Happy Thanksgiving! I know that this time of year might be hard for you with the loss of someone special. I think this week’s chapter is a good reminder that we can still be joyous through pain.
Last week Jesus continued to explain how he is God. He pointed towards testimonies of others, Scripture, and even the miracles he was able to perform. There were many who believed, and still many that did not. This week Jesus shows us that he is in the messiness of life with us. He does not sit above it all and never gets touched. Rather, being human, God experienced the same pain and struggles that we have to deal with on a regular basis.
Jesus learns that a man he knows has become sick, so sick that he is likely to die. But this is not just any man, but a friend of Jesus. Upon hearing that Lazarus is sick, Jesus chooses to remain where they are for two additional days (they have apparently left Jerusalem and Judea after the events of the last chapter). When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he found that not only had Lazarus died, he had been in his tomb for four days. The family had already performed all of the burial rites, and had well been through the process of grieving. In fact, there were many Jews that had traveled from Jerusalem to Bethany in order to console the family. Martha went to meet Jesus. “Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you.” (John 11:21-22, NASB). Telling her that her brother will rise agin, Jesus says “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 11:25-26, NASB).
“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”
— Tim Keller
When Mary arrived, she brought a crowd with her and once again claimed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32). They took Jesus to the tomb, and he grieved with the sisters and those present. After some time, Jesus went into the tomb, looked up and gave thanks, then commanded “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:43, NASB). To the surprise of everyone present, Lazarus came out of the tomb like nothing had happened. Many of the Jews with the family began to believe in Jesus. Naturally this caused the religious authorities to convene a council. They decided to plot to kill Jesus. The transition into the text chapter is that Passover is coming.
“Let us consider this settled, that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection.”
— John Calvin
When the “Word became flesh,” that meant that God took on a human body and had human experiences. We focus on him eating, sleeping, and suffering physical pain. But in this chapter we see that Jesus formed personal relationships (outside of the disciples) and experienced grief first hand. I’ve often been told that the shortest verse in the entire Bible is within this chapter; “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus did not live a life free from pain. I think there are a lot of Christian teachers that want to have you believe that if you have faith in Christ, you will not experience pain. This seems to be counter to anything I have experienced, and certainly what we can see within Scripture. If you are in pain, or experiencing the lows of life, that does not mean you “do not have enough faith.” It means that you are human. You can find comfort in Jesus because he knows what you are going through. It was important enough for Jesus’ grief to be written into Scripture. I have to believe it is because it is important for us to know that Jesus knows about the pain.
Unfortunately pain is a part of the human experience. The books of Job and Lamentations involve the pain and grief of life. The thing that I notice about these books and this story in John is that the pain and hardship are done so God can be glorified. I do not mean to diminish anything you might be going through. Dealing with sickness, or death, or stressful life situations are the hardest things any person can go through. Put you can either allow the pain to defeat you, or bring God glory. How would you like to handle it?