Some months ago I had a conversation with a person whose sister was brutally murdered. He said to me that he rejects the notion that everything happens for a reason. He feels that the death of his sibling was pointless and without purpose. As I listened to him speak my mind was at the other end of the spectrum. I thought to myself that there is reason why my son died, it is not meaningless and it has purpose. This is quite a juxtaposition. How do two people view death in two very different extremes? Was I just looking through rose colored glasses and was he looking through dark shades? No, I don’t think so.
It wasn’t that I am an optimist and he is a pessimist. The fact of the matter is that I view death through the lens of faith, and he, being without faith in Christ, cannot see what I see. If a person doesn’t know the meaning and source of life he certainly will never know the meaning behind death. But the bible answers both if a person is willing to listen and be enlightened by the truth concerning these confounding questions.
Why did Jesus allowed his friend to die?
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11:21&32)
Have you ever pleaded with God for someone to get well but God didn’t show up and your loved one died? Have you ever considered that maybe God actually ordained the sickness and allowed death to happen for a much greater purpose? Some very close friends of Jesus find themselves in this very situation a short time before his own crucifixion. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to come and heal their brother Lazarus but Jesus purposefully delayed going for two days so that he would die.
There was a greater purpose in the death of Lazarus that could not be realized by healing his terminal illness. Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son might be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) This is a sobering reminder about our prayers and petitions that seem to be ignored by God. Father knows best! “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)
Some might call into question the love of God in permitting such a thing, so John records that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:6) Love would certainly become evident to all when he arrived, he was troubled when he saw his friends and even his enemies grieving at the tomb. “Jesus wept” (John 11:36) He groans over the toll that sin has taken on his creation. Who can free the world from the chains of death? Christ and Christ alone! “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:21-25) This is our blessed hope and this miracle of the raising of Lazarus is a prelude to the hope we have in Jesus who possesses the keys of death and the grave. How did he obtain the keys? He has destroyed the one who had the power of death through his own death, burial and resurrection from the dead. (Hebrews 2:14)
What miracle would give God most glory; the healing of Lazarus or the resurrection of Lazarus? This resurrection miracle is the crown jewel of all the miracles done by the Lord. It puts the glory and power of God on full display. But there is more that Jesus will accomplish in his delayed trip to Bethany. He is actually joyful over the fact that he was not going to heal Lazarus. Yes, Jesus was glad that he was not there. “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sakes I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:15) The glory of God is the primary purpose behind this death but building up the disciples faith is of great importance as well.
Death and other various trials will cause our faith to grow; The Lord finds joy in this and we should as well. This funeral built a deeper faith in God, a confident hope in the resurrection of the dead and a deeper love for Jesus to the glory of God. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
What we believe should move us to action. What Jesus asks the family to do next is almost unbelievable if it hadn’t actually taken place. He says, “Take away the stone.” (John 11:39) For a more contemporary understanding of this I pictured Jesus handing me a shovel at the headstone of my son Jacob and saying, “Dig.” Martha objected for obvious reasons and I am sure I would have had the same concerns. But the Lord wants a faith and trust that obeys even the absurd and things we fear. He reminds Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Faith went to work and the eyes of everyone witnessed a dead man come to life and exit his grave. All this to the praise of God and his Son Jesus Christ.
What we know about God is not what gives God joy and pleasure, it is what we do with what we believe that delights the Lord. “And without faith it is impossible to please him.” (Hebrews 11:6) The disciples seen the glory of God because they believed and rolled the stone away. I ask myself the question, “What stones do I need to roll away in my life, by active faith, that I may behold the glory of God?” The Lord knew his beloved disciples believed in him but he engages their faith in essence by saying, “Don’t just say that you believe. Prove it! Put your hands to the stone and roll it away.”