I have always loved the story of Lazarus and his resurrection from the dead. It is such a clear picture of Jesus’ power over death and fills me with hope as I look toward eternity. However, there is something else we learn from this encounter that serves as a great reminder as we live out our time on earth, and it has to do with why Lazarus died in the first place.
Martha’s tone is almost accusatory in John 11:21 when she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” If Jesus loves Lazarus (v. 3), and if Jesus is capable of miraculous healing, Martha must be thinking, “Why didn’t he do something to stop my brother from dying?”
Confronting God with accusatory thoughts like this might feel like dangerous territory. But don’t we all wrestle with similar questions at times? Don’t we sometimes wonder why there is so much pain and suffering in the world or why certain events are allowed to happen?
We would have to consider many possible reasons to fully answer this question, but one of these reasons jumps out clearly in John 11. Both in verse 4 and verse 40, Jesus states that the purpose of Lazarus’ death has to do with the glory of God:
“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4
Jesus could have healed Lazarus from the sickness that killed him. He could have spared Mary and Martha from days of grief and mourning. He could have prevented Lazarus from experiencing intense illness and discomfort. But Jesus has a higher priority: the glory of God.
This is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. God is actively working for His glory (cf. Ez. 36:22). This is right for Him to do since He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. Yet, at the same time, we are assured that He is working for our good (cf. Rom. 8:28).
While we are here on earth, we will never be able to fully understand the complexity of God’s plans and purposes. But we can rest in the fact that He works even in the sad and complicated details.
Sometimes God uses the death of a loved one to bring about faith that leads to eternal life. Sometimes God uses hard seasons to draw us into deeper trust in Him. This is for our good, and it is for His glory.
Mary and Martha would have done anything to prevent Lazarus from dying, but they would have missed out on a greater understanding of the power and glory of their Savior! We might not ever comprehend the reason behind some of our earthly trials, but we can find rest and comfort because our loving God is working for His glory and our ultimate good.
Zac Condie serves as the director of Servant Life Missions, where he works with his wife, Danielle. They live in Birmingham, AL, with their three children, Selah, Ellis, and Cal. Zac is a graduate of Baylor University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a big fan of college sports and major league baseball, and his favorite hobbies include reading and fantasy sports.