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Lesson 6: Miracles

Death is an ending. Yes, as waking is an end to sleep.

– Kwai Chang Caine

Devotion: Read John 11:1-54. The raising of Lazarus is the last of the seven signs glorifying God which Jesus performs in this gospel (11:4, 47). Besides demonstrating Jesus’ power once again, this sign acts as a wedge, dividing the community into followers and enemies. Lazarus becomes a powerful witness, drawing people to Jesus (12:9-11). However, the miracle also becomes the final straw for the religious leaders whose growing opposition now leads them to plan his death. As with all his miracles, the raising of Lazarus provides Jesus an opportunity to teach: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (11:25-26). This is Jesus’ same “reign of God” message, seen from a new perspective. When we know God is fully present with us here and now, just as in our future resurrection, then our eternal life has already begun. From this perspective, death is a doorway, another step on the journey, not an ending. Death is always a bittersweet experience for Christians because we grieve the loss of communication, however temporary, with loved ones, even while we celebrate they are joined with God in a more intimate way. How has your view of death changed over the years?

Personal Worship Option: Reread John 11:25-26. How do you currently answer Jesus’ question? What do you believe about Jesus? What is your attitude toward your own death? Spend time praying that you will be able to live as someone who is ready to die.

Dig A Little Deeper:

11:1 Bethany is a town two miles southeast of Jerusalem (11:18). Jesus and the disciples have crossed the Jordan (10:40).

11:2 John refers to the story found in 12:3, assuming his readers are already familiar with it.

11:3 Some Christians believe this description of Lazarus identifies him as the disciple referenced in 13:23 and 20:2. However, the majority believe those passages refer to the writer John.

11:4 If compassion is Jesus’ motive for raising Lazarus, he would leave immediately for Bethany. His motive is to glorify God. This suggests the goal for his own resurrection: glorification of God.

11:8 The disciples have reason to fear. The religious leaders tried to arrest Jesus earlier (10:39).

11:9 Compare Jesus’ words to Luke 22:53 and John 9:4, 12:35. How can we know if we are walking according to the light of God or stumbling in darkness?

11:12 Jesus refers to death using a metaphor. His disciples believe he is speaking literally. This is reminiscent of Nicodemus (3:4) and the Samaritan woman at the well (4:11).  

11:16 Thomas appears in lists of the disciples in the synoptic gospels. This is the first time we meet him in John. Although labeled “doubting Thomas” by many, he appears brave here. He is courageous, but the disciples do not appear to trust Jesus can survive.

11:17 The miraculous nature of this sign is heightened by Lazarus being in the tomb for four days. A popular belief at the time is that a soul stays in the vicinity of its former body for three days, meaning you can still communicate with the departed by speaking aloud. After three days, the soul leaves and communication is cut off. Jesus not only has power over the recently deceased, but death itself. 

11:20 How does Luke’s descriptions of the two sisters (Lk 10:38-42) play out in this passage?

11:35 Why is Jesus weeping? For whom is his compassion stirred?

11:42 Jesus speaks aloud for the sake of the crowd. He wants their focus to be on God’s power at work through him rather than on the miraculous power itself.

11:44 The church has always seen Jesus’ words about releasing Lazarus from bondage to the grave cloths as a symbol of forgiveness. What binds you? What would it mean for you to be made free? What will you do with that freedom if it is granted? How we answer that last question matters. If what we desire is to return to our previous life (which led to the need for forgiveness) without changing how we live, then why would God bother to forgive us? 

11:45 The miracle forces people to decide not only what they believe about Jesus, but how they will respond. Some believe he is performing signs but still refuse to follow. Miracles point to a deeper meaning, but they do not force change on anyone.

11:48 The Sanhedrin bases their response to Jesus on political expediency rather than faith in God. They fear the political unrest which will result from people naming Jesus as Messiah. Rome has shown no hesitation in destroying nations whose people revolt under a challenger to Caesar.

11:49 Caiaphas cynically suggests Jesus’ death is preferable to Rome destroying all the nation. The early church celebrates that he unwittingly speaks of Jesus’ death as an atonement for the people.

11:51 John gives a clear statement of how the early church views Jesus’ death as a gathering and unity of all God’s children. Jesus’ death draws all people together (12:32).

11:54 Ephraim is assumed to be the modern city of et-Taiyibeh, four miles northeast of Bethel. The plot to kill Jesus will soon lead Jesus to his passion week.

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