The story of Lazarus’ resurrection has an interesting beginning. Jesus hears Lazarus is sick and declares, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (Jn 11:4 CSB).”
Then, Lazarus dies.
When Jesus heard about Lazarus’ illness, he waited two days before leaving. On his way, Lazarus dies. You can hear the heartbreak as Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, both weep before Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” (Jn 11:21 & 32). Jesus could’ve saved their brother. Why on earth did he delay?
Have you ever asked a similar question? You’ve probably asked God to do something – heal a loved one, bring your child to Christ, or take you out of terrible circumstances – but nothing has changed. God’s delays are hard to process. The temptation is to doubt him, to lose faith in his love for you or even to doubt his ability to answer your prayer. How should we respond when God delays?
The story of Lazarus gives us three truths to cling to when we experience God’s delays.
His Delay is Love
On the surface, Jesus seems indifferent and cold-hearted towards Lazarus and his family. John, however, reveals that love drove Jesus’s choice. “Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was” (Jn 11:5-6). He delayed because he loved Lazarus’ family.
If my wife calls while I’m out for lunch with friends, telling me our son is being rushed to the hospital and I hang up the phone and order dessert, that is not love. That is indifference. Love would be dropping everything to get to the hospital. But Jesus is not indifferent. As Mary takes him to the tomb, he weeps. Those around him see how much he loves Lazarus (Jn 11:35-36). Josh Moody comments on this story, saying, “We are not to interpret the Lord’s delays as lack of care, but as evidence of love.” His delay was not indifference. His delay was driven by love.
Our instinct, when God delays, is probably to feel unloved. Yet Jesus shows us that when God delays, he does so because he loves us. His delay is not a sign of distance, but of deep affection and, as we will see, a desire to give us something better than we could ever ask for.
His Delay Builds Faith
Jesus deepens the strength of our faith in him. While on the road with the disciples, he tells them, “Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him (Jn 11:14-15).” When Martha meets him, he points her to the truth that he is “the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26).
Standing in front of the tomb, Jesus prays, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me” (Jn 11:41-42). Tying together each of these interactions is Jesus’s intent to help their belief.
His delay teaches us to trust him. If we get what we want immediately, we’ll never learn persistence in prayer. We’ll never need to come back to him every day and say, “I trust you, even though things aren’t going as I hoped.” We will have no experience of his perfect timing and faithfulness in giving us only what is for our good (Rom 8:28). His delay does not mean you are unloved. His delay is one way he strengthens your faith in him.
His Delay reveals His Glory
Jesus says the outcome of Lazarus’s illness will be for his glory. At the climax of the story, Jesus stands outside Lazarus’ tomb and shouts, “Lazarus come out!” Lazarus responds by walking out of his grave alive and well (John 11:44-45). If Jesus didn’t delay, this resurrection wouldn’t happen. If Lazarus’s resurrection didn’t happen, if Jesus rushed to him and healed him before he died, the light of his glory as the one who is the resurrection, and the life would not shine.
Jesus delays so Mary, Martha, the disciples, everyone around the tomb, and everyone who reads this story, would see he is more than a healer. His delay unveiled his resurrection power. He is the one who conquers death.
His delay unveiled his resurrection power. He is the one who conquers death.
Death is the enemy none of us can conquer. When Jesus stands at death’s door, however, and commands Lazarus to come back, death loses without a fight. It’s a foretaste of his ultimate victory. When he doesn’t stand outside the tomb and shout, but goes into the tomb himself, and walks out victorious. This is the glory revealed in Lazarus’s story, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Mary and Martha wanted a healthy brother. Jesus gave them so much more.
God’s delay is not him withholding what is best for you. Just like Mary and Martha, there is a particular light of glory he will show you that can only come through his delay. He doesn’t give you what might be good because he desires to give you what is best. He desires you to behold his glory, the glory of the gospel, in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
When God delays, don’t doubt his goodness. Persist in prayer, trust his love, and wait for his perfect timing to reveal Jesus’s glory.