“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The statement made by Mary and Martha offers a note of familiarity to humanity, doesn’t it? We often think that if God would have been with us (or a loved one) then suffering would not be present. In our modern state of evangelicalism, we default to the mindset that the presence of suffering negates the presence of God. This is simply not true and we have much need to have our minds renewed (see Romans 12:1-2) to viewing reality from the lens of Scripture. In our last post, we saw that Lazarus was not just the run of the mill follower of Jesus. He (and his sisters) were well known by the Lord and in fact the sisters sent a message to Jesus stating that “he whom you love is sick” (see John 11:1-3). Much frustration comes from thinking that our suffering is in every cases due to God’s lack of love for His people. While Hebrews 12 does teach us that the Lord disciplines His children when they sin, we must remember that we live in a fallen world that is affected in every way by sin and the suffering it brings.
Up to this point, we have learned that our suffering serves a purpose. In John 11 we have learned that Jesus knew about the suffering of this beloved family. He was not amiss in His knowledge, nor was He lacking in His care. God knows of your suffering as well. We are never truly alone even when we feel as though we are. Secondly, we learned that Jesus had a purpose for this pain filled situation in John 11:14-15. Just as with this family beloved of Christ, He has a plan and purpose for our trials, tragedies, and sufferings as well. Jesus had stated that the disciples would “believe” after they saw the whole situation played out. This particular instance would be a lesson of faith for them. How many times have we come through something painful and realized on the other side that our belief in God and our faith in His providence is also strengthened? John 11 serves as a learning experience for us; not only do we learn that God knows full well about our situation, but that also He will not waste the suffering of His people.
But, in our frailty and fallibility, we still drift into the current of thinking that leads us to the question “Does Jesus care?” Jesus’ absence may have led Mary and Martha to think the same as well. If Jesus had cared, why did He not drop what He was doing and come to the rescue? When they ask the questions in John 11:21,32 in effect they were really saying “Lord, where were you when we needed you?” We are then met in the passage by the shortest, most poignant verse in the bible in John 11:35… “Jesus wept.” His heart was touched by their grief. Jesus knew about their pain, Jesus had a plan for their suffering (it was better than their plan of escaping it altogether), and now He enters into their suffering as well. We now learn that Jesus cares for His people. As you drift into the dark nights of the soul during suffering, we can be comforted by these things: Jesus knows, Jesus has a purpose, and Jesus cares about our suffering.
Lastly, this narrative does not end with just a forlorn hope of suffering ending. Jesus, being fully God did not rebuke the sisters for their unbelief. He did not have a sharp reply when they genuinely asked where He was. He simply listened to their cries and then answered them. Does that not bring a ray of light into our darkness? To know that not only does God hear us, but that He also answers with hope. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and He was glorified by demonstrating that He indeed is Almighty God. God not only brings hope, He is our only hope. So, in the midst of our suffering, we draw comfort in knowing that 1) Jesus knows about our suffering, we are not alone 2) Jesus has a plan/purpose for our suffering 3) Jesus cares deeply about our suffering and lastly 4) Jesus hears our cries.
Jesus told the people to roll away the stone (John 11:39). This shows us that God has a better plan that the one Mary or Martha had (that Lazarus would eventually be raised). Lazarus was commanded to come up from the grave and he did so. Jesus’ plan for our suffering is always better than ours. It may be that you are under such a heavy burden it feels as though you are being crushed. It may feel as though your life and hope is slowly ebbing away; yet there is hope. You may have looked everywhere for relief, but true hope resides in Christ alone. Jesus truly cares about your suffering. We can have hope because He cares, we are offered light in the midst of darkness because we know we have a God who is not ignorant of our trials. We are to learn that He has a plan for whatever may befall us. It is when we begin to trust these truths that God teaches us in John 11 that we can see our suffering with new eyes and with a renewed hope in our hearts.