Sharing John's Gospel
by Craig Bogley

Session 8 - Lazarus & His Sisters (John 11:1-59)

Environment - Equivalent to Session 1

Prayer - "Go with Me in a New Exodus" (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, 111)

Reading - John 11:1-54. Ask one person to read the entire passage clearly and prayerfully. Suggest that each person listen for the essence of the entire story, and for possible division or structure in the narrative.


1. What possible narrative divisions did you discern?

Facilitator - Moloney suggests six groups of verse:

(a) Introduction to place, time, characters, situation and major themes of the narrative (11:1-6).

(b) Jesus makes a decision to go to Judea and Thomas decides that the disciples should go with him (11:7-16).

(c) Jesus encounters a misunderstanding Martha and reveals himself as the resurrection and the life (11:17-27).

(d) Jesus encounters Mary who initially surpasses Martha's confession of Jesus, but then falters as she joins "the Jews" in their weeping and false understanding (11:28-37).

(e) Jesus calls forth Lazarus, so that unbelievers and doubters might understand that he is the Sent One of God (11:38-44).

(f) The leaders of "the Jews" decide that Jesus must die. The narrator reveals the significance of this as Jesus and his disciples leave for Ephraim (11:45-54).

Reading - Assign a volunteer to reread John 11:1-6.

2. What new characters appear in this section?

Facilitator - Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Mary is introduced as the one who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, but there is no record of this in the narrative thus far (14:2).

3. What are the two results that will transcend the immediate illness of Jesus' friend?

Facilitator - The illness will be the means for the glory of God to shine forth, and for the glorification of the Son of God (11:4). As Jesus' ministry comes to an end, a number of themes are drawn together. Jesus' words about his "hour' (2:4; 7:7-8, 30; 8:20), and his being "lifted up" (3:14; 8:28) suggest a link between his glorification and death. Hence, the scenario of Lazarus sets in motion the Sons' glorification.

4. What contradiction can you perceive near the end of the section?

Facilitator - Out of love for his friends Jesus does not go immediately but stays where he is for two days longer (11:5-6). Jesus is responding to a greater call than our human expectations can anticipate. Jesus' actions will result in the greater glory of God and of the Son of God.

Reading - Ask someone to read John 11:7-16.

5. What previous themes return in this passage?

Facilitator - Light and darkness, day and night, and sight and blindness, all prominent during Jesus presence in Jerusalem for Tabernacles, return at this time of great danger as Jesus summons the disciples to go with him again to Judea (7:1-10:21). Jesus has instructed them to walk in the light of day provided by him, the light of the world (9:4-5). In the days ahead if the disciples have no light in them they will stumble (11:10).

6. Why was Jesus glad that he was not there when Lazarus died (11:15)?

Facilitator - Jesus is rejoicing because through this event of death, the disciples might come to faith. Jesus sets out on this dangerous journey to Bethany in response to the Father's will so that Lazarus might be raised to life, and thus bring the disciples to true faith (11:14-15).

7. Is the decision by Jesus and Thomas to go to Bethany at cross purposes (11:16)?

Facilitator - Yes. Thomas, even though he recognizes the risk, encourages the disciples to join Jesus and die with him (11:16). Jesus seeks belief; Thomas risks death.

Reading - Select someone to read John 11:17-27.

8. In this passage how would you describe Martha's faith in Jesus?

Facilitator - Martha confesses her faith in Jesus as a miracle worker, holding the conviction that whatever he asks of God will happen (11:22). However, faith in Jesus as a miracle worker falls short of true belief. Previously, both Nicodemus (3:2) and the man born blind (4:31-32) expressed a similar faith in Jesus as a miracle worker with special access to God. Martha sees Jesus as a Rabbi from God who does wonderful signs because of God's presence in him (11:21-22).

9. When Jesus tells Martha, "Your brother will rise again," how does she understand this (11:23)?

Facilitator - Martha says she knows that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection at the last day (11:24). Jesus, transcends Martha's limited eschatological expectation, by uttering another ego eimi ("I am") statement revealing himself to be the resurrection and the life. Belief in him is the only way to resurrection and life, life both now and hereafter (11:25-26; 5:19-30).

Reading - Ask a volunteer to read John 11:28-37.

Facilitator - Note that as this section opens Martha's partial confession of faith is still present as "having said this," she returns to her sister, and announces: "the teacher is here" (11:28). Again her use of the word teacher continues her use of limited expressions of faith.

10. Does Martha informing Mary that Jesus is "calling her" (Greek: kai phonei se) have any special significance?

Facilitator - Moloney indicates that every reference to the "voice" (phone) of Jesus is a calling to fullness of life in him (3:8; 5:25; 10:3,16). "The Jews" were previously condemned for not hearing Jesus' voice (5:37). Moloney also calls our attention to the voice of the Shepherd in the previous context (10:1-18). He considers Mary to be one of his own sheep and is summoning her. Martha by contrast took the initiative; Mary is called for by the word of Jesus.

11. What are some of the other indications in this section that Mary is the special sister?

Facilitator - When she hears of his call she responds immediately: "she rose quickly and went to him" (11:29). When Mary sees Jesus, she falls at his feet and repeats only part of Martha's confession: "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died" (11:32). Mary does not limit Jesus by understanding him as a mere miracle-worker, she has simply stated her unconditional trust in the power of the presence of Jesus. Mary not Martha accepts Jesus as the resurrection and the life.

