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1344. Loving God Amid Suffering

The Daily Platform / Bob Jones University
The Truth Network Radio
September 22, 2022 7:00 pm

1344. Loving God Amid Suffering

The Daily Platform / Bob Jones University

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September 22, 2022 7:00 pm

Dr. Layton Talbert continues the Seminary Chapel series entitled “Loving God,” with a message from John 11.

The post 1344. Loving God Amid Suffering appeared first on THE DAILY PLATFORM.

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Welcome to The Daily Platform from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The school was founded in 1927 by the evangelist Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. His intent was to make a school where Christ would be the center of everything so he established daily chapel services. Today, that tradition continues with fervent biblical preaching from the University Chapel platform. Today on The Daily Platform, we're continuing a study series called Loving God. These messages were preached in a special seminary chapel for students preparing for ministry. Today's speaker is Dr. Leighton Talbert, a seminary professor at Bob Jones University. The title of his message is Loving God Amid Suffering from John 11. The title that I was given for today is Loving God with a Heart that Endures Suffering, or maybe a little bit more simply, Loving God Amid Suffering. And the question occurred to me, where would you expect me to go for a text on a topic like this? Let's see if you can guess. The book begins with the letter J. O.

Obvious, right? Turn to John 11. John 11. And ideally, I would prefer a text that actually expresses a person's love for God in the context of suffering circumstances, but I don't know of a verse like that. Even in the life of Christ, I don't know of a verse like that, that expressly states someone's love for God amid difficult circumstances. That's not to say that just because the passage doesn't explicitly say it, it's not so, but it does mean I need to change my strategy a little bit from what I would normally perhaps do with a topic like this. But one of the things that can challenge our love for the Lord is when we are in difficult circumstances and the temptation because of those circumstances to think that such circumstances imply or at least suggest the possibility that perhaps he doesn't love us so very much.

And we know better than that. We have our theology, we have our orthodoxy, we know better than that, but knowing is a lot different than feeling. And we can even doubt or wonder about things on a visceral level that we know on an intellectual level.

And this temptation to wonder about God's love for you becomes especially acute when the difficulties are ongoing because God seems to be inexplicably, unnecessarily it seems to us, not responding, not answering, not hearing us, not doing anything to relieve the difficulty that we find ourselves in. And for this morning, I don't have a formal outline. I just want to invite you to take kind of a walk with me through this passage. This is the extent of the substance you will see on the screen.

Just want to give you a nice picture to look at. We want to take a walk through this passage together and notice some of the things that there are along the way. John 11, beginning in verse one, now a certain man was sick named Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore his sister sent unto him saying, Lord behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. And this was not an inconvenient seasonal virus that Lazarus had contracted.

Clearly they are concerned for him. Jesus on the other hand clearly seemed not to be. Verse four, when Jesus heard that he said this sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified thereby.

And his response appears so casual that we might have supposed that he felt no particular attachment or obligation to this family. But John immediately counters that misimpression in the next verse. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And yet what we read next seems to counter that, seems to contradict that statement. Verse six, when he heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. And John's choice of conjunction here appears non-intuitive, it appears awkward, it appears unnatural, which I would suggest is evidence that it is in fact deliberate and intentional. The connection between Jesus' hearing of Lazarus' illness and what he does next, the connector is not yet, it's not despite, it's not nevertheless, it's not a contrastive conjunction as though Jesus' action was in some sense a contradiction to that love. It is an inferential conjunction, a word of explanation.

So, therefore, consequently, these things being so, when he heard that he was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was. In other words, verse six doesn't contrast, it continues the thought of verse five. Now just to cover my bases because we have Greek grammar teachers in here and Greek students, it could technically function as a transitional conjunction. When Jesus heard, then he stayed where he was, but the larger point I think still stands that there is a connection and not a contradiction between Jesus' love for this family in verse five and his response to the news of Lazarus' illness in verse six. And I want to dare to suggest that translators and commentators who ignore or replace the force of that Spirit directed conjunction are doing a disservice to the sacred text and short-circuiting the theology that's conveyed even in that conjunction.

