23 March 2013

John 11:1-44

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (vv. 25-26)


We are approaching Holy Week (the last week of Jesus' life). From the perspective of Jesus' opponents, the net is closing around him; from the perspective of John's Gospel, Jesus' plan is beginning to reach its climactic conclusion. And we come to what might be the most powerful sign of all which Jesus performs, and which points forward to what is to occur in the coming weeks. As with some of the other signs, this one is accompanied by one of Jesus' 'I am' sayings - here, "I am the resurrection and the life".

The character of the miracle as a 'sign' can be seen in Jesus' statement in verse 4, that the illness is not 'for death'. It is all part of the plan to display God's power, revealed in Christ. This is given as the reason for his apparent lack of urgency, though his disciples put it down to an expectation that he will not die, and that Lazarus' illness is nothing that rest and recuperation will not cure!

There was a strand of rabbinic thought which held that the soul only finally departed three days after death, so the remark that Lazarus had been buried for four days emphasises the finality of his death.

The passage is a reflection on the nature of death, resurrection and faith. The reference to sleep, from which Lazarus will awake, poses a challenge to the finality of death, and it calls into question and tests the faith of Jesus' disciples, of Mary and Martha, and of the gathered crowd. Every point of confusion between death and sleep, every call to faith, prefigures the death and resurrection of Jesus, in which his followers are called to place their faith. Jesus' death will paradoxically underline his identity as "the resurrection and the life", in that it will bring life to others, and the reference Lazarus' death is understood by the disciples as a sleep which will bring healing (verse 12 - literally 'if he has fallen asleep, he will be saved').

To Ponder

  • "Jesus began to weep" (v. 35). If he knew what God was about to achieve through him, why did he weep? Through anger or sorrow at the lack of faith of those around him? Through simple compassion? When was the last time that you wept (or felt overwhelmed) at the state of the world or at the situation of others? Did it move you to action?
  • Jesus calls Lazarus out, but then orders the gathered family and friends to "unbind him, and let him go" (v. 44). The task of bringing life and liberation to the dead man was Jesus', but was given to them to complete it- and it must have been unsettling, to say the least! If Jesus is the resurrection and the life, is he calling you to step out of your comfort zone, to be engaged in his life-giving ministry? What are you being called to "unbind" and "let go"? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.