Suffering and Jesus’ Friends (John 11:1-3)

John 11:1-3


1     Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2     It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3     So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”


            Lazarus is a man that we know almost nothing about.  His sisters, Mary and Martha appear in the Gospel According to Luke, and so we know that this family loved Jesus dearly.  And, from the words used by the sisters in verse three, it is clear that the family understood quite clearly that Jesus loved them dearly too.


            There is, however, a problem.  Lazarus is sick.  He is very sick.  In fact, the sisters fear for his life.  So, they send word to Jesus.  They do not tell him what to do.  They do not try to manipulate him in any way.  They simply call to him with the message that Lazarus, their brother and Jesus’ dear friend, is very sick.


            There is a lesson to be learned for us as we read this text, even before we see Jesus respond.  Many Christian teachers out there would have us believe that, if we are true followers of God, we will be relieved of the burden of suffering in this life.  There are many teachers who call us children of the King, and surmise that king’s children always have the best things in life.  But these teachers mislead their followers.


            Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were dear friends of Jesus.  Lazarus was beloved of Jesus.  And if the friends of God were to be free from suffering and granted success in all things, there is no question that Lazarus would not be going through what he presently suffers.


            Followers of God are by no means exempted from suffering in this life.  Honestly, the follower of God is actually open to more suffering, because we go through all the troubles that others in life may have, but we are also open to the persecution of a world that despises God and those who follow him.  Both Paul and Jesus promise us hardships in this life, and we dare not assume that the love of God will keep us from suffering hardships.


            With that said, I also want to point out that God gives us what we need to survive our hardships.  We may suffer, but we suffer not as the world suffers.  The world suffers without God and without genuine hope.  We suffer, when we suffer, with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit living within us.  If we are the members of a local church, when we suffer, we suffer in a community of others who are present to encourage us, to comfort us, and to ease our burdens.  No, we do not suffer as the world suffers.  But make no mistake, the love of God is not a magic talisman that frees us from the pains of this life.