When You Cannot See His Hand, Trust His Heart
Dr. Jim Denison
I hate to fly. I don’t just dislike flying, with all the security hassles, long waits, and cramped seats. I actually don’t mind all of that so much. The part of flying I hate is flying–that moment when the bus packed like sardines and weighing a gazillion tons leaves the ground. I sit on the aisle, as though four feet from the fuselage will help. I read a book, as though not thinking about my plight will make it disappear. And I stay in denial until the wheels touch the ground again.
You see, I don’t really understand heavier-than-air flight. If I had been one of the Wright brothers, we’d all be grounded today. I don’t see how something that weighs more than this building can fly when I can’t. When I was a young boy I wanted nothing more than to be Superman, flying up there in clouds. So one day I tried. I cut out some cardboard wings, strapped them to my arms, climbed to the roof our house, and jumped. With predictable results. I haven’t liked flying since.
The hardest part for me is turbulence. When the airplane starts to shake, I grip the armrests instinctively. I don’t have any idea why. I know that my armrests will not help much if we plummet 30,000 feet to the ground. But I can’t help it.
The only thing that helps me is hearing the pilot in his soothing voice telling me I have nothing to worry about. If he’s on the same plane and he’s not worried, I am less worried. Or so I tell myself.
Where has your airplane encountered turbulence today? Where is there unresolved guilt in your past or fear for your future? Who needs your forgiveness? Whose forgiveness do you need? What pain in your marriage or family or relationships is hurting your heart this morning? You can grip your pew hard, but it won’t help much. Trusting your captain is the only way to make it through the flight. But it’s hard to do that when he’s the one who flew your plane into this storm.
Let’s talk about that issue today. If Jesus could raise Lazarus, there’s nothing he cannot do. But he didn’t do what you want and need him to do. He didn’t answer your prayer the way you wanted. He has flown your airplane directly into a storm. In such turbulence, how can you trust your pilot today?
Believe that God has a plan (vs. 1-16)
Apart from the crucifixion accounts, this is the longest continuous narrative in all the gospels. The story comes just days before Jesus’ last Passover and his crucifixion. He has returned to Judea, where his enemies tried earlier to take his life (John 10:39). His actions will lead to the authorities’ plot to kill him (John 11:45-53). Mary and Martha have no way to know that Jesus’ timing regarding their brother’s illness will directly affect his atoning mission. There is always more to God’s plan than we can see.
Our story begins: “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha” (John 11.1). “Lazarus” means “God is my help.” His name would be fulfilled in this remarkable miracle.
His hometown was located about two miles east of Jerusalem, situated on the southeastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. It was Jesus’ home whenever he traveled to Jerusalem or Judea, and became his headquarters for the last week of his life.
Jesus had no closer friends on earth than Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. So the sisters sent word about their brother to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick” (v. 3). They did not ask him to come–they assumed that he would. As he had turned water into wine, healed a nobleman’s son, fed 5,000 families and opened blind eyes, surely he would heal his man whose family had been his family.
But he did not. His reply was strange indeed: “When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it'” (v. 4).
Jesus’ timing was not theirs. He saw Lazarus’ sickness as an opportunity to glorify the Father. He sees every storm we encounter in the same way–as a chance to bring glory to the Lord. And so, even though he loved Lazarus and his sisters (v. 5), “when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (v. 6).
It seems that Jesus received the news that Lazarus was sick, had time to travel to Bethany to heal him, but chose not to do so. But this is not true. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days (v. 39). Jesus was in Perea, a day’s travel from Bethany. The messenger left when Lazarus was alive and traveled a day. Jesus waited two days; then he traveled a day to find Lazarus dead for four days. Doing the math, we can determine that Lazarus died when the messenger was on his way. If Jesus had left immediately, he would have found his friend dead for two days already.
But why wait the additional two days? Because people in the ancient world believed that the soul hovers around its body for three days, hoping to be reunited with its flesh. And so they mourned for those three days with the loudest and most emotional tears and cries, in case the soul of the deceased was watching their grief. This is the reason Jesus delayed his return for two days: by the time he came to Lazarus, his friend was “really” dead. There was no possibility of his resuscitation. No one could claim that the man had been merely comatose, or pretending his death. Four days without food or water, wrapped in air-tight burial clothing, would have resulted in anyone’s death.