When Mary and Martha were anxiously deciding to send for Jesus because Lazarus their brother was seriously ill they were definitely not expecting Jesus’ initial response to be what he said to his disciples a few days later when the message got through. Their message was simple enough, ‘he whom you love is ill.’ John 11.3 They meant Lazarus is seriously ill, you love him, obviously you will want to come and heal him, simply because he is ill and will die otherwise. It must be about the most common form of prayer over all time. Go to any prayer board in a church or Cathedral and it will be covered in prayers for the sick. There is nothing wrong with that although all of us have to recognize our mortality and inevitability that in most cases some form of sickness will in the end be the cause of our death. Death of course for those who have responded to the gospel carries a different significance than for those who have not done so. Hence the compelling imperative for believers to spread the gospel and make disciples. Luke 24.47
In Lazarus’ case Jesus saw his illness differently. He said it’s purpose was to bring glory to God. ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ John11.4 Jesus did not get things wrong? Lazarus did die and Jesus pronounced him dead, v14 however Jesus was looking beyond that to the end of the whole episode where he was raised from the dead and the impact on the disciple’s faith of Lazarus’ resurrection.
The glory of God through the Son of God was not limited to the growth in faith of his disciples or the increased number of disciples. This was however an intentional outcome. ‘Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’ vv14,15 Many but not all following their witnessing Lazarus’ resurrection did believe in Jesus. V45
It was how the evidence of the truth of Jesus words to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’, that was going to bring greater glory to God.
Jesus’ delay in coming to Bethany did bring temporary mourning and distress for Lazarus’ family. Christian discipleship is frequently associated with difficulties and suffering. All this though hardly compares with the cost to Jesus of gaining our salvation. When we come to God in prayer is our first thought, “For your glory Lord?” Is it possible for us to consider it a blessing to share in his sufferings? I am not saying that all suffering or illness is to bring God glory, far from it. We live in a world deeply corrupted by sin, in a world that groans for God’s new creation. In Lazarus’ case his suffering did bring God great glory through bringing glory to Jesus. The consequences of Lazarus being raised from the dead have continued to this present day in directing people towards Jesus and his power over death. Whilst Mary and Martha’s desire to see Lazarus healed was loving and good, Jesus saw and sought even more in the situation. He sought to bring glory to God the Father.
How hard it can be to change the perspective from which we view our life and God’s purposes.
Reign in Me – Chris Bowater