When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain
The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).
That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “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 11:5–6).
The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.
“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”
Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.
But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?
And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.
When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus laid his hand on her head.
He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).
Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).
But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.
When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”
His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.
“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.
He replied, “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?”
The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).
She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.
And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child's deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).
Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.
So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”
This meditation is included in the book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.
Trusting Jesus is hard. It requires following the unseen into an unknown, and believing Jesus’s words over and against the threats we see or the fears we feel. Through the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories, Not by Sight gives us glimpses of what it means to walk by faith, counsel for how to trust God’s promises more than our perceptions, and the way to find rest in the faithfulness of God.