Now a man named Lazarus was sick. (John 11:1a)
I love a good resurrection story. It’s encouraging to hear stories of marriages mended, friendships restored, diseases healed, finances turned around and other wonders.
But before there can be a miracle, there has to be a situation in which a miracle is needed. And that part, well, I don’t like to deal with so much. Because if a miracle is truly needed, the situation is pretty dire. And serious. And in all likelihood painful.
In Lazarus’ case, he had to die before a resurrection could take place. There had to be the emotional pain of losing someone close to them before Mary and Martha could rejoice in the miracle of having their brother restored to them.
I wonder, if Lazarus had not been seriously ill–if he had not died–would his story even be included in Scripture? After all, John later indicates in chapter 21 that there are far more stories of Jesus’ works than can be contained in the Bible, so if He had not raised Lazarus from the dead, would Lazarus’ death warrant even a mention?
In thinking about other miracles Jesus performed, there’s a similar theme–loss of some sort precedes receiving. The bridegroom at the wedding feast had to run out of wine (risking great social embarassment) before he could be given even better wine (transformed from ordinary water, no less). Everyone that Jesus healed–the ten lepers, the blind and lame–had to experience not only the loss of physical health, but also the humiliation of being teated as outcasts in society. Peter and his fellow fishermen had to endure a night of fishing with no catch (which probably felt like a waste of time) before they were called by Jesus to cast their nets on the other side and haul in the greatest catch of their careers.
I want miracles to occur in my life, but I’m reluctant to welcome the losses and need that precede the miracles. But in order to experience Jesus working in extraordinary ways, sometimes we first have to experience extraordinary hurt and suffering and needs. Sure, Jesus knows my needs in advance and He could easily pre-empt the suffering and take care of such needs before I even know about them. But He has more than just a miracle in mind.
So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:3-4)
Healing Lazarus, even from miles away, was not beyond Jesus’ power. He chose to wait until there was no human hope before raising Lazarus from the dead, in order that God’s glory could be on full display. Those who witnessed the resurrection had no doubt that it was God’s power at work.
Miracles are great, but if they do not point to the glory of God, they’re worthless. Like Lazarus, God sometimes brings us to a point of being far past any human hope of things being made right, so that when He does act, we know without any doubt that it is Him alone making the miraculous happen.
I certainly don’t understand God’s timing. I don’t know why He chooses to bring restoration and resurrection to some situations right away and not to others. But I do know that everything that He does is for His ultimate glory. Even allowing death in all its many forms to take place. Death precedes life. And I can’t wait for the resurrections God has planned for me.