Where Despair Meets Joy
The greatest measurement of the Christian faith is when difficult times, when tragedies invade the Christian's life. It becomes a barometer. It becomes the backdrop for which is measured the validity of our faith, but not just the strength of our faith, but its very existence, whether it is indeed a religion we belong to, or whether we have that relationship with Christ that will sustain us, that will guard us and guide us through whatever happens in our life. We get a snippet in the lives of disciples this morning as we look at the seventh sign that John shares with us in his gospel of Jesus as the Son of God, and he saves the best for last, the greatest of all the miracles, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
We're going to spend a few weeks looking at this text. We'll break it down into sections because there is just so much in each one of these sections that I want us to be sure and notice, and especially this morning when we look at what happens, how it can be possible that despair can be turned to joy. What is it about our relationship with Christ that allows genuine despair to be turned over, transformed into joy? The circumstances don't change. The facts of the situation don't change, but we change. If we have a valid faith, if we see Jesus for who He is, and we see us for whom we are. So it is with this young family of Bethany.
To sort of set the scene for you, if you've been with us in our studies, Jesus has been, during that winter season at the Feast of Dedication, He was attempted, or at least the Jews attempted to seize Him. They wanted to stone Him. He was making claims of being His Father's Son, of being the very Son of God. They saw that as blasphemy, and they wanted to stone Him. So Jesus left town. He leaves and goes to a Bethany, but not the Bethany of today. It's another Bethany. Your Bible sometimes speaks of this place as Beit 'anya. It's on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee approximately 100 miles from Jerusalem.
Jesus and His disciples go up into that more friendly area of Israel where His ministry has always seen success, and where He has found far more disciples and far more friendship. They go there. They retreat, if you will. They go away for a time to Beit 'anya, to this other Bethany. There is another Bethany though that is right outside of Jerusalem, the more famous Bethany that's within just a couple of miles of the city of Jerusalem to the east over the Mount of Olives. In this Bethany lived a family that Jesus had become very close to…the family of Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
Now it's likely that these three who were brother and sisters, they didn't live together. They very likely were married and had their own homes and their own families, but we see them together in these family gatherings. We see Martha hosting a banquet for Jesus in her home, and Mary being there. After the resurrection of Lazarus there is going to be a banquet where Mary and Martha, along with Lazarus are gathered there. So there is a very strong family connection between Lazarus and these two.
You know it's interesting, Lazarus is sort of the Greek version of the Hebrew name Eleazar. Eleazar is in Arabic, Azaraih, and the Arabic name of Bethany, (and Bethany is in the Palestinian territory today; it's over that wall) is al-Eizariya. They don't call it Bethany. They call it al-Eizariya, which is interesting to me because it's in commemoration of Lazarus that they have given it that name. We still call it Bethany. The Jews call it Bethany, but it's interesting that the local tradition was strong enough that it was renamed after this man.
Tragedy has fallen to the family. They have loved Jesus. They have gotten to know Jesus. Jesus has gotten to know them, just as many of us, we fall in love with Christ. We love Him. We love being His disciple, but then tragedy comes in our life. In this case, Lazarus comes down with an illness, a terminal illness. We don't know what it is, but we do know that he is so close to death. So close, in fact, that Mary and Martha decide to send a messenger to Jesus.
It's also interesting isn't it that they've gone up to this Beit 'anya area, up to the other Bethany, also called Beit 'abara in some of your translations. Mary and Martha know where He is. That's how close Jesus was to Him that He lets them know where He is going to be, even though the Pharisees may not know, they know. So they send a messenger up to Jesus. I want to share because that sending of a messenger is for us today the sending of a prayer. It is our…How do we communicate with Christ in times of tragedy? This Jesus that we love…this relationship that we have.
So join with me in John, chapter 11. Today I want us to begin in the first verse. It says, "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick." We'll see that very story in the next chapter. "Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.'"
They send a messenger up to Jesus. They send a prayer. That's what a prayer is, isn't it? It's a request. It's communication. We sort of "holify" it, but at its root level, a prayer should be not formal words that we just recount, not a model that we just repeat, but it's a communication. It's a dialog that we have with God. That's what Mary and Martha have done. But you know what's striking about this? What's telling about this, and what should be on every one of our hearts to learn this morning is exactly what they do and what they don't do.
Notice, if you will, the phrase in verse 3, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." Period. End of quote. They don't tell Jesus what to do. You notice that? Oh, when we have prayers before God, do we tell Jesus what to do? Do we say, "Lord, my mother is sick. My child is sick. Would You heal him?" Do we go that far? Do we tell Jesus, "Okay, You're God, here's what You need to do to fix my situation?" They didn't tell Him what to do.
