“He’s coming! He’s coming! He’s outside the village now!”
As the words rang out through the grief-stricken shadows of her home, Martha let the small cup she’d been relentlessly scrubbing come crashing to the floor. Her brow was covered in beads of sweat, and she gasped as the tears threatened to spill over.
She’d known somewhere deep inside that he would come, but that confidence had been strangled bit by bit with each day that had passed since her brother’s death. Yet even her deep grief and disappointment were no match for the small flame of hope that flickered to life when she heard he was near.
Martha’s emotions were playing tricks on her, it seemed.
Simply hearing that Jesus was on his way reignited her hope—the same hope she’d felt the day she sent word for him to come right away. But now it was four days later, and Lazarus’s lifeless body remained untouched by the miracle of healing she’d been hoping for.
She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time, but God hadn’t answered her prayers. Day and night, weeping and wailing beside her brother’s lifeless body, she’d pleaded for God’s mercy, yet he hadn’t come to Lazarus’s aid.
As she stood beside her washbasin, her mind told her to stay, to finish cleaning the dishes and forget about Jesus. After all, hadn’t he forgotten about her?
And yet her heart tugged her extremities into motion, pulling her body toward the only one who had the power over life and death.
When her eyes met Jesus on the rocky path outside her home, all she thought she knew crumbled as she fell to the ground. She could not contain her grief and love as she collapsed at Jesus’ feet.
“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
As her body trembled before him, she felt a sudden wave of peace and warmth overwhelm her as Jesus placed his hand gently on top of her head. As she looked up at him, she gasped at what she saw—tears! Tangible traces of sadness had broken through the dust and grime on her Savior’s face.
And as she watched her Lord weep, she loved him more, trusted him more, and believed him more—despite the pain that told her to do otherwise.
As difficult as it is to see in the midst of the lingering, everything God does is motivated by love.
He often allows his love to linger in order to show us that his love for us is anything but common—just as he did for Martha.
God sees the full potential for our lives, and he deeply desires an intimate relationship with us. God never lingers out of wrath or anger, but out of a pure and holy desire for us to believe he’s bigger than we did prior to our season of waiting.
In the past when God has lingered, I have done one or more of the following . . .
- Picked up an addiction or gone back to an old one become angry
- Gotten bitter
- Wished for death
- Become depressed
- Gotten discouraged
- Let my marriage or other significant relationships fall apart become violent toward myself or others
- Become jealous of those God seemed to be blessing become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety
- Clung to unforgiveness
- Allowed guilt and shame to get the best of me
- Basked in my loneliness and despair blamed God or others in the wait allowed stress to take over all the time
- Become a workaholic
- Stopped waiting and started doing my own thing lost all hope in God
As Martha wept, I picture Jesus gently lifting her face to meet his and then, with loving intensity, speaking over her, “Your brother will rise again.” As his living words began to revive her hope, she might have wondered, Could he mean . . . ? No, surely not. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.
“He will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day,” she finally said (verse 24). And her statement was true. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. In fact, Martha most likely had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus was referring to something more in that moment.
He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” (verses 25-26).
The power of Jesus’ words must have caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul—an awakening, one might say.
I doubt she was sure what it all meant, but as Jesus spoke, it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (see 1 Corinthians 15:54). No one else had ever spoken like this man (see John 7:46). Martha answered, “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God” (verse 27).
You know how this story ends, right?
Lazarus does wake up.
But in the horrible days before that, during Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days after his death, Martha didn’t know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.
Yet Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.
He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and that his friends would experience maximum joy in that glory.
When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only and always love. God ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal.
Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong, and we’re tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as a lack of love, when in fact God is showing us love in the most profound way.
The question for us is the same as it was for Martha when Jesus peered into her eyes and asked, “Do you believe this?”