Lent 5 • John 11:1–53 • April 10, 2011
By Robert Hoehner
When Confronted with Adversity
In preparing to proclaim the biblical truths of John 11, the preacher would do well to keep in mind John’s words in 20:31, “. . . these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Here in chapter 11, Jesus is clearly revealed as the Christ, the son of God—the very one who gives life. Here we see his power and authority. Here we see his compassion and love. Here we see that he is in complete control of the situation as he moves toward Jerusalem where he will fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation.
In Holy Baptism we receive the gift of faith. Here we become forever connected with our true God—our creator, savior, and sanctifier. In baptism (the apostle Paul teaches) we too have a Lazarus-like resurrection, having passed through death into life with our Lord. In baptism we are assured of the forgiveness of sins. In baptism we are assured of God’s blessing in this life and in the life to come. And so, when the inevitable adversities of life come our way, we need to turn to him who not only has the desire, but also the power and ability to help us in our time of need—the one who is true to his word and faithful to his promises.
In John 11, adversity comes to the home of Mary and Martha. Their beloved brother Lazarus becomes very sick and dies. They call out to Jesus, who comes and raises Lazarus from the dead. While this results in awe, joy, and gratitude for them and their community, it also leads to adversity for the church leaders—the Sanhedrin. “Something needs to be done,” they say. “If he keeps doing things like this then everyone will believe in him, and we will lose our place.” (It is interesting to note that the religious leaders do not deny the miracle, but react to it.) And Caiaphas adds, “It is better that one man should die for the people.” Their response to adversity was to condemn Jesus to death. Nevertheless, even in this meeting of corrupt Jewish religious leaders, we see the hand of God—a hand that is in complete control.
How will we respond when adversity enters our lives? The Scriptures encourage us to call on Jesus Christ—because of who he is (the Son of God and Savior of the world) and because of the truth of his word. When he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he is telling the truth!
Sometimes our prayers are answered almost immediately. Sometimes, however, the answer is very long in coming. And sometimes the answer which we want never comes. It is when the answer is long in coming or when it never comes as we want it that our faith is sorely tried. That was the situation with Mary and Martha. They had prayed fervently to God for help; they had also sent a personal message to Jesus. But Jesus did not respond. He doesn’t even come to see Lazarus. He lets Lazarus die.
And yet, across the black shadow of this devastating illness fell the golden ray of Christ’s words here in our text: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God.”
The religious leaders thought that, “it would be better for one man to die for the people.” And yes, this too is “for the glory of God!”
There are many wonderful examples of how God allowed adversity to impact the lives of others for eternity. From Scripture, we immediately think of Joseph, and the apostle Paul. As we deal with adversity in our life, we need to hold fast to the promises of our baptism and the promises of our Lord. “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” (Jn 11:25–26).