When Jesus Isn’t Showing Up

My favorite chapter in the entire Bible is John 11: the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

Whenever we preach sermons or Sunday School lessons about Lazarus, we love to talk about how wonderful and amazing it was that Jesus raised him from the dead. And that certainly is amazing. But I feel that we often miss the point of the story: the part where Jesus doesn’t show up.

While the Bible never really tells us the nature of their relationship, it’s obvious that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were closer to Jesus than most people. They were friends. They deeply cared about one another. They likely shared meals together. In fact, when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, they said that his “dear friend” was sick. If you’ve read most of the Gospels, you would expect at this point for Jesus to drop everything and go to Lazarus, or even say the word right from where He was and heal him (because he’s done that that for other people.)

Instead, He doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t go to Lazarus. He doesn’t even heal him from afar, even though He had that power.

Then Lazarus dies.

Jesus beats around the bush a little with the disciples, saying that Lazarus has “fallen asleep”, and that He is going to wake him up. Naturally, the disciples protest. After all, if he’s sick, he needs to sleep, right? Then Jesus says something that is borderline insensitive:

Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died.
And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there.”

— John 11:14 MSG

I can’t imagine how the disciples felt at this point. Jesus—the miracle-worker—just let one of His best friends die, for their sake?

Then Jesus says something that changes everything:

“You’re about to be given new grounds for believing.”
— John 11:15 MSG

Jesus and His disciples then show up at Mary and Martha’s place. The text says that Martha went out to meet Jesus, but Mary stayed in the house. This is an important detail. Mary was mad. She was grieving. I imagine she was even wondering: does Jesus really even love us?

Jesus calls for Mary, and the Bible says she “left hastily.” Then Mary says something to Jesus that I think you and I often say:

“Lord, if only you had been here…”
— John 11:32 NLT

In the verses following, the Bible tells us that Jesus had a deep anger well up inside of Him. This wasn’t just any anger. This was righteous, compassionate anger. The kind of anger you feel when someone hurts your best friend or your child. The kind of anger you feel when you see hurt and despair on TV.

Then, Jesus wept. This verse has always shocked me a bit—I mean, why was Jesus weeping? Didn’t He know that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead? I think Jesus wept not for His sake, but for our sake. Jesus’ weeping was God leaning into our broken situation and whispering, “I know.”

Then Jesus did the unthinkable. He prayed to His Father—just so everyone would know who He really was—and called for Lazarus. The dead man walked out, still in clothes they buried him in. Jesus took a situation that was beyond hope—after all, Lazarus was dead—and He breathed hope into it. Jesus certainly gave us a “new grounds for believing.”

The reason I love this story so much is because it’s often where you and I live, isn’t it?

God is seemingly coming through for everyone else but us. He’s healing everyone else, giving everyone else the family, friends, and jobs that we want. We feel stuck—and if we’re honest, sometimes we feel a little bit like we’re dying inside. Jesus doesn’t seem to be showing up.

Even if your situation is dead and hopeless,
Jesus is still able to resurrect.

Jesus has given us a “new grounds for believing.” And that, friends, is certainly worth celebrating.

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