Last week, we began a new series called “The Waiting Room” and over the next few weeks, we’re going to address the question . . . What do you do when there’s nothing you can do? What do you do when you find yourself in a set of circumstances and there’s no way to change it?
For all of us, there’s going to be . . . or you are currently in . . . a season of life when it is what it is and there’s really no way to change it. The question is . . . what do you do with that?
Sure, there are options . . . you can run, you can quit, you can throw in the towel but if you do, you might miss what God is doing in and through your life during those hard seasons.
And so, we wait!
But it’s not easy in the waiting room, a lot of stuff happens internally . . . sometimes we get jealous. We look at everyone else’s wrinkle free life and we think, “that’s the life I was supposed to have.”
So, we get resentful and angry.
And you know what’s irritating during those hard seasons . . . when you get around people who say things like, “God answered my prayers”.
And you’re like, “That’s awesome, I needed to hear that . . . tell me what happened.”
And they’re like, “Yeah, I lost my keys and I prayed that God would show me where my keys were, and then my husband came home early . . . he’s so great . . . and he found them hanging in the door.”
And you’re like, “Seriously, you wouldn’t know a problem is it was staring you in the face.”
Do you know what I’m talking about?
But let me tell you about the worst part about being in the waiting room . . . we sometimes draw some really-bad conclusions . . . “I’ll never be happy again”, “nothing good can come from this”, “God must be angry with me”, or “God doesn’t even care”
And at the epicenter of the crisis is the question that I want to talk about today, “where is God?”
The bottom line is this, God is not absent, although it may feel that he is absent. God is not apathetic, although it may feel that he doesn’t care, and God is not angry with you. God’s silence does not equate to his absence.
Now, before we jump in to the heart of this, there is something that I want to poke around a little bit because I want us to recognize this about ourselves. When we’re in a waiting room moment, and we lift our eyes and pray but heaven is silent and we get frustrated, there is a little bit of hypocrisy there.
Because all of us have had a moment, a day, a week, a month, or maybe even a year or two . . . when the presence of God was the furthest thing from your mind. In fact, you really hope he wasn’t watching.
There are times when we purposely shut God out . . . Isn’t that true?
Here’s the amazing thing . . . despite that, God still loves us.
And the reason I know that . . . and the reason I know that God is not apathetic or angry is because he poured out His anger on His son for you, and when He sent His son to die on the cross, he settled once and for all that He knows your name, He cares for you, and He is concerned about your life.
Even in those dark moments, when you tuned out the presence of God, God was present and now, in these dark times when you need to experience the presence of God, God is present.
So, if you are in the waiting room, where it just seems like for the foreseeable future, it’s not going to get any better. It may only get worse, and if in that season, you feel that God is silent, I some great news for you . . . you are not alone and you are not the first.
Let's listen to our text: John 11:17-44
At this point of Jesus’ ministry, he was becoming controversial . . . He has just wrapped up a preaching tour where large crowds had been following him to see what he’s going to do next.
But Jesus told them in very clear terms that he is God and all that he had been doing was designed to help them see that.
As you can imagine, this hasn't set will with the religious leaders, who are now out to get him.
So, as we come to this text, Jesus is hanging out with disciples near the Jordan River because his time had not yet come and this was a much safer place for him to be.
And as he is there, he receives word that one of his closest friends, Lazarus, is dying in the nearby town of Bethany.
Now you would think that Jesus would immediately get up and go be with him. After all, he had met the needs of so many other people . . . but instead, Jesus decides to stay put. You see, what is to follow is a sign and the signs are designed to help people see more clearly who Jesus is. And so, he waits.
And after two days of chilling out with the disciples, he says "Ok, guys let's get going"
Now, Bethany is only 20 miles away so he could have easily made it in a day but he takes his time and when he arrives, Lazarus has been dead for four days.
And as he approaches the city gates, Jesus is met by Lazarus' sister, Martha and she's pretty frustrated with him because it's too late. Her brother is dead and now she has most likely lost everything.
You see, in that day, women were vulnerable because this was a man's world and women had to rely on men to provide for them.
Martha has just buried the only man in her life, her brother . . . which means that she is without any means of economic support and relegated to the fringes of community.
In other words, she’ in the waiting room; she is in a set of circumstances that she can’t do anything about, it is what it is . . . and so of course she's frustrated . . . but even as she questions Jesus, she makes a new commitment to him and affirms that she still believes God will give Jesus whatever he asks.
