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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus … 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. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me … 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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him … (John 11:1-5; 38-45)
Jesus, in this passage I see your love. Your compassion for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is not in doubt. Your best friends know you well, for Mary comes proclaiming, “Lazarus, he whom you love is ill.” They know you are crazy about them, and yet, despite their confident assurance of your affection, they still greatly underestimate your the depth of your love. But soon they will know. Soon they will witness and experience your radical love that takes you to the cross. But even then, they will still underestimate the radical compassion you have for your own.
Jesus, in this passage I see your power. As the story progresses and comes to a conclusion, your omnipotence as the God-Man is fully displayed. Here, again, you prove to be the Sovereign Lord over health, wealth, prosperity, sickness, poverty, devastation, life, and death. Jesus, you are God! You work what you want, when you want, how you want, and as you want. None can frustrate your designs. None can stay your hand. Death is one of your defeated enemies. You truly are God Almighty.
Jesus, in this passage I see your hard providence. In this episode, you allow Lazarus to physically suffer. You also cause Mary and Martha to intense emotional pain. There is no doubt; though you are all-powerful, and though you are crazy about Lazarus, you still allow the curses and consequences of sin to make their mark. Yes, under your sovereign lordship, you cause and/or allow your best friends to hurt. Health, wealth, and prosperity are not all that you ordain for your family. Though your friends are eternally loved, they are not safeguarded from pain and suffering. Yes, under your jurisdiction and watchful eye, your brother’s body falls apart while your sisters’ hearts break.
Jesus, in this passage, I see how you hurt in order to help. Through all the pain you providentially cause and/or allow, you always honor yourself and improve your worshipers. Here, when all is said and done:
- Lazarus better understands your power and is given a unique ministry platform for the rest of his days.
- Mary and Martha are encouraged to pray. First they offer forth prayers of supplication but soon these are bypassed as they offer forth prayers of adoration and thanksgiving.
- Eyewitnesses in your church, they are further impressed by your compassion and power; they are learning to trust you more.
- In addition, more disciples are made, as converts see, believe, and confess.
- Your enemies are being further humiliated.
Yes Lord, in the end, men and women are glorifying and enjoying you more fully, and your name is being lifted high. Yes, you hurt, but it is clear that you hurt in order to help.
Lord, I hurt and I have questions. You know what I am thinking, so I might as well respectfully express my thoughts.
Lord, why did you, the all-knowing One, create Lucifer and the angels whom you knew with certainty would abandon your lordship?
Lord, why did you not immediately banish Lucifer and his demonic followers to the Lake of Fire? We are very aware you will do so one day. Why did you not do so yesterday?
Lord, why did you not better safeguard Adam and Eve? Why did you not set up your angelic guard with flaming sword before the fall? Why did you not exercise your might and keep the Tempter out of your perfect garden?
Lord, why did you not fall afresh on your perfectly created and holy friends during the time of their decision? Why did you not enable them to utilize their free-will properly? In glory, when men are perfectly sanctified, this is what you will do? Good Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, why did you not internally encourage our first parents to say “Yes” to righteousness and “No” to iniquity?
Lord, we know from Scripture that you are the One who foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. Therefore, we must conclude that you decreed a world filed with thorns and thistles, curses and consequences, sickness, and suffering? Why Lord?
Finally Lord, why do you do what you do? Why do you — the sovereign, all-powerful, all-watching, all-good God — allow your best friends to suffer so?
- Racism or classism
- Death of loved ones
- Unfaithfulness spouses
- Besetting sins
- Marital or parental abuse
- Financial disasters
- Mental illnesses
- Church dysfunction
- National reprobation
- Physical disability
- Ministerial barrenness
- Prodigal children and grandchildren
Today Lord, in my world and in my life, this I have learned afresh — you hurt to help! Therefore, I will not waste my suffering and pain. I will pray; more consistently I will offer forth my supplications to you. And I will evangelize. People will see me walk with my Shepherd through the valley of the shadow of death, and they will see one who still honors you. Yes, though you slay me, I will trust in you. And when given the opportunity, I will add words to my works; people will not have to guess regarding my inner sustenance and support. I will tell them of my Savior who died, lives, intercedes, and fills me. And then, when you choose to come through in your own timing and answer my prayer, I will praise your name and use my new ministry platform to honor you.
Through it all, I will be helped. I will be further sanctified.
Through it all, my church friends will be helped. They will worship more fully.
Through it all, my unchurched friends will be helped. Men and women will be drawn to you.
Through it all, Satan and all your enemies will be humiliated. They will lose one more time.
Through it all, you will be honored and glorified.
I have been reminded that you hurt, but you hurt to help. However, for me to walk rightly and honorably, you will have to help me now. For I confess, I have not the power nor the strength to trust in you as I ought. Therefore, you who loves me with radical affection, you must increase my faith and my faithfulness.
A Quote from a Church Father
Could we now see, as we shall hereafter, the principle, the design, the alleviations, the advantages of the afflictions of the righteous, we should perceive that they are not only compatible with divine love, but the fruit, the proof of it.”
(Morning Exercises, William Jay, August 21)