It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, mostly because life has been so busy and, even though God is very much alive and active and always communicating with me, I haven’t been much about the journaling lately. Thank the Lord for emails and Facebook messages…eventually I’ll print those out and paste them in my hard journal; my conversations with friends are as close to documenting what the Spirit has spoken to my soul over the last month or so.
But today the message was so strong and loud and persistent that 1) I snuck a Facebook post in the middle of the sermon (#seethebigpicture), and 2) I knew I had to blog it before the muse drifted away. So here we are. Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent and we are traveling with the Savior ever closer to Jerusalem, where His destiny – our Atonement – waits. In fact, where we find ourselves today is so close to Jerusalem that His closest pals, the 12 disciples, wonder what He’s thinking. As we look at John 11, we find ourselves in Bethany, a little suburb outside of the metropolis that was Jerusalem, along with a trio whom some consider to be Christ’s closest friends outside of The Twelve.
But not at first. No, at the end of John 10, Jesus and The Twelve have gone beyond the Jordan, after the religious leaders thought they would kill him in the Temple for yet another mouthful of blasphemy (what was Jesus thinking? SMH…). We’re not sure just how long He was “beyond the Jordan”, but after whatever length of time He was there, He received communication that may have, for all intents and purposes, changed everything:
“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11:1-3).
I don’t know about any of you, but if I receive an intentional message about someone’s illness, it’s usually pretty serious. I’ve only received a few phone calls about urgent health conditions, and those calls usually indicate imminent death and “let’s gather round” is either implied or stated directly. As Facebook was not even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s ancestors’ eyes, we can be pretty sure that someone went out of their way to deliver this message to Jesus, with the understanding that He was being asked to come.
So the next little bit really disturbs me:
“When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again” (John 11:6-7).
Not one verse earlier, the text clearly, directly, no-questions-asked states that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They weren’t mere acquaintances; they were friends – and not the Facebook type. These were people who opened their home to Him, had dinner ready when He came knocking, and, based on other passages, understood who He was and His mission, and fully supported Him. But He didn’t go. He waited two days and then, walking, as they did 2000 years ago, made His way to Bethany. But it was okay, because as He Himself said in verse 4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
But it wasn’t okay. Because when He got there, Lazarus was gone. Dead. Putrefying in the family tomb. Just look at the sisters’ reactions when He does arrive:
“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.“
For some reason, even knowing how this ends, this is one of the most heartbreaking passages of Scripture I can ever read, because it echoes the cry of my own heart when I don’t understand why God doesn’t jump when I call. Why He doesn’t resolve situations when and how I think He should, why He lets me sit behind a piano at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church every Sunday, weeping the same prayer over and over and over again. The tears of those two sisters are my tears: “Lord, if You had only…Lord, if You would only…” And as He wept with those two women – not because He didn’t know the outcome, but because He fully felt and experienced their pain with them – I have to believe He weeps with me; not because He doesn’t know the outcome, but because He fully feels and experiences my pain with me.
But that’s not the point. He gave us the point in verse 4 – this whole scenario was to what? To bring glory to God, and to glorify the Son of Man. And so, without much further ado, He raises Lazarus to life. 4 days after the fact. That’s pretty amazing. The crowd goes wild, and gives praise to God. But that’s not the glorification to which verse 4 alludes; it’s what we find just immediately after this:
“But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (John 11:46-53, emphasis added).
Jesus waited – not to test people’s faith, not to create a spectacle, not to prove anything at all – but to set in motion the events that would make the Atonement possible. It was this event that unified the Pharisees in their plan to kill Him. Verse 4 wasn’t talking about the glory that people gave God at Lazarus’ resurrection, it was talking about the glory the God receives as He, even to this day, gathers together His scattered children, which was only made possible through the tragic beauty of Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, death on Calvary, and triumph over the grave on Easter morning. Yet in the middle of their pain, in the depths of their self-centered (and naturally so) tears, no one could see the bigger picture.
It’s the same in our lives. God often waits so that His glory may be revealed and that many people may believe. I have to remember that. My struggles – those things for which I plea to be resolved – are not necessarily all about me. If God is making me wait (and I don’t like to wait), it surely must be so that His glory may be revealed and so that many, many people may believe. God can see the big picture; with faith, so can I.
UNANSWERED YET? – THE PRAYER
Lyrics: Charles D. Tillman, 1894
Performed by Michael McLean
The prayer your lips have pleaded
In agony of heart these many years?
Does faith begin to fail, is hope departing,
And think you all in vain those falling tears?
Say not the Father hath not heard your prayer:
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere,
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere.
Though when you first presented
This one petition at the Father’s throne,
It seemed you could not wait the time of asking,
So urgent was your heart to make it known.
Though years have passed since then, do not despair;
The Lord will answer you, sometime, somewhere,
The Lord will answer you, sometime, somewhere.
No, do not say ungranted;
Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done;
The work began when first your prayer was uttered,
And God will finish what He has begun.
If you will keep the Spirit burning there,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.
Faith cannot be unanswered;
Her feet were firmly planted on the Rock;
Amid the wildest storm prayer stands undaunted,
Nor quails before the loudest thunder shock.
She knows Omnipotence has heard her prayer,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere.