“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
Notice the brevity and confidence in the message Martha and Mary sent to Jesus. They name Lazarus not as someone who loves Jesus, but as one loved by Jesus. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us (1 John 4:10). They didn’t even ask Jesus to come; they let him know his loved one was suffering, and they waited.
I imagine Martha and Mary laboring over their suffering brother for days and nights, occasionally taking moments to look for Jesus. Will he come this hour? Will he be here in the morning? God, I’ve asked for your help, when will you come?
As soon as Jesus received their message 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.” He who saw the end from the beginning knew his Father’s plan for Lazarus. If only he had sent a text message to Martha and Mary about the plan, too.
You are likely familiar with this story and know that Jesus did not rush to heal the friend he loved, but stayed two days longer where he was. Twice we see references to what would have happened if Jesus had been there. We have Martha’s honest, grief-stricken statement: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can read much into Martha’s words here: anger, reproach, faith, and even hope. I see the rabbit-hole of the “what-if” – the temptation to linger on how things could have been different in my suffering.
Jesus himself mentions what would have happened, and it confirms Martha’s claim: “Jesus told [the disciples] plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’” This is from Jesus’s mouth: if he had been there, Lazarus would not have died.
This made me wonder if maybe Jesus, knowing Lazarus’s resurrection would bring glory to God and greater belief, would have been moved to heal Lazarus if he had been physically present. Maybe he would have abandoned the plan and intervened. Fully God and fully man, Jesus loved this family dearly, but he also knew the greater design for God’s glory. He did not rebuke Martha for her statement, and we read later that he mourned, deeply troubled and weeping (John 11:33-35), all the while knowing he would raise Lazarus.
Why am I belaboring this point? Because Jesus is not callously allowing suffering for his own glory – he doesn’t stay away for his sake, but for ours, so we may believe. He knew that even though Lazarus’s death and resurrection would lead to greater belief, that didn’t take away the anguish of what Martha, Mary, and Lazarus went through. It didn’t even take away Jesus’s pain and sorrow. Just because God may use your past in beautiful ways doesn’t make it any less painful.
Are you crying out for God’s presence this Lent? Do you send messages to heaven that read “Lord, the one whom you love is in need?” Know that even if He delays a while, it is not done coldly, but in love. He suffers, mourns, and weeps with you, even while planning things for your future that are greater than you can ask or imagine.
Shannon lives in Kensington, Maryland, with her husband Matt and their three naughty cats: Beatrice, Romulus, and Remus. She has an affinity for yellow homes, fantasy novels, and baking cakes.