September 9, 2020
I’ve forgotten most of the sermons I’ve heard, and I’m sure our congregation has forgotten most of mine. But every once in a while, there is a moment of revelation in the middle of a message that is life altering. That’s what I experienced listening to an old sermon by Dr. Charles Crabtree titled “God’s Grammar.” I found one little line to be absolutely unforgettable: “Never put a comma where God puts a period and never put a period where God puts a comma.”
When someone dies, we naturally put a period on it. Game over. But Jesus knew He would take it into overtime with a Hail Mary, so to speak. When He heard the news that Lazarus was sick, Jesus made a bold prediction: “This sickness will not end in death.” I used to have a problem with that statement because it seems like Jesus is wrong, right? After all, Lazarus does in fact die. But the operative word is end. Jesus said the sickness would not end in death, and it didn’t. He knew Lazarus would die, but Jesus didn’t put a period there. He inserted a four-day comma.
“Sometimes it looks like God is missing the mark,” observed Oswald Chambers, “because we’re too short-sighted to see what He’s aiming for.”
Have you ever felt like God was a day late and a dollar short?
Mary and Martha felt like He was four days late! The window of opportunity closed when Lazarus drew his last breath, but it’s not over until God says it’s over! God always gets the final word. And Martha knew it. What comes out of her mouth ranks as one of the greatest statements of faith in all of Scripture:
Lord . . . if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.
Did you catch the conjunction? There is a but between her statement of fact and her statement of faith.
Evidently, Martha is still holding out hope four days after the funeral. To be honest, a psychotherapist might diagnose this as a psychotic break. After all, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. At what point do you stop hoping and start grieving? Day one? Day two? Day four? Some would say it was her grief speaking, but she was speaking out of faith. Faith often looks like it’s out of touch with reality, but that’s because it’s in touch with a reality that is more real than anything you can see or hear or taste or touch or smell with your five senses. Faith is our sixth sense. And if you’re truly in touch with God, sometimes it’ll appear as if you are out of touch with reality.
The sentence should end after Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” But Martha doesn’t put a period there. Faith inserts a comma, even at the end of a death sentence. That’s what Martha does: “Even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
I love the little phrase embedded in this statement of faith: even now. It’s one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture. Even when it seems like God is four days late, it’s too soon to give up. Even when it seems like your dream is dead and buried, don’t put a period there.
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezers Coffeehouse, The Miracle Theatre, and the DC Dream Center. Mark holds a doctor of ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books, including The Circle Maker, Chase the Lion, and Whisper. Mark and his wife, Lora, have three children and live on Capitol Hill.
In Mark’s book, The Grave Robber, we learn that our impossible situations are God’s greatest opportunity to reveal His glory. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God still does miracles. We don’t expect Him to move in miraculous ways in our day-in and day-out lives. Maybe we’d like to see miracles, but it’s hard to see past our problems. All that is about to change, like water into wine.