Tag Archive | martha

Why did Jesus not come? (part 3)

So how shall we react?

When Jesus decided to go to Bethany, his disciples tried to dissuade him because of the danger there, but Jesus said ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe’. He was going to demonstrate his glory – so that they would believe. He wanted his disciples to to grow in their faith in him. And when Jesus was standing at the tomb, he prayed these words to his father: ‘I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ That was his whole desire – that people would believe. And at the end of the story, we are told ‘Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him’. People witnessed his power over death. And many of them believed. He was glorified.

So Jesus is unpredictable. He doesn’t always do what we expect. But he does always love us. He is greatly troubled and deeply moved by our sorrow and grief. But he is up to something far greater than we can imagine. He wants us to believe. He wants us to trust him.

When Jesus asked the sisters and their friends where they had laid Lazarus, they said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. And when Jesus saw the tomb, He wept. This was not what He had intended. This was not His plan for His children. In my mind, I had laid my dad in the bed in the care home where he died – that was what I remembered when I thought of him. But Jesus reminds us that He is the resurrection and the life. He has conquered death forever. So our loved ones are not in the graves where we buried them. There is a far greater story. Jesus came to bring life. Jesus died to bring life. And so our loved ones – and we – have become part of his story. There is something far greater going on than the story that we are aware of. Can we believe that? Can we trust him?

Jesus does come – not always when we expect him to – but his delay does not mean that he doesn’t love us.

He may not answer all of our questions – but he weeps with us and is troubled when we are troubled.

He may not do what we ask him to do – but he is up to something far greater.

Can we trust him when we don’t understand what he is doing? Can we believe that he is good? A friend recently shared with me her story of perplexing loss and told me that she had come to believe in the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

I like that. I think I can believe in that – the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

(If you want to read part 2, click here; and if you want to read part 1, click here.)


Why did Jesus not come? (part 2)

Mary and Martha are disappointed with Jesus

Jesus eventually does come – but he’s too late. Lazarus has died. And of course the sisters are disappointed. Martha goes to meet Jesus when she hears he is coming and she says to him, ˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.

Those words portray her faith in the power of Jesus – she knew that he could have saved Lazarus – but they also portray her disappointment that he didn’t come earlier.

Mary meets Jesus next and she says exactly the same words to Jesus: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Both sisters had wanted only one thing – one thing that they knew Jesus could give them – but he didn’t give it to them.

The fact that Jesus doesn’t do what we expect does not mean that He doesn’t care

We see the humanity of Jesus in this story in a way which we don’t see often in the New Testament. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. Jesus wept….Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.” There are just a few other places in the NT where we read of Jesus being troubled: in John 12 his soul was troubled as he contemplated the cross; and in John 13 he was troubled as he contemplated his betrayal. Here he is ‘greatly troubled’ and ‘deeply moved’ when he sees the sorrow and grief of his dear friends.

So it wasn’t that he didn’t care about what had happened to them. When Jesus saw them weeping, he was deeply moved and greatly troubled. When he went to the tomb, he wept. Death was not how it was meant to be. God never intended that we would have to stand by the graves of our loved ones. When we weep, he weeps with us. He is moved by our sorrow and he is troubled by our grief. Isaiah 53 tells us ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’. 

Somehow that helps a lot. To realise that Jesus does come and that He does care, even though He doesn’t do what we expect Him to, brings me comfort and reassurance. He weeps with us. The fact that He doesn’t do what we expect Him to is not because He doesn’t love us.

Jesus is up to something far greater than we can imagine

Jesus was up to something far greater than the sisters or anyone else could imagine that day. When he had heard that Lazarus was sick, this is what he said: ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ What did he mean – this illness does not lead to death? Of course it led to death – Lazarus was in the grave. But Jesus was going to raise him from the dead – and God was going to be glorified.

Then, as they stood at the tomb and Jesus asked them to take away the stone, Martha, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor’. But Jesus asked her: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ That was it – it was all about the glory of God that day.

Jesus could have gone right away, as soon as he heard that Lazarus was sick, and could have healed him. He healed many people when he was on earth and Lazarus could have been just one more. But because he loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he waited – and then did something far greater for them. He didn’t just heal Lazarus – he raised him from the dead. He allowed this family to witness an amazing demonstration of his power over death – for he is, as he said, ‘the resurrection and the life’. He wanted them to see his glory, to witness his power, to know for sure that he had conquered death – forever.

(If you want to read part 1, click here)



Why did Jesus not come? (part 1)

Why did it have to be this way? Why did Jesus not come?

