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John 11:1-27 Study Guide: I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Community Group Study Guide — I am the Resurrection and the Life
John 11:1-27

Study Information:
The problem of pain is something that everyone has to deal with.

The problem of pain is: if God is loving and good, why does he not stop evil? He must either not be loving or not have the power to stop it if he allows evil to exist. We all wrestle with pain, suffering and evil. For some it is theory and for others it is really personal. Many people trace their unbelief back to the problem of pain. They cannot imagine a personal and loving God who allowed bad things to happen in their lives.

In our text of scripture we learn that Jesus heard his friend was ill and delayed going to him BECAUSE he loved him. That makes no sense to us. You think that Jesus would want to heal the people he cared about, but instead he took his time. However, Jesus told his disciples that this illness would lead to God’s glory, the belief of many and would point people forward to what he would do in his own resurrection. Jesus will offer comfort to Martha and Mary in two unique ways. This week we will explore how he offers assurance to Martha about his power and next week we will see how Jesus comforted Mary with his love.

Lazarus’ Death Was Preventable
John 11:1-16
Out of all the people Jesus knew he seemed to have a special relationship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They’re described as people he loved and Jesus spent time in their home on a number of occasions. You think if Jesus was going to rescue anyone from sickness and death, it would be one of them. This is why it is shocking to read that they sent word that Lazarus was ill and Jesus response was to delay (John 11:4-6). Jesus stayed two days longer when he was really only about a days walk away. Likewise, Jesus had healed people from far off before, so he could have saved Lazarus here.

Notice though how Jesus viewed the situation. First, this illness would lead to God being glorified (John 11:4). God would be magnified through what happened in Lazarus’ suffering. Second, Jesus saw this death as temporary, so much so that he says Lazarus has fallen asleep (John 11:11). This does not mean Jesus is heartless to this family’s suffering (more on that next week); but he knows that God’s character and attributes are demonstrated in the midst of the tragedy of life and for his followers, death is not the end. Jesus did not feel powerless in this situation and promises to use it. What we learn is that he delayed to have two conversations with Martha and Mary; and to demonstrate God’s glory.

For some of us, this idea that Lazarus death was preventable, may just add to the anxiety. Any suffering we experience is preventable, right? God is always in the right place at the right time so why does he not act? There are multiple pieces to the puzzle to the problem of pain that we will learn in these study guides, but one part of the answer is that pain is not wasted and it is not in ultimate control. God can use it for good and his glory, even if we cannot clearly see that yet. Martha will struggle with seeing the good that Jesus was doing in the death of her brother; which is why Jesus moves to comfort her with assurance of his power.

Pain Reminds Us That We Are Powerless
John 11:17-22
Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days by the time Jesus arrived. The family was midway through a week long grieving process that was typical for Jews in the ancient world. When Martha went out to meet Jesus she went out swinging, “Jesus, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). There seems to be some disbelief and anger to her words. Even though Mary used the same phrase in the next scene, note how Mary stayed back grieving and has to be pulled to meet Jesus (John 11:20, 28). Martha was looking for answers in a way that Mary wasn’t yet. But Martha’s aggression was not the end, she was also looking for assurance when she said “but even now I know that anything you ask from God, God will give you.” (John 11:22). She was powerless and looked to Jesus for help. Every time we are on the receiving end of the problem of pain it reminds us to look to Jesus for help.

Grief Can Point Us Towards Hope
John 11:23-27
Jesus questioned Martha, in a way that he was different than his interaction with Mary. Whatever was happening in Martha’s heart, Jesus knew that she needed to be pressed and to find assurance around what she really believed. Jesus promised her that her brother would rise again, and Martha said she knew this; but she knew this as a future thing. Jews believed that at the end of time the righteous would be raised to resurrected life. Martha believed that would happen for Lazarus, but for now he’d stay in the tomb. What could Jesus do for her now that her brother had been dead so long? Even after this interchange, she protested them opening up the tomb since Lazarus had been dead and she was still not able to hope that Jesus could change that. Martha said she believed he was the Christ, but still did not yet believe that Jesus could do anything about her brother’s death (John 11:39).

What Jesus leads her to a place where she can affirm that he is the Resurrection and the Life. To say that he was “the life” was an affirmation that he was God because only God had life in himself. In doing so, Jesus was trying to pull Martha’s hope from some future day to the now; he wanted her to go from “someday” to “today.” Martha confessed “I know he will rise again on the last day” and Jesus’ response was essentially “why not today? Am I the Christ or not?” Jesus pressed her and presses us who may doubt his power with “do you believe this (John 11:25-26)?”

Deep in Martha’s heart, she seemed to believe that God could work theoretically but not for her and not now. Jesus, the resurrection and the life, had power over life and death. He could undo the effect of death with a word and he delayed because he loved them and wanted to move them from just a hope in the future to a concrete belief in the present. Many of struggle to believe that God has any concern over the suffering and evil we face. We know theoretically that he opposes it and acts in the world, but not for us. Martha needed assurance of God’s power.

In the next study guide, we will learn about God’s anger over sin, evil and death; and explore how Jesus himself went to the cross and the tomb to undo the effect of sin. God the Son personally knows what it is like to experience the problem of pain, and in his suffering and death he does away with its power. But for now this first section of John 11 challenge us to consider if God’s power is just a theory for us or do we believe that God can act in the here and now? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he is the resurrection and the life, the one who unites us to him in faith so that we will live and not experience the finality of death and separation from God? Do not let pain and powerlessness keep you from hope, let pain carry you to Jesus.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?

Discussion Questions:

Read John 11:1-27

What is the problem of pain?

How did Jesus respond to hearing news that his friend was ill? Is this response surprising? What did Jesus tell his disciples about the nature of this illness?

What was Martha looking for from Jesus in her interaction with him? What does it mean that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life?

Have there been times when you’ve struggled to believe God’s power when you’ve felt powerless? What was that like and what helps you during in those times?