As we discussed in a recent Midweek Bible Study, the passage almost sounds like it is meant to be funny. After Jesus heard Martha and Mary’s sending to Him that his friend Lazarus was ill, St. John’s Gospel account essentially tells us that, “since” Jesus loved them, He stayed two days longer where He was before going to Lazarus. We might ask, “Who does that?” In this case, apparently Jesus did!
The Divinely-inspired St. John may not necessarily use the particular Greek word in question with a causal sense, but, even though it would be through suffering, St. John does report Jesus’s saying that Lazarus’s illness ultimately was intended to serve a good purpose for him, his sisters, and the disciples. (See John 11:1-16 and confer John 9:3.)
Martha and Mary certainly had their own idea about what good purpose Jesus’s having been present earlier would have served, namely, keeping Lazarus from dying (John 11:21, 32). But, better than that, as St. John tells it, Martha at least was brought through the whole experience to greater faith in Jesus, later crucified on the cross for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29, 36), the very faith the whole record of the Gospel account was intended to produce in all of us (John 11:17-27; 20:30-31).
As we send our prayers to Jesus, we also may have our own ideas about what good things Jesus might work for us, as well as when and how He should work them. There is nothing wrong with our having our own ideas about such things, provided we ask for them according to God’s will and submit ourselves to that will when it is clearly revealed (Matthew 6:10; 26:42; Luke 22:42; Acts 21:14).
Although we suffer, even by losing loved ones from this world, God works good purposes for all of His people who repent of their sin and trust Him to forgive them. The greatest of those good purposes are not a temporary revivification like that Lazarus received (John 11:38-44) but the permanent resurrection of the body and life of the world to come.
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.