Sermon on John 11:1-16, preached on Sunday, 10 March 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 33:1-22 / (NT) John 11:1-16
I. Often, bad things happen in life
II. Yet, the omniscient Lord provides the best way to all
III. So, we wait for the Lord’s gracious hand in all things
When someone says, ‘adding insult to injury,’ he means making an already bad situation worse. Similar expressions are ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ or ‘misfortunes never come singly.’ Idioms like these are made over a long period of time as people see similar things happening repetitively in their lives. So, these idioms I’ve just mentioned mean situations getting not easy to bear or frustrated. A typical example in the Bible for such a case is Joseph who is often called the prince of dreams. He was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. Being taken to a faraway land, he lived as a slave, then, put in a prison. He spent more than two years in that prison. His earlier life was literally ‘out of the frying pan into the fire.’
We find a similar thing in our text passage, Jn. 11:1-16. Jesus’ disciples were in a frustrating situation. They have just escaped from a crowd in Jerusalem who sought to kill Jesus by stoning Him. Having stayed away from Jerusalem for just a few days, Jesus is now asking them to leave that rather a safe place and go back to Bethany which is only about 2-3 kms away from Jerusalem. They might be stoned if they return; they might be arrested and tried for their Master’s accused sin of blasphemy. To the eyes of Jesus’ disciples, it was surely like walking into a lion’s mouth. So, Thomas, one of the disciples, says to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him [Jesus].” They are in an awkward and difficult situation.
Jesus, however, saw it all as a moment of glorifying the Father and, through glorifying Him, glorifying the Son too. Moreover, He pointed out that this was a moment of educating and strengthening His disciples in faith and all His Christians after them like you and me in godliness. Unlike His disciples’ concern for their life, Jesus saw this situation as a blessed moment for all – for both God and men. Why did He see it that way? For others, this was a fatal and alarming situation – Lazarus was fatally ill, and the disciples faced a great danger. But, why was Jesus glad to have such a moment? Why?
With this question, ‘why,’ our message for today – and prayerfully, for the rest of our life – begins, and it is about ‘how we Christians wait for the Lord’s guidance.’ We’ll see why Jesus the Lord says, “For your sake I am glad,” and then, how we should wait for the Lord. Lazarus’ death is our Lord’s teaching aid for training us as much as the first disciples on the subject of waiting for Him in all situations and faithfully depending on His guidance.
I. OFTEN, BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN LIFE
When things go well and smooth, people often forget about seeking the Lord and waiting for His guidance. But, when things go the opposite way, when unfortunate things take place one after another, people start seeking the Lord and asking His deliverance from troubles. People wait desperately for the Lord, finding it hard and becoming more anxious for a sign of God’s attention to their cry and evidence of His guidance and deliverance.
Take Lazarus and his sisters for example. Lazarus became ill, seriously ill. It happened suddenly. His sisters know by experience that this illness is not a light thing – rather, it’s a fatal illness. Unless something is done for him soon, he would surely die. Yet, there’s no way to stop that; no physician could heal him. Their only hope is to have Jesus come and do something about their brother’s illness. Jesus is the only hope they have. So they’ve sent a messenger to inform and bring Him over.
But what happened to them? Not too long after the messenger’s departure, Lazarus, their brother, dies. In deep sadness, these sisters mourn for him. They would like to delay his funeral in order that Jesus comes and sees the corps before burying him in a cave tomb. But their relatives and friends urge them to not delay the funeral because of the weather. A corpse cannot be kept long unburied under that weather. So they wrap up the body of Lazarus and put it in a tomb following their burial custom.
They think that Lazarus would’ve been still alive if Jesus had been here. If his illness had been communicated to Jesus earlier, Jesus could’ve arrived before their brother’s death. If Lazarus had become ill, maybe, a day of two earlier, then, Jesus could’ve seen him prior to His retreat to a place distant from Jerusalem, over the other side of the Jordan River. Having all these thoughts of many ifs, their minds would move on naturally to bring other ‘why’ questions, such as, ‘Why did Lazarus, our dear brother, become ill and have to die?’ ‘Why is he taken away so suddenly?’ ‘Why didn’t Jesus know about its coming?’ ‘Why’ and ‘why?’
