Over the past couple of posts, we’ve taken a look at the stories of Lazarus in the Gospels of Luke and John – speculating about how they might be connected, finding ourselves decidedly convicted by their content and themes and reflecting on the fact that the revivification of Lazarus is a pretty awesome story, unless you happen to be Lazarus.
We noted that he got sick, died, probably went to heaven for four days, and was suddenly yanked back into earthly life – knowing that at some point, he’d have to die again before he ever got back to Paradise.
But for me, the most disturbing part of the Lazarus story in John’s Gospel comes down to one word: so.
‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…’ – John 11:5-6 (emphasis added)
Not ‘even so’, or ‘but’.
(Some translations of the Bible do convey more of a ‘however’ than a ‘so’ in this verse, but some of them say ‘so’ or ‘therefore’, including Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) and my go-to translations, the NIV and NKJV – so I think it’s worth going down this road.)
This passage seems to suggest that it’s because Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters that He didn’t intervene sooner. And that’s pretty scary, if you think about it too much.
Unfortunately, I think it’s important that we think about it too much.
You see, sometimes we Christians delude ourselves into thinking that because we’ve devoted our lives to Jesus, we’re His special favorites, and that means God will shield us from difficulty in this life.
On our more clear-headed days, we remember passages like John 16:33: ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
When I read this verse, I tend to focus on the idea that God doesn’t want us to go through trouble; He’d really rather spare us, but to do that He’d have to override free will – and He is not willing to do that. Therefore, as much as He’d like to help us, but His perfect principles have tied His perfect hands. Instead, He turns our frowns upside-down, and uses and redeems the difficulties that confront us to help us become more like the people He created us to be. He’s not the author of difficulty, He’s the redeemer of it.
That sounds pretty good, but the use of the word ‘so’ in John 11:5-6 seems to suggest something quite different – that Lazarus is chosen to suffer and die because he’s one of Jesus’ special favorites.
‘Say it isn’t “so”, Jesus!’ my heart cries as I read these verses.
And as we look closer at the New Testament, it seems likely that this isn’t a one-time event: many of Jesus’ favorites seem to suffer horribly, all for the glory of God.
Look at the Disciples and their earliest followers. Most of them were persecuted, ostracized and ultimately martyred for their faith.
Floggings. Shipwrecks. Snakebites. Stonings.
And if that persecution from other people and the natural world isn’t enough, in 2 Corinthians 7:10, the Apostle Paul says he was given a thorn in his flesh (probably some sort of chronic illness, but there isn’t general agreement on what it was), to keep him humble.
He describes the affliction as a ‘messenger of Satan’ (although this could be hyperbole), and implies that it was proactively given by God – for the purpose of keeping Paul from being conceited.
When Paul – probably the second-most faithful person in the history of the world – repeatedly petitions God to relieve him of this suffering, he’s flatly refused and informed that God’s grace is sufficient for him.
If this example isn’t unnerving enough, let’s talk for a moment about the most faithful person in the history of the world.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus, being the Second Person of the Trinity, was The special favorite of God the Father. And our entire understanding of Salvation is based on the fact that because Jesus was God’s favorite (His one and only Son, according to John 3:16 in the NIV), He was singled out for painful, gruesome treatment, followed by a wholly undeserved execution, at the hands of the people He came to save.
Every now and then, I need a reminder that what God promises us is not a storm-free life, but the stability, support and perspective to do God’s will, regardless of – and sometimes, because of – the storms that are thrown at us.
So thanks for that reminder, Lazarus. Thanks a lot.
Peace be with you.