The story of Lazarus is a familiar one to most of us. I decided to teach on this story in my youth group a few weeks ago. I had only planned to spend a week on it, but I quickly decided that wouldn’t be enough. I became enamored with the story as I was studying it. I ended up teaching on it for three weeks and probably could have done a few more.
It’s fascinating to see how the story unfolds throughout John 11. Martha, Lazarus’ sister, comes to Jesus to inform him that her brother is sick. This miracle is a little bit different than most because it’s not a stranger in need but one of Jesus’ friends. John 11:5 tells us that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” You would expect Jesus to rush to Lazarus and heal him but, instead, he waits two days. While they were waiting, Lazarus dies. That’s when Jesus decides to go visit his dead friend.
When Jesus arrives at their town, Lazarus’ sisters aren’t happy with him. Martha is the first to confront Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Then Mary, Lazarus’ other sister, goes and meets with Jesus and she echoes Martha’s statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32) You can hear the heartbreak in their words. Jesus was supposed to be their friend, and he let them down. They were fully aware of who Jesus was and what he could do, but he chose not to come in time. This had to be devastating to them. How is it that Jesus could love them and still let this happen?
Jesus then asks to go to Lazarus’ tomb. When they get there, Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. Jesus had previously assured Martha that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in verse 23, but she didn’t understand. In fact, she was skeptical of his plan, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there for four days.” (John 11:39) Jesus responds her in verse 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” The story concludes with Jesus calling for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and that’s precisely what happens. Lazarus had been raised from the dead and was reunited with his sisters.
One of the aspects of this story that I find so intriguing is the interaction that Jesus had with the sisters. They questioned, doubted, and didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. They had felt that Jesus had let them and were upset with him. Have you been there? I know that I have. I remember one night when things were not going the way that I thought they should, I was in tears in my car, and I remember shouting at God, “I don’t think that you have any idea of what you’re doing.” Clearly, that was a ridiculous statement, but that’s what I was feeling in my heart. Maybe that’s how you’re feeling right now. That’s undoubtedly how Mary and Martha felt.
At no point did Jesus get angry or upset with the sisters. All he did was ask them to believe. If they did that, they would “see the glory of God.” Their doubts didn’t cause Jesus to change his plans. He still raised Lazarus despite their skepticism. I believe that’s how he treats us whenever we struggle to trust him. He’s not going to forsake us, he’s just going to ask us to “believe.” If we do that, he’s going to reveal the “glory of God” to us.
Jesus’ love for us will always overcome our doubts, skepticism, and lack of understanding. He’s always going to work whatever circumstance that we’re facing for our good (Romans 8:28). All we have to do is trust him, and then step back and watch what he does. Then, we’ll get to stand in amazement as we “see the glory of God.”