Love in the Midst of Suffering 


“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”” (John‬ ‭11:5-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
Misunderstood Love:

In the verses we looked at last week Jesus had been notified of Lazarus illness, and this week we begin with an amazing statement by the Apostle John. “Jesus loved Martha, her sister Mary and Lazarus.” Now, you may not immediately understand why I mention that this is an amazing statement but consider the context and you’ll see the wonder of it. Last week we saw that when Jesus was informed of Lazarus illness he states, “this illness will not end in death.” Anyone with a little bit of Bible knowledge will recognize that Lazarus died and either Jesus was mistaken or we misunderstand his words. I think it is obvious, we misunderstand His words…

When Jesus says, this sickness is not ‘unto’ death He is saying the end result or purpose of this illness is not death, but is for God’s glory. Let me be very clear on this point, Jesus did NOT say that every illness is for God’s glory. But he absolutely said that this illness, and by implication, other illnesses and, possibly, even your illness is intended for the glory of God. 

Now to be honest, I’m not not sure most folks like that idea. We struggle with the idea that God loves us but let’s us hurt, get ill, suffer, and even die. How can love do those things? How could God be like that? Do we misunderstand God or do we have a false idea of love? Just like we initially misunderstand Jesus words concerning Lazarus’ illness not “ending” in death, we also misunderstand the concept of God’s love. 

Let me pose a question to clarify the issue… Does love give me what I want, or what I need? Now, I can tell you that there are certainly times as a parent and grandparent that I’ve faced that very issue. When one of your grandchildren rolls their beautiful eyes over at you and says, “Papa, please?” and your heart melts. It can be hard to say “No, honey. I’m sorry,” but there are certainly times when it is necessary to say no. And, there are times when, in love, God says things we don’t like. Sometimes He says, “No.” Sometimes He says, “Yes.” And sometimes He says, “Really, I did this because I love you. Trust me.” 

When does an illness, injury or death become an event that brings glory to God? When we begin to live for and trust The Father. Consider this…

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans‬ ‭8:13-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

We haven’t received a spirit of slavery that would cause us to fall back in fear, afraid of what might happen to us. Cowering in fear at the situations, circumstances or struggles that might stalk us. Instead, we have received a spirit of adoption as children of God, and we can cry out “Dad, I need you!” But, notice that we shouldn’t be focused on the suffering but rather on the glory that will be revealed. That’s precisely where Jesus wants the disciples, and us, focused. Not on the circumstances of our lives, but on His enduring love and the glory He will reveal in us. But, you can’t focus on what you can’t see… Are you stumbling around in the dark or walking in the light of day? 

Misunderstood Words:

Jesus draws a distinct contrast in this passage, and it is really easy to run right past it and miss an important lesson. How many times have you read this story and skipped right over Jesus’ comments? He tells the disciples it is time to head back to Judea, but they question his reasoning because the Jews wanted to kill him the last time they were there. He responds, “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” Wait, how is that an appropriate response to their concerns? 

Disciples: Jesus, if we go back to Judea now they are going to kill you. 

Jesus: Don’t be concerned about that, walk in the Light of the World. Don’t go stumbling around at night, because you don’t any have light in you. 

Maybe this will help…

Jesus in John 8: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John‬ ‭8:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

This isn’t some off-handed comment about working while the sun is still up, it is a statement of faith, a call to trust Him. In essence, the disciples are fearful of heading back to Judea. They could see the writing on the wall, the Jews are seeking to kill Jesus. The threat of the cross is growing. There’s no avoiding it. In fact, it is for this very reason that he held back when word of Lazarus’ illness came. He says, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 

Lazarus’ illness won’t end in death, remember? That’s not its purpose. It is for God’s glory. Jesus wants the disciples to see this entire situation, including the trip back to Judea with the threat of death on the cross looming over it, but He wants them to see it in the light that HE casts upon it. He doesn’t want them to stumble in the darkness of their own knowledge or understanding, but to be able to walk upright and confident in the knowledge and understanding of God’s glory and purpose.

What does this have to do with me? John recorded this story with the express intent that we would learn the same lesson he and the other disciples learned, Jesus calls us to live in the light of who He is and what that means for our lives. Will we face struggles, illnesses, threats and suffering? Absolutely. But if we walk in the light of who He is and His purpose, His glory instead of our own, we will experience His power and personal presence in the midst of the struggle.

Misunderstood Life:

Finally, Jesus arrives at Bethany and is immediately confronted by Martha. Lazarus has been dead for four days, and Martha is clearly upset. She confronts Jesus, while Mary hides out in the house. She is pretty emphatic, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But, I know God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again,” and she agrees. 

But notice the focus of when she expects the promise to be fulfilled, at the resurrection on the last day. We tend to focus on the fulfillment of God’s promises “on the last day.” In fact, some think that all Christianity talks about is “pie in the sky, in the sweet by and by.” Someday promises. All talk of eternity and nothing for today. However, Jesus asks Martha “do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life?” She replies, “Yes, Lord. I believe.” 

Notice, he doesn’t ask “do you believe I will be the resurrection and the life?” This isn’t some future promise awaiting fulfillment at some distant and unseen point in time. This is now. Jesus wasn’t just promising Lazarus would rise on the last day, but that he would live again now. He has promised us eternal life if we believe. Eternal life is not just about length, it’s also about depth. 

In other words, there’s more to eternal life than just living forever. Eternal life is also about how we live, how we live in the midst of suffering with the Light of the World helping us make sense of it, to see God’s glory in it… we will explore this more in depth next week.

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