He didn't ask for this
He didn’t ask for this.
This wasn’t his plan, I’m sure. No one consulted him about the details or the reasons.
We all know the story: in the weeks before Jesus would enter Jerusalem to resounding “Hosannas!”, Jesus spent time in Bethany with those He loved – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11). Except, when Jesus eventually arrived, Lazarus was dead and buried. Jesus called Lazarus by name, and Lazarus walked out of the grave.
But this year, my reflections on Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem has “hit” differently.
I’m not as mesmerized by the death to life miracle. No, this year, I’m struck by the fact that:
Lazarus didn’t ask for this.
He didn’t ask to get sick. No one consulted him or gave him a warning. No one told him that his friend, Jesus – who supposedly “loved” him - would not rush to his side after receiving news of his failing health (vs. 5&6). No one consulted him on how long he’d have to wait upon his sickbed, nor after being laid inside a cave. He did not volunteer to “sleep” (vs. 11); to be rubbed down with spices and wrapped in linen (vs. 44), while mourners from far and near wailed and wept with his sisters (vs. 19).
No one asked Mary or Martha if they wanted to watch sickness invade and eventually consume their brother’s body. They were not informed of Jesus’ intentional decision not to come immediately to Lazarus’ bedside. In fact, the most we can possibly assume is that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were told the opposite!
The text does not explicitly say that the messenger sent by Mary and Martha to tell Jesus about Lazarus even returned to Bethany. However, if we assume that he did relay a message back to Mary and Martha, the message from Jesus was simply: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (vs. 4). Yet, by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus’ sickness had ended in death. The exact opposite of what Jesus had said would happen, actually happened.
I’m struck by the reality of what Mary and Martha must have felt at this point in the story. And I wonder about the thoughts that must have swirled in Lazarus’ mind as he lay trapped in his ailing body. Reconciling what we are told would happen and what actually happens – especially when it appears to be the exact opposite of what we were told would happen – can shake us to our core.
Where are you? What do I do now?
Have you forgotten? How does this glorify you?
Why would you allow this? I thought this would be different.
Did I misunderstand? This seems cruel…is that who You really are?
These are the questions I have asked myself in my own pain. I have questioned God’s plans and His ways of accomplishing His will. I have asked that He come to rescue me from pain, and instead He has tarried. I have whole-heartedly believed that God would come as He said He would, only to be crushed by the weight of my doubts when He did not do what I originally thought He would.
I have had questions. Many questions.
None of us have asked for the pain of Life. Yet, here we are. Not one of us is immune to the sting of being human. Not even Jesus.
“Jesus wept.” (Jn. 11:45)
Jesus has “surely borne our sorrows for He is acquainted with grief” (Is.53).
He wept over it all: the religiosity of the professional mourners who wailed as if they had no hope at all; the grief felt by Mary and Martha who wondered why Jesus had delayed; the disciples who had yet to learn who He really was…and yes, I believe Jesus wept for Lazarus.
Because Lazarus didn’t ask for this.
It was never supposed to be this way. This was never God’s purpose for His creation. Our suffering was never the original plan for His glory. Originally, God was glorified by our communion with Him; our trusting obedience within His loving provision for us. Our togetherness, being found with Him, was the purpose of Creation. And in this moment, over 2,000 years after He first breathed the breath of life into humanity, God Incarnate – full of immeasurable power and unending compassion – stood before the symbol of all that was wrong about the world. Here, Jesus groaned (vs. 38) as the earth groans, with unending yearning for redemption.
Jesus wept…even though He knew He would see Lazarus again. Even though He knew that God would receive glory from this miracle. Still, He was moved to tears as He witnessed the reality of their pain. He knew they didn’t ask for this. This is why He came. This is the epitome of what He explained to His disciples later on: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He did not say He would keep trouble away from our lives. Instead, He promises that whatever troubles we face would not have the final say about whether we matter.
Friend, do you believe that Jesus would weep for you? When you find yourself in impossible situations, and burdened by this life, do you believe that Jesus stands before you with compassion and love? Do you know that He truly cares about your pain?
I believe Lazarus was dead – like, really dead. The one who is dead, cannot hope. They are simply dead. So, I understand that when you are caved in by troubles, believing and trusting and hoping are far away. It was true for Lazarus, and it is true for us: we need others around us to believe in God’s plans for us – especially in our troubles, when we feel caved in, hidden, and dead.
Lazarus had these types of people.
Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) believed that Jesus would ultimately bring dead things to life again – even if it wasn’t until Eternity.
They didn’t have the details about how Jesus would work a miracle in that literal moment. But, what they did know about God, they believed.
Who are your people who believe that God can take the dead things and bring them to life – whether that’s literally in our lifetimes, or in a future far beyond what we can think or imagine? In your darkest caverns of this life, who stands in faith for you, reminds you that God is weeping over your pain, while He also has plans to bring beauty from these ashes? If you don’t have any of these friends in your life, then hear me say to you:
God sees you, Dear One. You are precious to Him, and that is not contingent on your circumstances. You are a dearly loved friend of Savior who has borne our sorrows. None of this trouble before you will have dominion over you, for you are His. God understands you. He understands what you feel, the things you fear, and the despair that seems to surround you. He remembers you – again and again – continually. He cares for you – enough to die for you. We will see the glory of God through this – and I will keep believing that until we see His glory revealed as the things that were once dark and dead here, begin to walk in the light again.