Last week, we began a new series called “When God doesn’t make sense”.
For all of us, there’s going to be . . . or you are currently in . . . a season of life that’s just plain ole’ difficult. You’re praying about it and you believe that God’s going to do something about it, but he hasn’t, and it just doesn’t make sense. The question is . . . what do you do with that?
Sure, there are options . . . you can run, you can quit, you can throw in the towel but if you do, you might miss what God is doing in and through your life during those hard seasons.
And so, we wait!
But it’s not easy to wait, a lot of stuff happens internally . . . sometimes we get jealous. We look at everyone else’s wrinkle free life and we think, “that’s the life I was supposed to have.”
But let me tell you about the worst part about waiting . . . we sometimes draw some really-bad conclusions . . . “God must be angry with me”, or “God doesn’t even care”
And at the epicenter of the crisis is the question that I want to talk about today, “where is God when you really need him to show up?”.
The bottom line is this, God is not absent, although it may feel that he is absent. God is not apathetic, although it may feel that he doesn’t care, and God is not angry with you. God’s silence does not equate to his absence.
Even in those dark moments, when you need to experience the presence of God, God is present.
But today, we’re going to talk about those times when it seems that God shows up too late.
Let's listen to our text: John 11:17-44
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings and they were very close to Jesus. In fact, in Luke’s gospel there’s a story about Jesus coming over to their house for dinner.
To me, it’s a funny story because it puts in the spotlight the family dynamics that some of us are very familiar with; even within our church family.
Martha, like some of you, is wigging out because everything needs to be perfect and there’s lots to be done but her sister Mary, like the rest of us, is just hanging out; drinking coffee, eating bagels, and telling Jesus about the latest stuff going on in her life and Mary’s like, “Jesus, tell her to do something”.
The point I want you to see is that they had a very close relationship with Jesus and he came to their home and ate their homemade lasagna and He loved it. So, when Lazarus got sick, they totally expected that Jesus would show up and fix things.
As we come to this text, Jesus is hanging out with disciples near the Jordan River and he receives word that Lazarus is dying in the nearby town of Bethany.
Now you would think, as did the sisters, that Jesus would immediately get up and go be with him. After all, he had met the needs of so many other people but instead, Jesus decides to stay put.
You see, what is to follow is a sign and the signs in John’s gospel are designed to help people see more clearly who Jesus is. And so, he waits.
And after two days of chilling out with the disciples, he says "Ok, guys let's get going"
Now, Bethany is only 20 miles away, so he could have easily made it in a day, but he takes his time and when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
And as he approaches the city gates, Jesus is met by Lazarus' sister, Martha and she's frustrated with him; she’s got her hand on her hip and shaking her finger at him giving him a piece of her mind, because it's too late. Her brother is dead and now she has most likely lost everything.
You see, in that day, women were vulnerable because this was a man's world and women had to rely on men to provide for them.
Martha has just buried the only man in her life, her brother . . . which means that she is without any means of economic support and relegated to the fringes of community.
She says to Jesus, “Didn’t you get my text? I sent it days ago. And don’t even tell me there was bad coverage or you didn’t see it because you didn’t have any problems responding when I invited you over for Lasagna. And if you had just responded this time, he wouldn’t have died.”
This is real life stuff and she’s hurt but even as she questions Jesus’ tardiness, she makes a new commitment to him and affirms that she still believes God will give Jesus whatever he asks.
And so, Jesus tells her that he brother will rise again.
Martha replies, “Of course, he’s going to rise again. I believe that someday the trumpet of God will sound, and the dead will rise up but that doesn’t make things better now.”
And then Jesus uses an I AM statement . . . Remember what that is. I AM is the name of God.
Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life and who ever believes in me will have life" and then he asks her, "Do you believe?"
It’s a crisis moment for her. It’s a moment of choice. How do you respond when it seems that God has shown up too late?
And in this moment, she lays down her anger and she gave up her need for answers and guarantees, and she simply lets herself fall into a faith that offers no certainty and no promise of comfort.
Here we need to pause and acknowledge a couple of things.
