Somehow Martha, in the midst of grief and confusion over the death of her brother Lazarus, assumed that this terrible tragedy would not have occurred if Jesus had only been there to prevent it. Even her sister Mary would echo this same lament (v. 32). They had genuine faith in Jesus, but it became obscured by their feelings and preconceived notions of what Jesus should have done. Their understanding and trust were weak because of a vague understanding and knowledge of Jesus and His purposes.
First see in Martha’s lament that she acknowledged Jesus to be absolutely powerful and good, but she allowed her own desires to rule her feelings rather than yield to Christ and His purposes. At no time did Jesus promise that He would prevent the death of Lazarus by His Presence. As such, she had faith, but it was not mixed with revealed truth.
Earlier, she and her sister had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was dying, no doubt intending for Jesus to come immediately. But instead of responding as they might have wished, He remained exactly where He was for two more days. He then revealed His purposes by saying, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man might be glorified through it” (v. 4). He also later told His disciples, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe” (v.14). Jesus had very specific purposes in mind that would come as a result of the death of His dear friend. Completely counter to Martha’s wishes, He would not be there. In fact, He intended for Lazarus to die! His death would be a means of glory for God and Himself, and it would also be a means of strengthening the faith of Martha, Mary and the disciples.
Is it not true that we too have preconceived notions of how God should act in the events of our lives and the world around us? When this happens, we’re driven by our feelings, not truth. We have definite ideas of what God should do and not do. This becomes evident when we’re quick to attribute those things we consider good to God, but if something contrary to our desire happens, we often say, “Well God allowed it”. As if to imply that somehow God stepped out of the way and was not there. Isn’t that the same as saying, “Lord, if You had been here, this wouldn’t have happened”? But has God never promised us a life immune from grief, or difficulties? Has He ever said this world would be free of terrible tragedies?
Yes, like Martha, we have faith in God’s ability and His goodness, but faith must rest on truth, God’s revealed truth. He never said He would spare you this illness, or this death of a loved one, or this depression, or any other affliction you may be experiencing. But God did say, “I am the Lord and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). He said, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8) and “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Away with our feeble faith cry of “If only…” and let us submit ourselves to God’s holy and infinite wisdom and purposes for His children.
Secondly, we can observe that Martha and Mary had very limited views of the Person of Jesus Christ. They knew Him as sent from God and the Son of God, but they still did not fully see Him as God Himself in the flesh. They somewhat superstitiously reasoned that Jesus must be bodily present in order to heal their brother, not fully knowing and believing that His divine powers reached beyond His physical Presence. They didn’t fully understand that His divine purposes went beyond their limited view and desires. Perhaps, because of His absence, they even thought of Him as cold and uncaring.
But when Jesus finally did arrive at their home and was told of the death of Lazarus, we read these very poignant words; “Jesus wept” (v.35). Now they could see in Jesus the supremely compassionate and caring character of God Himself in His tears. Now they could see that God in the Person of Jesus is a “merciful and faithful High Priest… for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18). They would witness the life giving power of God Himself as Jesus spoke “Lazarus, come forth!” They would come to know that Jesus used the death of Lazarus to strengthen their faith in Him as the One in whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Whenever we have distressed and distorted understandings of God’s purposes in our lives, the cause can rightly be attributed to our weak views and understandings of the Person and the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9). And so, when we believers say with the Apostle Paul that, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 3:20) in His dying for our sins, let us not separate this love and purpose from the love and purpose of God the Father Himself. Indeed, they are the same! And this is because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus said this of believers, “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Therefore, as believers, we need never say, “If only you had been here…”. Jesus is God and is always with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We can be assured that all of God’s workings in our lives and the world around us are for His glory and for the strengthening of our faith. We can know these things because God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).