“Hold onto hope, because God hears you, and I still believe He’s gonna heal you . . . He’s just two years too late.”
Someone recently said this (hoping to encourage me) as I shared with them that sometimes it’s hard to know how to pray. I know God hears me, but I’ve been asking for healing and relief for years—He knows my desires.
My friend’s comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it got me thinking: is God ever late?
In the Bible, Jesus never seems to be in a hurry, but one time in particular stands out to me—a time when Jesus was four days too late.
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:17–21)
As I listened to this passage recently, it struck me differently than before, because I realized Jesus was purposefully late. What? Why? Here’s what I’m learning about Jesus’ timing:
1. Jesus was purposely late, though he could have prevented Lazarus’ death and his sisters’ grief. He chose to allow it instead.
So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6)
Jesus knew exactly what would happen when He intentionally stayed put for two extra days. In verse 37, some of the Jews asked, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
The journey to Bethany must have been a couple days long because when Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already been dead for four days.
Jesus did this on purpose.
2. Jesus was purposely late so that God would be glorified.
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.” (John 11:3–4, emphasis added)
Whoa. And it gets crazier.
3. Jesus was purposely late for His disciples’ sake.
After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:11–15, emphasis added)
Wait—Jesus was glad He wasn’t there? That almost seems like a harsh statement. It feels weird; it’s unsettling to me. But then I remember the rest of the story:
The miraculous resurrection of Lazarus is exactly what displayed Jesus’ power. God was glorified, the faith of believers strengthened, and many witnesses came alive through believing in Christ.
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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him. (John 11:40–45, emphasis added)
If that were all there was to the story, it would be enough. So incredible. So encouraging and thought-provoking. But there’s one more thing that blows me away. Despite Jesus knowing exactly what He was doing and that He would raise His friend from the dead . . .
4. Jesus wept.
Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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. (John 11:30–35, emphasis added)
Jesus cares. He is compassionate. Jesus sees your pain, your longings, your wounds, and your situation. And He grieves with you.
Sometimes we don’t feel it, because all we want is for Him to show that He cares by fixing our situation. We want the miracle—the healing, the restored relationship, the financial recovery, the friend, the job, the grade. I don’t know what your unfulfilled longing is, but I understand, because I’ve got a few of my own. And like you, I hope for the page to turn in my circumstances. That’s not wrong, but maybe there’s more to it. Remember, this story does end with a miracle. But first there’s a wait.
You may have heard it said that God is never late. But I think sometimes He’s “late” (at least, according to our human expectations) on purpose.
- He’s late because if He had healed you last semester, you wouldn’t have connected with that friend who’s struggling with her health, too.
- You wouldn’t have shared your testimony, or written that song, or put that post on social media.
- Your little brother wouldn’t have seen God through you and gotten saved.
- Your neighbor across the street who knows your story but doesn’t say a word to you wouldn’t have started reading her Bible.
And when miracles come, we know to whom the glory belongs. God’s timing is perfect and purposeful.
Even when He disciplines us, He does it as a good Father with his son or daughter’s best interest in mind (Prov. 3:11-12). When we suffer He doesn’t delight in it (Lam. 3:31-33), but He does promise to use it for good and for His glory (Heb.12:11,Rom. 8:28).
Remember, our suffering isn’t just about us. If another soul can pass from death to life through its extension, there is purpose. The world is watching, and so often God uses people like you and me to draw them to Himself. We get to be part of this story. It doesn’t always make it easy, but it does make it worth the wait!
In your waiting, He is working—for His glory and for our good.