Two Big Questions
This story in our text is probably one of the most familiar stories in the New Testament. It is the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and we’re all familiar with that ... how Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead. But I want you to look at perhaps an aspect of this that you may let slide by in thinking of the dramatic resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. I think there is more than one reason why this account is here, but there’s one special reason to help us deal with a question and a problem we often face.
Let me read beginning in verse one:
Now these five verses read beautifully. These are friends. Jesus loves these folks. We know that many times in the life and ministry of Jesus, he would come to Bethany. Bethany is just over the hill from Jerusalem. And many times, Jesus would come to Bethany to find rest and re-creation and fellowship.
He would come to His friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
What an incredible friendship they had, and I’ll tell you how I know what good friends they were in just a few minutes. But this was a special place, and these five verses reveal what you would expect. Jesus, the friend, is called to help because Lazarus is sick. The sisters just know that if Jesus comes Lazarus will be all right, that he will not have any lasting consequences of his illness. Everything will be all right.
You read these first five verses, and everything seems in order. But, when you come to verse six, at first, it doesn’t fit. Listen to it: "Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days."
Now get the picture. Lazarus is sick, apparently critically sick. The sisters know that if Jesus could come, everything would be all right. They send a message to Jesus. He is about two days away preaching and teaching in some other part of the country. Jesus gets the message. He hears the urgent cry that Lazarus is sick. But instead of coming to Bethany, he doesn’t do anything.
He just stays there. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t respond. He just stays put.
That brings us to the 1st Big Question: Why is God Silent?
Has that ever happened to you? You’ve cried out to God, and you just knew that if God would just respond, everything would be all right.
But instead of some response, it seemed as if God was silent. It seemed as if God just didn’t say anything. You’ve cried and you’ve prayed and you’ve poured out your heart to God, but nothing happened. There was silence.
Your loved one was ill, and you prayed to God that there would be a healing.
But nothing happened, and the loved one died. Your business was unraveling, and you prayed that God would help you keep it together. Nothing happened, and the business went bankrupt. You needed a job, and you asked God to help you find a job. Your willing and desiring to work, and you did all you could.
But still, nothing happened, and no job came. You needed a relationship. You were lonely, heartsick, and grief-stricken, and you longed for someone to share and to build a relationship. And you asked God and you prayed. Nothing happened. Truthfully, most of us would have to admit that there have been times when we cried out to God, for our marriage, our children, our parents, our spouses, one situation or another, and for whatever reason, God was silent.
I’m convinced that part of our spiritual pilgrimage is learning how to deal with the silences of God. Now, having put that before you, let me say that I think that’s one of the reasons why this chapter is in the Bible. Not just to tell us about the love Jesus had for this family or the friendship he enjoyed, not just to reveal his power in resurrecting Lazarus, but I believe that this passage is here to help us to know why God delays.
Why is God sometimes silent? Why does He not respond as we want Him to, as we ask Him to? So, I have two things to say to you this morning, two things I want you to follow. First, I want to answer the question from this passage:
Why does God delay? Why are there times when God doesn’t respond on our timetable? Why are there times when He doesn’t seem to answer the prayer the way we prayed it, the way we wanted it answered? Why does He do that?
And the second question is: What should we do when that happens?
What should our response be when God seems silent, when God delays in responding to our prayer?
Answer: For His Glory
First of all, why does God delay? Well, there are two reasons, and they’re both listed here in this passage. Look at it again in verse four: "When he heard this, Jesus said, ’This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for the God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’"
And in verse 40, Jesus said to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
The first reason that God delays or perhaps is silent in our lives is first of all for His glory. God always acts for His glory. God always acts consistently with who He is.
God cannot lie because God is a God of truth. His every action, His every word is truth because He would be contrary to Himself and bring shame to Himself if He did not act consistently with who He is. So, He speaks and He acts for His glory.
Now, if any of us were to act for our glory, that would be egotism of the greatest degree. But God is the only one who is worthy of all glory and all praise. And we need to understand that when God seems to be quiet and unresponsive to us, it is first of all for His glory. Somehow, God is going to get glory through it.
Answer: For Our Good
Romans 8:28 gives us the second aspect of this. God delays first of all for His glory and second for our good. It’s right here in the passage. Look at verse 15. After the disciples began to talk to Him about what’s going on, in verse 11 He says, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
And the disciples say, "Lord, the last time you went there, they tried to stone you. Now, you go back, and they’ll probably try to kill you."
And the disciples are a little confused. They thought Lazarus was just taking a nap or something. And so, Jesus said very plainly in verse 14, "Lazarus is dead." And in verse 15 He said, "... and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe." In other words, Jesus says, "What I am about to do, I am going to do for your sake. I’m doing it because it’s best for you.
I am going to do it because it will bring about the best results for you."
That’s what Romans 8:28 says: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." We can know that whatever God does, whatever silence we may receive from Him, whatever time He seems to delay in our lives, whatever that may be, it is always for our good.
