“Where were you?” It is a common question. Parents in fear ask it to their child who wanders off. Spouses ask it when the one they love comes home late with no good explanation. The question is anxiously pondered when communication with a friend is suddenly cut off. It’s a question that often acknowledges unmet expectations. More than simple curiosity, it communicates doubt and mistrust, an admission that a loved one’s behavior is out of character. Is this person who I thought they were?
The Apostle John records a moment in history when Jesus heard the question, “Where were you?” Jesus had three intimate friends in Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. One day Lazarus became deathly ill. It is easy to imagine the fear and anxiety Martha and Mary experienced. The life of their beloved brother was draining away before their eyes. Their hope of security in a male dominated culture was threatening to disappear. What could they do? In their need they turned to Jesus, the one who loved them and whom they loved. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” With confidence and expectancy they sent their message to Jesus. They were full of hope that he would come and fix their brother. He was the Christ, the Healer, and their friend. Of course he would come!
But Jesus didn’t come. Lazarus continued to grow worse until, to the sisters’ shocking grief, he died. Why had Jesus abandoned them in their greatest time of need? He claimed to love them. Yet he ignored their cry for help in their most desperate hour. They longed for his presence and words of comfort. Instead, they his absence and the deafening silence of death.
What would the sisters have thought if they could have seen into the mind of Jesus, perceiving his motives and intentions? John informs us that Jesus was fully aware of all that was taking place. He purposefully delayed going to see Lazarus. He stated that “This illness does not lead to death,” yet Lazarus died! He knew the suffering of sickness and the pain of death Lazarus was facing. He knew the grief of loss, fear of the unknown, and agony of perceived abandonment his friends were experiencing. And still he waited. What kind of love waits like this? What kind of friendship hears about the suffering of loved ones and does not run to offer healing and comfort?
Days after Lazarus had been laid to rest, Jesus arrived to see the sisters. Martha, with all the agony of a broken heart that comes from deep love ran to him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Where were you?!
Most of us have asked this question in the pain of sudden abandonment by a trusted friend. You are afraid of the answer, but love will not let you remain silent. And so you ask, “Where were you?” For Martha, when hope seemed buried with her brother, she chose to cling in faith to the Jesus she knew. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She chose to trust in the love of Jesus even when His love seemed absent.
To this grieving woman’s trust Jesus gave one of his greatest promises. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Then to the joyful wonder of Martha and Mary the Resurrection and the Life restored the life of Lazarus. The illness did not lead to death. Jesus had been their loving and faithful friend through the valley of the shadow of suffering.
Just a short time later Jesus went to the cross. In agony he cried, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” He died with the crushing weight of the world’s sin resting on his shoulders. Yet, like Lazarus, the story did not end in death. The Resurrection and the Life rose again and lives! He lives and he offers life to all who turn to him and believe.
The love of Jesus sees beyond the momentary afflictions of the present to the greatest good of the future. His love does not end in death but in life. Will you trust him to bring life tomorrow out of death today? Though he tarry, will you wait for him? The Resurrection and the Life has promised that “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The question Jesus asked Martha nearly two thousand years ago is the question he asks us today, “Do you believe this?”