I believe that many of you have asked similar ‘why’ questions in many different occasions in your life. Death of a loved one, loss of work, illness and injuries, failure in relationships, struggles with close friends or colleagues, financial problems, missing opportunities in life and so on. The list goes on and on. In many of these cases, you’ve probably asked ‘why?’ In many of such cases, you’ve probably been confused because there seemed to be no clear reason for such unbearable troubles. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, were shocked, puzzled and devastated. They could not understand why. The words they say to Jesus at His arrival at Bethany later prove that it was so. Martha meets Jesus first and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” as in Jn. 11:21 and, a few minutes later, hearing the Lord’s arrival, Mary runs to meet Him and says in v. 32 the exactly same words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Their words signify their many why questions. Their identical words spoken to the Lord mean that they are like us and we’re like them in terms of asking ‘why?’ for many things that happen to us.
In this sense, Mary and Martha represent us all in terms of being puzzled with bad things and worse things of life. Like Mary and Martha, like Jesus’ disciples in Jn. 11, like many others such as Joseph in slavery in Egypt, Job in hearing message after message about a series of calamities fell upon his families and belongings, and David in his unfair flight, running away, from King Saul, his own father-in-law, many of us raise our eyebrows and ask ‘why?’ We desperately search for an answer in such cases.
II. YET, THE OMNISCIENT LORD PROVIDED THE BEST WAY TO ALL
On the contrary, Jesus remains peaceful. No question has been raised in His mind. Like the case of His falling in deep sleep in the midst of a tempest on the Galilean Sea, the Lord is calm. In fact, He seems to be filled with joy as we read from v. 15, saying this: “for your sake I am glad that I was not there,” meaning, not there by Lazarus’ death bed. He’s saying, ‘I’m glad that I wasn’t there; I’m glad that I’ve missed the opportunity of recovering him from that illness.’ Strange, isn’t it? Moreover, Jesus seems to not care about His disciples’ worrying hearts with their going back to Bethany. As I explained earlier, Bethany was in the vicinity of Jerusalem and, if the Jews know Jesus’ presence in Bethany, they would surely come and grab Him and, alongside Him, all Jesus’ disciples. They might be stoned to death! Yet, Jesus seems careless about that. He tells them in a casual way, ‘Let us go back.’ Why?
The simple answer is that He knows all things. Knowing all things means that He knows the exact reason for each problem for each individual, then, the exact way or progression of that problem and, finally, the exact purpose or goal of each problem. Knowing them all, He remains calm and joyful.
Think about the case of Lazarus. Hearing about his illness, Jesus didn’t leave that place, but waited for two days. He knew what was exactly happening. He knew that Lazarus had already died when the messenger arrived and delivered the message of illness. It wasn’t why Jesus stayed there for two more days. It was because He knew exactly why Lazarus had to die. Jesus would bring him back to life and his resurrection would give a great glory to God and the Son. That’s why Jesus said in v. 4 that Lazarus’ illness did not lead to death.
Many other testimonies recorded in the Bible prove Jesus’ divine omniscience. For example, when Jairus’ daughter was ill, Jesus was asked to come and heal her. As He was coming toward Jairus’ house, a messenger came and said to Jairus that his daughter had already died, so stop bothering Jesus. But Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” In this way, Jairus’ daughter was raised back to life and the report of this was spread throughout the cities and towns in that region, changed the hearts of many people. In numerous cases in the fourfold Gospel, we read that Jesus knew people’s thoughts.
What does this mean? It means one thing only, that is, Jesus is God; He is the Son of God, the second Person in the Godhead. He is the omniscient – all knowing – God and Lord we must trust. He is gracious also toward us as He showed His grace in Lazarus’ case. To explain this, let me examine Lazarus’ case from a different angle. If Jesus had come and seen Lazarus before his death, Lazarus would’ve probably been recovered. If that were the case, would the name, Lazarus, have remained significant to our faith? I don’t think so. The name, Lazarus, might’ve been lost, and he would’ve remained as simply ‘a certain man’ as Jn. 11:1 begins. In such a case, his illness and healing would’ve carried no significant redemptive meaning. But, Jesus didn’t leave his name that way; He left him die, then, came and revived him to open the eyes of many people in Bethany of the 1st century AD and the hearts of many others in history to see clearly that Jesus knows all things, knows the best things for all people, and graciously provides the best way to all people.
