All of us know that critical times of life call for immediate action. You don’t have to have been in a situation with a loved one to know this truth. You can drive down the Broadway Extension minding your own business, on your way to dinner with friends, when all of a sudden you see bright flashing lights and hear a siren blaring. You look in your rearview mirror and let out a sigh of relief—it’s not a police car. Admit it, that’s always our first thought. It’s not a police car, it’s an ambulance. Immediately you pull over to the side of the road. Someone is in dire need of help, help is on the way, and we need to get out of the way!
I’m sure there are many of you who have received “the call” at some point in your life. You know the call I’m talking about. The call that let you know that someone you dearly love was deathly ill, had been injured in an accident, or had died. There is within us an almost sixth sense that compels us to go. I see it all the time. Sunday afternoon one of our coaches in the BCC Tennis Academy was on the court coaching and encouraging our kids. Monday morning I got a text from Tre letting me know that one of his Study Buddy tutor’s dad had died. The tutor is a sister to our coach. I called our coach immediately and as we talked he was already in Reno, Nevada picking up donuts to take to the nurses who had cared for his dad while he was in ICU.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was watching a high school volleyball match with the mother of one of our high school girls. The match had started when dad walked in. He told us about his nephew who had been shot. He kissed his wife, spoke to his son, watched his daughter for a moment, and headed out to be with his family and friends who were gathering at a critical time in a young man’s life. Critical times call for immediate action.
Just a couple of months ago Connie and I were at the wedding of Parker Durrett and Jessica Cavazos. They are an awesome young couple in our church and I had the blessing of leading them as they exchanged their vows. As soon as the wedding was over and everyone was getting ready to take pictures I took out my phone and I saw I had text message. Debbie Magness had been killed in a car accident on I-44. I immediately called Debbie’s husband, Ross, and as soon as we finished our conversation I found Connie and we headed out the door to be with Ross and his family. I hated to leave the celebration with Parker, Jessica, and their families, but critical times call for immediate action.
None of the stories I’ve just shared with you surprise you. Critical times call for immediate action. You’ve most likely done the same thing at times in your life. You got the call and began to plan how you were going to get where you needed to be so that you could be with the person in need. Critical times call for immediate action. That’s what catches us off guard when we read the story about Jesus and Lazarus. Lazarus was sick and growing sicker by the hour. When Jesus got word of Lazarus’ illness, He stayed put for two more days. Let’s read the Scripture and then we’ll come back and talk about it.
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:1-15 NIV)
There are some things that I want to point out for us so we can hopefully gain some insight into what we would characterize as Jesus’ strange response to Lazarus’ crisis. First of all, the resurrection of Lazarus took place in the village in which they lived, Bethany. There are two towns called Bethany in the Bible. One was located just two miles from Jerusalem while the other Bethany, which is also called, “Bethabara,” was located on the east side, the “other side” of the Jordan. This is where John the Baptist was baptizing those who came out to listen to him and where he baptized Jesus. We can read about it in John 1:26-28.
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:26-28 NIV)
The other Bethany, the one where Lazarus, Mary, and Martha lived was a little insignificant village just outside of Jerusalem. Yet, it is the place where Jesus performed the greatest sign, the greatest miracle, of all.
Secondly, Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha. Most Bible teachers believe that Mary was the younger of the two sisters, but that her name is mentioned first because she was the more famous of the two sisters. You might wonder what I mean when I say that Mary was more “famous.” Look at verse 2 with me and you’ll see what I mean. John tells us,
2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) (John 11:2 NIV)
What’s interesting about John’s comment is that he doesn’t tell the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet until the next chapter of his Gospel, in John 12. For John, the event was yet to come as he wrote his Gospel. That’s really strange until you realize that when John wrote his Gospel, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already been written. Each of them tells the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. The story had been told over and over again, just as Jesus said it would in Mark 14:9 when, after she had wiped the perfume from Jesus’ feet, Jesus said,
9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:9 NIV)
Last of all, Jesus had a special affection for the family of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and they loved Jesus as well. John tells us as much in the opening of the story. The sisters knew that Jesus loved their brother. They sent a message to Him with a friend. When the friend arrived he told Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” The message the sisters sent to Jesus lets us know that they believed Jesus loved Lazarus like a brother. The word translated, “love,” is the word, “?????” (phileo) in the Greek New Testament. It’s the word from which we get our word for the “city of brotherly love,” Philadelphia. They knew Jesus loved their brother.
