Look at the various aspects! He said He would go back into Judaea. The disciples immediately reacted: 'No, the Jews recently sought to kill You there. You must not go back there!' You see the move to take things out of His hands, to govern His movements, His judgments and His decisions, but He is not having it. He has taken this thing in hand, and, disciples or no disciples, He is going on. There is something that He is after, and He is in charge. Messengers are sent to him about Lazarus when He is away somewhere else, and undoubtedly the message means this, although it is not recorded: 'Lazarus is dying. Come, please! Come quickly! Come as quickly as You can!' The beloved sisters would have said that, but to do as they wished would have taken the matter right out of His hands and ruled His judgment, ruled His feelings, governed His movements, set a time that He did not set, and taken it over. No, He abode where He was. He had the situation in hand and was not going to let it out of His hands, although the appeal was from those whom He loved. It is stated that that was so. The situation was one which could appeal to any sympathetic heart, but that was not going to decide this thing. It was in His hands and He was going to decide the ground upon which He worked, the time in which He worked, and when He was going to move, and nothing would alter His decision. The Jews, of course, ever ready to criticise Him and discredit Him, and put Him in a bad light, said: "Could not this man, which opened the eyes of him that was blind have caused that this man also should not die?" All these forces were at work in every realm, from the centre to the circumference of His relationships, to get Him under control, but He was not having it. He had this matter in hand, and that is a very important thing. Why? He stated it: 'This sickness is not unto death, finally, absolutely. This sickness is not going to end in death, but is for the glory of God.' And what then? "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there." Oh, what are you going to make of that? Put yourselves in the position of these sisters with a beloved only brother slowly passing out, in the grip of this apparently fatal sickness. Their hearts were wrung with distress and anxiety, were breaking, and they had seen to it that He knew about it - and this was His attitude: "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there."
Well, you see, He has got hold of this situation and is in charge. We are dealing with God. He is in charge, and if He is working to a certain end you cannot hurry Him, you cannot take over from Him and make Him do what you want Him to do. He is going to reach His end, and it may be a very trying way for our flesh and our natures, but He will get there, for He is in charge.
THE LAW OF TRAVAIL
We sometimes sing, rather glibly and without watching our words too carefully:
"How I long to climb to the utmost heights!"
I wonder if we realise as we sing that that the utmost heights are only reached through the utmost depths! You and I, dear friends, will never reach God's end except along the pathway of brokenness. That is what this chapter says. While we are whole, and substantial, and well-knit, and self-confident, we will never reach His end.
You see, God, right at the beginning of the Bible and of human history, planted something in human experience which became the LAW of all true knowledge of God from that moment. The great issue in the Garden was KNOWLEDGE of good and evil. Man made a bid for knowledge, under the instigation and inspiration of the devil, and God came along on that declension, on that breakdown, and established a law by which He said: 'You shall never have true knowledge except by this law. Everything that is going to be true and real in the future is not going to be gained so easily as you thought.' The law of travail was planted right at the heart of human life. Travail was introduced as a law for the future, and you and I know very well that true love only comes out of travail. Put it another way: we never value anything that has cost us nothing. We can let it go very cheaply if we have not paid any price for it, but if we have paid a price, if it has been costly, if it has meant something to us of real suffering, or sorrow, or great trial, that is infinitely precious to us, and we do not let it go easily.
So God came right in at that point and put this law of travail into human life and human history, and said: 'You tried to get everything cheaply, but you will not get anything that is worth having without cost in the future.' And from that point, you notice all through the Bible, until you come to the travail of His soul, the travail of the Garden, the travail of the Cross, of which Isaiah had said: "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied", that out of travail is the preciousness. It is the law, you see, that there is no reaching the heart of God and having true knowledge without costliness.
Peter learned that by a deep way. He tried to get things cheaply. "It is good for us to be here, Lord. Let us build three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah", and I suppose, although he did not say so, he meant: 'We will have some tabernacles, too. We will stay here.' Peter was like that, but he went the deep way of utter devastation by the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and years afterwards he wrote: "Unto you therefore which believe is the preciousness" (1 Peter 2:7).
The last picture of the Church is of the city, and its gates are of pearl, which is the very symbol of agony, of blood, of tears. That is how it is made. It is costly, and very precious because it costs.
I said that this is a comprehensive chapter, did I not? We will come back to it. Here are these dear sisters, and how they are baptized into the passion, the agony of the Cross, and how they are having to know a tasting of death in order that they might know the preciousness of resurrection life! There is no other way to it.
"I am glad for your sakes that I was not there." He was farsighted, and saw that, although He was running this risk of being misunderstood - for everybody, sisters and all, were misunderstanding Him and were incapable of comprehending Him - He must accept the risk. He saw beyond, to the ultimate. And what is the ultimate? "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God?"
The end of all God's ways is glory. How rich and how full all this is! We are in the presence of God, and when we are there we are in the presence of profoundest realities. Oh, that we might have the grace, when the Lord has us in hand and is dealing with us, not to wrench ourselves out of His hand, but to remain there unto the inevitable glory!