Saturday, July 23, 2011

Should Protestants Let Mary Help Them Pray?

Reading: John 11  
Before you run screaming from the question I asked in the title, you may want to read about how another Mary may teach us something about prayer. The account of Jesus raising Lazarus is loaded with much truth about Christ and His purpose in coming. In this brief post, however, I want to focus on the comparison between Mary and Martha. We are all used to hearing about these sisters in contrast from Luke 10:38-42 where Martha is weary from her labors (law), and Mary has found what is needed, not her labors, but Christ (grace)! Here, the comparison is deserves equal attention.
Having waited to go to Bethany until Lazarus had died (intentionally), Jesus arrives to discover that Lazarus has been dead four days. Mourners had arrived and were with Martha and Mary. The first encounter we read of involves Martha (John 11:20-27).
  • Martha hears that the Lord has come and goes out to meet Him. (It does not indicate that Mary heard; it will become evident that she was not yet aware that Jesus had arrived.)
  • Martha says to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
  • Jesus response to Martha describes the truth: “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  27Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
In effect, Jesus is saying the last day is found in Him. All the judgment anyone has coming is dealt with through faith in Christ. The one who believes in Christ has, effectively, already been raised. Why? Because his judgment has been dealt with (see John 11:50-52); he will never die. Like Lazarus he may sleep; but it will not end in death. Like Lazarus it may appear that he dies, but the story is not over! Like Lazarus he may even decompose and stink, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life—the last day has come in Him and all who are in Him will live, even though they die.
Now, keeping Martha's encounter in mind, let's examine Mary's from John 11:28-35.
  • Jesus called Mary to come to Him.
  • When Mary heard his call, “she got up quickly and went to him.” This response is repeated for emphasis (vs. 31). Note the contrast with Martha's response. Mary is responding to the call of Christ with faith.
  • When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet! This is no mere theological statement, this is worship! Martha speaks to Jesus; Mary prays! Martha's response is appropriate, but ineffective. Mary's response is over the top, but effectual! It is not the outward form that makes the difference; it is clearly the heart that drives is... much like the Luke 10 account I referred to above.
  • Mary says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is the exact same thing Martha said without the additional part about, “but even now....”.
  • Jesus responds to Mary by answering her prayer (virtually unspoken, but implied): When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. 35Jesus wept.” Then Jesus proceeds to raise Lazarus from even a decomposing state.
There are a few things we can learn from this about prayer. While secondary to the truth about Christ being the resurrection and the life, it is certainly not unimportant. First, prayer is a response to the call of Christ! Mary responded to the request of Christ which Martha brought her. Here I am reminded of Revelation 3:20. Prayer is a response to Jesus standing at the door of our heart and knocking. We merely open the door. He comes in. We don't even bring Him in! As Ole Hallesby commented on that verse, “To pray is nothing more involved than to lift the eye of prayer unto the Savior who stands and knocks, yea knocks through our very need, in order to gain access to our distress, sup with us and glorify His name.”
Second, prayer is more about the groaning within our hearts for Christ to work and deliver us from the bondage of decay (Romans 8:23-27), than it is about how we express it. Mary barely expressed her need; mostly it was expressed in her weeping. Prayer is not answered according to how well we describe the need to God, or how accurately we ask. It is about our helplessness coming in desperation to the Savior. It is like another Mary who had no idea how He would answer, but merely expressed the problem in trust to her Son, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3) That's it. We don't need to tell God how to deal with the need; we need to entrust the need to Him!
Mary had no idea (though Martha appears to have some notion that Jesus could raise Lazarus even still—John 11:22) that Jesus would raise a decaying body. She just knew that He was what she needed. Like everyone else, Martha and Mary thought that Jesus should have come sooner, that that would have been a better idea (John 11:21, 32, 37). Like them, we usually prefer different plans than those that appear to be working themselves out in our lives. We must fall before the Savior in worship, trusting our need to Him, knowing He hears our weeping, and knowing that in Jesus our finality, the last day, has been determined and that every other outcome is temporary!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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