You know that reminds me of a couple of other instances where we see that. First, Jesus own mother. If you will remember at the wedding back in Cana back in John 2, she goes up to Jesus and she says, "The host of this wedding has run out of wine." Period. End of quote. Jesus says, "Ma'am, what do you have to do with Me? It's not My time." But she doesn't tell Him what to do. She just goes to the servants and says, "Whatever He tells you to do, do it." She doesn't make any requests.
The same thing happens really with Nicodemus when he comes to see Jesus and he says, "I know You're a man sent from God." He really doesn't ask anything of Jesus, although he has a lot of questions on his heart.
Here is Mary and Martha. Their brother whom they love and who they know Jesus loves is dying. He is near death. All they say is, "Lord, the one whom You love is sick." What faith. What a testament. What a model for us of how to pray in tragedy. They don't tell Jesus what to do, and also they don't ask Jesus to come. They don't ask Him to heal him. They don't put any pressure on Christ at all. They just simply make their statement known unto God. They make their request known to Him. They base their prayer not on their love for Jesus, nor on Lazarus' love for Jesus.
Oh Lord, this child, he is such a good child. You know he loves You. You know he wants to serve You. No, they don't do any of that. You know what they do? They base their prayer on Jesus' love for Lazarus. If you want to transform your prayer life, or the tragedy you're going through, or the difficulty you're going through, one…don't tell Jesus what He needs to do in your situation. Secondly, come to Him not convincing Him how much you love Him, but fully aware and settled in the fact that He loves you…that He loves you.
When you come to your parents as a child, you say, "Daddy, I'm in trouble." You don't necessarily try to tell Daddy what all he has to do to fix it. You may not have any idea. Nor do you have to say, "And Daddy, I love you." No because you come to him knowing he loves you, and that's the way our prayers ought to be with God. Even in our darkest moments, we have to have the faith to understand, a valid faith to know that God knows all about us, and that He knows the best solutions for our situation.
So they don't tell Him what to do. They say, "Lord, I know, we know, You love him." You know it's one of these few times in Scripture really where we see the personal relationships that Jesus had with people. Often Scripture is dealing on a broader scale, but in this case of this family of Bethany, we see this close personal connection they had developed. "Lord, the one whom You love is sick."
Oh what a way for us to pray! What a way to go to the Lord when we are in financial trouble, when our jobs have panned out, when our family is sick, when our relationships have been destroyed, when we're lonely, when we're frustrated, when we don't know what to do, to come to God and say, "God, I know You love me, and I'm in a fix. I'm having problems." Period. End of sentence.
Not, "God, I need a job. God, I need 100 bucks. God, I need to be cured of this in the next week." None of that, but to know that God is such an awesome God that He knows better than I know what needs to be done in my situation. That's exactly what happens with Mary and Martha. Look at Jesus' response, verse 4, "When Jesus heard that, He said…" And He is saying this to the messenger. "He said, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.'" This sickness is not unto death.
Isn't that amazing to have a Savior who's not scared of death? He knows Lazarus is going to die. He knows Lazarus is going to die by our definition of dead, but Jesus doesn't stop at death. He doesn't see death as the end. He doesn't see death as the failure to do anything else. He just sees it as a temporary condition. So He says, "Oh, this sickness is not unto death. Oh, he may die, but that's not the end of the story."
How many people have a faith that is valid enough to look at the death of a loved one, and to say that cancer is not unto death? That person is a believer, and death has no control over them. That person is saved, and death does not conquer them. That person belongs to God, and death has no play in this situation. Oh their body may die, but death is not the end of the story. That's what Jesus is wanting them to be reminded of. I know he is in bad shape, but God is going to be glorified through this in that the Son is going to be glorified through this.
How is that going to happen? Because Jesus is going to raise him from the dead. Jesus is going to show that He has that ultimate power over death itself. Look to verse 5, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Jesus loved this family. He loved all of them. Then you come to verse 6, and it seems a bit confusing, at least in the English, not so much in the Greek. In the Greek, there are some particles there that kind of help us understand.
And really what verse 6 says in the English is, "So, when He heard that he was sick…" When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick… "He stayed two more days in the place where He was." He hears that Lazarus is sick, and He stays. He doesn't get up and go. Why? Well that little funny Greek particle at the beginning of that sentence really, if it had been translated (I think) a little bit better, would have solved it for us because that word so is also translated therefore. Therefore…
Now let me put these two verses together. I'm not playing tricks with you, okay. I just want to put these two verses together so you can understand what's happening here. Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha, therefore He stayed two more days. Why didn't Jesus go? Because He loved them. It's because He loved them that He didn't get up and immediately go. Now, two days later, Lazarus dies. Jesus, by the way, is four day's journey away from Bethany, 100 miles from Jerusalem, 20 miles a day (23 miles a day) the commentators say the maximum journey time, four days to get to Bethany.
