September 18, 2022
Have you ever been disappointed with God? Have you ever wanted God to help you through a difficult challenge, but felt like He left you high and dry? Or have you found yourself wanting to do something for God, but every time you tried, whatever you did failed? Or have you ever wondered why God hasn’t delivered you from what you’re struggling with, brought your child to repentance, or heal that broken relationship? Have you ever felt like God wasn’t there for you when you needed Him most? Have you ever been disappointed with God?
Well, today, we’re going to meet a couple of women who felt like Jesus wasn’t there them, who even voiced their disappointment with Jesus. But as we enter their story and hear their frustrations, we’re going to learn something about the way God works that will help you get through those times when it seems God’s not there for. In fact, what we’re going to learn from Jesus today should even encourage you. For He’s going to show us that even though it may not seem like God has your best interests at heart when you’re going through some kind of suffering, He always does. He always has your best interests at heart, but maybe not in the way you imagined.
Now, if that sounds intriguing to you, if you want a better understanding on how God loves you even when it seems like He’s not there for you – then let me encourage you to open your Bible to John 11:1-44, where we’re going to see now why you may not always get what you want from God, but God will always give you what you need. And sometimes He’ll give you even more than you ever imagined.
So, if you’ve found John 11, let’s enter the story where at first glance it looks like Jesus is holding out on Mary and Martha – where they want something from Jesus, but Jesus isn’t going to give them what they want. And the reason he doesn’t is because he has something better in mind for them. And as we come to the text, I would say this way: Jesus has a greater purpose for our suffering Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So, the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:1-4
Here in these verses, John introduces three people: Mary, Martha and Lazarus. These three are close friends of Jesus. Mary is identified as the one who anointed Jesus with oil and wiped his feet. What’s interesting, is that this is what she was known for, but it hasn’t happened yet. This will take place in chapter 12. But John writes this knowing that the readers will know who he is talking about. Then there’s Martha, the sister of Mary. If you know her story, she’s the Martha Stewart of the disciples. She’s the expert host, a great cook. Her love language is always doing things to serve Jesus. Then there’s Lazarus. He’s the one who is sick. John gives us a great clue as to his relationship with Jesus, when in the sister’s note it says of him, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Here, the word for “love” is phileo – brotherly love. This could easily be translated, “Lord, your dear friend; your close friend is very sick.” And the implication behind this information is that the sisters want Jesus to come right away and heal him.
But what does Jesus do with this information? He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus is alluding to the purpose for Lazarus’ suffering. There’s something that’s going to happen with Lazarus that will glorify God. The disciples don’t know what this will be, neither do Mary and Martha. So, here’s where things get interesting. John continues: 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. He didn’t come right away. He waited. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” John 11:5-8
Now, I want you to notice how John describes Jesus’ relationship with these three. He writes: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. But here uses a different word for love. Jesus loved them with agape love. This is the unconditional love of God. The kind of love that seeks the best for another regardless of cost of consequences to oneself. This is the sacrificial love of God. So, it sounds like Jesus would do anything to answer Mary and Martha’s request. He would do whatever it takes to do what was best for them. So, what does he do? He delays. He doesn’t go to help them right away: He stays two more days.
Now, if that happened to you or me – if your close friend needed your help and you put off helping or her for a couple of days, what would she think? She’d think it: “You don’t really love me.” “You weren’t there for me when I needed you.” And sometimes this is exactly what we think about God when God seems absent. “He didn’t answer my prayer.” “He wasn’t there for me when my husband left.” “He abandoned me when I need Him most.” But what we see here, in delaying his arrival, Jesus was not being unloving. He still had their best interests at heart, even though He was delaying his departure. In other words, Jesus love for his friends wasn’t going to transpire the way they envisioned. And the same may be true for you: It may sound strange, but God’s delays don’t contradict God’s love for you. Let me say it another way. You may not get what you want right away, but God may have something altogether different in mind for you – something better for you. You won’t know it right away, but one thing you can know: whatever God has in mind for you will be best for you.
