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John 11:1-16 – Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. John tells us that straight-out. He had history with that family. He loved to visit them and dine with them. He cared for them. That’s a key to this entire story.
You see, when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, they must have assumed He would come running. It only makes sense. Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus – there was no question in their minds He COULD do it. And Jesus loved His friend – there was no doubt in their minds He WOULD do it. So imagine how confused they were when every day brought Lazarus closer to death… and still there was no sign of Jesus.
Most Christians have been there, at least to some degree. How many of us have breathed a desperate prayer from a hospital room, or an accident scene, or a bedside, or from our desk at work – praying for God to intervene in some desperate moment? Things look dire, and we need help. We know God loves us, and we know God is able, so how confusing and frustrating when He doesn’t show up like we expected. In those moments, we might be tempted to accuse God of abandoning us, or of not loving us – but notice in this story, there is something else going on.
One of the nice things about Scripture is that it doesn’t hide the fact that sometimes even Godly people struggle to understand God. Sometimes He made them wait for days, or months, or even years to receive an answer to their prayers. Other times, the answer was just “NO". Read through Scripture and you’ll find that God said “no” to Moses and God said “no” to David and God said “no” to Paul.
In fact, when you can think about it, God said “no” to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” but God said “no". Jesus emerged from the Garden of Gethsemane submissively saying, “Not My will but yours be done.” Aren’t you glad God didn’t answer that prayer?
Listen, if God doesn’t give you the desires of your heart, you need to accept that His ways are better than your ways. That’s part of faith - trusting that He wants what’s best for you. There could be many reasons that you don’t get the answer you want from your prayer, but none of them change that fact. God cares what is happening in your life. Your prayers matter to Him.
In this case, Jesus had a better plan for Lazarus than even Mary and Martha had for him. They wanted their brother to get well. Jesus wanted to use him to glorify God – a privilege I’m sure Lazarus loved! In a similar way, God can use each one of us – even our tough situations – for His glory. He is always working; always moving; always active – and He sees past the immediacy of the moment to something eternally good. Oh, and don’t forget – He loves us!