Text: John 11:1-7, 17-44
One of the greatest blessings in life is a friend. Proverbs 18:24 says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were Jesus’ friends. He spent time in their home on many occasions and they opened up their house to Him with joy and gratitude. When Lazarus fell ill, the first person Mary and Martha reached out to was Jesus. They had seen with their own eyes His healing power and so they did not hesitate to ask Jesus to heal their brother. How would you want your friend to respond if you asked her for help? Would you want her to drop everything and run to your rescue? Instead Jesus did the exact opposite and waited for two extra days! Can you imagine how these two women must have felt? They were supposed to be Jesus’ closest friends and Jesus wasn’t with them during their darkest hour. By the time Jesus arrived, Martha and Mary had already buried their brother. When Jesus was close to their house, Martha ran to Him and said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” but then she continued, “but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha was full of faith in the midst of this storm. Despite His delay, she still turned to Him for help. Mary, too, knelt before Jesus in both sorrow and worship. In her pain, she still came to Jesus.
We can learn so much from these sisters. True worship is hoping in Jesus in spite of your problems; running to Him and worshiping Him, even when you don’t understand why He has waited to come to your aid. Do you believe that your problems can be used by God for His glory and your good? Jesus waited to heal Lazarus, so that His friends would know Jesus was truly the promised Messiah. These siblings were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ power over life and death!
I’ve always loved the three Martha/Mary/Lazarus stories in the gospels – Luke 10, John 11, and John 12. Too often, sermons are only preached on the first scene in Luke 10:38-42 when Martha is rebuked for not having chosen the better portion like her sister Mary. When we focus too much attention on this first story, we fail to see the progression of all three siblings as they continue to interact with Jesus. The transformation of each of them is rather astounding!
Lazarus is absent in the first story; he may not have even been in the house when Jesus visited. Perhaps he was the last of the siblings to hear about or care about this itinerant rabbi. However during the time from Luke 10 to John 11, Lazarus becomes an intimate friend of Jesus – “he whom you love.” Then Lazarus personally experiences the resurrection power of Jesus! People all over the country hear about Lazarus, and soon he is a wanted man (John 12:10) since his life becomes proof of Jesus’ power. In the final story, Lazarus is reclining right beside Jesus at the table – no longer absent but front and center!
Mary is always found on her knees in these three stories. In Luke 10 she is eager to become one of Jesus’ disciples and study at His feet. In John 11, she is overwhelmed by grief and so simply waits for Jesus to arrive. When He is finally there, she falls to her knees at His feet. And finally in John 12, Mary is back at the feet of Jesus, bent over in worship as she prophetically anoints His feet with oil.
In these stories, Martha is always standing, ready for what is ahead. Most likely Martha is the eldest of the siblings and often serves as a default leader. In the first story she is so busy trying to make the house perfect for Jesus’ arrival, that she misses out on the opportunity to sit at His feet as His disciple. But by the second story, her attitude has changed. Now she is waiting on the road, her eyes straining for His arrival. She knows that His presence is more important than any funeral preparations. She comes to Him with grief, but also deep-rooted faith. Martha is one of the first people in the gospels to truly grasp who Jesus truly is, and she confidently stands in this belief. Finally, we find Martha once again hosting Jesus in her home -- serving Him at the table, close to His side, but also allowing others to draw near Him as well. Martha stands by as Mary pours out their expensive ointment on His feet – not fretting at the cost or “lavish waist” but happily rejoicing in her sister’s act of worship. She stands by and serves the dinner, so that her sister might wash Jesus’ feet.
How has your life changed over time as a result of Jesus’ presence? How is Jesus continuing to call you into intimate relationship with Him? Do you find yourself full of hope – knowing Jesus will sanctify you – or do you struggle to see yourself as anything more than your last sin or failing? The Enemy loves to speak the lie into our heart that we will always make the same mistakes -- always be absent or too busy to follow Jesus. “Always a Martha and never a Mary.” But Jesus does not give up on us. He brings us from absence/passivity to being in the center of His ministry; from distracted service to intentionally standing in His presence; from despair to faith-filled hope.