“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.” ~ John 11.5-6
In this text we are given a glimpse into a foreign culture – an exotic world in which love is expressed in terms that our prevailing culture would flatly reject. Love is a curious thing. In the “world,” love is regularly claimed to be the highest ideal, the greatest good. In the Scriptures, love is synonymous with God himself. Yet the God of the Bible is not embraced in our present day. He isn’t held in high esteem or embraced as the greatest good. No. The God of the Bible is rejected as outdated, judgmental, and the mere dilution of reality by the ignorant men of ancient history. Sure enough, people want to believe in god, so they’ve invented a god who plays along with their ideals, but it’s not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not the God revealed in Holy Scripture. Not the God who IS love. And our culture’s rejection of the true God has brought with it a rejection of true love.
This text gives us an insight into what God-love is, what it looks like “on the ground.” The text let’s us know that it was love for Mary and Martha that led Jesus to disappoint Mary and Martha. It was love for Mary and Martha that led Jesus to withhold help from Mary and Martha. Love refused to do the obvious. Love refused to accommodate. Love refused to cater. Love didn’t appease, coddle or acquiesce. Jesus could have sent word back to Mary and Martha that “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” (v.4), but he didn’t. He loved them so…he stayed two days longer. He delayed. His delay was a reflection of his submission to the purposes his Father had for Lazarus’ death. Jesus’ love for his Father (i.e. trust in his Father’s will) was made manifest in his willingness to not rush to Mary and Martha’s side. So let’s note this: we love people BY loving God, and we love God by yielding to him even when this submission is confusing and hurtful to people.
Of course, Jesus could have run to be with these sisters, but I’m convinced it wouldn’t have made a difference because the key to Jesus’ power was his submission to the Father (John 5.19), not his sincere desire to help people. The Father had ordained the death of Lazarus so that his glory might be revealed in the earth. Lazarus wasn’t the only one who needed that miracle – his sisters, his friends and all of Israel needed that miracle, that revelation of the glory of God. We needed that miracle. Bethany didn’t need to see a healing; they needed a resurrection from the dead! And it was Jesus’ love for his Father that led him to disappoint Martha by not meeting her expectations. It was his love for Martha that enabled him to discern just how far short her expectations fell of God’s intention for her brother.
How many times do we embrace the world’s ideas of love, and as a result, end up failing to love at all? Our desire to not disappoint or upset isn’t love – it’s selfishness. It’s an expression of our desire to be liked by our fellow man. It’s a statement of our disbelief in the sufficiency of Christ’s love for us, in that we need the “love” of others so badly. We must stop catering to friends and family in the name of “love,” and at the expense of loyalty to the purposes of God. Is it any wonder that when we give in and show up two days early there’s no glory? It is only when I am truly abandoned to love the Father that I will have the capacity to biblically love my fellow man, and this love is the context for the manifestation of the glory of God in their lives! This love is the culture of the Kingdom, the incarnation of the Gospel and the testimony of abundant life…