Last night I was preaching from the story of Lazarus. And there's something really important to point out from that story. Actually there are several really important things to point out, but I'm only going to point out one of them. Normally we focus on the part of the story where Jesus reanimates Lazarus. And that's certainly a dramatic point. Imagine being there and seeing Jesus call for the dead man to come out of the ground. The only thing more outrageous than calling for a dead man to come back to life is when a dead man actually comes back to life. Imagine what it must have been like to see him come out of the tomb, wrapped in grave clothes. And of course we focus on Jesus' command that he be loosed and let go. Lots of good stuff in all of that. But it's the very next verse, John 11:45 that I want to consider; "Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him."
Did you see that? Read it again. Something of colossal importance is made clear; and it's in the very first word. "Then." What's the significance? After Lazarus rose from the dead, many came to faith in Christ. Up to that point they had heard Christ's preaching, and apparently had seen some of His works-but they hadn't trusted in Him. But after Lazarus is raised from the dead, then they believed.
What's the point? Simply this; God will sometimes put His followers through a hard time for the sake of others. God used Lazarus being raised from the dead as the catalyst for the salvation of these folks. Now certainly God is sovereign; and He certainly could have used anything else to bring these people to repentance. But He chose, in His sovereign pleasure, to use the resurrection of Lazarus. And of course, Lazarus wouldn't have needed to be resurrected had he not died. And he wouldn't have died had he not gotten sick. The point is, God brought this into Lazarus' life for the benefit of others.
Now how often, when we face something difficult in our lives, do we immediately think, "I must have done something wrong, God must be punishing me"? And that might be the case. The Bible certainly says that God chastises those whom He loves. When I'm disobedient, I can expect consequences. But there are times when God is pleased to bring hardship into my life not as punishment, and not as correction, but so that He can do something that will glorify Himself; and maybe, it will even bring unbelievers to a place of faith.
To be fair, we aren't wired that way are we? We don't want to be used for the benefit of others. Our focus is on self. But the Bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay. That means He has the sovereign right to do with us as He sees fit. Sometimes that means happiness and blessing; sometimes that's going to mean sorrow and hardship. But we can rest in the fact that even when we're in the middle of a hard time, God is still able to use that for His honor and glory. And maybe, He'll use it to bring someone to Himself.
Our desire, then, ought to be for a willingness to be submissive to what God has for us. We ought to try and cultivate an outward focus rather than an inward focus. Instead of saying "Woe is me!", we ought to say, "Lord, how can I face this situation in a way that will most honor You?" Because of what Lazarus went through, the lost were found. Am I willing to be a Lazarus in my life? Or am I so concerned with my own comfort and my own happiness that I don't want to be used to minister to others?
Father, thank You for Your power and Your grace. It's so wonderful to serve a God who is so amazing that You can take hard times and use them for Your glory. Help me to be submissive to what You want for my life. Use me to benefit others, for Your honor and for Your glory. Amen.