Through the Bible in One Year

Day 149

John 11:17-37

Today we come to this second section of John chapter 11 where we see Jesus giving comfort to Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.  When we think of funerals and passages from the Bible that can be used at funerals, we often immediately turn to Psalm 23, because it speaks of God providing comfort to those who are mourning and/or going through trying times.  But I would argue that the passage that we are about to look from John chapter 11 is a much better passage to use to comfort those who are suffering from loss.

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”—11:17-24

The reference to “four days” means that Lazarus’s death occurred shortly after the messengers departed.  Normally the dead were buried on the day of their death.  Many in the community would have gathered with the two sisters to mourn with them over the loss of their brother.  When Martha heard word that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but for some reason Mary remained behind.  Martha had great faith in Jesus’ ability to heal she believed that if Jesus had arrived in time, he could have spared them this heartache.  In her words there may he a note of disappointment with Jesus.  But Jesus turned her thoughts from death to resurrection.  She understood Jesus to be speaking of the end-time resurrection at the end of the age, but as we will see Jesus was speaking of far more than that.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”—11:25-27

In Jesus’ “I am” statement in verse 25 he identified himself as the fulfillment of resurrection hop and expectations.  This is the fifth of the seven “I am” statements that occur in John’s Gospel.  The promise of resurrection and life is not to be found in some distant future event but is available in the person of Jesus.  Final death (eternal separation from God) is an impossibility for those who have put their faith in him.  Physical death is the doorway to greater life with God and Martha’s emphatic response revealed her devotion.

Now let’s dig deeper into this important “I am” statement that we see here in John chapter 11.  For people who have entrusted their lives to Jesus, physical death is not a tragic end.  It is instead the gateway to eternal life with God.  The words “will live” in v. 25 refer to the resurrection that awaits Christ’s followers.  The words “will never die” in v. 26 mean that although a follower of Christ dies physically, he or she will never experience spiritual death, which involves eternal punishment and separation from God.  Instead, Christ’s followers will be resurrected with new bodies, which will be immortal and incorruptible, ones that cannot die or deteriorate.

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”—11:28-37

Martha informed Mary that Jesus wanted to speak with her.  The encounter with Mary is much briefer than the one with Martha.  Mary expressed the same regret as Martha concerning Jesus’ failure to arrive in time.  Jesus exhibited deep emotions over Lazarus’s death.  He did not approach suffering dispassionately, because John tells that “Jesus wept.”

Now let’s answer the question of why this passage is so much more appropriate for funeral than any other?  And here is why: Jesus offered true and genuine comfort to Mary and Martha in their time of mourning, but he did not do it with empty platitudes.  Rather he gave them a reason to find joy and hope in their time of suffering and mourning.  For you see, a funeral for someone who is a follower of Christ should  not be a time of mourning, but should be a time of rejoicing because that person has gone home.  And we will pick up from here tomorrow when see Jesus perform the greatest miracle he would ever perform.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Samuel 17, John 19:23-42, Psalm 119:129-152 and Proverbs 16:12-13

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