Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It’s an inconceivable miracle. But it shouldn’t have been too much for his disciples to believe because he wasn’t the first dead person to return to life.
John chapter eleven is one of the passages that made me want to write stories for Mary and Martha of Bethany. These friends of Jesus asked for his help, but he didn’t give it.
Not in the way they wanted. Not at the time they expected.
There’s much we can learn about answered prayer from this story.
Here, I introduce you to the youngest of my narrators in the Reflections series. Mary of Bethany begins her story as a twelve-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a wife and mother.
And then she meets Jesus.
This excerpt comes from Chapter Seven of An Adoring Spirit:
Another day without Laz. My heart broke a little more as I remembered the months after Ima died. Months when Abba faded, like cloth that had been washed too much.
I felt like I might be fading, too. I tried to pray, but all that came out was Why?
I jerked a little when a hand pressed my shoulder. I glanced through burning eyes to see my sister hovering over me. Before I could process how she was standing beside me when I’d seen her sitting across the room a moment before, she tugged me toward Laz’s sleeping space.
No. I didn’t want to go in there. The lifeless faces of Abba and Grandmother and Laz bled together into a horrifying living nightmare. I was alive, but they were gone.
Please, don’t make me go in there.
I tried to dig my heels into the floor and resist her, but it was useless. I was weak from lack of food and sleep, and Martha was as strong as ever.
Once the thin linen curtain separated us from the crowd of mourners, I snatched my arm from her grasp. The tiny space might contain fresh straw and bedding, but I’d been unable to sleep in it. This was Abba’s room, Grandmother’s room or Laz’s room. I would never be able to rest here, and my heart raced now, urging me to get out, get out, get out!
In a barely audible tone, Martha said, “The Master is come and calls for you.”
I blinked. Yeshua came too late. My heart twisted and bled some more. When would the pain stop?
He’s too late. I hadn’t meant to pray, but the thought seemed to be aimed heavenward.
Martha studied me. Her hand slid down my arm to squeeze mine, her warm fingers thawing the ice covering me.
I gaped at her and finally managed to ask, “Where?”
“I’ll show you.”
She tugged me gently through the crush of comforters. Softly hummed psalms faded and voices rose around me.
“Where are you going?” Imma’s hand grabbed at Martha, but my sister rushed us toward the door.
Avi’s cook had been with us for many hours during the four days since my brother passed. Today, she’d brought Hannah and Rebekah who’d been comforting me with their small hands and uncertain smiles.
Someone said, “She’s going to the grave to weep.”
I didn’t need to be at the grave to weep.
Yeshua is here.
Hadn’t he healed multitudes? Why hadn’t he come to heal Laz? I know he loved him.
He loves everyone.
The bitterness in the thought made my stomach lurch.
Forgive me, Father G-d. I don’t want to become a bitter woman.
My hand slid into my sister’s as we fled the crush of black-shrouded mourners. I blinked at the brightness outside. She rushed along the road, and I stumbled after her.
Outside of town, I saw the cluster of robed men—Yeshua’s circle of followers. I tried to dig my heels in again. I didn’t want to see him. I wanted to see him. I needed to see him. But I couldn’t face him when I felt betrayed by him.
Yeshua broke away from the group. Dust clung to the hem of his dark tunic. His face was half-shadowed by the slanting sun. My breath stalled inside my chest.
Suddenly, Martha’s hand dropped mine. The swirling dirt and heat disappeared. All I could see was Yeshua, Messiah, the one I loved and depended on to free me from everything.
My knees gave out. I crumpled into a heap. Dust filled my mouth and nose, but I didn’t care. None of it mattered.
Yeshua is here.
Father, help me.
Warmth leaked into the hollow of my soul. After all my doubts, had G-d heard my prayer? Had He answered it?
As I blinked my eyes open, filthy toes stopped near my face.
“Lord.” The word was barely a croak. I hadn’t spoken much in four days. What was left to say? The cry of my heart came out my lips, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
I wanted to accuse him, to be angry. But I couldn’t. Laz, Martha and I weren’t special or important. Why should he come to us when we asked? Why should he show favor to us by healing our sickness?
Heat flooded through my chest. It felt holy somehow, like the incense burning in the temple during worship.
Yeshua’s feet scuffled. His hand touched my shoulder. Strength flowed from his fingers. I gasped at the joy of it, then a sob broke free.
I lied, Father G-d. I did want him to come and heal my brother. I don’t want to be alone. I hate not having a father.
