As promised, we’ll continue discussing Mary and Martha. This post references Martha and Mary’s story found in John 11:1-46.
Imagine you and your family are personal friends of Jesus. One of your loved ones becomes very ill and you send Jesus a text message telling Him to come quickly and heal them. Jesus, after all, was known for healing sick people. Jesus replies back, “His illness will not end in death. It is for the glory of God.”
However, your loved one dies shortly after that, and Jesus doesn’t come until the funeral is over. You are receiving guests with casseroles and flowers at your home when you hear that Jesus is only a couple of miles away. Although you asked Him to, Jesus did not prevent your loved one from dying. What will you say when see Him again?
What Martha did was go out and find Jesus several miles away while Mary stayed at home, mourning. Martha looked into His face and says to Jesus in that moment, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” That statement sounds like a complaint about Jesus running late. Perhaps it is partially a complaint, but it is also a statement laced with faith. And her next statement is all faith. She says, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Before she said another thing, Jesus tells her that her brother "will rise again.”
Martha remembered that several days ago Jesus had said Lazarus wouldn’t die from this illness. But Lazarus did die, so she figures Jesus must be talking about the future resurrection day of all souls. She mentions that. Jesus does not clarify that He is about to raise Lazarus from that tomb his lifeless body lays in, instead He explains something even more grand: that HE IS RESURRECTION LIFE.
Jesus reveals to her that resurrection life is not just a future spiritual event, but a living, breathing, walking reality embodied in Jesus – and that anyone who believes this will receive eternal life on that coming resurrection day. He asks Martha if she believes this – that through Him a person can live eternally even though they die physically.
Martha – who is most known today for being too busy in the kitchen to sit with Jesus – says in response: “Yes, Lord, I have always believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” Martha took the heat for fussing over Mary and the cooking as we discussed in previous weeks' posts, but in this moment she takes the cake for having great belief in Jesus!
To us Martha’s declaration may seem like a stating of obvious fact. But this woman had not read the New Testament (it wasn’t even written yet), she had not done Beth Moore’s Bible study “Jesus the One and Only,” and she had not seen Jesus raised from the dead (He hadn’t been crucified), yet still she understood and believed that Jesus was the Christ and through Him people could be delivered from death. Can you imagine Jesus’ smile when she said that?
Then Martha then goes home and tells Mary Jesus wants to see her. Mary had been inconsolable over her brother’s death. The Bible says, “When the people who were trying to console Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to weep at Lazarus’s grave and followed her.” Instead she went to Jesus who had called her to His side.
It seems Jesus was somewhat agitated that the whole crowd had come along. He had been purposely staying just out of town, rather than going to the two sisters’ house with the crowd. I think He knew with all these witnesses, it would get back to the Pharisees that He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and they would surely come after Him and kill Him (which is exactly what happened next).
But Jesus felt deeply for Mary as she wept there at His feet over her brother. Jesus had loved Lazarus dearly too. And, Jesus cried along with them. Our Lord can feel our pain. I am so thankful for a Savior who has walked this dusty earth, feeling the emotions and dealing with the complexities of human life as we do.
Once He reached Lazarus’ grave, Jesus called for the stone to be rolled away from the tomb. Martha panics a moment at what it will smell like when that door is opened. Jesus reminds her, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”
Are there some areas of your life you have thought “dead?” Like maybe, your savings account? Or your career? Or your sex-life with your spouse? Or your womb? Or a relationship with a parent, or child? What “can of worms” do you avoid opening for fear that it is too stinky to deal with?
Once the tomb was opened, Jesus says aloud towards Heaven, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so they will believe you sent me." Then Jesus shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus came out, bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him go!" (vs. 42-43).
Look carefully at what took place in this passage – realize we may not always get to hear Jesus command the life to rise in us, or in our circumstances. Oftentimes we will just have to take that on faith. And realize it may not look or smell much like life at first. In fact, it might continue looking like a smelly corpse in graveclothes! But if we preserve in faith, unwrapping those graveclothes, we will find the miracle of resurrection life has gone forth.
As I reread this passage this weekend, what stood out to me was the three instances that Martha’s faith was challenged (verses 4-5, 21-27, and 39-40) and she responded with belief. Had she not responded with belief, would Lazarus not been raised from the dead? I don’t know – it seems God already had this miracle planned out in order to demonstrate His power and glory. And we see that Jesus knew that from the start.
Jesus didn’t delay coming because He was just too busy to help Lazarus. Nor was He was numb to their feelings and plight. It's just that relieving their temporary suffering and grief was not the primary motivation for Jesus. Jesus was carrying out the will of God, being driven by a higher purpose, so God could be glorified and others (including Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) could see God and believe. That is not callous - there is no greater pleasure than seeing God. Verse 45 confirms that, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.”
So here is the challenge I take from this story. Jesus holds the resurrection power – do I hold the belief? If so, I will see God and His glory displayed. If so, I'll get to remove the graveclothes from the dead areas of my heart and life. And I will one day rise from my own grave. I have to rememeber the goal is not to avoid all suffering, but to see God and His glory.