Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
I wish there was a required course in school entitled: ?severe illness and death, what to expect?. Having just been through the death of a loved one I can tell you first hand that there is nothing like. Nothing, it seems, in my life prepared me for the pain, the anguish, the range of emotions, the guilt, and the grief. Even though my mother-in-law knew the Lord it doesn?t stop the sadness and I know I will miss her until the day I see her again in heaven.
Truth is there is no class that can adequately prepare you for death, or for difficult trials either. I think about my brother Pastor Gideon Mudenyo who lives in the midst of a country that is in such turmoil that he literally doesn?t know if he and his family will survive the next night.
What is so difficult is realizing that we belong to and serve the God who created and sustains the entire universe. God with a word can bring things into being and with a word destroy them. The question that echoes in our hearts and in our mouths isn?t whether God is powerful enough to change our desperate situation, but why He doesn?t do it.
Thoughts run through our minds: was I not good enough to merit his favor, did I do something wrong, did I not pray enough or the right words? Or the ultimate: maybe God just doesn?t love or care enough about me to move.
Mary and Martha, dear friends of Jesus, face just such a dilemma in John 11. What Jesus does, and doesn?t do?what he says and urges us to say?reveal truth that can help us withstand no matter what terrible trial comes our way?even the ultimate trial of death.
1 ? 4
We fear death. As humans death is among our very worst fears. We as a culture tend to hide death. People die in hospitals or nursing homes and are whisked off to the funeral home where they are made to look like they are still alive, just asleep. Here Jesus learns that his good friend Lazarus is ill. John identifies him immediately with Mary?the one who wiped Jesus feet with her tears.
It?s a little odd because that event happens in chapter 12?after the events of this chapter. The people who read this gospel would have been instantly familiar with Mary because that event was so famous. But I think it serves another purpose. As we?ll see in this chapter, Mary is heart stricken at the death of her brother, and not a little bit put out by the fact that Jesus could have prevented it.
But just a short time later Mary is actually one of the few people who fully embraces death?not as an end to life, but in Jesus case, an end to death. Mary anoints Jesus? feet to prepare him for burial after his crucifixion. In this chapter she won?t even go to see Jesus. But in chapter 12 while no one else seems to get what Jesus is about to do, she does get it. So what happened? I think Mary no longer saw death as something final, but as something that Jesus has power over?and that is a vital lesson for us to learn as we look at this chapter.
Jesus hears the news and the Holy Spirit has no doubt revealed to him what is going to happen and what he is to do and not to do. Jesus says it right out that Lazarus is not going to die but God will be glorified. Yet even before they arrive Jesus tells them that Lazarus is dead. It?s this seeming contradiction that throws us. We, like the disciples and Mary and Martha, have to realize how much Jesus controls our darkest moments, even death itself.
5 ? 6
Wait a minute. Jesus loved them so he stayed away? You?d think that Jesus would rush to help but he is actually doing something far greater. Healing sickness is one thing?raising someone from dead quit another. If you ever wonder why Jesus waits to answer your prayers in times of trouble it may be that by waiting he is doing something in and through you that you could not have imagined.
7 ? 10
Not going to Judea meant Lazarus dies. Going to Judea means that Jesus could die. Jesus makes this interesting statement about there being 12 hours in the day and walking in the light. I think that he?s saying that the job is more important than the circumstances. Doing God?s work makes it irrelevant that there are dangers ahead. We face dangers all the time as Christians?for some of us it is physical danger, most of us the dangers are ridicule, embarrassment, confrontation, loss of friendship, etc. But if you belong to Jesus and are doing his work you are walking in the light and it doesn?t matter what humans bring against you.
11 ? 16
The disciples clearly missed Jesus? euphemism for death so he gives it to them straight?Lazarus is dead. We know the end of the story but just imagine you were there. The magnitude of Jesus? power over death is truly the most amazing thing possible. They voiced their objections to the trip but Jesus says ?we?re going anyway.? Then Thomas proclaims ?let us also go, that we may die with him.? I?m not sure if this was total courage, or if there is a bit of sarcasm in here, and a bit of fatalism. This would be in line with Thomas? character.
17 ? 19
By the time Jesus walks from across the Jordan up to Bethany Lazarus has been dead 4 days. Why is this important? The Jews believed that a person could come back from a ?near death? experience even three days after dying. But after 4 days their spirit had left the body. So it is too late according to what everyone believes. Besides, in that warm climate a body would decompose quickly and so had to be buried often on the same day. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus must have been well known and well liked for the many people that come out to pay their respects.
Martha, always the woman of action, gets up to confront Jesus. Mary, apparently so grief stricken that she can?t move, stays behind. Perhaps she is bitter too that Jesus didn?t come earlier?before it was too late. How often are we bitter at the Lord for not coming through? We underestimate what God can do and he is doing in us by allowing situations to go past the point of no return.
