Struggling with not knowing God's purpose
Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning. Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.
But first, a quick recap of the situation:
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany. They also are very close to Jesus. The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them. One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus. As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4). So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right? Nope. Instead, He waits.
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response. They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus. Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could. Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight. I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:
“Just hang on, Lazarus. Jesus is coming. When He gets here, he’ll make you better. Just hold on.”
But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind? He can feel his body giving out. He’s likely in pain and suffering. He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding. Does he worry about dying? Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?
And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing. Lazarus dies. His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.
Their emotions had to have been all over the place. They watched, helplessly, as their brother died. Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time? Was He delayed? Why did this happen? Why were their prayers unanswered? They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.
As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them. Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt? While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:
John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
I believe they were 100% right. Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus. Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.
“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”
This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen? Where is Jesus when everything is wrong? Where is God when it hurts?”
His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned. He’s not cold and distant. Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle. Jesus weeps right along side of us.
Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through. Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin. He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.
And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.