Sometimes Jesus shows his love for us by doing exactly what we asked. Sometimes he shows his love by healing our sickness or by protecting us from danger. Sometimes he shows his love by sparing us of pain. But sometimes . . . sometimes Jesus shows his love through the pain he allowed to happen in our lives.
God loves us so much that he allows short-term pain in our lives to display his glory which then produces long-term joy. I think this is what Jesus was trying to teach us through the raising of Lazarus:
“3 So the sisters [Mary and Martha] sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 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.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” (John 11:3-6)
To most of us, the phrase “the one you love is sick” seems like an oxymoron. If Jesus loves Lazarus, why the heck is he sick? We naturally associate easy external circumstances with God’s pleasure towards us and hard external circumstances with God’s displeasure towards us.
Christians often view God like little children view the doctor. Little kids who are in need of serious health care just think the doctor is being mean and cruel when the treatment is painful. It’s not until years later when the formerly sick child is a healthy, grown adult does he or she begin to realize the doctor used painful treatments because the child’s long term life, not short term comfort, was the doctors main goal. Doctors are willing to cause their patients pain because the doctor’s job is to save your life, not to give you quick and fleeting pleasures.
Likewise, Jesus allowed Lazarus to go through pain because he loved him. Notice in John 11:5 it clearly states Jesus loved the sisters and Lazarus. Then John 11:6 explains with extreme clarity how Jesus expresses that love. The beginning of verse 6 starts with the word “So.” Meaning, because Jesus loved them is the reason he allowed Lazarus’ condition to grow worse before he went to help.
He purposely waits two more days so that Lazarus dies. Jesus shows his love not by keeping them from pain, but by allowing pain so he could use it to magnify himself in their lives. Jesus knew it was better for them that they experience his greatness and know he is God rather than to spare them of short-term displeasure. He knew if he didn’t allow a death in the family, he would never have a chance to produce a resurrection.
Jesus knew the darker the situation got, the brighter his magnificence would be exposed to those he sought to express his affection. He didn’t just want them to love him with an average love. He wanted to produce in them a deeper awe of his greatness than they had ever known. Because Jesus did not spare them of short-term difficulties, they gained a lavish love for Jesus they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
In John 12 we see the family throwing a party for Jesus. Mary takes out the rare perfume worth a year’s wages and pours it on Jesus feet and then wipes his feet with her hair. Mary is the one who performs this act of love, but I bet the whole family was in it on it. No one in the family objected. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, I’m sure, were all overjoyed to spill a year’s wages on the feet of Jesus. I wonder if they would have been so lavish if they hadn’t witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to do all the time. He allows messes to form in our lives so he has an opportunity to produce miracles. He doesn’t just want our average love; he wants lavish love like Mary showed. This type of love in us can only be produced when we allow Jesus to finish what he started.
It would have been really simple for everyone to start doubting Jesus once Lazarus died. Jesus said in John 11:4 (NIV), “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” If I were there, I would have assumed this meant Lazarus was not going to die. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said this tragedy will not “end” in death. He didn’t say Lazarus wasn’t going to experience death.
The easy thing to do would have been to throw their hands up and gripe at Jesus. The hard thing, the thing that eventually produced immense joy in them, was to trust that even though life wasn’t working out the way they thought it should, Jesus can turn any death into a resurrection if allowed to finish what he intended.