“Jesus wept.” John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible, but is long in terms of comfort and encouragement for us today. Jesus wept outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus had been healing people, feeding people and forgiving people. He now receives word that Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was sick. Jesus delays two days because He knew what He would do (that Lazarus’s sickness would not end in death, but He would give glory to God through this). As they were preparing to leave, Jesus lets his disciples know He needs to go see Lazarus, that Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” When Jesus arrives, Mary’s first response was essentially, “Why the delay? If you had arrived sooner, my brother would not have died.” Jesus calls Lazarus to come out. Lazarus is raised and God the Father is glorified.
Bottom Line: God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials.
Something To Talk About:
The Christian life is supposed to be a life lived by faith. It is by faith that we enter into the Christian life, and it is by faith that we live it out. Look ahead – what kind of life do you want? Who do you want to be, truly living as God intended us to live or dead in this life. “ Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” John 11:25.
- Thomas was dead in his doubts: “Doubting Thomas.” It is a common expression even today. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, is most often associated with one word: doubting. He is seen as a natural pessimist. When Jesus told the disciples that Lazarus had died, Thomas said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:14) We have no doubt that he loved Jesus, even enough to be willing to go to Jerusalem and die with him. When Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead the doubting continues. Peter tells Thomas that he saw Jesus and that He is as real as they are. Thomas replies, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) John 20:26-29 gives us the rest of the story. “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Do you doubt at times or maybe you are a perpetual second-guesser? We must recognize that faith is more than a feeling or being without doubt. It’s a commitment. We all have doubts from time to time, that’s a normal part of living the life of faith. What Jesus longs for in this post-resurrection encounter with Thomas and with all of us who are His followers today, is that we all might believe in Him by handing over our hearts and our hopes and trusting Him to do His perfect will.
- Martha was dead in her disillusionment: Martha was the sister of Lazarus: Jesus had a close relationship with this family. When Lazarus was sick it was natural for them to bring their need to Jesus. It was expected that if He miraculously met the needs of so many others, He would meet their need also. His decision to delay for two days was probably mystifying to the disciples and agonizing to Mary and Martha. Those two days prolonged the sorrow of Mary and Martha. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. “Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Martha becomes disillusioned. The cultural belief in the day was that when someone died, his spirit stayed around for three days, so since Lazarus had been dead four days he was really dead. Martha felt that because Jesus did not agree to their request, there wasn’t anything He could do for her brother. Jesus fulfilled their request after showing that He does things according to the purpose and will of God, not man. Through His actions, Jesus demonstrated that His delays were not denials. They would bring greater glory to God. Just because we become disillusioned does not mean He isn’t actively working in the background. God is working out his purpose, we simply need to trust and wait. Lamentations 3:25-26 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
- Mary was dead in her discouragement: Mary is the other sister. She was discouraged. Mary loved Jesus, but she was sick with discouragement. Her brother was dead. John 11:32 says, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can sense the struggle and the discouragement. That’s how many of us feel when our prayers go unanswered. We are discouraged. But how does Mary feel after Lazarus’ is raised from the dead, when she sees what Jesus was planning all along. The answer is in John chapter 12. Jesus is having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha serves the meal. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus. And what does Mary do? She takes an expensive vial of perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes his feet with her hair (John 12:3). She worships Jesus. Why? Because she now sees — what He did was better than what they had asked. Because she now sees — Jesus loved them. Maybe your unanswered prayer is giving you doubt, struggle, or unbelief. The answer you are looking for may not be the way God answers your prayer. It’s just like with Mary and Martha —Jesus loves you. Jesus is answering your prayer and Jesus is bringing you something even better than you are asking.
- Are you honest about your doubts? Have you found answers to your questions?
- Under what circumstances have you doubted the promises or power of God?
- Why are we sometimes disappointed with God? In what discouraging situation, in your life, do you need to trust God?
- Has God’s response ever seemed delayed? When has God’s response to your situation in life seemed delayed?
- Is discouragement taking over your life? Fill in the blank: “If God really loves me, why didn’t He ________________.”
- Why did Jesus delay going to Lazarus? When have you thought that you had a better plan for your life than the one God was working out?
- What beliefs do you need to change to overcome your doubts, disillusionment or discouragement?
Take One Thing Home with You
What is the greatest challenge to your faith? What is the one thing you face in life that presents an obstacle to your ability to completely trust God? If we were honest, we would answer that the hardest problem to handle in the Christian life is the fact that God often does not act as we expect Him to. He disappoints us. He takes too long. We don’t like to wait.
We all know the feelings that Mary and Martha must have felt. We have all prayed, asking God to act and intervene in a difficult situation. We wait for Him to act–and the heavens are silent. And our tendency is to interpret God’s delays as God’s denials. Clearly, Jesus loves Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but He just as clearly delays answering their prayer. What God wants to teach us through this story is that God’s delay in answering our prayers is not a sign of God’s indifference or His failure to hear. It is a sign of His love. Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” There are possibilities and opportunities in every situation that we cannot see but that God sees clearly. So we must wait and learn and trust, knowing that God loves us and is working out His plan, even while our own faith and patience are being stretched to the breaking point.
Many of us can relate to the gloomy outlook of Thomas. We can examine our circumstances, develop some doubts and temporarily fall into a spiritual slump. But there is one lesson you can take from this story and apply right now to your life–whatever your circumstances, whatever your unanswered prayer, whatever you are having to patiently endure right now. That lesson is this: God is going to amaze you! He is not going to let you down. On every page, scripture drives us back to the realization that we can trust Him, we can believe Him.