To Lazarus, that honour to see death defeated and overcame in his body, and the greater honour of becoming one of the Lord’s unshakable followers! To Mary and Martha, the Lord Jesus gave the joy of becoming the firsthand witnesses of Jesus’ kingdom which can never be compared with their temporal tears and sadness over the death of their brother. What about others, like Jesus’ disciples? They experienced once again the power of Jesus, the good and true Shepherd of sheep, who lays down His life for His beloved, protecting them and never leaving them unprotected. Do you see what this means? It means that someone’s illness, someone’s problem is not only for that person’s training in righteousness and godliness, but also a channel for God’s blessings to many more people – in fact, uncountable and immeasurable good for many others. Lazarus’ illness was a good example of this. The Lord knows it all, so He says, “For your sake I am glad.”
Jesus’ disciples learned once again that following Jesus the Lord is the only way to safety; if He is with them, none can touch them, none can harm them, none can ever consider attacking them! After all, that’s what Jesus means when He says in vs. 9 and 10 of our text passage, talking about walking in the daylight and not stumbling, but walking in the night will surely make one stumble. Jesus is the light; He is our brightly shining sun. so, abiding in Him and walking with Him, we fear none! That’s the confession we heard earlier this morning from reading the thirty-third psalm, saying that the LORD is our help and shield.
III. SO, WAIT FOR THE LORD’S GRACIOUS HAND IN ALL THINGS
So, we must wait for the Lord, wait especially for His gracious hand in and with all things – I mean, in all troubles, in our loss of loved ones, in all kinds of sickness – literally, in all things. Why? Because our Lord knows all things; He knows why we have troubles and tears and struggles; He knows to where such agony leads us; He also knows what awaits us after all troubles. He knows that the whole thing is for our good, our benefit. In Mt. 7, our Lord Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father, knowing us and knowing what’s best for us, will give us good things! So, in all things, we wait for the Lord.
Then, we wait for Him patiently. Although we’d behave like Mary and Martha at the moment of Jesus’ arrival at Bethany, I mean, we complain about our troubles like them, saying, ‘If You were here, if You paid attention to my cry, if you were like this or that, the whole thing would’ve been different,’ although we’d say something like that to Jesus and complain, we must never forget the fact that the Lord always gives us the best thing, leads us to the best way, being gracious to us.
We in fact are sustained with a patient waiting for the Lord. I mean, the food we eat is a typical outcome of patient waiting for the Lord. If you consider how farmers grow crops, you’d see what I mean. With all his labour, he is totally dependent on God to provide the rain and sunshine that are necessary for crops to grow. Farmers wait from seedtime to harvest to see whether the harvest will be good. We eat and are sustained by the result of such a patient wait for the Lord. Our life itself is, in fact, totally dependent on God. Faith is such a patient wait. Hear what Heb. 11:1 defines faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This ‘assurance of what is hoped for’ is a patient wait for the Lord’s gracious hand. So, in a word, you might complain like Mary and Martha, but never forget the Lord’s faithfulness toward you with His promise, and wait patiently for His guidance.
One more thing we need to remember in our waiting for the Lord is that we must remain joyful in our wait. How can we remain so if things don’t allow us to laugh or even smile? What if things of life are so destructive? The answer for such questions is found from the stories of the people of the Bible. There’s no short and direct answer given to us other than the life stories of the people in the Bible, like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Ruth, Hannah and so on. We read about the beginnings and the ends of their troubles, and examine how and to what end God led each of them. Then, see the single pattern God showed always in their lives, that is, their troubles were for their good, benefit and eternal blessing! So, we must remain joyful in our waiting. Most of all, the life of Jesus the Son on earth, His suffering for us, experiencing all troubles and agonies we go through, affirms to this need.
Summing it all up, let me lead you to remember the very word of Jesus our Lord as recorded in v. 15; He says, “for your sake I am glad.” This is the key for you to remember in your waiting for the Lord. With this word, remember that He knows you and all your troubles; He never misses your deepest needs and pains. And He will lead you to the best way, providing you the best thing. Know also that He will be with you as your shield and refuge. So, wait for Him in all things, patiently, rejoicing always. ***