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Powerful Hope When There Seems to be No Response From God

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Text:  John 11:1-46


            One of our biggest challenges in our Christian walk is to persevere through the tough times, especially when we have asked God for help and it seemingly goes unanswered.  There’s more than one doubting Thomas who refuse feed their faith any hope until there is a convincing answer from God.  Are you one?  If so, that’s all right.  Jesus did not kick Thomas out of the group for disbelieving.  But He did wait until the answer to his prayer would be so demonstrative that the timing of it would make Thomas a solid believer.  And indeed it happened for Thomas.  His belief was so strong that after the Apostles were scattered, he preached the Gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.

            Our text abounds with encouragement for times when we are more like Thomas than Peter…even in the face of death and we shoot up an urgent plea for the Master to come help.  We may, too, experience a long pause from Heaven, like Mary and Martha, only to find our hopes shipwrecked on the shores death.  For all the Marys, Marthas and Thomases, Jesus delays His coming or answer to prayer to teach us beyond any shadow of doubt that He is the Master of resurrecting dead hope…He’s even the Lord of the resurrection!!  Read Text.

            With chapter 11, we enter the countdown of the final days of Jesus.  Starting with this chapter we are within the final two weeks of Jesus’ life.  Nothing could be more intense nor more intentional than what Jesus did and experienced in these final days.  Let’s view these final chapters with the same intensity.

1.      Look back into the last few verses of the previous chapter and tell me the tone of popular feeling towards Jesus at this point of His life?  (10:31,39,42 – Many wanted to stone Him; others believed in Him.  The gray zone is narrowing – those riding the fence are now choosing sides.  Either their believed or they now want to get rid of Him.)
Insight: In the previous chapter Jesus promised that all who hear His voice and follow Him, He would give them eternal life and they will never perish.  In order to emphasize this truth, John records an incident on the eve of the Passion Week that the other Gospels are silent about.  Lazarus hears His Master’s voice and life is given to him who was once dead for four days!

2.      According to Matt. 11:2-5, what was one of the signs of the coming Messiah that relates to tonight’s study?  (Raise the dead.)     Did Jesus raise others from the dead besides Lazarus?  (Yes, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son at Nain.)     What makes Lazarus’ resurrection more significant than the previous ones?  (Doubters might say that they were not dead, but asleep, and thus the claim to resurrecting them to be false.  But that can’t be said of Lazarus because he was dead 4 days and his body was already decomposing – an unmistakable sign of the Messiah.)

3.      John clarifies which Mary it is in this story.  What do you know of her?  (Had a shady past.)  Lk. 7:37-39     How do you think her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus, became believers?  (Through Mary’s influence.)
Insight: Don’t let your dark past hold you back from speaking to others about Christ.  There may be some in Heaven because of your influence.  Don’t let shame of your past silence your witness.  Notice Jesus didn’t hold it against them either…John records Jesus loved them.  Jn. 10:3, 5

4.      Why do you think Jesus delayed His journey to Bethany another two days after hearing that Lazarus was deathly sick?  (Because Jesus wanted to unmistakably prove that that He is the resurrection and the life. V. 25)     What does Jesus say is the purpose of His delay?  (11:4)
Insight: Painful delays in answer to prayers have troubled many a child of God.  Don’t let God’s inactivity cause you to question His love.  Resurrecting Lazarus from the dead would create more joy in their hearts and strengthen their faith far more than a simple healing of a sickness.  When God chooses to delay…He intends to bless you indeed!

5.      When Jesus later decides it’s time to return to Judea, His disciples try to dissuade Him because that’s the very place where they tried to stone Him.  How could you rephrase Jesus’ response in 11:9-10?  (His hour is not yet come; therefore He can travel safely as a man walking in the sunlight.)     Jesus purposefully goes anyway for two reasons.  What are they? (To prove He is the Resurrection & the Life; and to teach them a needed lesson in trusting Him before leaving them very soon.)

6.      Why did Jesus say He was glad He was not there when Lazarus was deathly sick?  (V.15 If He was present, He would have acted at once, but the lesson He wanted to teach wouldn’t have hit them so forcibly as his resurrection would.)

