We’re all waiting for something, aren’t we? Some are waiting for their future spouse to come along. Others are waiting for their next step on the career ladder. More than a few of us are just waiting for the weekend. But we’re all waiting, peering anxiously with our necks strained toward the future, hoping that the relief we’re seeking is just around the bend.
Martha was waiting for something too. She was waiting for Jesus. She waited and waited and then waited some more. She waited so long that while she waited, her brother Lazarus died.
Martha was never very good at sitting still. If you remember her from the Gospels, you know she sometimes gets a bad rap. There was this one time, when Jesus and His disciples came over to her house, that she got a bit overwhelmed and irritated. Her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from Him while Martha was getting the food ready all by herself. Mary picked time with Jesus over time in the kitchen, and Martha complained about it.
Because of this, we tend to think of Mary as sensitive and spiritual, and Martha as the sister who whined to Jesus. But I get Martha. There’s something about her that resonates with me. She took care of business and took care of people, and she was honest about her feelings and frustrations — even if Jesus had to set her straight in the end (see Luke 10:38–42).
That’s why I love the scene that unfolded sometime later when Jesus arrived in Bethany four days too late to save her brother, Lazarus. Martha rushed out to meet Jesus and then gave Him a piece of her mind: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Think about that for a moment — she essentially blamed Jesus for the death of Lazarus. She wasn’t entirely wrong, either. Jesus had the power to heal the man, no matter what his unnamed illness was, and the Lord had intentionally waited two extra days in another town before making the trip to see His friend.
Bold as that was, it’s what Martha said next that shows her true audacity: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (v. 22). I love that. She knew that not even death can stop the power of God. The only question in her mind was the timing. At Jesus’ response, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23), Martha’s mind traveled to the end of history: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (v. 24).
We all know how this story ends. Jesus commanded a very dead Lazarus to come out of his tomb, and the man did — stumbling and struggling with the strips of linen that had been wrapped around his body when he was laid to rest. But before we get there, I want to spend some time with Martha. There with Jesus on the road into Bethany, she was caught between two worlds — the present age with sickness and death, and the age to come, when God will raise the dead to everlasting life and every sad thing will come untrue.
Your best life later
Like Martha, we are stuck between two worlds, living somewhere between the already and the not-yet. It’s no wonder we can’t help but be less than satisfied with the current state of affairs. We were born, and then born again, for a future that has not yet fully arrived. We may live in the present, but we have been promised a future more glorious than anything we can measure by our experience.
Many years ago, when I made the all-important decision to follow Christ, I slung that cross over my shoulder and began walking forward toward a promise bigger than any earthly dream I could conjure up in the most spectacular slumber. Jesus is coming back, and when He does, He will make everything good and beautiful. No more hunger or poverty, no more death or dying, no more broken bodies or broken hearts. The emptiness we feel at times will be replaced with joy, our disappointments with peace, and our restlessness with contentment. We will look upon the face of our Savior and see everything our hearts were made for.
But as the days click slowly by, eternity can seem farther and farther away. Our necks begin to ache from straining to look toward the future, so we stop waiting. We settle in to the here and now, imagining the end will never come, that life will just go on and on, just as it has since the beginning. We would never say that’s what we believe, of course, but for all practical purposes, it’s how we live.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a taste of the future. In fact, that’s what all miracles are — little bits of our glorious future sprinkled into the present. They are reminders that things will not always be the way they are right now. As Christians, we have no choice except to believe in miracles, because our faith is built on the biggest miracle of all time: The Son of God died with our sins on His back, only to be raised again to new life and become the firstborn of a new creation.
Lazarus was resurrected, and I assume he lived for a good long while afterward, but he eventually died again. His escape from the grave was only temporary. Jesus, on the other hand, lives to never die again. His is the sort of resurrection that Martha mentioned — the resurrection at the end of the age. It’s what the prophet Daniel spoke about: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life” (Daniel 12:2).
The future is now
I bring this up because it points to something embedded in the nature of our current reality, something deep and true that can change how we look at the world: With His resurrection, Jesus brought the future rushing back into the present.
