Martha, Christmas, and the Love of Christ

By Trillia Newbell

It’s Christmas Eve, Eve and all I can do is think about Martha. I know, seems odd. Potentially even more strange is my mind brings me to the death of Lazarus.

You’ve probably read the account in John when Mary and her sister Martha were with their brother Lazarus who was ill and on the brink of death. Jesus, who loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, risked being stoned to return to Judea and be with the sisters (John 11:8). Lazarus, we know, had died by the time Jesus arrived, actually, Lazarus had been in a tomb for four days (John 11:17). Jesus, deeply moved, raised Lazarus from the dead, reuniting the family and revealing His power unto salvation to Jews visiting the grieving sisters (John 11:45).

Martha, who is often depicted as nervous, busy, and anxious, seems to have another delightful adjective stacked against her—unbelief.

Martha knew if Jesus arrived in time he would be able to heal Lazarus. She had faith. But Jesus arrived late. Upon his arrival she ran out, rebuked him, and then once again proclaimed her faith in him saying, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11: 22). It is now that Jesus explains that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead but that Lazarus’ resurrection resembles the life we (all who believe) have in Christ.

Jesus explains:  “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26)

Jesus was saying that those who place their trust in him will have eternal life, thus defeating death. Those who trust in Jesus are united with Christ. We live to Christ (or for Christ) and we will forever live with Christ (Philippians 1: 21).

After sharing this insight with Martha, we see he asks her if she believes in which she says yes (John 11: 27).

But something happens between that conversation and the time it took to get to Lazarus’ grave. Perhaps Martha becomes nervous to see her brother’s dead body. Maybe Martha really was concerned about the stench. But, it seems like Martha may be struggling with a little doubt.  Jesus requests that the tomb be rolled away and Martha swiftly states the obvious, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11: 39).

The reason I wonder if Martha doubted is because Jesus responds with a question, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). I would think if she didn’t doubt he wouldn’t need to remind her to believe.

Martha and Christmas

Martha hosted Jesus, loved him deeply, and yet still struggled to believe. I love Martha with all of her flaws because she so closely resembles my heart. I can believe wholeheartedly one night and the next forget the faith I had proclaimed only a moment ago. I can be distracted and busy, yet love the Lord, and even desire to “host” him through prayer and relationship.

But what I love most about this account isn’t the fact that Jesus has the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, it isn’t that I relate so well to Martha; what I love about this story is that it starts by reminding us that though we aren’t worthy, though we may struggle with faith, it matters not, Jesus loves.

Jesus loved Martha (John 11:5). Jesus wasn’t asking for a perfect faith, he was asking for her to simply believe. We see this over and over again. Peter denies Jesus and he gives him the keys to the kingdom (Mark 14: 66-72, Matthew 16: 19). Saul persecutes the church, yet Christ saves him and makes him an Apostle (Acts 9, Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1). And we could go on and on about the mishaps of the Disciples. Martha seems to doubt but he raises Lazarus regardless. Jesus loved. And He loved them, and us, before the foundation of the world.

This same love is stored up for us this Christmas.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Today, right now, we can believe because God humbled himself to come in the form of a little baby.  Jesus, fully God and fully man, the mysteries of mysteries, came. He died and all we must do is believe He did what he said he did. And this faith we have (even if as little as a mustard seed, see Luke 17:6) can cause us to live forever, united with Christ.  It doesn’t take great faith.

Jesus loved us so much that he gave his very life for us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

And like Martha our faith may waver, but thanks be to God that his faithfulness and love doesn’t depend on us and never wavers. This Christmas as we think about the baby who was born, let’s remember that baby grew, and loved us unto death. And let us believe.



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