12. Until now Mary has totally focussed on Jesus, responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd. How does this drastically change?

Facilitator - The death of Lazarus should not be the center of attention, but Mary succumbs by joining in the "weeping" of "the Jews" (11:33). Jesus is strangely moved. He is frustrated and disappointed that Martha, the disciples, and now Mary have all failed to understand the significance of the death of Lazarus and Jesus' self-revelation as the resurrection and the life. Moloney asks, "will no one come to belief"? Mary's weeping with "the Jews" is a reversal of her earlier response to Jesus.

13. What then does Jesus do?

Facilitator - He proceeds with the mission with which he has been entrusted: wake Lazarus from his sleep, glorify God, and through this event be glorified. He asked to be led to the tomb and they invite him to "come and see" (11:34). Again Mary's association with "the Jews" leads Jesus to tears, which "the Jews" misunderstand (11:35-36).

14. What happens to Mary at this point in the story?

Facilitator - She disappears. Mary is not associated with the complaints against Jesus by "the Jews" for his failure to save Lazarus (11:37). However the reader knows from the announced anointing of Jesus feet that she will return (11:2).

Reading - Select a volunteer to read John 11:38-44.

15. How does Jesus respond to the criticism of "the Jews" at the end of the previous section (11:37)?

Facilitator - "The Jews" lack of acceptance and misunderstanding again moves Jesus to anger. At this point Jesus becomes master of the situation and moves decisively to fulfill God's purpose involving waking Lazarus from his sleep.

16. What is the basis of Martha's objection, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, he has been dead four days"?

Facilitator - Martha can only tell Jesus how things are in her established world. She is unable to accept that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Hence, she tells Jesus that he has no authority over a person who has been dead for four days (11:39).

17. How would you characterize Jesus' attitude when he addresses God in prayer?

Facilitator - He addresses his Father with reverence, lifting up his eyes (11:41). Only in addressing his Father does he show an attitude of dependence (11:41-42). Jesus expresses his gratitude and absolute trust in the relationship that exists between himself and the Father.

18. Do the people around the tomb understand the relationship of the Father and Jesus?

Facilitator - The disciples, Martha, "the Jews" and even Mary have much to learn about the oneness of Jesus with the Father. Hence, Jesus prays aloud to proclaim to this group gathered at Lazarus' tomb that the actions to take place here come from Jesus oneness with the Father. His actions indicate that he is the One sent by the Father. Jesus then performs a deed that will give credence to the glory of God and set in motion a process in which he will himself be glorified. "Lazarus, come out" (11:43).

19. What is the significance of the action that follows?

Facilitator - The action takes place so that the people around the tomb will finally come to believe that Jesus is the Sent One of God and that he has total authority over the dead man.

20. Why is so much detail devoted to the description of the clothes of death (11:44)?

Facilitator - This is a foretaste of the story to come of another tomb and another set of grave clothes (20:5-7).

21. Is the main point of the story, the transformation of the dead body of Lazarus to the risen Lazarus?

Facilitator - The main point of the story is the revelation of the doxa tou theou so that the disciples, Martha, Mary and "the Jews" might believe that Jesus was the Son of the Father, the Sent One of God (11:42).

Reading - Ask someone to read John 11:45-54.

22. Why do "the Jews", who are non-believers, seek to put Jesus to death?

Facilitator - At a first level of understanding some of "the Jews," who do not believe in Jesus, report to the leaders of "the Jews" only the deeds of Jesus while saying nothing of his self-revelation as the resurrection and the life (11:46). The chief priests and Pharisees are faced with a rabble-rouser who might destabilize their established authority, and therefore, gather a council (11:47). Their concern is that the popular, messianic, miracle-working figures could wreck havoc with the delicate balance of power between Rome and the local religions and political authorities.

23. What role does the high priest, Caiaphas, play in "the Jews" resolve to put Jesus to death?

Facilitator - Caiaphas, the high priest in the year Jesus was crucified, accuses his fellow leaders of being short-sighted (11:49). He points out the recent tradition that a good person might lay down his/her life for the nation and effect God's blessing on all (11:50). An example had been the Maccabean martyrs, an ideal which was strong in first-century Israel. It is ironical that Caiaphas speaks of getting rid of Jesus, a trouble maker in their eyes, so that it might profit the nation. Even though he did not realize it, Caiaphas correctly prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation (11:51).

24. Where does Jesus go and with whom does he associate?

Facilitator - Now that "the Jews" have decided to seek his death, Jesus goes to Ephraim, a village close to the edge of the wilderness in the company of his disciples (11:54). Jesus' stay there will be brief before moving on to the events of his final hour. These events will result in his glorification, a demonstration that he is the resurrection and the life, and that his deeds show forth the glory of God. The purpose is that all witnesses will come to believe he is the Sent One of the Father (11:42). His death will truly be for both the nation and to gather into one God's scattered children (11:51-52).

25. Would you like to raise further points for discussion before we close?

Prayer - "Pry Me Off Dead Center" (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, 96-97)

For Session 9 - Read John 13-17, especially Foot Washing & Paraclete

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