Nothing cuts deeper than the death of a loved one in his prime.
So much expectation, potential, and promise are gone in a flash. Without warning, a car crash, terminal disease, or a bizarre, freak accident shatters unfulfilled dreams.
What follows is an empty pit in the stomach, a gut-wrench ache in the soul, a void where confusion and sorrow rush to fill. No words of solace can relieve the pain.
That was Mary and Martha’s reality one cold winter’s day in John 11. Their brother, Lazarus, lay sick on his deathbed. Doctors couldn’t help. Medicine had failed. Prayers appeared unanswered. Their only recourse was Jesus. Surely, he could help. He had already healed so many. Besides, Lazarus, had a special “in” with Jesus. This was someone Jesus knew and loved. Surely their plea would cause Jesus to abandon whatever plans he may have had.
In hopeful desperation they send an urgent message, “Come quick. Don’t delay. Lazarus is sick.”
But Jesus doesn’t come – at least not when they expected.
He waits. He refuses to be told what to do and when to do it.
And Lazarus dies.
Unfulfilled dreams. Shattered expectations.
You can hear the pain in Martha’s words, “Lord, if you had been here….”
Beneath her tears we hear deeper questions:
- “Why didn’t you come when we called?”
- “Why did you let my brother die?”
- “I asked, but you didn’t deliver!”
How do you respond when Jesus does not answer according to your expectations?
…when you’ve prayed for the conception of a barren brother and sister-in-law, a Godly Christian couple, yet no pregnancy ever comes? How does God allow unwed, adulterous couples to conceive?
…when an uncle in his mid-thirties dies of a rare aggressive form of leukemia, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
…when a young person, in whom you’ve invested much, abandons the faith altogether after just one year of college?
Does your grief give way to bitterness? Does cynicism set in, resulting in jaded disillusionment and despair? Does hope fad?
For Martha, all those reactions would have been perfectly understandable. Jesus had, in a sense, let her down. To be honest, Jesus has let me down. And I suspect he’s let a lot of us down. Frankly, I cringe to hear Christians thoughtlessly suggest, “Turn to Jesus; he will never disappoint you.”
Such advice runs against the grain of human experience.
I have long understood Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead as the greatest miracle in John’s gospel (outside of the resurrection). But as I have reflected on this chapter in recent weeks, I have arrived at a very different conclusion.
The greatest miracle here is not Lazarus but Martha.
“I believe [in spite of my brother’s death and all I feel at this present moment] that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Despite her circumstances, Martha’s faith remains. Her belief does not waver! This is astonishing! And this is the gospel writer’s point.
Jesus does not operate on our preconceived timelines. He cannot be forced into service at our command. No. He responds to our requests in a manner that maximizes God’s glory.
The question is, will you continue to believe in Him even when life makes no sense?
Where is your present point of pain? Where, or how, is it most difficult to believe right now? Learn from Martha’s example. Believe that Jesus will work it out in his perfect timing.