My dad died last year after suffering from a particularly distressing form of dementia. He had loved and served God all of his life. The end of his life was hard. There was confusion, there were hallucinations, there was loss of mobility, added to loss of eyesight and loss of hearing. At the end, he didn’t know us any more. Somehow this was not how I expected it to be. How could a man who loved God end his days like this? How could God leave him to die like this? Why didn’t God answer my prayers for him? Why did Jesus not come? As my dad was dying, I just couldn’t deal with my questions. So I put them in a box and put the lid on. I told myself that it was OK to have questions which I had no answers to – because God was God and I wasn’t.

But in the year after his death, I began to realise that, while I had put my questions in a box and closed the lid on them, they had impacted by relationship with God. Yes I still trusted Him – but I wasn’t sure what He would do next. Maybe I wasn’t really sure that I could trust Him. Or at least I couldn’t trust the God I thought I knew.

For several months, I was drawn back again and again to the story of Lazarus in John 11.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus

At the very beginning of this story, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus saying ‘He whom you love is ill’. That puts the story in the context of a relationship. This was a man whom Jesus knew and loved. And he was ill.

Furthermore, the story goes on to say ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’. So this was a whole family whom Jesus loved. In fact, we have more than one instance in the New Testament when we read of Jesus staying in their home in Bethany. He was a friend of this family, He was welcome in their home, He often ate there and it could have been that he stayed in their home from time to time, after being in the busy city of Jerusalem, for Bethany was just 2 miles outside Jerusalem.

But Jesus is unpredictable

So there was a strong relationship between Jesus and this family. How startling therefore it is for us to read these words: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’ Now that doesn’t make any sense at all to us. If we were writing the story we would say something like this: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he rushed to his bedside to heal him’.

These words are perplexing for us. It’s not what love looks like to us. Jesus isn’t behaving the way we expect him to. We are left wondering what he will do next. He is unpredictable. As Mrs Beaver said about Aslan in CS Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’: ‘he’s not safe but he is good’. Is He safe? Is He good?

‘When Jesus didn’t answer the pleas of Mary and Martha, they probably realised they didn’t know Him as well as they thought they did. Because as the hours of waiting turned into days, Jesus did not meet their expectations. And He may not meet ours. In the story of Lazarus Jesus redefines normal for us. The lingering Jesus does not offer a guarantee that things will work out as we think they should.’ The Lazarus Life by Stephen W. Smith.

(to be continued…)

3 Perspectives on the story of Lazarus

From three different directions recently I have been reminded of the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Firstly, Alan spoke about it in a recent church service, where he looked at the story from the point of view of the progression of Martha’s faith through the story. You can read about it on his website.

  • At the start, Martha believed that Jesus loved her brother.
  • She believed that if Jesus had been present, he could have prevented the death of her brother.
  • She believed that even though her brother had died, Jesus was still powerful.
  • She believed that her brother would rise at the last day.
  • She believed that Jesus was the Christ.

Alan says: What an amazing moment it must have been for Martha to realise that the power of resurrection, which she affirmed as part of her faith, was present, incarnate in the man called Jesus.

As the resurrection, Jesus promises that for anyone who dies believing in him, death will not have the final word. As the life, Jesus promises that anyone who believes in him will have a quality of life that death cannot touch.

It is one thing to make these claims. (I could claim to be able to fly between tall buildings: the fraudulence and futility of my claim would be revealed at the first attempt). By commanding Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, Jesus demonstrated the reality of his claim.

Then I came across this story again in Elisabeth Elliot’s Daily Devotional, where she was looking at instances in the Bible where deliverance did not come – at least not in the way or in the time expected by those who prayed.

She asks: What did the household at Bethany not do that the Widow of Nain had done? How shall we align it all? Who rates and who doesn’t? Whatever it is that we might have chosen to say to them in the days following their experience of death, we would have had to come to terms somehow with the bleak fact that God had done something for others that he had not done for them.

From the vantage point of two thousand years, we later believers can, of course, see that there was something wonderful in prospect, and that it emerged within a very few days. But of course this line would have been frosty comfort for Mary and Martha, if we had insisted to them, “Well, surely God is up to something. We’ll just have to wait.”

And yet what else could we have said? Their experience at that point was of the utter finality of death, which had thrown everything they had expected into limbo. For them there was no walking and leaping and praising God. No embracing and ecstatic tears of reunion. Only the silence of shrouds and sepulchres, and then the turning back, not just to the flat routines of daily life, but to the miserable duel with the tedious voices pressing in upon their exhausted imaginations with “Right! Now where are you? Tell us about your faith now! What’d you do wrong?”

