Read John 11.
We consider people heroes who risk or give their lives to save the lives of others. On the other hand, we don’t think much of someone who could save the life of another–without risking his own–but just wouldn’t do it. If you could donate a kidney to save a friend’s life or donate bone marrow for the same purpose, your love for that friend and strong social pressure would urge you to make that gift and save that life.
Knowing all of this makes Jesus’s actions in this passage perplexing. Verse 5 told us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Verse 3 told us that Lazarus’s sisters informed Jesus of Lazarus’s need for healing. Verse 21 conveyed Martha’s faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he wanted to and verse 37 shows that even people in the crowd thought so.
Why did Jesus delay, then?
Why did he allow Lazarus to die when he could have easily saved his life, without even coming to Judea?
Did he not love Lazarus?
Of course he did (v. 5).
Did he not hear the sincere request of his sisters and see their faith in him?
Yes, he heard them and knew that they believed (vv. 21, 32).
So, why? Verse 4b told us: “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
And how was God glorified? Let’s consider some ways:
Most importantly, God was glorified by how the resurrection of Lazarus authenticated the claim of Jesus to be Messiah (v. 42). Second, God was glorified when “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Third, God was glorified in that Mary and Martha learned to trust Jesus even when they didn’t get what they wanted (v. 27). Finally, God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.
Let’s focus on that last one a bit more: “God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.” Although Martha affirmed that Jesus could raise the dead (vv. 22, 24-27) she tried to talk him out of opening Lazarus’s tomb (v. 38). Her understanding of the resurrection and her faith in Christ’s ability to raise the dead was all focused on the future, not in the present. Without discounting her faith in Christ for the end times, it is a lot easier to believe that something will happen in the future than it is to believe that it will happen today. By allowing Lazarus to die and be buried, Jesus exposed some areas of unbelief in his dear friends Mary and Martha. When Jesus did not answer their request in the way that they wanted, it revealed to them how much doubt still remained in their hearts about Christ. Allowing Lazarus to die then raising him from the dead allowed Jesus to take their faith in him to an even deeper place.
Are you asking God for something that is precious to you today? What if he chooses not to answer in the way that you want but, in order to bring greater glory to God, allows the thing that you fear to happen in order to teach you to trust him more? Will you trust Christ no matter what and believe that whatever happens will ultimately bring more glory to God? Is it enough for you that God is glorified even if you don’t ever get the answer to prayer that you wanted? That’s what real faith in God is all about–absolute surrender to the will of God.