Mary and Martha’s Prayer

While reading the account of Lazarus’ death and new life in John 11, I gained a deeper understanding of prayer.

Previously, we have been introduced to the family of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. They were Jesus’ friends. He often visited at their home. They had a personal relationship with Jesus. John 11 begins by telling us that Lazarus is sick – very sick. Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to know what was happening.

Verse 3 says, “So the sisters sent word to Jesus. ‘Lord, the one You love is sick.’” When Mary and Martha sent this message to Jesus, they were praying. (Most everyone who has a personal relationship with Jesus prays. At the very least, we cry out to God during our times of need.)

Time progresses and the story progresses. Although Jesus received the message, He did not respond as Mary and Martha expected. Jesus did not come to them. Verse 6 says, “So when He (Jesus) heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.” Not a quick response to Mary and Martha. (All of us know what it is to wait for answers to prayer.)

Jesus says in verse 7, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory…” Jesus got the message, but He had other plans. (Have you ever prayed a prayer that was answered differently than you expected? Of course – all of us have! However, God’s glory should always be our motive.)

I wonder how the sisters were feeling two days later. One may have asked, “Why hasn’t Jesus come? What is taking Him so long?” Or, the other one may have said, “I thought Jesus loved us. Maybe He doesn’t care about us as much as we imagined.” (Have you ever made such remarks when a prayer you prayed was not answered immediately?)

It is interesting that Jesus says to His disciples in verse 15, “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Jesus desired to deepen the faith of His disciples as well as that of Mary and Martha through His answer to their request. Jesus had a greater truth to reveal than just healing Lazarus from his sickness. Jesus was not in a hurry. He knew how and when He would respond. Mary and Martha’s expectations of how Jesus would respond had to die as well as Lazarus had to die. (God may have more in store for us than we realize when we pray. Do not limit God by expecting Him to only answer as you desire.)

Lazarus died. Jesus had not arrived yet. But, He does eventually come. Verse 17 says, “On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” (Have you ever felt like it was too late for Jesus to answer your prayer?)

Martha is the first sister to meet Jesus when He finally comes. Her first words to Jesus are recorded in verse 21, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (Notice Martha’s words “but” and “if”. Have you ever used these words when questioning or explaining something about your faith?)

Although Martha did not completely understanding all Jesus was saying and doing, she still believed. I think she passed a test of faith.  And, Jesus had more to reveal to her. (We, too, must keep our faith and not doubt.)

Mary then arrives on the scene. Her greeting in verse 32 is, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sounds familiar! Mary’s words are the same as Martha’s words. It is not that she does not believe, she just limits God. (Beware! It is very possible that we have not interpreted Jesus’ words and promises correctly or with full understanding. He is able to do so much more than we can ask or think.)

The next verse that catches my attention is verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Shortest verse in the Bible. Why did Jesus weep? In verse 36 the Jews say, “See how much He loved him!” Although this statement is true, I believe Jesus wept for additional reasons. I think He was sorrowful that those around Him were not able to understand all He could do – all He was still going to do. (Have you caused Jesus to weep because of your limited understanding or expectations?)

We are nearing the climax of the story. In verse 39, Jesus says, “Take away the stone.” The stone in front of the grave hindered Jesus from doing what He was about to do. (Are there any stones you need to remove before Jesus can fully answer a prayer you continue to pray?)

Jesus prays in verse 41, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (Jesus gives us the example of how we are to pray. We are to thank God for what He is going to do – not just thank Him after we have received the answer.)

In verse 43 Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” Finally Mary and Martha receive their answer to the message they sent to Jesus at the beginning of the chapter! Lazarus is not merely healed but brought back to life. A greater miracle than either sister could have requested. (Yes, God answers our prayers – not always when and how we want, but in the way that most glorifies Him.)

Jesus makes on final statement in verse 44. “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” There was still something for those surrounding Mary, Martha and Lazarus to do. Lazarus was alive but he needed the help of others to freely walk in the life given to him. (I think God requires us to be stewards of the answered prayers and miracles we receive. He may want us to help the person who has benefited from our prayers. Maybe we are to share the testimony of how God has answered our prayers.)

This account of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, is a wonderful miracle in and of itself. However God also has a message for us regarding prayer. Meditate upon what I have shared. See if it applies to you.

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