When I was a kid, I remember the preacher telling us “God is rarely early, never late, and always right on time.” While I don’t think the math quite adds up in his statement, the truth is that “being on time” is a matter of perspective.
But, if you had asked anyone…this time, Jesus was late.
After Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, asking Him to come heal their brother. When He receives the news, Jesus waited two days before heading out on the several-days-long journey to where Lazarus was in Bethany. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days. Both sisters lamented that if Jesus had made it in time, their brother wouldn’t have died. Friends and family who had come to mourn witnessed Jesus weeping with Mary and commented:
So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”
The rabbinic custom said that a body had to be identified by family and/or friends within three days, or else the decay of a person’s face would leave them unrecognizable. Additional rabbinic belief of the time said that after 3 days, there was zero hope of a person to have been “mistakenly” declared dead and for them to come back to life. At four days out, Jesus was well-past the time to heal His friend from his illness.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”
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…
While Jewish burial rituals used spices, they did not embalm the corpse, like the Egyptians did or us modern folks do. A body will naturally decay rather quickly. Between 24-72 hours, all organs have decomposed. By the end of 5 days, the body has become bloated and…well, if you want to know the full details, feel free to google them. They’re not pretty. Suffice it to say, though, Martha was quite right when she told Jesus not to remove the stone covering her brother’s cave-tomb, saying “Lord, there is already a stench”.
Jesus was too late to perform a healing miracle. He wasn’t too late for a resurrection, though – in fact, Jesus was right on time:
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!”
The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”
There would have been no resurrection without the death happening first. Where a healing would have been another great display of Jesus’ power and authority – a resurrection was irrefutable proof that God the Father was the one who sent Jesus into the world.
So yes, Jesus was too late to do what Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus so desperately wanted. But He was on time to show everyone who was there to mourn the glory of God…so that they may believe.
Has it felt like God is running late in your life? Has society wandered too far away from God’s design? Are you feeling like you’re out of hope?
If life seems like that, it’s probably time to adjust our perspective. Instead of lamenting on ‘what God should have done’, let’s expectantly watch for the greater thing God has in store.