Summary: There are lessons we can learn from the story of the raising of Lazarus that we may not have realized before.
During these Sundays in Lent we have spent time looking at some of the most memorable events and characters of the Bible. We have looked at Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, and the man born blind. This week we look at one of the most familiar stories of the entire Bible, the story of the raising of Lazarus. Almost anyone who is only faintly acquainted with the Bible has heard of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. The scripture from the Book of John, chapter 11 is a long one. But rather than going through the story in the chapter from top to bottom, I have chosen to isolate some outstanding lessons from it which can be of benefit to all of us no matter what our situations may be. We are looking at lessons from Lazarus.
The first lesson is this: the delay of deliverance is not the denial of deliverance. We notice something unusual in the first part of this chapter. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Evidently his illness was serious. No doubt the sisters believed that when Jesus heard the news of their brother’s illness he would immediately come to their aid and possibly heal Lazarus. They were issuing a cry for deliverance.
When a loved one is sick we send out the news in the hope that someone will come to attend to us in our need. The natural reaction when we hear that relatives or dear friends are sick is to rush to their side to see what we can do for them. We would expect Jesus to come immediately to assist his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But Jesus does just the opposite.
One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is verse 6 which says that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he spent 2 days longer in the same place where he was. Imagine that! He deliberately waited for 2 more days before he came to them. But when he got there we know the results of his coming. His delay in answering their call did not mean a denial of their call. Jesus came late but he was still on time. God always has our best interests at heart, but he acts according to his own agenda and timetable, not ours. Jesus has a purpose in waiting to come to Bethany where Mary and Martha were.
In fact we are told in verse 4 why he delayed coming. It was so that God would be honored and glorified through it. Mary and Martha sort of scolded Jesus when they saw him by saying, “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died.” There is something within us that wants to tell God what to do. Mary and Martha looked for a healing of their brother, but Jesus had in mind a resurrection of their brother. God would receive greater glory from a rising from the dead than by a healing of the sick. God acts from his sovereign perspective. In most cases we don’t know the purpose of God.
In this setting we saw why Jesus delayed his coming. But most of the time in our lives when Jesus seems to delay his coming to our rescue, we don’t know the reason for the delay. We get impatient and wonder why God doesn’t do something about our situation. But a delay does not mean a denial. God uses his divine prerogative as to when to make his move on our behalf. He always shows up at the right time.
Of course we’re using the term show up or comes in a figurative sense, since God doesn’t have to show up because he is always with us. But he makes his move at the right time. God may seem to be late, but he is right on time. He doesn’t act on our timetable, but his. He doesn’t act on our terms, but on his terms. God knows what he is doing. He moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. His ways are past finding out. God will bring deliverance. His answer may be not now, but it is never no. The hardest thing we have to do is to wait on God for our change to come. We have to realize that a delay is not a denial. God always comes to deliver us in his own way and time. Whenever God chooses to deliver us we are blessed by his deliverance.
Martha reflects this attitude when she says that even though her brother might not have died if Jesus had been there, she knows that whatever Jesus requests from God will be granted. Jesus may have been late coming to her, but he has a blessing for her anyhow. She wished Jesus had been there earlier, but now that he is here she believes everything will be alright. She has confidence that Jesus will meet her needs in her situation. We must believe and trust that God is in our situations of life. No matter how long our troubles might last, no matter how long we have prayed for deliverance, we must continue to hold on and trust God anyhow. Have you ever asked God for something that was denied? But God gave you something better than what you asked for. He does exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think. We ask something from God and he surprises us and gives us more than what we asked for. God is full of surprises. You can’t figure God out so we might as well trust him in all situations of life. One of the best lessons we can learn from the Lazarus story is that delay does not mean denial. God will come in his own time and in his own way.