As I was reading John’s Gospel, Chapter 11 in the Amplified Bible, I gained fresh insight into how tenderly Jesus cared for Martha and Mary whilst they were grieving for their brother Lazarus. Normally, when reading these Bible verses my thoughts were always about Lazarus and his dramatic resurrection from death – Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary seemed to be merely spectators. When Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live’, I would think Jesus was dramatically shouting it outside Lazarus’ tomb. Yet Jesus was speaking directly to Martha in response to her faith and trust in the Lord. She had met Him on the road into Bethany. John 11:5 Amplifield Version says,
‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [They were His dear friends, and He held them in loving esteem.]’.
I wonder what these relationships were like? This verse shows the humanity of God and that He, the maker of the Universe can enjoy and cherish friendships. Could it be the case that they were contemporary to Jesus in age sharing the same humour and shared experiences of growing up in Israel at that time? Or were they older, widowed or unmarried people whose parents were no longer alive? Why are no other family members mentioned? I wonder why the Bible records that He held them in loving esteem and they were His dear friends? Perhaps Jesus just felt welcomed by them and enjoyed warm, relaxed conversation and hospitality – just like our prayer lives should be. The Bible says in Luke 10:38 that it was Martha’s house where Jesus had received meals. Lazarus may not have lived at the same house, but only that all three lived in the same village of Bethany for it says in John 11: 1, ‘He was from Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived’. Martha appears to be the practical, outspoken sister. Once she even manages to berate the Lord, even telling Him to ask Mary to help her serve a meal and questioning whether He cared about her. His loving response shows a relationship that is full of affection and easy conversation between them all. The Bible records in Luke 10:38 this meal time interaction between the sisters:
As they went on their way, he entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came up to Him, and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.” Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” ( Luke 10:38 )
The rest of John’s Gospel Chapter 11, shows some more interesting dialogue between Martha and Mary and Jesus.
Jesus was sent word that Lazarus had fallen ill, but instead of rushing to Bethany, the Lord stayed two extra days. He said two seemingly contradictory statements: He said,
“This sickness will not end in death; but [on the contrary it is] for the glory and honor of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Later, Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him.” The disciples answered, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” However, Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was referring to natural sleep. So then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Was it the case, that although the sickness, did cause Lazarus’ physical death, it was only temporary, so effectively the sickness did not lead to actual physical death? This life here on earth is finite but the resurrection life of believers is immortal and eternal. In Lazarus’ case, the Lord raised him from physical death even before Jesus overcame death for all mankind at His crucifixion.
By the time that Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Once again, we are shown an interesting scenario with the sisters. There were visitors to Bethany who had come to comfort the sisters. Jesus’s arrival in Bethany was told to Martha, but was she in her own house and did Mary also hear this same news? The Bible says that Martha went to Jesus as He travelled along the road into Bethany but Mary remained sitting at home. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, while Mary remained sitting in the house.
Martha is a woman of faith today, she says;
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give to You.” (John 11:21)
Jesus said to her, Your brother shall rise again. Martha replied, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus says to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live – do you believe this?’
After this dialogue she finds Mary, who is sitting at home. Martha quietly and privately says to Mary, out of earshot of the visitors, ‘the Teacher is close at hand and is asking for you’. When Mary heard this, she sprang up quickly and went to Him. Today, Mary is the one who berates Jesus for she says, falling at His feet, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died’. I wonder if the reason she stayed at home, when Martha went to Jesus was become she was so overcome with grief that she did not have the wherewithal to go outside with Martha. I can only imagine that when Martha returned she communicated such wonderful news, that the Lord had arrived, that it caused Mary to spring to her feet out of the doldrums of despair.
Next, there is a tremendous scriptural insight that speak of how Jesus opposes death and everything to do with death including sickness and disease. When Jesus saw Mary sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit [to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death] and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. …. So Jesus, again deeply moved within [to the point of anger], approached the tomb. John 11: 33-35, 38.
Jesus asks that the stone is moved away but practical Martha is concerned that Lazarus’ body would stink. In the King James version Martha says quite poetically, ‘by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days’. This time Jesus seemingly berates Martha, Jesus said to her,
“Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory?” John 11:40
The next verses describe the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.
“Father, I thank you that you listened to me. I know that you always listen to me, but because of the multitude that stands around I said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Free him, and let him go.” John 11:42-44
It can only be imagined the sheer joy of Martha and Mary to meet their living brother again. I expect Jesus was equally full of joy too knowing that He had relieved the sisters of the despair and agony of grief. No wonder that Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’. (Hebrews 12:2) Maybe Jesus wept again but for Joy.
This ordinary family receive an extraordinary miracle from their Dear Friend, the Lord Jesus. Jesus knew, even before He arrived in Bethany, that Lazarus had died and He also knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew He could afford to arrive in His own timing and not be hurried – there were so many other people that needed Him. He knew the outcome, He knew that it would be glorious and bring great joy to Martha and Mary. Prior to leaving for Bethany, Jesus revealed that He found death so offensive that He could not even bear to say the word at first, merely saying the Lazarus was sleeping. When His disciples were confused, Jesus then confirmed the reality that Lazarus was dead. I believe that Jesus wept and was very deeply troubled at how death caused such misery to people. He knew it was the last enemy and that He would defeat death and the grave for all of us who believe on Him. He wept because of the effects of the law of sin and death on mankind and creation. He wept for those who suffer untimely fatal accidents, deathly diseases and long lingering deaths in care homes.
To conclude, there is one more interesting verse about Mary:
Therefore many of the Jews, who came to Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. (John 11: 45)
It would seem that some of these visitors who came to Bethany when Lazarus died, were attracted to misery and settled on being near Mary. It is interesting that when Martha first saw the Lord arrive in Bethany, having spoken to Him, she then needs to speak to Mary in private. The Bible records that after Martha whispers to Mary that the Lord was in Bethany and wanted to see her. Mary springs up from her sitting position, but she does not tell her morbid companions where she is going. They assume she is visiting the grave to grieve and follow her there. Later, some of these miserable companions become believers when they see Lazarus raised from the dead. Yet some departed and cause trouble by reporting to the religious authorities.
There is another occasion in the Gospel when Jesus raises a little girl from the dead. It is found in Mark’s Gospel Chapter 5: Jesus had the miserable mourners put outside the house.
While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more? But Jesus, when he heard the message spoken, immediately said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him, except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. He came to the synagogue ruler’s house, and he saw an uproar, weeping, and great wailing. When he had entered in, he said to them, “Why do you make an uproar and weep? The child is not dead, but is asleep.” They ridiculed him. But he, having put them all out, took the father of the child, her mother, and those who were with him, and went in where the child was lying. Taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha cumi!” which means, being interpreted, “Girl, I tell you, get up!” 42 Immediately the girl rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old. They were amazed with great amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and commanded that something should be given to her to eat. (Mark 5: 35-43)
The Lord has overcome death and the grave for all who believe on Him. He has also overcome sickness and disease and the law of sin and death. However, whenever you are in a trial trust that the Lord will come to your aid in His perfect timing and like Martha, reject any unhelpful companions in your trial. There are people that enjoy making other people feel worse. You are loved by the Lord Jesus. If you are suffering bereavement, remember that He is not far from you at all. He grieves too and hates death. That’s why He overcame death for you and your loved ones.