Glory in Suffering

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. – John 11:5-6

I’ve talked before about those precious Jobian friends who are quick to point an accusing finger in our times of suffering. Surely we’re suffering because of our sin, they tell us. But maybe not.

Jesus’ response to news about his dear friend Lazarus’ illness jumped off the page at me during my quiet time this morning. What could possibly be the correlation between Jesus loving Lazarus’ family and Jesus turning his back on them at their greatest point of need? How does it follow logically that love would result in such pain?

This is not the response I would have expected from a God who is love, one who is abounding in compassion and mercy. This is not even the response I would expect from a dear friend. Love means you drop everything so that you’re there when you’re needed.

Surely the translators made a mistake. Surely the translation should read, “Though He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”

But then I realized I was missing the greater glory.

That greater glory began to come into focus a few days later.

Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” – John 11:14-15

Thomas responded as many of us might have: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The bigger picture, not surprisingly, was lost on him, as it is often lost on us.

It was Martha, Mary’s task-oriented sister, who was there to meet Jesus when He arrived in Bethany, and it was Martha who scored two points with her greeting: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Even now. Even when everything seemed to be lost. Even when things seemed darkest. Even when He hadn’t been there for them at their most critical hour.

The response of Mary, the one revered for sitting at Jesus’ feet? “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Hers, like ours, was a shortsighted faith.

But the Lord was not immune to their suffering. Jesus wept (John 11:35). That’s the shortest verse in the Bible, yet one of the most profound. God doesn’t just see our pain. He feels it.

That loss made what came next all the more glorious.

Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” – John 11:40-44

Perhaps your suffering endures so God can perform more than a quick fix that could somehow be attributed to chance, luck or human intervention. Perhaps He is holding out so He can do a great work for which only He can receive the glory. And He is asking you, like Martha, to believe even now.

But because of the people who are standing by . . . 

When the people standing by in your life see the Lord deliver you from the evil that has so long plagued you, they will believe that the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).

Redemption is the greatest glory. It is the most powerful demonstration of love. If our suffering allows others to embrace redemption, it is well worth it, even now.

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