Friends, I do apologize for the delay in publishing these meditations. I have been sorting out some other details of life and work, not to mention the kids are going back to school soon, and I have been preoccupied. I shall endeavor to continue publishing these until we have reached our goal.–jerry
1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4When he heard this, Jesus 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.” 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. 7Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8″But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” 9Jesus 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. 10It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”
“However hard some things are to understand, it is never helpful to start picking and choosing biblical truths we find congenial, as if the Bible is an open-shelved supermarket where we are at perfect liberty to choose only the chocolate bars. For the Christian, it is God’s Word, and it is not negotiable. What answers we find may not be exhaustive, but they give us the God who is there, and who gives us some measure of comfort and assurance. The alternative is a god we manufacture, and who provides no comfort at all. Whatever comfort we feel is self-delusion, and it will be stripped away at the end when we give an account to the God who has spoken to us, not only in Scripture, but supremely in his Son Jesus Christ.”—(DA Carson, How Long O Lord? 95)
And what we are presented with in John 11 is perhaps confounding; we may not like what we read, who we see, what we learn. Here is Jesus: He learns of a sick friend and he, God, delayed. He waited. He didn’t rush right off and help his friend. We are confronted in these Scriptures with the God of the delay, the God who makes us wait, the God who did not answer in their time a request for help.
Yet we are also confronted with a God who, in his wisdom, knows that no matter what we see on earth, what He knows and does is more powerful. He was always concerned with doing God’s will, what pleased God (8:29). I have to venture a guess here and say that this delay pleased God. Indeed Jesus 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.” Much of this was said of another, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (9:3). I think this is the hardest aspect of life for most people to come to grips with, this notion of God ‘using’ us for his own glory. We think things like, “How can God be glorified in allowing a man to be born blind? How can God be glorified by delaying for two more days and allowing a friend to die when it is within his power to heal him even from a long distance? What sort of God is so mean, so cruel, so capricious as to value his own glory more than the well-being of man?”
It is not as difficult of a philosophical problem as we might at first think. Fact is, the Bible begins this way: “In the Beginning God…” Fact is, the universe exists because of God, for the glory of God. I suspect that is why the Bible begins the way it begins. It is not a theological problem either. We exist to bring glory to God and we do so in whatever way he chooses for it to happen. But this God is no mean or capricious God. No, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The delay is thus a problem only for those who cannot accept that this universe belongs to God. The delay was a calculated move on the part of Jesus to a) please the Father, b) bring glory to the Father, c) do a greater miracle than just healing Lazarus. The humanist cannot reconcile this in his head; the Christian must.
Why must we? Because then we understand that there will be times in our lives too when God has called us to wait. It is a matter of being willing to say, “Lord whatever it takes to please you, to honor you, to glorify you.” It is a calculated move on our part to deliberately wait on the Lord, to cast our cares on Him, to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. But are we willing to ‘permit’ the delay that God may be glorified? Is God’s glory more important to us than our own comfort? This is the position of the martyrs who with uplifted hands endure the scourge of the enemies of God in order that they too may bring glory to God. This is the point that Jesus made later about himself and his friend Peter. Jesus will say in chapter 12: “Now my heart is trouble, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Jesus showed us the path: He would be crucified to bring Glory to the Father’s Name. He said the same thing would be true of Peter (John 21:17-19). We must ask ourselves, and pray to God: “Do I have enough weakness to allow God to glorify himself in me, regardless of what it costs? Father, give us strength!”
Jesus knew he was going to do something that no one else knew: He knew he was going to raise Lazarus. He purposely waited until Lazarus was dead to go to him. Can we wait? Will we wait?
I’m not saying that this is an easy idea or practice. Waiting on the Lord is always a very complicated and difficult practice. Paul wrote about this, “And we rejoiced in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” In other words, the waiting we endure is not meaningless. God has himself redeemed waiting and blessed it. The unbelieving world does not understand these things. They don’t understand why we wait, why we endure, why, when we suffer, we don’t, in the words of Job’s wife, ‘Curse God and die.’ I think what the Christian is enabled by the Spirit to do is look through the circumstance (s) and see God. I don’t mean merely see the ‘good’ that he is working out for those who love Him. I mean, we see God. We are like Abraham (Hebrews 11), and Isaiah (John 12), or Moses (John 5) who saw God, not merely God’s purposes. We look forward, but we also look through. We see Jesus who endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12). The unbelieving world cannot do this. This is why the atheist has to reduce suffering to meaninglessness or the inevitability of nature taking its course. For the atheist, suffering has no meaning and is proof of no god at worst or an impotent god at best.
But it is not this way for the Christian. We see God’s delay through different eyes. We see his hand and purpose behind it, in it. For the Christian, because of Christ, even suffering has meaning and has been redeemed. We have a hope that the unbelieving world cannot, sadly, comprehend or appreciate or partake.
There’s one last point here. The disciples tried to persuade Jesus from going back to Judea because ‘a short while ago the Jews tried to stone’ him there. Yet Jesus persisted. He would go and nothing would deter him from doing so. He would not be stopped. I have to confess that I find this to be the most encouraging statement he makes, this statement that he will go right into the heart of the place where the people had already threatened his life, this place where, at the end of chapter 11, we learn they were plotting his death. Jesus would not be stopped once he made up his mind. There’s a lesson here.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can thwart the work of God. Nothing will stop Jesus from achieving his goal. Nothing will stop his work from being done. Not unbelief. Not violence. Not fear. Nothing will prevent Jesus from doing whatever it takes to bring glory to the Name of God. Who can stand in the way of God? Will a human? Will threats against his life? Will impending danger? Will plots and conspiracies? No. Who can stand against the Lord? The One enthroned in heaven scoffs at the sword rattling of man. All the unbelief in the world will not amount to a single syllable of prevention of God’s plans.
I’m encouraged that Jesus, in spite of the danger against his life, went right back to help those he loved. Take courage in His delays, when He asks you to wait. Take courage in the means by which you will bring glory to His Name. Take courage when He asks you to be brave and blast right into the midst of those who oppose His Name.
1 I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 My soul will boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;
20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems his servants;
no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.
(Psalm 34, NIV)
Soli Deo Gloria!