Mary and Martha were two of Jesus’s best friends. They’d welcomed Jesus to their house and heard him teach (Luke 10:38—42). One day, their brother Lazarus got sick. Really sick. But Mary and Martha knew a miracle worker. Thousands of sick people had come to Jesus and he’d healed them. So they sent Jesus a message: “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3). You’d think that Jesus would come at once, right? But no. John writes, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5—6).
How weird is that? John doesn’t say, “Jesus loved his friends, but he was super busy with other things, so he couldn’t come right away.” He doesn’t say, “Jesus didn’t love his friends, so he thought he’d make them wait.” John says that because Jesus loved his friends, he didn’t come. In fact, Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead. And then he came.
What do we learn from this? One thing we learn is that there are times when God intends for us to suffer, not because he doesn’t love us but because he does. We may not understand it at the time, just as Harry didn’t understand why Dumbledore had left him with the Dursleys. But we know that Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and because he loved them, he didn’t come.
Maybe you’ve had suffering in your life, and you’ve prayed really hard for God to take it away. Perhaps someone at school bullies you, and you’ve prayed that he would stop. But he hasn’t. Or perhaps your mother got really sick, and you prayed for her to get better. But she didn’t. Or maybe you prayed and prayed that your parents would stop fighting, but instead they got divorced.
If God loves us and he is in charge, we might think he’d take sad things away when we ask. Sometimes he does. I’ve certainly had that experience. But sometimes he doesn’t. And I’ve had that happen too. Just like when Mary and Martha called for Jesus and he didn’t come.
But that’s not the end of the story.
When Jesus finally comes, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Martha goes out to meet him. “Lord,” she says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21—22). Isn’t her faith amazing? Martha believes Jesus can heal her brother even though he’s been dead for days! So does Jesus rush to bring Lazarus back from the dead? No. Instead, they talk.
“Your brother will rise again,” says Jesus (John 11:23). Many Jews at that time believed that God would raise his people to life again at the end of time, so Martha responds, “I know that he will rise again, in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). And yet we can almost hear her thinking, But what about now, Jesus? What about now? Why won’t you help me now?
The Bible promises that God will put everything right for his people in the end. When Jesus comes back as King, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). But sometimes that doesn’t feel very comforting. Martha believes that her brother will come back to life at the end of time. But she wants him back now. She knows how powerful Jesus is. She knows he could raise Lazarus right away. But he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus looks into this heartbroken woman’s eyes and says these astonishing words:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25—26)
Martha wants to have her brother back more than anything in the world. She’s desperate. Jesus could make her deepest wish come true. But instead of giving Martha her wish, Jesus tells her that what she most needs is not Lazarus, but Jesus himself. He is the resurrection and the life.
Sometimes, if we’re honest, we want a gift more than we want the giver. In the Harry Potter series, Harry’s cousin, Dudley, is very spoiled. His parents are always giving him gifts, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he screams and complains. He doesn’t really want his parents. He wants what they can give him. But Harry’s parents died when he was a baby, and when he looks in the “Mirror of Erised” that shows you the thing you most want, he sees himself with them. Just being with his parents is his most desperate wish. He doesn’t want their money or their stuff. He wants them. And when Jesus looks into Martha’s eyes, he tells her the greatest truth that you and I could ever learn: What we need the most is not what Jesus can give us. It’s Jesus himself. He is the resurrection and the life.
Sometimes, we think of prayer like a vending machine. We put a coin of prayer in the machine, press the number for the thing that we want, and expect it to drop into our hands. If God really loves us, surely he’ll give us the things we desire! When we don’t get what we asked for, we think the machine must be broken. But God is not a means to an end. He is the end. He’s not a vending machine. He’s a person. He’s not just the greatest gift giver in the history of the world. He’s the greatest gift. And he meets us most tenderly in our suffering.
Content taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.