Need Help? Call Now
Loved By Jesus

The Life

Rev. Philip Miller | March 14, 2021

Selected highlights from this sermon

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a well-known biblical event. But have you ever wondered why, when Lazarus was so ill and Jesus was sent for, did Jesus put off going to help His friend?

We’ve all have experienced unanswered prayer to some degree. And sometimes it leaves us disappointed with God. So what do we do when God doesn’t make sense? What do we do with all the questions we have as to why He didn’t do what we asked?

In this message, Pastor Miller, looking at the story of Lazarus, gives us ten anchors for the soul when God seems distant and uncaring.

The Life

Today we come to one of the most gripping and glorious stories in all the Bible. It is the story of Jesus raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Now this story ends with powerful clarity about Jesus’ love and who He is, but it starts in cloudy gloom and disorientation and confusion.

The story opens. Lazarus is gravely ill, and they call for Jesus. They do this for two reasons. First because He’s a healer. He has healed many people. It’s very natural that they would reach out to Jesus, but the second reason is Jesus is their friend. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were friends of Jesus. He spent much time with them. You’ll recognize their names from other stories in the Gospels.

And so what they expect is, they expect Jesus to drop everything and come save His friend. But that’s not what happens. He waits. Jesus waits upon hearing that Lazarus is ill. Jesus waits. He delays. He doesn’t come and answer their pleas, at least not right away. And so this story begins with disorientation. They’re wondering to themselves, “Jesus, don’t you care? Why would you call us your friends and then not show up when we need you the most? Why don’t you answer? Why don’t you respond? Why don’t you come?”

Have you ever been there? Have you ever cried out to God? Have you just prayed your guts out, only to be disappointed with God’s response? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. What do we do when God doesn’t make sense? What do we do when God doesn’t make sense?

If you would, grab your Bibles wherever you are and join me in John, chapter 11. We’re going to look at nearly the whole chapter today, verses 1 down to 53 in John, chapter 11. And what I want to show you this morning is ten anchors for the soul when God doesn’t make sense. Ten anchors for the soul when God doesn’t make sense.

Would you bow your heads as we turn to God’s Holy Word?

Father, this is the real stuff of life: managing expectations, our emotions. When life gets really hard and when you don’t do what we ask you to do, it leaves us in a space where we’re left wondering. We’re not sure. Help us to see from this story what it is that maybe you’re doing in our lives. Help us to trust you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.

John, chapter 11, verse 1: “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘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.’”

“This illness,” Jesus says, “will not lead to death. That is not its end.” What is its end then? What is the end of this illness? “It is,” Jesus says, “the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now, Jesus here is not blowing them off. He’s not saying, “You know, don’t worry. God will be glorified no matter what happens to Lazarus.” No, what He’s doing here is, He’s revealing His purposes and His motivation, and He’s giving that to us up front. “Everything I’m about to do,” Jesus says, “is calibrated toward one end, one goal, and that is glory, the glory of God. Everything I’m about to do is for God’s greatest glory and for your greatest good.” Because what is most glorious for God, friends, is always what is most good for us.

This is what will be best for Lazarus. This is what will be best for Mary and Martha and everyone around. And Jesus is giving us a lens here to understand God’s purposes in all things, including in the very hard things we face in life, especially when God doesn’t make sense. This is the first anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense. It is this: God is working always for His glory and our good. God is working always for His glory and our good.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I ask questions sometimes like, “Wouldn’t it bring God more glory if Jesus would just heal Lazarus? You know? Wouldn’t it bring God more glory if Lazarus doesn’t have to suffer, if he doesn’t have to die, if Mary and Martha don’t have to weep, if Jesus doesn’t have to weep, as we’ll see? Wouldn’t intervening to stop this suffering and pain and heartache in its tracks to avoid death, wouldn’t that bring God more glory? Well, apparently not.

Apparently, God gets more glory through pain, through sorrow, through death on the road to resurrection and life. More glory than any other route could hold. Apparently, taking a short cut around pain, sorrow, and death here is actually a less glorious route. And in some very hard to fathom way, friends, this must also be for Lazarus’ greatest good, for his highest joy. That having gone through sorrow to resurrection life, his joy and goodness, there must be a deepness, a fullness, a richness, a more meaningful experience of life, having gone through sorrow into the glory of new life. In other words, the sunrise, you know, is all the more glorious because of the night that it displaces.

Now, I don’t fully understand this, friends, but this is, in fact, what God is saying, what Jesus is saying here, that God is always working all things together for good for those who love Him, that His glory may be revealed in it.

