The Story Isn’t Over Yet

Before every beginning is an end.

Death may seem like the final curtain, but what if it’s actually the opening scene? Tombs pepper the landscape of the gospels, hosting scenes of regeneration rather than decay: the deliverance of the Gerasene demoniac, the resurrection of Jesus, and the subsequent reappearance of countless saints. If new life is the good news, then into the grave we must go.

 

Read

To get the most out of this study, read John 11. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.

Key Passage: John 11:1-44

 

Background

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus. The Lord often stayed at their home in Bethany, which was less than two miles from Jerusalem. John 11 opens with the two women sending word to Jesus that their brother is very sick.

 

Reflect

Notice Jesus’ initial response to the news of Lazarus’s illness (John 11:3-4).

  • How do you think the disciples interpreted the phrase “is not to end in death”? At that point, do you suppose they expected him to die?

  • Unlike the disciples, we know that the emphasis belongs on end rather than on death—in other words, that dying will be part of Lazarus’s sickness, but not its conclusion. What does that tell you about Jesus’ view of the path to recovery? In terms of your own life, what worst-case scenario might He be asking you to face in order to receive complete healing?

  • In John 11:8, the disciples caution Jesus against returning to Judea. Considering the threat against His life, what does the Lord’s persistence in going say about both His affection for Lazarus and His commitment to God’s glory (John 11:4)?

 

Continuing the Story

After purposely delaying two days, Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany, where Lazarus has now been dead for four days.

  • Remember that Bethany is not far at all from where Jesus was staying (John 11:18). That means Mary and Martha would have realized He could have been there in time to heal Lazarus, especially since they gave Him advance notice. As they saw it, His absence allowed their brother’s death. Even more distressing, the Lord actually tarried in coming to comfort them. In light of these things, how do you imagine the sisters felt toward Jesus?

  • Jesus’ absence allowed their brother’s death. Even more distressing, the Lord actually tarried in coming to comfort them.

  • Look again at Martha’s interaction with Jesus in John 11:20-27. When He prophesies that her brother will rise again, she affirms her belief in Lazarus’s resurrection but adds the phrase “on the last day.” This subtly implies her reservations about trusting Jesus with her hope again. Can you think of a time when your hope in God’s intervention was deferred? After that, was it more difficult to trust Him and His promises?

  • Reread John 11:32-35, which describe Mary’s conversation with the Lord and His emotional response. Since Jesus already planned to resurrect Lazarus (see John 11:4; John 11:11-14), why do you think He wept? Note that Jesus not only made space for the sisters’ grief but also entered into it Himself. Does that change how you expect Him to relate to your pain—and how you might approach others experiencing grief?

 

Reflect

In John 11:39, Martha expresses reluctance to open Lazarus’s grave on account of the possible smell, but Jesus reminds her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

  • Imagine exhuming the corpse of a recently deceased loved one—what emotions would you experience at the thought of having to face the corrupted body? Of exposing it to an audience? It’s easy to accuse Martha of simple doubt, but in reality, her reaction probably involved protecting herself and her family from shame and further pain. With that in mind, how does positioning yourself for healing require courage?

  • Jesus not only made space for the sisters’ grief but also entered into it Himself.

  • Pay particular attention to John 11:43-44. Lazarus’s resurrection could have been accomplished only by the Son of God, but whom does Jesus task with the responsibility of removing the grave clothes? What does that tell you about the role of community in healing and recovery?

  • The word believe occurs nine times in John 11—and many of the witnesses to Lazarus’s resurrection did put their faith in Jesus as Messiah, which deeply disturbed the ruling religious leaders (John 11:45-53). What does that say about how God can use supernatural intervention in our lives to confront others?

REMEMBER Healing testifies.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

In reading John 11:4, those of us suffering illness or a loved one’s bleak prognosis may feel disregarded. If we’re honest, in fact, Jesus’ words about glorifying God through sickness could actually sound callous. When all we want is unlabored breathing, a clear scan, or nights free from anxiety, the promise of a future testimony may be inadequate to sustain hope in God, much less His healing. And the longer hope is deferred, the sicker our hearts can become (Prov. 13:12). So, when prayers for healing go unanswered, where do we turn?

  • As a human being who lived among mankind, Jesus can identify with our every emotion—including the disappointment of unanswered prayer. Picture Him in Gethsemane the night He was arrested. His prayers to be excused from the horrors of the cross weren’t answered in a way any of us would have wanted, had we been the one kneeling in the garden, sweating blood. Yes, He obeyed, but not without facing His Father’s “no.” How does realizing we have a Savior who can empathize with us impact the way you feel about your own times of suffering and unanswered prayers?

  • Take a moment to imagine being Lazarus. How much agency, power, and responsibility does a dead man possess? What did Jesus require of Lazarus in order for him to be resurrected? Does knowing he was powerless to effect his own healing change how you think about surrendering to God? Do you find it easy to embrace that kind of all-encompassing vulnerability and trust God? Why or why not?

  • The sisters felt crushing disappointment when Jesus failed to prevent their brother’s death. But the grave wasn’t the end for Lazarus, nor is it for any of God’s children. Even when it all appears to be over, God is still writing—still righting—our story with Him.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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What happens to my notes

1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

6 So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.

7 Then after this He said to the disciples, Let us go to Judea again."

8 The disciples said to Him, Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?"

9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.

10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."

11 This He said, and after that He said to them, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."

12 The disciples then said to Him, Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."

13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.

14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead,

15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him."

16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, Let us also go, so that we may die with Him."

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

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off;

19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother.

20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house.

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

22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

23 Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha said to Him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,

26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 She said to Him, Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, The Teacher is here and is calling for you."

29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him.

31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,

34 and said, Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, Lord, come and see."

35 Jesus wept.

36 So the Jews were saying, See how He loved him!"

37 But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

39 Jesus said, Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days."

40 Jesus said to her, Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.

42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me."

43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth."

44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go."

3 So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

8 The disciples said to Him, Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?"

4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off;

20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house.

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

22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

23 Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha said to Him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,

26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 She said to Him, Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,

34 and said, Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, Lord, come and see."

35 Jesus wept.

11 This He said, and after that He said to them, Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."

12 The disciples then said to Him, Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."

13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.

14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead,

39 Jesus said, Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days."

40 Jesus said to her, Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth."

44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go."

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.

47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.

48 If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."

49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, You know nothing at all,

50 nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish."

51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,

52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.

12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

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