Friday, November 30, 2012

Family Ties

"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again."
John 11:23

I am the youngest of five children,
four of which are girls.
I share a special bond with every one of my siblings...
They all mean the world to me.
Each one of them is special...
and unique.
And I can't think of anything in the world I wouldn't do...
for any of the four of them...
at any given time...
should they need me...
or call upon me.

It's amazing how we all came from the same mother's womb,
but we are all so different.
We share a common history, there are similarities,
and our bond is strong,
but at the same time we have our own individual differences and personalities
and our own isolated dispositions.
And though we have all taken unique paths through life,
the same sense of values and conscience was instilled in all of us.

One of my many blessings on Thanksgiving Day this year,
was that I got to spend it...
not only with my sweet husband and boy,
but with two of my sisters and their significant others, as well.

It was a special day.
We made some great memories.
And though we all missed Mom and had our moments
of thinking of her and breaking down throughout the day,
what a comfort it was for three sisters to be able to share those moments...
even the moments of sorrow.

Shared sorrow halves the burden.
It divides the load.
It eases the pain.
The only thing that could have made the day any better
or more complete
would have been for our other sister and our brother to have been there.

I missed them.

I knew they were missing Mom...
just as much as we were,
but they didn't have the comfort of being with
the rest of us.
My heart went out to them when I thought of it.

A family is a circle...
of love,
and memories.
Each member is a unit.
Each unit is a the circle.
Each one, with their unique characteristics,
is a part of the whole.
When some are missing,
they are missed.

Which brings us to the next chapter in the lives of the two sisters
we have been studying.
They, too were individual units that were part of a tight-knit family.
They, too had strong family ties.
They, too were sisters...
who shared one brother....
whom they loved dearly.

We don't have a clear chronological map
of the order in which the events involving Martha and Mary
actually happened in the New Testament.
But, for the sake of this writing,
we will assume that the event we are studying today
took place sometime after the visit Jesus made to Martha's home
that we discussed in our last devotional.

Going to visit Martha, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus
was not an unusual event for Jesus.
We don't know exactly how many times He frequented their home,
but we can safely assume it was a natural occurrence
for Him to spend time there when He was in the area.
It seemed to be a place that brought comfort to our Lord....
a place where He was always lovingly welcomed
and treated with utmost respect and regard.

Jesus loved this family....
They meant something to Him...
on a very personal level.
He was well-acquainted with each
of their individual personalities and quirks,
and He loved them all the same.

At a certain point in time,
sickness struck Jesus' friend, Lazarus.
The eleventh chapter of St. John tells the story.
Fear rose in the heart of the two sisters,
as they watched their brother's condition worsen.
They loved him.
They needed him.
No doubt, they were by his side...
fretting over him....
tending to his needs....
nurturing him...
doing all they knew to do
to make him comfortable...
praying for a miracle.

Nothing was working.
He was steadily weakening,
growing increasingly ill.

So, they sent word to The Word....
the One Who could do anything.
Who could heal all manner of sickness and disease...
with just a touch from His hand,
or a word from His mouth.
Their faith was strong.
They had no doubts.
They knew everything would be all right...
the moment He arrived.

They sent word...
and they waited.
Minutes turned into hours.
Hours turned into days...literally.
Jesus did not come.

Lazarus died.

We know from the previous chapter of St. John that geographically-speaking,
Jesus was not near at hand.
He was on the other side of the Jordan River
residing in an area near the place where John the Baptist first baptized.
From all indications,
the place Jesus was staying
was a two to three day journey
from Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.
By the time word got to Jesus of Lazarus' illness,
Lazarus was already dead.

The messenger bearing the news didn't know this.
Lazarus was still alive when he left Martha and Mary to come to Jesus.

Was any of this a surprise to Jesus?
Did he need someone to come to Him with the news?
Of course not.
He was God in the flesh.
He knows all things.
Nothing takes Him by surprise.

Everything that happened in the life of Jesus Christ on earth
was for the benefit of others....
so they could learn...
and believe in Him.
That was His whole mission for coming here.
To present God....
in the flesh...
to mankind.

Jesus knew Lazarus' heart had stopped beating....
that the breath of life was no longer in him....
even as the messenger stood speaking to him...
relaying the story of Lazarus' illness.

But, He also knew that this was not the end of Lazarus' earthly story.
John 11:4 says,
"When Jesus heard that, He said,
This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God,
that the Son of God might be glorified thereby."

Even as Jesus knew a change had taken place in Lazarus
between the time the bearer of news left Martha and Mary
and reached Him...
even as He knew and realized Lazarus no longer lived or breathed....
He spoke these words...
"This sickness is not unto death..."

