"If Thou Hadst Been Here"
Some Reflections on John 11
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died" so spoke quivering lips in Bethany as Jesus came, at length, to wake "our friend Lazarus out of sleep. "… "if you had been here" how different the situation would have been! How sorrowfully, yet chidingly spoken, the words "my brother had not died"! That the gentle reflective Mary should re-echo Martha's opening words most clearly indicates how frequently, amid paroxysms of grief they had reiterated these sentiments each to each. And very naturally too! Had He not sent by the lips of their messengers the most comforting assurance that "this sickness is not unto death"? Yet during His tarrying Lazarus had died! Notwithstanding His word of assurance, Lazarus was dead, and had been laid in the tomb! Why had He not taken more seriously the tidings concerning the illness of His friend? Why had He not accompanied, with speed, the return of their messengers? Why ? Why? If … If. . "If you had been here my brother had not died"
It is so easy, and almost inevitable, in times of sorrow or suffering, for us to question the ways of Providence, and to assert that if this or that had been done when we thought it should, how different the outcome would have been!
Things had been moving to a climax in Israel. Sign after sign, testifying to the Messiahship of Jesus, had fallen on unseeing eyes. One last witness — a sign of surpassing magnitude — was put into motion by Divine Providence. Lazarus, Martha. Mary and Jesus had their parts to play therein — Lazarus to die, Mary and Martha to weep and Jesus to weep, then to restore. A man, four days dead, was to be awakened, revived and returned to his home and place in life, as if decomposition had not laid its destructive hand upon his person.
A like happening had occurred before in Galilee, when Jesus halted the cortege and restored to a widowed mother's care her only son. But that had taken place in Galilee, and malicious tongues could talk it down and rob it of significance. Something must be staged, enacted and exhibited in Jerusalem, for only in Jerusalem were prophets and righteous men fated to perish, and the culminating sequel to this final sign was to be the death, in Jerusalem, of the latest and greatest of God's messengers—his holy and well-beloved Son. The enacted 'sign' must therefore be set in old Jerusalem, and forced home with decisive impact upon the Council of the nation assembled there.
Let us not think of this tragic episode, therefore, as merely casual, or that it "just happened — so". Jesus knew from its very onset that it was intended, in some unmistakable way, to enhance the glory of God, and hence the fuller content of His reply to and through the messengers "This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby". Also to Martha Jesus said "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" And so she did when the tomb gave up its dead and the semblance of the great resurrection truth which Jesus had previously taught her was set forth before her astonished eyes!
Events were moving to a crisis in Jerusalem and Israel. Many former signs had been of no avail to convince the nation of Jesus' claim to Messiahship. In the ordering of a higher Providence one last and vital witness to this heedless people was ordained and the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary selected for its setting. Lazarus in particular was greatly honoured as Heaven's choice of victim for the seeming tragedy, to be compensated later by an unparalleled act of deliverance from death and the tomb. And Jesus, though weeping in sympathy with those that wept, had come as the finger of God (Luke 11. 20) to demonstrate resurrection power and to kindle to a brighter flame, a resurrection hope. Mysterious, wonderful oversight in human life. Yet as with Martha and Mary, so little comprehended, so little understood! And why? To draw out faith, to develop trust, to encourage assurance, to persuade that it is better to "walk in the dark with God, than go alone in the light." How often has this mysterious oversight touched down into our little lives to shape our "means" and "ends". That unaccountably strange first contact with God's people; that seemingly chance meeting with a brother; a spoken word in that address: that presumed loss or bitter disappointment: that enfeebling sickness and tardy restoration: and a hundred other inexplicable incidents of life! How much easier to reproduce the two sisters' chiding words and reiterate their "ifs" and "whys", than bow submissive to the over-ruling Hand. How much easier to chafe and fret than to rest in His Love and trust to His care!
Providence is a great and effective teacher; its lessons are ever new and fresh, based on the little episodes of life, but governed always by the great principles. How do we react?
Perhaps it may be well to change the terms, replace Providence for Omnipotence, Omniscience, Universality ‑ it is high and deep, it is wide and broad, and we are but frail and weak and small and insignificant. But God is my Father and I am His child! My Father is Providence and rules the world, the sun, the moon, and stars, and all things that exist! Happy child with such a Father to shape its ends!