Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.”
John 11:25-26a (NET)
I am sure that we all have experienced the death of someone we know. Some of us have lost someone very near to us. In time we will all face the death of someone close to us unless we go first. Sometimes death comes unexpectedly, but often it comes after a long illness. However it happens, it is hard. As we study the story of Lazarus this week, consider how you would have felt to be his sisters and friends, including Jesus. This isn’t simply a story in a book, but it is the true-life story of real people who dealt with death and grief, just as you and I do.
Review John 10:39-42 and read John 11:1-5.
1. Why was Jesus across the Jordan? What was happening there?
Diamonds in the Word: Read about the story of Mary’s anointing, to which John referred in John 11:2 in order to establish the identity of this family. It is found in Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Jn. 12:1-11. (A fourth account of Jesus being anointed is in Luke 7:36-50, but this is not the same story, as a detailed reading of it will show.)
2. What crisis occurred in Bethany and what did Mary and Martha do about it? What does their response to the situation reveal about them?
3. Sharing question: What is your usual first reaction to disturbing news or situations? Is it prayer? Is it to call a husband, friend, or neighbor? Is it worry? What does your first reaction reveal about you?
Read John 11:6-7.
4. What did Jesus do when He heard the news about Lazarus? What seems surprising about it in light of v. 5?
5. Sharing question: Share the story of a time when God’s answer to your prayer was delayed. How did you respond? What happened in the end? What did you learn about God and about yourself?
6. Responding to God: Ask God to help you face trials with prayer and belief that He is working even when you cannot see it or when the answer does not match your request. Write down your prayer or your thoughts.
Review John 11:1-7 and read John 11:8-16.
7. What was the disciples’ concern about returning to Judea? (You may want to review the story in Jn. 10:22-39.)
8. Considering their concerns and considering what Jesus said about light in John 9:4-5, how do you understand what Jesus meant by His response in 11:9-10? What did Jesus reveal about God’s purposes in this situation (11:4, 15)?
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your Bible resources or online about John 11:9-10 only.
9. As we have seen throughout John, there is misunderstanding of Jesus’ meaning in v. 11. How did the disciples understand him (11:12-13)? What did he really mean (11:14)?
10. It is a shame that Thomas is remembered for only one event, his reaction to the resurrection (later in John). What is praiseworthy about his reaction here concerning their return to Judea?
11. Sharing question: How does it make you feel to know that Jesus’ words can be confusing and that we aren’t smart enough to always understand the mind of God?
12. Responding to God: Write a prayer or poem confessing your inability to be right about all the things of God. Ask for His Spirit to lead you to truth and to remind you that no person can totally understand God.
Review John 11:1-16 and read John 11:17-27. If you wonder why you need to reread, remember that you need to keep the entire story in context. You may even see something that you missed in your previous reading of it!
13. What was the situation in Bethany when Jesus arrived?
Burge gives us this insight: “There was a well-known Jewish belief (attested from about A.D. 200) that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body ‘hoping to re-enter it’ for three days, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed.”20
14. In light of this, compare this resurrection to the other two times that Jesus brought people back from the dead:
a. Mk. 5:22-43
b. Lk. 7:11-17
15. What did Martha first say to Jesus when He showed up (11:21-22)?
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your Greek resources or online to find out the meaning and usage of the word Martha used when she called Jesus “Lord” in 11:21.21 Martha was likely using the definition commonly used in that day.
Although we may not grasp it initially, Martha’s words were not a criticism but rather a statement of faith.
16. In Jn. 11:25-26 Jesus used another I Am statement. How would you explain it to a new believer or a seeker? What is He claiming for Himself?
Martha misunderstood Jesus’ statement that her brother would live again. Don’t you just love Martha? Although she didn’t grasp everything about Jesus, she knew that He was the Messiah, the Son of God! It reminds me of the blind man who was not afraid to speak about what had happened to him although he didn’t yet even know who Jesus was (9:25).
17. Sharing question: Sometimes I think we feel that we have to know everything and have all of our theological ducks in a row in order to share with others about Jesus. Express the fears that you have when you think about sharing what Jesus has done for you. You may want to take those fears and pray for faith to replace them as your prayer request for your small group this week.
18. Responding to God: Ask God for the courage to share what He has done for you and the humility to accept that you do not know it all!
Review John 11:17-27, and read John 11:28-37.
19. Compare Mary’s reaction and words when she saw Jesus (11:32-33) to Martha’s (11:21-27).
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your resources about the traditions for burial and mourning in the culture of Jesus’ day.