And so, Jesus tells her that he brother will rise again and then he uses another I AM statement . . . Remember what that is. I AM is the name of God.
Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life and who ever believes in me will have life" and then he asks her, "Do you believe?"
It’s a crisis moment for her. It’s a moment of choice. And in this moment, she lays down her anger at Jesus, she gives up her need for answers and guarantees, and she simply lets go – letting herself fall into a faith that offers no certainty and no promise of comfort.
After this, Martha runs into town to let her sister Mary know that Jesus has arrived and immediately she got up and ran to him, and a crowd of people followed her.
All of them mourning and grieving for these sisters. You see, funerals were a community wide event. The village had essentially shut down. Everyone is weeping and bawling. Lazarus' friends are weeping. All the families who know this family are weeping. And they are embracing these women.
And in the midst of this pain and suffering . . . Jesus just shows up.
When he enters in the city and collides with her entourage, he was moved with compassion and he wept. Can we just pause there?
To me, these are the most powerful 2 words in all of scripture. Jesus, the author and creator, steps into his creation and grieves with it.
Now, if the crowd hadn’t hushed when he wept, I’m sure it does when Jesus tells them to open the tomb. The text doesn’t say but I’m guessing that more than one or two Jaws dropped.
You see . . . you’re not supposed to be exposed to a dead body because it’s ceremonially unclean. And by exposing yourself to it, it will make you unclean.
Not to mention that it's been four days and everybody know that by now, the guy is not just dead . . . he's really dead. You see, in that culture, they believed that the Spirit of a person would hover over the body for three days but on he fourth day, when the body began to decompose, it would depart.
Well, it's been four days so the spirit has left . . . and let's be honest a decomposing body smells.
But Jesus isn't concerned about religious rules, or superstition, or even the stench of death as he prays to the father thanking him for who he is and that through this sign people would believe that He is the resurrection and the life.
And then he gives a command . . . “Lazarus come out”.
The literal translation is this . . . it's this way. Come out of the grave and come to me this way because I am the resurrection and the giver of life.
And with this command Lazarus walks out of the grave.
Can you imagine the emotional transition in that moment? Lazarus gets out of the coffin, comes out and starts’ talking to everybody.
She got their brother back, alive and well and restored to health.
And that’s what Jesus does. He touches dead people and brings life.
You see, this story is about grace . . . this raising doesn’t happen because of a sister's plea or even their worthiness as friends. It happened because Jesus has compassion for them and in his compassion, he extends his grace . . . period.
But in the midst of all of this, there is something else happening. A foreshadowing of things to come and a glimpse into what God intends for us.
Jesus does not just love these sisters, and raise a brother . . . he is also unveiling His kingdom . . . He’s showing his power over death and revealing a kingdom that has yet to come . . . it’s a kingdom in which there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, and no more waiting rooms.
And as we read the story of the resurrected Lazarus, we are reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus . . .
- Jesus comes as the only Son of God who is deeply loved by his father . . . this is the sisters only brother and they deeply love him
- And just as Lazarus died, Jesus died on our behalf
- And as Lazarus rose from death, so Jesus rose from death to conquer death for those who believe that he is the resurrection and life.
You see, we don’t worship a God who is immune to suffering. If you’re hurting, he knows exactly what you feel like, because he was present for the death of the Son and he felt it.
But his promise is, “Trust me. Stick with me. We need to get through this. We need to get to the other side of resurrection. I have worked out all things for Good. I have a plan. And I know right now, it is exceedingly painful because I have felt that pain but we can do this!
So, if you are suffering, or you are experiencing a waiting room moment . . . I want you to lean heavily on Jesus for comfort and love and support and understanding and encouragement.
And I want you to be in community with his people. What we see is an entire community surrounding themselves around these sisters in the moment of their suffering . . . that’s what God's church is supposed to be about. You need others around you when you’re suffering and you need to present and available in order to rally around those who are suffering.
And God today would call us to worship him in faith because today may feel like a funeral day but a resurrection day is coming.
So today, suffer and weep as these women did, mourn and cry as they did, surround and support one another as the town of Bethany did, but by faith, trust that resurrection is coming, and this same Jesus, reaches down into death, and has life for you and for me.
And it will happen, and you will see it by the grace of God. We can’t earn it. We can’t work for it. We can’t plead for it. It just comes.