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Gene’s Daily Scriptural Postings

Facing Failed Promises: John 11:1-16

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Year in John – Episode 25: After Jesus promised a messenger that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, we read that Lazarus actually died two days later. Discover what we can learn about God, about Jesus, and about God’s promises through the opening of this event where it appears as though Jesus’ word failed.

Read the transcript:

As we approach the half way mark in our year moving through John’s gospel, we come to one of the longest events in John’s gospel, and, if I’m not mistaken, the miracle Jesus did that takes up the most dedicated space in any gospel record. This miracle is raising Jesus’ friend Lazarus from the dead.

However, because of its length, we will split this event into two episodes, focusing on the first part of the event in this episode, specifically when Jesus hears the news that Lazarus is sick.

Let’s read the opening to this event, and discover some amazing things in how Jesus responds to the news of His friend’s sickness. Our passage for this episode is found in John’s gospel, chapter 11, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

4 When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”

5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. 6 But he stayed where he was for two more days. 7 Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to Judea.”

8 “Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”

9 Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”

12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”

Let’s stop reading here, and save the rest of this event for our next episode.

While it is very tempting to race forward to focus in on the miracle portion of this passage, a detail in the first portion of our event is worth paying attention to, because it may explain why God doesn’t race in and act immediately when we ask.

In the first portion of our event, specifically in verse 4, after hearing the news of Lazarus’ sickness, Jesus responds that: “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.” All too often, when we think of the bad that happens to us or the bad that happens around us living in this sinful world, we are quick to judge God for letting it happen, or rationalize that since it happened, He must not exist.

However, in Jesus’ words, we discover two huge promises. First, the sickness will not end in death. We could expand this truth to say that sin will not conquer or defeat God’s people. Another way of saying this is that God’s people will outlive and outlast both sin and death.

The second huge promise is that this sickness will result in glory being given to God and His Son. While this sounds completely backward, what if all the bad that is happening in the world today was an opportunity to bring glory to God and His Son? While I don’t believe for an instant that God wished sin, pain, disease, or death to be present in His perfect creation, what if all the evil present gives God and His people the opportunity to help others?

If everything was perfect in our world, there would be no need for anyone to help another, there would be no reason for us to need a Savior, and we as a race would become unbelievably prideful and arrogant – significantly more extreme than we are right now. If humanity never sinned, Jesus would not have needed to come and face the cross, and Jesus alludes or suggests that the cross was where He would receive glory.

In contrast, in order for Jesus’ response when hearing the news about Lazarus’ sickness to be true, we must understand that Jesus has something bigger in mind. Jesus promised that this sickness wouldn’t end in death, and that it would give glory to God and His Son.

Without both parts of Jesus’ reply, we are left wondering about what happened next. If Jesus had only promised that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, there would be little reason for Jesus to go help Him. It would be similar to other miracles where Jesus promised people from a distance that their loved one would get well.

However, if we only had the second part of this reply, we might also be surprised at what happened next. If this sickness would ultimately result in God and His Son receiving glory, then it makes little sense for Jesus to stay where He was for two more days.

Looking at how Jesus responded to the messenger, and then what He did following this, I wonder if the disciples believed Jesus’ words to the messenger to be similar to Jesus’ words to the centurion, to the father of the dying child, and to other miracles where the one asking for a miracle was willing to accept Jesus’ promise of healing from a distance. On the surface, Jesus’ response sounds like a similar promise.

However, one of the biggest challenges I see being laid in this opening to this event is within Jesus’ reply. Jesus told the messenger that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death, and then two days later, Jesus admits to His disciples that Lazarus was in fact dead.

This challenge is similar to what many people face today. We read about all the miracles and promises God gives us in the Bible, then we pray for God’s help and for a miracle in our own situation, and after praying this, often it can feel as though God ignores our request.

It is like the messenger racing back to Bethany after finding Jesus with the promise that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but then less than 48 hours later, Lazarus dies. On the surface, this looks like a huge fail for Jesus and His promises. This looks like Jesus broke a promise. I suspect that Mary, Martha, and those present in Bethany had similar feelings of loss, of disappointment, and of doubt towards God when Lazarus stopped breathing.

However, Jesus’ promise still stands. Jesus saw this event in a larger way than this immediate sickness finishing Lazarus off for good. Instead, Jesus never promised that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t temporarily take Him through death. Instead, Jesus actually refers to the death Lazarus experienced as sleep, which makes this contrast even more evident. It is only when the disciples don’t understand Jesus’ metaphor that He spoke plainly to them about Lazarus’ death.

In a similar way, when we experience pain, loss, or even death, we might feel as though God’s promises have failed us. However, Jesus sees one or more steps past the immediate pain, because Jesus sees the step past our sleep-death and He sees the resurrection He will bring to all of His people when He returns.

While the disciples show virtually no faith in Jesus during this opening of the event, the opening of this event sets the stage for what would be seen as one of Jesus’ greatest miracles in His entire ministry, and a miracle that foreshadows the resurrection that all of God’s people can look forward to when Jesus returns!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, seek God first in your life, and choose to place your faith, your hope, your trust, and your belief in Jesus even when our immediate circumstances don’t seem like God’s promises are coming true. God sees history with a much bigger perspective than we ever could, and the situation we are facing might be like the opening of our event in this episode. However, remember that Jesus sees one or more steps past our immediate situation, and He has promised to give God the glory for what ultimately happens.

Also, even though it is hard to do when facing trials, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself with the goal of purposefully growing closer to God and Jesus while facing trials. Often God walks with us through the trials instead of taking the trial away, and while it is not pleasant to think about, sometimes trials are God’s way of reminding us that we need Him in our lives.

However, trials have an end, and because of this, I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

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