to happen so they can believe. He goes on to say, but let us go to him. Then, just like every group has different personalities, Thomas, called Didymus, said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”
Often when difficult things come into our life and Jesus calls us to follow him, the two responses are fear to follow or unfounded bravado. “Okay I’m a victim, if God calls me to do it, I’m better than other people. Let’s just go die.” Neither of those are genuine.
In John chapter 8 verse 12, Jesus had told them, I am the light of the world. He who follows me will never walk in darkness. But will walk in the light of life.
That little statement about if you’re walking in the daylight, naturally speaking, you can see stuff. You won’t fall, but if you’re walking at night you stumble over stuff.
What he was trying to tell them is life is filled with difficulty and pain and adversity and problems and it’s a fallen world.
I’m going to go back in the thick of it to address this issue. When you are following me, you’re in the light regardless of the externals, regardless of the darkness, regardless of the circumstances.
When you are following me, I’d blaze a trail. I am the light. If you follow me, regardless of what you’re going through, you won’t stumble. You won’t be in darkness.
These are some of the people that are absolutely the most devoted and committed followers. I want to remind you of that because what he’s going to do in their life and what he is doing in some of your lives right now is only what he does in people that he has a lot of trust in.
They lived during a time where life doesn’t make sense. If Jesus really loves me, he would have come, but he didn’t come and their brother died. They are sad and are mourning. They’re questioning God’s love. They’re questioning whether they can trust him in the future.
After this delayed response, that we learn wasn’t an accident or that he was too busy, Jesus chose not to respond and fix their problem. He’s going to come because his strategy is to give them something better than just fixing their life.
In verse 17, On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. But Mary stayed at home.
Now, this is the first encounter that Martha has and is very direct with Jesus. Lord, Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here my brother would not have died. What’s she really saying? I thought you loved me! You said to ask, seek, and knock. I sat through a lot of those, you know, the Sermons on the Mount. I was there.
I’ve heard your messages. I asked; I sought; I knocked. If you would have come, he’d been alive. We had a big problem, I thought you cared and you didn’t show up.
See, what I like is she’s honest. She is also shrewd because she realizes she’s seen him do some amazing things; so, she’s going to voice her disappointment but then she’s going to couch it in I know you might have another really good plan B.
Look at verse 22. But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Look, Lord, I got the theology down. I understand it. I agree with it. Something happens here. I want you if you can imagine watching the most powerful cinema on an IMAX screen and the camera zooms in with HD on Jesus’ face and his eyes meet Mary’s eyes and she has basically said you let me down. I don’t know if you care; you’re the problem fixer. Why didn’t you fix my problem?
Jesus looks into her eyes with love and compassion and he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
You have to circle a few “believes” in your text, don’t you? So often, what we want is God to be our self-help genie to make our life work out.
God, you know, my house is in trouble. Can you turn it around? God, my marriage is in trouble. Could you turn it around? God, my mate, my friend, my son, my daughter has cancer. Can you turn it around?
God, fix my problem. I want to be faithful. I love you. Fix my world. Fix my problem. Make it work out right. Heal the people that are sick. Give me a new job. And sometimes, God waits.
I had a situation that wasn’t just like a month or two but it was a journey of a few years.
I had made a really big decision, at least on our part, to leave where I was comfortable and move to Atlanta.
Just shortly after I left the bottom fell out of the market. Remember the whole dot com bust? As a result, the organization that I teamed up with loss their major donors and all the money disappeared.
Six or seven months into it, Living the Edge went and it was healthy and had enough funds. I remember when our Chief Operating Officer, at the time, called me and said, we have three days left of cash and we’re going to have to close the doors.
On the way there I could give you a long litany of things like the car that was shipped here was in a wreck; my wife had oral surgery and it didn’t work; her mouth got infected and she was in pain; she had another oral surgery; and it didn’t work and it was infected. I got a wife that’s crying herself to sleep. I’ve left all my kids and all my family for what looked good. For six or seven months, everything is down and to the left.
I remember being in my basement and I wasn’t crying like Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. I was just crying. I remember thinking, God, what? What’s the deal? As far as I know there’s not sin in my life. I left a comfortable situation. I trust you by faith. I started listing all the reasons--every single thing that could happen relationally, financially, health wise--it was so downhill and so low. I, with palms up, just said, “Okay.”
In my heart of hearts I felt like, I have only one of two conclusions to make. Either I cannot hear God’s voice anymore and this is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made and I took a wrong turn. And I’m not sure God really cares and loves me and He’s trustworthy.
Or, this is the will of God and there’s something in this window of time that in His love and wisdom and goodness and kindness He’s going to do in me. There’s something to learn and something he’ll reveal to me about himself that right now, intellectually and emotionally, I do not get.
I’m going to hang on to the end of the rope of hope and I’m not letting go. But, I could sure use some help. It was during that time I was reading through John 11. I’d never seen this passage like this before. I read John 11 one day and I read it the next day. Then I read it the next day. Then I read it the next day and I read a little something else. Then I read it the next day.
I can’t tell you how long, I just lived in John 11 and what I realized and wrote in my journal is rather than solving the problem in the life of Mary and Martha, he revealed to them the author of life.
No one in the New Testament apart from James and John at the Transfiguration ever gets as direct, clear revelation. The Pharisees hear this and even John the Baptist is told some Old Testament passages and report what’s happening. They have to figure it out, but he looks at this woman and he says, you don’t think I love you. Let me tell you-I am life and resurrection. I love you, Martha. I’m for you and I will supply, in me and me alone, plus nothing.
Do you believe this?
Notice her response. There was something about his eyes and his words. Yes, Lord, she told him. I believe that you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world. And after she said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The teacher is here,” she said. “And he’s asking for you.” He’s coming to them. That passage in James of drawing near to God-this is the picture. In the midst of your pain and you don’t know what to do and you struggle draw near to God. He’ll draw near to you. But he doesn’t go to Mary. The teacher is asking for you. So Mary gets up.
When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and she went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. He’s waiting. He’s waiting for her to come.
When the Jews who have been with Mary in the house comforting her noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died.
What’s her response? This is the second time. I thought you loved me. I thought you cared. I’m the one. Remember? Remember that time I was wiping your hair with the perfume. And I’m devoted to you. I sat at your feet. If you would have showed up, you could have fixed my life. Then, notice Jesus’ response to her hurt and to her pain. When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
Here’s what I want to remind you. It may be hard; you may not understand it may be difficult, but I’ll tell you one thing I learned when I was crying in my basement…Jesus was crying with me. And He had not abandoned me; and He loves you and He’s for you. And He may not turn the switch and fix the problem and remove the cancer; give you your house back; cause your marriage to come back all together all at once…find the person you’re looking for as a single person; give you the job that you’re always looking for; but in the midst of what you can’t understand, if like Martha and Mary you’ll come and then be honest and tell Him, you know what, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me; and shoot it really straight and then sit and listen. He says, I’ll meet you here. I do love you.”