“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5
We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign recorded in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44) why the Lord allows a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? The first reason is to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4). Raising Lazarus from the dead would bring more glory to Jesus than raising him from his sickbed. We see today that the second reason for Jesus’ delayed response to our prayers is to DECLARE HIS LOVE TOWARD US (John 11:5-6). This may sound strange to us at first, but let’s listen to what the Bible says in these verses. John reminds his readers that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5). The word “loved” (agapáō) means to choose to do what is best for another person. Christ wanted to do what was best for this family. This may seem hard to believe when we look at what Jesus does next.
“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:6). If Jesus loved this family, why would He wait two more days before going to help them? We must keep verses five and six together. Christ delayed His going to them because He did love them and wanted to do what was best for them in God’s eyes. From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Jesus needed to move faster – “Hurry up, Lord, our brother may die!” But Jesus says, “Slow down and do this My way.”
From this we learn that God’s love may delay His answers to our prayers in ways that we cannot understand at that time. Mary and Martha had no idea what Jesus was going to do when He would come to them later. I’m sure it did not feel like Jesus loved them or Lazarus when He delayed His coming. Perhaps Mary and Martha’s distress over Lazarus’ suffering caused them to forget that death was no obstacle for Jesus. Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead with no more effort than it would take Him to raise Lazarus from his sickbed. Christ delayed His coming because He did love this family. Waiting until Lazarus was dead for a few days would enable Jesus to reveal His love in a deeper and more powerful way to them. While Jesus’ absence caused Lazarus’ death, his death caused his resurrection, and the glory of God was manifested and many people believed in Jesus (cf. John 11:43-45)!
When the Lord does not answer our prayers right away, remember that this does not mean He loves us less. It means He loves you more and knows what is best for you. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, including our feelings. Just because I do not “feel” the Lord’s love during difficult times, does not change His love for me.
For example, when I am standing in our living room at night amidst our furniture which my wife has beautifully arranged, I then turn off the light so I cannot see the furniture. Does that mean the furniture is not there? Of course not. Just because my eyes and feelings tell me there is no furniture in front of me does not change the truth of the furniture’s existence. God’s inseparable love for us is the same way. Our senses do not always detect what is true. They can be fooled. This is why God calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith enables us to experience God’s love when our senses tell us the opposite.
Sometimes we can misinterpret difficulties in our lives as God’s attempt to punish us. Some of us may be running from God right now because of this assumption. For example, “some time back, newspapers carried the story of a young fellow named William who was a fugitive from the police. The teenager had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. What William did not know was that an ailment he had been seeing the doctor about was diagnosed just after his disappearance. It was cancer.
“Here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him.” (Howard Hendricks, Don’t Fake It, Say It with Love).
God is not out to punish us when He permits a situation to get worse after we pray to Him. He loves us and He wants to show Himself to us in deeper and more powerful ways. Don’t run from the Person Who loves you and wants to rescue you. Let Him find you and hold you in His arms.
Prayer: Father God, it is easy for us to quickly assume that You do not love us when bad things happen to us or to those we care about. Thank You for reminding us today that You allow those You love to suffer. After all, You allowed Your only begotten Son Whom You have always loved, to suffer in our place on a cross. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family led Him to delay His coming to them so they could discover His love in deeper and more powerful ways. Christ’s absence caused Lazarus’ death, but his death caused his resurrection which would manifest God’s glory so many would believe in Him. Father, when You are absent, we can seek You by faith. Please help us to walk this life on earth by faith and not by sight so we can experience Your love even when it is contrary to our senses. Hold us in Your arms of everlasting mercy when this life does not make sense to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.