This is not the end

This blog is inspired by this sermon from East End Fellowship.

“This sickness will not end in death.”

These words of Jesus in John 11 must have perplexed the messengers when they returned to Mary and Martha to find Lazarus dead.  The sisters had sent the messengers because they knew Jesus loved Lazarus, and knew he could heal him; instead of travelling back with the messengers, or even speaking healing from afar, he simply said, “This sickness will not end in death.”

And then, Lazarus died.

What were the messengers to think about this clearly erroneous statement?  What must Mary and Martha have felt, who were confident in Jesus’s love and healing power, only for him to speak something untrue?

More to the point, how do we respond when we feel like God is saying one thing, and the opposite happens?  What do we do when we seek Him for healing and protection, finding comfort in key verses, only for our situation to get worse?

Perhaps God is whispering, “this is not the end.”

When Jesus responded to the messengers, he was not wrong, nor was he lying; he had a spiritual awareness that extended beyond mere human understanding:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

John 11:4

What Mary and Martha knew is that their brother — Jesus’s friend — was dying and only Jesus could save him.  What the messengers knew is they needed to hurry before it was too late.  What Jesus knew is that his purpose was not to heal a sickness, and it was in fact already too late for that:

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

John 11:14-15

This statement actually came two days after the messengers arrived, and when Jesus and his disciples finally arrived outside the town, everyone knew he was too late.  Both Mary and Martha told him, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  At this point, he had been in the tomb four day, past the time frame in which they believed the spirit lingered with the body; in other words, he wasn’t just dead, he was dead-dead.  The resignation that the window for healing had passed is clear in verses 38-39:

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Martha was not wrong.  Though they had asked Jesus for help — a man who could heal from miles away — Jesus did not come, and their brother had not just died, but had been entombed for days and was surely decomposing.  There was nothing left to do but lament.

But Jesus knew that this was not the end.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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 11:40-44

Despite what everyone knew, Lazarus’s sickness did not end in death.

I believe Jesus the man desired to heal his friend and comfort the sisters — after all, “Jesus wept” (v35) — but Jesus knew his Father was after “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20)  Sure, Jesus could have told the messengers, “Return home, and you will find Lazarus well” as he had done for others, but instead of merely healing an illness, he was willing to be used for immeasurably more to show God’s glory.  His delay was an act of love deeper than they knew.

This resurrection was the most impossible thing any of them had ever seen, or even imagined.  “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (v45)  Yet even still their imaginations were too small; as they cried “hosanna” in John 12, they had no idea the truly miraculous event that this triggered.  Unbeknownst to many, the raising of Lazarus was the last straw for the Chief priests and Pharisees:

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

John 11:47-53

A story that began with the death of one man, Lazarus, was not the end of the story.  Another man — Jesus — would die though many longed for him to be saved, because he knew death was not the end; he knew that he came not to give physical life, but full, eternal live:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26

Whatever hardship you are facing, know that this is not the end.  If it feels like God is not responding, remember that Mary and Martha also felt that way.  When it seems like all is lost, remember that Martha did not want the tomb opened.  When things feel hopeless, remember that the crowd watched a dead-dead man walk out of a tomb.

And remember that a week later Jesus walked out of his tomb for something greater than our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17): “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Do not lean on what you think you know about your situation (Proverbs 3:5), because there may be immeasurably more in store.  Remember that your Father knows what you need (Matthew 6:8) and that He hears you (1 John 5:14–15).  If even death can’t stop Him, your hardships don’t stand a chance.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 

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