“There’s no good news without bad news.”
“Dad,…. I’m okay.”
It’s a phone call I have made more than once, but on this particular occasion, it wasn’t me. I was listening to my pastor teach a class in evangelism. He was telling us about a phone call from his daughter that started with those words. “Dad,…. I’m okay.” The words fells on his ears with little meaning.
She was calling from her college, Virginia Tech. Her father had not turned on the news that morning, or hearing his daughter’s voice alone would have produced shouts of praise. That morning another student had come to campus and opened fire. The final death toll was in the 30s.
But he didn’t know any of that.
“There’s no good news without bad news,” he told us. His daughter’s call meant nothing without context. Knowing she was alive was not jubilant news when it was the status quo – what he expected. Understanding that she could have died that morning, he could rejoice in her call, even amid tragic news of other lost lives.
Setting the Stage
The story of Lazarus is compelling and memorable. It demonstrates the compassion of our Savior for his friends and features the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” It showcases the power of God over death. The searing words, “Lazarus, come forth!” call to mind the startling image of a bound man struggling out of a cave. There’s even some comic relief as it is noted that the dead body would stink by then.
So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.John 11: 3-6; 32-37; 39-44
. . .
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
. . .
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
But what if Lazarus did not die? Pause. Reread. Process.
What if Lazarus did not die? What if Jesus did not delay? If Jesus got there in time, if he healed Lazarus and stopped death — Is it the same miracle? How does the end result change?
There’s no good news without bad news. Does God get the same glory from healing Lazarus, saving him from death; as he does resurrecting Lazarus, taking him back from death? He robs death of the victory either way, but is the “good news” the same? There is no resurrection without death. We do not question that Lazarus was dead or that Jesus brought him back to life. This is one reason Jesus delayed — to leave no doubt of what he did — but it is not the primary reason.
The delay was on purpose and for a purpose. Jesus’s delay is not for lack of concern for his friend. He knew Lazarus was going to die. He knew that God was going to use that pain for glory. Neither does the delay expose calloused indifference to human suffering. He loved his friends and felt their pain deeply.
Lazarus was resurrected for God’s glory, which necessarily means that Lazarus died for God’s glory. Jesus explains in verses 14b-15a ” “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Lazarus’ death was part of God’s plan all along. Was it hard? Yes. Was it painful? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes!
The Bad News
Jesus is good news; he is actually the best news ever. His life, death, burial, and resurrection pay the penalty for our sin. The penalty for our sin is spiritual death and separation from God, as we all both owe that penalty and are wholly incapable of ever paying it. But without that sin penalty — without our unmitigated need for Christ — he’s just a nice, moral guy. There’s no good news without the bad news.
I like to think about God’s love for me. It’s warm, and safe, and good. I feel secure. He loves me fully and completely. His love is unending, but if I fail to realize that I don’t deserve his love, I sell it short. His favor isn’t impressive if we earn it. That only makes us impressive, which can’t be right. We don’t deserve and can never earn his love. Our sin contaminates every part of us. God’s love is amazing and incomprehensible because I am wretched. I have turned my head and ignored it to do what I want more times than I can count, but still God pursues me with his love.
Our sin is a necessary part of the story of God’s love. We can’t leave it out or gloss over it. Our sin is messy and painful. We don’t like to be broken, but we are broken. Acknowledging our sin is in the only way to truly acknowledge God’s love.
The Good News
You are a sinner.
You have lied. You have hated. You have wanted the good gifts God has given to others. You have stolen. You have despised your parents. You have looked at someone other than you spouse in lust. You have put other things and people higher in your life than God.
You have broken God’s law.
You have broken your relationship with God.
You can never earn his love.
Jesus Christ never sinned. He is fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life you never could and died a death that you deserve. He died for you.
You need Christ.
There’s not magic prayer or spell of just the right words to change you from sinner to saint. You have to know you have sinned. You have to know you need him. You have to give up control of your life and trust God – not God and being a good person or God and going to church. If God is running your life, the world sometimes says you are good and sometimes not. Letting go of control isn’t a one time thing. Trusting him to “save” you is, but learning to trust him is daily. Learning to walk with him is moment by moment. Life won’t be peaceful, but God will be.
But it all starts with the bad news.