Today the Church commemorates Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany. The three are together in John 11, when Mary and Martha go to Jesus on behalf of Lazarus, who had been ill. Our devotional reading comes from Meditations on the Gospels: According to His Word.
Just outside Jerusalem, about two miles from the city limits, lay the little town of Bethany. Here was the home of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus—a home where Jesus was a frequent and welcome guest.
Things were happening in Bethany that would have a tremendous effect upon the lives of many people. The divine plan, which would bring the Savior to His cross, was rapidly unfolding. The death of Lazarus set the stage for the “greatest” of Jesus’ miracles, and the “greatest” of His miracles set the stage for His greatest suffering—His death by crucifixion. It was at Bethany that the shadows of Calvary began to lengthen with a quickened pace. …
Lazarus was sick. What anxiety, what care, what heartache can a siege of sickness bring into a family circle! Only those who have anxiously stroked the feverish brow of a dear one, as the clock ticks off the endless minutes that finally blend into eternity, can know the anguish that tore the heart of Mary and Martha as they saw their brother waste away and linger at the entrance to the valley of the shadow. But Mary and Martha knew there was still one hope! And so they send word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom You love is ill.” …
Notice the simplicity of their prayer. They do not tell Jesus what to do. Nor do they prescribe the how or the when. They do not even ask Him to help or cure their brother. They are content merely to inform Him of the fact that “Lord, he whom You love is ill.”
It was enough that Jesus had been informed of their plight. Could He know and still withhold His help? Notice, too, that their plea is not “he who loves You” but “he whom You love.” They claim no merit for Lazarus. Their only plea is the love of Jesus. …
But why did Jesus wait? Why did He delay His answer to their prayer? We can even assume that Lazarus had died before the message of his sickness reached Him. Jesus delayed only two days, and when He arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days already. But why a delay of even two days?
“That the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In His divine omniscience, Jesus timed His miracle of mercy so there could be no doubt as to its reality. Lazarus must first be buried—there must be no doubt as to the fact of physical death—and then He would come and raise Him up.
Can there be any doubt that the faith of Mary and Martha and of their believing friends was the stronger and the purer for this brief delay? And dare we doubt that similar delays in the answers to our prayers have an equally good and gracious purpose?
Devotional reading is adapted from Meditations on the Gospels: According to God's Word, pages 772–74, © 2009 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Heavenly Father, Your beloved Son befriended frail humans like us to make us Your own. Teach us to be like Jesus’ dear friends from Bethany, that we might serve Him faithfully like Martha, learn from Him earnestly like Mary, and ultimately be raised by Him like Lazarus. Through their Lord and ours, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (1067)
Prayer is from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, pages 571–72, © 2008 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.