John 11:17-27

Sunday Morning Bible Study

July 11, 2010


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision

We have now entered the last two weeks of Jesus life on earth.

Last week we studied how Jesus had gotten the news that his good friend Lazarus had become ill, and in fact had already died.

We found it interesting that Jesus didn’t come immediately after getting the news, but waited two days before coming to visit His friend in the town of Bethany.

:17-27 The Resurrection and the Life

:17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

:17 in the tomb four days

It is the Jewish custom to bury the dead the same day that they die.

We talked last week about the sequence of events.

Jesus had been out near the Jordan River, a day’s journey from the area of Jerusalem and Bethany where Lazarus was.
A messenger was sent to Jesus to tell Him about Lazarus and that would have taken a day for the messenger to find Jesus.
Jesus didn’t respond immediately, but took two days to wait (John 11:4).
Then Jesus responded and came to Bethany.

In other words, it appears that Lazarus may have died the very day that the message was sent to Jesus.

:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.

:18 two miles – the Greek text says it was “fifteen stadia”.  A “stadion” (our word for “stadium” comes from it) is a measurement based on the size of the Greek race course, a measurement of 600 feet.  Fifteen stadia is 9,000 feet, or a little under two miles.

:18 BethanyBethania – “house of dates” or “house of misery”

Play “Map to Bethany” video. Bethany is a small village on the Mount of Olives, about two miles due east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho.

There is an Arab town there named Elzariya, using the name of Lazarus.

:19 And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.

:19 many of the Jews – because John mentions the closeness of Bethany to Jerusalem, it is very likely that some of these folks had come from Jerusalem.  It’s very possible that some of these folks were at least aware of who Jesus was and the controversy about Him.

It was just a few months ago that Jesus was in the temple claiming to be God, with the Jewish leaders trying to have Jesus stoned to death.

:19 to comfortparamutheomai (“alongside” + “to tell a story”) – to speak to, address one, to calm and console

Jewish mourning customs

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 you 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 leave their house.

During the first seven days a person was not supposed to anoint his body, put on shoes or to engage in any kind of study or business, you were not to bathe.
The first day started three days of weeping.
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 heads and hands. 
On the second day, the mourner put his phylacteries on.
On the third day, friends were allowed to stay and come into the house to offer comfort.
When comforters came into the house, they were not allowed to sit on any furniture, but only on the floor.
Comforters were not allowed to speak until the mourner first spoke, but to only sit in silence (like Job’s friends, Job 2:13)
(Job 2:13 NKJV) So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.
If the mourner nodded his head, then all the comforters were to leave the house so 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 those in mourning 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.

Note:  Jesus arrives on the fourth day.

The three official days of weeping are over.

Friends are now beginning to stick around (since the third day).

:20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.

:20 went

It was the Jewish custom not to leave the house for a week after your loved one died.

Martha broke the Jewish custom of staying in the house and went to meet Jesus.

:20 met hupantao (“upon” + “against”) – to go to meet; in military reference of a hostile meeting

Is there a hint of animosity here? Could she be a bit upset at Jesus?

:20 but Mary

You can read another little vignette about Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42.

(Lk 10:38–42 NKJV) —38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was the sister known for her serving and “doing”.  Mary was the sister known for “sitting” at Jesus’ feet.  Here we see Martha getting up to meet Jesus while Mary stays in the house seated.

:21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.

:21 If You had been here

I can’t find a way to read these words without feeling just the least bit of rebuke in them.

Mary says pretty much the same thing in verse 11:32.

It almost makes me wonder if this wasn’t something they had been talking about over the last couple of days. “Where is Jesus?  If He had been here…”

Note:  If you pay attention to how Jesus responds to these two sisters, you will find that God is big enough to handle you being mad at Him.  He understands.  But it is important that you not stay mad at Him, you’re only hurting yourself.

