Study Notes

John 11:1-44


Remember last week we saw that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem was out for Jesus' blood - trying to seize and stone Him during the Feast of Dedication. Eluding their grasp, He went off to the Jordan River where John the Baptist had been. We pick up the narrative in John 11, verse 1...

11:1-2 Lazarus

This is the first time that this man Lazarus is mentioned in Scripture. There was, of course, the beggar Lazarus mentioned in Luke 16, but this is a different man. Just to make sure we know who this Lazarus is, John tells us where he lives and who his two sisters are.


Lazarus of Bethany. Bethany is a little town just outside of Jerusalem - less than two miles to the southeast. While it is close to Jerusalem, it is pretty far away from where Jesus is at this point - 17 miles away from the Jordan River at its closest point. Not only is it a long distance to travel, but the elevation differences between the two places amount to almost 4,000 feet! This would be quite a trip!

Mary And Martha

John also tells us that Lazarus' sisters are Mary and Martha. There were several women named Mary in Scripture, so John tells us,

John 11:2 And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

Mary and Martha are often used as examples of two different kinds of Christians. In Luke 10, we read of a certain time that Jesus stayed at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' house.

Luke 10:38-42 ...A woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up {to Him,} and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but {only} a few things are necessary, really {only} one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Mary is sitting, Martha is serving. Mary is devoted, Martha is distracted. Mary is worshipping, Martha is worrying. Mary is basking in Jesus' glory, Martha is bothered. And Jesus tells Martha that Mary was doing what was really necessary.

Both women are believers in different places of maturity in Christ. But their brother is sick, and they both know that Jesus can heal him.

11:3-6 Loving

When they sent word that Lazarus was sick, they said,

John 11:3 ..."Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick."

I like that. They didn't say, "He who loves You is sick." So often, we come to the Lord on the basis of our own merits: "Lord, I've been to church every Sunday this month - and now I need a favor." "Lord, I've been tithing faithfully - could you please heal my child of this sickness?" "God, I'm sure you've noticed how straight I've been walking and how much sin I've avoided lately. Since I'm now in your good graces, I'm confident that you're going to come through for me now."

But God blesses us out of the abundance of His love for us! How glorious that is!


Jesus loved them all, but He stays where He is for another two days. Don't you hate it when He does that to you? "Lord, look, I've got this time line here. If you don't come through by 5pm this afternoon, I'm sunk! If you don't provide the money to pay this bill in the next three days, I'm going to get sent to collections! If you don't fix this situation soon, everything's going to go down the tubes!"

Oh, how often we think that we know better than Jesus! How often we're on His time frame rather than His! We give God a deadline, and when He doesn't come through, then we lose faith and get angry. But God's not on our time line or our deadline. Romans 8:28 says,

Rom. 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose.

It doesn't say anything about a time frame there. When Noah worked on the ark for 120 years while his ungodly neighbors made fun of him. Joseph sat in a dungeon for two years for a crime he didn't commit. David ran from Saul for several years because Saul was psycho and wanted to kill him. Impatience with God is never advocated in the Bible. Rather, we are told to wait for Him...

Ps. 37:7 Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him...

Ps. 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope.

Isa. 40:31 ...Those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up {with} wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.

Don't put God on a deadline. Wait on Him, and He will work all things together for good. He's promised you that. Notice that John tells us,

John 11:5-6 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days {longer} in the place where He was.

THEREFORE. Jesus actually stayed two days longer BECAUSE He loved the three of them! Those whom God loves must learn to wait.

11:7-10 Are You Going There Again?

"Let's go to Judea again," Jesus says. "What, are You crazy?" the disciples ask. "They were just trying to kill you there!" But Jesus tells them, "Guys, it's daytime - I'm the light of the world, remember?. And when you walk in the light of day, you're not going to stumble. So let's take advantage of the fact that I'm here, and get going."

11:11-15 Sleep And Death

"Guys, Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I'm going to go wake him up." "Lord, sleep is good for sick people. If he's sleeping, let's let him sleep. See? There's no reason to go!"

But John tells us,

John 11:13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.

Why would Jesus say sleep when He really meant death? Actually, the Scriptures show us this as a common occurrence. In Luke 8, when a little 12-year-old girl had died, Jesus said,

Luke 8:52 ..."Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep."

After the girl had died, Jesus said she was asleep. In Acts 7, when the Jews were stoning Stephen, we read,

Acts 7:59-60 And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon {the Lord} and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" And having said this, he fell asleep.

Paul preached that David fell asleep and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay (Acts 13:36). Why does the Bible refer to believers who died as being asleep? Because when we go to sleep at night, we know that we will rise up again. We wake up on the other side of darkness - into a new and glorious day. In the day that we fall asleep, we will arise - waking up in the presence of the Lord!

