“FOUR DAYS LATE, BUT RIGHT ON TIME!”
By Frank G. Tunstall
“Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb [of Lazarus]. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said” (John 11:38).
This is the second time the Apostle John used the phrase translated as “deeply moved” to describe Jesus’ emotions (see vs. 33). As Jesus approached the tomb, He felt very disturbed; righteous anger and indignant also fit. For so long—millennia, in fact—death had reigned as a cruel, virtually absolute despot over the sons of Adam. Generation after generation had lived their entire lives in fear of the Grim Reaper (Hebrews 2:13–15; Romans 5:15, 21).
It would be in keeping with the emotions of “deeply moved” to read the statement, Jesus firmly commanded, “Take away the stone!”
The Lord ordered them to do what they could do, thereby involving them in the miracle. Then He did what only He could do.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days” (John 11:39). Martha on the outskirts of Bethany had implied Jesus could resurrect her brother on the spot. Her “even now” expression (11:22) had evidenced this great confidence. She had received Jesus testimony affirming He was the resurrection and the life, and confessed Him as the Son of God and her Messiah. She also gave a strong witness to her sister, telling Mary Jesus was asking for her. But at the tomb, Martha’s response was, “By now the smell will be terrible, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 TLB). Consumed by what appeared to be the sovereign finality of death, she had moved from “Even now…” back to, Jesus, you’re too late!
The big question in that tense moment was who was sovereign at Lazarus’ tomb? Yes, death can be very intimidating, but this story shows the grave is not supreme.
Four days late? Or right on time?
“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you if you believed, you would see the glory of God’?” (John 11:40). This is clearly a rebuke, spoken with a kind tone, but said firmly. Please consider this meaning:
Martha, it is never too late for God. You are focused on what has always been and it is motivating you to accept death as the victor. But I am anticipating the new order. I have come to turn the impossible into the new reality. You are about to see the Grim Reaper thoroughly shamed and soundly defeated. And the glory of God, in the new tomorrow of victory over death, will be so wonderful as to make the pain of these recent days only a faint memory.
Suffering Benefits by Aiding the Discovery of New Meaning
This resurrection scene shows suffering helps people find fresh freedom as they discover higher, redemptive reasons for the ups and downs of life. Suffering enables us to think through what is most important, as we awaken to our true priorities. Job’s story is an example.
Job’s anguish was incomprehensible. He lost his children, houses and land, wealth and fortune, and his own health. Amid Job’s inconceivable suffering, even his wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9); yet his faith held. “Though he slay me,” Job said, “yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:8). Job lost everything, except this one most important thing: “I know my redeemer lives…” (Job 19:25). Anyone who knows what Job knew is a free person, and wealthy too!
Yes, Job’s suffering helped him perceive new meaning in his life.
It does the same for us too. In this ultimate sense of what is truly important, Jesus is the only priority that matters. C. T. Studd (1860–1931), a British missionary to China and founder of the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade International, expressed it:
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I’m dying, how happy I’ll be
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for thee.”
This understanding makes even suffering a friend. It liberates us to live in the freedom of eternal hope, no matter the pain the sin curse lays on us. The writer of Hebrews asked his readers to look back:
“Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back.
“So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion… But anyone who is right with me thrives on loyal trust; if he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy.
But we’re not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We’ll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way” (Hebrews 10:32– 39 MSG).
Andrea Crouch (1942-2015) expressed it in song:
Through it all,
Through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God.
Through it all,
Through it all,I’ve learned to depend upon His word.
“They took away the stone” (John 11:41). Moving beyond our suffering always embraces removing our “stone” too, even if it is cherished granite! Think about it. What is the “rock” keeping you in a “tomb?” You must remove it for your faith to blossom into your full potential in God.
Dead Beyond Dispute
The Apostle John included seven miracles in his book, and each of them in its own way makes the same point: only the Son of God can do such things! But the seventh is the pinnacle. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, not merely twenty minutes, or perhaps an hour. His body had already begun to decompose. Everyone in the village knew Lazarus had died four days earlier and had been buried. Two miles to the west, many in Jerusalem also knew it. And the mourners—especially the mourners—had been crying profusely with Mary and Martha; they certainly knew the facts. Lazarus’ death and burial had many first-hand witnesses. The miracle left no room for doubt.
The “After” to Suffering
A great principle of life is unveiled in Luke’s introduction to the book of Acts. Luke wrote that the Lord showed himself alive with many infallible proofs “after his suffering,” (Acts 1:3 KJV). We conclude, because Jesus was raised from the dead, there is always an after to our suffering. Yes, all suffering has a time line on it. Although we do not always know the duration, one day we will leave our suffering behind. The ultimate expression of this principle occurs when we part this life for our eternal home.
Mt. Everest in the Asian Himalayas, at 29,029 feet is the world’s tallest mountain and the “roof of the world.” The grand result about to happen in Bethany foreshadowed another and far greater miracle. Jesus Himself in a few more days would die on a cross and then rise from the grave on the third day. This world changing event in Jerusalem has lived in history as the supreme miracle of all time, the “Mt. Everest of miracles,” and the utmost ceiling of the miraculous.
The tension around the tomb was almost touchable as the observers wondered what Jesus might do next. What He did was look up and begin to pray. “Father,” He said, “I thank you that you have heard me. I knew you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, so that they may believe you sent me” (John 11:41-42).
“I thank you that you have heard me” indicates the close bond between Jesus and His Father. Their communication in this situation had started in Bethabara east of the Jordan River, and continued throughout the hard climb uphill to Bethany. Jesus implicitly trusted His Father. He expected His Father and the Holy Spirit to give Him the guidance in His humanity to meet the need perfectly in Bethany. The bond between the incarnate Son of Man and His Heavenly Father was so firm Jesus added, “I knew you always hear me.” Jesus’ prayer is a model of trust.
This prayer is also a portrait of the Lord’s tender care for the very raw emotions of Mary and Martha, their mourners, and the townsfolk. “I said it because of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me” (John 1:42 TLB). Jesus wanted each of them, including the disciples, to discover a whole new level of meaning by experiencing the faith in God capable to lead them to inherit eternal life (John 11:14).
Yes, Jesus was four days late, but right on time.
“Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). The translation of loud voice comes from the Greek word from which we get the word, megaphone. It was a very strong, booming exclamation; thunderous enough, no doubt, for all devils to hear it too. The authority of that yell must have frightened the onlookers; they probably had never heard that kind of shout. It brings to mind Israel’s roar when the walls of Jericho fell down flat (Joshua 6:5).
This loud command represents par excellence the power of Jesus over death. Jesus expressed it in a three-word command, and it showed He was the divine logos, the first word and the final word, the authoritative Word, the resurrection Word.
Lord we don’t understand
Why you waited so long.
But His way is God’s way
Not yours or mine.
And isn’t it great,
When He’s four days late,
He’s still on time; He’s still on time.
Oh my God …
When He’s four days late He’s still on time.
By: Karen Peck and New River
The topic next week, as we move toward Passion Week 2018, will be
“The Overwhelming Extent of the Miracle.”
This study of the story of Lazarus is based on John 11 and is excerpted and adapted from Jesus Son of God, Book Two, by Dr. Tunstall. If you would like to read more of the author’s work, go to Amazon.Com, or Great Command Ministries.Com, and visit the digital Bookstore.