Martha’s words (11:21):

κυριε ει ης ωδε ο αδελφος μου ουκ αν ετεθνηκει

diedthnesko – to die, to be dead; pluperfect
Note:  The Textus Receptus (TR) uses these words, but the Wescott-Hort text (WH) uses the same identical words that Mary uses in 11:32.

Mary will say very similar words (11:32):

κυριε ει ης ωδε ουκ αν απεθανεν μου ο αδελφος

diedapothnesko – to die (a more intense word than the one used in vs. 21); aorist


Our limits

Sometimes we just have a hard time seeing past the difficulties we’ve got in life.  We can’t see how things could ever change. 
When a young boy was five years old, he lost a foot in a lawn mower accident.  He learned to not let that hold him back. PlayMarlon Shirley” video clip
And that’s just what a man learned to do by looking past his own limitations.  What might happen if we learn to take our limits off of God?  Do we have limits on what we think God can do?
It seems to me that both Martha and Mary express a bit of sorrow that Jesus didn’t do what they had hoped He would do.
Their focus was on Jesus keeping Lazarus alive.

In their mind, healing Lazarus was the limit of what Jesus would do.

Sometimes the way we view the solutions to our own problems can be just a bit short sighted.

We too can get upset when God doesn’t do things the way we had envisioned.

:22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

Martha isn’t just full of anger or frustration at Jesus.  There is a hint of faith here as well.

:22 You askaiteo – to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require

Does she wonder if there is still something that Jesus could do?

We know from the other gospels that Jesus has already brought two others back from the dead.

The son of the widow at Nain
(Lk 7:14 NKJV) Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
Jairus’ daughter in Capernaum
(Mk 5:41 NKJV) Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

:22 whatever

I think an important part of this story is found in the one English word that we heard Martha say, “whatever” …

Today that word is has a bit of a “valley-girl” ring to it. PlayWhatever!” video clip
You can say this word with a bit of sacrcasm (like the little girl is being taught), or in spiritual terms, this could mean “anything”!  Does God have permission to do “whatever” He wants?  Is that your prayer? (The video also makes me wonder what we’re teaching our kids)


No Limits

Even though Martha’s mind thinks Jesus has let her down, deep inside her she knows that there is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
The Perfect Husband
Several men are in the locker room of a golf club.  A cell phone on a bench rings and a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk. Everyone else in the room stops to listen.
MAN: ‘Hello’
WOMAN: ‘Honey, it’s me.  Are you at the club?’
MAN: ‘Yes’
WOMAN: ‘I am at the shops now and found this beautiful leather coat.  It’s only $2,000.  Is it OK if I buy it?’
MAN: ‘Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.’
WOMAN: ‘I also stopped by the Lexus dealership and saw the new Models.  I saw one I really liked.’
MAN: ‘How much?’
WOMAN: ‘$225,000’
MAN: ‘OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.’
WOMAN: ‘Great! Oh, and one more thing...the house I wanted last year is back on the market.  They’re asking $2,980,000’
MAN: ‘Well, then go ahead and give them an offer of $2,900,000.  They will probably take it.  If not, we can go the extra 80 thousand if it’s really a good deal.’
WOMAN: ‘OK. I’ll see you later!  I love you so much!’
MAN: ‘Bye! I love you, too.’
The man hangs up.  The other men in the locker room are staring at him in astonishment, mouths wide open. He turns and asks:  ‘Anyone know who this phone belongs to?’
For some of us, the “good stuff” is just too good to be true.  It must be somebody else’ husband talking to you on the phone.
What if Jesus could do “whatever”?
Will you let Him do “whatever” He wants to do?  Keep in mind, “whatever” doesn’t always mean a “Lexus”, though for Mary and Martha it meant raising their brother from the dead.
When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in jail awaiting trial before Caesar.  Paul knew that it was possible that he would be put to death.  He wrote to the Philippians about the importance of their prayers for him:
(Php 1:19–24 NKJV) 19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Paul saw two possible scenarios ahead of him.  He might be delivered from death and continue to live – and he saw that as a good thing because he could continue to serve the Lord on this earth.  But he also saw death as a good thing, that he would die and be in God’s presence.
“Whatever” is about putting your life into God’s hands.
Letting Him do what He wants.  “Whatever”

:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

:23 will rise againanistemi – to cause to rise up, raise up; to raise up from the dead

Martha is going to think that Jesus is talking about the future resurrection from the dead.

