The story of Lazarus’ death is a familiar one (John 11:1-44). Jesus’ good friend passes away, and four days later Christ arrives and instead of paying His respects, He raises His friend from the dead. Even before that miraculous event, the story is filled with emotions. The disciples assume that Jesus will die when He goes to Bethany, and willingly go up with Him expecting that they themselves may also be killed. Jesus’ humanity is put on displayed as He cries over the sorrowful situation. And Lazarus’ sisters both utter these words to their Savior and their friend, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32).
It may have seemed like an accusation – an indictment of Jesus’ delayed arrival. For Martha, at least, it was followed by an expression of faith in Christ’s power and sovereignty (John 11:22-27). But it must have pierced Jesus’ heart. After all, these two women were His friends and they had faith in Him. He knew just as well as He did that He could have spared them this pain, that as the witnesses acknowledged, He could have prevented their brother from dying (John 11:37). Yet, He also knew something else. He knew something far greater would be accomplished by His delay. He knew that His glory would be put on displayed in a magnificent way
It’s tempting for us to have a similar reaction when things don’t go as we think they ought. “If only Christ had shown up” we think, things would have turned out so much differently. “Did He not hear my prayers; why didn’t He answer them?” we may be inclined to wonder. LIke Martha, this may not mean that we question Who He is, but there may be lingering doubts about what He’s doing.
Yet, just as in the case of Lazarus’ family, God’s plans for our lives are not limited to the simple prevention of momentary pain. Instead, God often desires to do something greater. We may think that He’s not showing up, but instead, the purpose of the perceived delay is to put HIs glory on even greater display. Our heartache may seem like it’s all that matters, but He knows that for the believer something else is greater still – using their lives for the purposes of His Kingdom and working in them to accomplish His purposes. When it seems that Christ hasn’t shown up, it doesn’t mean that He’s abandoned us. It may be that He simply has bigger plans for our circumstances that we do.
This is a hard providence. It requires trusting in what He’s doing even when we don’t understand what that is. But like Mary and Martha discovered, because of His sovereignty and His love this is a trust that will be well rewarded. Like Paul, we can be content whatever the circumstance (Phil 4:11-13), because we know the One who is working through it.