Then, in John 11:5, we read, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5 NIV) Jesus loved these sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother. It is for this reason that we are rocked back on our heels when we read in the very next verse, “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days… (John 11:6 NIV) “Two more days?” Didn’t Jesus understand that critical times call for an immediate response? What was He thinking? What was He doing? Didn’t He care?
It’s not like Jesus had to call His team together and formulate a strategy. Jesus didn’t need to try and determine what kind of illness had come upon His friend Lazarus. The kind of illness was irrelevant to the One who is the Master Physician. I was reading Matthew 8 this past week as I was studying this story about Jesus and Lazarus. Matthew 8 is full of Jesus “fixing” the problems of His friends. In Matthew 8, Jesus…
- Healed a man with leprosy.
- Healed a Roman centurion’s servant who was laying on his sick bed by simply giving the word. He never saw the man, never diagnosed his illness, and never laid hands on the man.
- Jesus then entered the home of Simon Peter, saw that his mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and simply touched her hand. She got up and began to wait on Jesus.
- Jesus and the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep in the boat when a storm came up and terrified the disciples. They thought they were going to drown. They woke Jesus up; He rebuked the wind and the waves. I bet He said something like, “Stop that!” and immediately the Sea was calm.
- Once they got to the shore, Jesus encountered two demon possessed men. Matthew tells us they were the baddest of the bad. They were violent men. The demons begged Jesus. He drove them out of the men, into a herd of pigs, with nothing more than a word.
All of these miraculous happenings took place in one chapter, in Matthew 8. There’s never a mention that Jesus was tired, no mention that He ever encountered a problem that He could not solve. Neither is there a hint that He shared the kind of relationship with any of those He helped like the relationship He shared with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Yet, we read, “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days… (John 11:6 NIV)
There’s something else in the response of Jesus, found in our Scripture for this morning, that strikes us as strange given the circumstance of His friend Lazarus. Take a look at John 11:11-15 with me.
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:11-15 NIV)
“Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Lazarus is dead and Jesus is glad? Now, this is part of the story right? If you go back and read the Scripture you will find out that we are told that Lazarus is indeed dead. You will also learn that Jesus is glad that He was not there when Lazarus died. Those things are true, but they are not the whole truth, there is more to the story. I point this out for us because we are so accustomed to interpreting our experiences in life through the lens of our own understanding. We experience some things in life and conclude that they were “good.” We have other experiences in life that we determine to be “bad.” If we stop with our assessment of the situations we encounter in life then we will oftentimes find ourselves disappointed with God, even angry with God. Mary and Martha were certainly disappointed that Jesus wasn’t there in their brother’s time of need. Both of them said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
The facts of the story, Lazarus having died and Jesus glad that He was not there, are only part of the story. If a “period” would have been placed after, “I am glad I was not there,” then we would have a story that would conflict with everything else we read about Jesus in the Gospels. There’s a “comma” and not a “period,” and that changes everything. Let me read it to you again: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Somehow, some way, this experience would serve to ignite a belief in the disciples, Mary and Martha, and others that they had never experienced before. This trial, though gut-wrenching and painful, would serve the purposes of God in the lives of all of those involved. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
Christ is not glad because of sorrow, but only on account of the result of it. He knew that this temporary trial would help His disciples to a greater faith, and He so prizes their growth in faith that He is even glad of the sorrow which occasions it. He does as good as say, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there to prevent the trouble, for now that it is come, it will teach you to believe in me, and this shall be much better for you than to have been spared the affliction.” (Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. A Mystery! Saints Sorrowing and Jesus Glad! August 7, 1864.)
We are creatures who yearn for, and desire more than anything, a life that is free from pain for ourselves and those we love. God, on the other hand, loves us so much that He chooses to use our pain and discomfort as one of His primary tools to bring us to the end of ourselves in order to show us our need for Him and to strengthen our belief that we can trust in Him. He uses our pain and discomfort to teach us the most important lessons in life. The Psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71 NIV) This is not only a truth that was true for the Psalmist, but it is a universal truth whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We find this theme throughout Scripture. Let me give you an example.
