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Golden Nursing Center in Mannington, NJ –Evening Service on 3/20/2014
(edited June 2020)
Verses 1-6: “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore, his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou love is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abodes two days still in the same place where he was.”
Christ’s reaction to this dire situation seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Mary and Martha weren’t making a casual request. Regardless of exact wording, often what we mean in our prayers is “HELP ME, LORD, Right Now!” But not all prayers are answered right away, as I’m sure many here can attest. And these delays can seem very odd, at least to me, especially when I am afraid and confused. But Christ reminds us here that God’s deferred responses can bring Him Glory, too. How can that be?
Verses 7-10: “Then after that saith he to his disciples, let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.”
I’ve learned something the hard way in my life, and am still learning it: When Christ says “wait,” you wait, and when Christ says “go,” you go. And it’s better to do this even if you don’t fully understand what is happening around you.
Verses 11-15: “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.””
Sometimes when praying, especially if we panic, we can become hyper-spiritual. I’ve done it. And we may even try to project our panic upon the Lord. But Jesus doesn’t panic. He didn’t at Calvary, and He won’t during a crisis in my life either. And I praise Him for that. Christ is able to remain realistic even in terrible times. The death of their brother, Lazarus, was terrible for Mary and Martha.
Verses 16-19: “Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.”
The disciples thought that Jesus had delayed going to Lazarus out of fear of the Jewish leaders. They weren’t sure why He had changed His mind.
Verses 16-19: “Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.”
The last things I want to do is be too hard on Martha, considering my own lack of faith at times. Now, she had a history of missing the spiritual side of things, sometimes while being very busy “serving” God. That is recorded in The Gospel of Luke chapter 10 verses 38-42:
“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Let’s see how she reacts in the current situation:
Verses 20-28: “Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.”
Martha wasn’t ready to accept just any answer to her prayers. She wanted what she wanted. And, don’t we all at times? Well, the good news is that even though she initially took a somewhat skeptical attitude toward Jesus, He did not hold it against her. And when we come to Him honestly today, even if we have questions about his role in the events that are affecting us, Christ will not turn from us either. He knows that we, like Martha, are only made of clay. What I mean is, we can only take so much. And through it all, He still loves us. Look how tenderly He’s leading both sisters through their crisis:
Verses 29-34: “As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.”
Do you react to a crisis more like Mary? Do you say, as she could have said, “Hey, I’ve served the Lord! I’ve worshipped Him publicly and privately for years, fully trusting in Him! And STILL, STILL, this calamity has overtaken my life.” I think that may have been how Mary was feeling. Let down by Christ’s response in her hour of need. Yet Jesus is still standing there with her, still rational, still functioning. But just because the Lord doesn’t join us in panic, it doesn’t mean He is immune to our pain. Look at this:
Verse 35: “Jesus wept.”
It’s hard to understand human suffering. And, I think, it can be just as hard to understand God’s role in it and reaction to it. Of course, Christ had more faith than these sisters had. He has unlimited knowledge and spiritual vision. But He doesn’t feel any less pain. You see, He’s not only God, He’s also one of us! And that, I think, is the greatest miracle here in this chapter.
Verses 36-40: “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
Christ’s compassion for us is the greatest miracle, but it isn’t the only miracle recorded here:
Verses 41-44: “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”
This story has what, when I was a kid, we used to call a real “Bang-Up” ending! With God there is always hope in ANY situation. We must never count the Lord out, no matter what happens. It is true to say (as the Bible does in Luke 1:37 and elsewhere), nothing is impossible with God!
But would it really work out and always glorify God if all our prayers were answered so spectacularly? Should we expect every time we ask? Would that “fix” Christianity today and usher in a panacea for our world? No, just look at what came next:
Verses 45-57: “ Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples. And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.”
God is not slack in any of His promises. The real problem today is sin. Sin in the world and sin still in us. There’s no lack of miracles, they’re still there, if you look for them. But even if the Lord would grant ALL our requests on the spot, just as we would desire, that wouldn’t defeat sin or eliminate misery. It was wonderful when Lazarus was raised, beautiful and amazing. But you can see that even this miracle was twisted into an excuse to murder Jesus.
The ultimate miracle we need is a New World. And only when it comes will suffering end forever. Christ’s main purpose today is not to grant miracles to us, or to raise men back into this life where they would face more suffering, as Lazarus did, and eventually have to die all over again. No, Christ’s real work is to prepare as many of us as possible for the New World that He will shortly bring to the Earth. Let’s conform our prayers to His desires, and less to our own. Amen?