As a youth pastor, people often come to me and say, “Oscar, I made a big mistake and I messed up. I’ve been doing this, or I said this or that, or whatever it may be. As a fellow believer, I don’t sit there and condemn them. I don’t judge them — Game Over! Sinner! What I try to do is sit there, listen carefully, and love them. Then I pray for them. And I encourage them. But when I make a mistake. I get down on myself. Why is it that I can give these people grace and mercy, but I cannot give that same grace and mercy to myself?
There have been so many times where I’ve struggled. Sometimes a failure seems so complete that I say, “Okay, God, it’s done, I’m over. It’s not gonna happen.” But the thing that I’ve learned consistently as I’ve served God is that there’s no such thing as failure in God. Anything and everything that you put in the hands of God will always come back in His perfect will. I have to trust in him, that whatever it is that I’ve placed in his hands, He’s going to bring it back to a full rotation in his perfect will… not mine. To me, it might be an absolute failure, while His perfect plan includes my falling for something bigger, greater, more impactful. We already know that we’re going to live forever and that there’s everlasting life that is in Christ Jesus. Our everlasting life is certified the moment that we said, “Yes, Lord. You are the Lord and the Savior of my life. Come into my heart and be my Savior.” But there will still be hard things in our lives. Hard for us. Used by God.
The best illustration of this occurs in John 11:1-35. If you’ve not read it (ever, or lately), I suggest you take some time to read the story. The story begins in verse 40 of chapter 10, with Jesus and His disciples beyond the Jordan river in the wilderness of Judea preaching the Good News. Meanwhile, back in the town of Bethany, one of Jesus’ good friends, Lazarus, has gotten very sick. In fact, Jesus is friends with the entire family — Lazarus, his sister Martha, and sister Mary. The sisters, concerned for the health of Lazarus, sent a messenger to Jesus to tell him, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.” The word “behold” means “Stop! Listen to this! It’s very important!” For Lazarus and his sisters, this was an urgent issue. Their hope was in Jesus coming to Bethany and making Lazarus well. They believe that. They expected that. But that was not what happened.
Jesus’ response is, “Don’t worry. This sickness will not end in Lazarus’ death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” To those listening, it might have sounded like he blew the messenger off. In case we are misguided, verse 5 reminds us that ‘“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” But immediately after, in verse 6, it says that “When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two days longer where he was.” What? This was the situation: Lazarus deathly sick. Martha and Mary sent a messenger to Jesus for help. Jesus responded by staying where he was two days longer. It’s almost upsetting to read this next part, but when you pray and you want something from God, you generally only see your viewpoint, and you want it right then and there.
In this case, Jesus doesn’t get up and go running, because everything is according to His perfect will and timing. Now, a couple of days later, Jesus heads to Bethany, but Lazarus is now dead. Not only is Lazarus dead, but he’s been dead for four days. For Martha and Mary, the urgency is done. They’ve moved on to grieving. Lazarus is gone. Everything that Mary and Martha wanted, and obviously everything that Lazarus wanted, was already lost. There’s no salvaging the situation. No miracle. He’s already in the tomb with the stone in front of it. He’s dead. Give it up. There’s nothing to be said or done. Nothing left except the weeping.
Martha goes through the normal human stages of defeat. First, in verse 21, Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When you face disappointment, it is “Why didn’t you get here? Why didn’t you give us what we asked?” It is human also, that when we don’t get what we want, doubt creeps in. We sell Jesus short. Jesus tells Martha in verse 23, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha’s doubt shows up. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” but not today was the unspoken thought.
Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Perhaps the doubt is still there in her response: “Yes, Lord; I have believed.” Not “I do believe.”
In verse 39, Jesus asks for the stone over the tomb to be removed. Martha’s doubt shows again. “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” She’d already acknowledged that she believed he was the Son of God in v27. What she was saying is the time for a miracle is done. The time for you to answer our prayers is done. There’s nothing that you can do or say at this point because our dear brother has been dead for so long that he’d started to decay. There’s no comeback. Then, with all the doubt, sadness, and unbelief in the gathered crowd, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb; alive and well.
So what is the point of this miracle? It is the same point as for all the miracles, and Jesus tells us clearly in verse 4 “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” and in verse 14-15, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes [his disciples] that I was not there, so that you may believe.”
I don’t know what situation you may be facing, but if you’re at the place where you feel like you’ve been praying for a miracle, and the situation seems hopeless; remember there’s a bigger plan. God uses our weaknesses for his glory. God may use our hard times to teach us or to show his glory. When Jesus said, “roll the stone away” three (3) very clear things happened: (1) Lazarus regained his life, and Martha and Mary’s faith was solidified; all doubt is gone. (2) the disciples, the family, the friends, and mourners all gathered for the funeral were witness to what happened, and (3) verse 45, “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.” The purpose was accomplished, even though a tragic event. People who were lost to an eternity of hell found eternal life in Jesus.
God bless you and keep you. ~OS