Thursday, May 23, 2024

Mary of Bethany: Choosing the Better! Lesson 2

Mary of Bethany:  Choosing the Better!

By Patsy Norwood  © 2024  All Rights Reserved!

Lesson 2

John 11: 1-45 (NKJV)

In our last lesson we saw Mary ‘choose the better’ at a supper in her home, this week, we’re going to see Mary ‘choose the better’ in a completely different situation. 

Let’s get started …

Verse 1 … Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

Do you notice the specifics in this verse … Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha?  These specifics were necessary as the name Lazarus was a common one at the time.  In my opinion, God wanted us to know which Lazarus He was talking about.  Our God is a God of specifics!

2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

We’ll read more about Mary anointing the Lord in a future lesson.  This again seems to be for the purpose of identifying the correct people.   We already talked about there being more than one Lazarus at that time.  The same can be said about the name Mary.  Mary was a popular name and there were several women who went by that name.

Mary of Bethany is sometimes confused with Mary Magdelene who bathed the Lord’s feet with her tears in Galilee at the home of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50, but when we do further study we see that they are two different women.

This verse also reaffirms that Lazarus, Mary and Martha were siblings.

“Lazarus was sick” … apparently, as we will shortly see, he was seriously ill.

 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

The sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus.  Notice they didn’t ask anything of Him, they just sent word that ‘he whom You love is sick.’

This reminds me of the phone call one gets when a loved one is nearing the point of death.  The underlying message is that if you want to see them alive, you need to come.

Was this what Mary and Martha were implying when they sent word?  We don’t know, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

“Not unto death” meant that death would not be the end of the matter.  Hold that thought as we continue.

“but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it”  Lazarus’ sickness was going to bring glory to God.

Do we look at the hard things we go through as a way of bringing glory to God?

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

This verse doesn’t say that Jesus loved the Lazarus family!  It says He loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus.  He named them individually.  He loved them individually.  Jesus’ love for each of them was personal and individual.

Today, our Heavenly Father loves ‘mankind’ as a whole, but He also loves His followers individually.  He knows them by name, He has a personal one on one love for each of us.

To me, that is just so comforting!  In fact, it makes me smile all over!  Jesus loves ME, with all my quirks and issues, this I know, for the Bible tells me so …

Verses 6 – 16 gives us details of Jesus decision to delay going to Lazarus immediately and the discussion He had with His disciples as a result.  Read the following verses and then we’ll pick back up with verse 17 where we find Mary and Martha coming back into the picture.

So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”  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.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”  Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.  Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”  Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

But Jesus already knew that Lazarus had been in the tomb for 4 days, didn’t He?  Why the delay?  Was it to make what He was about to do undisputable.  I think so!  Jesus’ hesitation had a higher goal and purpose.

Verses 18 - 19 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.   And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

Lazarus’ family was well-known and wealthy which meant that there was likely a large crowd present.  Notice who was there …

Jews:  the very people Jesus’ was trying to convince that He was the promised Messiah.

Women:  friends and acquaintances who were no doubt there to comfort Mary and Martha. 

If we look at this scene from a ‘Christ’s purpose on earth’ point of view, we will recognize that lots of people gathered together meant opportunities for Christ to teach, convince and show that He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.

20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.

This seems to go along with the speculation in the introduction of Martha being older and more practical.  Here we see her in a take charge, do what needs to be done mode.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary did not, Mary sat in the house.  It was customary for people to sit in times of intense grief.  Was this the reason Mary was sitting in the house?  Had she not heard that Jesus was near, or was her grief so deep that she was unable to respond?

We all grieve in different ways, don’t we?  It seems these two sisters did as well.

Verses 21-27 relate the conversation Martha and Jesus had which culminated with Martha making the confession that she believed that Jesus was the Son of God.  Read those verses below and we’ll pick back up with Martha and Mary in verse 28.

Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”

Secretly, Martha went to Mary, that must have taken some doing as indications are that Mary was surrounded by those trying to comfort her.  Can’t you just see Martha quietly slip in next to Mary and possibly whisper in her ear, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”

29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.

That’s all it took!  The mention of Jesus and the knowledge that He was calling for her sent her making an exit and heading to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.

Where had Martha met Jesus, was it at the tomb where Lazarus’ body was? Personally,  I don’t think so and I’ll explain why a little later. 

Obviously, Martha shared Jesus’ location with Mary along with Jesus’ request or else Mary would not have known where to go.