Jesus was not alarmed.
Raising someone to life who had been dead four days
was a much greater miracle than rushing to their side
and healing them of an affliction or disease...
while they were still living.

The greater the need,
the greater the miracle.
The greater the miracle,
the greater the increase in faith...
in those who witness the miracle.

This was all happening so Jesus might be glorified...
in the eyes of the two sisters....
and others whom He knew would be standing, weeping...
by Lazarus' grave four days later.

Verse 6 goes on to say,
"When He had heard therefore that he was sick,
He abode two days still in the same place where He was."

It was all under control.
All a part of God's master plan.

So, He waited.
He knew how long it would take Him to physically walk
from the far side of the Jordan River to Bethany...
yet, He waited...
two additional days.
So, that when He arrived at Lazarus' tomb,
there would be no doubt as to the outcome.
There would be no question as to whether or not Lazarus was dead.
There would be no dispute as to the magnitude of the miracle.

Looking at the situation through Jesus' eyes,
we see the big picture.
We get it.
We understand what He was thinking.

But, what must this have looked like...
to the two sisters?
How must it have made them feel?
As they sat by Lazarus' bedside,
as they cried and prayed and wondered...
as hope waned,
fear overwhelmed,
and at last, death won?
As they watched the rise and fall of his chest,
then saw it rise no more.
As they buried their brother,
watched them seal his tomb,
with still no word...
no sign...
from their precious Friend.

They had sent word.
They had trusted His love for Lazarus.
They had believed with all of their hearts that He would arrive...
in time to prevent Lazarus' death.

How could this be?
Can you feel their suspicion of betrayal?
The consuming fear...
that He had forsaken them?
Turned His back on their need?
Ignored the urgency of their request?

Jesus took His time.
He waited two full days,
then He began the two day journey to Bethany.

News of His soon arrival must have spread quickly.
Martha heard it!
What did she feel when she heard the news?
"Jesus is close by!
He'll soon arrive...
in our village!"

It was a different day this time.
No rushing and scurrying and whirring around...
worrying over a meal
or diligently cleaning house.

This time her heart was broken...
towards the One Who didn't rush to her need.

Can you feel her pain?
She loved much.
She trusted Him.
She didn't understand...
it just wasn't like Him...
to put them on the back burner...
to delay in responding to their needs.

Verse 20 says,
"Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming,
went and met Him:  but Mary sat still in the house."

The aggressor.
The outspoken one.
The one always in control.
The one with such zest and zeal and passion!

The quiet one.
The humble one.
The one in the background...
willing for others to take the lead....
wanting most to trust...
with all her heart.

I can see Martha running down the road...
meeting Jesus...
just outside of town.
Her tone confused.
A bit accusing...
when she first spoke...
then softening,
as she felt rebuked...
by the kindness in His penetrating gaze...
upon her...
as she spoke.

"Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God,
God will give it thee."

Do you hear her tone soften...
as she melted before the holiness of His presence?
Do you feel the questions fade...
as she saw the Answer to her every earthly need...
standing in front of her...
in the flesh?
Can you discern the hope come back to life...
as the realization sweeps over her...
that even now...
the Hope of life...
can make all the difference?
No matter how dark the void of hopelessness.

Listen to their conversation...
on the road...
just outside of Bethany.

"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again."

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

"Jesus said unto 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 flicker of hope increases in her heart...
with every word He says.

His tone is gentle,
without a hint of rebuke...
for the steadily increasing fear and suspicion she has harbored towards Him...
over the past four days.

He understands.
Soon, she will, too.

"She saith unto Him, Yea, Lord:
I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."

Up to that moment,
she had never believed more.

Somehow, standing there...
listening to Him speak...
looking into His face...
it was all so clear.

He was God.
He was Messiah.
The Saviour.
That had been since the foundation of the world.
That prophets had foretold and longed to see.
There He was...
standing in front of her...
listening to her...
talking to her.

Mary had to know!
She must leave Him...
and go tell her!

"And when she had so said, she went her way,
and called Mary her sister secretly, saying,
The Master is come;
and calleth for thee."

I can picture Mary there...
in the house...
her lone companion the overwhelming grief
in the pit of her soul.

"Hurry, Mary!
The Master is near!
He still loves us!
You will see.
He cares.
He has not turned against us.
Our fears were unfounded.
He is still the same.
He was happy to see me, Mary.
He wants to see you, my sister.
He is right outside of town...
on the road...
waiting there.
Go, Mary!"

"As soon as she heard that,
she arose quickly,
and came unto Him.
Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him,
she fell down at His feet,
saying unto Him, Lord ,
if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."

Humble Mary...
always seeking,
full of questions,
so quick to find her favorite spot in the world...
her position of choice...
at Jesus' feet.

