The reason God needs more glory – John 11:1-45, Part 1

This past week I was jet-lagging, having come home from a month teaching in India.  Jet-lag feels so weird.  You’re hungry and sleepy at all the wrong times.  On my first day back, my family and I ate dinner at a normal time of about 6pm, and while it tasted great, my stomach felt like I was eating a full meal at 3:30am. Very unsettling!

Do you ever feel that something inside of you is not quite right?  What would you change about yourself if you could?  What is it about yourself that you don’t like?  You might even think, “I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to change that.”  It can feel lonely, exasperating.  Hopeless.  Like a part of you is dead. Maybe you’ve had that feeling that you need a change, a renewal…something different

In this week’s study through the Gospel of John, Jesus has a visit with three very close friends, all three of whom want that change in one way or another.  In John 11, verses 1-3, we read,

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick’.”

Every good story needs a crisis. We just read about the crisis in John 11.  One of Jesus’ close friends is sick.  Lazarus.  Lazarus’ sisters are Mary and Martha, and they live in the village of Bethany, which is just outside Jerusalem.  The sisters reach out to Jesus.  Is it just to inform him of their brother’s sickness?  Is it to do what we so often do, asking people, “Please pray.”  Or is there more to them sending word to Jesus?

What is interesting to me in this passage is that John describes Jesus as having a loving relationship with Lazarus.  There are multiple words in Greek that are all translated with our one English word “love,” but the Greek words have slightly different emphases.  The word that John uses to describe Jesus’ close relationship with Lazarus is “phileo,” brotherly love.  It is highly relational love.  It is a human love, the affection and caring relationship that two people have when they are really close friends.  This is not romantic love. It is deep friendship.

Think about your best friends in this life.  It could be a family member that you would consider your best friend.  Spouses often describe each other that way.  It could be a sibling.  It could be a friend.  My college friend, Chris, is one of my best friends.  We met in the dorm in 1992, and we have been very close ever since, accountability and prayer partners, and we still are.  We get together every other month for lunch and prayer, and we text and call on the phone in between. 

That’s brotherly love, and that’s what Jesus felt toward Lazarus.  Or at least, from verse 3, that’s how Mary and Martha described Jesus’ love. 

You know what I hear, when I read the sisters sending the message, “Lord, the one you love is sick”? I hear fear in Mary and Martha’s voice.  Out of great concern for their sick brother, out of a realistic fear they could lose Lazarus, were they playing on Jesus’ emotions, trying to coerce Jesus, or guilt Jesus, into coming to help their brother?  Or were they close enough in relationship with Jesus that they could share their vulnerable feelings?

In the ancient world, any sickness is exceedingly serious.  In our day and age, sickness is still very serious, but our medical capabilities are light years ahead of medicine in first century Palestine.  If these sisters are reaching out to Jesus, it means that what Lazarus has is not a common cold.  It means they have probably already exhausted the normal remedies, the doctors couldn’t help, and Lazarus is in bad shape.  Maybe you have been in a situation like that.  It is a situation where the options for treatment are gone.  You start saying things like, “Our only hope is a miracle.” 

So what will Jesus do when he gets the news that his close friend is sick?  Look at verses 4-7.

“When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

In what we just read, we get some answers to our questions!  First of all, Jesus tells us in verse 4 that Lazarus is not going to die.  Clearly, just by mentioning that death is a possibility for Lazarus, Jesus indicates that Lazarus’ sickness is serious.  Second, Jesus says that the situation is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son will be glorified through it.  In our study of John we’ve come across this word “glory” many times.  It is not a light shining, like a halo on Jesus’ head. What is this glory? 

Linguists tell us that “glory” is “to speak of something as being unusually fine and deserving honor.”[1]  That’s another way of describing praise.  Through Lazarus’ sickness, Jesus says, God will be praised, God will be honored, and God’s Son will be glorified, meaning that people will show Jesus honor and respect.  Jesus is saying to his disciples that he sees a larger missional purpose in this situation.  The larger missional purpose is that of more and more people giving praise to God and giving honor and respect to Jesus.

Jesus is not saying that every sickness has a purpose.  We can often say that God has a purpose for every bad or undesirable thing that happens in our lives.  Please don’t hear Jesus as saying that.  Jesus is only talking about Lazarus’ sickness.  God does not pre-plan to make bad things happen for a purpose. God is not making bad things happen to teach us a lesson or something. 

God is not like that.  What God does do, however, is redeem bad situations.  He can turn our ashes into learning, our pain into growth, our hurt into good.  In this world, we will face bad situations.  Evil, wickedness, pain, suffering, etc., is the stuff of a broken and fallen world.  Sometimes it is our own doing, consequences of bad choices we make.  But often the difficulties just happen to us.  Like Lazarus. Lazarus got sick.  God didn’t make him sick.  Lazarus got sick because, in this world, we all get sick from time to time.

What Jesus is saying is this instance, God will redeem the situation of Lazarus’ sickness for the larger missional purpose of bringing glory to himself and Jesus.  Does that sound selfish?  What does God need more glory for?  Doesn’t he already have enough?  Well, no.  There are plenty of people who do not give God glory.  God could receive a whole lot more. 

But here’s what so important about Jesus’ comment: It is not that God needs more glory, it is that more people need to give God glory.  There are plenty more people who need to learn more of God so that they can see his glory!  Jesus, therefore, is sharing God’s heart for more people to give God glory, because when more people give God glory those people experience the flourishing life God desires for them, the life that is in their best interest.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 429.

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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