Suffering, God’s Glory, and the Resurrection (John 11:4-6, 23-26)

John 11:4-6 – But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

John 11:23-26 – Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11 is one of those passages that always gets our attention. It details the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, as you may remember, were close friends of Jesus. When Lazarus fell ill, the sisters sent to Jesus, knowing that Jesus had the power to heal him and to set things back to normal.

What I am about to point out is not something I saw on my own, but is something that I learned by listening to John Piper’s conference entitled The Blazing Center. At the beginning of verse 6, there is an incredibly important word: the word “so.” Jesus loved this family, “so” he stayed away for enough time for Lazarus to die. That sounds totally backward to our human understanding. We can not imagine that the love of Christ would be the thing that kept him from coming to the aid of his friend. But here it is as clear as day. Jesus allowed Lazarus to go through his own death out of love for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

How is all this possible? The answer to how this is possible is found in the first verse listed above. Jesus declares for his disciples to hear that this illness will not end in death, but it is for the glory of God. Jesus knew that God the Father had a purpose in this illness (a purpose which was, of course, Jesus’ purpose too; since Jesus always did the will of his Father). God intended to bring himself glory by allowing Lazarus to die and then raising him from the dead. Jesus’ going along with this plan of God was not only glorifying to God, but was also the most loving thing he could do for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

How did this glorify God? Lazarus suffered. Lazarus went through the most frightening thing that humans face, death itself. And he did this before the resurrection of Jesus and before the clear teaching of New Testament scripture on the resurrection of the dead (not that the Old Testament did not also teach this, but the New Testament is much more plain on this topic as you can see in 1 Corinthians 15). The way that this glorified God was that it showed God, Jesus, ultimately powerful over even death itself. When Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave and revived the man 4 days dead, he showed for all to see that he truly is the resurrection and the life.

Now, here is one of the first major truths that we can learn from this passage. It was more loving for Lazarus for Jesus to let him suffer and die, because it resulted in Lazarus having a better grasp of the glory of God. Before this event, Lazarus did not have a full understanding of the person and power of Christ. After the event, regardless of how horrifying it was, Lazarus knew much better the glory of God. Ultimately, nothing will ever satisfy the human heart as does the glory of God. And that is why it is better for us to go through whatever is necessary for us to see and understand the true glory of Christ. If we have to suffer in order to glimpse God’s glory, it is better than to not see God’s glory at all. The glory of God and the satisfaction of our souls that such glory brings is worth more than anything on this earth, even more than our lives themselves.

So, what are you suffering? What trials do you have? Can you see them with an eternal perspective? Can you recognize that even your greatest trials can lead you to see and savor the glory of God? Do you believe that it is better, when all is said and done, to glorify God than to live in comfort and ease? Today, ask God to help you to have that kind of a passion for him and for his glory in your life.

The second major truth that comes here is something I have to point out in Jesus’ statement from verse 25. He declares, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus does not claim that he will bring resurrection; he claims to be the resurrection. There is no resurrection apart from Jesus. There will be no human beings rising from the dead at the end of time who do not rise because of Jesus who is the resurrection. Rising from the dead is not something we have outside of Jesus, it is guaranteed because and only because of Jesus.

So, do you want life? Do you want there to be something for you after you die? If so, you want Jesus. There is no resurrection outside of Jesus. Those who die apart from Jesus eternally die, suffering the wrath of God for their sins in hell. Resurrection to life, true eternal life in the presence of God, is something that Jesus and only Jesus offers us. He is the resurrection. He is our hope. There is no hope, no resurrection, no life apart from him.

Dear Lord, I thank you again for demonstrating your glory in this passage. You shoed us that, if we can experience your glory, it is worth more than any earthly suffering. I pray that you will show me your glory. I pray that you will help me to know you more and more, and to honor you more and more. I also thank you that you make it clear to us that you are the resurrection and the life. We have no resurrection, no life after death, without it being completely in you. I have no hope for the future apart from you. My life has no meaning here apart from you. So, I pray that you will help me to live with my mind focused on the glory of God and the eternal resurrection which you grant to your children.