Mary and Martha were sisters, probably close in age, and the dearest of friends. I imagine that their olive skin, dark hair, and deep brown eyes made them difficult to distinguish. At a quick glance, even close friends or family might have mistaken one for the other. Mary and Martha… Martha and Mary.
Their home in “Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away)” (John 11:18). Pilgrims from Galilee would travel south along the Jordan River to Jericho, then up the steep grade to Bethany. Just over the knoll from Bethany, one could stand atop the Mount of Olives and look across the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem.
The sister’s daddy was apparently Simon, a leading citizen, and a leper Jesus had compassionately and miraculously healed (John 12:1-3; Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3). A frequent visitor to the home, Jesus was more than a healer. He was a friend. He was the Messiah, the Son of God, the conquering King, their personal and intimate Savior.
Their brother’s name was Lazarus and “Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus” (John 11:5). When Lazarus got sick, Mary and Martha did the natural thing. They called 9-1-1… they sent a messenger to Jesus, begging him to come quickly (John 11:1-3). By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus’s lifeless body had laid in the tomb for four long days and throngs of family and friends crowded into and around the family’s home to mourn the man’s untimely death.
As He was coming into Bethany, Martha rushed to Jesus’ side, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). She believed that Jesus could have healed Lazarus of his illness and kept him alive, and she believed he would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). But restore his life now?
A few minutes later, when Mary greeted Jesus, she repeated her sister’s words. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” (John 11:32).
“Deeply moved” (John 11:38), Jesus guided the grieving sisters to the grave, “a cave, with a stone lying against it” (John 11:38). Unexpectedly, Jesus commanded, “remove the stone” (John 11:39). Shocked, Martha retorted, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days” (John 11:39). “He stinketh!” (KJV).
Reluctantly, strong men urged the stone away from the opening, revealing the cloth-covered remains. With a firm voice, Jesus spoke to the corpse. “ ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go’ ” (John 11:43-44).
Can you imagine the twinkle in Jesus’ eye, the smile that spread across His face, the joy that exuded from His presence in that victorious moment? He might have said, “I have the power to heal a leper, like your daddy. And, I have the power to restore life to the lifeless. There are no limits to my grace!”