Honestly now, aren’t you glad that God didn’t answer all of your prayers. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I had married the first girl that I prayed to marry. I said, "Lord, she’s the one. I’ve got to have this girl young lady. She’s got to be my wife." God was silent, and my heart was broken. But I want to tell you, I am eternally grateful I didn’t get the answer to my prayer because I never would have been drawn to Patty, God’s perfect choice for me.
You see, sometimes God is silent, sometimes God delays and is unresponsive for our good ... always for our good. When He does it, it’s for His glory, and it’s for our good. And the good that came out of this was these disciples had their faith confirmed. And Mary and Martha and Lazarus had their faith cemented. We’ll see how the great witness and testimony of faith comes at the end of this chapter. And it was all because God delays for His glory and our good.
So what I’m trying to tell you is if you find yourself right now in the midst of one of God’s delays, you find yourself in a period of time where God seems to be unresponsive to your prayers and things are not working out the way you prayed that they will, know that God allows that to happen for His glory and for your good.
Question: What Should I Do?
Now, when God delays, what in the world should we do? This passage gives us three responses that ought to be ours. When we pray and God does not respond the way we desire, he does not respond when we want Him to respond, what should we do? Well, we find it very clearly here. First, of all we can be confident that He loves us.
Look again in verses 3-5.
The sisters sent a note to Jesus saying, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
Verse 5 says, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." And when you come to verse 36, as He wept at the grave of Lazarus, “Then the Jews said, ’See how he loved him!’"
Answer: Be Confident In His Love
Let me tell you something very strong, very clear today. Even though God may seem to be silent in your life and even though He may seem to be unresponsive to your prayers at this specific time in the way you’ve prayed them, never doubt that God loves you. He loves you.
He loves you the way you are. He loves you with all of your warts and freckles, with your doubts and your failures. He loves you. It is an unconditional love.
And you need to understand in the delays of God when He is working for His glory and for your good, in ways that seem confusing, in ways that seem difficult for you to comprehend, know and declare and say in your heart, "God loves me."
God loves you.
He acts always in the best interest of that love. So never doubt, never question God’s love. If you find yourself in the midst of one of these delays, one of these times of silence when God seems to be unresponsive to your prayer, be confident in the love of God for you.
A pastor had a young lady come to him and say, "Pastor, I just can’t seem to love God. I know I ought to love God, but I just can’t seem to do it." And the pastor very wisely said to this teenage girl, "Well, I want you to say to yourself, ’God loves me. God loves me.’" The next Sunday, she came back and her face was glowing and radiant, and it was obvious something had happened in her life. And she said, "Oh, pastor, my heart is full of love for God today."
And she said, "When I realized how much God loves me, then it was easy for me to love Him."
Isn’t that what John said in 1 John 4:19? "We love Him, because He first loved us." So, always know that He loves you. And the knowledge of His love for you will issue forth in love from your heart for Him. In the midst of the delays of God, in the midst of the silences of God, always be confident in His love.
Answer: Be Submissive to His Authority
Now, there’s another response that ought to come here that we see. And that is that during the delays of God, not only can we be confident in His love, but we can be submissive to His authority in our lives. It’s all through this passage.
You see it in verses 7 and 8 when Jesus says, "Let’s go back to Judea." And His disciples say, "But a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" And by the way, when Jesus went back to raise Lazarus, it was the first step toward the cross.
In fact, they did kill Him, because He never got away from that area again.
And so, this is the first major movement back to Jerusalem that ultimately results in His death upon the cross. And so, these disciples had it pegged right. "Lord, if you go back there, they’re going to kill you."
But I love verse 16 when Jesus said, "Let’s go," and Thomas, doubting Thomas, bless his heart, he didn’t have much doubt here. He said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." I mean isn’t that beautiful? He’s going to get killed. They said, "Lord, they tried to kill you last time. They tried to stone you. But, Lord, if you say go, even if we all get killed, we’re going to go with you." And when He came to the grave side, Jesus says to Martha, "Take away the stone." And she says, "Lord, you’re going to embarrass us. Lord, he’s been dead now four days, and there’ll be an odor from the decay of the body. Lord, it’ll be our worst nightmare come true. Lord, please don’t have me roll the stone away."
But Jesus said, "Roll away the stone." And even though she thought it would mean embarrassment, even though she thought it would be a tragic thing, she obeyed and the stone was rolled away. What you have in this passage is people who didn’t understand. They did not understand what Jesus was talking about.
The disciples didn’t understand why He had to go back to Jerusalem. The sisters didn’t understand why He hadn’t come in the first place. They did not understand why he wanted the stone rolled away. But He said, "Let’s go. Roll the stone away." They said, "Yes, sir." They obeyed.
And so, you and I need to understand that our part is to be obedient to God even when we don’t understand, even when God seems to be silent, even when God doesn’t seem to make sense. Even when our lives seem to be clouded in uncertainty and God is delaying in responding to our lives, we can be obedient to Him and be submissive to His authority. You know the truth is our biggest problem is not with the things we don’t understand.
It’s the things we do understand all too well and are not willing to do.
So, what I’m trying to say to you is even though it seems that God may be silent and God may be delaying at some point in your life, be submissive to His authority.
Do what He has instructed you to do. One other thing, and it’s an incredible thing. What should we do? Be confident in the love of Christ and declare our submission to the authority of Christ. And the third thing is demonstrate faith in the power of Christ.
Answer: Demonstrate Faith in His Power
Beginning in verse 21, this verse is the first clue in here that tells us how close Jesus was to this family. Listen to it, then Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Now folks, she’s fussing at Him. She’s scolding Him. I’m telling you, they were close. She felt close enough to Him to chide Him, criticize Him a little bit, if you please. She is saying, "Lord you goofed." You see something of the depth of their friendship here.
They were so close that she could just be honest with Him. And by the way, you know, I believe God wants that kind of honesty from all of us. Hey, He can handle your doubts. He can handle your criticisms. Just be honest with Him.
That’s all God expects of us. If your heart is hurting and you don’t understand, tell Him so. Just be honest with Him.
She was just being honest. "Lord, if you had been here, this wouldn’t have happened. Lord it’s your fault. Lord, if you just hadn’t waited so long, Lord if you had hurried over here, Lord if you had done what I asked you to do when I asked you to do it, it would’ve been all right."
Well, she says, "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’ Jesus said to her, ’Your brother will rise again.’" She said, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said, "You don’t understand what I’m saying. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Now folks, verse 27 is the greatest confession of faith in the New Testament.
Now, I know we’re accustomed to thinking of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16 as being the greatest confession when he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." But you need to remember that Peter made his confession following a wonderfully successful campaign of ministry. They’d been preaching and teaching. And they’d been healing and confronting the demonic. And they’d had such victory in their ministry. And growing out of the exuberance and the exhilaration of wonderful, victorious ministry, Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
But I want you to remember Lazarus is still in the grave. She still thinks Jesus should’ve been there, and if He’d been there, things would’ve been different. Her heart is still broken. Her life has been crushed. But from the depth of her despair, out of the darkness of her night of grief, she says, "...I believe that thou art the Christ [Christos, the Messiah, the Anointed One, you are the Messiah] the Son of God, which should come into the world." Out of the midst of God’s delay came a great demonstration of faith.
Why does God delay? Why are there times when God doesn’t do what we expect Him to, what we ask Him to? Why are there times when we don’t understand? I confess to you there are, have been, and doubtless will be many times in my life when I can’t understand what God is doing. I can’t understand why things have happened the way they have happened. I have watched as countless people, good people, innocent people have been overcome by death, murdered, committed suicide, had their husbands and wives betray them, had their hopes and dreams smashed. In the midst of things we don’t understand, in the midst of things we don’t have a glib answer for, in the midst of times when we’ve cried and nothing has happened, we need to be reminded that God always does this for His glory and for our good ... for our best interest.
Satan is working to destroy us. Satan is working to defeat us. But God is always working to bring what is best for us. Even when grief and despair and disappointment come into our experience. Life must end in death for us unless Jesus returns. We are a dying society. We are born, and we are born to die.
There’s going to be grief associated with that. There’ll be many things we don’t understand. But please understand this: that in the midst of those things, God is still working for His glory and for our good. And He will yet bring everything that will be best for us. So, we can be confident in his love, and we can be submissive to His authority, and we can demonstrate faith in His power.
Back in the 60’s during the Vietnam War, an unusual thing happened one Sunday.
A young woman joined, and her husband’s name was brought by proxy. That doesn’t happen very often, but he was flying planes in Vietnam. And this young woman came and brought their membership that day and was very much a part of the church.
Then a call came. "Pastor, the report has come that Lee’s been shot down in Vietnam and has been killed. Will you come to the home, and will you visit with Mary about it?"
The went and picked up his wife, and they rushed to the home. He confessed he didn’t know what to say. He was just a young pastor, recently out of seminary.
What could he possibly say to her? Her dreams had been shattered. Her life had been crushed. Her husband had been taken. He didn’t know what to say. He admitted that he dreaded even going over there, because he knew that he would be so inadequate to the task. But they knocked on that door that day, and Mary met them at the door with the biggest smile he had ever seen. And in the next two days, she taught him so much. They gathered at the church later that week for a memorial service.
The little church was just six or seven miles from the air base, and people flew in from all over the world for that memorial service. He brought Mary into his office a few minutes before the service just to get her out of the crowd and to pray with her. He said he will never forget what she told Jimmy and Carol Ann Draper that morning. She said, "Pastor, I am looking forward to this afternoon with greater anticipation than any day I’ve ever lived including my wedding day." She said, "If just one person can be saved, then Lee’s death will have been worth it." The pastor reported that they had a glorious service that day, and that people did get saved. They received letters for weeks after that of people who had prayed to receive Christ and had gone back to assignments all over the world. But, he said he believed that it was part of the moving of God through the life of a young widow who understood that in the midst of her darkest moment when she didn’t understand, she could still trust God.
Some of you have lived this story ... or one similar to it. And I want to tell you, you can trust God. He loves you. You can be obedient to Him, do what He’s told you to do, and have faith in Him. You can trust Him. He’ll always work for His glory and for your good.