I put on a cartoon for Liam about Lazarus on Easter Sunday before church. Of course, I would have preferred for him to watch one about Jesus rising from the dead, but we didn’t have access to an episode like that (or so I thought), so a show about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead would have to do.
My intention was to distract Liam enough to catch up on my Bible reading that morning, but I got slightly caught up in the show and instead found myself journaling about something the “narrator” stated to the main characters of the animation. He simply told them, as they traveled back into Bible times, that they were about to meet two women that learned that God’s timing is always perfect.
The scene and statement were so simple. Just a moment on screen to transition the characters to Bible times and nothing too impactful. Except it was. To me. It penetrated my soul that day.
Most of my life has been one lesson after another of learning to trust in God’s timing, and this year has been an especially intense season of learning that. God seems to be driven to rid me of the notion that I’ve done all the “important” things too late in life, and I’m slowly grasping onto that truth, but it’s a lesson in progress with which I still must come to grips and accept.
As I sat at the kitchen table that morning, touched by the simple scene on screen, I sat down and journaled that what we often think of as “too late” is often times the perfect backdrop for God to display His glory in ways that surpass our imaginations, ways we never would have seen had God done things according to our own timing.
This was certainly true for Mary and Martha, the two women introduced in the cartoon that day. They sent for Jesus while Lazarus was still alive so that He would come and heal their brother. But He didn’t come. Not right away, at least. Then the unthinkable happened. Lazarus died, and he was placed in a tomb and mourned for several days. But even so, Jesus was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until Lazarus’ corpse had been decaying in a tomb for four days that Jesus finally showed up, much too late according to Mary and Martha’s estimation.
You can hear the disappointment dripping off their words as they see Jesus for the first time since their brother’s passing.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died…”1 both sisters respond to Him separately upon seeing Him again, their hopelessness palpable.
They knew full well that Jesus could have kept this tragedy from happening, and yet He didn’t. Nonetheless, Jesus stated earlier that this sickness would not end in death, and ultimately it did not, because Jesus raised Lazarus to life moments later, and many Jews present because of Lazarus’ death believed in Jesus as a result.
Mary and Martha would soon realize that Jesus was not too late. He had been intentional in His timing so as to not only bring Lazarus back to life but to also bring to life many Jews who had been spiritually dead. And through it all, Mary and Martha better understood who Jesus was. They saw Him mourn with them. They saw His compassion. And they saw just how powerful He was to be able to command death. They learned so many things about Jesus that they never would have known had His timing not been what it was. And although they suffered deeply for a few days before they could see what Jesus was up to, I can’t help but think that they must have ultimately been grateful for what His timing was in retrospect.
Their “too late” certainly paved the way for Jesus to display His glory in ways they could have never imagined. This moment was perhaps the highlight of their life, all made possible because of the timing of this miracle, the timing that must have seemed so off to these women just a few days prior.
This story has been meaningful to me for quite some time now, but I grow to appreciate it all the more when I consider my own struggles with timing. And I continue to learn from it as times goes by.
Recently I have been considering Martha’s response more in light of listening to this passage anew at my younger sister’s church when I got a chance to visit her several weekends ago.
After Martha’s initial response to Jesus, He told her that her brother would rise again.2 But instead of taking His words at face value, “Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24 ESV).
She could not understand what Jesus intended to do. Nonetheless, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ESV).
When asked if Martha believed this, she confessed that she did, but it becomes clear a few verses later that she still did not understand when she expressed concern over the stench that would fill the air after Jesus commanded the stone sealing Lazarus’ tomb to be rolled away.
But the stone was rolled away regardless, and Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb! He was brought back to life that day, and Martha finally understood. Her faith reached new heights.
I find Martha to be so relatable among believers. God may promise us something that He intends to fulfill this side of heaven, but instead of believing Him for it and waiting on His timing, we instead choose to believe that it must be a promise to be fulfilled on the last day due to our own fear or simple lack of faith. And while certain promises very well be that way, perhaps there are certain promises that God would want us to hold onto for today, for this earthly life.
As Jesus stated to Martha, He is the resurrection and the life. Perhaps the hopes and dreams that we’ve buried in our own graves and have been mourning for some time are meant to be resurrected by Jesus today. Because, although our circumstances may tell us that it is too late, it is certainly not too late for God. Perhaps this present timing is the very thing He is using as the perfect backdrop to display His glory in ways that surpass our imaginations, ways we never would have seen had God done things according to our own timing. May He help us to believe Him for whatever He would put on our hearts to believe Him for today, and may our faith reach new heights as a result.
1 John 11:21 and John 11:32b ESV
2 John 11:23 ESV