“So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’”
“‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died,’”
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
John 11: 6-7, 21, 32
I’m a lot like these holy sisters. I want to tell the Lord when and how to give me my miracles. I want Him to show up when I call and if He delays I’d like to be able to take it personally. As if His timing is a measure of His love for me. And I like to tell Him what could have been, if only He’d done things my way.
Are you like me? Do you sometimes feel God’s timing reflects how He feels about you? Maybe He answers quickly for His favorites.
I had a miscarriage. It was many years ago now, but it was tragic of course. It happened after 2 ½ years of infertility treatments. This pregnancy was my miracle. My reward for all the infertility endurance. But it ended as soon as the stick turned pink. Well meaning people tried to console me, “maybe the baby wasn’t healthy,” or “maybe this was God’s way to show you that you can conceive but it’s just not the right time.” Baloney. In my mind, MY God could heal a sick baby in utero. MY God wouldn’t give me a decoy pregnancy. I was confused and mad.
We all do this with God. We prescribe the answer, the path, and the plan. We know exactly when and where we need the miracle. And when it doesn’t come, we pout.
“If you had only been here, Lord.”
“Where were you Lord?”
“I see you’re here now, but it’s too late.”
When our plans have clearly fallen through do we think, “oh now you show up!” We mourn what could have been. And we sulk against the One who could’ve done it.
I get it. Mary and Martha were friends with Jesus. Close friends. Lazarus their beloved little brother was a buddy of the Lord’s. They’d seen miracles, heard of miracles, yet their close friend stays away when they need him the most. They were chummy enough to scold Jesus when they saw Him. And that’s saying something. Jesus shows up and Mary is too upset to come and see him. Martha marches out first with her accusations. Melancholy Mary comes only after Jesus asks for her. Other friends didn’t help much. They said what everyone was thinking,
“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’” John 11:37
Sometimes friends are like that. Well meaning, but not helpful.
Martha tried to be hopeful. Here’s their exchange:
“Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.’
Jesus told her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
‘Yes,’ Martha said, ‘he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.’
Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him. ‘I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.’” John 11:21-27
What’s really being said here? Does Martha believe Jesus will bring her brother back? Sort of. At this time Martha isn’t exactly sure. She’s interpreting the Lord’s promise as a Sunday School lesson. The old, “You’ll see your loved one again someday.” Sweet words of comfort. She’s heard of previous miracles where Jesus raised people from the dead. Like the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7) and Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8), but those were different. Those people had just died. Lazarus has been dead four days! That’s a long time. It’s a significant time too. In Jewish culture, it was believed the soul of the body hovered around for 3 days. Four days and death was final. Done.
But Jesus is saying, “Yes, I’m the resurrection someday, all who believe in me will be with me forever. AND I’m the resurrection TODAY. Right now. This very minute.”
We can’t blame her for being confused.
This hits me so tenderly. Jesus wants to be in the midst of our dead dream, in the midst of the disappointment and we think He’s just quoting a someday scripture promise. He cares about dead dreams. He grieves them with us.
Then Jesus wept. John 11:35
Why did He weep? He knew what He was about to do. He knew Lazarus would be raised and restored. I think His tears were as old as the first Serpent. I think he wept because death is part of our life. Because deception and unbelief hover and cloud our thinking. Because we just can’t bear to believe He’ll do the impossible for us. He wept for the living, not the dead.
He weeps for us still, in our unbelief. What death are you walking through today? Look for Jesus. He’s real and in the mess and ready to speak. Ready to act. Dead dreams stink. But He doesn’t mind.
“‘Roll the stone aside,’ Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, ‘Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.’” John 11:39
She’s convinced her poor brother is gone and what’s left is decomposing, back to the earth from which it came. The Sunday School lesson didn’t stick. She’s worried about the smell. Or is it something more? Is her doubt still in charge of her thinking? Is she trying to control the situation? Can she just not bear to look upon her dashed hopes? I’m not sure.
But I can see myself in this. I can hear myself saying, “Forget it Lord. You didn’t do it my way. I don’t want someone else’s version of a miracle. Some pasted together second edition. It’s too late. That dream is dead. Forget it. Don’t even bother. You can’t possibly make it better than what I had hoped.”
Ha! How foolish we are. How gentle Jesus is with our pouting and sulking. How sweet He is anyway.
“Jesus responded, ‘Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?’”
“Lazarus, come out!” John 11:43
A dream resurrected. Made new. Better than before. Lazarus was old. I wonder if his arthritis was better. If he felt younger, springier for his time in the tomb.
Isn’t it so like Jesus to give what’s better? It’s so like us to doubt Him. This is an important lesson – sometimes there must be a death so there can be a resurrection.
Why would he put his friends through this? Why would he put us through this? Here’s why:
“When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” John 11:4
For His glory. Always for His glory…and our good, always our good. It’s a divine mystery that what brings Him the most glory brings us the most good. And you know what? The world needs to see our resurrected dreams. Needs to hear about our miracles. Needs to see God’s glory in them. That’s why He puts us through times of testing, the death of dreams. So He can resurrect them better than before. For our good, for his glory, and so this tired, old, smelly, dying world can see His light.
My pregnancy wasn’t saved. But you know what? About 6 months later I met a little foster baby who’d just had open-heart surgery and ate through a feeding tube. She needed a mama and God picked me. She was so fragile that her doctors decided there couldn’t be any other children in the home under the age of 3. If I’d been pregnant, I wouldn’t have been eligible to be her mama. My baby. My Anna. My sweet girl. My resurrected dream. Her birth was my dream’s rebirth. And the light of her testimony has shown bright and encouraged others, many others. The Lord led the doctors to heal her heart, then used that baby to heal mine. And in the process He redeemed a child through my empty arms.
It wasn’t a pasted together, second edition miracle. It was the one He had purposed always. Sisters, trust Him. He knows what he’s doing.
Where is your sorrow? Does it feel like Jesus is hanging out somewhere else? Ignoring your pain? Is it just possible He’s interested, not in salvage, but salvation? Not in fixing the old, but letting it go to be born again anew. “Lord, if you had only…” Ask Him why. Ask Him now. Rebirth is coming.