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Sickness, Death, Love and Belief: All for the Glory of God (John 11:1-16) – Mark Ottaway

Living for Eternity

Sickness, Death, Love, and Belief: All for the Glory of God

John 11:1-16


Turn to John 11. We certainly have seen many threads flowing through this gospel. We have seen that Jesus is the Light of the world, and then He healed the blind man, a man who lived in darkness his whole life. Jesus said that he was the bread of life, and then he fed the five thousand. Jesus also said that He came to give abundant life, and He healed the man who could not walk. Jesus said that He was the Saviour of the world, and He came and forgave the adulterous woman. And last week we saw Jesus defend His Person before the Jews, in the midst of great opposition. He continued to tell them, look to My works and You will then know who I am.


Well, now as we turn another page to John 11, where we see where Jesus is confronted with the ultimate test. Where okay Jesus You have said many things and You have backed up Your claims by what You have done. Agreed. But now Jesus, You have claimed to be the Giver of Eternal Life. You said in John 10 that You are the Good Shepherd. And in verse 28, You said about Your sheep, I give them eternal life. So, here it is Jesus, a man who is dying physically, what can you do for him? See, what we are learning about Christ is that He is able to overcome any obstacle. He is able to conquer everything. All the tragedies in our lives and all the tragedies of the world: WWI, WWII, 911, the massive flooding in New Orleans, the current wars in Ukraine and Israel, and many other tragedies around the world. That Jesus is over them all. Not that Jesus steps in and does all that we might expect or believe needs to be done, but understand that Jesus is the Eternal Word. Jesus created everything. And in the Father’s will and in Jesus’ will everything has a purpose and nothing happens outside of that purpose. So, now Jesus is confronted with the greatest of tests, after stating that he gives eternal life, and He hears that a man is dying. And notice before we get into our story today, I want you to see the reason that Lazarus is dying, indicating that there are bigger purposes for each and everything goes on that is not necessarily on our radar, teaching us that the question of “why”, things that we might ask “why.” The answers may be beyond us.

“But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’”

John 11:4 (LSB)


Interesting, that when the man who was born blind in John 9, the question might have been, Lord, why would something so tragic like this happen. That this man would have to go around his whole life not being able to see? Turn back:

“And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this was so that the works of God might be manifested in him.’”

John 9:2-3 (LSB)


And we can look around the world today and say, Lord, why is all this happening? And the answer is actually clear in the Bible, that it is revealing the glory of God. That is not the answer we might usually think of or might even want at the time. That as we might ponder the hard thing our neighbour or someone in our family is going through is somehow for God’s glory? In John 17, think of this, Jesus has lived for 33 years of His life. Much of it in poverty, no home, being rejected, and He is about to die on a cross, and He prays to the Father saying, Father, the hour has come, glorify Your Son. See, the greatest Man in all the earth, Jesus Christ, who created the universe, the One who promises to look after and care for every one of His sheep, is over every event, He controls all things, and He has a purpose and plan for your life and has a purpose and plan for His entire world. You do not say things like I am the Eternal Word; or I am before all things; or before Abraham, I am; or (John 16:33) “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” You cannot say these things truthfully and not have control of the world and not have a divine plan for the world. And here in our passage, Jesus tells us that the death of His friend Lazarus is for the glory of Himself.


I would suggest that if Jesus could not bring Lazarus back to life, His works would not have proved that He truly is the Giver of life. And therefore, could He really assure you and me of eternal life. For in order for Jesus to be who He claimed to be, there cannot be anything in this world that could ever defeat Christ, or confuse Him, or even cause Christ to hesitate, or reconsider. No, He must be confident of every thought, every path forward; and this is how we are to trust Him. That everything He does and allows ought to instill full confidence in Him of His rightness and His plan and His perfection as the Good Shepherd. So, we cannot overlook the setting of this passage, that Jesus has been boasting (and by the way, divine boasting is right and proper as the OT is full of divine boasting by God). And Jesus has been boasting about His works, and now He will be confronted with the greatest test He has faced thus far with all the forces of Satan are against Him.


