Jesus has a Plan for Your Pain | Wayne Massey
1 Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’
8 ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’
9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the day-time will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.’
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’
12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Jesus comforts the sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’
37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.
‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’
40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.
Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
As Christians we can confidently affirm that God is love, and that he loves each one of us. We can discover that love as a real experience – something we can’t explain, any more than we can put into words what the love is which we receive from close relatives.
But then life happens, and we can let that get between us and God. How often have you heard someone say ‘If God was good, if God was loving, then this wouldn’t be happening to me’. A world turned upside down by a doctor’s diagnosis, marriage breakup, redundancy notice, or the death of a loved one, might make you question your trust in God actually loving you.
We sing ‘You’re a good, good Father’, ‘You are perfect in all of your ways’, ‘Your love is a firm foundation’, but maybe you question the words even as you’re singing them. Are God’s ways perfect or have I thought of some better ones? Is God’s love really the firmest foundation or would it be better to trust my own efforts?
The Bible begins with a good creation, and only after that do we read about the Fall. We live in that broken world where dreadful things happen, but more fundamental than the brokenness is God’s goodness and his love. Believing that God loves us, we need to affirm that by cultivating an attitude of thanksgiving, choosing to praise him and reading the Bible.
But what about the pain? It can’t be wished away, and doesn’t need to be because Jesus has a plan for your pain. You can be sure that he loves you in your pain, and he wants you to trust him. Tragedies can be opportunities for us to see the bigger picture. Jesus, faced with Martha’s pain at her brother’s death says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. He points to the Cross and the resurrection, bringing eternal life into the world. That eternal life is both our destination and what we can experience now as we follow Jesus.
When things don’t go according to plan on our life journey to the final destination, we need to trust that the one we are following is faithful. Our pain can be seen as an invitation to step into eternal life by putting our trust in Jesus.
We see Jesus’ empathy for those who were grieving for Lazarus. That empathy is for you in your pain and comes with an invitation and a challenge. Jesus invites us to bring our sorrow and pain to him. Grieving and lamenting are part of entering into the life of a broken world, not signs of weakness or a lack of faith. Jesus challenges us to bring our pain to him and trust him with the outcomes; rather than keeping it to ourselves and insisting on holding on to the outcomes of our choice.
When we bring the pain to him, he weeps with us. When we refuse to do that, he weeps for us. Is Jesus weeping with you or for you?
And then, there is the matter of God’s glory. When we let Jesus in, his work of the kingdom opens up in and around us: our hearts are transformed and God is glorified. When others see that you have a rock and an anchor, a firm foundation in spite of the pain, they wonder what’s going on. Your pain can be God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
God invites us to bring our pain to him, to let go of the outcomes and to say ‘yours Lord, not mine’, believing he is good, perfect in all of his ways, and utterly trustworthy.