Today we will examine 3 interactions that Jesus had once he arrived in Bethany in John 11:17-37.

Bethany was a town named "house of poverty." From contextual clues, we can guess that Lazarus's household was probably one of the more wealthy in their community.

Jesus arrived 4 days after Lazarus' death. His body had already been prepared and buried. This usually happened within a day during this time period because of the rate of the body's decay. Typical Jewish mourning at this time was conducted for a full week, 12 hours a day of wailing and crying in rhythms, done by the family and community. Professional mourners were often hired to help express the grief. This shows a deep respect for the deceased.

Interaction with Martha

Martha shows some spiritual maturity has taken place in her since the events of Luke 10. Her statement that “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." can be read not as an anxious statement but simply as a fact. She demonstrates she has grown in her personal eschatology and Christology. She is trusting Christ to do what is best; she knows his prayer life is effective; and she expresses the hope of the resurrection.

Jesus ministers personally and compassionately to Martha in her time of grief. Jesus is never late; He is always just in time. Jesus makes a profound statement about himself to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life." All life came from Jesus, and He imparts eternal life which remains even when physical life is gone. Jesus gives Martha an opportunity to rehearse who He is.

Interaction with Mary

John gives a shorter description of Jesus' interaction with Mary. She probably had already affirmed her belief in Him as the Christ. The presence of many people in their home shows that Mary was a relational force in their community; she knew how to love.

Unlike the unbelieving Jews, neither Mary nor Martha sought to blame Jesus for the death of their brother.

Interaction with Unbelieving Jews

The unbelieving Jews present in this scene were ready to blame Jesus for Lazarus's death (verse 37). Yet He still showed patience and mercy.

The onlookers also noticed the depth of Jesus' relationship with Lazarus (verse 36). This was evidenced by Jesus' expressions of deep grief. The words translated "deeply moved" in verse 33 were also used to describe a snorting animal; Jesus was indignant and even angry at the effects of sin on His friends and at the continued unbelief of the crowd. The word for "wept" in verse 35 means an outburst of tears. No one can feel pain like Jesus. We can entrust our pain to Him.

Application Points

  • Jewish mourning showed a deep respect for the deceased. Does our culture try to deny death? How? What kind of a response to death would show respect and Christian hope simultaneously?
  • Jesus' interaction with Martha can show us that mature people do grieve, and deeply. Grief is a gift from God, as is His presence with us in our grief. He gives us opportunity to rehearse who He is.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • 1 Peter 4:19, Daniel 12:2, etc., Job 18 – passages that could inform Martha's personal theology
  • John 1:3-4, John 10:10, Colossians 1:15-16 – Jesus is the Life.
Quotes to Ponder

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves