31 December 2014

In His Time

I have been reflecting on one particular incident from Jesus' life this week. Do you sometimes have a problem with understanding God's timing? I must admit that I do - and so did the disciples. Have a look at the events recorded in John chapter 11, as I try and unpack my thoughts here.

It is easy to understand why Martha and Mary chose to send for Jesus when Lazarus became seriously ill (verses 1-3). Jesus knew the family well; He had stayed at their house before. However, He simply didn't turn up. In fact, He chose not to go. I suspect that the sisters kept looking anxiously along the road for signs of His arrival, but He was never there. In fact, the funeral service had been over for 4 days when Jesus finally arrived (verse 17).

Were there good reasons for not turning up? Sure: it would have been incredibly dangerous for Jesus to go there. The disciples knew that. “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?” they said (verse 8). There had already been five separate documented attempts to arrest or murder Jesus. In John 10:39 Jesus had slipped away after the latest attempt - and then the word came that Lazarus was ill. Would He go back? It's normally expected that a close friend would rush to a sick friend's bedside - particularly if you loved them - and hang the consequences.

He chose not to go. Didn't He care? Of course He did. Undoubtedly Jesus was looking at the bigger picture. God's ways are not man's ways... He already knew what He had to do. If Jesus had turned up whilst Lazarus was alive, yes, it's likely that Lazarus would have been healed. However, other circumstances might have played out a lot differently.

Interestingly, Jesus said the following in verses 14-15, once He heard of the death: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him”.

Once Jesus had arrived, Martha was, not unreasonably, quite upset. In her own mind it was, by then, too late. She runs out of her house to meet Him, while her sister Mary stays in the house. "Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died", Martha says (verse 21).

And yet, there was still hope in her heart - there was still faith. “Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” (verse 22). It's not clear exactly what she expected. Lazarus was dead, and Martha was extremely wary about Jesus' comments about opening the tomb. Understandably - apart from the whole trauma of the event, it was forbidden by Jewish custom to open a grave after the stone was placed upon it. But Jesus loves to turn our usual patterns of thinking upside down...

At a word from Jesus, Lazarus’ spirit returned to his decaying body (verses 41-44). Jesus had bypassed simply healing His sick friend, in order to perform the far greater miracle of bringing him back to life.

There's a tremendous truth here - and it's not an easy one to accept. Sometimes Jesus does not grant the healing or give the resolution that we ask for. Not everyone we pray for gets healed; many of our requests seem to land on deaf ears. Often we feel that all is lost - and turn away from God.

And yet, like Martha, if we step out of our comfort zone and meet with Jesus, talk to Him, and dare to trust in Him (verse 25), we find help to overcome any obstacle. And He may also give us a greater miracle than we had ever hoped for.

Time spent waiting on God is never wasted.

(All scripture quotes from The Message translation).

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