When we read about the 40 year journey of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt to the Promised Land we know their journey was slowed because of sin, an entire generation would die in the Wilderness. While God was dealing with the disobedience of a certain generation He was also teaching the next generation all along the way. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land that lasted 40 years was in actuality only an 11 day walk by foot, but God was at work throughout the 40 years. What was He doing? Great question! Turn to Deuteronomy 8:2-3 with me and let’s read together.
2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NIV)
Through all of their struggles—the hunger, the thirst, and dealing with the harsh conditions they encountered—God was at work. He was teaching them that they needed more than three squares a day to sustain them! They, and we, need every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. I’m sharing this with us because we all need to know that assessing the experiences of life through the lens of our understanding will fail us time and time again. We are in desperate need of God’s assessment and not our own. Those of you who are going through a painful trial right now are thinking, “I would love to know what God has to say about what I’m going through. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed about my situation, but nothing has changed. I don’t have a clue about my situation.” That is true for all of us at many times in our life. What do we do during those times that we have no understanding? That’s such an important question isn’t it? I’ve got an answer for you.
Remember, a few minutes ago when we were talking about the love of Jesus for Lazarus? He loved him like a brother. Mary and Martha knew it. That’s why they sent word to Jesus. John knew it. That’s why he wrote that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. That bit of information is vitally important my friends. Lazarus’ future was in question, but what could not be questioned was Jesus love for His friend. When we go through the trials of life, the troubles that drive us to our knees, we must interpret them, seek to understand them, through the lens of Jesus’ love for us. At the same time, we must refuse to interpret Jesus’ love through the lens of our circumstances. Let me say that again: We must interpret our trials through the lens of Jesus’ love and refuse to interpret Jesus’ love through the lens of our trials. The lens you look through will make all of the difference in the world. If you start with your painful circumstance you will question Jesus’ love. If you begin with Jesus’ love it won’t necessarily alleviate your trial, but it will strengthen you in your trial. The certainty of Jesus’ love for me enables me to say, “I know that the Lord is Sovereign over every situation of my life, Jesus has proven His love for me by dying in my place on the cross, so regardless of whether my circumstance changes or not—I will hold onto You Lord, I will cry out to You Lord, I will have faith that You will see me through, and I will believe that You are doing something in me through this trial that I can’t understand right now.”
Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ critical need is insensitive and strange when it is assessed by human logic and human emotion, but by the end of the story we can understand that Jesus had far greater aspirations than to bring an end to Lazarus’ illness. Jesus did something in the lives of those who witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead that none of them could ever dream possible. They learned that Jesus is the resurrection and the life! And He still is!
One more thing before we leave. There’s something important about Lazarus that you need to know. “Lazarus” is a shortened version of the Hebrew name, “Eleazar,” which means, “God has helped.” Did He? I’d say He did. The truth is that God had helped Lazarus time and time again throughout his life, long before Jesus showed up, ordered the stone to be removed, and cried out, “Lazarus come out!” Isn’t that true for you and me as well? Hasn’t He been faithful? Look back over your life and you’ll see His fingerprints of faithfulness on every page. The dark times of life tempt us to doubt His love, to question His concern, but He’s there as He’s always been there, and He’ll never leave you or forsake you. If you will take the time to look back and be reminded of His love for you it will strengthen you in the midst of the storms of life.
Our choir has sung a song called, “Total Praise,” in the past. Richard Smallwood wrote the song in 1996. Richard wrote the song during one of the most difficult times of his life. His mother was beginning to show signs of dementia and a family friend was diagnosed with cancer. Richard said, “I felt left by God. I was trying to write a pity-party song, but God pulled me to do a praise song. God said, ‘I want your praise no matter what the situation you are in, good or bad.’ It’s about trusting him.” The song goes like this:
Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills
Knowing my help is coming from You
Your peace you give me in time of the storm
You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to you
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
He is the source of our strength. He is the strength of our life…if you will trust Him. He is our strength when we are weary and unable for those who trust in Him. Won’t you trust Him this morning? Won’t you surrender your heart and your life to Him this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 4, 2015