Summary: Jesus' beloved friends had requested He come for their urgent need. But He didn't show up when He could have? What are we to think when God doesn't answer our prayers--there's only silence--and midnight passes?
Boy, we live in some tumultuous times, don’t we? Earthquake and tsunami in Japan. A nuclear disaster there as a result. Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya. Our nation involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. And wasn’t it only a few months ago that a huge earthquake devastated parts of New Zealand, and before that Haiti! Man, there’s so much big news and Bad News all over the world that you get the feeling that the News Anchors and Correspondents are breathless, running all over the world trying to keep up with it. And we might ask, what in the World is God doing?
And of course, in our personal lives, we might well wonder that as well. Cancers right here, not just one but several, and there and everywhere. Serious things happening with loved ones, and if you’ve walked with the Lord very long, you know that you just can’t make sense of everything! Sometimes, from our limited perspective, we really begin to wonder what God is doing; why He doesn’t answer our requests immediately, why He lets the things happen that happen and why He doesn’t intervene exactly according to our advice and plans.
I mean, have you ever prayed a prayer in a crisis when you find yourself giving instructions to God about exactly what He ought to do and say to whom and when He ought to say it. Yes, we’ve got just the perfect plan for what the Almighty and All-Wise God should do and say, don’t we? And we know better, don’t we?
Well, I’m quite sure that this is exactly the sort of thing that was going on for Mary and Martha and a few of their believing friends back in about 30 A.D. when their beloved brother Lazarus fell ill. They were, after all, the closest of Jesus’ closest friends, outside the disciples. They had hosted Jesus and His disciples for meals and probably over night on other occasions, had grown to love Him and His disciples and believe in Him for all He claimed to be, and He had grown to love them as well—they were as dear to Him as any people on earth. And so it was very strange when, in their moment of desperate need, in their moment of great anxiety, when their brother was truly at death’s door, that Jesus, their friend, their Lord, and their God, did not drop everything and rush to the rescue their brother, For surely He could have done something. Surely, He could have saved him from near-certain death.
What can we make of these situations? What do we need to learn when we make a request of the Lord, and we know what needs to be done, and yet God is silent, and there is no intervention? What do we do when this help is most desperately needed, and seemingly bad things happen for no good reason? Well, what we’ll learn from this story this morning is this: When life doesn’t make sense, when God doesn’t make sense, keep on following Jesus anyway, knowing His priorities are best. And what are His priorities: For God’s greatest glory and our ultimate spiritual good.
Now as you perhaps remember from last week, when we last saw Jesus He was withdrawing into the countryside after yet another contentious debate with the Jewish leaders. They again, had threatened him with stoning on the spot. And where did He withdraw, but into the region beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist had at first been baptizing and had at first seen & recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Scholars aren’t certain precisely where that place was, though we were told it was at Bethany beyond the Jordan, and that Bethany was likely 50 to 60 miles away from the Bethany of Mary, and Martha and Lazarus. Their Bethany was less than two miles away from Jerusalem, the place that had become so apparently dangerous for Jesus.
And what you’ve got to know is that in those times when a crisis occurred and Jesus friends needed Him, they couldn’t grab their cell phone and call him or text Him. They couldn’t get on their e-mail & connect. No, even if they did know where Jesus had gone, even as they apparently did, they had to send someone with the urgent news, and in this case, the journey had taken at least day a day, probably two, before Jesus got the message. And when the message came, it was simply put, “The one whom you love (Lazarus) is sick” and given the circumstances and the urgency of the messenger, the sisters trusted that Jesus would know exactly what He needed to do.
And yet Jesus, according to John, deliberately delayed His departure for Judea, the province of both Bethany and Jerusalem, for two complete days—time enough for the messenger to have returned to report that Jesus had gotten the message, time enough for these beloved sisters to wonder where Jesus was, and why He hadn’t come as soon as He was able. Now we have no way of telling from this passage whether Jesus even could have gotten back in time before Lazarus had died even if He had tried his best. The point is that it was clear to everyone, the disciples and the sisters, that Jesus had not made their crisis His priority. He could have, but He didn’t. They had no doubt gone to great trouble to make their situation and their implied request obvious to Jesus, and for some unknown and exceedingly perplexing reason, it seemed as though Jesus had not responded appropriately. Indeed, for two days, he had hardly responded at all.