In both John 11:33 and 38, the text describes Jesus as “intensely moved” (NET). The NIV translates it “deeply moved”. Carson says, “As applied to human beings, it invariably suggests anger, outrage or emotional indignation… his inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation.”22
20. Jesus’ tears are related to this emotion. He was obviously not crying over the fact that Lazarus was gone because He was about to raise him. What was happening around Jesus that may have caused Him to feel anger or indignation, and weep?
21. Sharing question: When the day comes that you face the loss of someone you love, how might it help you to see that Jesus did not suggest that grief was wrong for believers, that He did not minimize their suffering?
Read John 11:38-44.
22. Summarize the story.
23. Sharing question: What verse or phrase in this section of the story most strikes you? Why?
24. Responding to God: Thank God that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and all that means as we face death. Write your prayer below.
Read John 11:45-54.
25. What was the sign that Jesus performed? How does it relate to the purpose of the book of John in Jn. 20:30-31? (Be sure you have entered this sign on your chart!) How does this sign relate to the Prologue in Jn. 1:1-18? What two reactions did those who observed Jesus do this sign have?
26. What were the concerns of the council or Sanhedrin upon hearing the report of Lazarus’ resurrection (11:47-48)? How did they decide to deal with the problem?
Diamonds in the Word: Read in your resources about the High Priest Caiaphas and about this body called the Sanhedrin or Council. What insights do you glean?
27. How did the High Priest Caiaphas unknowingly predict Jesus’ death on the cross for the eternal salvation of His people? Explain his meaning and the underlying prophecy.
The plot to kill Jesus resulted in His moving out of the area of Jerusalem, to a place usually understood as 12-15 miles from Jerusalem until “His time had come.”
28. Sharing question: How do you attune yourself to God’s timing so that you move when He calls you to move, as Jesus did in waiting to go to the site of Lazarus’ illness and as Jesus did when He waited to return to Jerusalem until Passover, as we will see next week?
29. Responding to God: Ask God for the faith to trust Him when loved ones die, and thank Him for the freedom to grieve that death. If you have believed that Christians are not to grieve, ask God to change your mind and show you how to grieve as a believer.
I am so grateful for the women who have shared the stories of losing a loved one. Their examples help us see how to grieve and trust God at the same time.
I lost my Mother in 1992 after a 9 month battle with lung cancer.
I had just moved from Dallas to Durham, NC for grad school when she was diagnosed in September. It was a very difficult time as this was one of my biggest fears in life up to that point - - not only losing someone in my family “too early”, but specifically from cancer. Facing this all alone in a new town - with my parents in Florida, my sister and one of my brothers back in Dallas, and my other brother in Cincinnati - was rough.
I had many, many days of tears as I thought about what my Mother was going through with radiation, the fear of cancer, and the sadness of potentially not being around to see her grandchildren grow up. I was sad for myself too, thinking about how much I would miss her if she died. At the same time though, I remember having an amazing sense of peace—an assurance that kept me from total despair.
Fortunately, I knew my Mom was a believer and that she would be with God no matter what happened (and that He was walking with her as she faced this scary situation). I kept remembering my Mom’s words to me when we lost my Grandmother (her Mother). When I remarked that I was really sad for my Grandmother (and all that she would miss here on earth), my Mom quickly replied that we should never be sad for the people who have left if they had put their faith/trust in Jesus, because they are in heaven. They are much better off there … but that it is very sad for the people left behind who will miss them.
I also knew that God would be with me regardless of the outcome. I would always have Him to turn to and lean on for support.
I prayed daily for a miraculous healing for my Mother, but also for God’s will in the situation and that if it was his will to take her, that he would do so quickly and spare her from suffering. I definitely felt supported by God as I was dealing with this seemingly “all alone” in a new town.
I’ll admit that once my Mother died, I was angry at God for awhile for not answering my prayer as I wanted. Because I was a Christian, I thought I should not really be angry and should accept God’s will more readily, so I stifled my true feelings. I distanced myself from God. Later I realized that it was OK to express that anger directly to God because He already knew it! I was certainly not fooling him! I also realized that God did answer my prayer. . just my “second option” that she not suffer long. That has been reinforced again even recently when a hospice nurse in my Community Group commented that lung cancer is particularly cruel because patients usually remain mentally alert until the very end, and it is a slow, painful death. My Mom was spared from that and I am very thankful that my prayer was answered.
Although I miss my Mom very much, I smile whenever I think of her “hanging out” in heaven. “Amazing Grace” was her favorite hymn and I smile each time I sing the last verse “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise … .” because I realize that although it seems like she’s been gone a very long time, it’s just a blink of the eye in the context of eternity and I will get to “hang out” with her when I am called home too.
