“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.”1 Can you bear these two sentences? The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.
“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”
Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul—the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.
But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?
And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life.2
Martha hurried out.
When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”3
Jesus laid his hand on her head.
He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works4 in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat. 5 He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live.6
Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished.7
Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.
When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”
His living words coursed through her like a current. Hope revived. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.
“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She was not yet sure what this all meant. But as he spoke, it was as if death was being swallowed up.8 No one ever spoke like this man.9
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
We know how the story ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. And Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. You can hear her confusion and disappointment when he finally showed up.
And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary.10
God only ordains our deep disappointment and profound suffering for the sake of far greater joy in the glory he will reveal to us.11 It is crucial to remind one another of this. Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can, and frequently do, look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.
So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus gently, affectionately, yet firmly ask, “Do you believe this?”
To encourage your trust in the Savior who only delays your relief for the sake of your joy, this month we are featuring John Piper’s sermon, “Thankful for the Love of God! Why?” John examines God’s love manifested in Lazarus’ death and in Paul’s thorn in the flesh. It’s beautiful. And it’s free! Just request it by filling out the enclosed form and mailing it back to us. A financial gift is not required, but would be very helpful and deeply appreciated.
God really does love you with an everlasting love. And someday you will not be able to contain your joy as you proclaim, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.”12