Why Did Lazarus Have To Die?
I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’s Miracles again and there’s a section where he addresses the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And Metaxas really made me think. Why did Lazarus have to die anyway? Why did Lazarus have to endure the suffering? Why was it necessary for his family to mourn? I mean, Jesus could have shown up earlier and healed him as he did for so many. But he didn’t. So Lazarus suffered–and died.
By the time Jesus got there his sisters and his friends were weeping. And in answer to anyone who would say that God is some sort of impersonal metaphysical force, Jesus, God incarnate, was overcome with grief himself. And he wept for his friend, and for his friend’s family, and for his friend’s friends. Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, had been dead for four days. Four days. That’s significant because there was this idea in Jewish culture at the time, that when a person died their spirit hung around for three days. And here we find Lazarus dead beyond that time period. In fact when Jesus directed the men to remove the stone that sealed the tomb, Lazarus’s sister Martha protested.
“Hang on, he’s been dead for four days. He’s been decomposing,” she said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench.”
But Jesus went ahead with it anyway.
He prayed out loud, not so God could hear him, but for the benefit of the people there.
And Lazarus walked out of that tomb.
And here’s where I have to ask: Why? Why was that necessary? Why did Lazarus and the people who loved him have to suffer that way? Why couldn’t Jesus have just healed him?
And the answer is found when we ask the question: What would have happened if God didn’t work it out that way? Think this through with me. What would have happened had Jesus shown up a week or so earlier and just healed Lazarus as he had for so many others? For one thing, we wouldn’t even be talking about this right now. That healing would just be a footnote in the scripture if it was mentioned at all.
But the way He worked it out, God and Jesus were glorified in amazing fashion. The miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection was one of the pinnacles of Jesus’ ministry. And there’s also the great message of the miracle. God and Jesus used Lazarus’s resurrection to communicate to us, to say to us:
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:21-26)
So yes Lazarus suffered. And yes so did his family and friends. Even Jesus suffered and grieved at his passing.
But I’m betting Lazarus would say, “It was worth it.”
Why Do I Have To Suffer?
Why do you have to suffer? And why do I? When Lazarus suffered there was a Divine purpose behind it. And the same is true when you or I suffer too. When our heart is broken, or when our health is broken, or when our finances are broken, we may not understand it at the time. We may not even understand it this side of heaven. But there are reasons.
One reason is that when we’re breezing through life people don’t see Christ. It’s when we’re suffering that people see the Spirit of Jesus in us. It’s when we’re suffering that Jesus is glorified in a way that attracts people to Him. That alone is reason enough.
But there’s another reason too. And it has to do with the depth of our relationship with our Father. I don’t know about you but when I’m on a roll I don’t want to stop rolling. I don’t want to stop rolling long enough to pray. I don’t want to stop rolling long enough to read His word. I have no desire to take the time to connect with Him in a deep and meaningful way. It’s when I’m hurting that I take the time to go deep with God in prayer. It’s when I’m hurting that I go the deepest in His scriptures.
Suffering cultivates intimacy with Christ.
I’m reminded of Paul and how he prayed three times for God to heal him. But God said no. Because God saw more value in Paul’s life with that thorn in his flesh than if he lived without it. Sometimes our connection with Him is so much stronger with that trial that our life is more meaningful with our suffering than it is without it. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Lazarus suffered and died for God’s purposes.
We suffer for God’s purposes too. And I think I’d rather suffer and remain closer to Him than to live without that trial and drift away from His presence. In a temporal material sense I don’t like it. But from the perspective of relationship with our eternal Creator, I can’t see trading away that depth for a downhill path without pain.
Like Lazarus, I would say,
It’s worth it.
If you let your suffering draw you closer to Christ, maybe you will say the same.
Eric Metaxas, Miracles, Dutton Adult, 2014
Image via Dominic Campbell – Creative Commons