John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”

I’ve heard it said that God is never late. He is never early, but He is never late: He is always right on time.

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Well, I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have the impression that God is late. And I’m not the only one to feel that way. Today we will consider a story about God showing up late.

Punctuality — being on time — might just be a western value. My grandfather used to say, “If you leave on time with plenty of time, you’ll get there on time.”

On time? What does that mean? Sometimes we joke in the islands about being on island time or being on Vanuatu time. We show up on our time.

Christians often say that God is always right on time, but frankly, I sometimes have the distinct impression that God is late. Perhaps my watch needs to be adjusted. Or perhaps God is on another timezone. Whatever the case, sometimes God does not show up when we think He should.

That’s the story we read in John 11. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were good friends with Jesus. They lived in Bethany, about three kilometers from Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, chapter 10, the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem had just tried to stone Jesus because he had claimed to be God. So Jesus went far north, about a four days journey because it was not yet his time.

John 11:1-14 NLT A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” 5 So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days. 7 Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” 8 But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?” 9 Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” 12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died. 14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

God is late and Lazarus is dead. What further proof do we need that from our perspective, from our way of calculating time, God is often late.

Some people think that everything is going to be alright. That everything will work out perfectly for the Christian. But that is not the case.

Nor is it the case that God will never allow us to suffer or sorrow or go through any difficult circumstances. That is the message that some preach today, that if you come to Jesus

  • you will have no more problems,
  • you will always get on well with everyone,
  • you will never be short on money,
  • you will never get sick.

Here we have the story of Lazarus. Lazarus is sick. And dying. Mary and Martha have had Jesus in their home. They have listened to his teaching (Mark 10). They have heard about his miracles or even seen him work miracles. They know that Jesus can heal their brother.

They also know that they can call on Jesus. He is their friend. They know that Jesus loves them. They know that he loves Lazarus.

But Jesus has travelled far north to get away from the hostility of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Mary and Martha know where Jesus has gone. Anyway, it would not be hard to find Jesus. He always drew crowds of people even when he was trying to be alone. If Mary and Martha can get the message to Jesus, all will be well.

So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3).

It is a four-day journey from Bethany to Jesus. Mary and Martha send the message. The first day passes. The second day. Lazarus has not improved. The third day comes and goes. Lazarus is getting sicker. By the end of the fourth day, Mary and Martha are getting quite concerned. Jesus receives the message but decides to stay:

John 11:6 ESV So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

“Oh, I wish that he would come!”

The fifth day comes and goes. Lazarus is dying. Mary and Martha are ringing their hands. “Hold on, Lazarus! Jesus is coming! Jesus will heal you! You are going to be alright!”

The sixth day comes and as the sun sets, the life of Lazarus comes to an end. And Jesus was not there.

  • Jesus was not there when Lazarus was sick.
  • Jesus was not there when Lazarus needed to be healed.
  • Jesus was not there when Lazarus died.
  • Jesus was not there to bury Lazarus.
  • He was not there to comfort Mary and Martha.

Mary and Martha prepare the body of their brother to be buried. Again and again, Mary and Martha tell each other that their brother would not have died had Jesus been there:

John 11:21 ESV Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:32 ESV Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The sisters had talked. Time and again they had shared their disappointment: “If only Jesus had come, our brother would not have died!” He did come, but he came too late.

Sometimes God is late. He does not follow our calendar. He is not watching our clock. Our time is not His time. There are disappointments in life. Disappointments because God is late.

Surely Mary and Martha thought that Jesus was late: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Have you ever felt the disappointment of unanswered prayers? Have you ever been kept waiting, watching, hoping, only to have your hopes dashed because God did not show up?

Sometimes God is late. But this story gives us several truths to hold on to when God is late.

1. When God is late, it is not because of a lack of love.

Twice in three verses, John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha:

John 11:3 ESV So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

John 11:5 ESV Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

There are times of waiting and there are times of disappointment. There are times when it seems that God is late or that He does not show up at all, but if you are a child of God, you should know this:

God loves you. This is one of the great convictions of the Christian life. Time and again we are told that God loves us. In John 3:16, we read that well known verse:

John 3:16 ESV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Apostle Paul expresses the great love of Christ for us in Galatians 2:20 when he says,

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul exults in “the great love with which he loved us” in Ephesians 2:4. And he prays that we may be able to comprehend “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19 ESV).

Again, the Apostle John says,

1 John 4:10 NLT This is real love– not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Romans 5:8 ESV but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This is the ultimate proof of God’s love toward us: Christ died for us. If you doubt God’s love, look at the cross. Never has there been a greater demonstration of love than the cross. Never has there been a greater demonstration of the love of God for sinners than the cross. We will go through times when it seems that God is late, that He is absent… It may seem that He did not show up. Look at the cross! Whatever else we may not understand, let us look at the cross! There is proof of God’s love for us. When God is late, it is not because of a lack of love.

2. When God is late, it is never by accident (v. 6).

John 11:6 ESV So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Lazarus was sick. Lazarus was dying. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that the one that he loved was sick. Four days later, Jesus got the message. But there is no panic. He does not jump and run. He does not take a fast camel to Bethany.

No. He waits. He stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

This may seem callused to us. Why does God wait when we suffer? What does He not respond immediately to our cry? Why must we wait?

Waiting on the Lord is the characteristic of the faithful.

ESV Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

ESV Psalm 38:15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

ESV Psalm 39:7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

God is never in a hurry. He stands in eternity, knowing the end from the beginning, knowing everything that will happen before the beginning of time itself. He is never taken by surprise.

MUSIC: LINCOLN BREUSTER – EVERLASTING GOD

3. When God is late, He still plans to show up (v. 7).

John 11:7 ESV Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

It had been six days since Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. Jesus had received the word after four days but had stayed where he was for two more days. Now after six days, Jesus says, “Let’s go.”

