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A Study of John 11:17-44

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 away.

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

1. (verses 17-19) If Jesus had not delayed those two days, what would have been the difference? What is the significance of Bethany being close to Jerusalem. What does verse 19 tell you about Martha, Mary, and their family?

Notice that if Christ had arrived two days earlier, Lazarus still would have died before Jesus got there since he had been dead four days. Christ’s delay did not cause Lazarus’ death, but allowed the additional time for people to realize how miraculous this event would be. Since Bethany was so close to Jerusalem, many have surmised that the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus was a common stop for Jesus when he visited Jerusalem.

Verse 19 tells us that many from Jerusalem came out to comfort Martha and Mary. This speaks well of the kind of influence this family had been on their neighbors. They seemed to have been the kind of family that was hospitable to everyone, not just Jesus and his disciples.

Adam Clarke wrote, "Mourning, among the Jews, lasted about thirty days: the three first days were termed days of weeping,: then followed seven of lamentation. During the three days, the mourner did no servile work; and, if anyone saluted him, he did not return the salutation. During the seven days, he did no servile work, except in private...." This may have explained why Christ waited for Lazarus to be dead 4 days.

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

2. (verse 20) Compare this verse with the actions of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. What does this teach you about Martha and Mary?

Both in this section of scripture and the section in Luke 10:38-42 we see Martha taking charge of the situation while Mary holds back. In the Luke section Martha’s pre-occupation with the household chores was seen as a weakness, but here Martha’s take-charge demeanor is a strength. God uses our unique personalities for his kingdom.

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

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

3. (verses 21-22) Is Martha chiding Jesus? How would you feel if a close friend did not come when you needed them? What is the state of her faith at this moment?

Martha may have been upset that Christ was not there for her family when they needed him the most, but it seems to me she is simply making a statement of her faith in Jesus. Notice that in verse 22 she goes so far as to say that "whatever You ask of God, God will give you." This does not seem like chiding to me. I think she has faith in Christ, but I don’t think she is even conceiving the idea that Lazarus might be raised to life.

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 at the last day."

4. (verses 23-24) Does Martha understand what Jesus is saying? What "resurrection at the last day" is she referring to? How is the hope of Christians different from others when we lose a loved one?

Martha is responding the way I think most of us would respond at the death of a loved one. Our hope is in Christ’s promise of eternal life. As Christians, when we lose a loved one, we are not nearly in such a hopeless state as those who do not know Christ. Even though it is a sad time, we have the assurance that someday we will be re-united with our loved ones. And we also know that some day our body will be resurrected at the end of the church age. Of course Martha didn’t have all the teachings of the New Testament to help her understand the final resurrection. But there are many references to it in the Old Testament as well.

Job 19:26-27, And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"

Isaiah 26:19, "Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead."

Daniel 12:2, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt."

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?"

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."

5. (verses 25-27) How did Martha’s reply answer Christ’s question? Do you think that she simply could not believe that Christ would raise her brother from the dead, or that she simply was not understanding Jesus’ words? Or do you think Christ is purposely being vague?

Martha doesn’t really answer Christ’s question. He asks do you believe that whoever believes in me shall never die? She answers I believe you are the Christ. Perhaps she could not think beyond the immediate death of her brother to grasp his words, but it seems to me that Jesus is gently trying to lead her into having faith without pressing her. Observe that in verse 23 Jesus said, "your brother will rise again," and in verse 25 he says, "I am the resurrection and the life." Both of these phrases are vague enough to be taken several ways. It seems to me Jesus is trying to prepare Martha for what is about to happen without placing too much pressure on her.

28 And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, "The Teacher has come and is calling for you."

29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.

6. (verses 28-29) Did Jesus call for Mary? Why do you think Martha would say this to Mary?

It is not recorded that Jesus called for Mary. It is possible he did. The gospel writers don’t record every detail. But if he didn’t, I think Martha is trying to help her sister get out of her depression by encouraging her to go see Christ. Mary must have known that Christ was there as her sister did. But she was staying behind filled with sorrow. Martha realized that Jesus would be a comfort to her sister as he had been to her. Notice that verse 29 tells us that Mary "arose quickly and came to him."

