In the gospel of John chapter 11, we find the story of Lazarus and his two sisters – Martha and Mary. Right after Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem (in order to avoid a violent confrontation with the Jewish leaders and their cohorts) we find Martha and Mary urgently requested Jesus to come to their home in order to heal their brother Lazarus. And such a request has a merit on its own as John 11:5 clearly states that “Jesus loved Martha, and his sister (Mary), and Lazarus. But for some reason only known to Him, Jesus delayed His return.
And as we read further in the chapter, the delay of Jesus’ coming to the house of Lazarus resulted in his death, and the sister’s grief. However, the sisters could have simply asked Jesus to say a word and Lazarus will be healed. There have been miracles performed by Jesus where he simply said the word and it was done: the healing of the centurion servant (Matt. 8:5-13), the healing of the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28), and the healing of the ten (10) lepers (Luke 17:11-19).
In God’s mind, the delay was “working out for the good of those who love Him, who had been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Sometimes we are like Martha and Mary. We understand what the Bible says, but we don’t understand its implication in our lives. It would seem that the sisters believed in Jesus but has stereotyped His method of healing to involved proximity or touching the person in order for healing to occur. They would never have thought that Jesus could do so much more. The delay brought about the greater good because it allowed Jesus to demonstrate the extent of God’s power over life and His power over death.
Martha believed in the resurrection of the dead as a future event. But Jesus corrected her by saying “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. (John 11:25) That statement is powerful, not just because the one who said it is powerful but because it has eternal repercussions that affects all humanity, the extent of which is too great for us to comprehend.
Some people may ask, if God’s will be for Lazarus to live then why did he had to die in the first place? Jesus provided the answer in verse 40, Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” All of this is for the glory of the LORD! So that the Son will be glorified through it (verse 4).
And upon seeing the grief of the sisters and the weeping of the Jews who sympathized with them, Jesus was deeply moved. It is also here that for an extra-ordinary moment Jesus showed a glimpse of His humanity: “Jesus wept” at the tomb of Lazarus (verse 35).
After He prayed, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And what do we know: “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face”. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)
The raising of Lazarus from the dead is considered by many as the turning point of Jesus’ public ministry, proving without a doubt that He is the Christ. This also answered the sister’s prayers in the beginning that Lazarus might be healed. Although the request was not granted immediately, it proved that “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, . . .” (Eph. 3:20).
God’s purpose comes first, not our prayer request.