11:16 Thomas

Most of us know Thomas as "Doubting Thomas," because after the resurrection, he had to see it to believe it. But at this point, Thomas has more devotion to Christ than the other apostles, saying, "Hey, if He's going to go and die up in Judea, then I'm all for going and dying too!"

11:17-20 Martha Moves, Mary Sits

As Jesus comes into town, we once again see the different maturities of the sisters Mary and Martha. Martha gets on her feet, ready to do something, ready to get in the Lord's face about His lateness, but Mary simply sits and waits for Him.

11:21-22 Attitude Adjustment

When I come to the Lord with an attitude problem, it usually doesn't take me much time to get an attitude adjustment. Here, we see Mary change her tone in two sentences:

John 11:21-22 Martha therefore said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

Seeing that she is saying the right thing, Jesus tests her to see if her heart believes what she has just said...

11:23-24 On The Last Day

Jesus is constantly calling us to greater faith, to immediate, practical exercise of belief in Him. Sure, it's easy to say, "I believe that my dead brother will be resurrected up to heaven." But how many of us have the faith to believe that God would resurrect him back to life on earth?

11:25-27 Do You Believe This?

Jesus asked Martha, "Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that everyone who believes in Me will live even if he dies? Doe you believe that everyone who believes in me will have eternal life?" Jesus is asking each of us the same thing.

God has not called us to believe that heaven is gotten by doing good works. He has not called us to believe that all roads lead to Him. He has called us to believe in Jesus Christ. That is what will bring us eternal life.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Mary said she believed this. Do you?

11:28-32 It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Again, we see the difference in maturity between Mary and Martha. Mary says the identical thing that Martha had said,

John 11:32 ..."Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

Martha had said this in Jesus' face with contention in her hear. Mary says this at Jesus' feet - with sorrow.

Because God looks at the heart behind what we say, we must always check our motivation. I think of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both were praying, but the Pharisee was puffed up and prideful, while the tax collector was humble and broken.

Another time that people said the same thing with different hearts was before the births of Jesus and John the Baptist. Remember, and angel appeared to Zacharias and said, "Your wife is going to have a son in her old age.

Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

For that question, Zacharias is stricken with silence, unable to speak, until John was born. Then, Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, "You're going to have a child."

Luke 1:34 And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

But she was not cursed, she was blessed. Why? Both were given news of an approaching pregnancy, both asked, "How?" But Zacharias asked in unbelief - Mary asked in faith.

11:33-37 Jesus Weeps

The shortest verse in the Bible is possibly the hardest to comprehend fully. Remember, although Jesus existed as God, He became a man - a man with joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain.

But why is He weeping? At his friend's death? He's about to resurrect him. At their unbelief? There were plenty of times He saw unbelief and it didn't affect Him this way. Maybe He's weeping because His friend Lazarus is in Paradise, and Jesus is about to call Him back to this wicked world of sin and sorrow!

I think that the safest interpretation here is that Mary was weeping and the crowd was weeping. The Scriptures tell us to...

Rom. 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

It is quite possible that Jesus wept for they were weeping. While they thought His tears meant that He loved Lazarus, in fact they meant that He loved them.

11:38-42 Roll Away The Stone

Having been dead for four days, Lazarus' body would have begun to decay in the hot climate of Israel. But Jesus calls Martha's faith beyond the physical realm and into the spiritual. "Martha, didn't I tell you to believe?" So they removed the stone and Jesus prayed.

11:43-44 Lazarus, Come Forth

Jesus called out his name: "Lazarus, come forth!" I like that Jesus got specific. You see, back in chapter 5, you may recall, Jesus had promised,

John 5:28-29 "...An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth...

I think that if Jesus hadn't said, "Lazarus," there would have been a worldwide resurrection of the dead! So out comes Lazarus - once dead, now alive. But he's shuffling out - walking with difficulty, because he is bound up in grave clothes.

Unbind Him And Let Him Go

Now there's a picture I want us all to see here. Who brought Lazarus from death into life? Jesus. But who unbound him and enabled him to walk? People.

It is completely up to God to bring a person from death to life.

Col. 1:13-14 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

But when a person first enters the kingdom of God, they're usually still bound up in their grave clothes. Remember, in Scripture, clothes speak of character or condition. Many people arrive at salvation still wearing their addictions, their hang ups, their sins, and their problems. Jesus has commanded US to unbind them and let them go. Even in the great commission, He told us,

Matt. 28:18-20 ..."All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..."

We must take the responsibility that the Lord has given us. Too often, we say, "Wow! Look! Lazarus has been raised from the dead! Praise the Lord! The angels are rejoicing!" But then we see that he's bound hand and foot with grave clothes and begin to judge him. "I can't believe he's still walking around with those grave clothes! Doesn't he know they stink? Doesn't he know he should take those off? You know, he's probably not even really resurrected!"

Dear saints, it is our responsibility. May we fulfill the great commission by making disciples of all people.

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