We have all had it in our families and some of those reading this message may even have had it personally, news that we have a health problem that needs immediate attention. It was much more serious than the basic aches and pains that affect us all from time to time, or even more frequently as we get older. The news affecting this family was of a serious illness that might not result in a restoration of health and strength. Let us look at the part of our story found in John 11:1-16:
The announcement (John 11:1-3) Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
This was an unusual situation two thousand years ago in Israel to find three adult siblings, two sisters and a brother sharing a home; they were all probably in their twenties or thirties and single. It was a home where Jesus had felt particularly welcome and when in the Jerusalem area had often stayed there. They were good God-honouring people. However, no-one is exempt from difficulties in life. Health issues, for example, can arise in people of any age or stage of life. It is not just an issue with the Covid-19 virus. At times like this it focuses our minds on what is really important to us.
The attitude (John 11:4-6) 4 When He heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed where He was two more days…
At first glance Jesus’ response seems puzzling. He certainly appeared to be taking His time in going to see Lazarus. The family almost certainly were praying too, but it appears to be unsuccessful. It is a mystery why some people seem to have life so hard and some others appear to drift through life without any major incidents happening in their home or family. Then and now it can be an issue as to why it has happened. But don’t spend too long reflecting on the ‘why’ because on many occasions there is no obvious human explanation. However, despite the difficulties it was a situation in which God could work for their good and His glory. We can always pray for ourselves or others in times of need.
The appeal (John 11:7-10)7 and then He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’ 8 ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone You, and yet You are going back?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the day-time will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.’
Did Jesus stay away at first to avoid the risk of arrest or stoning? No I don’t think that is correct. I think it more likely He set aside extra time for prayer to prepare for returning to Bethany. When needs are announced some of us by temperament, including me, want to get on with fixing the problem straight away. The example of Jesus here suggest we slow down a little so that we spend time talking with God about the predicament in front of us, before any attempt to solve the problem. How God answers our prayers may be very different to what we were either asking for or expecting to happen.
The action (John 11:11-16) 11After He had said this, He went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ 12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of His death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. 14 So then He told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
This news of Lazarus’ death would have shocked these disciples, but not Jesus. When you and I pray for people or about particular circumstances we come to God who can do anything to change a situation. He may answer ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not yet’. The important thing though is to ask. We must never make the mistake of failing to ask God to work (James 4:2b) but we must be equally careful not to presume that we know what God will do in response. However, we serve an amazing God who gives us real hope and confidence in His Holy Spirit working both in our lives personally and in the wider world around us.
Our song for reflection today is: ‘Waymaker’