Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Now Jesus Loved Martha and Her Sister and Lazarus

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:5-6 (ESV)

Have you ever read this and wondered about it? It is a rather strange statement if you think about it. First we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. That is not a surprise, nor is it strange. However, then the account continues and we read that when he heard that Lazarus was sick, sick enough that Martha and Mary sent for Jesus, Jesus, who loved them stays two days longer where he is. That, in many of our minds does not seem very loving. Many of us would expect that Jesus, hearing of Lazarus' illness, would have immediately left to help him. That is what we consider the loving thing to be. However, scripture is clear, Jesus loved them, but he waited two days before he went to them. Doesn't that strike you as strange? Why would Jesus do that?

I am sure there are people out there would would say it is because Jesus did not really love them. I have never read that, but I have no doubt that some would say this. However, the scripture is clear, He did love them yet he stayed. In fact the scripture goes further it tells us that Jesus loved them so he stayed for two days where he was. In other words, Jesus staying where he was for two more days was an expression of his love for them. It is precisely because of his love that he waited before coming.

Before we go on to consider what it was that Jesus was doing in his love for them by this, it is important to have that truth sink into our minds, because when you and I are facing distress and trouble and sickness and affliction, we want Jesus to act right away by taking it away. We don't want him to wait two hours much less two days or two years. Sometimes, as we wait in our affliction, we may even be tempted to think that Jesus does not love us. Perhaps our faith is in vain, and he never loved us at all. I don't know if you have ever gone through that, but I know from my own experience that it is so very easy to start to think that way. I have seen myself and others starting and going down that route many times.

Take heart from this though, for just because Jesus does not act on your timetable, does not mean he does not love you. If you have faith in him, if you believe that he died for you, realize that he has shown his love on the cross. Don't go by your feelings that can so easily lead you astray. Instead remember that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, and because of that love he waited to act. Just because he does not act right away to remove your trouble is not a sign of his lack of love, but instead is an expression of love that goes far beyond the pale love characterized by this world. For his love is looking for something far better for you than you may even realize.

That leads us to why Jesus waited two days. Based on what we find later, that by the time he arrived Lazarus had already been dead four days, even if Jesus had left right away he would not have arrived soon enough to keep Lazarus from dying. But, those for days are significant because in the understanding of the time, after four days a person could not be resurrected. Corruption and decay would have set in, and the spirit would have left for good. Thus, no one, not Martha or Mary, expected Lazarus to be raised. So in waiting Jesus set up something that would reveal to them something that they, and we need to understand, that he is the resurrection. That authority over death and life is in his hands. If Jesus had come right away, the raising of Lazarus would have been a miracle. The sisters would have rejoiced, but their understanding of Jesus and their faith in him would not have increased. By waiting, Jesus did something that they believed completely impossible and their faith and knowledge of His was built up. That would not have happened if he came right away. For Jesus the increase and building of their faith was of vital importance.

I believe the same thing is true for believers today. We often chafe under the troubles we face in life. We suffer the sufferings common to people in a world under sin such as illness, age and infirmity. We also face the sufferings that are particularly Christian or being mocked, abused, and considered as nothing by the world. Then we wonder why Jesus takes so long to deal with these, or sometimes, never deals with them and they end in death. But, here we find that He does this for a very important reason, it is because he loves you, he loves me, in such a way that he will not let us remain in our small and weak and childish understandings of who He is. Instead, He uses these afflictions to build our understanding, our faith, and our love for Him. He does that not so often by ending our suffering, illness or affliction, but instead by taking us through them to a greater experience of his grace and power.

Think of Paul with his torn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12) which was used by God to make apparent to Paul that the Lord's grace is sufficient for all his needs, and that the power of the Lord is made perfect in his weakness. Or earlier in 2 Corinthians we find that while Paul was in Asia he was brought to the brink of death, but that affliction was used by God to "make us rely not on ourselves bu on God who raises the dead." (2 Cor. 1:9) Or think about Job who came to know and understand God far better than he ever would if he had never suffered or if God has stepped in right away to bring that suffering to an end.

Jesus loves you in a far greater way that you may imagine. He loves you in such a way that he will always do what is best for you, even when that may mean you have to go through a time of suffering, sorrow, affliction or pain, because on the other side you will find that you can now not just see but know more of who Jesus is and so love him and live for him more.


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