Now look at verse 5. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Now those two statements don’t feel like they fit together, do they? “Now Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, so He stayed two days longer.” It feels like this is the opposite response of love, doesn’t it? But John wants us to see there’s a reason he says, “Now Jesus loved them,” because he wants us to understand that it is not in spite of His love for them that Jesus stays, but because of His love for them that Jesus stays.

It was love. Listen, it was love that refused their request. Now this is the second anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense. And that is that God will sometimes lovingly disappoint us. God will sometimes lovingly disappoint us.

Now, in a culture of helicopter parenting where everybody gets a trophy and we work so hard to make sure our kids never experience pain and feel the negative realities of life, we try our best to make sure everyone can be happy all the time, it’s hard to fathom a love that would allow pain and hardship into our lives. And yet in love, that’s exactly what happens here. Jesus waits. He could have gone to Lazarus. He could have stopped this illness in its tracks. He could have healed him from a distance. Remember He has done this.

He could have stopped all the suffering, all of this pain, all of this sorrow, but He doesn’t. He allows it. He allows it in love. Why? Well, it must be that Jesus sees more than we do, that He knows more than we do, that He intends more than we do. Love is taking the harder route here. And friends, sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would expect Him to. But could it be that God is disappointing us in love, that if we knew everything that God does, we would understand exactly what it is that He is doing but, of course, we don’t. Could it be that love is holding God back from doing what you ask?

Verse 7: “Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeing to stone you, and are you going there again?’” Remember back at the end of chapter 10, they tried to stone Jesus for claiming to be equal with God? And so Bethany is just two miles from Jerusalem. This is back in Judea. It’s near the danger zone. It’s enemy territory. “Jesus, You want to go back where?”

Verse 9: “Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”

Now this is very cryptic Hebraic language here to us. It doesn’t fit our culture very easily, but if you go back, you’ll remember in John 9:4–5, Jesus talks about the daylight of His ministry, and he talks about the nightfall of His death, and I take this phrase as a Hebraic way of saying basically, “Don’t worry about me being killed just yet. There’s still time on the clock.” Okay? There’s still daylight left.

Verse 11: “After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’” (chuckles) “Don’t wake him up, Jesus. It’s good he’s sleeping. You know, that’s good for his health. Don’t wake Him up.”

Verse 13: “Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”

Now Thomas is a bit melodramatic here, of course, but you know, “Let us go die with Jesus,” you know, “die with Lazarus and Jesus.” But the point is they all knew the risk Jesus was taking in going to His friend here. And here’s the third anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense: Jesus gladly risks His life for His friends. Jesus gladly risks His life for His friends.

Aren’t you so glad? Aren’t you glad that Jesus doesn’t play it safe, that He doesn’t hedge His bets, that He puts His life on the line for us? Our God is a God who stands with us in the fire. He runs into the danger. He will risk Himself to be near us always.

Verse 17: “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.” You need to know that there was a Jewish superstition in the first century that the spirit of a person would linger around their body for three days, sort of the idea of the wake, you know. The point is, after four days, Lazarus is dead. Dead, dead. There’s no coming back at this point.

Verse 18: “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’”

Now we all know that the stages of grief; there are five of them. Right? Denial, and anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And here in Martha’s words we see a little bit of anger, don’t we? A little bit of blame, a little bit of bargaining, but in the end, Martha puts this in the hands of Jesus, doesn’t she? “Even now I know whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Now here’s the fourth anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense: Nothing is beyond hope in the hands of Jesus. Nothing is beyond hope in the hands of Jesus. In Jesus’ hands, friends, water turns to wine, the young boy’s fever breaks at a distance, the lame man walks, the thousands are fed, the storm is calmed, the blind man sees. In the hands of Jesus, friends, there is always hope.

Verse 23: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” So the Jews, you see, had no concept of the resurrection in the middle of time. They always expected the end of time, the eschaton, the resurrection at the very end of the world when God would raise the dead to life and everything would be set right. Martha thinks Jesus is consoling her with the resurrection at the very end of time. But Jesus has something different in mind.