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

31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, "She is going to the tomb to weep there."

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

7. (verses 30-32) What do you think is the significance of Mary repeating the same words that Martha told Jesus? Why would Mary want to come quickly to see Jesus? How have you handled grief?

Both sisters make tremendous statements of faith in Christ’s healing power in almost identical words. They had seen Jesus heal others, they knew he would have healed their brother. When Mary heard that Christ was calling for her, she came quickly to him. Even through her sorrow, she could sense his love and care for her. No matter what we may be going through, Christ is calling for us. He loves us just as much as he loved Mary.

33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.

8. (verse 33) Why did Christ groan in his sprit and was troubled?

This is one of those verses I have often wondered about. Was he groaning because of their lack of faith? Was he groaning because he was feeling the immense sorrow of human grief? Or did he groan because some of the Jews only saw him as a miracle worker, and not the Messiah?

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

35 Jesus wept.

9. (verse 35) Why do you think Jesus wept?

This is one of those beautiful verses in scripture that reveal to us how Christ was touched by all our human feelings. As God, he knew Lazarus would be raised from the dead. But as man, he sensed the awful feeling of loss that comes when you lose someone you love. Perhaps he was reminded of the time years before when he had to bury his earthly father, Joseph.

In 1825 Adam Clarke wrote, "Here the blessed Jesus shows himself to be truly man; and a man, too, who, notwithstanding his amazing dignity and excellence, did not feel it beneath him to sympathize with the distressed, and weep with those who wept. ... It is abolishing one of the finest traits in our Lord's human character to say that he wept and mourned here because of sin and its consequences. No: Jesus had humanity in its perfection, and humanity unadulterated is generous and sympathetic. A particular friend of Jesus was dead; and, as his friend, the affectionate soul of Christ was troubled, and he mingled his sacred tears with those of the afflicted relatives."

36 Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!"

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

38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

10. (verses 36-38) Why did Jesus groan in himself again?

Again Jesus groans in himself. This time it does seem it is a result of the crowd’s fascination with his miracle ministry instead of who he truly was. Perhaps he also was beginning to see the drama of his own death start to be played out. He knew that all Jerusalem would be talking of this miracle which would incense the Jewish leaders.

39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."

11. (verse 39) When Jesus said take away the stone, for what reason did Martha think he said it? What is Martha’s concern in this verse?

It seems to me Martha is genuinely concerned for Christ. I think she is assuming she wants to mourn over her brother. She thinks his sorrow for Lazarus’ death has perhaps caused him to not realize that Lazarus had been dead for 4 days.

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

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.

42 "And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."

12. (verses 40-42) From Jesus’ statement in verse 40, do you think Martha began to believe what was about to happen? What is the purpose of Christ’s prayer in verses 41-42?

Now Christ repeats the words that he had gently spoken to Martha before. Perhaps now she would begin to believe what he had told her. She certainly had to know Jesus well enough to realize something was about to happen. She does not hesitate to have the stone removed. Notice that Jesus prays for the benefit of those who are listening. He did not need to pray this prayer. But the people needed to hear it. There may be times when we don’t need to do something, but others need to see us doing it to encourage them in their faith.

43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"

44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Loose him, and let him go."

13. (verses 43-44) How would you have felt if you had witnessed this miracle? Why did Christ tell them, "loose him and let him go"?

Can you imagine the response of the people that witnessed this miracle? They were probably dumbfounded. They were staring in amazement perhaps afraid to move not sure what to do. Poor Lazarus must have been very confused. So Christ forced the people to action with his instruction to loose him. Jesus worked a mighty miracle that day. And he is still working miracles today. He is still the one that heals the body, the soul, and the spirit. Let us be willing to roll away the stone of our unbelief.


This study on John 11:17-44 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scripture unless otherwise noted is from the New King James Version 1984, Thomas Nelson Publishers

Adam Clarke Commentary, electronic version 1996 Biblesoft

Adam Clarke’s Commentary, electronic version 1996 Biblesoft

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