This morning I was reading the old, familiar Bible story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead when something struck me: Jesus said to his disciples ‘For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’
Jesus had heard of the death of Lazarus two days earlier and the New Testament records ‘So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was’. Does that make sense to you? Should it not read ‘So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he rushed to his bedside and healed him’? This was someone he loved, as demonstrated by the tears he shed at his graveside. So why did he not rush to heal him? He loved Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, too – so why didn’t he spare them the pain of losing their only brother?
I believe the key is in this phrase ‘For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’ For the sake of his disciples, but also for the sake of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Jesus chose to wait after he heard of Lazarus’ illness. In that intervening period, Lazarus died. And when Jesus arrived at their home, it was a scene of mourning, tears and profound pain – even confusion, because both sisters told Jesus that if he had been there, their brother would not have died.
Jesus could have rushed to Lazarus’ bedside and healed him. But he was planning something better. What he did was, of course, an even greater miracle because he raised Lazarus from the dead. But the goal of it was also something greater – what did he mean ‘for your sake’? He wanted the disciples, as well as Lazarus, Mary and Martha, to learn something – and I believe we as his present day disciples can learn the same lesson from the story: sometimes we don’t understand what the Lord is doing in our lives – especially when he doesn’t give us what we ask for – but he is always planning something better than we could ask for or imagine. His goal was ‘so that you may believe’ – he wanted the disciples and Lazarus, Mary and Martha to move another step forward in their faith in him.
Don’t we see this throughout the Bible? Joseph didn’t understand why he was thrown into a pit and left for dead, then sold to traders and taken to Egypt where he was thrown into prison – but he trusted God and he was ultimately used to rescue God’s children from famine and certain death. Moses didn’t understand why he had to spend 40 years in the wilderness but he trusted God and became the means of the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt. And so it goes on and on….Countless people throughout the story of the Bible learned to trust God when they didn’t understand their circumstances.
As we do that, then the process becomes not only ‘for our sake’ but also ‘for his sake’. Jesus had told his disciples ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’. The miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus brought glory to God, which was the whole aim of Jesus’ life. He lived, not to please himself, but to please his Father and to bring glory to him. And as his disciples increased in their faith, this also brought glory to God.
And so it is with us. As we learn to take another step forward in trusting God, the result is something ‘for our sake’ but also ‘for God’s sake’ – his glory.