Illness, Death, Hope

By John Yieh

A Reading from the Gospel of John 11:1-16

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Meditation

In a difficult time of falling ill and facing death, family and friends are the most important support. Martha and Mary were worried about Lazarus’ illness and saddened by his death, but Jesus seemed indifferent and self-obsessed. Why was that? Did he not care?

Let us recall the story of the man born blind in John 9. Jesus said that his blindness was not the result of sin but an opportunity to receive healing so that people might see the miracle and praise God. When the man’s physical and spiritual eyesight were restored, he believed in Jesus and worshipped him as Lord despite being excommunicated. So, Jesus cared, and he turned illness into healing and faith, to the glory of God.

In Lazarus’ case, it is not only illness but also death, the irretrievable loss and ultimate enemy of human life. At the time of Lazarus’ illness and death, Jesus was prepared to go to Jerusalem where he knew, as did the disciples, that his own suffering and death were awaiting. He wanted his disciples to know that his pending death was not the end of life but the beginning of resurrection, through which the world would be redeemed and God be glorified. By visiting the grieving Marth and Mary after Lazarus had already died and been buried, therefore, Jesus meant to demonstrate, without any doubt, his divine power to raise Lazarus from the dead so that his disciples may firmly believe in him and receive eternal life. Again, Jesus cared, and he conquered death with resurrection!

Jesus is neither indifferent nor absent when his friends are suffering from illness or grieving over death. His time may not be our time, but he healed the blind man and brought Lazarus out of the grave. In so doing he revealed his glory and God’s love. Even in illness or death, therefore, we can sing a song of praise, for our God is the creator of life and Jesus Christ is our savior.

The Rev. John Yueh Han Yieh, Ph.D., is professor in New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary and a New Testament editor for the Bible Society in Taiwan. Dr. Yieh enjoys his teaching ministry at VTS and is a frequent preacher and speaker in the U.S. and Asia.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, Harrod’s Creek, Ky.
The Diocese of Kebbi – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

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