“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”
Sound familiar? It’s certainly true of me and my extended family. We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment. It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days. If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other. A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person.
But a wedding or funeral? It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events. And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well. While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case. It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.
And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away). Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.
Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.
Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold. Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation. Look at what He says:
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”
After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer? Because of the crowd standing here. Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick? Most definitely not. A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.
Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die. Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death. By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history. At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them. As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.
A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.
The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there. If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory. This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies.
I cannot promise that God will heal any of us. It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no. What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.
But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.