“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany.” (John 11:1)
So begins John chapter 11, one of the most moving and revealing chapters in the New Testament – and one that helps me when people are asking, “Why, O Lord?
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister [Mary] and Lazarus.” (vs. 5) Jesus and Lazarus were the best of friends. Jesus had spent hours around the dinner table in their home, sometimes teaching, often just restoring His soul in the presence of a dear friend and his sisters. The relationship was special — even at the tomb the crowd commented, “See how He loved him!” (vs. 36)
So when the sisters sent word that Lazarus was sick it was with confidence, even expectancy, that Jesus would come right away and “fix things.” However, Jesus intentionally lingers two days before heading to Bethany. This delay must have been deeply unsettling to the sisters. Why would Jesus heal complete strangers but not their brother who loved Him so much? Even worse, what really stings was that He didn’t even bother to come. He knows. They know He knows. But He’s not here.
Finally, to add insult to injury, the report that Jesus is on his way comes days after Lazarus had died. Martha meets Jesus on the road; Mary comes later when invited by Jesus; but their agony and confusion is expressed in the same words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Let’s read between the lines: “Why didn’t You do something? Why?”
After the questions and accusations Jesus goes to the burial plot. There He is, the Son of the living God standing before the grave of Lazarus. He alone knows the fullness of the tragedy and the horror of the horror: None of it ever had to be. Death was never something God intended for any of us to taste or endure.
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and the enormity of that truth is cold and merciless. Every drop of blood ever spilled, every disease and calamity, every tear that you and I will ever shed, every funeral we will ever attend is wrapped up in that one statement. And none of it ever had to be.
Jesus was in the garden when it all began, when Adam and Eve made their choice; and thousands of years later He stands in front of His dearest friend’s tomb where the curse continues. However, Jesus knows in this moment, as He knew in the garden, He was soon to offer Himself as the ultimate and final answer to man’s dilemma.
No one gathered in Bethany that day was aware of all that was going on inside of Jesus; if they had been, they would have had compassion for Him and experienced hope. But instead, the crowd was doing what we tend to do when we don’t understand life – they were judging God. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) Collectively they were pretty much saying, “You’re not who You say You are. I can tell by what’s happening to me!”
Yet when we choose for just a moment to rise above our immediate situation and look at our history as mankind, here is what we would see: A long, long time ago a man and a woman ate fruit from a tree they knew they shouldn’t touch. Their nakedness turned into shame, and all of creation writhed in its very first agony. Centuries later, the Son of God hangs exposed from a tree He need never have known, writhing in the grip of creation’s same agony.
Jesus raises Lazarus from death – He confronts the curse on mankind and the death it brings to show His authority over the consequences of sin. It would be only a few weeks later that Jesus Himself would follow suit – except when He came out of the tomb it was to break the power of sin and death forever.
I know with clarity that my job is not so much to resolve people’s crises, or even try to answer the question Why? Mine is to simply show them Jesus in such a way that they might somehow understand Him a bit more and know His heart for them in the middle of it all.