“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

John 11:1-5 (LSB)


We learn quickly here that Jesus is not a stranger to these folks, as they remind Jesus of His love for Lazarus (vs 3) saying Jesus, the one whom You love is sick; and (vs 5) Jesus loved these dear friends. Folks, may we never get the idea that Jesus came to the earth and did His thing, suffered and was ridiculed and persecuted, and all the while stayed aloof from people. No, that is not who the Shepherd is. For Jesus was emotionally involved with people. While doing ministry He cared for individuals, He had compassion on the crowds. He spent the majority of His time intimately with twelve men, and obviously, He was dearly attached to these three people. This is not a traveling TV evangelist who does not have dear friends who are close to Him, and people who do not know Him intimately. No, He is deeply connected. And this is not just family, as these are those who believe in Him, as we would have those who are fellow believers who we dearly care for and love.


You know, we need to have intimate relationships beyond family towards those who love the Lord. For none of us will ever really grow in Christ, as we were designed, without the love and care and intimacy of other believers. I would suggest that if we cut off spiritual relationships, or at the least do not nurture spiritual relationships, especially within the church, we hinder our spiritual growth. As much of our prodding as believers is due to the influence of other strong believers. Long-distance teaching from good preachers and teachers has its place, but it can never take the place of shoulder-to-shoulder brothers and sisters in Christ. So, we have these three people, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who love Christ and are dearly loved by Christ. And it says that the two women (vs 3) sent for Him to seek out Jesus, believing that He may be able to help their brother. So, they run to Jesus.

“So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days in the place where He was.”

John 11:6 (LSB)


Now we know the rest of the story here. That Jesus comes four days later and brings Lazarus back to life. But let us not miss the great disappointment of the woman here. That Jesus did not make this a priority. For this event is really sad for them. They might be thinking of the cruelty of Jesus, not to come immediately, or even give some sort of explanation. In fact, Martha will later say to Jesus (vs 21) Lord if You had come earlier my brother would not have died. You can almost hear the pain in her voice. Think of Lazarus when he gets the report. “Is my friend Jesus coming?” No, no He is not, and we are not sure why either. Folks this is like the sting of an unanswered prayer. Lord, don’t You know what is going on in my life? Lord, could You not fix this issue if You really wanted to? If this were a movie and we were watching it for the first time, we would have reacted to this, probably a little negative about Jesus, wouldn’t we? How could He be so callous here? I am not even sure we would think that Jesus could raise someone from the dead, for we have not read anything like this before in John’s Gospel. But we would at least expect Jesus to drop everything and come, wouldn’t we?


Would we think that Jesus is somewhat cold here? That He is so busy doing ministry that He would not have a care for one man and his sisters, or maybe this illness was too serious for Jesus to be able to do anything about. Hard to know how we might humanly respond in the heat of this situation. Good to think about that. That in the heat of our own difficulties there may be a temptation to doubt Christ’s love or care, or start to believe He cannot do anything for us. I mean it wasn’t even like Mary and Martha merely prayed for Jesus to come. They actually sent someone to get Him in person, but He still did not come. Sort of a sad beginning to the story.


I want you to notice a word here in (vs 6) the first word, so. I am not sure why it is not translated like this in some translations, because it is in the Greek. It should have the word so or at least therefore. Because the so emphasizes the reason why Jesus waited, for a delay by God here and in every situation must have a reason. Notice again (vs 5) Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so. In other words, because He loved them, this is what He did. Verse 6, so, He “stayed two days in the place where He was.” I want you to notice here that it does not say that He had other ministries to do, so He couldn’t come; or that He was hungry, so He away to eat and rest; or that Lazarus did not warrant His attention, so He didn’t show up. No, it actually tells us that because He loved them, He waited for two days. This is an odd explanation. Imagine if you had something tragic happen to you and you called your best friend. And they say I love you, but I cannot come, with no explanation. Well this is even stranger because Jesus said I am not coming. Why? Because I love you. Because I love you.


