Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, close to him by personal connection, is sick (11:1). But, says Jesus, this sickness is not a disaster but a disseminator, not a defeat but an ascent, not a disgrace but a revealer of glory: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (11:4). A Christian’s sufferings are not his shame but his opportunity to reveal God’s glory. The Puritans used to write to each other that they had had several “good deaths” recently, meaning that those in their parish had died with joy and eyes on glory. Such “good deaths” gave the lie to the claim that death is the end—they witnessed to a hope eternal. Perhaps you are being tested in the area of physical suffering. Remember that in Christ, even your physical pain, even physical death, is not the end, nor a sign that God has forgotten you or is not using you. Perhaps, like Lazarus, this is the part of the story of your life that will be more used to show God’s glory than any other part.
It is with such logic that Jesus acts in a way that seems entirely counter-intuitive. Because Jesus loved Lazarus, when he heard that he was ill, therefore, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (11:5-6). There is no apparent logic to that delay; why not hurry to his side? Why not act without delay? Why wait two days? But such is the way of God. At times the situation must worsen so that his grace may ripen. God answers by first class mail on the morning of his departure. For God’s glory to be revealed in Lazarus, he must not only be sick, he must actually die; and for that to happen the Lord must wait a further two days. For God’s glory to be revealed in Lazarus, the situation must come to its final gloomy conclusion in order that the ultimate glory might shine with final brilliance.
Surely it is hard to accept, but at times God’s non-answers to our prayers are not only because he knows better than we do, but also because he is answering, only not according to our timetable, and the timing of his answer will give greater witness to his greater glory through us. Those “two days” of waiting can seem so long. Remember it is not because God does not care that he waits, but because God does care.
Thomas, like the others hearing Jesus expound on this surprising, counterintuitive logic, accepts it bravely and puts on a long face in consequence. “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Hardly the cheeriest of sorts, Thomas seems in the few times we come across him in John to be filled with doubt and dreariness. Still, in the end he believes. Let us not model ourselves on his doubt or his dreariness, but be grateful that even our weaknesses are accepted within Christ’s graciousness.
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