If you had been here

Published 9:26 am Friday, August 10, 2018

by Charles Qualls

When was the last time you fussed at God pretty well? 

Now publicly, some of you would feel obligated to say never. Your reverence for God, or at least your particular religious enculturation, might not allow you to admit to such a thing. 

We certainly don’t do that collectively in worship. Of course, that’s not really what I’m talking about, is it. No, we fuss at God in secret. Maybe not often. When we do, it’s probably about our most intense and private disappointments, questions and fears. 

If your God can’t take you kicking up your heels now and then, if your God can’t take you being honest to the very core of your spiritual self, then that’s really not much of a God now is it? 

Someone still needs Biblical confirmation of this, though. After all, they just can’t imagine getting upset with God and then expressing that. So, let me remind you to go read the Psalms. Go read Habakkuk. Read Job just for starters.

Jesus got fussed at by no less than two people in our story from John 11: 17-27. To make matters worse, it might have been the very people he least would want to disappoint who were upset with him at the moment.

Knowing only what they knew at the time, understanding only what they had the capacity and experience, it’s perfectly natural that they were upset.

In the face of the news about Lazarus’ health, it could appear that Jesus was taking laidback to a whole new level. 

Jesus was away for a few days.  He had just had a hit-squad threaten to stone him at Jerusalem for saying that he and God-the-Father were “one.” 

That pronouncement, despite all the miraculous works or signs he had just performed, did not sit well with them. They made it clear why they wanted to stone Jesus. 

He and the disciples had moved on to another, safer area for a little while. Actually, they crossed over the Jordan to where John had preached and baptized, including washing the Christ himself. 

It was while he was there that word reached Jesus that Lazarus was gravely ill, unto death.  Inexplicably, Jesus simply stayed where he was.

We can’t read this and pretend we don’t already know how the story will work out. But, the dialogue is compelling on a human level.

Even more, what John will do with stories like this theologically makes sure that our lives never have to be the same! 

If you haven’t ever been threatened, then it’s tough for you and me to fully relate. Jesus had to remember that he was responsible for his entire party of disciples, not just to himself, until his time had finally come.

One day, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” The disciples reminded him, “Lord, they just tried to stone you there!” 

Did you notice that he didn’t even make it back into town? Martha went to meet him outside Bethany before the entourage could even arrive. 

Somehow, I picture Martha with her hand on her hip. Index finger pointed at Jesus. She could do that. She had that kind of relationship with him. Even Mary, plenty laidback herself, repeated the tirade as Jesus finally did get to their house.

“Lord … if you had BEEN here, our brother would not have died.”

Something even bigger than a resurrection was coming. Because together with Martha, in particular, Jesus was about to utter one of the first public affirmations of Him as the Promised One of God. They spoke into place a narrative bridge that connected Jesus’ public ministry with the events related to the final Passover and Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

“I am the resurrection … and the life.” 

The Scripture indicates that until Jesus walked over to the tomb and said, “Lazarus, come out here!” they didn’t understand what Jesus meant by that. I’m not sure we always do, either.

What does this mean for your life and mine?

None of us like the moments when we are so frustrated that even God is a target of our hurt. Then again, here Jesus worked with that pretty gracefully. That’s encouraging.

If he’d hurried back and saved Lazarus’ life when the cry for help first went out, I doubt we’d have heard the dramatic affirmation. Nor believed right then. Not quite in this way. Because Martha never would’ve fussed at him. So he wouldn’t have responded in such a teachable way. 

“I am the resurrection and the life.” As we draw closer to him, and live a little more like the resurrected Jesus, we find “life” ourselves. Life out of death. Turns out, he wasn’t kidding.

REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.