What is this whole passage about? What is it? It is not about Mary and Martha. It is not really even about Lazarus. It is not about how to sorrow over death or the sadness of death. It is not about the love between close friends and family during a time of tragedy. Though those are all things that are included in this story. Those are all things that are part of what John is telling us. But the core theme of this story is (vs 4) the glory of God. See, here is where some of us might be tempted to drop off, or some may not be all that attracted to real Christianity. Where Jesus is going to allow something to happen that we don’t want to happen. In other words, He is about to bring great sadness to these dear folks, so that, He is able to bring glory to Himself. Because this is where some of the teaching of Christianity has taken a wrong turn. That yes, the Bible speaks of so much blessing for the believer, yet the core purpose is not that. It is for the glory of God.


And therefore, if my hope is primarily for me, which is much of what the church message has been, this kind of Christianity in this passage is not all that attractive. But if I find my hope and satisfaction in the glory of God, Christianity offers everything for me, because that is what is being accomplished here. And the reason I say that this is where some of us might be tempted to drop off is because this is the crossroads in Christianity today. This is what some churches this morning from the pulpit are going to teach, that if you love and serve Christ things will go well for you, in other words, me-centred. Joel Osteen preached last Sunday, and will likely preach something similar today:

“There’s no limit to what you can achieve; I know who your Father is. There’s no obstacle you can’t overcome; I’ve seen your Father do it. There’s no financial struggle that can hold you back; your Father is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord your provider.”

Joel Osteen


And yet there will be other churches this morning that will teach that God will allow heartache into your life. And we cannot argue this, as this is exactly what He allowed in the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. For the writer of Hebrews tells us that some believers have:

“… experienced mockings and floggings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword.”

Heb 11:36-37a (LSB)


Why? Why Lord? What purpose could this ever accomplish? Why the terrible news from the mission field? So, that the Lord could gain glory for Himself, because it is all for the glory of God. Now before we start to think that Jesus is just toying with Mary and Martha, we notice that in (vs 7) the disciples warn Jesus of going to see Lazarus because of the danger. But Jesus says (vs 11) no, I must go see Lazarus. See, the decision here by Jesus to stay back for a few days was not because He was not willing to face opposition. After all, the disciples say that the Jews want to stone You Jesus, yet Jesus is determined to go again into enemy territory. So, when we say that Jesus desires to glorify Himself, this does not mean that He wants to make things easier or smoother for Himself. After all, His entire life is spent in hardship, and it ends at the cross, so that he is able to bring salvation to sinners. So, never think that we could ever question the love of the Shepherd here just because He delays and only appears like He does not care. Did you get that?


Do not ever question the love of the Shepherd just because He delays and only appears like He does not care, when He truly does.


Because what we need to learn here is the priority of true love. Because if the Good Shepherd loves us, and His way is best, though at times the more difficult road, it teaches us something important about real love. See, what Mary and Martha thought they needed most was for their brother to be healed, and therefore, they believed that if Jesus truly loved them, this is what He would do, but true love had another priority. John Piper said this:

“Love means giving us what we need most … and what human beings need most is a full and endless experience of the glory of God. [Therefore] love is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy.”

John Piper


I think we would all agree with that statement, though our humanness may struggle with it at times. For this is why we desire things and get frustrated because we do not get everything we want, even good things, like the healing of someone we love. But when we are thinking biblically right and truthfully, and that’s why we need to be in church, we can better know God’s will, God’s way, and God’s glory, though we will not always understand. For His glory is far more important than my personal whims or desires, some that may not be so good, and some that may be very good, but just not God’s plan. Are you still with me? I am even sure I am still with myself here, as this is not easy. But let us consider this question:


That as individual Christians and as a church are we willing to accept whatever suffering God might call us to, so that ultimately the Lord is glorified? 


Is this what we really want? This is not unlike our Lord in the Garden, facing tragedy, pain, suffering, and aloneness, and was willing to say, Father, Your will. Yet when in the midst of hardship, that kind of submission rarely is attractive to us. It is not always to me.


