Next stop: Giza. When it comes to memorable tombs, these pyramids top the charts. We need to pause our globetrotting long enough to really appreciate such colossal monuments. Can you sense the weight of death’s finality? Long-held wealth and power are buried forever. John 11 revolves around a famous grave—one that would quickly be robbed by the Author of Life. Here we find Jesus’ last and best miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. One day his tomb is full, the next it’s empty. Let’s tiptoe near and look around.
Scripture writing: My favorite passage to copy out using The Message was verses 38-44:
Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within Him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!” Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.” They removed the stone. Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that You have listened to Me. I know You always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that You sent Me.” Then He shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
How could you immerse yourself in this story, arrive at the climactic moment, and not want to break out in song and dance? This is incredible stuff, friends! (Plus, I always have to giggle at sweet Martha’s utterly practical concern here.)
Studying: The best note I ran across in this chapter was from The Gospel Transformation Study Bible over verse 5:
Perhaps it was precisely because of Jesus’ great love for this family that He entrusted to them a very difficult story, a hard providence … The gospel is a story of God doing all things well, not all things easily. His name is Abba Father, but this does not mean that He leads His children in a life of complacent ease and comfort … God’s ways are not our ways. They are much better.
Oh, that first sentence gets me every time. Parenting a little one with a fatal chronic disease could, I think, qualify as a “very difficult story, a hard providence.” But that it might be birthed out of love for us? How kind of Christ to hand me such a concept (along with a hankie).
Another helpful resource for this chapter was Abby Hutto’s God for Us. I adore her idea that we serve a King who weeps and roars over His people. Discussing Christ’s emotions in verses 33-38, she writes:
The word that John used to describe Jesus’ response is a term that usually refers to an animal ‘snorting’ in anger … Jesus is our Champion—God’s answer to pain, death, sorrow, and brokenness. He snorted in anger and rage because He was going into battle once again. The ultimate expression of sin and death’s power over us incites His fury. He is angry for all that we have suffered, all that we have toiled under, all the pain that we have undergone in this life. This is not what He created us for, and He will not leave us in this place … As He approached Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus was like an angry bull, pawing at the ground and ready to face His enemy [death and Satan]. A battle was going down in Bethany, because our Champion had come to claim what was rightfully His. The Lion of Judah was ready to roar.
… But Jesus also wept differently because He grieved more deeply than anyone else who was present. Of all who mourned that day, Jesus alone knew how wrong death really is. He alone knew shalom—wholeness unspoiled by the pain of this world. He alone knew what we were meant to be, what sin and death have taken from us. And He alone knew what it would cost Him to bring an end to this war and to finally defeat the enemy. Jesus wept because He was moved by our plight, our struggle, our pain. His heart broke over what had become of us.
Far from ensuring He’s safely cut off from feeling the brokenness of others, Christ has intimately invested Himself in our struggles. This is not some emotionally distant, apathetic deity removed from our tears. Jesus’ genuine concern for His people runs deep: if we could fathom exactly how deep, we’d be rocked to the core.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry provides succinct insight about verse 7:
In the depths of affliction, let this therefore keep us out of the depths of despair, that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
The more desperate a situation becomes, the better positioned Christ is in the middle of it to look glorious. While He might not swoop in at the last minute and fix everything according to our wishes, we will find that He’s infinitely better than the tiny good that we were hoping for. Mary and Martha just wanted their brother back—they found the One who could crush death once and for all.
I also particularly appreciated D.A. Carson’s take on the reaction of Thomas in verse 16. When Jesus proposes the dangerous journey to Lazarus’ house, Thomas urges the reluctant disciples, “Let us also go, that we might die with Him.” Carson writes:
The church has come to think of [Thomas] as the doubter. The other New Testament books merely include his name in lists of apostles; John alone fleshes out the man. On this occasion Thomas reflects not doubt but raw devotion and courage, even though it was courage shot through with misunderstanding and incomprehension: misunderstanding, in that he had not grasped the assurance implicit in verses 9–10, and incomprehension, in that the death Jesus had to face as the Lamb of God could not possibly be shared by His disciples. Yet there is another sense in which Thomas, like others in this Gospel, spoke better than he knew: his words have become a clarion call to would-be disciples, after the resurrection, to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus.
A little vindication for Thomas is nice. We’ve been much too unfair to the poor guy.
Sermons: Mark Driscoll makes a simple statement that would have major impact in our lives, churches, and culture if we truly absorbed it:
It is not the worst thing to die. It’s the worst thing to die without Jesus.
So much of our social climate today revolves around fear, the end of which is death. But when we realize that Christ has defanged the monster, everything else falls into proper perspective, infusing us with peace, boldness, clarity, and an urgent desire to share the hope of rescue. We no longer need to consume ourselves with scraping and fighting like our lives depend on it.
My biggest takeaway from MacArthur was a comment on the whole “But, Lord, he stinks” scene:
Martha’s problem was that she fixed her eyes on the corpse rather than on the Christ.
Oh, yay, something else homegirl and I have in common. Isn’t it easy to forget the magnitude of Jesus when confronted with the obstacle right in front of us? Martha and I are both so blessed to have a Friend who reaches gently but firmly into our short-sighted hangups, drawing our eyes upward to Himself.
Journaling: Per usual, the Spirit lurked in the pages of my notebook. He prompted. He prodded. As we pondered Jesus’ command to take away the stone from Lazarus’ grave, I wondered:
What “stones” (behaviors, attitudes, speech patterns, etc.) have I used to block off painful places of decay in my life? Am I comfortable letting God use other people to roll those away and unwrap my stinky self?
Honestly, just gathering questions instead of dealing with them is one of my big stones. And no, no I’m not super comfortable with my freedom being a group project. But Lazarus didn’t bust himself out of that tomb; it took the power of God and the participation of community to help him shake loose of death.
Meditation: Reflecting on verse 40 (“Jesus looked at her and said, ‘Didn’t I tell you that if you will believe in Me, you will see God unveil His power?'”), it dawned on me that
If faith creates highways for the movement and activity of God, I need to dream bigger! For myself, my family, my church, my town, etc.
I don’t want to try to turn Jesus into some kind of genie, but I also don’t want to insult Him with small thinking. Keeping my heart open and eyes up will allow me to behold this good King doing His good work.
The dust is clearing a bit, so take any last-minute photos you want before we get back on the bus. As impressive as the pyramids are, they’re still full of dead men’s bones. Let’s keep that in mind while we drive away in search of chapter 12. So long, Giza!
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder is thickening up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 11 here.