"Lord, the one you love is sick."
I've read the story of Lazarus and his death and resurrection too many times to count but never before was I so struck by that sentence. It is at the beginning of John 11. Martha and Mary (Lazarus' sisters) sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was deathly sick. What is so amazing to me is not that they wanted to tell Jesus about their plight but how they told him. They referred to their brothers as the one Jesus' loved. They knew God's love was so deep for their brother that they could refer to him in such an intimate way.
Jesus doesn't respond by saying, "Who?" He knows exactly who they are talking about. He knows Lazarus so personally that this kind of reference is natural. His response is that the illness won't result in death. Then he just sits where he is at.
If Lazarus is going to be healed Jesus should probably get going to do some miracle work, right? But he doesn't go running to Lazarus' side. He loves him deeply but he stays put.
From the outside looking in, this doesn't make sense. How could a loving God not rush to the side of the one he loves at his time of need? Shouldn't he be there holding his hand and sharing in the suffering of his beloved?
It took two full days before Jesus began his journey to the town Lazarus was in. When he reached it, he was greeted by Martha who wasted no time in telling Jesus that his presence could have prevented her brother's death. I'm sure she was itching to speak those words! Can you blame her? She knew how powerful God was and how Jesus could do miraculous wonders in his name. I'm sure she was hoping for such a miracle for her own brother. Yet, even if she was discouraged, she didn't lose her faith in the Almighty. She went on to tell Jesus that she knew he could still do something wonderful, even after her brother succumbed to death. Her faith wasn't contingent on Jesus showing up when she would have liked him to be there. Her faith wasn't dependent on her own time table. She trusted God, even when circumstances looked like they weren't in her favor.
The story goes on and we see the purpose behind Jesus' absence and Lazarus' death. In reality, Jesus wasn't "absent" at all. He was waiting for the right moment to present itself so God could be glorified in the most amazing of ways. What could be more powerful then seeing a man raised from the dead? Jesus used Lazarus' pain to bring forth the ultimate testimony: one of resurrection.
After reading this scripture this morning I was moved on two levels.
First, by Martha. Her unwavering faith is inspiring. She was faced with a dead brother and still remained steadfast in her faith. Nothing could come between her and Jesus - not even the death of a beloved sibling. She had called on Jesus and it seemed that he hadn't answered but she didn't get angry or bitter. Instead, she continued to believe in the providence and limitless power of her Savior.
The second thing that struck me was Lazarus, the one Jesus loved, and how he was treated. Jesus let him die. How could he do such a thing to someone he loved so passionately and so deeply? What kind of "love" is that? Couldn't he have saved Lazarus the pain and suffering that accompanies sickness? He could have, I'm sure, but he chose not to. He allowed him to die so that, when given new life, Lazarus would be a walking, talking, breathing testimony to the one and only, all powerful God. If Jesus had healed his sickness days earlier it would have been a miracle and, I'm sure, it would have moved many witnesses to put their faith in God. But there was an even bigger plan. How many do you suppose were brought to faith through the resurrection of a dead man who had been in a tomb for four days? I can't even imagine the hearts that were changed by just this one single life.
God was never ignoring Lazarus and he certainly wasn't unaware of the severity of his illness and consequential death. He knew the most precise details of Lazarus' situation, yet he let him die so that glory could be brought to the name of the Lord Almighty. He bestowed on Lazarus an amazing blessing - the blessing of being a resurrected testimony to the power of God. That is no small thing. How many can say that they were raised from the dead? But God loved Lazarus so much that he blessed him with such a testimony.
Lazarus was truly the one Jesus loved. He was loved so deeply and passionately that God gave him the greatest testimony you can ever imagine. He once was dead, but then he lived all because of the incredible power of his Heavenly Father.
For four days it appeared that God wasn't there. But he was working in the silence and the death of his beloved. If he worked in such mysterious ways in the Bible, who is to say he doesn't work in that same way today? Even when it appears that God has gone silent, he is not absent. He is working in the still and quiet. The silent moments may leave us wondering and questioning: what the purpose is? Why isn't God acting when he could and when we'd like him to? Remember Martha. She knew Jesus could heal her brother and called on him in her time of need and he didn't come running. Still she kept her faith, knowing that God works in ways she doesn't always see or recognize. Her faith remained steady. When it seems like God is silent in our own lives, we too, must remain steadfast in our faith, knowing that God is still working even while he is quiet. He is working a plan bigger then we can imagine and more marvelous then our dreams can comprehend. While we remain faithful in the small and silent moments, he will remain busy working a miraculous testimony for his beloved.