Sunday Morning Bible Study
March 31, 1996
A few weeks ago, we started a story about Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Jesus had been ministering in a place called Bethabara, staying away from the area of Jerusalem because of all the people that wanted Him killed.
Bethabara is down at the Jordan river, 3500 feet below Jerusalem, 60 miles from Jerusalem.
While there, a message arrives that Jesus' friend, Lazarus, is sick in Bethany, only a mile from Jerusalem.
And we were told that because Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, that He delayed doing anything about it for two days.
While on their way to Bethany, Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus was "asleep", or, dead, but that He was going to go and "awake him from sleep".
:16-32 Jesus arrives at Bethany
:17 he had lain in the grave four days already
It was the custom of the Jews in this time to bury a person the day that he died.
So Lazarus had been dead for four days.
Remember how when Jesus first heard about Lazarus' illness, that He waited two days?
Jesus wasn't just trying to time it so that Lazarus dies the day before Jesus arrives, but Jesus was timing it so that Lazarus would have been dead for quite some time, the body even starting to decay and stink.
:18 Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem,
Bethany = "house of dates" or, "house of misery"
Jesus arrives at the house of misery, where the people have been mourning the loss of their beloved Lazarus.
:18 about fifteen furlongs off
A furlong is about 1/8 of a mile, and so fifteen furlongs is a little less than two miles.
:19 many of the Jews came
Where are these Jews coming from?
Probably many are coming from Jerusalem, where some believe in Jesus, and some don't.
:19 to comfort them concerning their brother.
There were some very specific things that happened among the Jews when a person died, concerning the process of mourning.
The process of mourning was a four week process:
As long as the body was in the house they were forbidden to drink wine or eat meat. No food could be eaten in the presence of the dead, and no food could be prepared in the house.
As soon as the body was taken out of the house the furniture was reversed and the mourners sat on the floor, or low stools.
At the burial, which took place on the day of death, those in mourning would stand in a line, and those coming to comfort them would file past one by one and say, "may ye be comforted from heaven".
When they returned from the tomb they had a dinner prepared by friends that consisted of bread hard boiled eggs, lentils to symbolize how life rolls on to death.
After going back home, for that first week, the mourners would not even leave their house.
During the first seven days a person was not supposed to annoint his body, put on shoes or to engage in any kind of study or business, you were not to bathe.
In that first week, on the first day, a Jew did not put on his phylacteries, the little boxes that had scriptures written on them, that they tied to their hands. The first day also started three days of weeping.
On the second day, the mourner put his phylacteries on.
On the third day, comforters were allowed to come to the house comfort.
When comforters came into the house, they were not allowed to sit on any furniture, but only on the floor.
They were also not allowed to speak until the mourner first spoke, but to only sit in silence (like Job's friends, Job 2:13)
If the mourner nodded his head, then all the comforters were to leave the house, that they wouldn't cause any further trouble to the mourner.
In the second week, the mourners could leave their house, but could not stop and stay anywhere, only returning quickly home.
The third week they could go out of the house and visit places, but they did not speak.
The fourth week the mourning was over, and they were just like every other person.
Bringing comfort to mourners was considered an act of great piety and mercy.
The Jews who were coming may not have just been coming out of respect for Lazarus, or the sisters, but because they thought it brought them favor with God to do so.
:20 Martha ... went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house
Here's these two gals, being kind of true to their natures.
Martha was the busy one, and Mary was the one who sat at Jesus' feet.
I don't think that Mary is trying to ignore Jesus, I don't think she even knows yet that He's come.
When Martha comes back to get her (11:28), she informs Mary in a way that makes me think that Mary didn't know Jesus had come.
:21 Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
She's pretty upset with the Lord, and kind of rebukes Him here.
The Lord doesn't rebuke her back for questioning His actions.
God can handle your being upset with Him.
Don't take me wrong, I'm not suggesting that we all go get mad at God.
Ideally, we are going be growing in our trusting Him in all circumstances.
But sometimes we just have a hard time understanding.
Job got upset with God.
»Job 23:1-17 (NIV) ¶ Then Job replied:2 "Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.3 If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!4 I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.5 I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.6 Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me.7 There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.8 ¶ "But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him.9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.11 My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside.12 I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.13 ¶ "But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases.14 He carries out his decree against me, and many such plans he still has in store.15 That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him.16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.
Job is pretty upset with the fact that he doesn't feel like the things that are happening to him are very fair!
God did kind of gently rebuked Job for his lack of trust in Him:
»Job 38:1-3 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
God was kind of reminding Job that he had pretty limited understanding, and that He, as God, knew a lot better about how to run the world.
But the biggest rebuke was kept for Job's friends, who constantly misjudged Job and accused him of hiding his sins and basically deserving all the bad stuff that came on him.
There are times when I have to tell one of my boys "NO".
And they don't always like to hear that word from me.
There are times that I even get an emotional response like, "I hate you!"
And though I don't enjoy hearing that come from my children, I know that at this stage in their maturity, that we're going to get past it.
What's the point with this?
Tell God what's going on in your heart, He can take it!
»Ps 102:1-2 <<A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.>> Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee. 2 Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.
»La 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.
»Ps 142:2 I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.
It's not that God needs to know where you're at, but it's that sometimes YOU need to know where you're at.
And you need to sit down with your Father and talk it out!
Those the Lord wants to use the most, must be hurt the most.
There's a few things to keep in mind about this whole situation:
1. Jesus is planning to do something incredible in the lives of this family.
Jesus said earlier in the chapter:
»John 11:4 ...This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Something really, really big is in the works here.
2. Jesus really, really cares about these people.
»Joh 11:5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
He's not just taking advantage of some poor innocent bystanders.
These are people Jesus loves, and His entire plan is based on His love for them.
