Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” John 11: 5, 6, NKJV
Now Jesus loved and was concerned about Martha and her sister and Lazarus [and considered them dear friends].6 [b]So [even] when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed in the same place two more days.” — John 11: 5, 6, AMP
I love listening to sermons while I cook and prepare meals for the next day. I was listening to a sermon by Pastor John Gray the other day, and he cited a verse that jumped out at me for the first time. I had to drop my spoon and go find a pen and paper to write down the epiphany:
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”
On the face of it, the verses make no sense. At the very least, verse 6 doesn’t seem to logically follow verse 5. When verse 5 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” a reasonable person would expect verse 6 to say, “So, when He heard that he was sick, He dropped everything and rushed to Lazarus’ side.”
I mean, we’re used to having the people who we love and who love us rush to our defense and come to our aid immediately and when we need them.
When a baby trips, we often rush over to see if he or she is okay.
When a student raises their hand during a test, the teacher gets up at that instant and comes by the student’s side to help them.
When we call 911, we expect the paramedics to arrive as soon as possible to help us.
As children, when we were sick in bed and we called for our parents, they would come as soon as they heard us. Sometimes I didn’t even have to speak — I only had to cough twice before Dad would show up at my bed side with Vicks Vapo-Rub, Chinese healing oil, eucalyptus oil, Wray and Nephew rum, ceracee tea and Buckley’s or Robitussin without further word from me.
And some of the aforementioned people are not even people who love us, but they too still hurry up to help us.
But not Jesus.
No — verse 6 says the opposite: Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, and thus decided to stay two more days wherever He was.
Because He loved them, He waited. He tarried. He let Lazarus die.
And I’m wondering how many more things does God let die in our lives because He loves us? How many other times does God tarry, not because He is mean or malevolent, but because He is love and He loves us? What happens when God loves you but allows death – of a dream, a child, a spouse, a marriage, an idea…the list goes on and on.
If God loves me, why does He let the things and people that I love die?
The problem is that we don’t think love and death can be co-existent. We think that if we love someone, we try to save them. It seems though that sometimes love – or Love – allows death to happen. Sometimes it even requires it.
The Bible tells us that:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He continue to defer their help? – Luke 18:7
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? – Numbers 23:19
It would seem then that God sometimes tarries out of love.
For clarity’s sake, God doesn’t kill. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and He came that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus is life itself. If He had come to see Lazarus when he was sick, Lazarus would not have died. In fact, Lazarus could not have died. There cannot be any death in the presence of Life and Resurrection. Mary and Martha knw this (John 11: 21, 32). So Jesus had to stay away.
It seems though that sometimes God lets Satan kill, steal and destroy. Sometimes God lets things or people die.
But it does not seem that He does so maliciously.
I think verse 5 was written to give context to all of the other verses that would follow – verses that, if misunderstood, could easily lead the reader or even the believer to think that Jesus did not love Lazarus or Mary or Martha and that Jesus didn’t care. It is almost as if verse 5 was trying to say, “Now, don’t get it twisted: Jesus did in fact love Lazarus and Mary and Martha. Let’s just put that out there first and make sure we understand this point. His love for them was constant, even though Jesus seemed careless and callous and the circumstances seemed cruel.”
I invite you to try this exercise. In verse 5, replace Mary, Martha and Lazarus with your name and that of your loved ones. In verse 6, replace Lazarus’s death with the death of something or someone in your life. I tried it, and it gave me a new perspective on what God might be doing:
Now Jesus loved Simone. So when He heard that her spiritual life was in trouble, He tarried and He let that dream [whatever it was] die.
Now Jesus loved Simone and Simone’s grandfather. So when He heard that Simone’s grandfather was sick, He tarried, and He let him die.
Now Jesus loved Susie. So when He learned that the baby was not developing correctly, He let her baby die.
Now Jesus loved Matt. So when He learned that Matt was lonely, He tarried. Matt’s dream of finding a partner started to die.
Now Jesus loved Bob. So when He learned that Bob was struggling with pornography, He tarried, and let Bob struggle a little while longer.
It can be quite infuriating to read some of those paraphrases, because they challenge all that we know of God to be true. I will say this: God’s love for us doesn’t negate the pain and, more importantly, the pain does not negate God’s love for us.
Maybe everything that God does or allows is from a point of love.
Maybe you’re still broke, not because God doesn’t hear you, but because He loves you.
Maybe you’re single because God loves you.
Maybe you’re sick because He loves you.
Put more precisely, it’s not “You’re sick, but God still loves you.” It’s not even “God loves you because you’re sick.” “It’s more like, “You’re sick because He loves you.”
When we think like that, it turns our problems on their heads. It challenges what we may have believed about this God and our situation. It changes our perspective.
It causes us to believe that whatever happens to us is happening for us. That whatever we are going through is good, so like the psalmist we can one day exclaim “It was good that I was afflicted” (Psalm 119:71) and like Paul we can say, “I boast in my infirmities” (2 Cor 11:30, 12:9).
Even Jesus said it: “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.” (John 11:14)
I’m not sure, but maybe God is saying to you in your situation, like He says in John 11, “I love you, so I’m going to stay here, because Me staying here – for now – is the most loving thing I can do for you. I heard you. I know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. I know that my delay may allow for death. I know that your faith will be severely tried. But I’m not going to stay here forever. I’ve also not left you alone — I have sent you my Word in the meantime. I need that person/dream/situation/hope to die before I intervene. I’m waiting for bad to get worse and for worse to get impossible so that when impossible becomes possible, your faith will be strengthened and I will be glorified.”
God is always doing the most loving thing for us. Sometimes Love lets it live. Other times Love lets it die. But it is always for His great glory and for our greater good.