• Dwight Dunn

Delays of Love

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

From Anxiety to Love April 10, 2020 Prolonged exposure to difficulty wears us down especially when no clear end is in sight. We cry out to God in prayer for deliverance but relief does not come and we can wonder ‘where is God when I need him?’ Jesus’ friends struggled when he didn’t quickly help his good friend Lazarus on his deathbed. As we see how Jesus responds to their anxious hearts, we can learn how to endure the prolonged trial of the pandemic and the challenges it may present to our faith.


John 11 records Lazarus’ illness, Martha & Mary’s (his sisters’) concern, and Jesus' response. This great event takes 54 verses to describe. This post merely highlights these events but please read the complete passage here.

The passage emphasizes:

  • Lazarus, Martha, and Mary love Jesus and he loves these siblings.

  • When Lazarus falls critically ill, the sisters notify Jesus. Based on their mutual love, we expect Jesus to hurry to Lazarus’ aid but he remains where he was two additional days.

  • Jesus informs his followers (disciples) that Lazarus’ illness does not lead to death but it is for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified through it. However, Lazarus dies. Lazarus, whose name means, ‘he whom God helped,’ is not helped.

Based on appearances at this moment in time, it seems Jesus has failed his friends. If we were in the sisters’ shoes would we be tempted to think that prayer doesn’t work, doubt Jesus’ love, or think he erred? We won’t discover this until the end of the account that all of these appearances are wrong. Here’s the reality however: Jesus delayed going to Lazarus’ aid precisely because He loved Lazarus & his sisters!

The Lord does not act how or when we think he should and we can struggle in our faith as a result. Many factors affect our response and they often highlight our limitations. We often lack complete knowledge and we’re incapable of seeing beyond our great need. Someone remarked that a penny is a very small thing until you hold it up to your eye then it becomes your whole world. If a small object can obscure our vision, imagine how a large matter greatly impacts our perspective. Circumstances can also greatly affect our understanding of time. Like the old saying goes, the length of two minutes varies greatly depending on which side of the bathroom door you’re standing.

Jesus delayed going to Lazarus’ aid precisely because He loved Lazarus & his sisters!

By the time Jesus arrives in Mary and Martha’s town, Lazarus has already been in the tomb for four days. Martha meets Jesus before he arrives at the house:

  • She says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha struggles to understand. She asks Jesus, ‘where were you?’ and somewhat challenges him: ‘if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ We are not wrong to express to the Lord that we cannot understand how our present circumstances align with what he has said in his word so long as we do so reverently. My son says, ‘it’s okay to shake our heads at God, but never our fists.’

  • Martha wrestles with doubt but also affirms to Jesus, ‘but even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you’ (verse 22).

  • Jesus assures her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha replies, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’

It’s okay to shake our heads at God, but never our fists

Jesus assures Martha and draws out of her grieving heart a great affirmation of faith. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27 ESV)

  • The nearly identical scenario unfolds with Mary who repeats many of Martha’s protests (verses 28-32). We get the impression that these women consoled each other by voicing their bewilderment.

Like these women, we can struggle when God seems slow to respond and silent when we need a word from him. People may be asking the Lord similar things during this horrible pandemic or have voiced similar frustrations at past trials: Where were you, Lord, when my loved one contracted the virus? You came too late. Where were you when I lost my job because of the economic downturn? Where were you when I was afraid and cried for help? Where were you when I needed a friend and was unable to visit anyone?

Like these women, we can struggle when God seems slow to respond and silent when we need a word from him.

Christ delivers for His glory and our good at His expense

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35 ESV).

The Lord is not aloof, uncaring or absent, rather he enters into our trials with us. Jesus is greatly troubled and he weeps at the pain He witnesses before him. But the words ‘deeply moved’ indicate that Jesus is indignant. With whom or with what is Jesus angry? If we look at the cause behind the people’s grief: death, the sin that causes death, and the enemy who holds the power of death, we see the Lord is angry with sin, its ruin, and its ruler.

Thus, with extraordinary compassion, authority, and power, Jesus approached the tomb and instructed that the stone covering the cave’s entrance be removed. Martha protested that there would be an odor since it had been four days since Lazarus had died. “Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (verses 40-44). In verse 4, Jesus told the disciples that Lazarus’ illness would not result in Lazarus’ death but that it was for the glory of God that the Son of God might be glorified through it. However, Jesus refers to much more than Lazarus’ resurrection. In the Gospel as recorded by John, the term ‘glorify’ often refers to the cross of Christ. Jesus knew that raising Lazarus from the dead would galvanize the religious leaders’ hatred against him and “so from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (John 11:53, ESV).

Tim Keller writes, Jesus ‘knew that if he raised Lazarus from the dead, the religious establishment would try to kill him. And so he knew the only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave was to put himself into the grave. He knew the only way to interrupt Lazarus’ funeral was to summon his own. If he was going to save us from death, he was going to have to go to the cross, and bear the judgment we deserve.’

“Lazarus, come out!”

Jesus’ compassion for people and his anger against sin, suffering, and death compelled him to raise Lazarus from the dead and to die on the cross to satisfy God’s just wrath against our sin. Thus, Jesus would rescue us from the greatest suffering of eternal separation from God.

Jesus told Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ Jesus did not merely say he had the power to bring Lazarus and anyone else back to life; Jesus declared that he, in his being, is the resurrection and the life. As a result, the only way to experience that new life is by loving him personally.

Christ delivers for His glory & our good at His expense

When we think that God is slow to come to our aid, when our circumstances pressure us to question God’s goodness or power, remember Pastor James Boice’s challenge: “Let me summarize this in a challenge that I hope you will remember. Learn to interpret circumstances by the love of Christ and not Christ’s love by circumstances. Christ’s delays are the delays of love; therefore, they should be interpreted by love. If we do it the other way around, we will be even farther from understanding the circumstances, and we may question the love. Begin with Christ’s love. Say, “I know that Christ loves me. He died for me. Therefore I will do my best to see his purpose in the things that are happening.”

To read the other blog posts in this series click on the links below:

Sheltering in Peace

Buoyed by Hope

Glow-in-the-Dark Joy

Waiting Well

Strength through Weakness

Hoarding or Loving

Good News

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