When God Seems Late

Fr Tom Simmons, 5 Lent, April 2, 2017, John 11:1-45

Do you ever feel like God has let you down?

You prayed for something and didn’t get an answer.

Someone dies. Some disaster strikes. You lose your job. You lose your home. Your problem doesn’t go away.

You wonder, “Why?” Why me? Why now? Why didn’t God answer my prayer?

Has God let you down?

When you get into a relationship with God you find his agenda and timing are different from yours.

You’ll be trying to do all the right things and yet it seems he’s not answering your prayers.

He’s delaying. You’re feeling disappointed and confused.

How do you deal with that?

John’s Gospel shows how: Jesus says eight different times, “Believe in me.”

So that’s it. “Just believe.”

But is that satisfying? No.

So, John tells this story of how Jesus deals with Lazarus’ illness and death to convince us WHY we should believe Jesus.

He shows us Jesus’ 1) purpose, 2) presence and 3) power THROUGH our suffering.

John shows us Jesus’ PURPOSE in our suffering. Purpose.

Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is dying so…what does Jesus do?

In v 5, He…delays! He’s late! Why??

Jesus tells us his purpose in v 5: “This illness is for God’s glory… so that the Son of God may be glorified THROUGH it.”

Later he tells his disciples, in v 14 “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I’m glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

So, Jesus will “be glorified” and “so you may believe…” THROUGH the tragedy.

He has a purpose in our suffering and it’s not “pain prevention”.

Here’s the principle: Jesus does his best work when life is at its worst.

God doesn’t just sprinkle pixie dust and “make it all go away”

… which is kind of what a lot of people are praying for.

…which is kind of why a lot of people are mad with Jesus.

So never, never, never ever think that God ISN’T working, no matter how bad it gets. Often when he seems to be absent is when he’s MOST active.

But also never, never ever think that what God is doing is going to MAKE SENSE at the time.

That’s his PURPOSE. He works THROUGH our suffering to turn it all around.  

John shows us Jesus’ PRESENCE in our suffering.

Maybe God feels distant to you.

Martha and Mary thought so too: “Lord if you had been here…”

But is Jesus absent? John shows him with skin in the game….literally.

There he is weeping for Lazarus.

He feels his death as sharply as everyone else…even when he knows his purpose in it.

He goes THROUGH it WITH them.

He’s suffering WITH us.  

When I’m feeling burdened by heartache, or anger, or fear with my gut churning, my heart racing, and my mind spinning – you know that feeling?

Jesus does too.

I go eye-to-eye with the Guy: “Lord I know you know how I am feeling. You dealt with all the same stuff AND WORSE.

He’s nodding sympathetically.

“So, Lord I know you’re with me. Help me to see what I need to see, and do what I need to do, protect me from faithless fear and anger.

“Help me to feel your peace and love and strength and give it others.”

That’s when I feel closest to him. He does his best work when life is at its worst.

It’s good to know our God took the same risks, bore the same losses, endured the same sufferings, and shed the same tears.  

But is he just suffering WITH us? There’s more going on than just that.

He’s suffering FOR us.

Raising Lazarus sealed his fate with the authorities in Jerusalem.

When they heard about it they said, “Now we really need to kill him!”

Helping Lazarus put Jesus on the cross.

He’s the only God who came down – ALL THE WAY down – to save us. To save YOU.

Jesus has a purpose and he is present. He does his best work when life is at its worst.

è Just look what Jesus DOES!

John shows us Jesus’ POWER in our suffering

It’s his most astonishing act in the Gospels…at least up to this point.

He commands them to roll the stone from the Lazarus’ tomb.

As God spoke and his Word in Genesis 1 and gave life to all creation, Jesus speaks and brings life back into Lazarus’ rotting corpse.

It’s easier for Jesus to wake the dead than for you to wake your teenager!

And Jesus only has to yell once!

I remember reading this tory to my 5-year-old daughter Mary V.

She stopped me when the stone was rolled from Lazarus’ tomb. She said, “That’s just like Jesus’ tomb.”

That’s exactly what John wants us to see. Lazarus’ tomb is only a hop, skip and jump to Jesus’ tomb.

Like all of us Jesus was swallowed up in death… but three days later the stone was once again rolled aside and Jesus burst forth alive, triumphant over death, never to die again.

The problem with being Lazarus is he just got resuscitated. He’s got to die AGAIN!

But on Easter morning Jesus was resurrected. He rose from the dead never to die again.

What Jesus DOES shows who Jesus IS.

He told Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me even though he die he will live…”

People ask, “Is Jesus the ONLY way? Is there any other way of salvation?”

One thing is clear reading John. Jesus is the only one with THIS salvation!

There are LOTS of ways of salvation. If you want to try to save yourself with religious observance and being good, help your-self…literally.

But Jesus is the only God who came down…ALL THE WAY down to suffer with and for us. He suffered to save you.

Jesus is the only one who rose again from the grave to give us life. When you see him on Easter morning you see your own destiny.

He’s the only one who ascended to the place of universal oversight.

He is accomplishing his purpose, extending his presence, exercising his power on our behalf in response to our prayers.

And…He does his best work when life is at its worst.


I love that moment when Martha threw herself down crying at Jesus’ feet. “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Jesus said, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me even though he die he will live… Do you believe this?”

Do you?

Let’s tell him so with the Creed.

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