The point is that for x number of days, their experience was of defeat. For us, alas, the “x number of days” may be greatly multiplied. And it is small comfort to us to be told that the difference, then, between us and Mary and Martha’s experience of Lazarus’ death, is only a quantitative difference. “They had to wait four days. You have to wait one, or five, or seventy years. What’s the real difference?” That is like telling someone on the rack that his pain is only quantitatively different from mine with my hangnail. The quantity is the difference. But there is, perhaps, at least this much of help for us whose experience is that of Mary and Martha and the others, and not that of the widow of Nain and Jairus and that set: the experience of the faithful has, in fact, included the experience of utter death. That seems to be part of the pattern, and it would be hard indeed to insist that the death was attributable to some failure of faith on somebody’s part.

There is also this to be observed: that it sometimes seems that those on the higher reaches of faith are asked to experience this “absence” of God. For instance, Jesus seemed ready enough to show his authority to chance bystanders, and to the multitudes; but look at his own circle. John the Baptist wasn’t let off–he had his head chopped off. James was killed in prison. And the Virgin herself had to go through the horror of seeing her Son tortured. No legions of angels intervened there. There was also Job, of course. And St. Paul–he had some sort of healing ministry himself, so that handkerchiefs were sent out from him with apparently healing efficacy for others, but, irony of ironies, his own prayer for himself was “unanswered.” He had to slog through life with whatever his “thorn” was. What do these data do to our categories?

But there is more. Turning again to the disclosure of God in Scripture, we seem to see that, in his economy, there is no slippage. Nothing simply disappears. No sparrow falls without his knowing (and, one might think, caring) about it. No hair on anybody’s head is without its number. Oh, you say, that’s only a metaphor; it’s not literal. A metaphor of what, then, we might ask. Is the implication there that God doesn’t keep tabs on things?

And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church, that have gone up to the throne in behalf of the sufferer. They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done. Hey, what about that?

And we know that this is false. It is nonsense. All right then–we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil. And nothing happened.

Did it not? What angle of vision are we speaking from? Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish?

Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually–that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? In the face of suffering and endurance and loss and waiting and death, what is it that has kept the spirits of the faithful from flagging utterly down through the millennia? Is it not the hope of Redemption? Is it not the great Finish to the Story–and to all their little stories of wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins as well as to the One Big Story of the whole creation, which is itself groaning and waiting? And is not that Finish called glorious? Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

And finally, I read a prayer by Scotty Smith, taken from his book ‘Everyday Prayers’ which is also reproduced in a daily devotional form. Scotty based his prayer on the verse from this beautiful story, ‘Jesus wept’:

Dear Lord Jesus, this may be the shortest verse in the Bible, but it’s immeasurably long in terms of comfort and encouragement.  Your hot, compassionate tears, shed outside of Lazarus’s tomb, are one of the greatest showers that has ever fallen upon the face of the earth. You wept a waterfall of mercy and grace; a river of kindness and peace; a torrent of tenderness and strength.

You knew that within a matter of moments, your friend would breathe again. You knew he’d walk again. You knew you’d enjoy Lazarus’ company very soon. And yet you wept so full-heartedly, as you allowed yourself to feel the implications of his death. Those privileged to see your sacred fury and great sadness, offered profound commentary, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36).

Jesus, we’re so glad you are such a tenderhearted Savior. Many of us will soon face the death of a loved one. Some of us have recently buried a friend, a parent, a spouse, or most painfully, a child. Others of us are coming upon the painful anniversary of great loss. Thank you for validating the pain, the emptiness, the confusion, the great sadness we feel.

At times, like Lazarus’ sister, we cry, “Lord, if only you’d been there”, and you don’t wince, roll your eyes or shame us. You never glibly say to us with impatience, “Get over it.” Rather you say with great understanding, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because no one hates death more than you. No one. Perhaps some of your tears outside of Lazarus’s tomb were offered knowing he’d have to go through the whole rotten dying process again—such is your hatred of death. No one feels its horrid implications more profoundly. No one grieves its ugly violation more deeply. No one is more looking forward to the day of “no more death” (Rev. 21:4) than you. And no one has done more to put death to death, than you.

Today we rest our sobered and saddened hearts on your shoulder, with the peace and comfort that comes from knowing you as “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The last enemy will soon be a long gone enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). And because of your resurrection, we sing in advance of our resurrection, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). How we praise you! How we exalt you! How we rest our heavy hearts in your loving hands! So very Amen we pray, in your grave-robbing name. Amen.