WAITING ON THE LORD: A Study of Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Are you waiting on the Lord for something? Have you been waiting a long time? Have you just about given up hope? Don’t. God’s delays are always designed and productive. He is doing something that He couldn’t do without the delay. It’s because He loves you that He delays...He wants to do something more in your life than what you can see. I have been waiting on the Lord for something major in my life for a long, long time. It has been a long, and at times, agonizing journey. Some days feel very dark. The longer I wait, the more I begin to question if I’ve really heard from Him. One particular day not too long ago, I woke up in discouragement. It was one of those days of questioning. I asked the Lord to just speak to me in a way that I would know that it was Him. I opened my Bible to John 11 which is the passage of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. My eyes went immediately to a note I had written in the margin, “God has told me what to do —I need to walk in the light He has given me.” I was immediately encouraged and renewed, not only from my note, but just reading this whole passage. There is so much to gain from the study of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

John 11:1- 6: “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You 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 may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (Emphasis mine.)

What? Because Jesus loved them He stayed where He was for two more days? Why didn’t He get to them as soon as He could? Isn’t that what was best? Of course, in our limited knowledge and understanding, we want it to happen now. But God has a bigger, better plan.

More often than not we want things that would really be good, not knowing that He has something even better. We would sacrifice the excellent for the good.

I think it’s interesting that verse 5 says “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

Martha is mentioned by name here, but not Mary. It’s like an emphasis that He loves us all the same, even when we are at different places in our walk with Him. Here I see a representation of 3 groups of people, all of whom He loves: I think Lazarus represents the spiritually dead. Martha represents those who know Him, but not all that intimately. And, of course, Mary represents those who have an intimate relationship with Him. He loves us all, but we can experience that love in a greater way when we walk intimately with Him.

So, Mary and Martha were in deep sorrow, because their brother was sick and dying. They sent for Jesus, because they knew He was their only hope. But instead of coming immediately, Jesus prolonged their agony. They would have two more days of grief and sorrow. That’s often how the Lord works in our lives. He will allow us to experience profound darkness and aloneness. He will lead us into a place where we will question many things. This is where we learn more about Him, His power and His plan. This is where our faith deepens. This is where we learn to trust. This is where we enter into an intimate relationship with Him.

John 11:7-16: “Then after this He said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him.’ Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’”

Judea was a very dangerous place at this time. People wanted to see Jesus dead. Jesus could have healed Lazarus or brought him back from the dead from afar, and not put Himself in danger. But He decided to go. In reading about this, some people say that the reason Thomas was called the Twin is because he looked like Jesus. If this were so, perhaps that’s where he was coming from with his comment about dying with Him. Or maybe he was like me. I sometimes have a pessimistic or fatalistic attitude about things. I have lived through many disappointments, and it’s hard not to be discouraged. I’ve seen how things have played out in the past, and I just don’t see how things will be any different this time. And it probably always will be the same until the day Jesus decides it’s time to step in. But one day, He will. Or maybe it’s just a picture of being willing to follow Jesus, even if it means dying with Him. Also, here’s where my note mentioned above comes into play. He doesn’t give us all the information we need at one time. He gives us light to walk in as we need it. We need to walk in the light given until He gives us more.

John 11:17-29: “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now 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 of 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 at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever 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 to come into the world.’ And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling you.’

As soon as she heard that, she came to Him.”

The Jews had some superstitions that the soul stayed around the grave for 3 days in hopes of returning to the body. But it was generally accepted that after 4 days, there was no hope of resuscitation.

In these verses we see Jesus was taking Martha to new steps in her faith. He developed her faith in spite of her disappointments. He took her from belief in the future to her own step into a more intimate walk with her Savior. She believed that she would see her brother again, in the future, but Jesus says I AM the resurrection and the life. He is saying here that He is eternal life. Only Yahweh could say this in truth. He was calling her to believe this. I have to say, I have wondered why it says she secretly called Mary. I wonder if she thought Mary would have more pull with Jesus, or if they had been talking with each other as sisters do about how if Jesus had been there, their brother wouldn’t have died. Or maybe she just wanted her sister to get to talk to Jesus and be strengthened and comforted.

John 11:30-38 : “Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at his feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.“ (Emphasis mine.)

Notice that both Martha and Mary said the exact same thing to the Lord, but Mary had a posture of worship in that she fell down at His feet. This to me indicates intimacy with Him. And then Jesus groaned in His spirit and was troubled...and Jesus wept. Wow! Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus. He knew the outcome. Yet He is troubled and groaned in His spirit and wept. The word for this is dakryo and means “to weep, to shed tears.” This word indicates a quiet weeping. The word for weeping used of Mary’s weeping is klaio and means “to sob, wail aloud.” From what I understand the phrase “groaned in His spirit” in the ancient Greek means “to snort like a horse —implying anger and indignation.” We see so many things here. We see that Jesus feels our pain, our sorrow, our loss. He is very human. He knows how we feel. We also see that He was angry with death and destruction. If you notice, we are given the description that it was a cave and a stone lay against it. That brings an image to my mind of what would take place in the not so distant future of the tomb of Jesus and the stone that would be rolled away. I wonder if the Lord was already experiencing the agony of what He knew was ahead of Him, also. Let’s grasp this. Our Lord was fully God, yet fully human. He had all the emotions we have. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. There is nothing that we are going through that He hasn’t experienced.

John 11:39-45: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth! And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believe in Him.”

After four days, there is no mistaking that Lazarus was dead. But Jesus was about to display the glory of God. He called Lazarus to come forth and he did. I’ve heard it said that had Jesus not called him by his name, that everyone in the grave would have come forth. Yes, it would have been a good thing for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. But it was a spectacular display of God’s glory to bring him back from the dead. So while we are waiting on the Lord for something, and we know it would be good what we are waiting on, and we can’t understand why He tarries, perhaps it’s because He has something better than just a good thing. Maybe He wants to display His glory in our lives. Can we trust Him for that? Isn’t it always about God’s glory? Mary, Martha and Lazarus got to see it in the here and now. Some of us may have to wait until Jesus sets up His kingdom. But either way, if we will believe, we will see God’s glory.

I want to end this study with some verses that have brought me peace and reassurance in these years of waiting. May we all continue to find comfort in them.

Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”

Psalm 37:9: “For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.”

Psalm 37:34: “Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see [it].”

Psalm 62: 5-8 “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. SELAH

Isaiah 30:18: “Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD [is] a God of justice; blessed [are] those who wait for Him.”

Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Lamentations 3:26: “[It is] good that [one] should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”


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