Read John 11:1-6.
“So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” John 11:6
The Watney House Fire
From the street it looked like a one story house. But because it was built on a hillside, from the back you could see another level below with sliding glass doors opening out to a patio and back yard. This was the house where the Watney kids lived: Melissa, Mark, and Emma. They lived there with their cat. He was named “Cat in the Hat” by Emma, after the famous Dr. Seuss character, but everybody just called him “Hat” for short. The parents lived there too, but on this night they were out with friends enjoying a late dinner.
Melissa was thirteen. She was the oldest and, as they often did, her parents put her in charge while they were gone. It was hot that day but a steady ten mile per hour breeze blew upslope toward the back of the house making it pleasant to be outside. Mark, nine, and Emma, four, were playing on the patio when Melissa called them upstairs to go to bed. Four year old Emma was the last to come in and she forgot to close the sliding glass door.
The house was built in 1956. The Watneys were in the process of remodeling. The downstairs, as well as the stairwell, were in disarray.
An hour before bedtime, Mark used the downstairs bathroom. And soon after, as she had seen her mother do many times before, Melissa lit a candle to help with the odor.
Humans weren’t the only ones who used the downstairs bathroom. That’s where the Watney’s kept Hat’s litter box. As the children slept upstairs, Hat entered to do his business. Before he did, he jumped up onto the counter, bumping the candle a few inches so the flame impinged upon the linen curtains hanging at the window.
Mr. and Mrs. Watney pulled up to their home just seconds after the fire department. They saw smoke emanating from their house and their next door neighbor frantically pointing toward the two back bedrooms where the kids slept. Ted and Mindy Watney jumped out of the car and headed for the front door but a firefighter stopped them.
They almost came to blows.
Ted wanted to go in and rescue his kids but the firefighters wouldn’t allow him to. Next Ted and Mindy both asked why the firefighters weren’t going in themselves.
“That’s your job!” Mindy said. “Get in there and save them!”
“We will,” the firefighter answered. “We have to go around the back.”
“Why?” Ted and Mindy asked, desperately.
But they received no explanation. The firefighters drug a hoseline down the hill, around the back, and entered in through the open sliding glass door. They knocked down the fire, climbed the stairs, and rescued Melissa, Mark, and Emma. The children were treated on scene and released. Hat the cat was never seen again.
The Death Of Lazarus
In our text we see Jesus’ friend Lazarus suffering from a serious illness. Mary–that Mary–the one who anointed Jesus with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, was Lazarus’s sister. As was Martha.
So Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus saying, “Lord, your friend who you love is seriously sick.”
When Jesus hears this he says, “This illness won’t lead to death. It’s for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
And then, at this point, the Bible says: 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.
Does that statement make any sense to you? It doesn’t to me. If Jesus loves Lazarus, and if Jesus loves Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary, then why doesn’t he respond, right away? Isn’t that what Martha and Mary expect him to do? Isn’t that what anyone does when someone is experiencing a life threatening illness and they have the cure?
That’s how it works in our culture today. When someone’s life is threatened by injury or illness we expect help to come–red lights and siren.
But Jesus didn’t respond that way and that doesn’t make sense–from a human perspective.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.”
Jesus knew from God’s perspective, it was good for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus to wait. Jesus knew that waiting two days was the best possible way for him to respond. Jesus knew the end of the story from the beginning. You probably wouldn’t even be reading about Lazarus right now, if Jesus hadn’t waited. And as a result of Jesus’ waiting until after Lazarus suffered and died, many believed and entered into the kingdom.
Lazarus’s suffering and death wasn’t about Lazarus at all. Lazarus’s suffering and death was about Jesus.
When God Doesn’t Make Sense
In our text about Jesus and Lazarus, Jesus tells us why Lazarus’s suffering and death made sense: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
In our story about the kids trapped in the house fire the story ends before an explanation is given as to why the firefighters wouldn’t allow Ted or Mindy–or anyone–to open the front door. But here’s why: That scenario is a nightmare of mine. The nightmare is that someone will open an upstairs door or window when there’s a fire on the level below. When that happens in a house like the one in our story, with “a steady ten mile per hour breeze blowing upslope toward the back of the house,” the stairwell becomes a flue and the fire overwhelms the upstairs. Our fictional Ted and Mindy didn’t understand that by opening the front door they’d likely kill their own kids.
Because they didn’t understand, it’s understandable why they were distraught and confused by the actions of the firefighters.
Martha and Mary were distraught and confused about Jesus’ actions.
You and I can become distraught and confused when we’re hit by a car, or when your marriage seems to be falling apart, or when you lose your job, or when your loved one is seriously sick–and he’s not healed or raised from the dead. From our perspective things shouldn’t be this way.
But a friend of mine who counsels people who are suffering says we don’t have to have that perspective. He wrote a guest post on God Running about a couple he knows, Mike and Pam. Mike was diagnosed with an especially terrible type of cancer called multiple myeloma. The way they handled it influenced many around them for Jesus and glorified God. (See previous post Courage in the Face of Cancer by Jim Davis)
If you’re suffering right now, can I give you my best advice? Do everything you can to help your perspective. Do some digging and find inspiration. Find someone who’s facing a struggle with grace and gratitude and emulate them. Read about Joseph of the Old Testament, or David, or Paul, or Jesus and imitate the way they handled their trials. Find Christ followers who are enduring suffering with grace and hang out with them. When you pray, pray for your circumstances but also pray God will help you to please Him exceedingly in the way you walk through this valley.
Think about the end of your own story. Think about how you want Jesus to remember this time in your life when you’re standing before him the moment after you die.
This suffering of yours could be an opportunity. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32) Likewise, If you’re sporting an attitude that glorifies Jesus while the wind is at your back and the sun’s on your face, what benefit is that to you? Anyone can do that.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” In the same way glorify God with your attitude and behavior even while you’re trudging through this current stretch of muck.
Live for Christ, even when you’re walking through this affliction.
Mike and Pam are two of the people Jim writes about in his book, Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question).
Image via Pixabay – Public Domain