Couldn't He Have Kept This Man From Dying?

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard
2013 19 Feb

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)

Good question.
Fair question.
Honest question.

Just before Jesus raised Lazarus, some of the Jews raised this question. After all, he clearly loved Lazarus, and he had already healed the man born blind (John 9). This means the question doesn’t come from the lips of hardened skeptics looking for a reason to discount Jesus altogether. The people who asked this question didn’t doubt Jesus’ miracle-working power.

If he can give sight to the blind, why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus before he died? Then there would have been no funeral with all the attendant sorrow. Then Mary and Martha would not have mourned their brother. Wouldn’t it have been better to heal him up front rather than raising him from the dead later?

That brings us back to a detail from earlier in the story. “Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:6). Think about that for a moment. Jesus is the Son of God with power to heal the sick, yet when he hears about Lazarus whom he loved, he did not hurry to heal him. It does not make sense on the surface. If you love someone, and if you can help them, why would you not rush to their aid?

What do we do with God’s delays? Clearly God does some things differently than we would if we were God, but that’s precisely the point. Jesus stayed away because he intended to raise Lazarus from the dead. He even goes so far as to say to his disciples, “I am glad I was not there” (John 11:15). To us this may seem callous and unkind, but God’s ways are not our ways.

Erwin Lutzer (The Vanishing Power of Death, p. 106) has a helpful word at this point:

The delays of Deity are not because of insensitivity to our present needs, but because of greater sensitivity to our ultimate needs.

J. C. Ryle explains what this means in practical terms:

We are all naturally impatient in the day of trial . . . We forget that Christ is too wise a Physician to make any mistakes. It is the duty of faith to say, “My times are in Your hand. Do with me as you will, how you will, what you will, and when you will. Not my will, but yours be done.” The highest degree of faith is to be able to wait, sit still, and not complain.

Take all your questions, all your doubts, all your uncertainties, all your “if onlys,” and let them be dots on a piece of paper. Then draw a circle around all those dots. That circle represents the providence of God.

If Jesus had healed Lazarus, that would have been a great miracle. Raising him from the dead was an even greater one. God’s delays are not the same as God’s denials. If we know that, we can keep believing even while we wait for an answer that has not yet come.

You never know when a resurrection is on the way.

Lord Jesus, help us to remember that you’ve got a bigger and better plan. Forgive us for presuming to tell you how to do your work. We’re glad that you are God and we are not. Amen. 

Going Deeper

Read Psalm 27 and note every time the word “wait” is used. Why is it so hard for us to “wait on the Lord"? All of us will spend some in God’s Waiting Room sooner or later, and most of us will visit more than once. As you look back on your own spiritual journey, how how God used those times of waiting to deepen your faith?