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Mary Elizabeth Baxter :: The Sisters’ Faith Tried—John 11:1-44

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Martha and Mary were highly privileged in having Jesus as their Guest, not once or twice, but probably many times. Bethany, in His eyes, was "the town of Mary and her sister Martha." The industry of Bethany, and the names of the residents, well‐known in the world, were altogether ignored by Jesus, but the souls which He was conquering and bringing out of self to be temples of the Holy Ghost, gave the spot an historic interest to Him.

Mary had profited by her education at His feet, and as is the case with every soul that grows in grace, Mary was tried. Her brother Lazarus fell sick. It would be impossible for these Jewish sisters-disciples of the Lord Jesus-to give Lazarus any medicine, or to send for a doctor of the day. Jesus, in their eyes, was the only reliable Physician, and they sent to Him the simple message:

"Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick."

They urged no entreaty; asserted no claim; they knew it was enough to state their case, and they received an answer which, had it been fully understood, might have kept them from the smallest anxiety, even in the unexpected circumstances which followed:

"This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified thereby."

O how many there are who seek to trust the Lord for healing, and these words are suggested to them, and yet the stress is not laid on the latter part of the message: "That the Son of God might be glorified thereby," but upon the first part: "This sicknesss is not unto death." O how the natural heart sees things in relation to itself rather than in relation to Jesus!

What could the sisters expect but that Jesus would hurry to them in their unexpected trouble? Yet they were to learn that, in spite of His message to them, their expectation was to be disappointed. Jesus left them alone in their trouble, and Lazarus grew worse and died!

How could they reconcile this with His message to them? They had not only the bitter grief of their bereavement, but also the question which would arise in their hearts: "Can Jesus fail me? Can He exaggerate? Can He speak a word which is not exactly borne out by facts?" "This sickness is not unto death," and yet Lazarus lies dead? It was more than these women could understand. Their faith gave way; they yielded to the circumstances.

Lazarus must now be buried. It was the habit of the Jews to comfort mourners, and here were disciples of Jesus accepting comfort from the unbelieving Jews about a death which was contrary to the express word of Jesus! But the Lord's delay was not final. After Lazarus had lain dead four days, Jesus approached Bethany, and Martha, hearing of it, went out, and with her usual bustle, said to Him, before He had a chance to speak to her:

Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."

The same tone of reproach which characterised her when she was careful and burdened about many things was evident on this occasion. In her eyes, Jesus was to blame for the death of Lazarus, but she qualifies her word, and says:

"I know that, even now, whatsoever Thou shalt ask of God, God will give it Thee."

"Thy brother shall rise again" was a prophecy of that which was about to happen.

Martha, living as she did in the atmosphere of the present, occupied with things temporal, said"

"I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day."

Martha did not know that Jesus was "the same yesterday, and to‐day, and for ever" (Hbr 13:8). She was not deeply acquainted enough with Jesus to believe He was mightier than death, and so she put off the resurrection of her brother to the future. But Jesus said to 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?"

The dear woman did not know herself, and she did not know her Teacher. She said, as many a one has done since, "Yea, Lord," and yet she knew not the full meaning of her words:

"Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world."

Martha was clear about doctrine, but she failed in her faith in Jesus as a present Conqueror over death. She looked at the things which are seen and temporal, rather than the things unseen and eternal. (2Cr 4:18.)

But where was Mary? Not like her sister rising up in her restless energy to meet the Master uncalled for, "she sat still in the house." The iron had entered into her soul. She did not understand the dealings of Jesus with her. But Martha's word, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee," was an irresistible appeal. She "arose quickly and came unto Him." But even Mary uttered the same reproach as Martha when she saw Him, yet in saying it, she fell down at His feet, showing by the action that, however little she understood Him, yet she yielded without a question to His appointment.

O if she had credited the word of Jesus, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby," her question would have been, "What shall I do to glorify the Son of God? Is it glory to Him that I should weep for a dead brother in the light of His message: 'This sickness is not unto death?' Did not His word imply that death should not triumph?" Alas! Mary was not yet filled with the Holy Ghost; she was not yet established in "heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The measure of unbelief which she manifested broke down even Jesus, and He wept. The Jews, truly, believed that it was in mere human sympathy; but how could it be possible for Jesus to sorrow for a dead man whom He was then about to raise? He wept for the unbelief of those who had known Him, and yet failed to understand Him now.

He came to the grave and saw there another mark of unbelief. Between Him and the dead Lazarus, of whom He had twice prophesied that death should not conquer him, lay a stone, as though to make the sepulchre a permanent place for the body of Lazarus!

"Take ye away the stone," He said.

Martha's reliance on her strong common sense checked any little faith she might have had.

"Lord," she said, "by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days."

Could the body of Lazarus see corruption when Jesus, in whom is life (Jhn 1:4) had said:

"This sickness is not unto death?"

"Said I not unto thee," He appealed to Martha, "that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?"

Martha was conquered. They took away the stone. The voice of Him who brought all things into being by His own Word spoke out in its master tones:

"Lazarus, come forth."

And the dead came forth, and the word of Jesus to the sisters was justified. Death had not triumphed; to the glory of God Lazarus had died-the Son of God was glorified thereby!

But the sisters had failed to take God's side, and nothing remained for them now but in obedience to their Lord, to loose their brother from the grave‐clothes, and let him go.

O how hard it is for human nature to see things in the light of God, and to measure His spoken Word against all circumstances, all possibilities, all sicknesses, all troubles! Whatsoever happens to a brother or a sister, happens that the Son of God should be glorified thereby. If we enter into His purpose, He is glorified, and the lesson of faith is not given in vain.

Martha, the Bustling Woman—Luke 10:28-42 ← Prior Section
Mary Anointing Jesus—John 12:1-8 Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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