How many of us have our ‘if only’ moments? The circumstances are many. We have been given an opportunity to do something or even a choice between some options, but the option we though best at the time was probably not the right one and we may have regretted it ever since. Or it may not be our choice that we regret. It could be the decision of another person or people whose preference causes us to have an ‘if only’ moment.
Here in John chapter eleven we see a situation that caused great anguish of heart. First Lazarus was unwell, increasingly so leading to his death and burial. The hard fact of the occupied grave was the visible evidence to Mary and Martha that their prayers for healing had not been answered as they would have wished. They had asked Jesus to come and pray over their brother but by the time He arrived Lazarus was already in the grave. This next section of John chapter eleven covers Jesus’ short time alone in this public place with Martha, Lazarus’ sister.
1. The cry of anguish (John 11:17-22)
17 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give You whatever you ask.’
Her hopes had been dashed. All the plans for the future stopped in their tracks. Or that is how it looked on the outside. Death looks and feels so final. Christians in our celebration of bodily resurrection can sometimes be at fault in minimising the pain of grief. We must not do that. The process of handling grief and loss takes time to work through. We are ‘human’ beings not robots. ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if You had been here… The circumstances she had wanted did not happen.
However, although she did not know it she was about to experience something far greater than she had ever dreamed could take place. She was right to say to Jesus: But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask (John 11:22). Do you have a similar confidence in the Lord Jesus? It is possible that your situation right now is extremely difficult, but that God has something even greater in store than you had ever imagined, let alone prayed for. Can I encourage you to trust God for your future? Can I ask you to pray: Lord open my eyes to see what You are doing or plan to be doing in my life, my church, my community in the coming days. Help me to pray that what You want will happen here for our good and to the glory of God.
2. The declaration of triumph (John 11:23-27)
23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again. Death is not the end. Death is not the final word, not even close. The apparent finality of death can be so tough to deal with. We must never minimise that as we seek to support those going through tough times. However, these words of Jesus point to our wonderful hope for the future. Martha assumed Jesus was talking about the end of this world and affirmed her belief in the common conviction taught in the synagogues based on the Old Testament teaching (Daniel 12:2-3, for example).
But the first of her big surprises is what Jesus said next to her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; Resurrection life or eternal life in glimpses can begin here on earth. At best here we experience small moments of heaven when life could not be better, but they are accompanied by other times of anguish and tears. Part of the normal human experience is to pass through both joy and sorrow. However, the glimpses of the former leave us hungry for more.
As we approach the home call, so many Christians have been at peace, yes still sad to leave precious loved ones here, though equally ready to enter what Jesus has prepared for us beyond the grave. Have you made your peace with God? Have you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? If you have not done so yet –why not do so today? It will be the best choice you have ever made. Thank God for Martha’s public confession of faith in Jesus. I hope I can also thank God for your commitment to follow Jesus. The benefits of making this choice are truly out of this world, Amen.
Our song for reflection today is: ‘Thine be the glory’