We’re in week 4 of a series called Can’t Believe in which we’re looking through the Gospel of John at 7 kinds of people who could not bring themselves to believe, and how Jesus dealt with each of them. (8 students at CH)
This week we are looking at ”the disappointed”-those who can’t believe because they think God didn’t show up when he should have-some miracle he didn’t do; some question he didn’t answer; something he shouldn’t have done but didn’t.
I recently read an article about Ted Turner, the creator of CNN and TBS, media mogul and multi--billionaire. He became a very outspoken atheist in his 20’s (although he’s backed off of it now), screams filled the house. Ted regularly came home and held her hand, trying to comfort her. He prayed for her recovery; she prayed to die. After years of misery and struggling, she died. Ted’s dad, Ed Turner, said, ”If that’s the type of God He is, I want nothing to do with Him.” That had a powerful effect on Ted, and Ted lost his faith. ‘I was taught that God was love and God was powerful,’ he said in an interview later, ‘and I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.’ On March 5, 1963, Ted’s dad had breakfast with his wife, went upstairs, put a .38 inside his mouth and pulled the trigger.” That sealed the deal for Ted. ”If that’s the type of God He is, I want nothing to do with Him.”1
Bart Ehrman, our famous friendly neighborhood skeptic here at Chapel Hill, says this is the reason he lost his faith. He says, ”I think that if, in fact, God Almighty appeared to me and gave me an explanation that could make sense even of the torture, dismemberment, and slaughter of innocent children, and the explanation was so overpowering that I actually could understand, then I’d be the first to fall on my knees in humble submission and admiration. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Hoping that it will is probably just wishful thinking, a leap of faith made by those who are desperate both to remain faithful to (a) God (they want to believe in) and to (cope) with the harsh realities of the world.”2
Even if you haven’t lost your faith, a lot of us have gone through a time when we wonder where God is… God, why? In 1960 C. S. Lewis lost his wife to a painful bout with bone cancer, and he wrote, (”I can’t understand why God is always there when things are going well, telling you what he expects of but when he was in high school he was on fire for Jesus. He was planning to be a missionary. When he was 15 his younger sister, Mary Jane, 12, contracted lupus, a degenerative tissue disease. For several years her body was racked with pain and constantly vomiting, ”But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once… Why is God so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”3 This was a long time after he became a Christian. This never makes it on everyone’s ”favorite CS Lewis quotes” page. Now, he made it through this, and his faith ultimately was strengthened in it, but he articulates what many of us feel.
So here is question for the weekend: What do you do when God disappoints you? Lose your faith: like Ted Turner or Bart Ehrman, God’s not there, probably never has been. Isolate the question from your faith: remain superficial. Press deeper in your faith. The times in my life when I asked the hardest questions, when I struggled, and doubted God, even-that was when my faith grew the most, became the sweetest. Spurgeon said that doubt and pain are like a foot poised… The depths of God’s love can often be known best in the depths of despair.
That’s the question considered in John 11.
For some of you, the question may not be this extreme: You may not be about to lose your faith, but you are frustrated at God because your lives are not going according to plan. All your friends are getting married right now, but you aren’t. Your friends are getting jobs or promotions but it’s not working out for you. When I was in seminary, I had several friends that were getting these great ministry jobs and I wasn’t.
I was working the French fry machine at a restaurant. God, why aren’t you coming through for me? Or maybe you are not having kids. Or you are approaching retirement and it’s not looking good. Or your kids didn’t turn out right. You always thought you’d be close but you’re estranged-and if you’re honest, you’re angry at God about it. Or you’re in your 40’s and your husband just walked out. Or your parents got divorced. And you’re like, ”God, I don’t understand it. How can this be your perfect plan?”
Vs. 12-13, the disciples are like, ”Well, Lord, if he’s asleep, he’ll wake up.” So Jesus told them plainly, ”Lazarus has died…” Can’t you see Jesus just rolling his eyes here? ”Really, guys, that’s what you thought I meant? That I’m going to take a 2 day walk to wake Lazarus up from a nap?”
Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, ”Where have you laid him?” They said to him, ”Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept. (Gr. burst into tears4)
I want to focus here on how Jesus responds to the two sisters in this story, because I think understanding what Jesus says to the disappointed hinges on the 2 reactions Jesus gave.
Mary and Martha made the exact same statement to Jesus- verbatim, ”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”-but Jesus responds to each of them in two completely different ways. Not because they have two different personalities or he loves them differently.
But because when you are disappointed with Jesus, you need both of these things. Martha said to Jesus, ”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha has the same problem we do. ”God, where were you? You could have fixed this. Why didn’t you come?” Acerbic?
