Peninsula Community Church
Making Sense out of Suffering
October 8, 2017
John 11:1-8, 11-16 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 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… After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
I have always been fascinated with this story. It is an amazing story of faith, trust, and belief in something greater than ourselves. This story is as applicable to us today as it was in that day. Just like Mary and Martha we encounter problems in our life that are beyond our comprehension. We encounter problems that cause us to question “Where are you God?” “Why did you not do something to intervene? Why did You let this happen? When you look at the underlying heart of those in this story it seems that is the question that is being asked.
We are all too familiar with tragic stories and events in our life that leave us with more questions than answers. On Sunday night, a horrific scene unfolded in Las Vegas. This was a tragedy that was unprecedented. It revealed the amazing power of one man to take the lives of so many and wound hundreds more. That coupled with three major hurricanes and two major earthquakes in Mexico. There is so much that is present in our lives to cause fear, faithlessness, and hopelessness. There is so much around us that leads us to ask where is God in these times?
I am convinced that this story sheds light on the difficulties we face and the problems we encounter even today. Notice this is not a parable, which is a word picture or story that is used to express a theological or Biblical insight. This is a real life story experienced in real time. The pain felt here is very real. The death of Lazarus for the characters in this story was final and there appeared to be very little hope for a different ending.
We find Mary and Martha’s brother was sick and was about to die. If you remember it was Mary and Martha who served Jesus when He visited their home. These sisters, who loved their brother, brought this devastating news to Jesus. They were filled with an expectation that Jesus would respond to their need. After all Lazarus was Jesus’ friend also. But Jesus does the unexpected. He says to them do not worry, I will be there in two days. Can you imagine the sinking feeling in their heart? I can imagine their response might be hey Jesus, Lazarus does not have two days. Our brother is dying and he needs your intervention. He needs you now. Heck, we need you now.
We do not know Mary’s heart here but I wonder if she had thought “remember me Jesus.” I was the one who anointed your feet. Jesus, it’s me. Don’t you remember all that I have done for you. While everyone else was eating and enjoying themselves, I served you. While my sister was busy making dinner and serving the guests, I was anointing your feet and wiping them with my hair. Doesn’t that count for something? She pulled the “I deserve it card” on Jesus. The reality is, we do not deserve any of the blessings of God, but He gives them anyway, because He loves us and He is a grace giving God. Now many times do we play that card?
With that said let us look at a couple of lessons from this passage. First of all, suffering is undeniable. We cannot deny the existence of trouble and the problem of sin in this life. Trouble and difficulty happens to us all. It does not matter who you are or what you have done. One of the problems with society today is they attempt to deny the existence of evil or have misdefined what is evil.
The second lesson for us is that suffering is unavoidable. If you are alive and you are breathing you will have problems. You will suffer. People do dumb things. Things happen. Problems exist. Jesus said that in this life you will have problems. Every book in the New Testament deals with the issue of trials and difficulties in some way. One of the reasons we suffer trials the way we do is that people have rejected the truth of God. When truth is rejected, the foundation to understand God is removed. The result is suffering.
In Romans 1, we find that when people reject the truth, there is a consequence. The people of Paul’s day rejected God and they rejected truth. This resulted in futile thinking, becoming foolish, and action that came from an impure heart. Notice, God gave them over to these mindsets which are opposed to God’s way of thinking. God allowed them to follow their own desires because they were not willing to follow and obey the truth.
The third lesson for us is that no matter what happens, Jesus has not forgotten us. He always knows best and He can take the worse of situations and bring them in alignment with His purposes. One of the problems is that many times we begin to believe that our suffering is a measurement of God’s love for us. But that is untrue. It is a lie that is propagated in our hearts to cause us to reject God and turn our focus away from Him. Jesus loved Lazarus which is a recognition that the suffering he experienced was not incompatible with His love for him.
To show that God is in control notice the two statements made by Jesus. These statements remind us that He is all knowing and He is all wise. Two things exposed here. This situation was a pathway to bring glory to the Son of God so they might believe. The point was that Jesus was to be glorified through this difficult situation. The glory of God is the manifestation of his presence and is a manifestation of His presence in people’s hearts and into their situations. That is and has always been the plan. The end result was to be a stronger believe in Jesus.
Let’s bring this closer to home. We were all shocked by the news of last Sunday night. So many lives were negatively impacted by the shooting. But there is another side to the story. You see when we experience a dark moment in our life we can focus on the problem and the suffering and miss what God is doing.
What we do not always hear on the news is the positive accounts of God’s grace. The focus has been on the shooter, as it should be, but we can miss other stories within the story. There were great stories of heroism through this event. While the shooter represented the worst of us those who stepped up to help, even under the worst of circumstances, showed the best of us. Whether it was the war veteran who placed his thumb in the wound of one of the victims to stop the bleeding, to those who used their personal clothing to stop bleeding. We saw those who used their personal cars to transport people they did not know to safety and to the hospital. We have heard the story of those who shielded others and were killed themselves.
There is another aspect of this that bears mentioning as well. We have a friend, Dave Early, who founded a church in Las Vegas. Dave has since turned the church over to one of the cofounders, Chris Martin. Chris made the following observation. This crime has brought people together like nothing else. They are sharing their goods, they are donating blood, they are passing out water. They are distributing food. The city is active with the grace of God. People are more open to hear the message of hope found in the Gospels. People are focusing their attention toward God like never before. The son of God is being glorified and people are believing in Jesus.
The final lesson is this. Through every situation we face and through every difficulty we encounter God’s glory can be revealed. As His glory is revealed, we learn to trust God more and in a deeper way. Remember the end of the story. Lazarus was dead, but with a word from Jesus he rose. He was alive and he walked out of the grave healed and whole.
I cannot help but think of Joseph’s words in Genesis. He suffered. He was rejected by his brothers. He was sold into slavery. He was falsely accused. He was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. He was forgotten and lived in the reality of broken promises. But in the midst of the story every time a difficulty occurred, we find that the Lord was with Joseph. In the end, listen to Joseph’s own words. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21).
God’s glory was revealed and faith was built in Joseph’s brothers. Mary and Martha were able to experience God’s glory and their faith was built. Today, we can be impacted by the trials of life but we can also be encouraged to see the glory of God and have our belief in God restored. Rather than focus on all that is bad and wrong, we can focus on God. He is at work. He has not forgotten you. He is with you. He wants to glorify His name and He desires that in the process that your faith will grow.
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom