THE NARROW ROAD TO THE ABUNDANT LIFE
God creates success out of failures. He creates life out of death. He creates wealth out of poverty.
When Lazarus fell sick, his sisters sent word to Jesus to come and heal him. But rather than come immediately, Jesus delayed. Finally, he said to his disciples: “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sake that I was not there, that you may believe.” (John 11:14-15).
Lazarus is dead and Jesus is glad. I thought Jesus loves Lazarus. Yes he does. But it is precisely because of the magnitude of his love for Lazarus that Jesus wants him to die.
When God decided to be good to Lazarus, he allowed him to fall sick and to die. Natural men wonder about this kind of goodness. Why would God allow the man he loves to die? Could Jesus not have prevented this? If he loves Lazarus so much, why delay before coming at his hour of need? But the reason why Jesus allows Lazarus to fall sick and die is so he can be good to him to a degree Lazarus has not imagined.
Jesus is determined to reveal to Lazarus that he would not only be good to him in life, he would even continue to be good to him in death. Through his resurrection, Jesus tells Lazarus eloquently that his natural life is far too short for the goodness he has laid up for him, so he would need eternity to express it fully. “Therefore, be confident that ‘with long life will I satisfy you, and show you my salvation.’” (Psalm 91:16).
If Lazarus did not die, his knowledge of Jesus would have been limited. If he did not die, he would not have known that Jesus is not just a healer, but also “the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25). If he did not die, Lazarus would not have seen that glory of God; and neither would his sisters.
Winning by losing
Now, the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and believers are living stones being built up as spiritual houses. (1 Peter 2:6). So let us put the death and resurrection of Lazarus in the contemporary setting. Jesus wants to give us the abundant life, so he allows us to fall sick. Jesus wants to give us the abundant life, so he allows our business to fail. Or he allows our marriage to break up. Or he allows us to lose our job.
Within the context of the collapse of our “life,” the Lord now says to us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die; yet he shall live. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). If we believe, then like Lazarus, he raises our business from the dead, or he heals our marriage, or gives us a better job.
As believers, we should know that according to the dynamics of the kingdom of God, God creates good out of evil. He does not create good out of good. At the dawn of creation, darkness was upon the face of the deep and then God said: “let there be light,” and there was light. God creates success out of failures. He creates life out of death. He creates wealth out of poverty. Everything about the kingdom of God is worked out in contradictions.
If there were no failures there would be no successes. Indeed the failure of some is responsible for the success of others. If there were no evil, there would be no good. If there were no darkness there would be no light. If there were no poverty, there would be no wealth.
The life that Lazarus leads after his resurrection is the abundant life; a life that must be qualitatively better than the life that he lived before he died. If, thereafter, an armed robber were to threaten him with a gun, he would not be bothered because he would know he now has a life that cannot be lost. More appropriately, he has a life that can be redeemed.
So he can say to the armed robber: “Go ahead; make my day. You can take my life if you want to, but the Lord will give it back to me.” And remember, the redemptive process, or the redemptive cycle, will always give us back more or better than whatever we lose.
Jesus’ gladness at the death of Lazarus is, therefore, an important kingdom dynamic. The Lord is glad when we are afflicted because he is going to be glorified in that affliction and it is going to turn out for our benefit. When Jesus was told that Lazarus is sick, he quickly points out that: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4).
Therefore, how does the Lord feel when the business of a child of God does not prosper? He is glad. How does the Lord feel when a child of God is sick? He is glad.
As troubles are sent to bring us down on our knees in prayer, so they often remain to keep us in God’s presence. The prayer of faith for the removal of some calamity might not be answered. Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was not answered. So also the prayer of faith for some apparently needful provision might be denied. But if it is denied, it is denied in love.
It might appear to us that the removal of an affliction is necessary. But its removal might be attended by grave danger to our spiritual welfare. The affliction itself might be temporal but the godly virtue imparted in its wake might be of permanent or even eternal value.
Thy will be done
When a parent prays with great earnestness even for the life of a child, he does not know whether the life might ultimately occasion more grief than the death. Would it not have been better for Hezekiah to die when the Lord told him he would, instead of praying for fifteen more years? In those fifteen more years, he transgressed and for judgement the prophet was sent to tell him that all his fortune would be carried to Babylon. In those fifteen more years, he gave birth to Manasseh, one of the worst kings ever in the history of Judah.
We cannot really tell what is best for us. We cannot tell whether the car we want would not be the death of us. We cannot tell whether the job we desire would not cause us to lose our salvation. We cannot tell whether if we were to live just one day longer, we would not end up in hell, but if we were to die today, we would end up in heaven. Only God knows.
You are injured and you consult a doctor. The doctor prescribes that your legs and arms must be amputated. He does this in order to save your life. Similarly, Jesus says: “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:30).