To Martha, he gives a theological answer: ”I am the resurrection and the life.” The one who lives and believes in me will never truly die. Even when he does die, he won’t really be dead because I’ll reverse all that.”
Let me stop here and build you, very briefly, a theological case for SUFFERING. The objection is ”If God is so good, and he could stop suffering, why doesn’t he?” So does the fact that he doesn’t prove he’s not really there!
There are 3 important biblical truths to understand about suffering-you’ve got to get all 3 of these (they really are not that hard): Suffering is the result of the curse of death on our sin.
God created this world with no suffering-perfect, in a condition called ‘shalom.’ It was our sin, our rebellion that brought God’s curse upon ourselves. Most of the objections raised against God about suffering are built on the assumption that we as a human race deserve good things-we’re owed good things-and God is unjust for not giving them to us. We talk about the ”problem of evil.” Why do bad things happen to us good, innocent people? The Bible takes an entirely opposite approach. As a race, we rebelled against God, a rebellion we have all voluntarily participated in, and the just result of that was the curse of death. What we deserve is death. The fact that there is still good in the world-sunshine on our faces and food in our stomachs and happiness-that’s all grace. And the fact that God has given us a space to repent and to teach our children to repent-that is unspeakable grace. The Bible doesn’t wrestle with the problem of evil so much as it marvels at amazing grace. Luke 13. The question in the story: Why are we surprised? As sinners, to put God on trial for our suffering as if somehow he was unjust is what Jewish people called ”chutzpah,” which they defined as the audacity of a guy who kills his mom and dad and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. We shouldn’t be asking, ”Why is all this bad stuff happening in the world?” We’re why! We sinned. Why me? Why not me? So, truth 1: all the suffering in the world is the result of the curse of death for our sin. Now: to clarify. I’m not saying that you ever look at a particular instance of suffering and tie it to a particular sin. The Bible never tells us to think that way… that ‘this’ happened because of that.
Well, he got cancer because he wasn’t a good husband. Or ‘you had a miscarriage’ because God was paying you back for your sexual promiscuity in college. That’s never how the Bible instructs us to think about suffering. We live in a world of suffering because we rebelled against God and that suffering affects us all because we all, as a race, participated in the curse. God (in his love and mercy) has reversed the curse by suffering it in our place. The only truly innocent sufferer ever in history was Jesus. He was the only man ever to live entirely free from rebellion and thus exempt from the curse of death, but when he got to the end of his life rather than being rewarded he submitted to the curse of death voluntarily. But when he did, he overturned the curse of death and started the process of healing. That healing begins by cancelling our sin debt by nailing it to the cross and reconciling us to God; it dramatically affects our inward psychological state and soon our relationships; one day soon it will extend to our bodies in full when we are resurrected perfect and without pain, and Jesus’ healing eventually will extend to all corners of our world as God re-- establishes shalom to the earth through the blood of the cross-because he took our corruption and nailed it to a cross and disarmed the abusive powers and put them away forever. Jesus is the one who will make the oceans recede and heal the planet. God now uses our suffering redemptively: for his glory and our good. His glory. There are some things that God can demonstrate about himself to the world through our pain better than he can any other way. For our good: There are some things God can teach us about himself through our pain better than he can any other way.
Now, some people balk at that last point and say: ”All pain, for God’s glory, our good? What about the Holocaust? Sept 11? How can you say the Holocaust was in any way good for the Jew?”
But you’re forgetting truth #1, that suffering is the just result of the curse of death for our sin. We live in a world under the curse of sin… and just like the sun comes up and ”randomly” shines on both good people and bad people, the curse of death in the world and (in some ways) ”indiscriminately” affects us all. You say, ”Does that mean that God is not sovereign over all of it?” No, he’s sovereign, but you have expand your understanding of sovereignty. Think of it like this: You have 100 people standing in a field. The sun comes up. All of them are warmed. God doesn’t individually shine the sun on a few people and leave others out. In the same way, the curse of death is at work in the world, which causes disease, deteriorating relationships, accidents, and it extends to all. And I’m not saying ever single bad act on earth leads to a good act, as if every Jewish family that died in the holocaust can say, ”See the good that came into my family through that?” No, sometimes the system as a whole serves the bigger picture of God’s glory, which is for our good as we see the glory of God, his holiness and majesty. But, for the believer, however, God has taken the sting out of death and suffering and promised now to use it for our good and his glory. So in every seemingly ”random” bad thing I know he is working redemptively for his purposes. Paul says that ”all things work together for good to them that love God” that they might be reformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28), and that ”God works all things according to the counsel of his will” so that we would ”resound to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:11); This is why Joseph could say to those who committed grave injustices against him that ”what you meant for evil, God re--purposed for good.” (Gen 50:20).