Verse 25: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”

This you will recognize is the fifth “I Am” statement made in the Gospel of John. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Just as Jesus multiplied bread to expound the idea that He said, “I am the bread of life;” and just as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind in order to expound the statement, “I am the light of the world,” what is about to follow here in raising Lazarus is an exposition of this statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  

Now, I want you to see here, notice that Jesus claims that He is the resurrection and the life, that the eschatological reality that they were looking forward to, the resurrection at the end of time, that ultimate resurrection life, He is saying, “That is found in me. I am the resurrection life. I am the eschaton. Right here, right now in the middle of space and time I am the resurrection and the life. And whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

See, the key to the resurrection hope that we can have at the end of time, beyond death, is found in the person of Jesus. It’s found, as Jesus would say, in who I am. “Believe me and death will not be the end of you. You will have life everlasting forever.”

But then He takes it one step further. He says, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Even now Jesus is saying, “I am offering you a kind of life on the inside that can never be interrupted by death. Oh, your body will die, but you’ll never die. Your body will fall off like a set of old, dirty clothes on the floor, but you, the real you, your soul, your spirit, your very life it cannot be touched at all, if you have faith and believe in me. You will enjoy the uninterrupted life in the presence of God now and forever.” He’s saying, “Eternity starts today in me. Do you believe this?”

Verse 27: “She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” Friends, this is amazing faith. In all of her deep sorrow and unanswered questions, in all of her disappointment with Jesus, she still hopes in Him, in the life that is embodied in who He is that is breaking into the world.

And the fifth anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense is that Jesus is life from beyond the walls of the world. Jesus is life from beyond the walls of the world. The very life that in the beginning created the worlds, that same life that stepped into space and time in the person of Jesus is now the very life that is standing right before Martha. His life which is the light of men, Jesus himself, the life, our life. And friends, no matter how hard things may get, no matter what we face, no matter how disappointed we might be in God, we have this anchor to hold onto—that Jesus is our life, that we have abundant, eternal, infinite life in Jesus, and that can never be taken away.

Verse 28: “When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”

Now watch this. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”

John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” That’s the smallest verse in the whole Bible, and the greatest of treasures. The sixth anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense is this: God weeps with us. God weeps with us.

Friends, this is one of those beautiful things about our God, is that He is a weeping God. This is amazing to me. Do you realize Jesus knows exactly what He’s about to do? He knows the end of the story. He’s going to bring Lazarus back from the dead. And I don’t know about you, but I would have said, “Well, you know, I don’t know how it’s going to end. I’m not going to waste my tears. I’m just going to go to end of the book.” Right? But not Jesus. Jesus takes time to enter into the pain and sorrow and heartache of His people, to feel Himself the ravages of death, to have His heart wrung in two. He doesn’t short circuit the pain. He doesn’t rush through to the other side. No, He feels it all the way down, and He weeps with those who weep.

Friends, don’t you realize this refuses the idea that we sometimes have of God—that He’s sort of immune, that He’s detached and He’s sort of floating above the troubles of this world. No, God is a God who enters into our pain. The Father is near to the broken-hearted, the Psalms say; The Son is a man of sorrows, He’s acquainted with much grief, Isaiah writes; The Spirit Himself groans with us in our weakness, Paul writes in Romans 8. Don’t you see the whole triune God joins us in our suffering, in our pain and in our tears? He is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus wept.

Verse 36: “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’”

“Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” See, some of them are drawn to Jesus by this display of grief, such love. While others are filled with doubts. Why didn’t Jesus do something? Certainly He was able. Maybe He doesn’t care?

You see, they start doubting His goodness. They doubt His wisdom. They doubt His love. They doubt His motives. And when God doesn’t make sense, friends, here’s the seventh anchor for our souls: Doubt is the natural companion of grief. Doubt is the natural companion of grief. It is natural. It is normal to doubt God in the midst of our pain and sorrow and grief. And if we are honest, we’ve all been there. I know I have. In the late hours of the night when our hearts are breaking and tears are all over our pillows, and we cry out, “Why God? Why? Why would you put me through this? Do you not care? Where are you? How could I trust you right now?” Those are real doubts. Those are real feelings. You can’t ignore those things, friends. If the Psalms teach us anything, they teach us that we can bring all of our emotions, all of our doubts, all of our mess to God, to bring it to Him. He can handle it. And in grief and doubt, friends, we’ve got to be honest with God, and we also have to hold fast to Jesus. He’s the only one who will never leave us, never forsake us.

Verse 38, “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.”

Now I love this verse because the phrase, “deeply moved” doesn’t get translated really well, I don’t think. It means He was enraged. He was angry. He’s bellowing mad here. At what? At what? I think Jesus looks out on the ravages of sin, and the dominance of Satan, and the enemy of death, at the pain, the agony, the sorrow, the tears that have come, and with His teeth clenched, He says, “This has got to stop. This is not how it’s supposed to be, and I will do whatever it takes, but this ends now.”

