6 March 2016

John 11:17-44

“Jesus said to Martha, ‘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)

Psalm: Psalm 30


When John wrote his Gospel, he carefully compiled his material so that he unfolded the mystery of who Jesus was. He did this by telling of greater and greater miracles. These miracles are 'signs' pointing to the true nature of Jesus. John tells how Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:7-11); healed at a distance an official's son (John 4:46-54); healed a paralysed man (John 5:1-15); fed 5,000 people (John 6:1-15); walked on water (John 6:16-21); and cured a blind man (John 9:1-34). In each case, he told what effect this had on the faith of those who witnessed these things. He tells us at the end of the Gospel - before his appendix - that he has written these words so that we might believe in Jesus too (John 20:30-31).

In today's passage we read about the ultimate sign of Jesus' power. In the seventh and therefore most perfect sign presented by John, Jesus raises a man from the dead. His friend Lazarus has been dead for four days (verse 17). Yet Martha believes that even now Jesus can ask God to put things right (verse 22). However, her faith is simply based on Jewish teaching: she believes in the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. But what good is that now?

It is then that Jesus reveals himself to be the resurrection and the life. Martha expresses her faith in him even before the miracle has taken place (verse 27). He is not just her friend - he is also the Messiah expected by the Jews. They too express great faith in Jesus, and wonder why he is not performing a miracle (verse 37). There is no specific prayer in which Jesus asks his Father to raise Lazarus, because his will and the will of his Father are one.

Lazarus was, in one sense, temporarily healed. He had to go through death once more - perhaps years later. Yet the way that John points to Jesus as the resurrection and the life indicates that those of faith do indeed avoid the consequences of death. Death cannot bind them (verse 44). And if John were here today, he would ask us "What do you make of that, then?"

To Ponder

  • Martha did not immediately listen to what Jesus was saying because she knew the Jewish teaching about the resurrection of the dead. When you have suddenly realised that you could think about things in a new or different way?
  • It's one thing to go to a healing service at church. But how would you feel if you heard that someone had been raised from the dead? Are there some miracles that you wouldn't expect to see today? Which ones?
  • Given that he had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, why do you think Jesus wept?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.