“Dealing with Disappointment”
Sermon for 18 April 2004
Texts: John 11:1-16, 38-53; 1 Cor. 15:40-44
Big Idea: God gives us disappointments to grow our faith.
Purpose: To instruct and to encourage.
Interrogative: Rolled away any stones lately?
Before I embark on a sermon series covering the book of Acts, we have this one Sunday in Easter-tide and I am led to address the matter of disappointment. How we handle the disappointments in life, for there will always be disappointments, is of tremendous importance because disappointments are huge among the tests and trials that we have to endure. I was so helped by Dr. Charles Stanley’s teaching on this subject that I even pulled the car over and chose to listen to one of his messages than to go on with the responsibilities of that hour. I caught up to them a little later.
Now Dr. Stanley preached that disappointments are allowed to teach us, to stretch us and to grow us in our faith. Trusting God in the good times is easy, but we are to learn in the good times that God is no less in control than He is in the bad times. Trust is all about believing that God is ever allowing what is best for us to unfold in our lives. However, some of what He allows are disappointments. Remember Job, now there was a severely tested man, he said, when Job 2:9 . . . his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. When my father died suddenly this past September, so soon after we had completed his house for him to live in, I experienced a severe disappointment. Yes, I was released from a very demanding circumstance. Yes, I can take satisfaction that I stayed the course; but I was still saddened and disappoint-ed. You all have had similar struggles to mine, so join me as we look at how to handle disappointments together. Let’s see how we can handle disappointment without anger at God and one another--how we can escape the trap of guilt and bitterness.
I take as my text John 11. We read Lazarus was sick. That’s disappointing for starters--isn‘t it sad to miss out on things due to sickness? Yes, it is. But Lazarus was mortally ill, sick unto death. Therefore, the man’s sisters, Martha and Mary, send word to Jesus. They fully believe that Jesus could make Lazarus whole, or healthy again. If only He would come. But Jesus doesn’t come--that’s disappointing--and, worse yet when He does come, Lazarus is four days dead. Now, we’ve been told that this sickness has a purpose: that the Son of God may be glorified through it. (v.4) This is where we bump up against the truth that God has allowed Lazarus to sicken and die on purpose and that God fully knows what He is doing in spite of the fact that what He is doing is painful and grievous to all involved--even Jesus, :John 11:35 Jesus wept. John 11:36 And so the Jews were saying, "Behold how He loved him!". Rejoicing in all things is what we are commanded to do:
It’s not easy, but it is very necessary. The rewards of obedience in this regard are enormous for spiritual health and personal contentment as well as for a growing faith, for growing trust.
There is a significant word change from philew, (from G5384; to love:-- kiss(3), love(13), loved(3), loves(6)) in verse 4 (“the one you love”) to agapaw, (of unconditional love. or.; to love:-- beloved(7), Beloved(1), felt a love(1), love(80), loved(34), loves(20)) of verse 15 as in “Jesus loved Martha“ etc. The love signified first is friendship love, the second meaning is that of redemptive love. Sometimes to experience the latter, it seems as if the former has been put aside. It was very disappointing to have Jesus not come in time, not heal his friend, Lazarus. The pastoral visit, if you wish to liken it to that, was way too late to do any good! We have to learn to trust God when the answers to our prayer are not instant. We have to trust in His sense of timing rather tan our own--for when you walk according to God‘s time table and in His purposes, you experience power, even invincibility.
The answer returned is inferred by the presence of a messenger to Jesus. John 11:4 But when Jesus heard it, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it." We are to understand that Jesus sent an answer, albeit an ambiguous one. Whatever sense were they to make of it? Especially, what were they to think of “this sickness is not unto death” when Lazarus worsened and literally died. The people of that day knew death well enough and the most natural reading is that they properly understood that their brother had died. So their sorrow and disappointment were based in reality. They suffered from unanswered prayers, unmet expectations and their hope was undermined by this experience which, nonetheless was indeed for the glorification of the Son. And it is that alone which makes it all okay.
The feelings native to such circumstances are painful. That is one reason why such elaborate customs and rituals surround the handling of death, and the dead. Indeed, the formal visitation of some Jews to comfort the mourners was a piece of Jewish funereal practice suggesting the painful reality behind the death of Lazarus. But, regardless of how difficult the feelings, believers are to live out of their faith and not their feelings, the promises of God and not their present circumstances.
What did happen to Lazarus’ body? Was it raised as in resurrection, or was it merely resuscitated? We have to respond, Lazarus was merely resuscitated. He was indeed raised from the grave, but he was not raised to the resurrected body such as Jesus possessed on Easter morning. We learn about this distinction in 1 Cor.15:40ff:
1 Cor 15:40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. Cor 15:41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 1 Cor 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 1 Cor 15:43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 1 Cor 15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Jesus’ resurrection body left the burial clothes behind, Lazarus appeared with those emblems of mortality still attached. Jesus’ power over death was indeed demonstrated as it had been before with the Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son. But these acts of reviving human bodies are not to be confused with the resurrection promise which is held for the fullness of time.
I cannot but mention that there is a severe mercy to all this: Jesus is preparing His friends for His coming death and resurrection. By allowing them to go through the sorrow and despair of death with Lazarus, He has given them an opportunity to deal with death and separation that will become all too necessary, all too soon. They had this lesser loss to prepare for the greater one which was on the way. And we are just like them--we ,too, suffer painful, lesser losses and must beg God to let us see them so! Still, glory lies the other side of our pain, loss and suffering. Physical death is dealt a serious blow in this encounter with the Lord of Life--but the final victory over the grave is some days away. This act is one of divine power, Jesus has authority over death. He speaks to the dead and they hear--no MERE man can do that!
It is clear, when the dust settles, when Lazarus has been loosed from the grave clothes and set free, that Jesus could have done something earlier. He was capable of healing Lazarus; He simply was unwilling. Why was He unwilling? He was unwilling because it was the will of God that Lazarus die and that when Lazarus was raised from the dead, this incontestable miracle (John 11:45 Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.), would serve as the last straw, loosing the full fury of the Sanhedrin against Jesus so that the final drama of our salvation might unfold. It is astounding how often in human history political astuteness has been the very epitome of spiritual blindness. It is expedient for us that one man should die for the nation, prophesied Caiaphas (v. 50). So, Satan and Caiaphas both play into God’s hand. Thinking themselves wise, they end up in futility and defeat. They lose and Jesus wins--regardless of how it felt, regardless of how it appeared.
And that, beloved, is precisely how we are to live: independent of circumstances and by faith rather than by feelings. Though feelings are real, they are both transient and undependable. Disappointment can touch but cannot destroy those who live by faith, who desire only the will of God for themselves and for those they love. We can learn how to deal with disappointments before they deal with us. Remember, God is in control. God is working His purposes out. As the account of Lazarus resuscitation teaches us, disappointments teach us, stretch us and grow us. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? as Job aptly asks. Disappointments are just as God-filled and God-sent as blessings could ever hope to be. So, our great need to judge things aright. Our need to see things as they really are and not either as they appear to be, or, sometimes, are presented to be. Martha and Mary both suffered from unbelief, both possessed deficient faiths--what happened to them and to their brother corrected that deficiency. It can grow us up, too. We can learn from them a better way to handle life’s disappointments.
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Phil 4:5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.