Well you know the story. The disciples believe from Jesus’ words that Lazarus is only sleeping. But then Jesus is clear to them (vs 14), Lazarus is dead. And then look at the beginning of verse 15, where Jesus says, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there. Arthur Pink notes here that Jesus may have meant that if He was there, Lazarus would not have died, just because He was there. He writes that there is no mention of anyone dying in the presence of Jesus in the Bible. In Acts 3:15, Jesus is called the Author of Life. He notes that Peter wanted to kill the high priest’s servant, but the Lord stopped him, and even the two thieves that died on the cross with Jesus, died after Jesus was dead. And then Jesus gives another reason, which is part of His glory, for the delay, (vs 15) “so that you may believe.” In other words, it is more important that you believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ. It is more important that sinners get saved for eternity, than the healing of a sick man whom we may love. Well, let me close with four principles:


  1. God’s Plan is Best


God is perfect, nothing can be added to His perfections. God’s plan for the universe could never bring more glory to God than it will. Know that! Believe that! What God is accomplishing is greater than anything else could ever be accomplished. In eternity, we will see that all things do work together for good, and let us not wait for heaven to celebrate that. The second follows this:


  1. I Must be Captivated by God’s Glory


Since God is glorified in Himself, this is what must captivate me. Because if the most glorious truth is that God is glorified, then that truth must motivate me. It must take a hold on my life. It must be what I think about when I get up, when I live my day, and when I lie down. And therefore, everything else must become of lesser value. Because Lord, it must be about You, it must be about Your glory.


  1. Part of God’s Glory is that His Sheep will Believe and Glorify Him Forever


Have you ever really thought about this? That somehow God could have displayed His glory to us in this life alone, and then said, too bad you are not able to relish this forever. No, God has made it possible for those who believe to enjoy the glory of God for eternity. When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise (or revel in His glory) than when we first begun. Isaiah 42:8 tells us that God will not share His glory with anyone. But for those who believe, we will enjoy His glory forever. And even in our earthly lives, we can both enjoy and show forth His glory. The Bible is full of this:

  • Isa 43:7 … we have been created for His glory
  • 1 Chr 16:23 … He tells the believer to … declare His glory among the nations
  • Matt 5:16 … “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
  • 1 Cor 6:20 … so glorify God in your body
  • 1 Cor 10:31 … “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”


If you believe and have given your life to Christ as your Saviour and Lord, you have been gifted with the privilege both now and in eternity to bring glory to God. Finally, and this one comes from Piper’s quote:


  1. Ultimate Love is the Giving of What We Need Most (John Piper)


The teaching of our children, our great effort at the workplace, and our ministry here at Elim. In the ways in which we demonstrate our love, in all our laughter with our spouse and kids, in all the concerns shown toward each other, and in the tears we may shed for the pain of those we love. May we never lose focus of the main thing. That ultimate love is the giving of what we need most, Christ. And that men and women everywhere would believe and give Him glory, knowing that God must allow some heartache to bring His sheep to that complete knowledge. Could you stand with me this morning, as we read together part of Psalm 148 and 150. The name Yahweh is stated many times in the Bible, which means the Lord. And at a few times, it is shortened in the Hebrew to Yah, as in some of the later Psalms. So, let us close in praise to Yahweh with this before we sing together. Read with me:


1 “Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!

2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!

3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!

4 Praise Him, heavens of heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!

5 Let them praise the name of Yahweh, For He commanded and they were created.

13 Let them praise the name of Yahweh, For His name alone is set on high; His splendor is above earth and heaven.


1 Praise Yah! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse.

2 Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to the abundance of His greatness.

3 Praise Him with trumpet blast; Praise Him with harp and lyre.

4 Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.

5 Praise Him with resounding cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals.

6 Let everything that has breath praise Yah. Praise Yah!”


Ps 148:1-5; 13; 150:1-6 (LSB)


And all God’s people said, amen.