Verse 39: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone.”

Friends, on the pathway to resurrection, Jesus will do some things that make no sense to us. They may seem unwise, foolhardy, even backwards. But friends, listen. Jesus knows what He’s doing. Even when things don’t make sense, even when God doesn’t make sense, the eighth anchor for our souls is that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s ways are not our ways.

Isaiah 55:8 and 9 say, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Friends, very rarely does God end up running down the path that we would have planned out for Him. He breaks our expectations. He defies our counsel. He thwarts our wishes. But the question is, what will we do when God overrides our will? Hmm? Will we keep fighting for control, or will we say with our Jesus, “Not my will, but yours be done.” And don’t you see? Surrender is the only way we get to see the glory of God. It’s the only way.

So even though this smells of death, Jesus, I will follow you nonetheless. Take this stone away.

Verse 41b: “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out (chuckles), his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

(Laughs) Friends, when God doesn’t make sense the ninth anchor for our souls is this: Resurrection is just a cry away. Resurrection is just a cry away. Remember what Jesus said in John 5:25–29? “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Friends, don’t you see it’s a good thing that Jesus called Lazarus by name when He said, “Come out,” because if He had simply said, “Come out,” everyone in all the tombs everywhere would have been raised from the dead, would have responded, because His is the all-powerful voice of the Word of God, who spoke and life burst forth, who commands and darkness falls, who stills the storm with a word, who vanquishes demons and puts death to death.

“Oh grave, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”

“I am,” Jesus says, “the resurrection and the life. Lazarus, come out.”

Verse 45: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’ But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’” John adds this little postscript: “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (the Gentiles). So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

And don’t you see? Now everything is starting to come to a head. We’re on the very cusp of passion week, of Passover week, when Jesus will be crucified, buried, and raised. It’s all about to go down. And in many ways this event is the one that pushes the religious leaders over the edge. They sense they’re losing control, power, everything, and they resolved they’ve got to end Jesus. And unknowingly, their evil hearts enact (This is amazing) God’s good plan. Unknowingly, their evil hearts enact God’s good plan. They set in motion the plan that God had determined from before time began, that Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. And Jesus is now going to die for the nation, not just for the Jews, but also for all people everywhere because of what they’re about to do. Oh, the irony.

And don’t you see in saving His friend from death, Jesus guarantees His own. And in laying down His life, Jesus will bring life to the world. And this, friends, is the tenth anchor for our souls when God doesn’t make sense, and it is that God is authoring a redemptive twist. God is authoring a redemptive twist. Isn’t this amazing? What they intend for evil, God purposes for good. What they mean for shame, God will redeem for glory. What they think is crucifixion, God will turn to resurrection. Our God is a great redeemer. He brings light from darkness. He brings order from chaos. He brings fullness from emptiness, and beauty from ashes. He brings life from death, and He can bring resurrection from crucifixion. And God is authoring a redemptive twist. He is overcoming evil with good. He’s making everything sad come untrue. This is what He did for Lazarus. It’s what He’s about to do for Jesus. It’s what He’s doing for the whole world, and it’s what He’s doing right now for you and for me, that even now, in all of the pain and disappointment and sorrow and grief, no matter what you’re facing, God is working redemption in love for you. Even when God doesn’t make sense, especially when God doesn’t make sense, this is what He’s doing.

I remember my mom used to love a song. She still loves it. She used to listen to it a lot. I think it was by Babbie Mason. It’s a song titled, “Trust His Heart,” and I think it’s profound. Let me just read some of these lyrics to you as we close.

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don’t see
How they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth.

Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart

Isn’t that good? So when you don’t understand, when you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.

So that’s your takeaway. When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart. It’s much easier said than done, so we should pray. Let’s do that.

Father, it gets really hard down here sometimes in this sin-cursed and broken world, where Satan inflicts wounds, where death presides and taunts us. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that even through all of this pain and this heartache that there might be glory on the other side, that good might be borne out of this, that redemption is the story of the universe. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus has shown us. In dragging back the resurrection life from the end of time and inserting it right in the middle, we see the beauty of your redemptive purposes, of your glorious intentions, of your good work. In this universe you are turning evil to good. You are overcoming evil with good. You are making everything sad come untrue in Jesus. Help us to trust you. Help us to hold fast as we travel this road through crucifixion into glory. We pray this in the name of the Son of God, Christ Himself, Amen. Amen.

Tell us why you valued this sermon.

Other Sermons in this Series