His dusty feet were following the mournful cries of Lazarus’ family and friends along a winding path to the outskirts of town. He heard their accusing whispers. “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” His heart broke. For them, not for himself, because he knew what was to come. His heart broke for them, who saw every sign of ending and loss and watched every bit of hope be wrapped up in grave clothes and laid to rest days ago.
Mary and Martha had sent word, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus had seemed passive about it then. “This sickness will not end in death. It is for God’s glory, so that God may be glorified through it.” Yet here they stood, next to their crying Friend, overcome with grief that death had once again triumphed. Lazarus was gone.
I want you to understand something, friend. It wasn’t that God had failed them in that moment. Their perspective was limited to what they knew. They knew sickness led to death. They knew death was a finale, not an interim. They knew Lazarus had breathed his last, was in the grave and experience told them his body would stay there. They had never experienced an act of God so great, so logic-defying, that they could hope in something more in that moment.
Jesus cried because he saw their despair. Their utter hopelessness. Their devastation. They knew what he was capable of and in that moment, they were disappointed in him. Lazarus’ friends and families had all the faith in the world that Jesus could have saved him from death. In their hearts, Jesus had disappointed them.
Jesus knew death was not the final curtain. He knew Lazarus had an encore. He restrained his power so that God could bring Himself a greater glory out of the situation. He allowed his best friend to die. He understood their grief as they poured it out at his feet. He understood their unasked pleas: “Why weren’t you here, Lord? Why did you allow this? You are able to change this situation. We do not doubt your ability.”
But then death came, and like a massive earthquake, it shattered hope and toppled their faith. It shook everything that could be shaken and exposed the weaknesses of every structure that wasn’t built on the solid foundation of God. In the wake of such agony and inner destruction, Lazarus’ friends looked at Jesus and wondered that he could stand by without uttering a word, without panic or fear, with seeming indifference, while their hearts were torn from the loss.
“This sickness will not end in death.” But it had.
Until Jesus prayed.
He wept while he climbed the hill to the sepulcher. Then he stood there at the stone-covered entrance, gave one last look at the hopeless faces around him and raised his eyes Heavenward. He prayed, not for his own benefit, but so that those around him would know and understand the connection Jesus had to God. The immediate, powerful, life-changing connection of the Son talking to his Abba Daddy. “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
The sickness, the death and decay, the days of mourning, it all happened so that they might truly believe. Which means one thing: they didn’t yet.
Mary and Martha spoke to Jesus about their faith. They knew he could have healed Lazarus and they affirmed their belief in his ability to do so, but then death came and their faith seemed useless. They did not believe that Jesus’ ability to heal Lazarus transcended the grave. Not because their faith was weak, but because it was only so big. Their faith had grown naturally to include all that made sense based on their experience. But this new experience was beyond their ability to believe. No one had ever been raised from the dead, so how were they to know it could ever happen? It was a preposterous thought!
Until He spoke.
“Lazarus, come forth!”
When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave clothes but very much alive, those standing around watching in despair were raised to a new level in faith. As they walked home with Lazarus, laughing and rejoicing to have him back, they knew Jesus differently. They had hoped in him before, but now they KNEW him. There was nothing in life, not even death, that would cause them to distrust Christ again. Their faith was solidified. Rock solid on a foundation that cannot ever be destroyed. A little while later, as they watched him on the cross, this was the group that knew he could rise up. Knew that he would rise up. They had seen his power manifest in the impossible. Nothing could stop what God had ordained. Nothing.
There’s probably something in your life that is dead or dying. A hope that is dim and fading fast. A hope that has been dead a while, or even a hope you intentionally buried to keep it from hurting you. You don’t know how to believe because you have cried out to God and it seems like He is indifferent. He’s quiet. He hasn’t shown up in your time of despair. It’s tempting to give in to it. I get it. I’m there too. I sat down to read my Bible and this story wouldn’t let go of me. Jesus disappointed his friends the same way God seems to be disappointing you and I right now. We’re crying out, “God, why?”
If we hold on long enough, God will do something. It might be after all our natural understanding lies broken all around us. It might be well after we have abandoned all hope. It might be when absolutely nothing makes sense. That might just be the place God is taking us to. Our faith can’t grow if we are still only experiencing things we’ve experienced before. But it can grow. It just might hurt a little. Something might die. It might feel like its us. When you’re there, friend, crying out with what little strength you have left, and it sounds like you are screaming in an echo chamber because your prayers are coming back to you unanswered, I want you to hold on to two things: Jesus wept and Jesus prayed.
He understands our pain and suffering. He understands our despair and the inner turmoil we feel. He sees the restraint of God and he feels for us. He is our advocate and as he sits on the right hand of God, he looks down with love and weeps. We are His. He loves us. He didn’t die for nothing. He died for us. He prevailed over death, hell and the grave to have us. He loves us tremendously and we matter to him. So in our pain, he weeps with us.
If that isn’t comfort enough, know this: He’s speaking to the Father on our behalf. He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Our cries reach his ears and he turns to the Creator of All Things and mentions them with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes. When God restrains himself, He is growing our faith. He is taking us to a new level, spiritually speaking. Our fleshly hope will be turned into a knowing that we know, because God will do something supernatural and beyond comprehension.
“We have this hope and an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19).