Jesus is talking about Lazarus coming back to life in a few minutes.


Today’s miracle

Martha isn’t going to 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 teaching that God doesn’t work the same way today as He did back in Bible times.
The Bible says,

(Heb 13:8 NKJV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

:24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

:24 the resurrection at the last day

Martha has her Old Testament doctrine correct.

Some people have argued that the resurrection from the dead is an invention of the New Testament.  Not so.

This was part of the ongoing argument between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the Sadducees did not.
Paul used this to his advantage when he was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the leadership body that was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees:
(Ac 23:6–7 NKJV) —6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.
The argument that broke out got pretty heavy, and the Roman guards ended up intervening, taking Paul away from the council, and saving his life.

The Old Testament teaches that there will be a time when the dead are raised:

Job is most likely the earliest written book of the Bible:
(Job 19:26 NKJV) And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,
David hinted at resurrection in the Psalms:
(Ps 17:15 NKJV) As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.
(Ps 16:10 NKJV) For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

This is a passage that is quoted by the apostles several times in the book of Acts as they preached on the resurrection.

Daniel had it the clearest:
(Da 12:2 NKJV) —2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Martha was saying, “Well at least I know that you will raise Him up in that future resurrection.”

:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

:26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

:25 I amego eimi – the name of God, “Yahweh” (Ex. 3:14)

(Ex 3:14 NKJV) —14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

We’ve talked about how these two Greek words remind us of the name of God “Yahweh”, because these are the two words in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that describe who Yahweh is, the “I AM” (Ex. 3:14)

We’ve seen the various times that Jesus has claimed to be “I AM”

We’ve seen how Jesus has defined what “I AM” means by linking it to various things:

“I AM the bread of life” (John 6:35)
(Jn 6:35 NKJV) —35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
He is the one that satisfies our deepest needs, our deepest hunger.
“I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12)
(Jn 8:12 NKJV) —12 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
He is the one that gives us light, that gives us direction, and that teaches us what “good” is all about.
“I AM the door of the sheep”
(Jn 10:7 NKJV) —7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
He is the way into God’s sheepfold.
“I AM the good shepherd” (John 10:11)
(Jn 10:11 NKJV) —11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
He is the one who wants to direct, lead, and protect us.

Now He says,

“I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25)
(Jn 11:25 NKJV) —25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
He is the one who gives us eternal life.

There are the things that happen when you let Yahweh, the “I AM” into your life.

:25 the resurrection and the life

Just as in the other “I AM” statements, if you want life after death, you need Jesus.

These aren’t just cheap words Jesus is saying.  He’s proven Himself.

We will see Jesus’ power to raise the dead demonstrated in Lazarus.
We see it in Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.

:25 though he may die

As a pastor, I do my share of funerals.  This verse brings MUCH comfort.

When Jesus says He is the “resurrection and life”, He isn’t saying that you’re never going to experience physical death.

He promises that you will experience life AFTER death.

For those of you who have lost loved ones who were believers … you WILL see them again.

:26  Do you believe this?

Jesus challenges her.  He makes her decide where she stands.

This is a “yes” or “no” question.  There is no middle ground.

:27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

:27 I believepisteuo – to think to be true, to be persuaded of, place confidence in

The verb is a “perfect” tense, meaning that she has come to believe it in the past, and continues to believe it into the present.

:27 the Christ, the Son of God

These are the things that Jesus has claimed all along.

These are the claims that He has almost been killed over several times.


Do you believe?

The answer is either “yes” or “no”.
Some people seem to have to go through a great difficulty or tragedy to realize their need for God.
The truth is, we all need God in our lives.
We all need Jesus.