“14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ ” John 11:14-15
We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. We have learned that the Lord does this to …
– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).
– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).
– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).
The fourth reason the Lord may delay His answers to our prayers is to DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM (John 11:11-16). “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ ” (John 11:11). The Lord Jesus views Lazarus’ death as “sleep” because from His divine perspective, death is harmless and hopeful. When Jesus said, “I may wake him up,” He was referring to when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Since the coming of Christ, the death of a believer is regularly called “sleep” (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Dead Christians are asleep not in the sense of an unconscious “soul sleep,” but in the sense that their bodies appear to be sleeping.
But the disciples did not understand Jesus. “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ ” (John 11:12). The disciples misunderstand Christ and think He is speaking of natural sleep. “Why risk Your life, Lord, to arouse a man from a night’s sleep especially if he is on his way to recovery?!”
“However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:13). Death is not a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep” as some teach. When believers in Jesus die, they go directly and consciously into the presence of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24). Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
This is why Paul writes, “6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.
In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, “21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22) as are all believers in Jesus who have died (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24).
“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:14). The Lord “plainly” tells His disciples that “Lazarus is dead.” But then Jesus says something that is very shocking. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:15). Christ says He was glad He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! What is there to be glad about in Lazarus’ death or anyone’s death for that matter?!
When Jesus said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death, “that you may believe,” He was not talking about their salvation. His disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 1:35-51; 2:11; 6:69). Jesus’ joy is for the disciples’ faith which would be strengthened when they would behold Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What would the disciples’ faith have been like if they did not witness the raising of Lazarus? Their faith would lack content. And they would have less courage when they would face life-threatening situations.
God allows disappointment in our lives to strengthen our faith. We look at other people and think, Lord, how can You do this with this type of person? How can You do the impossible? Death is final! How about people we do not think God can change? We may have doubts about God changing a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. We may even doubt that the Lord can change us! But God can make a difference!
“Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). Thomas looked death in the face and chose death with Jesus rather than life without Him! This is not the kind of commitment or courage we may have expected from this doubting disciple. Thomas’ comment, “that we may die with Him,” is intriguing because history tells us that eventually all but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for their Lord.
Even though Thomas expressed great courage and confidence now, he would express doubt over Jesus’s resurrection later (cf. John 20:24-29). But for now, he was ready to die with Jesus! This tells us that those who are spiritually confident today may find themselves in the depths of despair and doubt tomorrow.
What about you? Are you willing to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost? When people ridicule you or mistreat you, or even threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus? Thomas expressed this kind of commitment now even though he did not know for sure how safe or unsafe he would be going up to Judea again. When non-Christians encounter this kind of courage among believers, it can cause them to consider their own eternal destiny.
Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:27-28: “27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” This kind of boldness in the presence of one’s enemies assures the believer that his message his true and proves to his opponents that their defeat is certain.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You delayed Your coming to Martha and Mary, You were wanting to strengthen the faith of Your disciples and all who would witness what You were going to do at Lazarus’ grave. It may be difficult for us to understand this at the time of our own disappointment and loss. But You do not waste our fears and pain. You want to transform our anger into acceptance, our fear into faith, our grief into gladness, and our despair into hope through Your resurrection power. The more convinced we are of this resurrection power, the more courage we will have to face those who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. This boldness before our enemies assures us that Your message is true and it proves to our enemies that their defeat is certain. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for this assurance You give us when our trust is in You. In Your powerful name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.