Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 3-4; John, chapter 11
Scripture: John 11:1-16 (NRSV) – Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Observations: The thing that I notice in this passage is Jesus’ complete submission to the Father’s will. It’s clear that when the sisters sent their message to Jesus, they expected him to drop everything and come right away. They knew that Jesus loved them, and Lazarus, and they thought that would override everything else. We see that later in the chapter, when both Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I don’t think they meant that to sound like they were blaming Jesus, but it’s clear that they expected that his love for them would have prompted him to move more quickly, to get there before it was “too late.”
The disciples also had expectations, even though they are unstated in the passage. When Jesus said they were going back to Judea, they objected: “The Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Because Jesus had said that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death, the disciples expected Jesus to put their safety first. Why go to Judea if Lazarus was going to be okay? Then, when Jesus told them, “Lazarus is dead,” I’m sure that their minds were spinning. “What? You said he wouldn’t die! Why didn’t we go when we got the news? What were we doing that was so important that we couldn’t have gone to Bethany?” Even the people who had gathered to mourn Lazarus wondered, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
But Jesus’ priorities were – and are – Kingdom priorities. A friend of mine who is also a pastor likes to say, “If the Kingdom of God is advanced by my suffering, God is okay with that.” Jesus obviously had the same view, but even more so: when he reminded the disciples not to fear those who can kill the body but not touch their souls, he was stating a Kingdom principle that the eternal always outweighs the temporal. Jesus says as much when he tells the disciples that God would be glorified through Lazarus’ illness, because of the glory that would come to the Son of God. Jesus did not let the expectations and desires of people – even his closest friends – cause him to lose sight of God’s call, God’s plan, and the priorities of God’s Kingdom.
Applications: God is reminding me that he is always at work – in this world, and in me. As Paul says in Romans 8, God is at work in all things for my good. That doesn’t mean that all things are good, because we live in a fallen, broken world. But God calls us to incarnate the Kingdom of God in this world. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” God’s people are called to form outposts of God’s Kingdom in this world, to be people who bring the Kingdom near. To do that, we have to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. And it also means that I have to temper my expectations of others, and subject those expectations to God’s will as well. While I might expect people to do certain things, or act according to my schedule, God is reminding me that his plans for them are not always what I think they are (or should be).
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me today that I don’t know your whole plan; you reveal to me the part of your plan that I need to know in order to do your will. Help me today to focus on what you have shown me to be your plan; help me to extend your grace to others as they seek to fulfill your plan for them. Help us all to be Kingdom people, bringing the power of your Kingdom into this world, as in heaven. Amen.