And yes, even a conjunction can convey, can carry theological freight when it's attached to a context like this. So what was it then that actually prompted Jesus to delay his arrival and his presence with that family? His delayed intervention and all the consternation and confusion that it surely must have caused to Mary and Martha and others was prompted by his love. In other words, his love was the reason that he withheld the comfort of his presence and his help.

That's what the text says. He loved them, therefore he stayed where he was for two more days. Or let me say it this way, he doesn't delay despite his love. If he delays, it is because of his love. That's what the text is conveying to us. Now some concern to rescue Jesus from the appearance of cruelty by causing, knowingly causing, you know, a considerable degree of grief I'm sure through his delay.

That comes out when Martha and Mary finally greet him when he does come. But some end up basically judging God by our priorities rather than helping us recalibrate our priorities to God's. Because we think when there's when there's a real need, true love responds immediately if it can, doesn't it? I mean if a father sees a child, if a parent sees a child in real genuine pain, we don't stand there with our arms folded with a smirk on our face.

But the difference is that love that is also in total control of the circumstance, of the pain, of the experience, love that is in total control of that, doesn't necessarily respond immediately. I tried to think of a way to illustrate this, and this may not work all that well, but I imagine, imagine with me a parent, a dad in a swimming pool with a child, small, five years old, four years old, five years old, trying to teach the child how to swim. And he's got the child by, you know, around the ribs, he's holding on to the child and said, you know, okay do your arms like this, and I guess he can't do that while he's holding the child, but he's taught the child to move his arms like this and, and do your feet like you're pedaling a bicycle, he's trying to teach them to tread water, okay. And so he's holding the child, and the child is getting used to this, and this is not that hard, it's pretty easy, and, and all of a sudden the father removes his hands from the child. And the child panics, and is looking at his father standing there, and feels like he's in imminent danger, but in fact the father is in complete control, and the father could actually say to the child, okay son, it's okay, stand up, the water's not that deep here, you can actually stand and be above water. The child feels like he's entirely threatened and abandoned, and that might seem like a trivial comparison to us, but it's not a trivial comparison to the child. His sense of danger and abandonment and panic is every bit as real as ours in circumstances.

And our sense of danger and abandonment and panic is no more legitimate or justified than the child's is. So my sense of grief or loss is not the measure of the rightness or wrongness of God's actions, otherwise God could never send illness or death. There really are higher concerns like the glory of God, we read that in verse 4, and it also shows up again in verse 40. Look at John 11 verse 40, said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God. There really are higher concerns, there really are greater goals like the good of others. Look at verse 15, Jesus said, I'm glad for your sakes, he says to the disciples, that I was not there to the intent you may believe. Verse 42, and I knew that thou hearest me always, he praised to the Father, but because of the people would stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me. And verse 45, many of the Jews which came to Mary and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.

There really are higher concerns than my immediate pain and need, and there really are higher goals, greater goals than my immediate relief from pain and need. So his love prompted his delay, in this case because he actually intended to do something far greater than just raise Lazarus from a sickbed. Others needed the impact of this incident as well, but I really want to focus here particularly on the sisters because the text does. And I want to get you to imagine with me what they went through in those intervening days. Text is silent here, but these were real normal women who have a dying brother, and even before Jesus comes, now a dead brother.

And they know they notify Jesus. What answerless questions hounded their thoughts during those interminable nights, as they're sitting around a kitchen table with a lamp, single lamp in between them, lighting their concerned worried faces. What are they saying to each other?

What are they thinking? I think you get a echo of those kinds of late-night talks together when both of them independently greeted Jesus with the same words, Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. They both say that. They both have been thinking about this for days. And the unasked question that hangs in the air when those words are uttered, if you had been here, is a question about timing.

It's a question about delay. They had no doubts about his power, if you'd been here my brother would not have died, but they couldn't fathom his timing. I mean they'd sent for him. They knew Jesus loved him.

He whom thou lovest is sick, or at least they thought they did. Why then had he not come sooner? And why did that delay, excuse me, what did that delay at least seem to imply? And what do I do with delay? What do you do with delays like this? Delay that's not just stressful and inconvenient, but genuinely painful and inexplicable, and it seems to us unnecessary. Seemingly at odds with what we thought we knew about God.

