John 11.1-44 Jesus the Resurrection

February 3, 2008 Series: Gospel According to John

Topic: Gospel

John 11.1-44 - Jesus the Resurrection

February 3, 2008

Sam Ford


The gospel of John is unique amongst the 4 gospel narratives.  Not only does John openly declare his purpose for writing-to prove that Jesus is the Son of God-but to that end, he includes stories that are not present in the other narratives.  In fact, almost 90% of John is unique to John. What you have in the first 10 chapters of John is the 3 year ministry of Jesus.   The 2nd half of the gospel focuses on the last week of Jesus life.  Chapter 11 then is the midpoint, the beginning of the end of Jesus' life which, in a sense, is the beginning of life for all of us. 


Chapter 11 contains a very well known story about a man named Lazarus whom Jesus raises from the dead.  As I read this story this week, a story I have read numerous times, it was as if I was reading it for the first time.  The miracle itself wasn't what caught me.   It was not so much what miracle had happened, but more of HOW it happened.  I began to ask a lot of questions about suffering in general, what it means for God to allow bad things to happen when he can stop it-whether there is a greater purpose to suffering.


C.S. Lewis wrote one of the most complete works on the issue of suffering, called THE PROBLEM OF PAIN.  When his wife, Joy died of cancer in their 3rd year of marriage, he had to stop talking theoretically about pain and actually deal with it personally.  Under a the name N.W. Clerk he wrote a book called A GRIEF OBSERVED and in it wrote,  "You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you."  C.S. Lewis, Grief Observed.   


Admittedly, there are people who have suffered much greater tragedies, hardships, accidents, abuse, than I probably ever will.  There are people who have been raped, who have lost children to S.I.D.S,  those who have experienced terrible accidents, those who are homeless, those who have been abandoned and abused.  Experiencing those types of things myself might make it easier for me to have reason to ask the questions, but the sufferings of those whom I love, the tragedies that I see on the news everyday, the stories that I hear from the kids I teach, the historical crimes against humanity, even the plight of third world countries move me deeply enough to want answers


Chapters like John in some ways and confuse me in others.  God is not afraid of my questions, honest questions like,   God is not afraid of my questions...but I'm learning that he is not obligated to give me more satisfying answers than...I AM GOD, trust me.


I am certainly not going to be able to answer all of the questions about suffering today.  But I hope to flesh out some of the things we might miss in John 11.  I think, sometimes, people read through this story and come away from saying RAH RAH Jesus, but only because we see the END RESULT of the story.  If we can, for a moment, put ourselves in the historical present...imagine what they are thinking...then we might be willing to ask some harder questions.  We don't ask them because they're uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable answers are those that are not cut and dry, aren't black and white, contain a bit of mystery.  So, I'll admit, I've asked a lot of questions of God this week and I don't know if I've settled on all of the answers. 


To give you some background and context for where we're going:

  • John 20.30, John says that, "these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life."
  • End of John 10:  Jesus makes some claims to deity during the Feast of Dedication.
  • In John 10.30, right after affirming the security of those who believe (his sheep), he says, "I and the Father are one."
  • The Jews pick up stones to stone him because they clearly understand that Jesus is making a claim to be God...they even say so in 10.33, "we are going to stone you for blasphemy because you, being a man, make yourself God."
  • Jesus doesn't argue because, they're right.  Jesus claims to be and is God Almight, Yahweh in human flesh.  So, when we see JESUS, we SEE GOD.  Jesus perfectly manifests the character of who God is...Chris is Godlike, but in a very real sense, God is Christlike.


Needless to say, the Jews were felt he was a heretic and tried to arrest him. But Jesus escapes to Judean countryside where John the Baptist used to baptize.  As he is ministering to people there, he receives a message: READ John 11.1-44


1-16 When the **** hits the fan.

He whom you love is ill.

A message comes that Jesus' friend Lazarus is ill.  He is the brother of Mary and Martha, all disciples or believers in Jesus.  As had happened many times before, these are not strangers coming to make a request.  They are friends informing Jesus so that he'll come and heal their brother.  But, as we witnessed in John 4, Jesus doesn't actually have to go anywhere.  With a word...he could heal him.  But he chooses not to.   


