The Lord Tarries
But if we skip too quickly over those first verses, we will miss some things that are very important in the story. Just one of these will serve to illustrate my point. Notice John 11:5-6:
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
One word seems very out of place here for most believers. It is not what the world might not understand, the word "stayed" when they expect that God should always speed to our aid. Believers who have walked long with the Lord and have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture do not always understand the times when God chooses to stay and not move, but at least intellectually, they do not surprise us.
We all know those times when any delay seems cruel to us. When we have asked God to intervene, but we seem to get silence in return. Lack of surprise does not mean lack of pain, sorrow, and sometimes anger. If we want to appear spiritual we we will acknowledge that the Lord operates in His time, not ours. But still it is hard for us.
But the word too many of us don't get, to the point I think we have a tendency to not even acknowledge it, is that little word at the start of v.6 - "So". What John is saying is that Jesus tarries specifically because He loved them. Not in spite of that fact. Not disregarding that fact. But specifically because of that fact.
Understand that He fully knew that there would be pain and grief, and He Himself is not unmoved. John tells us in v.33 (When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled) that Jesus was affected by the sorrow of Mary and the others. Comfort for us that God not only knows but shares in our sorrows.
But this does not change that little word in v.6. Jesus loved them, so He waited. Surely this is just a poor choice by the translators of the ESV. No, most major translations (NASB, NKJV, HCSB, RSV, and NET) use "so" (KJV uses "when"; NIV "yet"). For those of you "Message" people the phrase "but oddly" is used. While this serves to draw attention to the act, it does not point to the intentionality of the act the way "so" does. This is one case where the importance of the jot and tittle are in evidence as "so" communicates something important.
Jesus tarries because He loves Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. What Lazarus' death becomes the catalyst for is more important to them then Lazarus being healed. In v.14-15 Jesus tells His disciples it was also for them that He had tarried and allowed Lazarus to die:
14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
The point Jesus is making, that John picked up on likely only after the resurrection, maybe much after, was that this miracle would help the disciples to believe in the resurrection of Jesus when it occurred. This demonstrated that He is the Resurrection and the Life. Death, just like water (turned to wine), just like sickness, and the sabbath, and human need (feeding 5000), and the sea, and blindness, are under His power.
But did they get that then? I don't think so. In the midst of trials, we have to trust that the Lord tarrying is somehow, beyond our comprehension, but somehow, for our good. Romans 8:28 does apply. It is not in spite of His love that He tarries, but always because of His love. John was fortunate that he came to understand the reason. But did Mary? Did Martha? Did Lazarus?
I don't know. But many people never know why the Lord allowed them to walk through their particular valleys; many only glimpse the why dimly and after many years. This is a hard truth, best embraced when times are good.
Which is to say, if you know someone who is going through a great trial, don't share this with them now. Imitate your Lord and grieve with them.