And how then am I tempted to feel about someone who doesn't seem to care all that much about me? Now this is Seminary Chapel, so allow me to bring up an academic point that you will find in the commentary literature. There is, there should be a map up there, there is some dispute over exactly where Jesus was when he received the news about Lazarus from Martha and Mary's, not from them, but from the servants that they sent. There's Bethany, go back to the other one.

Bethany with the star by us, that's about where Bethany is, okay. Some say that he was only one day's journey away, basically due east just across the Jordan in Perea, and therefore that Lazarus may actually have died even before Jesus got the message that he was sick. Just one day there, Jesus waits two days, one day back, it's possible that Lazarus was right, actually already dead before he even got the message, okay. That's one commentator's approach. Others believe that he was in the northeast trans-Jordan region called Battania, up near the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, and as much as four days away, so that even if Jesus had left immediately, he still would have been too late, because he's four days away.

And if I named those two commentators, pretty much everybody in here would instantly recognize the names. These are not just, you know, backwoods commentators, these are major commentators who are making these suggestions, and the fact is that we are given Jesus whereabouts in pretty broad terms. If you look back in 1040, the end of chapter 10, right before chapter 11, the text tells us that Jesus went away again beyond Jordan, into the place where John at first baptized, and there he abode. Well that may seem obvious enough to you, but the fact is, we still don't know where that is. Even John 1 28 mentions a nearby city, Bethabara in some manuscripts, Bethany beyond the Jordan in the oldest manuscripts, that city, a city that was near where John baptized, but nobody has been able to locate that city. In fact, it's the older reading of Bethaniah that has suggested to some the location of Bataniah way up in the Northeast, that he was actually baptizing somewhere up near the Sea of Galilee. And that's why you have such disparate views on where Jesus was when he receives the message.

So what's the point of this little digression? Even scholars can't dogmatize and agree on exactly where Jesus was when he received this urgent message from Mary and Martha. And I am all for background data and exegetical precision, but sometimes we can be so clever and complicated that we miss the plain point of the text. The whole structure of John's account seems specifically calculated to call attention to the issue of delay, without all kinds of abstruse and uncertain computations of exactly how far away Jesus may have been when he got the message. Both of those explanations seem to seem eager to exonerate Jesus for delaying. In one case because, well, it wouldn't have done any good because Lazarus already did, and the other, even if he left right away, he wouldn't have gotten there in time. So they're eager to exonerate the appearance of cruelty on the part of Jesus for delaying.

It wouldn't have done any good anyway. That's not where the text goes though. We don't know exactly where Jesus was. So we can't speculate beyond the text and come up with some other explanation of why Jesus stayed. He delayed because he loved them.

That's what the text tells us with certainty. And John's report of the illness in verse one, the message to Jesus, verse three, Jesus' diagnosis, verse four, Jesus' love, confirmed, verse five, followed by Jesus' intentional delay in the context of that love in verse six, and then the words of both Mary and Martha calling attention to what would have been averted if he had just been there. All of those details coalesce to make the point that God may delay, but he is never late.

It's not a truism, it's a truth. To make the point that his purposes are beyond our comprehension. They could not fathom why he had not come. And we're not told just that he decided to stay where he was two more days after he heard that Lazarus was sick. That his ultimate intended to answer may in fact be beyond our expectation.

And that his motivation, even in delay, is always love. Now it's true that Mary and Martha didn't question his compassion or his concern, at least not overtly like the disciples did on another occasion, carest thou not that we perish. But John, guided by God's Spirit, anticipated, I think, that we might question that. And the evidence of that is the effort of some commentators to exonerate Jesus on the basis of his supposed location, to remove the apparent contradiction between Jesus' love and his delay by making the circumstance of Lazarus' death in some way or other beyond Jesus' control.

But it wasn't. It wasn't beyond his control and there is no contradiction in the first place. That's why the narrative takes pains to point our attention to Jesus' love for this family, not once, not twice, but three times. You see it in verse three. He whom thou lovest is sick. Verse five, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. You see it again in verse 36.