Let me show you how this plays out in this story, because in it you’ll see all these things present, an you’re going to see a pattern for all suffering:
You’ve got to notice the contrast: She was expecting the stench de--composition; but he knew that what they would find is the glory of re--composition.
I think in this you can see a picture of how God, in all pain, works for good. In the pain in your life you expect to find the decay of de-- composition, but when God rolls away the stone what you find is that he has re--purposed your pain for good. Sometimes he rolls the stone away on earth, and you get to see what he was doing. You see the glory of re--composition. Hasn’t that happened to you? Something bad happened to you and you couldn’t figure out what God was doing, but just a few short years later you see how he was using it for good? Other times you don’t get to see him roll away the stone in this life. When you go into eternity and you see… rest assured that he was working in all things for your good and his glory, and what will overwhelm you about all things in your life is that they resound with the re--glory of re--composition, not the decay of de--composition. And I know you can’t see that now… but if you can already see a purpose for some of the pain in your life it, don’t you think given enough time and space you’ll see a reason for all of it? And I assure you, he will roll back every stone For the believer, Paul calls our suffering a ”light and momentary affliction.” (like birth pangs.) Birth pangs are terrible, or so I am told. ”We’re pregnant.” But as severe as they are they are immediately swallowed up in the glory of the little child that is revealed. Doesn’t mean your pain is not real… it just means that you endure it differently. You hear two people moaning in pain in the hospital room next to you. What emotion does it cause in you? Well, if the person is in the final throes of dying, it’s depressing. If it is a woman giving labor, it’s different, right? You might feel sympathy, but even in the pain there is a joy because you know the pain is temporary and soon to be swallowed up by the glory of the child coming through that pain. Pain and suffering for believers is like birth pangs, not like the despairing cries of the dying. Suffering in this life is real, but the next life is forever. And in light of forever the pain of this moment will disappear. I heard a guy once describe a recurring dream about his wife dying… terrible dream. But he said he loved the 1st few minutes waking up. Because everything sad became untrue. That is what happens in the resurrection. Everything sad becomes untrue; God takes all pain and undoes it in resurrection power.
Now there is one other detail here that you can’t miss (any treatment of suffering that leaves this out is deficient)
See that phrase, ”deeply moved”? (appears once vs. 33 and again in vs. 38) Scholars say ”deeply moved” is a terribly deficient translation, but English doesn’t have a great word for this Greek word, embriMAOmi. One scholar says the word, literally translated, is ”snort.” But that’s awkward in English. It really has the connotation of an animal snorting in anger (as if getting read to charge).”5 John Calvin says this word indicates Jesus is about to enter the ring ”like a wrestler preparing for a contest with a hated foe. The violent tyranny of death which He came to overcome now stands before His eyes.”6 His groan is not one of sympathy, but preparation for battle.
Vs. 43, Jesus shouts at death in a loud voice. Snorting, yelling, shouting. Do you see what is happening? Jesus is entering the ring with mankind’s greatest enemy. This is when, if you are writing the soundtrack to the Gospel of John, you’d start playing the ”Rocky” theme. Now, the other thing that is interesting is that John points out (in vs. 47) that this event, the raising of Lazarus, would trigger the events that would lead in Jesus’ death. This fight started in chapter 11 with Jesus yelling and shouting at death, but it would end 8 chapters later in the crucifixion, with Jesus going full--body contact with death, absorbing the curse of death we deserved in our place, and snapping the neck of death through his death. The only way Jesus could interrupt the funeral of Lazarus was to start his own. As a dude, I love this because I always heard Jesus presented in these soft, feminine terms. JESUS KNOCKS SOFTLY AND TENDERLY… COMES IN AND GIVES YOU HOLY GHOST KISSES AND ETERNAL SNUGGLES, CLEANS UP YOUR HOUSE, DOES THE DISHES… I’M SURE THAT’S ALL CORRECT. This is a man shouting at the greatest enemy ever to face those that he loved and destroying it even when it took his life. It reminds me of one of the September 11 movie: Person in the rubble. ”Leave you?” That’s our job. Jesus says, ”Leave you? That’s what I came to do. I won’t ever leave you. Not now. Not ever.”
Before we end this, let’s go back and pick up Jesus’ reaction to Mary, because it is a much shorter, simpler, reaction, but it is important.
