Are facing a trial or issue that is so bad that you cannot see any solution?
I wonder if there are any of us who have not before or are not now facing a situation that is so terrible that we cannot possibly see a way out. It could be a financial pit that seems bottomless. It could be sickness. It could be that someone you depended on has died. In fact, it could almost be anything that seems to cripple you as you try to move on in life.
When we come to these dead and dying situations we come to a halt in our life. We pray and it seems that God does not hear us. We call out to God but we don’t get the results for which we long. Have you ever been in a sick situation where you have called on God but things have only gotten worse? Let’s consider a great passage that deals with one of lives most common situations.
The Death of a Dear Friend
We can learn a great deal from the episode surrounding the death of Lazarus in John 11. Let me review the details of this incredible story.
Mary and Martha were dear friends of Jesus. They had a brother Lazarus. While Jesus was away, Lazarus turned critically ill. The sisters sent word to Christ informing Him of the condition Lazarus. But Jesus did not go immediately to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Rather, Jesus delayed His coming to Bethany two days. A sick situation turned into a deadly situation. Then, Jesus took His disciples with Him to go to Lazarus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead; He told His disciples, “I go that I may wake him up.” He did this for the sake of the disciples so that they would believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Martha went to meet Jesus as He was coming to Bethany (interestingly Mary did not go with her and she didn’t want to speak to Him at this time). Martha blamed Jesus for the death of Lazarus because she believed he would not have died had Jesus been there. They had called upon Jesus, but He did not respond. He did not come to their aid. He dropped the ball and now Lazarus was dead. If He would have come when they called, Lazarus would not have died.
But Martha’s theology was rock solid. She justified accusatory statement by saying, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” She seems to saying that even though we moved from a sick situation to a dead situation, my theology teaches me that God will still do what you request. Martha was emotionally spent but she still trusted God.
The Confrontation of Two Sisters
This is where the story gets interesting. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha’s theology is again shown when she says she knows and understands that Lazarus will rise again at the last day. Martha’s theology was one that looked at a distant God—a God that would act in the future. But Jesus was working in the present. Jesus was in control after all He is the resurrection and the life. Martha even asserts her belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Now Mary joins the conversation and she too accuses Jesus of the death of Lazarus. With the sisters weeping, Jesus also showed His compassion and He too wept. But why? Jesus knew He was going to awaken Lazarus. His compassion at this time was for the sisters.
An interesting note here is that even when Jesus knows what He is going to do, He allows us to go through the situation even when a sick situation turns into a deadly situation. We go through difficult times so that we can know for certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Sometimes, we must even go through the agony of death.
Roll Away the Stone
When Jesus came to the burial place of Lazarus, He simply said, “Take away the stone.” He did not ask for a discourse on the concept of rolling away the stone. He did not ask for an evaluation of His judgment regarding the stone. He simply commanded it to be moved.
We know Jesus’ intention. It was to resurrect Lazarus. Could not the one who is going to bring the dead back to life have done so without moving the stone? Could not the one who created the universe and holds it together by His word have raised Lazarus without the help of people to move the stone? But that is exactly what He commanded—move the stone. God wants our participation in His work. Certainly He could carry out His will without us, but He wants us involved. Often we do not see God working because we do not exercise our faith to do what He tells us to do.
Martha was always the sane and logical one. She understood the problems associated with death. To her rolling away the stone was a totally illogical action. Lazarus had been dead four days. By this time there will be a great stench. Rather than obey Jesus’ command, she sought to give Him an education regarding death. After all, certainly Jesus did not understand what happens when a person has been dead for four days. Often, we would rather educate God than to do what He asks us to do. Also, God has a habit of asking us to do really ridiculous things just before He performs the greatest miracles. He wants us to move the stone then He will carry out His desire.
Jesus, however, did not miss a beat. He reiterated what He had told Martha earlier—“if you would believe you would see the glory of God.” Martha showed her faith when she allowed the stone to be removed. Faith is not a feeling. Martha did not feel faith at this time. She did not see the need to move the stone. Yet, she acted. Faith is an action. Martha allowed the stone to be moved. That was her demonstrating her faith.
Now with the stone moved, Jesus acted. With a loud voice He cried, “Lazarus, come forth.” Only after people acted in faith and removed the stone would Jesus act and raise the dead. So, Lazarus came out of his tomb bound in graveclothes. Jesus’ actions were very personal. What would have happened if Jesus would not have specifically identified Lazarus as the one to come forth? They were at a burial site. If Jesus had said, “Y’all come forth,” dead people would certainly have been arising all over the place.
The Message of the Story
It seems this story is all about faith. The object of our faith must be God. The exercise of our faith results in us doing what does not seem logical. We can act in faith only if we hear from God and that is through His word. Lazarus was raised from the dead to demonstrate that God wants us to act in faith and then He will go about the plan He had all along. Let’s consider some important life lessons from this story.
- Faith involves believing that God’s word is true. God does not ask us to do something that is hard to do. He asks us to do things that are impossible to do.
- Faith involves us taking actions that seem crazy. Abraham, for example, was to sacrifice his son—the heir to the promise of God. We too are asked to do things that make no sense. We are asked to take away the stone.
- Faith involves us doing what God tells us to do—take away the stone—so that He will do what He has already determined to do.
Walking by faith is hard. Going through life is hard. But God will work in and through us when we are willing to identify the stone blocking us and move it.