This Grace In Which We Stand
Martha’s brother is dead.
Jesus did not come, even though she sent word. He loved Lazarus. She only asked Him to do for His friend what she had seen Him do for total strangers.
But He did not come.
For two full days after she sent word, Jesus did not take a single step in her direction. Because He loved her.
“Now Jesus loved Martha… SO … He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:5-6)
How on earth could such a delay be motivated by love?
So many things in my life are dying. I have begged Jesus time and again to come and heal. Nothing happens. Nothing good anyway. Bad to worse? Sure. But not so much with the miraculous healings. I don’t understand. Other people get the miracles. Why not me?
When Jesus finally arrived, Martha’s brother had been dead and in a tomb for four days. Martha is all about doing the right things and so she greeted Jesus with all the faith she could muster.
“If You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now,” she says, and I imagine her choking back a sob, gritting her teeth to say the words that a good follower should say, “… even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus says what she would never think to ask and cannot bring herself to imagine.
“Your brother will rise again.”
Oh don’t go there, Jesus. Don’t turn my pain into a spiritual metaphor.
But ever dutiful Martha plays along. “I know…” she says again. She puts on her “good faithful follower” face and says the right words to show she’s read her Bible.
Jesus knows Martha’s heart. She understands the scriptures better than the most learned Pharisee, but she is still on the outside looking in. He reaches His hand through the veil.
“I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe?”
Yes, I believe You are who You say You are. I believe You will do what You say You will do. Someday. In the distant future that I can only imagine in the way that I imagine winning the lottery. Sounds amazing. But not likely to happen anytime soon.
And then Jesus really pushes it.
“Take away the stone.”
Martha tried. She really did. In the midst of deep grief and unbearable loss, she went to Jesus. She honored Him as Lord. Submitted to God’s higher plans even though it hurt her so deeply. But to open the tomb – to rip the scab off her wound in front of everyone – so that her loss was so unbearably real that it would turn the strongest stomach? This is too much.
“Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
Please don’t make me go through this. Leave well enough alone.
But that is the one thing Jesus will not do. He loves Martha too much to leave her with even the most theologically robust two-dimensional faith. He wants more for her. For us. It was because He loved her that He came exactly when He did.
“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Martha has no more Sunday School answers to give. Everything happens now quickly, in bold dramatic fashion.
(I imagine Martha and Mary standing to the side, holding hands, tears streaking their faces. Did they flinch as the stone was rolled away? Did they sob harder as Jesus prayed aloud thanking the Father for hearing His prayer? When He called for their brother to “come forth” did they want to double over in agony? Or was the air so electric with His power and authority that their tears stopped and their eyes widened in breathless expectation?)
And then, right in front of her eyes, the impossible happens. Martha’s dead four days and decaying in the grave brother walks out of the tomb.
(Honestly how did she and Mary not just faint dead on the spot?)
I do not know what to make of this. Like Martha, I know what the Bible says. I think I understand God’s plans and promises in a general sense. I know there is hope in light of eternity. But here? Now? Today? I’m speechless. In the world I live in, dead people stay dead. Not just people. Dreams. Relationships. They die and there’s no resuscitating them. There’s only grieving and finding a way to move on with a hole in your heart.
I look again at what Jesus said to Martha, just before He raised Lazarus. “If you believed… you would see the glory of God.”
Jesus did not come when Martha called. He did not perform the miracle she asked for. He went far above all she could ask or imagine. He brought the dead to life again.
I have no idea what Jesus has planned for me and all that is dead and decaying around me. It seems that God rarely performs the same exact miracle twice. Because, I am learning, it is not about the miracle. It’s about His glory.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”