The fear of death filled the dear home at Bethany with anxiety, and there was only one hope for them, and that was the Lord Himself. “Therefore his sisters sent unto Him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick” (v. 3). Now it was a very simple message, but a very touching one. Those sisters would say to each other, He will be sure to come as soon as our message reaches Him. But He did not come. Perhaps you have been praying for something and the answer has not come. Something else has come. The very reverse of what you were praying for. God does not always answer our prayers according to the terms of them. And I think it is an immense mercy. I believe the greatest mercy we shall find by and by is the way in which God has answered them. He does not answer them in our way. They wanted Him to come in and stop the sickness. They knew that He had only to speak the word, and their brother would be well. And why did He not come and do it?
The reason was this, for the glory of God. But they did not know it. How anxiously they watch for the Lord coming, but He does not come. Presently the brother dies, and in their hearts there was probably the thought, “He seems not to have cared for us.”
Has such a thought gained a lodging-place in your heart? Have you been assailed by a bit of distrust of His love and His care? Look at verse 5 of our chapter, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” There is something very touching in that little parenthesis. To me there is something very sweet in this. He loved each of the sisters, and they are named personally. Get hold of this. He loves you. You will never come right and everything will appear wrong if you do not. It is not a kind of general idea, He loves us; but this, He loves ME. It was Paul who wrote, and I know his heart glowed as he wrote it, “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Has it been wrought into your soul that you are the object of His deepest and tenderest affection? If so, rest in this, perfect love always does the best for its object. That will help you through many a difficulty. That will comfort you in your heavy sorrow. You know this world is not a fair garden, it is a vale of tears, and more than that, it is the place where all the consequences of man’s sin are necessarily met with as we go through it, and consequently if you have not got the sense of the love of Christ in the difficulties and disappointments and sorrows that come upon you, you will find you will lose your balance, and you will be thrown into want of confidence in God. Your soul will chill down and get entangled in the world; but if you have got this in your heart, “I am loved by Him with a perfect love,” you will be kept. No matter what happens, no matter what comes, and if the most crushing sorrow that you can know is rolled in upon you, you will know how to drop at His feet and learn the comfort you never learn except in sorrow, and you will learn the love of Christ then as in no other way.
The hearts of the sisters were broken, their hopes were smashed, death had rolled in upon them. And then the Lord comes and Martha meets Him. And she said to Him words exactly the same as Mary said afterwards, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (v. 21). Was she betrayed by her bitter sorrow into implying, “You know you are too late, You are surely not as deeply interested in us as we thought You were.”
The way the Lord meets her is divinely perfect. And there comes out of it truth for us of the richest and sweetest character. Ah, He stayed away that she might learn what she never would have learned in any other way.
Presently she goes and tells her sister. And “when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet.” Ah, Mary was right. That was the place of comfort and of blessing, and there at His feet she could pour out her sorrow. “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (v. 32). “He could not have died if You had been here, Lord.” I do not think there was complaint in it. I think it was a simple statement of a soul that was under the sense of the glory of His Person in a very beautiful way, and it takes this form in her soul. For He is the Resurrection and the Life.
If you are in sorrow let me urge you to get to His feet and lay your burden there, and if your heart has been broken He will heal it. The day will come when you will say, It was worth while having it broken, to learn the ministry of His heart, and the tender way in which He bound up my broken heart. Oh, how He can sympathize. Look at it here. He goes out to the grave with her, and we read, “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in all the Bible. Am I wrong in saying the sweetest? “Jesus wept.” What, Jesus? My Jesus. The Jesus that I know. The One who is now the glory-crowned One at God’s right hand. The same Jesus. Oh, thank God for those words, “Jesus wept.” Do you weep? Are you in sorrow? He has gone up on high as the Priest, and He knows how to hold you up and to support you and sustain you in the wilderness circumstances. And the next thing will be, you will find yourself lifted up in thought to where He is. And the result will be, you will be transformed from a mourner into a worshipper, wholly absorbed with Him, whose love you know as a great reality, as Mary was in chapter 12, when she broke her box of precious ointment and poured out its contents on His feet. “He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” To me there is something very touching in that. He groans in fellowship with God as He sees what sin has brought into God’s creation. And He weeps in tender, touching, blessed sympathy with man. Man in sorrow, and man under the pressure of death. And do not let us forget He is the same Jesus today.