Scripture: Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
John 11:17-27 ESV [Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Yesterday’s Daily Focus marks Jesus’ return to Bethany, where he had previously visited Mary and Martha at their home. This time, Mary and Martha’s brother’s illness sparks Jesus’ return. But Jesus, who always discerned his Father’s will, delayed for two days in responding to the sisters’ urgent plea to come and heal their brother. At this point, Jesus tells his disciples it’s time to go to Judea. Shocked that he would lead them into hostile territory, Jesus’ disciples beg him to reconsider since he had earlier said that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death. And having missed Jesus’ euphemism about falling asleep (which symbolizes death), they further counter that Lazarus will recover now that he is sleeping. Thus, Jesus clarifies that Lazarus has died and explains that the unfolding events will strengthen their faith. Thomas then impertinently challenges the rest to go with their Master and face death with him.
Today’s reading takes us to the outskirts of Bethany, where Jesus arrives with his disciples and learns of Lazarus’ entombment four days earlier. John tells us that many of the Jews had come to comfort the bereaving sisters. As later friends arrive, Martha learns that Jesus is at the tomb. So she immediately parts company to seek him while Mary remains put. Finding Jesus, Martha confronts him about his delay and contends that he could have saved Lazarus if he had come sooner. Then, grasping for hope, she declares her faith in Jesus and reasons that God will grant whatever Jesus asks of him. Assuringly, Jesus tells Martha her brother will rise again. Martha, missing his point, nevertheless acknowledges Lazarus will rise again at the end times. Thus, seizing the moment to reveal the greater extent of his divine character, Jesus declares his fifth “I am” statement to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v.25). He adds that all who believe in him will inherit eternal life and challenges Martha regarding her faith in him. With certainty, Martha beautifully responds that she believes Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v.27).
Takeaway: In the ancient Jewish culture, families of lost loved ones would often hire mourners to attend to them and bring honor to the family in the eyes of the community. Otherwise, the “many” Jews (v.19) would indicate that Mary and Martha are well known. Our passage does not reveal the reason for the large attendance. Still, one thing is sure: the stage is set for Jesus to perform a resurrection miracle yet seen of such magnitude (a precursor to the greatest of all time) before “many” eyewitnesses.
As for Martha and Mary’s responses, the news that Jesus has arrived is not uncharacteristic of their personalities. Martha, the task-oriented sister, aggressively lunges into action and confronts Jesus. Mary, the relational and perhaps more sensitive sister, stays back to receive comfort from family and friends—likely too hurt to talk to Jesus because he seemingly nonchalantly arrived unduly late to save her brother. But Type-A Martha is rewarded for her faith that exceeds her pain.
Respectfully insisting that Jesus could still restore her brother’s life, Martha learns something about herself and her Master. Regarding Jesus, she discovers he has the power to raise the dead and is the manifestation of resurrection power that leads to eternal life. As for herself, Martha realizes that faith builds on faith: pursuing Christ when hurting and confused leads to the revelation that her Messiah is the only one who resurrects and gives eternal life. Consequently, Martha discovers a greater faith in herself as she proclaims Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Immanuel—a statement of faith rivaling Peter’s proclamation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).
Our takeaway? While Mary initially holds back, she will eventually rally and pursue Jesus (as we will read in tomorrow’s Daily Focus). So both ladies press through their pain to find greater comfort than even family and friends can provide. Conversely, those of us who close off our hearts to Christ when we suffer significant losses cut off our lifeline to his presence that brings us peace (John 14:27), his joy that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and his grace that is always sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). These three gifts empower us to fellowship with him in our suffering and attain to his resurrection power (Philippians 3:10-11). So if you are struggling and questioning God’s goodness, that’s okay—but don’t park there. Your grief will otherwise eat away at your soul. Instead, follow the lead of the Holy Spirit by reading and reflecting on Scripture, praying, and seeking help from trusted followers of Jesus who know how to press through the pain toward the Resurrection and Life.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for your Son, our “Resurrection and Life,” who raised himself from the grave and has resurrected us from our hopelessly self-centered ways and certain spiritual death. Still, we confess that we struggle to turn to him when grieving our losses. So would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit and avail ourselves of the resources he provides to press through the pain toward your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling