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The Glory of God

      In John 11, we can find the well-known story of Lazarus.  You probably know the main details.  At the beginning of chapter, we learn that Lazarus was sick.  It turns out, his disease was fatal.  Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary were close friends Jesus.  In fact, in John 11:5, John tells us quite clearly that Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.


      Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had healed many people of many illnesses.  Verse 3 tells us, “the sisters, therefore, sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.’”  And this is where the story gets very interesting.  In verses 5-6, John tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”  I had to read this several times to make sure I got it right.  John tells us that because Jesus loved Martha and Mary, He delayed coming to see them for two extra days!  He loved them, so He waited until Lazarus was dead before He went to see them.  At first, I thought to myself, if this is the way you treat the people you love, no wonder you have so few followers.  But this is not the end of the story.


      Martha and Mary knew that Jesus had the power to heal their brother.  It is likely that they had seen Jesus perform miracles first hand.  They had also experienced the Lord’s love and His presence.  They knew He cared for them and their family.  So, it was natural that they turned to Him for help in their time of need.  They expected Jesus to heal Lazarus as He had healed so many others.  But then Jesus delayed, and Lazarus died.


      Lazarus’ death would have been a devastating blow to these two sisters.  We know that Jesus visited this household on at least three occasions — probably more — and their parents were never mentioned in any of the accounts.  It is very likely then, that the parents were dead.  Martha and Mary probably lived together with their brother Lazarus.  There is a high degree of probability that Lazarus was the primary breadwinner of this household.  Not only that, but the legal and financial position of young, unmarried women in Israel at that time was very precarious.  Without the protection of a male family member, their lives and the status of family’s estate would suddenly be thrown into limbo.  So, not only did the two sisters lose their beloved brother, but they lost every form of earthly security they ever had.   And all this could have been avoided if Jesus had just shown up and healed Lazarus as He had healed so many others.  So why did He delay?  After all, John tells us that He loved this family.


      Martha and Mary wanted a miracle.  And this is not a bad thing.  Jesus performed many miracles.  But in this case, Jesus wanted to give them something greater than a miracle.  He wanted them to see the glory of God!


      When Jesus finally did show up, Martha went out to meet Him at the edge of town.  It is interesting to note that Mary, at this point, stayed home.  The Bible doesn’t tell us why she stayed.  It is possible that she thought this was the proper thing to do when guests were present to mourn her brother’s death.  However, in Luke 10, she didn’t seem too concerned about the rules of etiquette when she sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister prepared the meal for everyone.  And in the following chapter (John 12), Mary did not feel bound by the rules of proper behavior when she anointed the Lord’s feet with costly oil.  So I suspect it was not social mores that kept Mary from going out to see Jesus.  I am guessing it was her strong emotions.


      I wonder if she was a bit angry at Jesus for letting Lazarus die and for leaving her and her sister in legal and financial limbo?  Both Martha and Mary knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus.  There was no lack of faith.  When Martha went out to meet Jesus, the first thing she said was, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus tried to explain to her that He had come to show her something even greater than what she had hoped for.  It is not at all surprising that Martha didn’t yet grasp what Jesus was about to do.  It is one thing to heal a person who is sick.  It is quite another thing to bring someone back from the realm of Death.


      So, Martha went home and secretly let Mary know that Jesus was waiting to see her.  When Mary got to the place where Jesus was waiting, like Martha, she blurted out between her tears what I think all of us would have said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  You can hear both her faith, but also her pain and frustration.  Perhaps we would have rephrased the question and been a little more direct.  Maybe we would have queried, “Lord, where were you when we really needed you?”  We really needed a miracle.  You’ve done so many miracles for others.  Why couldn’t You have done this for us?  And as Mary fell at His feet weeping, Jesus wept, as well.


      It turns out our God is not some immoveable concept.  He is not a theoretical abstraction.  Our God is a person.  As John tells us in his first epistle, God is also love.  And He created us out of that love so that we might be in a relationship with Him.  I cannot tell you exactly why Jesus wept.  Perhaps, He felt the pain that Mary and Martha felt.  Perhaps He wanted to show them that God’s Kingdom was so much bigger and grander than what they could imagine at that moment, but He knew that they could not yet grasp what He wanted to show them.  Perhaps it was a combination of these and other factors.  All we know for sure is that as Jesus stood there with Mary, He wept with her.  Even the Jews who had come to mourn with the family were moved by how much Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters.  Jesus loves us, as well.  In the same way that He was moved by the anguish and loss that Martha and Mary felt, He is moved by our pain and anguish.


      But then Jesus did what He had come to do.  He told those present to remove the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb.  Martha, the more practical of the two sisters, the “doer”, warned Jesus, “Lazarus stinks!  He has been dead for four days.”  Jesus responds (v. 40), “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  Then, after giving thanks to God the Father, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”


      Then those who previously had simply been hoping for a miracle witnessed the glory of God!  I used to imagine that the “glory of God” was something like a blinding light with beams radiating outward from some sight too beautiful to describe.  It turns out, the “glory of God” looks more like an extra from the set of Zombie Apocalypse — a former corpse wrapped in bandages walking out of a tomb.  It is Death overcome!  As Jesus said to Martha (v. 25-26), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”


      Sometimes the glory of God does look like radiant beams emanating from a blinding light.  This was the case when Moses nestled himself in a crevice as God passed by.  Moses was bombarded by such a big dose of glory that he had to veil himself from the rest of the Israelites because his face continued to glow with an intensity that they found bothersome.


      Sometimes, however, the glory of God looks different than we imagine.  For example, in the first half of John 11, we learn that the glory of God can look a lot like a zombie.  That is, it looked like Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, emerging from the tomb still wrapped in bandages.  As the Advent season recently reminded us, the glory of God can also look like a helpless newborn infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.


      Sometimes, the glory of God is made manifest in unexpected forms.  Therefore, we must ask God to give us the eyes to see and recognize His glory when it is there before us; for sometimes we put blinders on that prevent us from seeing the truth.  Such was the case with the religious leaders when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:48, we are told that when the chief priests and Pharisees heard what Jesus had done, they were filled with anything but wonder.  Rather, they grumbled, “If we let Him (Jesus) go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  In verse 53, we read that after deliberating, they hatched a scheme to put Jesus to death.  According to John 12:10, the following week the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus, as well.  After all, Lazarus was walking proof that Jesus was indeed, the Son of God.


      It is interesting that the chief priests and Pharisees never denied that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Their denial of Christ was not one based on logic or evidence, nor was it a decision based on reason.  Rather, it was a decision based on an act of the will.  They wanted to remain in power, so they decided that all threats to their power must be eliminated.  This was the same calculus that Herod had used earlier when the Magi informed him that a king had been born.  The Magi eventually witnessed the “glory of God” in the form of the infant Jesus.  Herod never made any effort to see this glory.  He was only interested in eliminating any threats to his throne.


      Today, we often see people doing the same calculus.  Most people do not reject Christ because of a lack of evidence or reason.  For those who have eyes to see, evidence that Jesus is the Son of God abounds all around us.  The glory of God remains visible — we just have to be looking for it.  We need to ask the Lord to give us eyes to see it.

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