“Now a man named Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:1) Not just any man, but a close friend of Jesus. His sisters (Mary and Martha) sent an urgent message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (v. 3) “When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” (v. 4) It would not end in death, but Lazarus would actually pass through death.
“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” (v. 5-6) There was no hurry on Jesus’ part, but a very hard-to-understand delay.
Because the disciples challenged Jesus when he said “Let’s go back to Judea,” I believe they might have tried to understand why Jesus didn't return earlier to heal such a close friend. The disciples reasoned that it wasn’t safe for Jesus because the Jews had tried to stone him there (after healing the blind man). (v. 8) But Jesus wasn’t concerned about his own safety. He was listening to his Father, and his Father said to wait.
Jesus explained to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I’m glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (v. 14-15)
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. “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.” (v. 21-22)
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (v. 26)
“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (v. 27)
Martha is often remembered for being worried and upset about many things while her sister Mary chose what was better and sat at Jesus’ feet and listened (Luke 10). My personality, like Martha’s, is prone to worry (see post “All That I Can Do"), and I sometimes catch myself thinking: “Don’t be such a Martha. Be more like Mary.” But, I can see Martha in a different light in this encounter with Jesus, and I deeply respect her for what she communicated to Him in the midst of her deep pain and confusion of why Jesus delayed coming when they needed him.
This is how I would describe Martha’s statement of faith: If only you were here, we wouldn’t be mourning the death of our brother right now. I don’t understand why you didn’t come to heal the one whom you love when he was sick. But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know that you are his Son, and so I still have hope. My heart has not become hardened with bitterness toward you. I believe that you are the Christ. This understanding could only have come from you, so that even while I am mourning and don’t know why this has happened, you have not changed. You cannot change. I fully believe in you. And I accept whatever you have done and will do.
Martha was not stopped by the “If only.” She went on to confess her belief in the one who acted in a way she could not understand and to place all of her hope and trust in Him.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.32) Echoing the words of her sister, it was all that Mary could say as she fell at Jesus’ feet. Then she broke down in uncontrollable tears, and Jesus wept with her. (v.33-35) I find great comfort in Jesus’ tender response to Mary, who was unable to move beyond “If only” at that point. Jesus entered into her pain, and wept alongside her, as she wrestled with grief over her brother’s death and great disappointment in Jesus.
Then Jesus came to the tomb and commanded the stone to be rolled away. He said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (v. 40) He looked up to heaven and thanked his Father and then he called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (v. 43) And Jesus then said to the bystanders who were stunned to see a man, who had been dead for four days, walk out of the tomb, “Take off his grave clothes and let him go.” (v. 44)
Jesus had said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v. 27)
This question is for also us today: Do I believe this? What does this really mean?
Do I believe that life can come through death?
What is God asking me to trust Him for that I can’t understand: “God, if only you had…”
May we say along with Martha, “If only, even now, I believe.”