“The Resurrection and the Life”
Lesson Text: John 11:17-27, 41-44
Background Scripture: John 11:1-44
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
John 11:17-27, 41-44
17Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
18Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
19And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
27She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
41Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
To understand the implications of Jesus’ claim to be the resurrection and the life.
To tell how Jesus’ raising of Lazarus proves the truth of Jesus’ claim in John 11:25.
To know that as a child of God, why should we fear anything? We can trust Jesus even in the face of death!
Jesus Raises Lazarus (John 11)
The raising of Lazarus from the dead was not our Lord's last miracle before the Cross, but it was certainly His greatest and the one that aroused the most response both from His friends and His enemies. John selected this miracle as the seventh in the series recorded in his book because it was really the climactic miracle of our Lord's earthly ministry. He had raised others from the dead, but Lazarus had been in the grave four days. It was a miracle that could not be denied or avoided by the Jewish leaders.
If Jesus Christ can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). Death is man's last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), but Jesus Christ has defeated this horrible enemy totally and permanently.
The emphasis in John 11 is on faith; you find some form of the word believe at least eight times in this account. Another theme is "the glory of God" (John 11:4, 40). In what Jesus said and did, He sought to strengthen the faith of three groups of people: The Disciples (John 11:1-16), the Sisters (John 11:17-40), and the Jews (John 11:41-57). Today we will discuss Jesus’ strengthening the faith of the Sisters, and the Jews.
Each experience of suffering and trial ought to increase our faith, but this kind of spiritual growth is not automatic. We must respond positively to the ministry of the Word and the Spirit of God. As today’s text opens, Jesus had sent a promise to the two sisters (John 11:4), and is already aware of the sickness and death of their brother Lazarus (John 11:5-6, 14).
The Tragedy of Death in the Comforting Presence of Friends (John 11:17-19)
1. What points does John bring out surrounding the death of Lazarus (vs. 17-19)?
The fact that Lazarus has been “in the grave four days already” is significant. Ancient Jews believe that the souls of the dead hover near their bodies for three days, after which time they depart. This being the belief, the Jews in this story can only assume that Lazarus has passed the point of no return, with no hope whatsoever of recovery.
Before moving on, we note that this particular Bethany is the one that is “about fifteen furlongs” distant from Jerusalem (v. 18). Thus the distance from this Bethany to Jerusalem is about 1.72 miles. John’s note on distance thus serves to distinguish this particular town from the Bethany that is on the other side of the Jordan River (also called Bethabara in the King James Version; see John 1:28).
Since Jerusalem was no more than a two miles from Bethany, a number of Jews from the city paid their respects to Martha and Mary during their time of grief (John 11:19), Evidently, this family had a commanding influence or was popular among the local people. The proximity between Bethany and Jerusalem indicates that news of the miracle would have circulated quickly throughout the holy city.
Accepting The Truth about Jesus’ Claims (John 11:20-27)
2. Why did Martha go “out to meet” Jesus when she heard that He was coming (vs. 20-21)?
Martha meets Jesus on the road, before He gets to the house, away from the crowd of sympathizers. It seems that she wants some time with Him to express her grief privately.
Martha’s words “if thou hadst been here” (as in, “If you had been able to come, I know you could have helped”), had been later echoed by Mary words of greeting (John 11:32). It is likely that the sisters often said these words to each other as they waited for Jesus to arrive. While there may have been a tinge of disappointment in the statement, there was also evidence of faith, for nobody ever died in the presence of Jesus Christ. "If" is such a big word! How futile it is to imagine what might have been, if—!
We note that the sisters sent word to Jesus when Lazarus fell ill, but Jesus purposefully delayed His return by two days (John 11:3-6). But given the fact that Lazarus has been dead four days by this time (v. 17, above), Lazarus would still have been dead for two days if Jesus had not taken a two-day delay.
Of course, Jesus could have healed Lazarus supernaturally from a distance (as in Matthew 8:5-13). But Jesus has allowed Lazarus to die because Jesus is planning to raise Him from the dead (see John 11:4, 11). Naturally, Martha does not know this. Thus as is so often the case, our emotions can overwhelm us before God reveals His larger plan.
What Do You Think?
Where do you find the best help for your faith when God doesn’t work on your time table?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-The counsel of another Christian
-The comfort of a group of other Christians
3. How should Martha’s statement “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (v. 22) be interpreted?
At first glance, this statement may look like a veiled request: “Jesus, You can still save Lazarus if You want to.” But John 11:39 suggests that Martha is not thinking along these lines. When Jesus arrives at the tomb and asks that the stone be removed, Martha tries to dissuade Him by saying that the decomposing corpse will stink. This indicates that she has no expectation that Jesus will bring Lazarus back to life.
Thus Martha’s statement here should be taken as a general expression of confidence in Jesus rather than as a particular expectation regarding Lazarus. Martha still respects and believes in Jesus. She still recognizes the intimacy that Jesus has with the Father. Martha’s faith during grief is noteworthy.
4. How did Jesus respond to Martha’s faith in Him (vs. 23-24)?
Jesus responded to that faith by promising her that her brother would “rise again.”
Since Jesus is Martha’s rabbi, Martha reaches a logical conclusion: Jesus is trying to make her feel better about Lazarus’s death. Those who have been to the funeral of a believer have heard a minister assure the bereaved that they will see their departed loved one again in Heaven.
