John 11:14-15 (the message)
Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”
Lazarus and Jesus were friends, and yet Jesus tells His disciples in the scripture above that He is glad He wasn’t there when Lazarus died. Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick but He waited several days before going to him and by then His friend had been dead four days! This seems like a terribly painful and confusing situation for all. Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha, as well as village friends and loved ones who were grieving his death. Why hadn’t Jesus come earlier when He could have healed Lazarus and prevented his death?
So often we see hardship, pain and suffering as something that shouldn’t be happening in our lives if we are friends with Jesus. Sometimes we even measure our (as well as others) level of spiritual maturity by the manner of hardships that we face. “If I had prayed the right way God would have answered differently…If I believe enough God will rescue me from tough circumstances in my job or marriage instead of having me walk them out…If I spend enough time, give enough money or meet a high enough standard then I won’t face loss or pain…” I can totally see how when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick they fully expected He would come quickly. Mary had been the one to sit at the feet of Jesus…Martha had been the one to serve Jesus a meal in her home. They loved Jesus. They trusted Jesus.
My thoughts this morning revert back to the verses above: Jesus knew what He was going to do. Jesus knew that what He was about to give to His disciples as well as Mary, Martha and Lazarus was far better than a physical healing. Jesus was about to give them “new grounds” for believing. Believing what? Believing that in their very midst stood the Son of God…the Messiah…the Holy One of Israel. The very Savior the Jewish race had been waiting hundreds and hundreds of years for was walking, talking and eating meals with them. He had arrived on earth, changing history forever. Jesus could have very easily gone to Lazarus when he was sick and healed him, preventing his death and the temporary sorrow his sisters faced. Certainly their hearts would have been filled with gratitude and perhaps the village people and those closer to Jesus would have once again hailed Him as a prophet from God. But see, believing Jesus is a prophet or a good man is a short change. God had sent many prophets and good men before Jesus but none had the power to save humanity…to break the chains of sin, death and Hell forever. I can only imagine the scene as Jesus gave instructions to roll away the stone; as He called Lazarus out with his sisters, the disciples and the village friends watching in full view. How do you think their hearts and lives were impacted to see a man dead four days walk out of a tomb? Can you see how this would impact not only their current circumstances but the future they could not yet see? In later days as Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead these witnesses to Lazarus’s miracle would already know that indeed Jesus was the risen Christ. On the day that Jesus gave them “new grounds” for believing He was fueling a fire that would burn within them as they blazed into New Testament history.
I was talking the other day with a friend. She is a special and much-loved woman who is in the midst of a struggle. She lost her job last spring and she also has some physical challenges. But you know what she said to me? She knows that God “delivered” her from her previous job. She knows in her heart that God is at work in her circumstances. Sometimes it’s hard for her and she reaches out for prayer but she told me how through this experience she is getting to know Jesus like never before. She knows God has a plan for her finances and provision, but she doesn’t spend time grieving her loss because in her loss she is being given “new grounds” for believing.
Along these same lines I shared with her that in my life, my marriage served as “new grounds” for believing. For all of the very painful times…all of the strife and despair…in the end I know Jesus in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise. Matter of fact it wasn’t but so long ago Holy Spirit whispered that into my heart as I was making my bed one day…”you wouldn’t know me the way you do now if it had been easy and all your needs met through him.” There is a sweetness in realizing that if we follow Jesus when He says “Now let’s go…”, even through what seems like Hell, it may just lead us to new ground. And when we reach new ground…a place where we know Him and trust Him and love Him more than before…we don’t regret the pain. In releasing the idea that I should have spiritual fairy dust fall from Heaven onto my marriage, in letting go of my dreams for easy, I discovered more intimately this other man…Jesus. I embraced and experienced what was written on onion-skin pages of my Bible take shape in my very life as I followed. In time the man who did not meet my needs the way I wanted was released from the over-burdening responsiblity of my joy and peace because I found it in the God who created me. In the midst of great turmoil and pain I found stability. In the midst of struggle I learned to triumph. In the midst of rejection and loss I found joy. In the midst of shaky hopes and shattered dreams I found purpose. I am someone today that I would never have been if not for the “new grounds” God gave me to believe. As God remains my source in life marriage and relationships become healthier and more fulfilling…they become all I hoped they would be but would never have been without the struggle.
What about you? Are you swimming in the waters of sorrow or perhaps camped out on the banks of bitterness? Have you missed an opportunity for gaining “new grounds” for believing in your life because you can’t get past the idea that God did not rescue you from hardship? If so, I pray as you read this post you will catch a glimpse of the greater gift. Yes, God could rescue you from every struggle right at the first hint of discomfort but then you would miss out on the opportunity to know Him to degrees and in ways you couldn’t otherwise. I realize some folks take offense with this because I used to be one of them. But if you read the 11th chapter of John it’s clear to see that Jesus knowingly allowed Lazarus to die. But here is the thing: Jesus knew the final outcome. He knew that even in the loss and the grieving it could not surpass the greatness of what He was going to do in all of their lives. Imagine the testimony of Lazarus for the rest of his life!! Telling his story again and again…how the Savior touched Him…called Him out of death…redeemed him.
We all have a story to tell. Our story of struggle and hardship can be one of triumph and believing as we go from our suppositions and assumptions about this man Jesus to a living, breathing life ablaze with what God can do! I would like to end this post today with one last thought and alternative. What if when Jesus was speaking to His disciples, instructing them to go with Him to Lazarus, some had stayed behind? What if, when Jesus reached the village and called for Martha and Mary, they had refused to come out of offense with Him? See, I think Jesus would still have gone to Lazarus’ tomb and called him out because that was His plan all along. The real tragedy would have been in the lives of those who couldn’t get past the fact that they were in the hardship in the first place. They would miss letting Jesus give them “new grounds” for believing and knowing Him more intensely and in so doing miss the sheer joy and call on their lives as promoters and testifiers of the goodness and reality of Jesus as Messiah.
We don’t have to be fake or unrealistic about our pain…but this is what I believe James means when he tells us to “count it all joy.” That sounds somewhat lofty and ridiculous until we live through it…until we see that Jesus really, really loves us. And if He allows us to walk through hardship it is only because He already knows the “new grounds” for believing we will gain. Jesus already knows what He is going to do…we just need not miss seeing Him do it.