Remember when she was found there before...
by her sister, Martha...
the day He came to visit?

His feet!
Every problem could be solved there.
Every question answered.
Every tear dried.
Every heart-cry heard.

Her penitence melted the heart of our Saviour.
It touched Him....
deep inside His Spirit.
He felt her pain.
Her grief.
Her loss.
Her sorrow.

"When Jesus therefore saw her weeping,
and the Jews also weeping which came with her,
He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled."

Who could ever say Jesus doesn't care about how we feel?
Who could dare to accuse Him of lacking compassion?

He had all power...
He still does.

He possessed the capability of setting things right...
in Mary's world.

So, why did He groan in the spirit?
Why was He troubled?

Because she was crying.
Because her heart was broken.
Because He felt what she felt.
Such is the heart of our Lord, my friend!

Do you feel Him step into her shoes?
Can you sense her burden becoming His?

The heart of our Lord was shattered...
because the heart of Mary lay in pieces...
at His feet.

Something deep inside the core of His being...
was moved...
to the point of near-unbearable pain.
Not because He was powerless to help.
But, because she was powerlessly dependent...
before Him...
upon Him.
So trusting was she!

It touched His heart...
deep inside.

Jesus spoke,
"Where have ye laid him?"

They said unto Him,
"Lord, come and see."

Jesus wept.

The most powerful words in the whole King James Version,
in my opinion.
The most profound insight into the heart of our Lord and Saviour,
to me.

He wept!
God, in the flesh, stood in the presence of the weeping...
and He cried...
tears wrenched from deep inside.

His tears mingled with hers.

God of the universe,
creator of the world,
stooped to the point of human need....
in the rawest form...
and He wept...
right along with the needy.

Oh, friend, can you see what I see?
Can you feel what I feel?
As I watch the scene unfold
and become real?

Jesus wept.

If you never get a hold of anything else I ever write,
get this!
It is my passion!
Make it yours!
Absorb it.
Let it permeate your being.
Let it saturate your mind...
and heart.

Jesus cares.
More than you or I will ever even begin to comprehend.
His heart breaks with yours.
His tears flow when you cry.
He never misses seeing one drop fall...
unbidden from your eyes.

How blessed she was!
To kneel before Him...
to linger at His feet...
as He wept with her.

How blessed we are!
To have the same privilege...
every time we pray.

"Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave.
It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.
Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him,
Lord by this time he stinketh:  for he hath been dead four days."

Oh, Martha!
needing to control,
always thinking you know best,
haven't you learned?
Can't you see?
The Light of Life is speaking!
Trust Him!
Trust His wisdom!
Do as He says.
Watch His plan unfold!
It is always best.

"Jesus saith unto her,
Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?"

How she must have tried His patience...His tolerance!
How we must do the same!
When we are like Martha.
When we think we know better than Him.
When we challenge His authority...
in our lives.
When we question His method...
and cannot resist promoting our own logic.

Mary was there...
just like Martha.
Humbly watching her Lord
take command of the hopeless situation
in front of her.

"Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid.
And Jesus lifted up His eyes, and said, Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me.
And I knew that Thou hearest Me always:
but because of the people which stand by I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me."

Could it have been for Martha he prayed?
Along with all of the others standing by?
For Mary?
Had He sensed the doubt in her heart, too?
Even though she wasn't as forceful as her sister?
He absolutely knew every one of their thoughts.
He most definitely sensed every feeling being felt.

"And when He had thus spoken,
He cried with a loud voice,
Lazarus, come forth.
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes:
and his face was bound about with a napkin.
Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go."

Victory won!
Life Itself spoke life into the lifeless dead corpse of the brother
the two sisters loved so much.
Death had no power.
The grave held no authority.
Had he not spoken the specific name of Lazarus,
every dead person within the sound of His thunderous voice
would have filled with life...
and came forth from their tombs...
right along with Lazarus.

What was Martha's reaction?
Scripture does not say.

I can only imagine...
and speculate....
the joy and complete rapture that filled their hearts...
so full of worship...
restored trust.

"Then many of the Jews which came to Mary,
and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him."

It is interesting to note that Mary's name is mentioned as one who led others to Christ.
Martha's name is not.
Everyone around observed the reaction to Lazarus' death...
by these two sisters.
But, the one who drew them to the Saviour...
was Mary.

Gentle, quiet, humble, worshiping Mary.
Assertive, vocal, take-charge-of-the-situation Martha.
Both sisters meant well.

Jesus saw both of their hearts.

Martha gave Him the most trouble.
Yet, He raised her brother from the dead.
He restored life to Lazarus...
for Martha's pleasure, too.

He felt her pain,
and He loved her...
in spite of her shortcomings.

Thank God, He loves us in spite of ours, too.

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