You probably know the story. “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany” (John 11:1). He was the brother of Mary and Martha and a friend of Jesus. John, the gospel-writer, wants us to understand a very important detail about Christ’s heart for this family. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)
Jesus loved Lazarus. The illness was fatal. Yet Jesus did not go to help Lazarus. Not yet. Not until he was dead.
You’ve read about it. Jesus arrived, spoke, and Lazarus came to life. Called forth from the tomb, Lazarus was reunited with family and friends. People were thunderstruck. Lazarus, they knew; death, they knew. But a resurrection? That was an incomprehensible miracle. The story went viral. That’s why we know it today.
Our Quaking Savior
But before the miracle, there was a moment. One short frame in the day’s video clip. It happened before Christ arrived at the tomb, when he saw Mary and others weeping. The frame froze as the narrator, John-–for just a millisecond—drew back the veil for us to see and experience the emotions of our Savior.
“He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).
Two phrases are used to describe what Christ was feeling. The first was “deeply moved in his spirit”. Don’t think about “spirit-moving” here as sorrow or sadness. Christ’s feelings were more like a gathering storm on the opposite shore. Swipe your Logos cursor over the footnote and the term “indignant” pops up. Not indignant as “annoyed over the intrusion of people’s grief”. No, this was more like righteous indignation. It was Christ’s heart, displaying the fullness of humanity, triggered by seeing the impact of death on those he loved. A short glimpse at how God actually feels when suffering unleashes misery on his family.
Now remember, Jesus is the only one present who knows where this whole story is going. He knows that in less than an hour, Lazarus will be tossing off his grave-cloths and hugging his sisters. But there’s a point God wants to make here so we know where he stands. Or more specifically, how he feels.
The second phrase is “greatly troubled”. Think: “deeply disturbed”. Or, as the semantics suggests, “shaking with agitation”. Connect the two phrases together and you have Jesus, in the presence of their grief, “quaking with indignation”. I just love this picture. Christ’s love for us is so deep that he rages against death.
Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus just called himself “the Resurrection and the life” to Martha. We all know he could have spared everyone from this whole calamity. But now his wrath is inflamed by the tragedy and the trauma it brings.
But that’s not all.
One verse later, the dam of pent-up emotions breaks into the shortest passage in all of scripture. “Jesus wept” (John 11: 35).
Here we behold an infinitely precious, if not utterly perplexing moment where the Incarnate Son is displaying his full humanity. Jesus is weeping, though he knows Lazarus will soon stand next to him. Weeping, though he knows the sister’s tears will soon turn to unconstrained joy. Weeping, though he knows a funeral is about to break into a party. Weeping, not for himself and his coming torment–for he certainly knew that “from that day on they made plans to put him to death” (Jn. 11: 53)– but for a broken world where suffering and death inevitably decimates the ones he loves.
Jesus Interprets for Us
Friends, if Christ thought it best to immediately lift your burden, relieve your suffering or return your loved one, the deed would be done. And honestly, I hope today holds just such a miracle for you. But there are two larger points which solidify the ground to stand hopeful in the face of another day.
First, in a fallen world, there is a design behind every delay. “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11: 6).
Jesus did not rush to intervene. He waited. In fact, he waited until it seemed too late. Can you relate to that this morning? Something you cherish is dying. Prayer? You’ve prayed yourself senseless. But God seems late.
Martha and Mary could relate. They discovered a secret which we need to learn. There is always a design behind the delay.
I love the final stanza of William Cowper’s “God Moves In Mysterious Ways”.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
How did God interpret this delay?
The delay became an opportunity to build faith. “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe (John. 11: 14-15)”. When God delays, we are thrown into the classroom of trust. There we are tutored to “walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5: 7).
Maybe you woke up this morning occupying a seat in this same classroom. Can you hear the Divine Interpreter whispering to your soul through this story?
In Dosteyesky’s Brothers Karamazov, the character of Ivan cannot accept the idea that innocent suffering is part of God’s plan. He creates a prose poem called the Grand Inquisitor where Ivan imagines Christ returning to earth to be cross-examined by the Church. In the prose, Christ is indicted and another death demanded of him. Why? The Church just can’t reconcile the idea that present suffering could have future value, either to the soul on earth or to life after death.
Maybe you can identify. If so, the story of Lazarus reminds us that the apparent conundrum is not answered through logic, but through trusting in the wisdom of God. This means allowing God’s word to interpret God’s actions. Or his inactions. God is his own interpreter.
The delay became an opportunity to bring glory to God. Jesus waited to enlarge the stage. The delay became the context for his greater glory. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John. 11: 4). But he knew the depth of the pain would convert into greater glory for God.
My friend, let God be his own interpreter. Connect this passage to where you are waiting. Can you believe there is a design behind the death of this dream? Can you trust, in ways you may never fully understand on earth, “that the Son of God may be glorified through it”? This is not just a story about Lazarus. This story is about you.
Jesus Feels for Us
Secondly, Jesus understands how you feel while you wait. He’s not ambivalent. He’s not standing aloof and indifferent, totally mystified over why this hurts so much. Christ quakes with indignation over what crushes your heart. Yet in his perfect, loving and mysterious will, Jesus both ordains it and grieves it. Christ surgically implants the thorn and then sympathizes with us over the resulting weakness.
There is much we don’t know. But this we do know: Our Savior is acquainted with grief. The very burdens that crush your heart right now break his heart as well. He hates all that hurts you.
Does your heart feel mangled this morning? Your Savior understands. He knew loneliness, betrayal, abandonment, and slander. Have you been treated unjustly? Jesus was exploited, mistreated, objectified, abused, and eventually murdered. Do you feel loss? Christ lost family, friends, community, respectability, influence and his life. Believe me when I say, however you feel this morning, Jesus gets you.
And when we weep, Jesus weeps. He feels tender compassion for you. He counts every sleepless night and stores each teardrop in a bottle for future discussion (Ps. 56:8). The One who “has born our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53: 4) bears them still. Just roll that over in your mind for a minute.
But Christ is not in heaven just feeling bad for us. Sure, Lazarus rose. Only to eventually die again. Jesus died to rise again. This means he is now standing and interceding on our behalf. Perhaps at this very moment, all of heaven can hear his prayers. For you. Right now. Just close your eyes and imagine the crescendo of his heavenly cries, echoing from the universe walls as he prays passionately for your confusion. Incessant intercession pours forth for your kids and your motivation. For your clarity, your church, or for your courage to take bold steps towards freedom or mission.
Your life is messy, I understand. But Christ has died for you, risen for you and is now praying for you. He has designed this delay to build your faith and exalt his own glory.
Sure, you may awaken to another day in the waiting room. But remember, Jesus has a plan and he, quite literally, embodies your pain. Your situation may feel like death, but it is truly designed and fully governed by the One who spoke and raised Lazarus from the dead.
Think about Lazarus today. Let his story remind you that the God who cherishes you also loves to raise the dead. It’s kind of his thing.