Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 39. The Delays of Love Chap 11v5-6 Mark 5v21-24, 35-36 . Presentation 39. Introduction.
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Mark 5v21-24, 35-36
We read that ‘Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus’. Interestingly, this statement about Christ's love is given in a context that could cause us to doubt it - if we did not know better. We have noted that it is sometimes difficult to accept sickness or death, when they enter into our experience. "If Jesus really loves us, how can he let this happen?" we ask.
In attempting to answer that problem we saw
that sickness and death are not incompatible
with Christ's love.
Now another problem confronts us. After reading, "Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus" we learn that Jesus purposefully delayed his return to Bethany instead of rushing to help v6. Moreover - and this is the force of the word “therefore”- we are to understand that the delay was connected with his love and flowed from it. How so? He stays put for two days, arriving four days after Lazarus' burial.
Have you ever experienced God's delay?
We will learn that when he does so he
does so for a purpose.
First, Christ's delays are delays of love. We of course cannot see the end from the beginning, as God can. Therefore, we cannot see how his delays contribute to an overall plan. Often, in our grief we often cannot see clearly, even when God may have made his plan clear. But even though we cannot see how a situation will end or why it has come upon us, we can know that it flows from Christ's love and is controlled by it. Christ's delays are the delays of love.
His delays are to be interpreted in the light of his love and not the other way around.
If Christ's delays are the delays of love, then they are not the delays of indifference. He does not delay because he does not care. Delays often flow from indifference in human affairs. Jesus once told such a story - Luke 18:1-8.
It concerns a judge and a widow. The judge was a hard man
who lived for himself and who feared neither God nor man.
The widow was the victim of injustice. She came to the
judge with her case, but he refused to hear her. There
was nothing in it for him, so he could not care less.
But because the widow persisted, the judge eventually rendered justice, reasoning that it was better to act and so be done with the case than to be wearied with the widow's unending requests.
This story was not intended to suggest that
God is like this unjust judge.
Its point lies rather in the contrast. If an indifferent and
unjust judge was prepared to act in response to persistent
entreaties, what might we expect from a just and loving
God? But at the same time the story does recognize that
God sometimes delays in answering a particular prayer
but in contrast to human powers ,the reason for his delay
is never one of indifference.
Secondly, Christ's delays are never because he is too busy to deal with our problem. Do you remember Elijah’s great contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. The prophets prepared an altar upon which a bullock was sacrificed, Elijah did likewise. The true God was to provide the fire.
The 450 prophets of Baal began to call upon
Baal to send fire. Nothing happened. They
began to cry louder. Still nothing happened…
They cut themselves with knives and threw
themselves upon the altar.
Still nothing happened…
Although they kept up their efforts for the better part of the day, no flame descended. Elijah suggested that perhaps their god was preoccupied. "Perhaps he is busy!" Clearly, Baal was unable to respond
to his worshipers.
At last, when they had given up, Elijah called upon his
God, who is never preoccupied or too busy to respond
to his people. God responded with fire.
When God does delay his delays are never the delays
of indifference or of preoccupation. They are the
delays of love.
To say that Christ's delays are the delays of love is to imply a significant positive. His delays are purposeful and love has a purpose. Therefore, we are right to seek out the purposes behind God's delays. It would be presumptuous to suggest that we are able, always and in detail, to discover what God's purposes are. Our ways are not his ways. Our thoughts are not his thoughts. We cannot see the end from the beginning - but he can!
That said, we can suggest, at least in general terms,
what some of these purposes might be.
For instance, one goal achieved by God through his delays is to mould our stubborn wills to conform to His perfect will. If God answers us immediately, we often rush on to formulate our own plans for whatever comes next. When God delays, we are forced to ask, "Am I right in what I am trying to do? Is this what God wants? Does he have more to teach me than I have heard?"
Think of God's dealings with Israel during her wilderness wanderings. God kept Israel in the wilderness for forty years, teaching obedience and fashioning a disciplined fighting force that would one day conquer Canaan.
Another of God's purposes in delays is to strengthen faith. Our faith does not grow much if we always get an immediate response, though we might think that it would. Rather, our faith grows in strength when we are forced to wait, trusting that God knows what he is doing and that he will fulfil His promises toward us eventually and at the proper time.
Abraham's faith grew in this manner. God had
promised him a son through whom he was to
have a great posterity; but Abraham grew old
in fact, he was nearly a hundred years old
before a son was born.
What happened to his faith during those long years? Did it weaken and die? No! On the contrary, the years of delay were the years in which Abraham's faith grew most - so much so that at the age of ninety-nine he changed his name from Abram which means “father of many”, to
Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”,
as a sign of his faith in the promise of God
concerning the son who even then was
In the following year Isaac was born.
God uses delays to mould our wills and strengthen our faith and also to bring honour to his own name and to honour Jesus v4. Those who do not know Jesus may find this puzzling. I have heard people say, "What kind of God wants to be honoured?"
Those who know him do not find this puzzling. Jesus is glorious.
Consequently, to honour him is the only proper and
desirable thing to do. Many Christians
have learned to rejoice that God is
able to bring honour and glory to
himself through their
Therefore, we need to learn to interpret circumstances by the love of Christ and not the other way around. Christ's delays are the delays of love and so should be interpreted by love. If we do it the other way around, we will question God’s love. If we begin with Christ's love, remembering he died for us, we will want to see his purpose in what is happening to us.
As God gives light, you will begin to see
how he is using circumstances to perfect
your will, strengthen your faith, and
bring glory to his wonderful name.
God’s help always comes at the right time. Someone has said,
“Do not . . . forget that Heaven's clock is different from ours. In our day there are twelve hours, and in God's a thousand years. What seems long to us is to him 'a little while.'”
For 48 hours, Jesus delayed his answer to
Mary and Martha, they thought it an
eternity... but how long did it appear to
them once they got Lazarus back?
Do not judge God's actions by our conception of time. He acts immediately and decisively, when the time is right. Think of Peter’s deliverance from prison – it came on the evening before he was due to be executed. Just as the night is often darkest before the dawn, so too, God’s deliverances come at the very point of our need. God never comes too soon or too late.
A proverb says, “hope deferred
makes the heart sick,” [Prov.13.12],
but when God acts on our behalf,
the outcome is overwhelming –
it truly blows our minds.
Are we able to see that all the delays of God have a purpose? Some of those purposes will become clear down here as we look back and think, “So that was why I was kept waiting…” Our understanding in some cases may not become clear until we find ourselves in God’s presence.
Whichever is our experience, God calls
upon us to trust in him, not least,
when his response to our need
seems inexplicably slow.