We sometimes get the idea that if we want to really be used by God in a big way, then God certainly will have to be blessing us with perfect, painless lives.
But it's just the opposite that is true.
When we desire to be used more by the Lord, we have to have received more from the Lord.
Ministry is always based on giving to others what you have first received from the Lord:
»Mt 10:8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
»1Co 11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the [same] night in which he was betrayed took bread:
One of the most important aspects of ministry is to learn to give out God's comfort to them.
Yet the only way to give out God's comfort is to have received it first, and the only way to receive God's comfort is to first have been in affliction:
»2Corinthians 1:3-6 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
Perhaps for some of you who are going through tremendously hard times right now, God needs to reassure you that He loves you, and that He's going to be using you big time!
:22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
I'm not really sure just what Martha is trying to get at here.
I don't think she's making an incredible statement of faith here, trusting that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead.
She demonstrates that she doesn't have a clue about this later on, when Jesus asks her to remove the stone from Lazarus' tomb.
She objects because she thinks the stink is going to be too much, and she really doesn't have a clue that Jesus is going to bring Lazarus back.
Perhaps Martha has heard herself rebuking the Lord, and now kind of back peddles a little, because she isn't wanting to sound like Jesus made a mistake, or can't do something.
:23 Thy brother shall rise again
Or, "Your brother is going to come back to life again".
:24 I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day
Martha is thinking that Jesus is just referring to the fact that we will all one day be getting new bodies.
Perhaps she thinks that Jesus is just trying to comfort her, like when you hear people say to one who is mourning, "Well, you'll see them again one day in heaven..."
Lesson: (Don't miss this one!)
God can work in your life TODAY!
Martha doesn't have a problem with the idea that Jesus can work in the future.
But it seems to me she has a problem in limiting just how much Jesus can work in her life right now.
Sure He can heal, but raise from the dead?
We can look to the promises in the "distant" future, and say, "It will happen".
After all, we wouldn't want to call God a liar.
But deep down inside we think that it's so far off, that we'll never see it.
We can look at the Scriptures and see how God has worked in the past and go, "Wow!"
But frankly, the things we read about in the Scripture can almost take on the feel of a "fairy tale", that these aren't real live humans that these things are happening to...
I am grieved when I hear churches incorrectly teaching that God doesn't work the same way today as He did back in Bible times.
What seems even more sad is the fact that I kind of get the idea that people aren't so sure they want God to work the way He did in Bible times.
Personally, I know how needy I am, and I want everything that God would have for me.
Perhaps we're a little afraid to think what would happen if God wanted to really use US!
Perhaps we don't really want to pay the price of denying ourselves and taking up the cross to follow Jesus.
Perhaps we just don't feel worthy enough to be the one person that God could really use.
Don't let your excuses cloud the truth that God just might be desiring to use YOU.
:25 I am the resurrection, and the life
I am -
He doesn't say, "I will be the resurrection and the life", but "I AM the resurrection and the life".
It's not just some time off in the future, Martha, but right here, right now.
the resurrection, and the life -
He is the one who brings the dead back to life, and He is the one who sustains those who are alive.
Jesus is going to make two statements now, one about being the resurrection, and another, about being the life.
:25 he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live
Here, Jesus is elaborating on being "the resurrection".
though he were dead -
literally, "even though he should possibly die"
»NIV - He who believes in me will live, even though he dies
I think in our context, Jesus is specifically talking about Lazarus.
Lazarus is dead, but he believed in Jesus.
And because he believed in Jesus, he would live again.
Jesus would be resurrecting Lazarus from the dead.
But it clearly goes beyond Lazarus, and applies to all believers throughout the ages.
Those believers who died before ever knowing about Jesus, yet who trusted in God, like Abraham, would once again come to life.
And those since Jesus came, who have died, will too once again come back to life.
They have never ceased living, yet will come back to life in the sense of getting a new, resurrected body to live in.
You'll see them again.
Some of you have lost loved ones.
If they believed in Jesus (and of course then they still do), then you'll see them again.
»1Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
"O, That Will Be Glory For Me"(Charles H. Gabriel)
When all my labors and trials are o'er,
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me.
O, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me;
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.
When by the gift of His infinite grace,
I am accorded in heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face
Will through the ages be glory for me.
Friends will be there I have loved long ago;
Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know,
Will through the ages be glory for me.
:26 whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die
Here Jesus is elaborating on His being "the life".
Obviously, Jesus must not be talking about physical death here, though the word "die" is the same Greek word that's used in the previous verse.
If he were talking about physical death, then why did Lazarus die?
And what about every other believer that has walked this earth since the time of Christ?
Jesus is talking about a spiritual death here.
Physical death is a separation of the person from their body.
Spiritual death is a separation of the person from God.
The one who believes in Jesus will never face spiritual death.
Spiritual death is the result of sin.
»Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (AV)
But when we believe in Jesus, we are trusting Jesus to pay the price for our sins by His own death on the cross.
And so we will never face spiritual death, because our bill has been paid in full.
Because those who believe will never die, they will have "eternal life".
They will forever experience a relationship with God, instead of separation from Him.
:26 Believest thou this?
Jesus is bringing His point right down to Martha.
It's not just enough to intellectually acknowledge the fact.
You need to believe in it.
You need to put your trust in it.
:27 Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world
It's not her belief that will raise Lazarus from the dead.
It's Jesus' power that will raise Lazarus from the dead.
And Lazarus will be raised because Lazarus believed in Jesus.
Jesus is asking Martha for her own sake.
He's asking her for her own destiny's sake.
Do you believe it?
Do you believe that Jesus paid for your sins on the cross?
Have you personally received Jesus' payment for your sins by asking Him to pay for them?
Do you trust that Jesus will give you eternal life?