We are now on week 17 of our walk through the book of John, where he is walking us in process towards his objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Last week in the process we came to Jesus’ declaration of being the Good Shepherd, and we processed confidence in relationship with Jesus. We opened the door to a complex question: What can Jesus do to help you be more confident in relationship with Him?
Jesus addressed us in John 10: We know what it is to be abandoned. The good shepherd will not abandon us no matter how bad it gets. We know what it is to be unknown. The good shepherd knows each of us in and out. We know what it is to not know. We can know the good shepherd's voice.
Today we come to John 11. This is the midpoint or the fold of the text. The remainder of the story will be sprinting towards Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Today we are going to hear the narrative and be challenged to process what is happening. But before we get to the text, I do want us to get to a shared starting point. We all know the weight of disappointment. Disappointment can be defined as unhappiness from the failure of something hoped for or expected to happen.
What are some common disappointments people experience in life?
What are some common disappointments you have experienced?
The list could include job loss, or not even getting a job. It might be losing a valued relationship. It could be hair loss, or your metabolism slowing down. It could be about money, or about not feeling prepared for life, or about time passing too quickly.
There are even some things that seem really good but are a bit disappointing after experiencing them: home ownership, or your college experience.
Disappointment can feel more difficult when it’s based on someone else not coming through for you.
Or if you’ve been the child of a parent who was disappointed, or a friend to someone who got upset at something you did, you might have heard this: “I am not mad at you; I am just disappointed in you?” (The yous in that sentence are awful!)
We are going to go right to the deep end of the pool in dialogue:
What are some common reasons people feel disappointed in God?
Are we even allowed to feel disappointed in God? Disappointment in God is real, but also complex.
Read Luke 24:13-33.
Notice verse 21: “We had hoped…” Here is a moment of disappointment.
While they were talking to Jesus face to face, to me, this looks like a moment of disappointment in God.
Yes, I see that their disappointment was from a lack of perspective or understanding, and that it did change. But that doesn’t change the reality that they felt disappointment. And as much as we might not like it, the reality is that we will all experience feeling disappointed at some point in life.
Here’s another aspect of this to process before we go into today’s text:
How do you think God responds to disappointment?
John 11 is a narrative that has so many things going on. But there are two themes that are like flashing lights that I want to challenge and encourage us to process: disappointment that comes through missing the big picture, and life freely given by one person so that life can be had by another. As I share the story, look for these themes.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. (John 11:1-57)
The first theme I mentioned--did you see and feel the different moments of disappointment? The disciples on going back to Jerusalem. Martha on Jesus being late. Mary on Jesus not being there. Martha when hearing that Jesus wanted to open the tomb. Religious leaders on seeing Jesus rise in popularity. And potentially the Romans, if Jesus is a causing a revolution they will take away the temple and the nation.
And just to clarify, the experience and disappointment of people was probably not wrong. It is natural to be disappointed in things in life. It’s normal to be disappointed after the death of a close friend or family member, and I would even say if there’s not some disappointment or pain or sadness or grief, you’re probably missing out on the process. But how can seeing the bigger picture influence or change our disappointment? And how can missing the bigger picture influence or change it?
How does not “getting it” impact the experience of disappointment?
And now the second theme I mentioned--did you see and feel the different moments where there is a picture of someone giving life for another? The religious leaders tried to take Jesus’ life last time they were in the vicinity of Jerusalem; now Jesus was going back to give life to His dead friend. Thomas embraced it and said he was willing to go die with Jesus as He gave life to their friend. Caiaphas is prophetic and in his address to the other religious leaders, he says it’s better for this one man to die for all the people than for all of the people to die.
Time for a theology shaping question. This is not a story about Jesus not letting anyone die. (The joke in our preparation was, the only thing worse than dying is dying twice!) Jesus is building this perspective that He will choose to die that so that we all can have life.
But that life is not never dying. It’s not about staying alive on earth forever or being spared from suffering during our time here. (If it was…. I have a lot of reasons to be pretty disappointed in God.)
No, there’s more to it.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
What are the challenges of believing that the death and resurrection of Jesus opens the door to the atonement of sins?
Let's end by bringing this all together.
It is important to remember John’s objective: that we would believe that Jesus is the messiah and that we would believe that there is life in relationship with Him. And it is important that we remember that John is not done here in chapter 11.
But, here at the fold of John, the Y in the road is opening. It is not just seeing that Jesus existed. It is not just seeing that Jesus did amazing things. It is seeing the true identity of Jesus and seeing His true intentions in the past, the now and the not yet. And not just knowing but actually finding life in Him.
If I am not processing and working towards greater understanding of God, am I not guarenting a lot of now and not yet disappointment in God?
So a final dialogue moment today… This is not a nice clean bow on the package kind of question. This is a process question.
What is the outcome of believing Jesus came to fix everything?
What is the outcome of believing that Jesus came so that we may have relationship with God?
Talk about the differences.
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 11:45-57.
- If you were programming a self driving car, what instructions do you insert when it comes to avoiding the crowd or avoiding the child? Why?
- What would you have done if you had been on the Sanhedrin? Why?
- In what ways are you most likely to misunderstand who Jesus is?
- How are you challenged, focused, confused or encouraged by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Exodus 36
- Exodus 37
- Exodus 38
- John 19
- John 20
- John 21