Yeshua’s hand cupped my shoulder blade, and he pressed me forward, encouraging me to stand. Somehow, my weak legs managed to hold me up. Power flowed from the place he still touched and into my legs, girding them. They stopped shaking.
As I stood, our gazes met. His eyes darkened with anguish. I knew it was a reflection of my own pain. Did he miss Laz as much as I did?
His gaze lifted, and he stared beyond me.
“Where have you laid him?” His question was directed at Martha, who had stopped a few feet away to give us privacy.
After some scuffling, it wasn’t my sister who answered. A man’s voice said, “Come and see.”
Yeshua turned to follow him. His gaze caressed my face once more, and then another hand took hold of my arm. Martha. I wrapped myself around her sturdy arm.
A crowd formed around us. We led them down the dusty road to the narrower path that led to the graveyard.
No. I didn’t want to go there again.
Tears blurred my vision. I leaned into Martha, trying to dry my face with my veil. Of course, Yeshua wanted to see where they’d laid my brother. He would want to pray over the tomb.
My heart ached for him. Maybe he felt as powerless as I did. Maybe G-d had forbade him from healing someone he cared about. There had to be a reason that he hadn’t come when Martha sent for him, didn’t there?
Martha stopped several feet from the tomb, a step behind Yeshua. I halted beside her. The Master’s shoulders shook. Was he weeping for my brother?
My heart yearned to reach out to him, to comfort him as he had comforted me only a moment before. But I had nothing to offer. I was empty of comfort’s essential ingredient: hope.
“How he loved him,” someone in the crowd muttered.
Was love only about letting go? Saying goodbye? Watching people you loved die?
Father G-d, I don’t understand. I’ve done all to worship You, but I don’t understand. Show me.
My fingers lifted toward Yeshua.
His touch flowed with power but I had nothing to offer in return. I clenched my skirt. My heart raced, and a strange desire to cry aloud built in my stomach.
“Couldn’t this man who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?” another man from the crowd behind us wondered.
If Yeshua heard him, he didn’t respond. A scalding surge rose from beneath the pit of despair I’d been carrying. I wanted to tell the people to leave him alone. Yeshua had more important things to do than cater to our whims.
Mutters and agreement rose like a summer wind. Martha stiffened, and her arm tightened around my waist.
I sighed, and leaned more heavily against her.
Oh, Father in Heaven, thank you for my strong sister. Thank you for leaving her to care for me. You have provided for me, but I’ve been too self-centered to see it.
Yeshua stepped forward, and my prayer ceased. Where was he going?
He stopped an arm’s length from the cave where Lazarus was buried. My brother’s body filled the shelf beside our father. Another sob tried to rise, but I swallowed it.
“Take away the stone.” Yeshua’s command was clear, authoritative. What was he doing?
Martha shuffled her feet. “Lord, by this time he stinks.”
My nose wrinkled as she said it.
“He’s been dead four days,” Martha finished.
My heart pounded, drowning the murmurs rising from the crowd.
Yeshua turned to stare at us. “Didn’t I say you would see the glory of God if you would believe?”
What? When did he tell her this?
I glanced to Martha. Her gaze dropped to the ground.
If I believe?
I believe. I believe Yeshua is Messiah. I believe he has power to do anything. Holy Father, I want to see your glory.
Blood rushed in my ears. My stomach clenched.
Several disciples strode to the cave and lifted the stone. Yeshua looked toward Heaven. “Father, thank You for hearing and answering me.”
The power in his voice calmed my stuttering heart. The crowd fell silent.
“I know You hear me always, but because of the people which stand by I say it, that they may believe You sent me.”
Father, I believe.
A strange sensation rose beneath my lungs, tingling until it seemed alive.
The crowd shifted. We stared at the gaping hole in the ground. What would happen next? Should I dare to hope for my brother’s return?
“Lazarus.” Yeshua’s voice sang above the wind, “Come forth.”
Time slowed. I pressed my lips together, afraid to breathe like the wind itself seemed reluctant to blow. Everyone and everything waited for Yeshua’s command to be obeyed.
In the odd stillness, something rustled inside the cave.
I gasped but slammed my hand over my mouth.
A form waddled from the gaping crack in the stone. Martha’s linen strips bound him, and he could barely move.
Was it Laz? Did Yeshua bring him back from Sheol?
Disciples stood beside the stone that had covered the opening. They gaped at the sight.
Yeshua said, “Loose him.”
“He’s alive?” The words burst from me.
The scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, John 11.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short departure from the essays usually published on this blog. Next week, I’ll return to those types of posts.
If you’d like to read Mary of Bethany’s story, you can find An Adoring Spirit on Amazon.