John 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick.
This was not normally a problem if you were friends with Jesus Christ. The Bible records several times Jesus healed individuals, and a few times when he healed all the sick (Matthew 8:16). Mary, Martha and Lazarus had good reason to think that Jesus would come to their aid. After all, they were his friends.
But whenever you think you know what Jesus is going to do next, you are probably wrong. So when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days (John 11:6). Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1), wrote the Psalmist.
This is one of the most frustrating parts of being a Christian. We have an urgent request, and we need Jesus to move swiftly. Instead, he does nothing at all. We assume, therefore, that he does not care, that he’s unaware, or that he’s not who he claimed to be. But according to this story, the reason Jesus waited is because he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 11:5-6). Jesus was involving them in one of his greatest miracles, through which they would come to know him better.
In dramatic stories it is not uncommon for the hero to arrive at the last possible moment. Sometimes, in fact, the hero does not arrive until it is too late, and everything has been lost. But because of his mighty power, the hero is able to save the day anyway. That is the kind of story this is, and that is the kind of story the Bible is.
It is also why waiting is such an important part of the Christian life. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14). Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7). [W]ait for your God always (Hosea 12:6). And, God . . . acts on behalf of those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4). We tend to think of waiting as a waste of time, but whoever waits for God never waits too long.
John 11:21 Lord, Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Martha had opened her home to Jesus, and given him hospitality time and again. When he arrived with his disciples, without notice, she fed the whole group at her own expense. Jesus was willing to receive her kindness, but where was Jesus when she needed him most? Martha was angry at Jesus.
There is little of this in the Bible, but the forty-fourth Psalm is a good example of a godly person who was angry at God. The people were destroyed in battle because God had not protected them, and the writer took issue.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me . . . .
All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness (Psalm 44:11-19). In other words, God, you make me mad.
God knows that our anger is a natural response to the unfairness we feel, and he allows us to express our anger, as long as we do it respectfully. (Remember who you are talking to!) The only way to get beyond anger, however, is to believe that God is good, even when life is not. So in the last verse the Psalmist prayed, . . . rescue us because of your unfailing love (Psalm 44:26).
The Psalmist chose to believe in God’s unfailing love, even when the love of God appeared to fail. Likewise, Martha would learn that Jesus could be trusted, even when he appeared to fail.
John 11:23-24 Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha answered, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Martha took the same comfort in the resurrection that we do because it is taught in the Old Testament. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God (Job 19:26), said Job. But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise (Isaiah 26:19), wrote Isaiah. And, Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2), wrote Daniel.
The age to come is not an eternal worship service in the sky, but the resurrection of a physical body on a physical earth. There is an intermediate stage, when our souls go to be with Christ in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8), but that is not the end of the story.
The end of the story is a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), wrote Peter. When we think of the age to come, we should think of the present age, but without sin, sorrow or death—and dramatically improved.
When my son was ten years old, I took him to a motorcycle store, in search of a dirt-bike. I told him we were only looking, so he would not get his hopes up. But we found a little unit just his size, and I could see his imagination soaring. Finally I said, Should we buy it?
He was so excited that he started to hyperventilate, but he managed to say, Can you get one too, Dad? We had so much fun together that he wanted to know if there would be dirt bikes in the age to come. I told him that I think so, because I believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life on a new earth.
Reflection and Review
Why does God often make us wait so long?
Have you ever been angry at God?
What does the resurrection of the body tell us about the age to come?