John 11:17-20 - Grief in the Kingdom of God

Over the past two weeks, we have seen how John 11:1-16 provide profound insight into both Love in the Kingdom of God and Death in the Kingdom of God.
• In each case, Jesus challenged the worldly view of love and the Jewish view of death.
• Today, we see one more way that Jesus challenges us.
• This time He is challenging us to trust Him during our grief.


John 11:17–20 (ESV) — 17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

John tells us that when Jesus finally arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days.
• Many suggest that this observation is meant to highlight the fact that Lazarus was dead as dead can be.
• And in light of verse John 11:4, in which Jesus says Lazarus’ death, “is so that the Son of God may be glorified through it”, it also reminds us again just how radical love in the Kingdom is.
• God’s desire to glorify Jesus had put Lazarus’ family through 4 days of mourning.

In verses 18 & 19, we also get a glimpse of why the disciples expressed concern over Jesus’ life.
• Bethany is only 2 miles from Jerusalem, the place where He was almost stoned just a few months prior.
• And “many of the Jews” had come from Jerusalem to mourn with Martha and Mary.
• Jews who no doubt would know who Jesus was.

Finally, John tells us something more significant that its one sentence seems to indicate.
• John 11:20 (ESV) — 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

How to mourn – Sit Shiva:
We know that Martha and Mary would have been sitting shiva after the burial of Lazarus.
• Sitting shiva is, “a traditional seven-day period of mourning the dead that is observed in Jewish homes” – Merriam-Webster.
• This is part of the Talmud’s prescription for 7 days of deep mourning – Kostenberger.
• In addition to mourning, the point of sitting shiva was to receive the “condolences of their friends” – Kostenberger.
• So given the expectations of sitting shiva, Martha should have stayed in the house with Mary – Kostenberger.
• However, John tells us that “she went and met him”.

Why is this significant?
• Most suggest that Martha’s breaking shiva and leaving the house is simply her personality.
• We know, for example, that Luke 10:38-42 portrays her as a busy body.
• However, we also know something else about her actions due to ANE cultural norms.
• "In the Middle East, village people show honor to an important guest by walking some distance out of town to greet the guest and escort him or her into the village” – Kenneth Bailey.
• In fact, the more important the guest, the farther they will travel to meet him.

To appreciate what Martha was doing here, think of it like this:
• Your loved one falls terribly ill; you know who can heal him; you send for the healer but he delays his coming; your loved one dies; he has been dead 4 days; you are in the middle of mourning; finally, the healer shows up.
What do you do?

Martha did the unexpected – showing great respect to Jesus, she went out to meet him.
• In the midst of her mourning and grief, Martha didn’t wait for Jesus to meet her sitting shiva.
• She broke shiva, and went out to meet Jesus, thereby honoring the very one who let Lazarus die.
• This is an amazing example for us on how to handle grief.
Is our trust in Christ such that we can honor Him in the midst of our pain and grief?
• In any view but the Christian worldview this makes little sense.
    o Honor the one who could have prevented the whole thing to begin with.
    o Love the one whose love for you manifested itself in the death of your brother.
What possible fruit can come from such a silly looking trust?

In this case, her trust in Christ results in a profound and necessary lesson on the Resurrection in the Kingdom of God.
• We will get into this next week and it is awesome.