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Three Days Later

Something dramatic happens to Jesus between these two passages:

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.” John 11:15

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 11:33-35

In the first passage, he seems light and sure of himself. He reminds me of a young Calvinist, throwing out the answer God is in control too quickly, not giving time for the painful realities to set in.

I am not saying Jesus sinned in the first passage, or that he was brash or arrogant. But I am trying to apply Luke 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom”. I believe he learned a hard lesson in wisdom on that day.

In the second passage he has seen the devastation that death brings. He has seen the red, tear stained eyes and the dirty faces that have been weeping for three days. He has looked into the eyes of two dear friends who had prayed and prayed for their brother to be healed, and watched him die.

He hears the question over and over, “could he not have healed him?” He begins to deal with the fact that the answer is the worst answer of them all: Yes, I could have but I didn’t.

Something rattles Jesus deeply into his spirit. I could have helped but I didn’t. God could have healed him but he didn’t. No longer the confident teacher, now he is the friend. Now he weeps with his friends. Maybe he now begins to feel the shadow of death moving toward him. Maybe he already senses that the day is coming when he would beg God to save him from impending death, and he too would hear: “I could spare you from this, but I won’t.”

What can we learn from this meditation?

Our Lord knows what it is like when the answer to our prayers is the worst imaginable. He knows the feeling of wondering if God has suddenly turned against us. He has been on both sides of the question. He has seen the bewildered angry looks and heard “if you had been here this would not have happened.” He responded with tears, not rebukes and anger. He is not unmoved by our pain. He has also yelled those complaints himself, not "if you had been here," but “why have you abandoned me?” In Jesus, God is truly with us.

Secondly, I think there is a warning for armchair theologians like me. Do not be too quick to jump to the “easy” answers. Often people are hurting and crying, not because they do not believe God is sovereign, but because they believe he is sovereign. The fact that he could have helped but didn’t hurts. It hurts badly. Pointing to his sovereignty will not help, it feels like salt being rubbed in the wound.

Finally, I come to this question. Will I still believe three days later? After the biopsy comes back positive despite my prayers, after the divorce, after the funeral, after God refused to step in and bring a happy ending, will I still believe then?

I don’t know. Maybe the beauty of the gospel is that God works whether we still believe or not. Mary and Martha did not expect Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he did. The disciples did not expect Jesus to be raised either. I would like to say that I would wait with faith like a stalwart till the third day and beyond, but I know myself too well. Instead I will try to find rest in knowing God loves me and will have my best interest at heart even three days after I quit believing.

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