God’s Glory is Greater than Our Suffering (John 11:4-6)

(The following is a point from a sermon I preached on March 2, 2008 entitled “Suffering, Love, and Glory.” Today’s quiet time reading brought this back to mind.)

Point 2: Believe that God glorifying himself before you is more loving than God keeping you from suffering.

John 11:4-6

4 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.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Back in our account, we find that the messenger has run from Mary and Martha to find Jesus. The breathless message is delivered. “Lord, the one you love, Lazarus, is sick.” Without question, all who hear this know that this is a call for Jesus to do something, to heal Lazarus, to come running.

But watch. There are two responses of Jesus that should grab your attention. In verse 4, Jesus tells us that this sickness will not end in death. He is not saying that Lazarus will not die. HE is, however, saying that the ultimate end of this situation is not going to be a funeral. There is something else at stake here. There is something more that God is up to than simply calling Lazarus home.

What is God up to? Look at Jesus’ words. He says, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Two times in this one sentence, Jesus tells us what God is up to. This illness and all the circumstances surrounding it are for a single main purpose: the glory of God.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Everything that God does, from creation to salvation to the ultimate conclusion of the universe, God does for the sake of his own glory. God made you and me for the sake of his glory. He makes things happen in our lives that will most glorify him. And, if we will ever truly trust him, we will learn that bringing God glory is the most exciting, happy, joyful thing that we could ever do. Nothing will ever give your soul a deeper and more complete joy than when you do what God created you to do. Nothing will satisfy your heart as much as when you give glory to God.

Now, for the second thing Jesus does, follow the wording of the gospel here, so that you can see something amazing. Verse 5 makes it clear that Jesus loves Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. IF someone asked Jesus if he loves these three, he would tell them yes. Now, look up on the screen at the beginning of verse 6. There is an incredibly important word. That word is “so.” Jesus loved these people, so he did something. If your Bible has this translated in some other way, with the word “yet” or “but” in place of “so” or “therefore”, you might have trouble here. The clear meaning of the Greek text is that it is because of Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that he chooses to do what he next does. It is not in spite of his love for them, it is out of love for them that he does what he does.

Listen carefully here, because this goes against our natural inclination. We have a tendency to believe that God’s love for us will keep us free from pain. But in this instance, it is precisely God’s love for this family that leads Jesus to allow them to go through great pain. Why? Jesus also told us that it was for God’s glory that this happened. So we must conclude that it is more loving for God to show us his glory than it is for God to keep us from pain.

If it is truly more loving for God to show us his glory than to keep us from pain, then it is also true that God may, at times, choose to lead us through suffering and pain in order that we might have the greater ultimate joy of knowing him, loving him, becoming more like him, and seeing his glory.

So, what does Jesus do? Out of love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus refuses to come when they summon him. He waits an extra couple of days and Lazarus dies. He takes them through a desperately painful dark time, and he does so out of love. And if you and I are to rightly learn from this, we have to understand that God may take us through dark times for the sake of his glory. And we must understand that the Bible makes it clear that God doing so is a loving thing for him to do for us.