Mary, vs. 32,  ”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Again, the exact same thing Martha had said. But notice the new detail.  When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  Jesus wept. (Again, Gr. ”burst into tears”) I’ve always thought these tears were a little odd. Did he not know that in 10 minutes Lazarus would be out of the grave and they’d be re--united? Yes! He knew that from the beginning of chapter 11. Well then, why didn’t he just say, ”Don’t cry! I’ll fix it!” Why weep with Mary if in 10 minutes the issue is resolved? To give you a picture of how Jesus goes through suffering with you. THIS IS THE REACTION OF A FRIEND. (ANSWERS; SNORTS; WEEPS-PHILOSOPHER; SAVIOR; FRIEND) You see, even when Jesus knows the pain is temporary, he knows what it feels like for you, and he weeps with you. That’s how I know a friend loves me. They weep when I weep. Ten minutes is not that much different to Jesus than 10,000 years. He can already see the beautiful end to your story, to see that all suffering is swallowed up in the glorious resurrection of what will be revealed. HE CAN ALREADY SEE THE PARENTS WHO LOST A CHILD… But when you’ve lost someone, as much as you tell yourself you’ll see them again in eternity, it’s still painful now. When you are lonely, and hurt-it is painful. Sometimes what you need is not theological answers, you need the presence of a Savior who feels your pain and weeps with you. What a friend we have in Jesus. ”He took our sin and our sorrow, and he made it his very own. He bore our burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone.” He feels, as his own, every broken--heart, every shattered dream, every sorrow.
There was another time in Jesus’ life that he wept, but nobody was there to weep with him. The Gospels tell us in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus was weep with such great anguish that the capillaries in his face would burst. But no one would respond. The Father turned his face away.
He would ask his disciples to stay awake with him, but they’d all fall asleep. He would die friendless, and Godless.
Because of that, I know he’ll never forsake me. He was forsaken so I could never be. He died so that all that could ever separate me from God would be removed, so I would never have a season of suffering where God would not hear me in my pain or he would not weep with me in my pain.
He cried alone and died alone so when I cry and die I’ll never be alone.
Story I have told you before: D.G. Barnhouse: Death or its shadow? I’ll never face abandonment or corruption. I just get that shadow because he got the sting. Ps 23, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Never. Never. Never will he leave. Never, never, never will he turn his face away or not feel my pain.
Sometimes you need to understand the theological answer. Sometimes you need simply to know that he is there. That he is present. That he is fully committed to you and fully in control.
For those of you that are disappointed: What if Jesus appeared to you and told you, ”This is for the glory of God.” And he assured you that he loved you. You saw him weep in your pain. And that he was fully in control. Could you endure-if you knew it was all working for the glory of God; that he was fully in control and completely in love with you?
Of course you could.
By the way, anybody know where Lazarus is today? Guess what? He died again. But this time, no resurrection.
Don’t you think that the next time Mary and Martha buried their brother (if that’s what happened), they did so with the knowledge that Jesus can heal whenever he wants, and ultimately he will, and when he doesn’t he’s fully in control and pursuing a greater plan that leads to God’s glory and our good? Yes. I’m sure they knew that. And so can you.
John 20:31 tells you that all these things that Jesus did were signs; they were simply physical, temporal demonstrations of God’s eternal plan. Just as Jesus’ apparent absence did not indicate he’d lost control or faltered in his love, his apparent absence in your life doesn’t indicate that either.
”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” HE IS THERE! He’s always there. But you might be in day 2 and feel like Jesus hasn’t shown up. Or maybe Lazarus has been dead 4 days and still no sign of Jesus yet. Hang on. He’s coming. And his delay is for his glory and your good.
Now, one quick objection: ”Maybe I’m suffering because I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I lost my job… maybe I keep destroying potential marriage relationships because I…” That’s why God gave you the church, to help you see that. So if you’re making dumb decisions they can point it out. But we can also help you see when the delay in your life is appointed by the sovereignty of God.
Summit: We worship, we believe, at the feet of one who has power over death! Do you realize the raw power this shows? He can bring anyone out of grave with just one word. Augustine said that had Jesus not specified Lazarus, every tomb in Jerusalem would have given up their dead.”7 Do you realize this is the power of the one who walks beside you, with you, and is at work in you? If he can do this, what could he not do? What is he not worthy of? What kind of worship reaction should that solicit from us?
We react not to a prophet who gives tips for living, but a Savior who faced our greatest enemy and rescued us!
Invitation: Are you really going to resist him? He’s the only one who can overcome your greatest problem. The death rate is holding steady at 100%. Do you want to live forever? He’s your only hope. We’re going to give an invitation again: Salvation from today, or last 4 weeks? Have doubted Jesus’ love or power and just need to pour out your heart to him? Either way, we want to pray with you.
Counselors at BACK