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Lord, He Whom You Love is Ill

Tim Brister
Tim Brister
2014 13 May

In my reading of John 11 this morning, this phrase just landed on me. Mary and Martha appealed to Jesus for help on account of his love for Lazarus. Indeed, Jesus loved him deeply. Twice we read in this account that Jesus was “deeply moved,” and sandwiched between these two references is the simple verse that says, “Jesus wept.” Jesus was not indifferent about the sickness of Lazarus and the sorrow of Mary and Martha.

But what strikes me even more, is that though we cannot plumb the depths of Jesus’ love, His commitment to His glory is even deeper.

Both Mary and Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would have not died” (Martha v. 21; Mary v. 32). The implication is, “Jesus you say you love us, and we know that you love Lazarus, but if you really loved him, you would not have let him die.” Jesus’ love was challenged and concluded to be ineffective in meeting their urgent needs. Not only did Jesus’ dear friends question him, but so did several others who said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also kept this man from dying?” (v. 37) Clearly, the charge is that Jesus didn’t love Lazarus like he loved the blind man whom he healed. Jesus’ love/compassion and power/authority were not esteemed to say the least.

Jesus was not so concerned about vindicating the depths of His love as much as revealing His glory. This might sound selfish, but actually is the most loving thing Jesus could have done for them. The revelation of His glory in the resurrection of Lazarus was for the purpose that they may believe and be saved. Jesus told his disciples, “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Yes, the death of Lazarus was “for the glory of God” (v. 4), but such glory is manifested so that faith might be born in the hearts of unbelieving sinners. For your sake. For your need to believe where there is unbelief. Jesus reminded Martha that “if you believed you would see the glory of God” (v. 40). This is not to say that Lazarus was simply a tool for Jesus’ glorious self-revelation as the resurrection and the life. Jesus deeply loved Lazarus and wept over him. Yet, in the depths of his sorrow, Jesus was working a deeper work of glory so that spiritual life might be born in the hearts of those spiritually dead in sin.

Jesus’ mission to reveal His glory and save sinners is undeterred, even in the most emotionally disturbing situations of his life. Jesus is not callous or cold. As John wrote, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v. 5), but Jesus’ passion for His glory was a deeper motivation. This was confirmed when, upon hearing the news of Lazarus serious illness, Jesus chose to delay his arrival rather than hurry along (“he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”). Jesus comes across as an insensitive jerk if you take it out of context. He makes it unmistakably clear that the driving principle of his life was the glory of God revealed through the life and work of the Son of God to the end that sinners might believe and be saved.

Oh, that we might know the love of Jesus Christ!
But all the more, oh that we might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

In love, God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. Through the life, death, and resurrection God makes this happen. The report from heaven is, “Lord, those whom you love are lost and undone, hopeless and helpless, dead in sin.” And the response is the same. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The love of God is profoundly significant and central, but it is not ultimate. The glory of God is.

That day when Jesus wept and cried aloud over the death of Lazarus, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But on that dark day when Jesus was led up to Golgotha to do battle with death and hell, Jesus wept and cried aloud with depths no man has ever known. And every believing sinner who has found resurrected life in the death of Jesus can confidently say, “See how he loved me!” Jesus took my sin sickness and curse of death and carried away that I might know life abundant and everlasting. And it was for our sake Jesus was glad to be there, enduring the cross and despising its shame, that we see the glory of God and believe in Jesus, whose death is our death, and whose life is our life, and whose love is ours to embrace.

For he whom the Lord loved was once dead, but now he is alive by the power of his resurrection.

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.