Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had s a warm and uniquely intimate relationship with Jesus. So when Lazarus became fatally ill, his sisters, knowing how much Jesus’ loved them, banked their appeal for his help on his love. Read their story in John 11:1-43.
Mary and Martha knew Jesus as a healer, teacher, Messiah, and close friend—but living through these disastrous days taught them that their knowledge was rudimentary. And Jesus was their only hope to reverse the illness killing their brother. As they watched Lazarus weaken and his breathing grow shallower, Mary and Martha drew on what they believed about Jesus and confidently called for help.
But Jesus’ lack of response was beyond their understanding—he calmly remained where he was for forty-eight crucial hours. Sitting at their brother’s death bed, Mary and Martha clung to Lazarus with sinking hearts and disbelief until, in one final breath, both brother and hope died at the same time. Jesus came, but it was too late. Lazarus was dead and had been in the tomb for four days already when Jesus finally showed up.
This was an unreal nightmare for the sisters—one for which they were totally unprepared. Never in their wildest imagining did it occur to them that Jesus simply would not respond—it made no sense to them at all. They were so distraught, the sisters couldn’t even talk to each other about about their confusion over their friend’s betrayal. Everything they knew about Jesus just didn’t add up to his casual dismissal of their pleas.
Mary and Martha suffered devastating grief that was compounded by disappointment—they knew that death could have been prevented if only God had acted! Many of us have felt this same way. Have you ever shared this confusion?
Jesus never seems to do what we expect. When we look for him to act, he stalls. When we would avoid him in our confusion, he goes out of his way for an uncomfortable encounter. Everything he does catches us off-guard and forces us to do what Mary and Martha had to do—take a closer look at Jesus.
In the events of Mary and Martha’s lives, it is clear that from the outset, Jesus was firmly resolved to do things his way. The same is true in ours. In every scene, God moves and acts according to his own agenda, his own timeline, and his own good purposes.
The friends and relatives of Lazarus raised questions about Jesus’ character that echoed the sisters’ confusion: “Did Jesus really love Lazarus and his sisters as he said he did? Was he indifferent to their pain and distress? Why?! Why?!”
Jesus answered them: “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe? It happened this way so that God may be glorified through it” (John 11: 40). God’s glory is the governing principle behind everything he does. And his glory is so intermingled with our good that it is often beyond our ability to distinguish between the two. And yet, this is the solid ground of our belief.
Although this crisis breaks the hearts of Mary and Martha and brings them to the edges of themselves and their faith, it draws them closer to Jesus. It proved to be a turning point in their faith and deepened their relationship to their Lord and Master.
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how the sisters felt before her world went to pieces, but it’s possible they only recognized God’s hand in the form of comfort and a “good life”—what we today call “the prosperity gospel.” If, like Mary and Martha, we are living in this same definition of a blessed life, it can become an idol of our own making,. so that when life gives us lemons, we turn our sour, puckered faces to God in accusation and disappointment.
We do know that when things went badly, Mary and Martha put great emphasis on their circumstances. They bought into the idea that God was angry with them, that they had failed to please him (as if anyone could earn his love), and lost faith, hope, and their surety of faith in the Almighty God. Whatever their thought processes, knowing that nothing is random in God’s kingdom or outside His control, we have to believe his purpose was for good in spite of their suffering. As observers of their lives, we have the advantage of the big picture without living through the pain and bewilderment—it may easier for us to see God’s purpose in their life than it is to see it in our own.