Gospel of John: Delays Are Not Denials


A Day’s Walk to Bethany

It was a day’s journey for the disciples to cross the Jordan, then walk up to Bethany. Some of them may have wondered why Jesus had waited for two days, after having received the urgent message about Lazarus’ illness. Why had he kept it from them? Why had he waited? Would that not seem callous, cold, even cruel to this family who had loved them from the first, who had opened their doors to them every time they passed through, who had fed them, housed them, spoken well of them to others?

Lazarus and his sisters were well-known and well-liked by the religious in Jerusalem. They were a God-fearing, and Law-honoring family, and God’s blessing was abundant in their lives, for they were wealthy, and was not Lazarus well-respected in the synagogue?

If nothing else, would not love have sent Jesus back immediately to comfort them, and help them through this difficult and grievous time?

But Jesus had not.

He had said it was for their sake he had stayed away. For their sake. It seemed incomprehensible.


Expectations of God

What do you and I expect God to do when we cry out to God for help? (Scripture after scripture passage leads us to expect an immediate and powerful response from God.)

Yet, when God does not intervene in our difficult circumstances, it does not mean God has no love for us, or that God is through with us. There is no doubt the Lord loves us.

The human desire would have been to rush in, ease their grief, keep them from going through all the preparations of the funeral, raise Lazarus up from his grave illness.

But from God’s perspective it was necessary for beloved Lazarus to succumb to death, for all the funeral arrangements to be made, for public mourning, for heart-wrenching grief. It was necessary in order that every aspect of God’s purpose would move forward—a purpose that would ultimately include very great joy, new spiritual heights, and added depth to their faith.

Walk in the Light

When the two days had gone by Jesus told his disciples they were going back to Judea. It took them off guard. They were, with very good reason, worried about Jesus getting stoned to death, so Jesus answered them with a kind of proverb.

Are there not twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day will not stumble, because this one sees the Light of the World.

John 11:9

In other words, when you are where you are supposed to be, in the light of day, doing what the day holds for you, you are not going to stumble. The light is Jesus, walking with Jesus, and the light is also God’s will, walking in the light of God’s will. And Light is the time God has given you and me to do the good things God has in mind for us. Every situation we find ourselves in is an opportunity to glorify God.

On the other hand,

Whoever walks in the night stumbles because the Light is not in that one.

John 11:10

You and I are not going to be fine if we are in the dark, outside of God’s will, walking apart from Jesus. Opportunities also do not wait around. When an opportunity comes—we know the saying—we must seize the day.

I Am Glad Lazarus Died

The disciples did not understand, even when Jesus told them Lazarus had been “lulled to sleep,” using a common metaphor in their day for dying. Maybe, deep down, they understood. But they were being obtuse, they took it to mean Lazarus was literally sleeping.

So Jesus spoke plainly, and now they had new concerns. What if Jesus were stoned? What if they were stoned along with him? Bethany was far too close to Jerusalem for their comfort. And besides, there were certainly going to be Pharisees and many of the temple authority there, for Lazarus had been loved and respected.

Yet, Jesus was training the disciples to think beyond the physical, the earthly, and to see the spiritual. He did it with the man born blind, seeing an opportunity for God’s glory, and he was doing it here. Jesus was glad, not that Lazarus had died, nor that Mary and Martha had been plunged into mourning, and fearing that now, unmarried, their lives would change dramatically.

But Jesus knew that what he was going to do would prepare them for the years ahead, and the truth he was going to reveal to Martha, and through her to the rest of his followers, was going to sustain them through his crucifixion.

Delays are not Denials

By bringing his beloved friend back to life, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, the twelve, and the rest of Jesus close inner circle of 120 faithful followers, would believe in the resurrection that was coming.

God’s delays are not always God’s denials—they may be windows to display His glory

Someone I love is going through an anxious and painful delay right now. This person is both skilled and qualified in their career, but they now are in critical need of work. They have diligently applied to every possible opening within their career range. They have had good interviews. But time is running out, and God has not granted work.

It is hard not to grow anxious, to wonder if God will allow hardship and suffering. That is when confidence in God’s goodness, power, and love is so necessary. When God delays granting our heartfelt  prayers, when God allows the bad thing to happen, for us to reach the end of our rope then fall, for our worst fear to be realized, what do we think?

For many Christians the hardest problem to handle in life is the fact that God does not always act the way we expect God to act.

God disappoints.

Sometimes it feels like the Lord waits too long, or does too little.

God lets bad things happen.

How do we respond to God’s delays?

How long are you and I typically willing to wait for God to do something? Do we take matters into our own hands, or are we keeping ourselves ready to see God’s cues for our involvement, when Jesus turns to us and says, “It is time, let us go.”? There have been plenty of times when I thought a situation was so bad that it simply could not get any worse.

And then it did.

“God, please do something, do not wait anymore!”

It is hard to keep believing when God still delays.

But there are dimensions to our problems that you and I cannot imagine, yet which God sees clearly. When I pray, I can see God’s wisdom in a situation, that the Lord’s vision is much bigger than mine. Jesus can solve any problem, fix any mess, bring good out of any disaster, he is God. But Jesus will do it in a way that glorifies God and strengthens my faith.

God’s priority is always going to be to bring people to a saving faith, and to strengthen the faith of those who are saved.


[Cover Image, The LUMO Project | http://www.freebibleimages.org]

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