I’m old enough to remember when the only version of the Bible that people read out loud was the King James. As a kid, I thought “stinketh” was a great word . . . okay, I still do. Martha (the ever-practical one) says this to Jesus when Jesus tells them to open Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:39). But these days, the part of the story that really floors me is earlier:
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory; so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. -John 11:3-6
You know what happens. Lazarus dies while Jesus sits around twidling His holy thumbs. That’s just wrong! Why would Jesus do that?
Because Jesus waited, Lazarus suffered to the point of death.
Because Jesus waited, Mary and Martha experienced three days of immense grief.
Because Jesus waited, Mary and Martha questioned Jesus’ purpose on earth (Jn 11:21).
Because Jesus waited, Lazarus may have had to return to earth from Heaven. That would be awful.
Jesus waited because He loved this family. That sounds backward. They were His friends–possibly the best friends He had outside of the disciples. Where does he go just before the triumphal entry? To see Lazarus (Jn 12:1). What makes Jesus weep? Mary and Martha’s grief (Jn 11:35).
With love comes trust. Jesus entrusted Mary, Martha, and Lazarus with a very difficult task, knowing that they would be faithful all the way through it. He wanted to show His power over death, and they could join Him in doing it. Jesus knew that–more than anyone else–Mary, Martha, and Lazarus could ‘handle’ this time of darkness. This is what Jesus does to/with His friends.
Jesus knew these friends could
handle this time of darkness,
even when they didn’t know it.
It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t ask this family if they want to undertake this difficult task, if they are willing to help Him, or if they are ‘up to it’. He knows them better than they know themselves, so He knows what they can and can’t endure. If He had asked, they probably would have said ‘no’. So would we.
I think we’re being presumptuous or careless when we say “I am a friend of God.” Really? Have you considered what happens to Jesus’ friends? Are you sure you want to say that? According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down. Ten other disciples were martyred, and John was exiled for years. Even Jesus’ own mother had to watch Him be crucified. Think what that did to her. And Jesus knew in advance that it was going to happen. God has shown me several other examples that I will post later, and I think the Hebrew exodus (see Between a Rock and Hard Place) fits here, too.
Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). That doesn’t sound like a very equal friendship to me. The closer we get to Jesus, the more He will ask of us. That’s scary. In fact, the only possible comfort in such a thought is that we are THAT close to Jesus.
Well, there is another comfort. (Did you really think I wasn’t going to mention it?!?) It’s for His glory. Jesus said those very words to the disciples (John 11:4). If He asks something difficult from you or me, He already knows that He will get more glory by our endurance than He would if we didn’t go through it. Our experiences aren’t sport or entertainment for Him. He doesn’t want us to suffer. He weeps with and for us just like He wept with Mary and Martha. Everything He allows to happen has a singular, ultimate purpose: His glory. His secondary purpose is usually our personal, spiritual growth, but don’t loose sight of His primary purpose!
Everything He allows to
happen has a singular,
ultimate purpose: His glory.
God started showing me these things more than a year ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that He was preparing me for something…that increased intimacy with Him also meant increased expectations from Him…that something was going to happen in my life or my family’s life to potentially shake us to the core. About three months ago, we watched one of our children crumble under a difficult set of circumstances. But because I knew that Jesus Himself had walked us directly into the situation, I also knew He would and will be glorified through it. Like Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27), we said, “We believe that You are sovereign and that Your primary objective in this situation is Your own glory.”
Did that make our situation easy? No. Knowing that Jesus claims us as friends…knowing that He is sovereign…the situation, well, it still ‘stinketh.’ And like Martha, we told Jesus straight-up that it stunk. He already knew anyway. He already knew that it would be difficult, but He knew that He could trust us to stay close to Him, to stay faithful to Him, through the difficult situation. That’s why He could let it happen to us.
So when He sends you through something difficult, don’t run away. Don’t fall back. Hold your nose and watch for God to raise glory from the stink.
What about you? When have you experienced God’s glory through a difficult situation? Please, do share in the comments!