31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”

Martha’s ‘secret’ attempt to allow Mary to go to Jesus unobserved was not successful.  The people noticed and followed her.

32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Can’t you just feel Mary’s heartache and brokenness?

Can’t you just see the love, faith and trust Mary had in Jesus … ‘If You had been here ….’

Verses 33-36 Jesus sees Mary weeping and those with her weeping.  The term ‘weeping’ here means to wail aloud.  Mary was wailing aloud as were the Jews who accompanied her.  This had to be heartbreaking and even distressing to Jesus!  When those we love hurt, we hurt too, don’t we?  It was the same with Jesus.

Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

“Where have you laid him?”  They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”    … This is why I don’t think Martha had met Jesus at Lazarus tomb.  This, to me, indicates that they were not at Lazarus’ tomb.  They may have been close, but not at it.

 In these verses we get a glimpse of Jesus’ tenderness, love, and emotions.

Lesson for us:  Jesus is not untouched by our trials and distresses!  What a comforting thought!

Verse 37  After noting in verses 33-36 how the Jews following Mary concluded that Jesus loved Lasarus, Jesus is then  challenged by some non-believers (likely Jews also) who had ‘heard’ of the miracles He had done.

And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

Verses 38 – 40 Jesus, full of emotions, groaning has a conversation with Martha.  This conversation was not only for Martha but for those listening as well.

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”   Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

Verses 41-44 Jesus brings Lazarus back to life!

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”  Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

Even the command to loosen Lazarus’ burial wrappings had a purpose.  Personal involvement, a hands-on touch would confirm to everyone present that this was not some kind of mirage, but a genuine resurrection.

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.

“the Jews who had come to Mary” … not Martha, but to Mary, let’s unpack a lesson for us from this.  Each of us is equipped with individual talents and personalities that have the power to influence and lead others for and to the Lord.  No one else can do what you can do for the Lord! 

What can I, what can you, and only you and I, in our own ways, using our unique personalities and talents, do for the Lord?  It doesn’t have to be big in man’s eyes for it to be BIG in God’s eyes!

Mary could have ‘not run to Jesus.’  In her grief she would have been justified in staying in her house where she was being comforted.  She could have seen Jesus later.  But that’s not what she did.  She ran to Jesus and fell at His feet with the confession that if He had been there, her brother would have lived.  I believe her love, faith and dedication to our Lord sent her running to Him … and as a result many believed.  Do our choices send us running to Jesus?  Do our choices help others believe?

Mary had two choices, stay or go … Mary chose the better!

Looking back over this lesson with Mary in mind we see that:

Mary had a heart for Jesus.

Mary was obedient to what Jesus said for her to do.

Mary ran to Jesus in her brokenness.

In lesson 1, we saw Mary ‘choose the better’ at a supper in her home, in today’s lesson we saw Mary ‘choose the better’ when her world lay crumbled at her feet.  Next week we’ll see Mary in yet another situation that is totally different.  Will she choose the better then also?

I hope you’ve enjoyed today's lesson.  Don't forget to leave a comment and if you're enjoying this study, please share the link with other ladies who you think might enjoy it as well.

Until the next class …

patsy @ From This Heart of Mine

Sources used for this study:

Various translations of the Holy Bible

Various commentaries

Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors: Craig A Evans & Stanley E. Porter

Archaeological Study Bible

All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen

Daughters of Eve by Lottie Beth Hobbs

Halley’s Bible Handbook by H. H. Halley

Who’s Who in the Bible by Philip Comfort & Walter A. Elwell


  1. The way you tell the stories are so descriptive. It helps me to understand better. Thanks :}

    1. April, I'm so glad my efforts are helping you to understand the stories better. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  2. Thank you for all your hard work on this, Patsy! What stands out to me is Mary came as soon as she was called. In spite of grief. In spite of visitors. She got up and went to meet Jesus. Obviously that surprised those who followed her. They hadn't been surprised when Martha left the house, which is interesting. Martha went to find Him. Mary came when called. Then, at His command, Lazarus rose from death. It strikes me that all three were a part of that miracle with Christ as the focus. Had Martha not gone to find Jesus, how might that have played out? What if Mary had chosen to stay home, as you also asked (above)? But it all went according to His will.

    1. Elise, exactly! They all had a part to play in the furtherance of God's overall plan for mankind's salvation! Great comment!