In January 2005 my grandmother (Meme) passed away. This was definitely the hardest loss I have experienced. After my parents divorce when I was 13, I lived with my dad and his mother (Meme) took a big role in helping with me while I was still at home. She was definitely a second mom and couldn’t have modeled a woman who loved the Lord any better than she did. I can honestly say that I’m certain her prayers kept me from making a lot of wrong choices. I cannot even imagine what my life would have looked like without her.
One of the biggest answered prayers for me was having her at my wedding. I had prayed for years that the Lord would allow her to live long enough to be there for that special day. She said a beautiful prayer at our wedding and I will treasure it forever.
Little did I know that she would be taken from us just a few days before my first anniversary and we would actually bury her on our 1st anniversary? In spite of the incredible grieving that I experienced and still do from time to time I have always carried a peace in my heart because I knew that for her life was truly beginning. She was in no more pain and had reached her ultimate goal, living in eternity with her Savior. We all knew that she would rather be with Jesus than anywhere. A scripture that someone had sent me during the days that followed truly opened my eyes to this and I would read it over and over when I was overwhelmed with how much I missed her. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9). I was certain of one thing and that was her love for the Lord and it was such an encouragement and peaceful feeling to think about her experiencing her eternal treasures.
Growing up I never knew my grandfather because he passed away when my mom was 30 and I was only a baby. I often wondered as I grew older what it must have been like to lose her Dad at a relatively young age, and I couldn’t imagine ever going through that. As I neared my 30’s, it happened that my very own father was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). In early 2007, his health had declined to the point that my mother and father were about to make adjustments in their home to aid in his daily living needs. In God’s mercy, the Lord took him home with an unexpected massive heart attack unrelated to the ALS that February, still independent, still at home. Here I was 33, and my Dad had just died, my Dad, not somebody else’s.
As much as I knew my father would eventually die (ALS eventually debilitates them so), I don’t think I was really ever ready to say goodbye, to have to let go. The reality of death is such a strange thing in our day to day life activities. It seems so final. It hurts so deep. But therein lies the difference, for a Christ follower, it is not final. And over and over again in the days to come after the Lord had taken my Dad home, I was comforted by the fact that Christ has conquered death. In fact, in the transfiguration we see that Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah, two prophets who had long died from two very different time periods ages ago, and yet the three of them were having a conversation. It comforted me to know that I will recognize my Dad in heaven, and we will be able to talk again. It was this hope and peace that walked me through those days, as I saw the timing of the Lord come together. We can not choose how long our loved ones have with us, but we can encourage them to choose where they will be after they die. Only through Jesus Christ, can we together have that assurance.
My paternal grandmother, Jahel, always reminded me of the Bible verse about the mustard seed in Matthew 17:19-20, in which Jesus told his disciples that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. She was a small person, but her faith was enormous and she derived a great deal of strength from God. I grew up close to her and much of what I know about Jesus was learned from her. She taught me to evangelize in the streets of my home town in Mexico. Her purse was always full of tracts to pass out to people. She always put God before anything else and had her priorities straight: God, family, and then everything else. She was not afraid to stand up for God and always focused on the truth. She would praise God in everything she did, singing hymns while cooking, moving conversation towards God, and volunteering at her church.
My grandmother died in 1993 at the age of 82. I knew she was sick, but by the time I got to my home town, she had passed away and the funeral was about to start. I never knew the full impact she had on people until the funeral. I saw grown men crying because their Bible teacher was gone. I was surprised that in Mexico, a male-dominant society, men would be so attached to my grandmother, who ministered to them. I had heard of people who could feel joy in grief, but I didn’t understand it until that moment. When I saw her body, I knew that her soul was with the Lord and that even though I would miss her, the fact that she was with Jesus and had left such a wonderful legacy filled me with joy. At that moment, I thanked God for the wonderful role model and gift He gave me in my grandmother. I decided that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and my grandmother. Weeks later, while I was in the grieving process, I was reminded constantly by God that she was in His presence, which gave me peace. This experience helped me when my mother died earlier this year. I pray that everyone would have this joy, knowing that their loved ones are in the presence of the Lord. It motivates me to tell others about Jesus so that they may have this assurance of everlasting life. It is still hard to think of the fact that my mother and grandmothers are not with me, but knowing they are with the Lord makes it much easier to bear.
20 Burge, 315.
21 You can go to bible.org and look up any verse, click on that verse and get the translation in several versions. At the bottom of that is the verse with the Strong’s numbers for the Greek word. Click that to go to the various meanings. Consider all of the definitions as possibilities.
22 Carson, 415.