7.      How would you describe Thomas’ reaction when hearing that Jesus is going back to Bethany in spite of the threat that waits them there?  (Thomas wrongly concluded Jesus was going back to Bethany out of fear of pending death.  Yet it shows the depth of his commitment in that he would rather die with Jesus than live without Him.)     How far is Bethany from Jerusalem, the real center of the threat?  (2 miles; 11:18)

8.      What do you hear in Martha’s voice in verse 21?  (Perhaps some anger, disappointment.)     But what does verse 22 reveal?  (She is confident His Father would grant Him whatever He asks; she had total faith in Him.)

9.      Jesus reassures Martha that Lazarus will rise again.  How does Martha’s response reveal her faith?  (Her faith is fixed on a day way out in the future.  Her faith was limiting Him from raising her brother in the present.)
Insight: Don’t let your weak faith limit what God wants to do for you today.  He may have something in mind for you that goes far beyond what you think He would do on your behalf.  Eph. 3:14-21
Do you think times of grief dim our eyes of the prospect of what lies within our grasp through Jesus?

10.  With Martha’s faith a little escue, Jesus reorients her faith to the right direction.  How so?  (v. 25-26)     Is not her response what we call the great confession?

11.  Now that her faith is reoriented in the right direction, Jesus asks her to send her sister out (v. 28).  What does Mary’s statement in verse 32 tell you must have been the conversation in the house prior to Jesus’ arrival?  (All of them must have been saying the same thing, for it repeats what Martha said.)

12.  Describe the emotion Jesus felt when Mary and the others arrived?  (V.33 - He groaned in His spirit; the Gk. wording suggests “unusually intense.”  Our Savior is intensely compassionate even if our faith is weak and our vision limited.)  Jn. 11:35-36, 38     Why weep when you know before hand that you were going to raise Lazarus from the dead when you get there?  Job 30:25; Isa. 63:9
if Jesus delays His answers to our prayers, it’s not because He’s unconcerned.  He shares our suffering.  He weeps both with and for us.  He was destined to weep in agony in Gethsemane before moving on to Calvary where the sting of death would be forever destroyed.  What a tender, compassionate Savior!

13.  Jesus commands Mary to remove the stone.  Mary hesitates because she knows the stench will be strong because of the decomposition.  Jesus’ words in verse 40 are strong.  How so?  (Mary had to respond to Jesus’ command before the miracle was performed.  He waited till she had faith in Him that He could do the impossible before acting.  Sometimes we limit God by only what we can believe He can do.)

14.  What was the purpose behind Jesus praying out loud in verses 41-42?  (To let us know that God always hears His prayers, but also so that those hearing may believe that God sent Him as the Messiah.)

15.  Jesus cried out with a loud voice for Lazarus to come out of the tomb.  Can anyone, any power, any demon refuse to obey the command of the Son of God?  Matt. 8:29-32; Mk. 9:25-29; Rev. 2:16; Rev. 19:13-15


            Lazarus awkwardly walks out of the tomb.  Jaws drop.  Screams of delight piece the air.  Celebration like you wouldn’t believe erupts.  Shaky faith is solidified.  Many of the guests who were there for the funeral now believe.  Their belief infuses a new spiritual life that will persist way beyond the final disease that will destroy the physical body.  The greatest miracle of Jesus was not raising Lazarus from the dead…for Lazarus would die again.  The greatest miracle is in Jesus’ power to give endless spiritual life to all that will believe! 

            Eleven chapters have been written to try to convince you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Are you a believer yet?  Nine more chapters follow for those who are like the ones spoken of in verse 46:  “But some of them went away…to tell the Pharisees about Jesus.”  The line is being clearly drawn.  Soon you will have to side with Him or vote to crucify Him.  What does He have to offer that is more valuable than escaping persecution and possible death?  Faith…hope…love…forgiveness…purpose…eternal life!  Are you a verse 45 person?  Or a verse 46 person?

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