Let me illustrate: When God called me back from Canada to the US in 2004, I really believed it was because of something I wanted to do for Him. I believed He wanted me to plant a new Church. So, God called us back to Willamette Community Church in Albany, Or. On numerous occasions, I ran that idea by our leadership team, but they shot it down every time. So, I figured this just wasn’t going to happen. Then after three of the hardest years of ministry we left and eventually ended up in a Church Plant in Tacoma, Washington. Once again, I thought, God will allow me to plant a Church out of this new work. But that never materialized. Then after serving for six years, I got a phone call from my friend who had just become the District Superintendent. He said, “Hey Larry, you know your golf background?” I said, “Yes.” “Why don’t you add that info to your resume and send it off to me.” I said, “What gives? Why do you want my golf background in my resume?” He tells me, “There’s a church in Arizona who wants to plant a church in an active living community. And they need someone who’s 55 plus, who can plant a church, and plays golf!” I had plans for God, but God’s plans for me were so much better. But I had to wait. God had something better in mind for me. 10 years later He led us here to start this Church. You see, God’s delays don’t mean that God doesn’t love you. His timing is better than ours. His ways are better than our ways.
Now, Martha and Mary, they don’t see this yet. But Jesus had a greater purpose in mind for Lazarus’s suffering. So let me encourage you with this. God loves you. He wants what is best for you. And sometimes that means you have to wait on His timing. And sometimes that means waiting when life is hard, and it seems like God’s not there. Bruce Milne says it this way, In love Jesus withholds himself and allows the sisters to pass through their hour of abandonment before he comes to them to meet their need. The nature of the love of God for us is thereby revealed. It is not the love of an indulgent parent who gives in to every whim of the child. In the end that is not ‘love’ for the child but a form of self-love in the parent. Despite the massive propaganda to the contrary, our Lord’s purpose for us is not to make us happy, but to make us holy. He loves us too much to leave us part-saved, part-remade, part-sanctified. Bruce Milne
In other words, God sometimes allows you to endure difficulties, crisis, pain, grief, and adversity so that you have nothing left to do but to wait on God. Why does He do this? Why doesn’t He just rescue us when we call? It’s because He loves us, and He doesn’t want to leave us the way we are. Because He knows that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4 God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. And sometimes that means we have to endure in the midst of our suffering so He can grow our faith.
But that’s not the only way He loves us through our suffering. What we see next is this: Jesus has genuine sympathy for our suffering Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” vs 17-22
Couple of observations: First, Lazarus had been dead four days. Why is this a key? First, for what Jesus was about to do, there had to be no question as to Lazarus being dead. According to rabbinical teaching, the soul is said to hover over the body for three days after death. But it departs the fourth day when decomposition becomes evident. Second, by the fourth day, there would be mourners from the village as well as religious leaders who have come to mourn with the family. So, now there’s going to be a diversity of witnesses for what Jesus was coming to do.
Here’s the second observation: Martha was disappointed that Jesus had not come earlier. She said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” However, even though she was disappointed she still believed Jesus could do something. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Interesting thing about Martha here: Her disappointment didn’t discourage her faith. She believed that “even now,” Jesus could do something. She just had no idea what he might do… Aware of this, Jesus seeks to comfort her with truth: Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Again, Martha’s faith sustains her. She believes Lazarus will one day be resurrected. But at this point, resurrection was only a future, abstract hope, not an immediate reality.
But then Jesus says something to her… and to us, that changes everything: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:23-27 I will say more about this amazing claim in a few minutes. But first, I want us to learn something from Jesus’ response to Martha. Martha was grieving the loss of her brother. She believed Jesus could’ve done something to prevent his death. She’s disappointed but still believes He can do something. So, what does Jesus do? Does he put his arms around her to comfort her? No, he speaks truth to her. He tells her she will see her brother again. He reminds her of the resurrection. All is not lost. This is the Christian hope! Death is only temporary. Death’s power, though real is limited. “Your brother will rise again.”
