“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.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”” (John 11:14-37 ESV)
Where’s God When I Hurt?
Last week we took a look at how we often misunderstand God and the circumstances of our lives. We noticed how John declared Jesus love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus but how Jesus expression of love was misunderstood in their time of suffering. We often misunderstand how God’s love is expressed in our lives, too, especially when it comes to suffering. But, we also took a look at how God’s purpose can invade our pain and change our perspective. We can allow our pain to drive us to despair or to dependence. Not dependence on our own strength, but God’s.
This week, we want to delve a little deeper into this story and see another often misunderstood area of suffering. Where is God when I’m hurting? Or as Martha, Mary and the others put it in the passage we are considering, “Lord, if you had been here, this wouldn’t have happened. My brother wouldn’t have died.” I suspect some of us have felt similar pain during our times of suffering. “God, where are you? I need you, desperately!”
So, where was Jesus during their early days of grief? I mentioned last week that Jesus intentionally waited before heading back to Judea. However, if you look carefully at the timeline it seems Lazarus was already dead at the time, or shortly after, the messenger arrived to inform Jesus. So, the simple answer is that Jesus intentionally waited as we talked about last week because the end or purpose of Lazarus’ death was for God’s glory. But, that’s not really the question here. Mary, Martha and the other mourners appear to question Jesus love for this family.
“Lord, if you had been here…” Why weren’t you here? I thought you loved us? Remember, John starts this story by telling us of Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus (v. 5). So, John seems to be focusing our attention on how God expresses His love to us. They seem to ask, “Why weren’t you here when Lazarus died? We thought we could trust you. Do you really love us?”
Isn’t this really the question we are asking God when we find ourselves in the midst of suffering, pain and struggles?
I thought you loved me?
Where were you when I needed you?
I thought I could trust you?
Before we answer these concerns, let’s consider Jesus’ response…
Speaking Truth When the Accuser is Whispering a Lie:
His response to Martha regarding her accusation, is a declaration of truth. “I am the resurrection and the life.” When we are in the midst of our pain, often the last thing we want to hear is the truth but the thing we most NEED to hear is the TRUTH! Now, I don’t mean we need to hear empty and pointless platitudes, but we do need a clear and consistent expression of the truth and that’s precisely what Mary and Martha needed to hear.
I’ve stood where these sisters were standing, at the grave of one you love dearly. I’ve stood there as they lowered my father and mother into the grave, and some of you have buried also buried parents, spouses, siblings and even children. I know the lies the Accuser whispers in your ear at those moments. Doubts. Questions. Fears. Worry. Conflict. Too often we let our emotions overpower us and silence the truth we know.
While God made us emotional creatures, we should never let our emotions drive our will but let our will drive our emotions. Don’t “do what you feel” but “do what you know is true.”
Those were the very things the Accuser was whispering in Mary and Martha’s ears. “He said He loved you, where’s His love now that you need it most?”
“If He really loved you, He wouldn’t have let your brother die.”
“Is this what you call love? Not me. Do you really think you can trust Him anymore?”
While the Accuser whispers his lies, listen to the words of truth that Jesus speaks: “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?”
Do you believe this? It’s not just a question Martha must answer, it’s one we must answer. Do you believe? Will you trust me? Instead of believing the lies he’s whispering in your ear, will you believe my words?
Martha responds, “Yes Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
What will your response be when God speaks truth into your circumstances? Will you step back in anger and make accusations? Or will you silence the lies of the Accuser and speak truth back in response?
God is Moved by Our Struggles:
John notes that after Martha questions Jesus, Mary does the same. She comes and falls at his feet, and cries out the same accusation… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But notice how John records Jesus response, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”
Let me be very clear here, the phrase “deeply moved in his spirit” is not the same as having deep emotional compassion for the situation. This phrase indicates Jesus was upset, deeply upset at this situation. In other places where this word is used, it means to snort with indignation or to roar with outrage. In Matthew and Mark it is translated as “sternly warned” or “scolded.”
At first, this seems out of place for Jesus. But, this supports the idea that Martha and Mary’s comments were more accusatory than just a plea to Jesus’ compassion. He seems to be indignant over their unbelief, their distrust, their questioning of his love. It doesn’t appear they doubted his ability, just his goodness, his love.
“If you had been here, I know you could have prevented my brother from dying.”
Where were you?
Why didn’t you come?
Don’t you love me?
Aren’t these the very questions we ask God in the midst of our pain? Our grief?
Are you willing to let God speak truth into the midst of your pain, or will you listen to and believe the lies the Accuser is whispering?
So, where was God when Mary, Martha and Lazarus needed Him? Right where he needed to be for God’s glory to be the focus of this entire situation. Where is He when you’re facing your most difficult circumstances? Right where He needs to be in order for God to receive glory in our times of trouble.