Two days after the messenger has come, Lazarus dies, then Jesus, as we're going to see, will then say, "It's time to go." They'll get there four days later. Jesus knows all of this. He also knows if He left right then, He would have gotten there two days after Lazarus died. The problem is, two days after Lazarus died, he might not seem dead to everybody in the sense that if Jesus raised him from the dead some might have thought it was a trick. They might have thought, Well, he wasn't really dead. He just revived him. He just woke him back up. If you have seen the story before, when we get to that portion four days in the tomb, he's stinking, right? He's beginning to decay, and to come out of that tomb already decaying, there will be no doubt that he has been dead.
It is because of that very fact, far beyond anything Martha and Mary could comprehend, far beyond anything His closest disciples could understand…it's because of that very fact that Jesus delays because He loves them. He loves them. He wants to raise Lazarus to show them that He has the power to do this so that He will be glorified in it, and so their faith will grow stronger. When their faith grows stronger, God is glorified.
When God is silent in your life, when He doesn't seem to immediately come to the rescue, when He doesn't answer your tragedy right on the spot, when there seems to be some lag time, when there seems to be no answer from God, would you be willing to have the faith this morning to believe that it's because God loves you? The reason that He doesn't immediately respond is because He loves you, and He knows what's best for you. That's for your faith to grow. That's for your faith to get stronger because the stronger your faith grows, the closer you are in relationship to God, the more you learn to trust Him and to depend on Him and to rely on Him. The more joy you're going to have in life. The more you're going to see your despair, which comes into every life meet with joy.
When you learn to have a strong faith, a faith that doesn't even try to tell God what to do, a faith that doesn't sit here and beg God for anything, that only brings to God's attention what He already knows and then trust that God loves you so much that He'll take care of it. That He will deliver in a way far better than what you have thought. You may say, "Well, what if they die?" Death is no biggie to God. Death is no biggie to us if we're a believer.
We are more than conquers when it comes to death. We thumb our nose at death and say, "Where is your sting? Where is your power, death? I am alive forevermore starting when I was saved." Death has no role. It might attack my body, but it doesn't attack me, so I don't have to ask God to save me, preserve me, feed me, finance me, make me happy, give me friends. All I have to do is say, "God, I love You, but I know You love me far more. I am lonely. I am hungry. I am sick, but God, I know You love me." End of statement. That's it. Let faith take hold.
So therefore, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Verse 7, "Then after this He said to the disciples, 'Let us go to Judea again.'" Well that set off an alarm. I mean they had just traveled four days just recently to get away from the stones, to get away from the Pharisees' attempts to arrest Jesus and to have Him killed. Now Jesus says, "Let's go back to Judea." (Judea being the province in which the Pharisees had power.) See they're outside of it now. They're up in the region of Galilee. They're under a different Roman prelate, but they wanted to go back to Judea, and the Pharisees had their hand in the pockets in Judea. They have the power to arrest there.
So Jesus says, "Let's go back to Judea. It's been two days. Let's go back to Judea." Verse 8, "The disciples said to Him, 'Rabbi, lately [literally, just now] the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?'" You know sometimes, we make our decisions on how we're going to serve God based on circumstances, based on the world's limitations, based on the way things are going. The disciples were doing that. They're saying, "The common sense is let's stay out of Judea. We'll try to serve God, but we can't go there."
Listen to what Jesus said in verse 9, "'Are there not twelve hours in the day?'" (In other words, in the daylight.) "'If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.' These things He said, and after that He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.'" He says, "I'm on a time table. It's daylight. Right now, I can go and I can minister to the family of Lazarus. The time is going to come that the darkness is going to set in when I can't do that anymore. Now is the time."
The time to serve God is when God calls me to serve Him. The time to serve God is while there is still daylight, while there is opportunity, while I can see the obstacles that are before me, and I can go around them. I don't want to wait too late. I don't want to wait until a more opportune time. I don't want to wait until things get better. I don't want to not serve God because I'm poor. I don't want to not serve God because I haven't gotten through college yet. I don't want to not serve God because I'm not married yet. I don't want to not serve God because I don't have kids yet. I don't want to not serve God because I'm not retired yet. I don't want to not serve God for any reason!
I want to serve Him, and I want to serve Him now while it's opportunity. I may be in heaven tomorrow. But today, while it is daylight, I'm going to do what the Father wants me to do. My friends, today, while it's daylight is your opportunity to answer God's call in your life.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription