John paints the scene with graphic interest. Here is Bethany, the only place on earth that the Lord could feel at home. And tragically, the sweet oasis of Bethany is disrupted by death. Bethany, as Jesus knew it, had come to an end.
When Jesus became aware of this, He was master of the situation. He was in complete control, free of worry and hurry. He heard from His Father on the situation and obeyed His leading. Even though He was visibly disturbed, there was no tremor in His voice.
It was dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea because of the fatal fury of the Jews. Judea’s death squads had recently tried to kill Him. So He lingered by the Jordan.
Perhaps that’s why Mary and Martha were reluctant to call for Him. Yet they eventually sent Him a message informing Him of their brother’s sickness.
When Jesus approached the village, Martha acted according to character. She ran impulsively to see Him, almost chiding Him for not coming sooner.
Mary also acted according to character. When she came into the presence of Christ, she fell at His feet and began to weep.
The scene was chaotic, the air thick with grief. Mourning and sorrow were everywhere. A chorus of women from Bethany and nearby Jerusalem bemoaned the death of Lazarus. God’s greatest enemy had taken the one whom Jesus loved.
So there was death in Bethany. But there was also resurrection.
In resurrection, God starts all over with a new creation. But resurrection always follows suffering and death.
Herein lies an important lesson. If you will make a home for the Lord Jesus Christ, hard times will come. Crisis will come. Suffering will come. Even death—in some form—will come.
Suffering is worldwide and neck deep. But for the Christian, suffering has a special purpose. It’s the chiseling of God designed to transform you into the image of His Son.
Information doesn’t produce transformation. Suffering that leads us to embrace Christ does.
Imagine a strong-willed Christian in his early thirties. We’ll call him Jeff. Jeff is naturally gifted to preach. People follow him easily. He is strong in himself, opinionated, quick to answer. But though he speaks powerfully, you don’t sense Christ from him.
Jeff is serving God with all burners cranked too high. Through various circumstances, God brings a crisis into his life, one that causes him to become unglued. The gears come to a halt. God stops him cold, and Jeff is left sucking air. The Lord knows exactly how to take the wind out of our sails to slow us down.
Jeff has just met a God who he thought he understood. However, the Lord is suddenly elusive, and Jeff finds himself reeling for a while. He feels stuck. Limited. Confused. Frustrated.
Jeff puts his ministry on hold. In his confusion, he begins to seek the Lord, and he also receives counsel from an older believer seasoned in suffering.
Several years pass, and the cloud lifts. Jeff is different. He’s not so quick to answer. He’s less sure, less opinionated. But when he speaks, you sense the Lord. You touch the life of Jesus Christ.
What happened? There’s been a resurrection, and with it, some transformation.
Chisel it in stone: you can’t have a resurrection without a death. And you can’t know the transforming triumph of Christ without a crisis. You can’t know the hills without the valleys, and you can’t make a sailor with calm seas. We easily forget this when we’re going through the northeast corner of hell.
A word of encouragement: if your foundations are in Jesus Christ, then you can weather the storm. You can endure the crisis. You can put your asbestos suit on and walk through the fire because you are standing on Him who is the Immovable Rock.
Sometimes God will deliver you from trouble. Oftentimes He will deliver you through it.
Yet resurrection is always on the other side … if you stand and endure.
A Spirit-led man or woman is someone who has faced tragedy, faced loss, looked unbearable and exquisite pain in the face … and has stood his or her ground.
With their garments still smoking, these men and women have said before God, mortals, and angels: “It is well with my soul. The Enemy has thrown his best at me, and I’m still here. I’m still on the Rock. I’ve not sunk. I’m still standing. I’ve not been destroyed, and I’ve not gone under. I will continue to follow my Lord, come hell or high water. He is still on the throne!”
“Having done all, stand. Stand therefore” . . . on the Rock that never moves.
Be encouraged, dear child of God. If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?
No matter how tight the screws get, you press on … by Him, through Him, and to Him.
As Winston Churchill once put it, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Adapted from one of Frank Viola’s book, frankviola.org