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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When God Seems Late

“Why isn’t He here yet?” Martha cries out to Mary, throwing up her hands in disbelief. How many times had she already peered down the dusty road, expecting to see Jesus trudging, even hurrying to them?

“Oh, Martha, I’m sure He’ll be here soon. He won’t forsake us. He loves Lazarus too much.”

“Oh, I think I see Him,” Martha exclaims.

Martha and Mary run out of the house but realize it’s not Jesus walking up the road. Their shoulders slump and they shuffle back into the house.

Mary rests her hand on Martha’s shoulder, “There must be a good reason, Martha. You know He wouldn’t forget us.”

Martha’s furrowed brow shadows angry eyes. “What could be more important than his friend Lazarus?” she asks. She couldn’t add “and us” without appearing selfish—but she wanted to.

Finally, in her pain, she spits out, “I thought He loved us. I guess I was wrong.” As Martha stomps into the house, Mary shakes her head, muttering, “Martha, Martha....”

And then it happens. Lazarus dies. Up to the very last moment, the sisters continue to search the horizon for their Savior’s familiar form, knowing that no matter how late He comes, He can and will restore Lazarus’ health. But now Lazarus is dead. Even Jesus can’t do anything about that. No one else has ever been raised from the dead—everyone knows that!

And then Jesus arrives. Late! Four days after Lazarus is buried.

We know the rest of the story from John 11 and its glorious results, but in that moment, Martha and Mary didn’t. They believed in the future resurrection for Lazarus and themselves, but to expect Jesus to bring him back from the dead was beyond their imagination. Yet that’s exactly what He does, and God is given greater glory than if he had arrived “on time” to wipe away the pain of illness and prevent death.

I take great comfort in the way Jesus responded to Martha’s plaintive rebuke, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21 NIV). Jesus, knowing the sisters’ pain and perplexity at His delay, doesn’t reprimand them or tell them to not feel the way they do. I can know He doesn’t get upset when I also am confused when God seemingly delays in fulfilling His plans.

It’s easy for us to criticize Mary and Martha’s shortsightedness since we can read the end of the story, but many times, we feel abandoned when God doesn’t answer our prayers in a timely fashion. But Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that God’s outlook is far beyond our ability to comprehend: “'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (NIV).

Mary and Martha couldn't see God’s higher point of view until Lazarus was raised. They would have been content to have him healed, but Jesus had a more glorious plan.

How is God using your waiting time? Are you maturing? Are you becoming stronger in your faith? Are you seeking Him above instant gratification? As Mary and Martha discovered, you can trust God knows exactly what He’s doing—even when He seems to be late.

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