Let me encourage you with Jesus’ example here. Don’t ever be afraid to give hope to someone who is grieving. People need to be reminded of our hope. All is not lost. Death is defeated. “You will see him again.” “You will see her again!” And it is Jesus who guarantees this reality: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus is the reason why every Christian memorial I’ve officiated is full of hope. It’s because of His words. It’s because of this truth: Jesus is the resurrection. Jesus is the life! And the good news is this: If you believe in Jesus, He is alive in you. Because He lives, you will live! You will never be separated from God. Our hope is grounded in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, let me ask you what Jesus asked Martha: Do you believe this?
You see, Jesus has genuine sympathy for our suffering. But he provides us with more than prayers and thoughts. He gives truth. He gives us the promise of eternal life. He gives us hope that we will one day see lost loved ones. The world does not have this hope. But we do, and this hope is found in a person. So don’t ever be afraid to share this hope with those who grieve. For the one thing every grieving person longs for is one more day to see the person she’s/he’s lost. And the truth that’s found in Jesus guarantees this. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! Because of Jesus, there is hope to see your loved ones again.
But Jesus, doesn’t just give us hope. Jesus is also a Savior who shares our feelings. After all, look at what happens next: When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. John 11:28-31
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him? They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” John 11:32-36 Now there is so much here. But I want you to note what Mary says to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She says the exact same thing Martha said. But here you don’t see her belief, just her grief. So how does Jesus respond to her? When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And then Jesus asks: “Where have you laid him? They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
Here we have one of the most poignant images of Jesus entering into the grief of Mary and the intense sadness of all the mourners. Here, the creator of tears is moved to tears. His heart is shredded by the same pain that’s crushing theirs. Even though he’s about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he feels the same loss they feel. Jesus shares our feelings. Jesus shares our sufferings. As Isaiah wrote: He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3 And so Jesus wept. And the good news of Jesus’ tears is this: You are never alone in your suffering. For God’s Word promises that The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 That’s what we see here. Jesus mourns with those who mourn. Jesus weeps with those who weep. We have a Savior who knows your grief and shares your suffering. But now we’re about to see that Jesus doesn’t just share in our grief, he’s come to us for a purpose. Jesus has come to show us how he will end all suffering.
Jesus has the power to end all suffering Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. 38-41a
In the midst of their mourning, Jesus makes this startling command, “Take away the stone.” No one was expecting this. You just didn’t do this. Martha knows this and objects, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” But then Jesus tells her why He delayed his coming to them: Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:41b-44 Jesus orders the stone to be removed. Jesus gives thanks to His Father. Then Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus hears the voice of the Son of God, and rises from the dead. He walks out of the tomb fully alive. No more death. No more decay. This is Jesus’ greatest miracle. Here at this empty tomb, God is glorified in one act of divine love and power. Here we see the glory of God in all His authority and power. With the authority of His voice, Jesus defeats death. He we see the glory of God’s power over death. For with this one act of love, Jesus restores Lazarus completely.
Here we see why Jesus didn’t come when Mary and Martha wanted Him to come. Here we see disappointment transformed to delight. Jesus didn’t do for them what they wanted. He did so much more. They needed hope, and Jesus gave them hope. They needed comfort and Jesus gave them comfort. They wanted healing, but Jesus gave them something better, when He called Lazarus forth from the grave, He put to end our greatest fear, the fear of death. In that moment, he gave us a hope that can never be taken away. In that moment, God in all His glory conquered death. And now the good news is this: Whoever believes in Jesus, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. You may not always get what you want from God, but God will always give you what you need. And sometimes He’ll give you even more than you ever imagined. And the question he asked Martha, is the same question he asks today: Do you believe this?” Let’s pray.