Then said to the Jews, behold how he loved him. And our problem is we don't recognize delay as delay when it's happening. On the front end, delay looks exactly like failure on God's part, silence on God's part, non-answer, absence.

But it's not at all the same thing. It just takes some time to find out that delay was in fact delay and just delay. And verse 25, Jesus counters Martha's words, if you had been here, my brother had not died by grounding her hope, not just on an event, your brother will rise again, but on himself. I am the resurrection and the life. And there's a great deal of doctrine and theology woven into the fabric and the pattern of this passage, but lying right up on the surface of the text within easy reach of the simplest, most unsophisticated reader is an assurance that the Lord's timing never ever contradicts his love. His delays, however perplexing they may be at the time, are always timely.

They are always purposeful and they are always loving. So what do we do with this? You might say at this point, okay, we've talked about suffering. We've talked about love, but only Jesus love. I thought the whole point of this was my loving God in the midst of suffering. You haven't really said much about that.

And that's true. I haven't, but look at chapter 12. After this whole incident with Lazarus and the raising of Lazarus, what's the first thing that you read about in John 12? Do you think Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet with expensive ointment and wiping them off, not with a towel, but with her hair? Ladies, have you ever thought about how close your face would have to be to Jesus' feet to actually wipe his feet with your hair?

The posture that you would have to be in to do that. Have you ever put yourself in that place and sympathetically read and thought through what that looked like? Do you think that was an expression of love for him?

You might say, well, yeah, yeah. Look at verse one. Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom Jesus, of course she loves him now. Why was she anointing him? Verse seven, Jesus says, for his burial.

And I just want to draw this parallel in conclusion. Lazarus' death and resurrection was a display of Christ's love for them. The fact that Lazarus was allowed to die so that Christ could raise him, that whole experience was an expression of his love for them.

Jesus died and was raised again to display his love and the father's love for you. How can we ever doubt his love again after that? And how then can we not go on loving him and trusting him even in our hardest and our darkest hours? We can love him in the midst of difficulty, in the midst of hard circumstances, because we know he loves us. And even when he delays, even when he seems to be absent and not answering, it is because, it is because, not in spite, it is because he loves us. Father, we thank you for the way that you have recorded your words for us.

We thank you for this story. We thank you for the Spirit's direction in how we read it. And we pray that you would give us grace always to recognize the preeminent display of your love for us in the sacrifice of your own beloved son and his willing sacrifice of himself for us. And Lord, may we always be reminded because of that fact, never to doubt. How could we doubt, Lord, that you genuinely, self-sacrificially, always, eternally love us? Ground our souls in that truth, we pray, for Jesus' sake.

Amen. You've been listening to a message preached at Bob Jones University by seminary professor, Dr. Leighton Talbert, which was part of the series, Loving God. I'd like to thank you for listening to The Daily Platform. I hope that you've enjoyed it. I hope it's been a blessing and an encouragement to you.

We're living in very unusual times. And this is just such a crucial time for all of us as believers to walk closely with the Lord. So I hope you'll take the opportunity to follow us up on these other things that we have at and find out what it is that God is doing in through the ministry of Bob Jones University with our 2,500 students who are coming here to get a biblical worldview and see life from God's lenses and then go out with an accredited first-class education and go out into the world and make an impact for Jesus Christ in the workplace as they go out and serve in local churches, not only here in the United States, but our students are globally in-demand Christ-centered servants who are trying to serve the Lord throughout the world for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So thank you again for listening. I encourage your friends to listen and to be nourished and strengthened through God's word.

God bless you. While this program is helping your Christian walk, please send us your feedback using the contact button at the bottom of the website,, or you can call us at 800-252-6363. I'm Steve Pettit, president of Bob Jones University. At BJU, we're committed to providing an outstanding Christian liberal arts education which is designed to inspire a lifelong pursuit of learning, loving, and leading. If you're looking for a quality education from a biblical worldview in a Christian community that will challenge you, BJU is the place for you. For more information, visit or call 800-252-6363. We hope you'll join us again tomorrow at this same time as we study God's word together on The Daily Platform.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-15 17:01:45 / 2023-01-15 17:11:03 / 9

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