Jesus is Life
Lazarus is sick—very sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send a runner to find Jesus and bring him back to Bethany. When the messenger reaches Jesus, we expect that Jesus will drop what he’s doing and rush to Bethany because this family he is close friends with the family. That’s what we expect, that’s what the messenger expects. That’s what Mary and Martha expect. That’s what the disciples expect.
But Jesus gives this kind of cryptic reply to the messenger and stays where he is. He says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory.” That’s not even a category that we have for sickness, is it? Yet Jesus lingers in the countryside for two more days.
Finally, after the long delay he decides to head back to Bethany. The disciples don’t think this is a great idea because of the danger in nearby Jerusalem. But Jesus tells them that Lazarus is dead and that he is going there to wake him. The disciples think they’re going back there to die. Thomas even says, “Let’s go, so that we can die with him.”
Mary and Martha are hurt by Jesus’ delay. They mishandle their pain and loss in ways that are very familiar to us.
COMMON WAYS WE MISHANDLE OUR PAIN AND LOSS
For example, one of the most common ways we mishandle pain is that we shut down our hearts in an attempt to control it. When I give my heart to someone and then lose them, that loss is painful. Mary gave her heart to her brother Lazarus and now he’s dead. But we also know that Mary had given her heart to Jesus and he was a “no show” when she really needed him. There is always a price and a risk involved when we give our heart to someone. Her anger and her pain caused her to shut down all of her affection for Jesus.
Loss is painful because so often we have zero control over our losses. Mary couldn’t control Lazarus’ sickness. It ravaged her brother and killed him. Mary couldn’t control her only hope, Jesus. She couldn’t force or coax him to come with healing power to save her brother’s life. Mary looked at the past, felt the weight of the wound, and shut down. I’ve done that. Maybe you have done that: slowly choked the life out of your heart, wrapped it in grave clothes, and buried it in a tomb. Perhaps you’ve done all of that subconsciously, but your heart is dead all the same.
We Question the Goodness of God
"’Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:21).
These two sisters had tried to nurse their brother. There were no hospitals, no ICUs, there was just family. They had watched him quickly deteriorate from a healthy, robust young man into a frail, weak shell desperately trying to breathe. They had put feverish effort into keeping him alive long enough for Jesus to arrive. They had looked out the window every hour expecting to see him rushing to their aid. They trusted him, loved him, and had given their hearts to him but -- he was a no show. Martha looked at her pain and loss and asked, “Where were you?”
Some of us can’t square the goodness of God with our loss: “Where were you God, when I really needed you? Why did you let my dad die? Where were you God, when that couple buried their little girl?
Those of you who have endured abuse in its many forms, you often have a hard time squaring the idea that God is good when you look at your past pain. The dominating question is, “Where were you God?”
So we shut down our hearts, wrap them tightly in grave clothes and bury them in a tomb -- or we question the goodness of God. “God, if you’re so good, why didn’t you come through for me?”
We Turn To Empty Religious Platitudes Because We Think That’s What God Wants To Hear
“But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask" (John 11:22).
That’s what you see on bumper stickers sometimes: religious platitudes that we think sound good. So we fill our hearts and heads with them, thinking that’s what we must do to be a good Christian. Or maybe we think that’s what other people need to hear.
It’s not so much God who wants us spouting these platitudes but rather other people. And so, we dutifully offer them up on cue when tragedy strikes, hard times come, or bad news hits.
But Jesus says something wild. “Your brother will rise again.”
WE LOOK DEEP INTO OUR FUTURE FOR SOME SENSE OF HOPE BECAUSE WE DON’T SEE ANY HOPE IN OUR PRESENT REALITY
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’” (John 11:23-24).
Jesus wants to unwrap our past and pull all that hope we have about the distant future into our present reality. Notice what Jesus doesn’t do here. He doesn’t take Martha aside and say something like, “Martha, one day God will make sense of this for you.” No, he says, “I am the solution to your problem right now. I am enough right now. I’m here, available to you right now.” Part of the pain of loss is the finality of it, so we try to find hope in a distant future because something in us says that it shouldn’t be final, something in us wants to believe that life is everlasting.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’” (John 11:25).
Notice he doesn’t say, “I will be the resurrection and the life.” He says, “I am, present tense, the resurrection and the life.”
“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’” (John 11:38-40).
Martha still isn’t sure what’s going to happen. She’s given up her present hope. Lazarus is dead, and it’s been four days -- which means he’s dead-dead. These two sisters had watched their brother die. They had looked out the window with anguish waiting for Jesus. The runner came back, but Jesus didn’t come with him. They are devastated at the loss of their brother and they are devastated at the loss of their confidence, faith, and friendship with Jesus.
“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’” (John 11:41-44).
All the sorrow, accusation, confusion, anger, mourning -- it all disappears when Lazarus comes hopping out of that tomb. Jesus brought all that hope we have in the distant future into the present reality. Jesus claims to be enough for us right now. He claims to be the source of life for us right now. The only sure fire way to handle our pain and loss is to turn to Jesus and let him heal our wounded hearts with his loving presence. Invite him into that hurt. He awaits you there.