Have you ever failed at something, or gone through something really hard, and yet come out on the other side feeling like it was all worthwhile? Researchers and experts say we learn more through failure and adversity than we do from success. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Some of us have had excellent teachers and coaches in our lives who helped us learn this way, and we are better people because of it.
Jesus, being the master teacher that he is, understood this perfectly. He knew that his disciples weren’t understanding his obscure parables, and they had not yet perceived the real point of his traveling, teaching, and healing. They wouldn’t fully understand until the end, when they had gone through the dark night.
But Jesus kindly gives his disciples and friends a primer in resurrection in John chapter 11. His every action is deliberate and pointed toward a greater end, but again, his friends just don’t get it. Grief can cloud our ability to think clearly in the moment, but afterwards (sometimes long after) we can look back and see what we previously missed; we can sometimes see how everything worked together, not according to our plans, but for the good.
So when Jesus arrives in Bethany just in time for his friend Lazarus’ funeral, his friends Mary and Martha are less than pleased. Jesus doesn’t mince words this time, though. He says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Then he challenges her: “Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replies. “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” It may seem like an odd way to reply, but she is affirming her belief that he is the promised Messiah for whom God’s people had been waiting for hundreds of years.
And yet, in verse 39, when Jesus tells them to roll away the stone, Martha is the first to protest. “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” She said she believed, but she still operated on a sort of theological pragmatism that could not encompass the idea of the physical resurrection of her brother before her very eyes. (Never mind that Jesus just told her that her brother would rise again; she thought he meant at the end of the world, not like, today.)
I suppose we should not be surprised that everyone was so surprised when Lazarus came strolling out of the tomb. Jesus told them that a time would come when all who are in the tombs would hear his voice and come out (5:19), that whoever believes in him would have eternal life (6:47), that he is not from this world (8:23), that he has the authority to lay down his life and take it up again (10:18). He told them a million times in a million different ways, but they just didn’t get it. This is why Jesus weeps in verse 35. His little sheep, so lost and confused and afraid, do not understand or believe or trust him enough. He is moved and troubled. He wants them to rest in him, to abide in him, so they will no longer hunger and thirst. He wants that for you and for me too.
There have been a handful of times in my life when I called my dad to complain about one thing or another that was troubling me, and he would simply ask, “What do you think God is trying to teach you through this?” It’s a maddeningly effective question. While it doesn’t change the circumstances, it does help me to stop and reframe the narrative I may have been playing in my mind. Am I seeing things rightly? Am I responding in a godly way? How can I draw closer to Christ because of this? It is a tiny Lazarus moment for me each time: it takes the focus off my suffering and directs it toward what God is doing, allowing me to see a minuscule portion of his plan unfolding in my life.
Some of the most poignant lessons in our lives are the most painful. Sometimes we have to get burned to learn that fire is hot and how to keep ourselves safe. It hurts so much that we may not realize there is a learning opportunity there in the pain. But, to paraphrase Churchill, if God gives us the courage to continue — which he will — then we will get through to the other side. We can pray, along with the psalmist, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Jesus says in verse 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” When we believe, when we truly believe, we learn to take our eyes off our pain and put them on Jesus, where they belong. And just like that, the master teacher has done it again.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass