If Only

She cried till she thought there were no tears left, and yet they continued to flow down her cheeks, unbidden signs of a heart that was broken. A rhythmic rocking back and forth had replaced her shaking. “If only…,” she stopped herself. It seemed wrong to utter the words, and yet they rolled over and over in her mind. “If only he had come, my brother would not have died.”

Suddenly, she heard a commotion outside. There were many who had come to mourn with her and her sister. The crowds of people seemed to grow each day, and she had become accustomed to the noise, but this sounded different. So she got up, and went to see who had come.

As soon as she saw him, she ran, stopping just short of an embrace. Instead, she put one hand on her hips, and fisted the other, shaking her finger in his face. “If you had only come, my brother would not have died. Where were you, anyway? What kept you away? We sent word to you as soon as he got sick. We waited and waited. Why didn’t you come” Choking back a sob, and catching her breath, she continued, “But now that you are here, I know that whatever you ask God, he will give it to you.” With that, she dropped her fist and hung her head.

Jesus reached out, took one of her hands in his hand with the other, then lifted her chin. Looking deep into her eyes, he softly said, “Martha, it’s going to be ok. Your brother will live. Don’t be so sad.”

John 11:25-26 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? ASV

She pulled back her hand as if he had stung her. Glaring at him, she spat. “Yes, I know all about that.” With a mocking tone, she continued. “He will rise in the resurrection, in the last days, just as you have preached. I know all about that. Yes, he will rise again.”

Reaching out once more for her hand, he said, “I am the resurrection and life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies. I thought you believed this, Martha. Don’t you believe me?”

Pulling her hand from his reach, she answered, “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into this world.” With that she spun on her heel muttering under her breath, “if you had only been here.”

She knew the Truth giver, but she didn’t believe him, and there was anger in her unspoken accusations. “Lord, if you had only been here, this would have never happened. Where were you? Why did it take you so long to get here? What was so important, that you couldn’t come and be here before my brother died. I thought you loved us. I thought you loved him. If you had only been here, my brother would not have died. He would not have suffered. This is all your fault.”

“Martha,” he called after her, but she didn’t care. “Martha, come back.” He cried. Then, in resignation, he added, “Where is Mary?”

Shaking with grief and anger, she stormed away. How dare he speak of the future when he could have prevented Lazarus from death? She wanted him alive now. Not tomorrow, next week, or sometime in the future. Didn’t Jesus understand that? How could he be so dense? Unfortunately, it was Martha who didn’t understand.

When she arrived at her house, she threw open the door and glared at her sister. “The master is here, and he wants to see you. Come, I’ll take you to him.”

Mary stood and stumbled from the darkness of their home. The sunshine stung her eyes as she tried to adjust to its brightness. Not far down the road, she saw him standing among the crowd.

Reaching him, she sobbed, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Feeling her pain, Jesus cried with her. Then from the depths of his groaning, he demanded, “Where is he? I want to see him. Take me to the tomb.”

When they arrived, he demanded that they roll the stone from the entrance. But no one wanted the tomb opened and Martha said, “No Lord. It has been four days, and the body has decayed and is stinking.”

But Jesus responded, “If only you will believe, Martha! I told you, you are about to see God do glorious things? Now, open the tomb.”

So they opened the tomb and Jesus prayed. “Father. I know you hear me. You always hear me and I am grateful. Father, my prayer is that those who are here with me now will believe that it is you who has sent me.”

Then he took a deep breath, and shouted with all his might. “Lazarus, get out of that tomb. Come out!”

Jesus called out to Lazarus, he believed, and he said what he believed. Believing was the power behind his words. He believed his father heard him, and he believed Lazarus heard him. Because he believed, the dead man came bouncing out of that tomb, bound by his hands and his feet. Lazarus was alive because Jesus believed.

Over and over, Jesus had said to Martha, “Believe. Martha, if you would only believe.” Even when he prayed to his Father, he expressed his desire that she, along with those who were listening, would believe. He was trying to activate Martha’s belief yet, even in the end, she still didn’t believe. She said she believed. She even declared that whatever Jesus asked of his Father, he would give it to him, and yet even at the tomb, she held onto her unbelief, saying. “Lord, we can’t take the stone away. He stinks. You are too late.”

“If only!” Both Mary and Martha said those two words. Martha’s was a statement of accusation and Mary’s, one of hopeless regret. Both were statements of unbelief. If only Jesus had come when they called. If only he had sent a messenger ahead saying he was praying for their brother. They knew he could heal the sick, feed the thousands. He could do anything. If only he had come, but he didn’t. Now it was too late. Nothing could be done. If only he had come.

Have you ever felt that way about your life? Have you ever looked at your life and said, “If only things had been different? If only I had not lost my temper, eaten healthier, invested my money wiser, gone back to school, done this or that, everything would be different. My life wouldn’t be the way it is today, but now it’s too late. I missed my chance. I lost the opportunity, and now it’s too late. God could have stopped me. He let this happen. If only…If only…”

Jeremiah 29:11-12

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end. And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. ASV

Have you ever accused God of being absent? Have you felt all alone in your suffering, feeling like God is far, far away, and that he doesn’t care! I know I have. It is the plan of the devil to implant the words “if only” deep into our hearts, destroying our belief in God and replacing our trust in him with hopelessness.

Psalm 56:8

Thou numberest my wanderings: Put thou my tears into thy bottle; Are they not in thy book? ASV

There things are two things from this story we must remember. The first is that Jesus feels our pain. Jesus felt Mary and Martha’s pain. Imagine him standing before the tomb with his arms around the sisters, his tears mingling with theirs as they fell from his face. He felt their pain, and he feels every tear that falls from our face. He understands the shakings of our heart when everything seems lost and he knows how we feel deep inside, and he cries with us. Yet his tears are not those of regret and lost hope. No, his tears fall because he feels our pain. The second thing we must remember is that Jesus knows things we don’t know. He knows the plans that he has for us and knows how to get us out of our difficult situations and into something better. He knows the miracles that he has already set in motion for our lives, and he says, “Don’t lose hope. Believe. Just believe! Watch and see me work in your life. Don’t linger on your regrets or your hopelessness. Let me wrap my arms around you so that you can feel my strength and know that I am here now. I have not left you and I will never leave you. I can make everything right. ‘If only’ you would believe.”