The disciples are confused. Why would Jesus want to go back to Judea? The Jewish authorities wanted to kill him. But Jesus had already said that as the Good Shepherd he would lay down his life for his sheep. Now he risks his life for one of his sheep, a sheep named Lazarus.

John 11:11 ESV After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.”

“Oh, that’s good!” the disciples thought. “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

But Jesus was speaking of his death, but they had misunderstood. So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”

It’s late. It’s too late. What is the point? The point is this: Jesus was going to do the unthinkable. He was going to awaken the dead.

When God is late, he still plans to show up. Daniel had been fasting and praying for 21 days without a response. But when an angel finally came with the answer, he said

Daniel 10:12 ESV … “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.

Judah would be in exile in Babylon for 70 years, but God still had a plan:

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The prophet Habakkuk did not understand why God did not seem to answer his prayer. But then the word came to him:

Habakkuk 2:3 ESV For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end– it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

There was a time for its fulfillment and that time had not arrived. It would surely come, but Habakkuk would have to wait for it.

When Jesus asked Philip how they would feed the five thousand, he already knew what he was going to do.

John 6:6 ESV He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Mary and Martha had to wait. Lazarus had to die. But Jesus knew what he was going to do.

When God is late, He still plans to show up for He knows what he is going to do.

4. When God is late, He want to increase our faith.

4.1. Some people have a conditional faith.

Mary and Martha seem to have had a faith that Jesus could have done something had he been there:

John 11:21 ESV Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:32 ESV Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Some of the friends of Lazarus had a conditional faith:

John 11:37 ESV But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Couldn’t things have been different? It’s too bad that Jesus wasn’t here! He could have done something! He could have kept this man from dying!

Some people believe that God is limited by the conditions. God can only do what he wants to do if all the conditions are perfect. But Jesus is purposefully showing that he is the master of every situation. There is nothing that is too hard for God. That does not mean that he is going to do everything we want him to do. I have been to funerals where people tried to raise the dead. They wanted God to do what they wanted Him to do. God can raise the dead and one day he will raise the dead again, but he does not raise the dead because we command him to. God is still God. He is sovereign and he gives life to whom he will, not to whom we will.

But our faith must not be conditioned by the conditions. Our faith must be conditioned upon the all powerful God.

4.2. Some people have a future faith.

Martha believed that Jesus could have done something had he been there:

John 11:21 ESV Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

When Jesus told her that her brother would rise again, she responded,

John 11:24 ESV … “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Her faith was good for the past: “If you had been here…”

Her faith was good for the future: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

4.3. We need a present faith.

But her faith was inadequate for the present. She had past conditional faith, and future faith, but she did not have faith for the present.

Now in verse 22, it appears that she has faith for the present:

John 11:22 ESV But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

But when Jesus told them to remove the stone from the tomb, we read in verse 39,

John 11:39 ESV … Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”

Martha did not have faith for the present. Jesus was too late. Lazarus was dead. There was nothing to do but wait for the resurrection on the last day.

When God is late, he wants to increase our faith. When Jesus received the word about Lazarus, he purposefully waited two more days. He wanted Lazarus to have been dead for four days before he got there. He wanted it to be well established that Lazarus was dead because he wanted to increase their faith. He told his disciples,

John 11:14-15 ESV Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Jesus wants to increase our faith not only in what might have been or in what will be in some distant future. He wants us to have faith in him in the here and how.

John 11:25-26 ESV Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus does not say that he would have been the resurrection and the life or that he will be the resurrection and the life. He declares that he IS the resurrection and the life.

Mary and Martha and Lazarus had gone through a terrible trial. It was neither by accident nor by unconcern that Jesus allowed them to pass through this suffering. Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The death of Lazarus was greatly troubling to Jesus:

John 11:33 ESV When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

John 11:35 ESV Jesus wept.

Jesus had allowed them to go through this trial to increase their faith:

John 11:41-42 ESV So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

John 11:45 ESV Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,

5. When God is late, He is going to display his glory (11:4, 40).

John 11:4 NLT But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”

The glory of God is manifested when God does what God alone can do.

Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus:

John 11:39-45 NLT “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” 45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.

When God is late, he is going to display his glory. We suffer in this present time, but glory is coming:

Romans 8:18 ESV For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

MUSIC: HILLSONG, GLORY

Do you know this Jesus?

Do you know who he is? Have you put your faith in him? Do you trust in him? It is easy to believe when everything is going well, when life is grand, when there is food on the table and singing in the home. But when we pass through difficult waters, our faith is put to the test. When we pass through the fire, we have an opportunity to trust. Our trust is not put to the test with we understand. Our faith and trust can only grow when we go through tough times.

Do you know this Jesus who is the resurrection and the life? Do you know this one who will call forth the living and the dead at his return? Are you ready to meet him? Have you trusted in him for your salvation? Do you know this Jesus who is life, abundant life, eternal life? Do you have the life of God in your soul?

The Bible says that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What does that mean? That means that you recognize that Jesus Christ is the Lord. He is the Lord of your life. It is no longer your life, but his life: you belong to him. You obey him and live so that people would come to know him and love him.

Call out to him. Tell him that you need him. You need his forgiveness. You need his life giving power in your life. You want the deadness of sin to be removed. You want his life, his resurrection power that makes us dead to power of sin, but alive unto God.

Summary

God is sometimes late. But when God is late,

  1. It is not because of a lack of love.
  2. It is never by accident; he is purposefully late.
  3. He still plans to show up.
  4. He wants to increase our faith.
  5. He is going to display his glory.

See also “Gospel of John”:

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