21 ? 22
Inferred here is ?why weren?t you here to stop this, Lord?? It?s odd, of course, because even if Jesus had been there he would not have stopped it because of the greater thing he was going to do. We want God to keep us from getting into situations that are above our head, but God puts us there to show his power and increase our faith!
Martha says ?you can do anything you want,? but from what she says at the tomb later she doesn?t really believe it. She is just reaffirming her trust in him, which is good. So then notice what Jesus says:
23 ? 24
Martha responds to Jesus with her default theology?that as the Jews understood?everyone would rise at the end of time in the resurrection. But Jesus is not talking an abstract theory but a present reality. Then he makes one of the most startling statements found in the Bible.
25 ? 27
It?s like we say ?sometime somewhere all my problems will be solved.? Jesus is saying ?its not a somewhere or sometime, it?s a someone?Me? Jesus is going to demonstrate his power over death. But the important thing to catch here is that the new life that Jesus has starts now with him and lasts forever. Physical death becomes nothing more than a doorway instead of a deadend. Martha responds exactly correctly, but she is about to see what this really means soon.
28 ? 37
Mary and Martha apparently had talked about the fact that Jesus could have done something had he been there. Interesting that Jesus doesn?t challenge Mary like he did Martha. Earlier when Jesus had visited this home Mary was already so in tune with the Lord that I wonder if maybe he didn?t feel it necessary, that she already understood that he was the Messiah, even if she didn?t understand that death was reversible with him!
So then we find the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept. Why did he cry? The words ?deeply moved? mean to be very agitated:
Several views have been put forth to explain Jesus\' weeping. The most common are as follows:
? Jesus wept in sympathy for the ones he loved who were grieving.
? Jesus wept for all people who grieve over the death of loved ones.
? Jesus wept over the frailty of life and the ravages of sin and despair.
? Jesus wept in anger over those present who remained in unbelief in the face of death.
? Jesus wept in sorrow for having to call Lazarus back from eternity into a world where he would die again.
Whatever the reason, the mourners who had gathered doubted. They suggest that there are limits to Jesus? power, or his willingness. Do we sometimes put gates around the power of God? If he doesn?t answer in the way we expect then there is something wrong with him or with us. But in reality God was in total control and doing exactly the best thing in the situation?they just didn?t see it.
38 ? 44
The fact that Lazarus came out like a mummy shows that he had indeed been dead. He had not revived inside the tomb. He was dead, but as Jesus said in chapter 5: ?The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live\" (5:25 NIV).
You would think that this event would be it?that no one would doubt. But John shows us that the raising of Lazarus was actually a catalyst for the religious leaders to settle on murder as the ultimate solution to keeping them in power.
45 ? 57
Witnessing the miracle of life creates a split?those that believe and those that reject Jesus. I think it is just ridiculous that miracles are seen as a bad thing?that God moving is something the Pharisees want to stop. Their true motives become clear?they thought Jesus would create an insurrection. The Romans would then recognize Jesus as leader of Israel and toss them out of power. How low their sights really were!
Caiaphas, a real piece of work, thinks he is justifying murder but in reality is prophesying the death of Christ for the sins of the world.
So Jesus cannot go openly anymore. The Pharisees put out an All Points Bulletin to arrest Jesus. But as we?ll find out soon, when it is time Jesus will want to be arrested, tried, falsely convicted and murdered.
Jesus doesn?t spare us pain, grief, sickness or death. But wants us to recognize that he is the way through and beyond them all. The outcome isn?t important, Jesus is.
Jesus is deeply moved by our difficulties. He cries over our sorrow. Yet he does not act until the Father will receive glory. Should we not then have patience too, knowing that He cares and will act when its time.
We can approach Jesus with honesty, even frustration. But as we are honest with him, we must let him be honest with us, and let him take us from the faith we have to the faith he wants us to have (interaction with Martha)
What would this situation have been like without the presence of Jesus?
Illness would have brought anxiety and a feeling of helplessness
Mary and Martha would have been mourning without end
The doubts of the Jews would have been proven right (vs 37)
Lazarus would have died and not come back?ever
With Jesus we face even the worst situation with hope
Difficulties bring about anxiety but also hope and help
Though we still experience separation?in the end there is fellowship forever
Doubts dissolve away as the Savior moves
Death is conquered and will never come back?ever.
How odd that after bringing someone back from the dead the Jews thought they could kill Jesus. (45-53)
In a very real way we are all like Lazarus. We are infected with the disease of sin, overcome by death and bound up in it?in a grave with no hope. But along comes Jesus who speaks life into death and calls us out of the tomb. The question is?will we respond?