We talk about the current age and the age to come as if they are separated by a thick barrier that cannot be penetrated except through the natural passage of time. When we get to the moment of Jesus’ return, we’ll cross over, but not a second before. The gospel, however, declares that the promise of God’s coming kingdom has invaded the world we live in today. Because of Jesus, the two ages now overlap. The new creation has dawned in the old. As believers, we are called not just to wait for the future, but to begin living in it right now.
How do we do that? It’s not easy, because Satan, our adversary, is desperate to clutter our minds and days with worries, distractions and futile pursuits. We need to resist the desire to drift or check out. Instead, Jesus calls us to approach life with hope and intention. Practically speaking, I’d suggest we start by following Jesus’ example, obeying His teachings, and perhaps even answering a few of His prayers.
Following Jesus’ example
Although Jesus was fully God, He submitted to the will of His Father in heaven. He lived to please God and to reveal His good heart to the world. While you and I may not be able to raise the dead, heal the sick, or calm storms, we can still be a force for good in this world. We can love people the way Jesus did, we can pray for our friends and enemies alike, and we can invite others to become citizens of the kingdom that is both here and not here yet. In this way, we become ambassadors for the age to come, promoting the life and culture of the kingdom while we live in this foreign land — just like Jesus did.
Obeying Jesus’ teachings
Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) and thought how impossible it all seems? Let’s see…there’s praying for people who are actively persecuting you, gouging out your eye if it causes you to sin, and hauling a soldier’s gear an extra mile when he’s already forced you to lug it the first mile. And that’s just for starters. These commands all seem impossible because, in our own strength, they are.
Jesus’ most famous sermon contains ethics for the kingdom, a way of life that’s only possible when we walk in step with God’s Spirit. The point of the sermon isn’t to pile on more rules so that we feel weighed down. Instead, it’s to showcase the fruit that is produced when we stay attached to Jesus, the life-giving Vine. It’s a roadmap for life in the kingdom, a way of rehearsing for the way things will be in the age to come.
Answering Jesus’ prayers
When Jesus prayed, His requests were always in sync with God’s will. That makes them a reflection of the way things will one day be when the earth is “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). For example, Jesus prayed that His followers — you and me included — would be one (John 17:21). It’s God’s will that His people be united in Spirit and purpose, loving and encouraging one another. When we reject sin and submit to God’s will for our life, we do our part to answer this prayer for Jesus and we get a head start on the life to come.
Called to be uncomfortable
Have you ever spent an extended period of time in a foreign country — one where you don’t speak the language, don’t quite understand the customs, and can’t figure out the currency exchange rate? At first, it can be exciting and fun, but after a while it’s a bit exhausting. Nothing is familiar or comfortable, and it takes a lot of energy to get through the day. That’s a bit of what it’s like to be a citizen of heaven while living in this world. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.
We can’t live as citizens of this world — not entirely, anyway — because our allegiance is to God and His kingdom. But we also can’t live with our heads in heaven all the time; we’ll become useless as God’s ambassadors. Instead, we are called to be uncomfortable. We can’t make this place our final home (because it’s not), and yet all we need to do is look around to see the kingdom isn’t here in its fullness yet. Since we can’t give up one for the sake of the other, we must live with our hearts engaged in both, knowing that all of creation has but one King.
Martha’s story demonstrates what it’s like to live in two worlds. She wept for her brother as someone living in a broken age where death steals those we love. But she trusted Jesus could do the impossible, and just a short time later, she rejoiced to see her brother’s smiling face again. She saw for herself the future God promised, and it was here in this present age.
Scripture tells us God is not slow in keeping His promise to make this world new. Instead, He is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The pains of this world are a terrible burden, yet they have been left to fester — for now — because God loves lost people, and like us, He too is waiting.
But it’s an active waiting. God is still at work. He hasn’t checked out or given in. Likewise, we too must remain active in our waiting — busy and confident in today’s kingdom work, yet watchful for Christ’s imminent and glorious return.
Copyright 2021 John Greco. All rights reserved.