Some ancient Jews do not believe in resurrection (Mark 12:18-27), but many do believe that the righteous will rise to eternal life at the end of time (Daniel 12:2; Acts 23:8). Thus the words “your brother will rise again” is a comfort in that regard. “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I know we’ll see him again one day.” But this affirmation, even though it is one of faith, reveals that Martha does not detect that Jesus has something else in mind.
5. What did Jesus declare concerning Himself (v. 25)?
Jesus’ response to Martha is incredible. He could have said that He would resurrect Lazarus. Instead, Jesus asserted, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). His declaration is the fifth of seven “I am” statements that highlight His divinity and messiahship. Jesus not only has the ability to perform resurrections, He is the resurrection.
The phrase “and the life” adds even more. Whereas many may think of eternal life as something that begins after we leave this world, John’s Gospel insists that eternal life begins at the moment of spiritual rebirth. This being the case, Jesus tells people that eternal life is available right now through Him; this new spiritual life then continues into eternity after death (see John 5:24).
For John, eternal life essentially refers to all the benefits that come from salvation, some of which we experience now and some of which we can experience only after physical death. Because God’s eternal life—both now and forever—is available only through belief in Christ, Jesus can say I am the resurrection, and the life, the sole source of eternal hope.
6. Why did Jesus turn His statement “whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” into a personal question for Martha (vs. 26-27)?
This is not a question about Martha’s belief in resurrection. Martha has already affirmed her belief in that. This is, rather, a question about her personal trust in Jesus. Jesus wanted her to begin experiencing right now the joys of eternal life.
Her answer follows. “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Martha not only replied positively but was also clear about what she believed-that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s only divine Son. Furthermore, Martha affirmed that Jesus left heaven and entered the world by becoming a human being (John 11:27). Few, if any could have affirmed the Son any better than Martha. Her confession of faith parallels that voiced by Peter (see Matt. 16:16).
Freed from the Grave (John 11:41-44)
John 11:28-40 (not in today’s text) deals primarily with Jesus’ interaction with Mary, sister of Martha. This interaction and certain comments by the Jews who are present (vs. 36-37) set the stage for the resurrection of Lazarus. The emphasis from this point on was on the faith of the Jewish spectators, the people who had come to comfort Mary and Martha.
7. What was the significance of the prayer Jesus uttered before He performed the miracle (vs. 41-42)?
The prayer voiced by the Son, which is recorded in verses 41 and 42, is not so much a petition as it is an expression of thanksgiving to the Father. The Anointed One knew in advance that the Father would grant His request, and so the Redeemer gave thanks for this. Jesus declared in the hearing of the onlookers that the Father always answered His requests, Jesus stated this openly, not for His own benefit, but rather for the sake of the bystanders. It was His desire that in seeing the miracle, they would believe His claim to be the Messiah. In restoring Lazarus to life, Jesus would prove that He is the master of death.
8. How was the raising of Lazarus by Jesus similar to what will happen when Jesus Christ returns (vs. 43,44)?
When Jesus had finished praying, He simply and directly commanded Lazarus to exit from the tomb (11:43). In one sense, this served as a preview of the Son that will be fully displayed in the final resurrection when Christ will call all the faithful to Him when He returns. John envisions this happening in John 5:25-28, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and be raised to eternal life. Lazarus’s resurrection is thus a foreshadowing of what will happen to all those who believe.
Jesus called Lazarus and raised him from the dead. Since Lazarus was bound, he could not walk to the door of the tomb; so God's power must have carried him along. It was an unquestioned miracle that even the most hostile spectator could not deny.
The experience of Lazarus is a good illustration of what happens to a sinner when he trusts the Saviour (Eph. 2:1-10). Lazarus was dead, and all sinners are dead. He was decayed, because death and decay go together. All lost people are spiritually dead, but some are more "decayed" than others. No one can be "more dead" than another.
Lazarus was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all who trust Christ have been given new life and lifted out of the graveyard of sin (see John 5:24).
The raising of Lazarus was intended to foster such faith in the Son of God. And the apostle’s inclusion of this miracle in the fourth Gospel was designed to encourage people down through the ages to put their trust in Jesus as the Messiah.
Because of the great change in Lazarus, many people desired to see him; and his "living witness" was used by God to bring people to salvation (John 12:9-11). There are no recorded words of Lazarus in the Gospels, but his daily walk is enough to convince people that Jesus is the Son of God. Because of his effective witness, Lazarus was persecuted by the religious leaders who wanted to kill him and get rid of the evidence (John 12:9-11).
It was necessary that the Jewish council (Sanhedrin) meet and discuss what to do with Jesus. They were not seeking after truth; they were seeking for ways to protect their own selfish interests. If He gathered too many followers, He might get the attention of the Roman authorities; and this could hurt the Jewish cause.
While it’s always nice to get what you’ve worked for, sometimes a pleasant surprise goes a long way. Things we don’t expect—like a bonus at work or a letter from an old friend or a word of thanks from a surprising source—make us feel appreciated because they show that someone cares for us. In our story today, Martha got the ultimate pleasant surprise as she saw something unfold before her eyes that was humanly impossible. Since Jesus really does have power over death, power to call His people back from the grave, why should we fear anything? Since He secures our eternal destiny, can He not also provide everything else we need in this world now?
Father, death is a fearful thing. We’re afraid of the thought of leaving people behind, of leaving things undone, and we miss loved ones who have died. Please help us trust You more in the face of death. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
The grave is not the end.