MARY RAISED FEAR-FILLED EYES to her sister's face. "He's really sick, isn't he." It was more of a statement than a question; the tone was flat and full of despair.
Martha's only answer was a heavy sigh. She continued to wipe Lazarus' feverish face with a cool cloth. Keeping her hands busy was the only way she could handle her worry for her miserably ill brother...and the waiting for Jesus. Two days—two very long days of agonizing waiting—had passed since their plea for help had been sent to Jesus. Martha's mind analyzed the delay a hundred ways: had He been killed by bandits on the way? was Jesus displeased with them for some reason? did He not care enough for Lazarus to help in this desperate situation?
Then the end came. Lazarus was dead, and Jesus hadn't come. Could He really be the Son of God and Israel's promised Messiah if He didn't even save his friend from death? The sisters' faith faltered as the grave stone rolled shut, sealing their brother and many precious dreams away from them.
Have you ever felt like you've just "buried Lazarus"? Do you know what it is like to wait (and wait, and wait) for God to work, until it seems too late for your prayers to be answered and you feel God has let you down? As our cherished hopes and dreams wither and we feel opportunity has passed us by, it is easy to feel that our prayers are falling on deaf ears and that God no longer cares. It is difficult to see how God can possibly bring good from our situation; to maintain our faith when a cynical bitterness continually threatens.
THE NEXT FOUR DAYS passed in a blur. Well-meaning friends and relatives did all they could to comfort the sisters, but the feeling of betrayal lingered. Why had Jesus let them down? Surely He had some good reason—but what could it be?
Then the news came that Jesus was in town. Relieved and yet nervous, Martha hurried to meet Him, unable to keep a note of reproach from her voice: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!"
Jesus laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and their eyes met. Martha was startled by the love and sorrow she saw there. A surge of faith and hope filled her heart: could Jesus possibly still bring good from this situation? With a confidence she could not understand, Martha said, "I know that, even now, whatever You ask of God He will give to You."
Smiling, Jesus said softly, "Your brother shall rise again."
Rise again? from the dead? Martha's thoughts whirled. "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day—"
"You don't have to wait until then," Jesus stated, another smile lighting His face. "I am, right now, the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies, will live...Do you believe this?"
He is still God, He is all-powerful, He loves me, and He knows best. Though her mind protested, bringing up the disappointment and frustration of the past weeks, her heart knew Jesus' words were truth. Martha's answer was a barely-audible whisper. "Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God."
It's comparatively easy to thank the Lord for His promises and claim them for my own. But it is far more difficult to thank Him for the process of that fulfillment.
I am encouraged to remember that He is fulfilling those promises now. No, I may not have the "desire accomplished" at this moment—Lazarus may still be in the tomb, quite dead and not even twitching—but today, here and now, is just as much a necessary part of the fulfillment as is the ultimate arrival of what has been promised.
As the Shepherd tells Much-Afraid in Hinds Feet on High Places, delayed fulfillment of promises "is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible." That last phrase is so profound! The delay is a vital part of the promise—without it, God's best is not possible.
Am I willing to trust His timing and praise Him for the process as well as the promise? Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!
AFTER JESUS GREETED MARY, the sisters led Him to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. A crowd of friends had joined them by that point, expressing sympathy and grieving together. As they approached the grave, Jesus controlled His weeping and spoke clearly, "Roll the stone away from the tomb."
The crowd gasped and even Martha couldn't help expressing shock. "But Lord, it's been four days! By this time—"
Jesus lovingly broke in. "Didn't I just tell you that those who believe will see the glory of God?"
Martha nodded slowly. Did she believe Him enough to risk opening up the tomb? Would Jesus let her down again? Could she trust, even when she didn't understand? She took a deep breath, then signaled for the stone to be rolled away.
If you have ever had a long-delayed dream fulfilled, you can relate to Mary and Martha's joy when their brother was restored to them. Jesus had done the impossible and the sisters' joy and thanksgiving knew no bounds.
This is so often the way our Father works. He allows trials or times of enforced waiting to come into our lives until things look absolutely hopeless from a human perspective...but then He steps in, works amazing miracles, and brings everything together far more perfectly than we could have imagined. Often we do end up receiving the very answer we'd prayed for—Lazarus was restored to health—but in such an infinitely better and more glorious way. Through the trial/miracle process our faith is strengthened as in no other way...and when the promises are finally fulfilled, all who look on must give God the glory.
A quote I often think of is "Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle." It's so true: before a dawning we must have darkness; before healing, sickness must be present; before desire fulfilled must be longing unmet. And the more humanly impossible our situation is, the more glorious will be God's miracle, in His perfect timing.
May God bless each of you as you grow in trust and patience. I'm learning with you!