The illness is for the glory of God

Jesus tells the messenger that that Lazarus's sickness "will not lead to death."  Obviously, the illness kills him, so what he means is that this death is not the final death or end for Lazarus-resurrection is.   Jesus says quite plainly, that he died for the glory of glorify the Son.  Jesus statement sounds similar to what he says in John 9 with the blind man whose blindness occurred so the "the works of God might be displayed in him."  Sit on that one for a while


I'm not certain how satisfying it is for those of us who suffer, and those who love them, to hear that pain is often used to bring God glory.  It sounds nice and "churchy."  My guess is that many of us will simply say, no thanks, don't care, the pain is not worth it.  I would rather not.  At the root of this attitude is a misunderstanding of God's plan for His people...they are supposed to be like, look like, sound like, and act like Jesus.  Now, Jesus lived a life of perfection; a life completely sinless, a life that more than any other brought honor and praise to God...and yet he didn't hang on the cross and say "I DON'T DESERVE THIS..." rather, as Hebrews 12 records, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Even in suffering, Jesus recognizes God's excellence, God's primacy in his Life, God as the source of His Joy...not His undeserved suffering.


If our view of a meaningful life does not include suffering, then we just exclude the life of Jesus as meaningful.  But if God can be glorified in our suffering, then the cross is much more than a cruel murder of an innocent man, it is THE EXAMPLE of how excellence, power, and joy can result from tragedy.  It's not that God DESIRES for these things to happen, but we have to admit, there appear to be those things which can only be accomplished through suffering even, or perhaps especially with those he loves..  After all, the Father loves His Son: and yet the Father permitted His beloved Son to drink the cup of sorrow and experience the shame and pain of the Cross. We must never think that love and suffering are incompatible


If we can start there,  as hard as it is to believe, Lazarus' death, the mourning that will take place, the grief that will be shared, the expense paid out for the funeral, and the eventual resurrection that follows are not only to glorify both the Father and the Son, but also for the good of Lazarus, and his sisters


Questioning the Love of God:  Does Jesus even care?

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus...So...

John here says, Now Jesus LOVED Martha and Mary.  Let's be honest.  Even though that is stated, Jesus doesn't act in a way that we would probably describe as "loving."

  • If Jesus loved Lazarus so much, why did He permit him to get sick?
  • Why did He delay to go to the sisters?
  • Did he give them a false hope by saying, "This won't lead to death"
  • Why didn't he say, "I'm coming soon."
  • Could He not have healed Lazarus at a distance, as He did the official's son? (John 4)


A different form of love is used than in verse 3.  In verse 3 it was PHILEO love...a love of affection.  In this is AGAPE love, describing a love that seeks the best for it's object.  God's love for His own is not a pampering love; it is a perfecting love.


Jesus' speaks but his disciples don't listen

Finally, after two days, he tells his disciples to pack up they're going to Judea because Lazarus has "fallen asleep" and needs to be woken up. The disciples kindly remind the GOD OF THE UNVERSE, in case he's forgotten, that the Jews were trying to stone him last time he was there and will probably kill him if he shows his face.  Quite calmly, Jesus says I'm on the Father's timetable.  The disciple's failure to understand or believe Jesus is probably quite similar to our own.  Even though these guys hear God himself say what will happen...their faith is based on what they see with their own eyes.


On disciple we all need as a friend

I do not admire Thomas' faith, but I love his loyalty.  He does not understand everything, and has become known as the great doubter, but in this instance, he is willing to suffer with Jesus.  And, there are many times, in view of suffering, when we must need someone to walk with us.  They may not have all the answers, or a clue as to what to say and how to say it, but they will go with you into the darkest of darkness. 


17-28 Why is this happening?  Our inadequate view of suffering.

"Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.."


What to say to the suffering:

If we're honest, we know that it's not easy to be around suffering people.   There is really very few, if any, things you can SAY to help suffering people. But we try, don't we?  We desperately try to come up with the final, all encompassing, perfect formula answer their need to now WHY...  Of course, we'll never really end up with a final answer, and usually give up with a proverbial "Call me if you need anything?  I'm praying for you."


1.      Counselor:  (Church Leader who feels responsible) "Surely something in your life must displease God." What is he telling you?  God uses circumstances to warn us, and to punish us.

