Gazing into the Face of Yeshua Part 7: Where Intercession and Contemplation Meet
I’ve been sharing with you now for weeks about the subject of contemplative prayer. This week I want to take “a little side journey” and talk about an incident in the gospels that speaks to the issue of “wasting time on Yeshua.”
Last week when I wrote about some of the practicalities of contemplative prayer, I said that even if you sat in silence “by faith” in the presence of Yeshua and didn’t seem to hear or see or experience any bit of His manifested presence, you did not waste your time.
I myself have gone through session after session of contemplation without feeling that I really deeply connected with the Lord. It’s tempting in that circumstance to say, “Well, that was 20 minutes wasted.”
But time is one of the most precious commodities we have on earth. And those of us who have lived a while on earth are increasingly aware of that, as we realize the temporary nature of our sojourn here.
I want to take a brief look at an incident that happened during the week that preceded Yeshua’s death. It’s found in John chapter 12.
But to do that, I need to go back to something that happened in John 11, involving Mary, Martha and Lazarus. This chapter has some real dynamics of prayer operating in it—both intercessory prayer and contemplative prayer.
In fact, in the story of the raising of Lazarus and its aftermath in John 12, we are going to see intercession, contemplation and repentance intersect.
Let’s look at the opening verses of John 11.
Let’s stop here and consider. The “Mary” referred to here is the person we call “Mary of Bethany,” the same Mary (and the same Martha) we looked at in Chapter 10 of Luke some weeks back.
Mary is one of the models in scripture for contemplative prayer. Here she is identified with an act she will perform in chapter 12: the anointing of Yeshua at the house of Simon the Leper.
Notice in verse 3 Mary and Martha send a message to Yeshua. They tell Him that Lazarus is sick.
Though the text does not say that they asked Yeshua to come and heal Lazarus, clearly that is what the sisters expected His response to be. Later in the chapter when each of the sisters encounters Yeshua, they greet Him the same way: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But what was His response to their message? He stayed two more days in the place where He was! Furthermore, the text makes it sound like the reason He stayed away was because He loved them!
Actually in a larger sense, that IS why He stayed away. In the Greek text the word “loved” in verse 5 is emphasized. It was not yet Passover. It was not yet time to be offered as the sacrificial Passover Lamb, who would die for the sins of Mary and Martha—and all of us.
And it is clear from what the disciples say in verse 8 that if Yeshua had gone to Bethany at that time, He would have been in danger of being stoned to death in Judea by an element of the population that was literally out to get Him.
So Lazarus dies, and his body is placed in a tomb (evidence, by the way, that Lazarus was probably a fairly rich man.)
Mary and Martha are left to mourn Lazarus with their friends and relatives. And they are also left to ponder why the Person who loved them, who was so intimate with their family, did not answer their cry for help.
We’ve all been at the place of unanswered prayer, yes?
Yeshua was looking at the bigger picture. He did not come to heal Lazarus when the sisters sent the message, because He would have walked into a trap. Sick Lazarus was the bait to draw the famous Friend and Healer. The village of Bethany was just outside the Jerusalem wall. When Yeshua arrived, His enemies could fall on Him—ambush Him.
So Yeshua lets Lazarus die. But He doesn’t leave him in the tomb.
He knows that Lazarus has died, but He tells His disciples, almost playfully, that He is going to Bethany to “wake him up.” Since Lazarus is dead, maybe His enemies are no longer lurking there, thinking He would not have the nerve to show up, having failed to heal Lazarus.
Who knows? But on the way to Bethany someone runs ahead of Yeshua’s entourage and tells Martha and Mary that Yeshua is now on the way.
Curiously, it is Martha, not the contemplative Mary, who runs out to meet Him on the road. Why didn’t Mary come out at first? The text doesn’t say. Maybe she was deeply hurt by Yeshua’s tardiness of response.
Can you identify with that? I can.
Martha begins by saying to Yeshua, “If You had been here, this would not have happened. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask.”
Martha had faith in Yeshua’s intercession. In fact, Martha tells Yeshua that He is the Messiah and the Son of God.
Although Yeshua tells Martha that Lazarus will rise again (which she takes as a “last days” statement), He apparently also asks Martha to go get Mary.
When she arrives on the scene in v. 32, Mary says the same words that Martha said to Yeshua in greeting. But our English translation does not show the difference in emphasis in the two statements.
Martha’s greeting emphasizes that her “brother would not have died.” Mary’s statement emphasizes that her “BROTHER would not have died.” Not only does Mary emphasize the relationship to Lazarus, but the strength of her emphasis is greater than Martha’s.
I want you to hear the pain and bitterness in Mary’s statement, as she falls weeping at Yeshua’s feet. This is a trust issue with her. It’s her brother, her male protector, who died. Note that she doesn’t add any requests to her statement.
Now we need to read v. 33 in the right vein. This is an emotion-charged situation. Mary is weeping, and the Jewish mourners are weeping also. We’re not talking tears only, but loud sobs and wailing. In the Greek it says in verse 33 that when Yeshua saw all this weeping He groaned in His spirit and He wailed.
My, this prayer meeting is getting untidy and noisy! But wait—it gets louder.
As the mourners take Yeshua to the tomb, verse 35 says again in the Greek that Yeshua “wailed.” I believe that here Yeshua goes into an intense form of prayer that many of us are familiar with: travail.
Travail is a deep, intercessional weeping and groaning in the spirit. It is not something that we work ourselves into. It is like a “weapon” of prayer that comes by the unction of the Holy Spirit.
What set Yeshua into travail? Was it the bitter weeping at His feet of the contemplative Mary? I don’t know.
The other mourners thought He was just weeping strongly for Lazarus as a mourner. But notice that in verse 38 He goes over to the tomb and, groaning again (Greek text), He continues to engage in deep intercession.
He is literally giving birth to a PHYSICAL revival—the revival (not resurrection) of Lazarus.
He calls out to Lazarus and the result: Lazarus is raised from death and fully restored to his sisters.
And how does Mary, the contemplative, react to this? We’ll have to wait for next week to see!