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Across the Jordan: Waiting for Lazarus to Die

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard

“When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:6).

Why did he wait two more days?
Why not come now, right now, while Lazarus is alive?

If he really loved Lazarus, why delay at all? 

It’s easy to understand the disciples’ confusion. “Lord, this man is your friend. We’ve seen you heal people you didn’t even know. Lazarus loves you, and you love him. Why are you waiting?”

When at last Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has already died. He is met by Martha, sister of Lazarus, who speaks her mind to the Son of God:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

Martha is partly right. Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but she was wrong on one point. Jesus could have healed him from the other side of the Jordan River. He’s the Son of God. He didn’t have to personally come to Bethany to work a great miracle.

But that’s precisely what he does.

Strange as it may sound, Jesus stayed away from Bethany so that after Lazarus died, he could then raise him from the dead, bringing great glory to God, and confirming his own words when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). 

The Bible explicitly says that Jesus loved Lazarus, yet he let him die.
He delayed returning so that Lazarus would die.
That too was an act of love.

We will never understand this unless we see that Jesus always intended to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples didn’t see that, the sisters didn’t see that, but Jesus had it in mind from the beginning.

This teaches us something about the “delays” of life when God may seem slow to us. God is never “slow,” but he does move according to his own purposes. We will rarely understand in advance why things happen the way they do. 

As we will see tomorrow, there is more to this story. For the moment, let’s remember that God’s love comes in many varieties, and he loves us even when nothing he does makes sense to us. 

Lord Jesus, some of us greatly need your comfort right now. Forgive us for doubting your purposes. Help us trust even when we don’t understand. Amen.

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Originally published March 29, 2012.

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