2.      Cheerleader:  (Rally leader for the sick if they don't know who they are) Brings flowers, sings hymns, reads happy Psalms about brooks running and mountains clapping their hands.  Any discussion of illness, pain, or despair is quickly overpowered by changing the subject, combating/ignoring the suffering with loud cheers.

3.      Faith Healer:  (Claim God's blessing) Sickness is never God's will!  We are not meant to suffer, we're mean to be whole.  God's plan to have financial and physical victory!  Haven't you read your Bible?  Faith can move mountains-just name your promise in faith and claim victory over it.

4.      Crazy Charismatic:  We need to praise God for everything-to embrace the good and the bad.  You need to come to a place where you can say, thank you!  I love you God for making me suffer like this!  It is your will, and you know what is best for me.   I am so thankful that you love me enough to let me experience this horrible terrible traumatic thing.

5.      Martyr:  You have been appointed to suffer for God, and he will reward you. God chose you because you are so strong, just like Job, and he is going to use you as an example for all others.   What we see as adversity, God sees as an opportunity! 

**adopted from Phillip Yancey's, Where is God When it Hurts


Jesus shows up and Martha's Questions: "Lord if you had been here..."

Martha, and later Mary, asks some very honest questions of Jesus.  She does not speak out of anger, but simply out of confusion.  She is a disciple of Jesus, and has seen him heal strangers of innumerable maladies. But her brother, one that Jesus has a special relationship with, he let die. 

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why weren't you here?   
  • Why didn't you stop this?

She asks the question of WHY by stating that he could have stopped it.  It is not much different than something we might ask.  "You could have stopped the death of my friend, my spouse, my sibling.  You could have saved my baby from dying from SIDS.  You could have ended the abuse before it started.  You could have prevented the accident that killed my father.  Why Jesus, did you let this happen?"


The Opinion of One Rabbi:

Some people, like Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote the bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People came to the conclusion that God loves us...but he is powerless to stop anything.  He came to believe that God is good, that he hates to see us suffer, but is not powerful enough to fix us.  He said suffering exists because, "even God has a hard time keeping the chaos in check...He is a God of justice, not power."  .


Job similar situation:

If there is anyone in Scripture who we could say didn't "deserve" what he got, it would be Job. Scripture describes "Job" as "blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil."  Satan comes before God and is allowed to test Job by request.  In essence, Satan tells God that the reason Job continues to worship you  is not because he loves you, but because you have built a hedge around him to protect him from suffering.  So, God allows Satan to free reign.  Job loses all his property, wealth, and 10 children.  As he mourns he affirms his faith saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD."


Satan challenges God one more time saying the only reason he's faithful is because he's not suffering in his body, physically.  So, he attacks his health and gives him boils.  The questions everyone asks is if all the sufferings of a Job, or you, and Jesus himself, show a God's lack of compassion? 


Job's friends show up and say, "Job, God is trying to tell you something.  No one suffers without cause.  Common sense and all reason tell us that a just God will treat people fairly.  Those who obey and remain faithful, he rewards.  Those who sin, he punishes.  Therefore, confess your sin, and God will relieve your misery." PY 88


Finally, after his friends have done nothing but condemn him, and his wife tells him to curse God and die, Job cracks.  He says, "Oh, that I had one to hear me!  Here is my signature.  Let the Almighty answer me!  Oh that I had the indictment written by my adversary."  What did I do wrong!


God's Response:  I AM God.

God shows up and gives Job a resume of who he is in chapters 38-41 (Four chapters).  He does not apologize, he does not say, I would have helped but just couldn't, he does nothing to comfort Job in any sense we might expect.  He simply tells him, I AM GOD, CREATOR of ALL THINGS, ALL-KNOWING, ALL-POWERFUL...what could I possibly tell you that might justify what you have experienced.  Nothing.  So, I will tell you one thing...I AM GOD.  Job may not "deserve" this tragedy, but God still deserves his loyalty.

Job 42.1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

2 "     I know that you can do all things,

and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

3  ‘     Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4 ‘     Hear, and I will speak;

          I will question you, and you make it known to me.'

5      I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you;

6      therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes."


