“ ‘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.’” John 11:39 (NIV)
Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, was sick. Really sick. In fact, they were sure he was close to death. So they called for the one man they knew could heal Lazarus. That was their friend Jesus.
Messengers found Jesus about a day’s journey from the sisters’ home in Bethany. But when Jesus got the message about Lazarus, He didn’t pack up and leave immediately. In fact, Jesus stayed put … for two more days.
It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care. He did. Jesus didn’t lose track of the time either. No, the Bible tells us that Jesus intentionally delayed going to help saying “… it is for God’s glory, so that God’s son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 NIV). Jesus had a plan, but Mary and Martha didn’t know that. All they knew was their brother had died and Jesus didn’t come in time.
The sisters were clearly disappointed in Jesus’ lack of response. In fact, they both told Him so. Martha chided Jesus first, then Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and echoed her sister’s words, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
Jesus knew their pain. He felt it too. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus wept with them. Together the group of mourners made their way to the tomb, and when they arrived, Jesus made an unusual request – that the stone in front of the opening be removed.
The sisters were shocked. Why would Jesus make this request? Didn’t He realize how bad the body would smell? Martha even told Jesus so, perhaps to “remind” Him that her brother had been dead for four long days. Mary and Martha were devastated. Not only had their brother died, but they knew Jesus could have changed the outcome of their brother’s illness. In their minds, Jesus abandoned them in their time of greatest need. The sisters were grieving the loss of their brother, but I wonder if they were grieving because Jesus hadn’t done what they asked. In fact, they were so sad and discouraged, when Jesus made a move to help, they wanted to leave the stone in front of the tomb.
It’s disheartening when you know God could immediately change the outcome of your circumstances, but He seems absent. So there you sit, in the pain, grief and fear while God delays.
Martha even seems to have given up and accepted her grief and disappointment. She was ready to live with the “fact” that Jesus didn’t care enough to heal Lazarus.However that “fact” couldn’t have been further from the truth. As the sisters gave in and moved the stone, Jesus showed them just how much He loved them. In a loud voice Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!”
Jaws dropped, hearts pounded, wails turned to screams of joy as a formerly dead man walked out of the tomb … very much alive. Jesus had never ignored their cry for help. He didn’t disregard their pain. He hadn’t abandoned them. He had a plan that included a delay.
Sometimes God’s plans for us might include a delay. As we wait, may we learn from this story to not give up, to not accept grief as our lot in life and to expect God to turn our mourning into joy. Remember, He’s coming right on time.
I seem to struggling with several circumstances in my life at this time. I try not to focus on the negatives, but this day I question WHY?