First, God’s delays are not God’s denials. If you’re waiting on God and it just seems that he’s not showing up, perhaps God wants to do something in you before he does something for you.
Second, If God always did what you expected, He’d never have the opportunity to exceed your expectations. If you’re willing to be patient and wait on God, you may wake up one day and realize that the scene of your greatest disappointment becomes the setting for God’s greatest miracle. The thing that you never ever wanted becomes a thing that God uses to reveal His goodness.
Let’s continue to see what I’m talking about.
After this, Martha runs into town to let her sister Mary know that Jesus has arrived and immediately she got up and ran to him, and a crowd of people followed her.
All of them mourning and grieving for these sisters. You see, funerals were a community wide event. The village had essentially shut down. Everyone is weeping and bawling, make up running down their faces, snot coming out of their nose, and they are embracing these women.
And in the midst of this pain and suffering . . . Jesus shows up.
When he enters in the city and collides with her entourage, he was moved with compassion and he wept. Can we just pause there?
To me, these are the most powerful 2 words in all of scripture. Jesus, the author and creator, steps into his creation and grieves with it.
Now, if the crowd hadn’t hushed when he wept, I’m sure it does when Jesus tells them to open the tomb. The text doesn’t say but I’m guessing that more than one or two Jaws dropped.
You see . . . you’re not supposed to be exposed to a dead body because it’s ceremonially unclean. And by exposing yourself to it, it will make you unclean.
Not to mention that it's been four days, and everybody know that by now, the guy is not just dead . . . he's really dead. You see, in that culture, they believed that the Spirit of a person would hover over the body for three days but on the fourth day, when the body began to decompose, it would depart.
Well, it's been four days, so the spirit has left . . . and let's be honest a decomposing body smells. In fact, the King James version says, “Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh”
But Jesus isn't concerned about religious rules, or superstition, or that the body stinketh as he prays to the father thanking him for who he is and that through this sign people would believe that He is the resurrection and the life.
And then he gives a command . . . “Lazarus come out”.
The literal translation is this . . . it's this way. Come out of the grave and come to me this way because I am the resurrection and the giver of life.
And with this command Lazarus walks out of the grave.
Mary and Martha got their brother back, alive and well and restored to health.
And that’s what Jesus does. He touches dead people and brings life.
You see, this story, this sign in John’s gospel, is about grace. This raising doesn’t happen because of a sister's expectations or even their worthiness as friends. It happened because Jesus has compassion for them and in his compassion, he extends his grace . . . period.
But in the midst of all of this, there is something else happening. A foreshadowing of things to come and a glimpse into what God intends for us and it exceeds every expectation we might have.
Jesus does not just love these sisters, and raise a brother . . . he is also unveiling His kingdom . . . He’s showing his power over death and revealing a kingdom that has yet to come . . . it’s a kingdom in which there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, and no more waiting.
And as we read the story of the resurrected Lazarus, we are reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus . . .
You see, we don’t worship a God who is immune to suffering. If you’re hurting, he knows exactly what you feel like, because he was present for the death of the Son and he felt it.
But his promise is, “Trust me. Stick with me. We need to get through this. We need to get to the other side of resurrection. I know right now, it is exceedingly painful, and it feels like I’m not showing up, but I have worked out all things for Good. I have a plan. We can do this!”
So, if you are suffering, or you are experiencing a season of life where you are waiting . . . I want you to lean heavily on Jesus for comfort and love and support and understanding and encouragement.
And I want you to be in community with his people. What we see is an entire community surrounding themselves around these sisters in the moment of their suffering . . . that’s what God's church is supposed to be about. You need others around you when you’re suffering, and you need to present and available in order to rally around those who are suffering.
And God today would call us to worship him in faith because today may feel like a funeral day, but a resurrection day is coming.
So today, suffer and weep as these women did, mourn and cry as they did, surround and support one another as the town of Bethany did, but by faith, trust that resurrection is coming, and this same Jesus, reaches down into death, and has life for you and for me.
And it will happen, and you will see it by the grace of God. We can’t earn it. We can’t work for it. We can’t plead for it. We can’t expect it. It just comes.