Jesus Response:  I AM...the Resurrection and the Life

Perhaps Martha does have some faith...she does say just like Job, "But I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."  And, just as God spoke to Job, Jesus doesn't give any explanation for his tardiness or absence.  He doesn't even give any words of comfort other than to speak of himself...He reminds her of WHO HE IS.  "I am the Resurrection and the Life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die; yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me, shall never die." 


Jesus Question to Martha:  "Do you believe this?"

Jesus is not asking her whether or not she believes he will raise her brother, but He is asking her if she believes JESUS is who he says He is. 

  • Do you believe that Jesus is THE RESURRECTION Do you believe that Jesus can really bring life to that which is dead?  Are you that dependent upon him?  So much so, that you HAVE to TRUST him?
  • Do you believe that Jesus is THE Jesus that central to your being?



1 a: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body

2 a: the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual



activity, being, breath, , energy, enthusiasm, essence, excitement, growth, heart, impulse, lifeblood, liveliness, oomph*, soul, sparkle, spirit, viability, vigor, vitality, zest*, zing


29-35 What does God really think about suffering?

Martha runs to get Mary who comes runs to see Jesus.  Mary is a bit more emotional and falls at Jesus' feet as she states, "Lord if you had been here..." Then...when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?'  They said to him, Lord, come and see.  Jesus wept."


Anger over the power of Sin, Satan, and Death: Jesus is deeply moved and troubled

Our God is angered by what sin has done to his creation.  Don't for a minute believe that God enjoys suffering.  He is not some sort of cosmic masochist who plays around with humans like toys.  Even though God allows it, even though God can use it to bring about good, suffering is a result of a broken world cursed because of our own rebellion against our creator.  ALL SUFFERING is a result of sin. 


Grief over the consequences of Sin: Jesus Wept

Anger without Grief is like Wrath without Justice.  When Jesus weeps, that is God weeping. And for a moment, we see how much God loves us in a very real way.  Quite simply, God would not allow himself to be grieved without a very good reason.  By grace, He allows His Creation to suffer that they might see God for who He truly is. 


I do what Jesus did.

I do what Jesus did...I get angry at the suffering that sin has caused, but not at God.  I do not blame God for suffering knowing FULL WELL he could have stopped it.  I trust that he is powerful enough to get me through it.  And I weep.  I weep because suffering hurts.  I weep for myself, I weep for my friends, I weep for strangers.  


36-44    Suffering brings us closer to Jesus

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."  C.S. Lewis


Suffering works as a reminder that we are broken, that our world is broken, that we cannot fix ourselves or even survive.  We think that IF HE REALLY LOVED ME, IF GOD WAS REALLY THERE...HE WOULDN'T LET ME GO THROUGH THAT. 


But, THROUGH THAT EXPERIENCE, somehow I believe that through our desperation we are brought closer to God than we ever could have been without it

  • The essence of Salvation is crying out to God to tell him that I NEED YOU...I don't have it all together, I don't understand, I'm not as strong as I thought.  
  • Salvation is admitting I am lost, I am hurting; finally seeing that my sins and the sins of others have really screwed things up for me so much that I can't fix it. 


YOU CRY OUT TO GOD....I can't handle this...this is too much....if you don't show up, I am going to die!  If you don't fix things I'll have nothing...GIVE ME LIFE!


It's in those moments that we might feel like God is so far away but in fact, he is actually closer to us than we think. Maybe it's when we're in these situations, where everything seems to be falling apart, that God gets an opportunity to remind us of how much he really loves us AND, for the first time, we hear him...


And he says, "Lazarus Come Out."...dead man...come alive!


And maybe, we're able to say and actually believe...Romans 8

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.



Jesus, the Son of God, embodied all that I anyone might want to say about pain.  Like Job, an innocent sufferer who preceded him, he did not receive an answer to the question of CAUSE-of WHY?  In fact, He himself called out from the cross "Why, Why......" and heard nothing but the silence of God.  Even so, he responded with faithfulness, turning his attention to the good that his suffering would produce... "For the joy set before him, endured." (Hebrews 12.2). 


Psalm 22.1-5

1      My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

          Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

2      O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

          and by night, but I find no rest.

3      Yet you are holy,

     ï»¿     enthroned on the praises of Israel.

4      In you our fathers trusted;

          they trusted, and you delivered them.

5      To you they cried and were rescued;

          in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

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