Sometimes Jesus' Love Throws Us for a Loop

I admire the simplicity of the familiar Sunday school song which declares, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It expresses assurance of Christ’s love on the basis of Scripture’s authority, and this a reality that, in our post-Christian culture, needs to be constantly reaffirmed. But Scripture tells us more than the reality that Jesus loves us, it also tells us how Jesus loves us. This is vital to understand, because it is dangerous for us to create our own expectations as to the way in which Jesus loves His sheep. Often, the way we want Jesus to love us is not the way He actually loves us. At first, this may sound discouraging, but when we remember that Jesus knows what is best for us, we can rejoice even when His love throws us for a loop.

This truth is demonstrated in the context of Lazarus’ death. In John 11:1, we discover that Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, is sick. All three of the siblings are friends of Jesus, and so, the sisters send word to Jesus to let Him know of their brother’s illness. No doubt, the message is sent with the desire that He would come and heal Lazarus upon receiving the news (see vv. 21 and 32). This doesn’t seem strange at all. It is the same thing we would have done if we were in the sisters’ shoes. What seems strange is how Jesus responds to the report of Lazarus’ condition. Verse 6 tells us, “He stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Just reading that part of the text tempts us to think that Jesus doesn’t care or He’s too busy to drop what He’s doing to come and help.¹ But the context doesn’t allow us to hold that interpretation. Consider verse 5 and the first half of verse 6:

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. (Emphasis added)

Notice the word “loved” in verse 5 and “so” in verse 6. These two words show us that it is Jesus’ love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus that keeps Him from hustling over to Judea immediately. Jesus’ love is the reason He stays put for two more days. How can this be a loving response to the news that Lazarus is ill?

To add to our bewilderment, after Lazarus’ death, Jesus tells His disciples, “I am glad that I was not there” (v. 15). At these words, someone may think, “Jesus, how does this inspire joy in you? If you had been there you could have prevented Lazarus’ death entirely.” But Jesus reveals why it is better that He was not there when He says to His disciples, “I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (emphasis added). Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, which would bolster the faith of the disciples (and, no doubt, the faith of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus too).² In fact, by waiting two more days, as D. A. Carson says, Jesus’ “delay ensured that Lazarus had been dead long enough that no one could misinterpret the miracle as a mere resuscitation.”³ Jesus’ decision to wait serves to highlight His glory as it reveals His undeniable power over death (see v. 4). This is better for their faith, which shows us why it was loving for Jesus to remain where He was until after Lazarus died.

As we’re watching this narrative unfold, Jesus’ actions do throw us for a loop. But by the time we get to its conclusion, we see His love profoundly. In passages like this, the Bible shows us that Jesus’ love is often not what we expect or prefer, but it is what is best. The followers of Christ in this text got to see exactly why Jesus’ decision was an act of love. That will not always be the case when it comes to our trials, but the presence of this narrative in the Bible reminds us that just because it’s not what we would’ve chosen doesn’t mean that it’s not from Jesus’ love. As James Montgomery Boice put it, we must “learn to interpret circumstances by the love of Christ and not Christ’s love by circumstances.”⁴

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical  Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

¹ James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: Those Who Received Him (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2005), 826-827.

² D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990), 407.

³ Ibid.

⁴ Boice, The Gospel of John, 828.

Brent Osterberg




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