WEEK TWENTY-THREE: MARY OF BETHANY
One of the most convicting stories in the Bible for me personally is the story of Mary and Martha. These two women, along with their brother Lazarus, were some of Jesus’ dearest friends. Over the next couple of weeks, we will look at the very different relationship Jesus had with each sister, as unique as they were. Before we look at their story, I would like to address some controversies about who Mary is. My take on her identity is that it does not matter to me whether Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person. Most modern Western scholars say they are separate individuals, mainly based on the hometowns attached to their names, but Medieval scholars said they were the same woman. Some scholars believe Luke kept the identity of Mary Magdalene a secret in His telling of parts of the story because of the reference to her sinful past. I am with Luke in letting that part of Mary’s past remain anonymous. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), so particulars like this are unimportant to me. I also have a strong conviction from the Lord from I Timothy 1:4, “4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” I just don’t believe God wants us to spend inordinate time speculating over these things and especially not arguing among ourselves about them. Whatever her past, Mary at the time of these stories is clearly covered with the righteousness of Jesus, a true saint.
The story that comforts me most about Mary takes place when her brother Lazarus dies. The story does not say Jesus wept when He heard Lazarus had died. Jesus wept over the loss of His friend only after he encountered the griefstricken sisters. In particular, sister Mary was in need of consolation and comfort. How do we know this? She has not come to meet Jesus as her sister Martha did. Mary is in her house, being consoled by neighbors according to John 11:31, and does not at first come to greet Jesus as He nears her home. Then verse 33 says “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” John 35 says simply, “Jesus wept.”
In other words, Jesus cried with her. If you have ever had a friend so moved by your grief she cries when you cry, you understand the love of a friend who is moved by your tears. Jesus is moved by our tears, our loneliness, our hurts. He is moved right now by whatever you are suffering.
Mary did not have to act strong. She did not have to quote passages of memorized Scripture. She just needed to come to Jesus and let Him see her pain. That is all He wants from us all—that we would come to Him in honesty and humility and show Him our true self. Mary seems to have the unusual ability to be honest about her weakness and inability to help herself. Maybe that is why Jesus was able to work one of the most profound recorded miracles in her life. She came to Him in helplessness and with no strength or ability of her own to fix her circumstances. He did not need to strip her of that before He could be sovereign over her situation.
What situation in your life do you need to bring to Jesus and confess your helplessness and need of Him? Do not guide or direct Him with your opinions. Express your dependence on Him and hand over the death of a dream or a situation to Him. Ask Him to do what He thinks best, in His timing. When you do, be prepared that His timing may look as bleak in the short term as the death of Lazarus looked to Mary and Martha. Choose to trust Him anyway. He will come to you in His way. He will love you and grieve with you and comfort you. He loves you as He loved Mary, and you need to do nothing to merit it. Just accept it, and allow Him to love you and to handle your grief or loss His way.
The Story of Lazaurus (ESV) is printed below for your convenience in case you have not read it recently.
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin,[b] said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
I Am the Resurrection and the Life
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[c] off,19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”