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John 11:28-44 Study Guide: I am the Resurrection and the Life Part 2: The Love of God in the Face of Death

Community Group Study Guide — I am the Resurrection and the Life Part 2: the Love of God 
John 11:28-44

Study Information:
During times of personal suffering and sorrow it can be tempting to question if God loves us.  In the last study guide we introduced the problem of pain which says that if God is all powerful and loving then evil should not exist. Since evil exists God must not be powerful or loving. In the last study guide we explored how Jesus responded to his friend Lazarus’ death and particularly to Lazarus’ grieving sister Martha whom he assured of his power. He pressed Martha around her belief about God and the coming resurrection and pulled her towards a hope that God can and would act through Jesus in their time. Jesus revealed himself as the Resurrection and the Life, the one whom we can place our hope in. In this study guide we get to see how Jesus responded to Lazarus’ other sister Mary to comfort her with an expression of God’s love. 

In the text, Jesus responds to Lazarus’ death in four ways: he weeps, bellows, prays and calls. 

Jesus Weeps
John 11:28-35
Mary was still at home grieving when Jesus had arrived and needed to be called by Martha to go to meet Jesus outside the city. The crowd surrounding them thought that she was going to the tomb to weep and so they followed her according to Jewish grieving practices at the time.  Usually when someone was in grief in ancient Israel, friends and family would gather for a full week to support them. Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died, so this was about midway through their grieving process. However, instead of going to the tomb, Mary went to Jesus and fell at his feet. Mary’s words to Jesus are the exact same words Martha used earlier, “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died.” Martha and Mary likely consoled each other with those words over the last few days, and we know that they hard urgently sent a message to Jesus before Lazarus had passed because they knew of his miraculous power. 

In Jesus’ response we learn that a there is not a cookie cutter, one size fits all answer to suffering. Mary was from the same family and used the same words as Martha and Jesus responded in a completely different way to her grief. Jesus did not press her to know his power or help her to articulate what she believed, like he did with Martha. Instead Jesus was deeply moved by the sight of the crowds grief and weeping, so he wept. 

It is tempting to believe that since God did not stop something bad from happening that he must be uncaring or heartless towards the things that cause our sorrow however we get the opposite picture here. Jesus wept with those who wept, and in this action Jesus identified with the sorrow of his friends and joined to comfort them with his love. 

Jesus Bellows
John 11:38
How does God feel about evil and suffering in the world? John 11:35 and 38 uses a phrase that Jesus was “deeply moved” and at first glance that can seem like he got sad, but it actually pointed to a different emotional response. The word “deeply moved” in the Greek is a synonym for a “snorting in anger”, particularly used of a horse that is riled up and angry. It is a great word picture, right? Jesus was at Lazarus’s tomb and rather than being dispassionate or simply sad, he was moved to anger. This anger was not directed at the crowds or their disbelief, but it was directed towards sin, evil and death. 

To be fully human includes sorrow, and anger at the right things. It is ok to grieve and it is ok to be angry at things that cause so much harm and destruction like sin and death. Jesus, in his love, was angry at the right things. 

Jesus Prays
John 11:29-42
Jesus asked the crowd to remove the stone that covered the face of the tomb and Martha protested that there’d be a smell since the body was dead for four days. The four day mark was important, scholars point out that in the ancient world there was a thought that the soul of the deceased lingered near the body for 3 days. So, with it being day four, Lazarus was “dead, dead.” We also get a window into Martha’s struggle to believe that Jesus would act in their current situation. There was a general wonder and disbelief in what Jesus could or would do. So, Jesus prayed. He opened up his inner life with God the Father for the crowd to hear. We can assume he had already been in prayer for Lazarus and intervened in that way, but Jesus specifically prayed with God the Father out loud for the benefit of the crowd and for us; so that we’d believe and get a better understanding of his constant communication between God the Son and God the Father (John 11:15, 42). Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and we know that Jesus intercedes; we can take courage that we are not alone in grief and suffering. 

Jesus Calls
John 11:43-44
Finally, Jesus calls and gives life. The Resurrection and the Life brings life from he grave. At the word of Jesus Lazarus was awakened and there was a living man wrapped in the burial clothing coming forth from the tomb. At this point in the gospel of John we are around 10 days away from Jesus’ own resurrection. The raising of Lazarus from the dead, more than any other miracle, points forward to what will happen with Jesus. 

Jesus took on suffering and death to defeat it once and for all. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but by the mercy of God we have been made alive with Jesus. In just a few days Jesus will be the target of evil on the cross and be laid in a tomb and wrapped up in burial cloth and like Lazarus he will raised from the dead. However, Jesus’ resurrection was different, in that his death defeated death and his life is shared with those who are united to him in faith. He was also raised to an imperishable, glorious body, foreshadowing what those in Christ can look forward to in hope. 

We will not have a complete answer to the problem of pain on this side of eternity, but we can be certain from this story in scripture that Jesus knows grief and sorrow, he has power to intervene and he comforts us in his love.

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 11:28-44

How does Jesus response to Mary differ from how he responded to Martha? 

Why would Jesus express anger at sin and death when he was at the tomb of Lazarus?

What are some ways that the raising of Lazarus point to Jesus own coming resurrection?

Knowing that there is not a one size fits all approach to helping someone who is suffering, what are some ways you can respond to a friend in a similar situation as Martha and Mary? As a follow up, how does John 11 help you understand and answer the problem of pain?