Great Expectations. Greater Disappointment.

John 11

“There was a man named Lazarus who was sick. He lived in the town of Bethany, where Mary and her sister Martha lived. Mary is the woman who later put perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. Mary’s brother was Lazarus, the man who was now sick. So Mary and Martha sent someone to tell Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:1-3 ICB

We live in a world today in which we can get news to someone instantly.  We can pick up the phone and call.  We can text. We can even get the same information out to multiple people all at the same time by creating a group text or email.  We use these tools often when there is an immediate need or it’s important to get information to a person quickly.  We often use these forms of communication to ask for prayer because we encounter an event that calls for people to intervene in prayer on our behalf.  Our purpose in getting the word out is so that people will take action.  We hope that people will stop and pray for the situation.  There may be times in which we expect someone to do something to make the situation better when we let them know what’s happening.

This was Mary and Martha’s expectation when their brother Lazarus became ill. They send someone to inform Jesus that their brother is sick.  This wasn’t an information-only message; this was a request for Jesus to do something about it.  No matter the translation you read, Lazarus is described to Jesus as “the one you love”, “he whom you hold dear”, or “your dear friend”.  Mary and Martha, together, sent a message to Jesus about their brother’s health, but they were intentional about reminding Jesus how much Lazarus meant to Him. 

We tend to do this ourselves when praying for others.  We often “remind” God that He loves and cares for the person for whom we are praying.  That’s not really for God’s benefit; it’s for ours.  Like Mary and Martha, we often reiterate the fact that God loves someone when we are praying for them because it reinforces the fact to us that God cares for them.

Mary and Martha don’t request anything from Jesus, but I do think it’s implied that they expected Him to do something to fix it when He heard about it.  After all, they were great friends of Jesus.  They all cared for one another and loved one another.  It was reasonable that they would reach out to Him at a moment like this.  We’ve all been in that situation before when someone we love is either very sick or injured, we reach out to those we know will care and become invested.

John 11:4 ICB “When Jesus heard this he said, “This sickness will not end in death. It is for the glory of God. This has happened to bring glory to the Son of God.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. But when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.”

Jesus doesn’t seem to be surprised by the news.  Instead, He declares that the sickness would not end in death, but rather, had the purpose of bringing glory to the Son of God.

And then He stayed right where He was for two more days.

It is believed that Jesus was about 20 to 40 miles away from Bethany, where Lazarus lived when He got the news.  If He had left right away, it still would have been at least two days’ worth of travel to get to Lazarus.[i]  But Jesus remained where He was. 

Meanwhile, Mary and Martha are taking care of their dear brother and looking out the window.  Their anxiety and concern grow as Lazarus gets worse and there is no sign of Jesus coming down the path.  Maybe the messenger they sent returns and they look for Jesus rushing in behind him.  But the messenger is all alone.  Perhaps they ran out to the messenger asking questions. “Did you find Him?” “Did you tell Him?” “What did He say?”  “Is He on His way?”  The messenger may have assured them that he had found Jesus and relayed the message and may have repeated what Jesus had said. “This sickness will not end in death.” 

There are several occurrences of Jesus healing people without physically being right there with them.  The Centurion’s servant was one.  The Nobleman’s son.  Both received healing from Jesus without Him coming to them.  Maybe Martha and Mary expected the same. After all, Jesus had said the sickness would not end in death.

Hope would have been restored.  Even as Lazarus grew weaker and frailer, as his breathing became more shallow and infrequent, his two sisters would have found reassurance in Jesus’ declaration that the sickness wouldn’t end in death.

But then it does. Their brother, the one Jesus loved, is dead.

Distraught and confused, Mary and Martha have their brother buried. There was nothing left to do.  Once full of hope that Jesus would heal their brother, now the waiting was over, and Jesus had not done what they assumed He would do.

To say that Mary and Martha were disappointed is a bit of an understatement.  They were devastated. 

Have you ever had your heart set on something that wasn’t meant to be?

Truthfully, all of us have our stories of disappointments.  Little disappointments to big disappointments to huge disappointments.  Our disappointments can come from circumstances, people, and yes, even God at times.  Disappointment occurs when expectations aren’t met.

Mary and Martha expected Jesus to heal their brother.  They expected when He said that the sickness wouldn’t end in death that Lazarus wouldn’t die. Their expectations were met with disappointment when Lazarus breathed his last breath.

“Traditions affirmed that after a person breathed the last breath, the eyes were shut and closed (Gen 46:4). The law required that burial of the dead occurred the same day, before sundown (Lev 10:4; Deut 21:23). This was done partially for sanitary considerations, and also for a fear of defilement (Num 19:11-14). Custom dictated the dead were clothed in burial, often in their favorite every day clothing (Ezk 32:27; 1 Sam 28:14). A time of mourning for family and close friends would occur following the death, often at the family home (John 11:17-20)”.[ii]

Can you imagine the disappointment Mary and Martha were experiencing? They sent word to Jesus, their personal friend, the One in whom they had faith, trusted, and believed.  But still, the worst-case scenario happened.  Disappointment was probably just one of the emotions they were feeling.  Besides the sadness of losing their brother, I could see them being angry and hurt.  Maybe even confused by the lack of response from Jesus. 

Maybe you’ve experienced that as well.  I have.  There have been periods in my life in which I have kneeled in prayer for so long that it bruised my knees. I would cry out to God proclaiming His greatness and thanking Him for the promises He gave to me in His Word.  While outsiders tried to prepare me for a worst-case scenario, I defiantly defended God’s sovereignty and His love for me.  Only to experience huge and devastating disappointment.  My dreams and my hopes were placed in a tomb and sealed with a boulder. But, just like Mary and Martha, I didn’t know what was about to happen. I didn’t realize that the story wasn’t over.

John 11:11 ESV “After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas makes this statement because Jesus had been threatened in Judea.  Going back there was risky, but Thomas is voicing his solidarity with Jesus and his willingness to die alongside Him if necessary.

John 11:17 ESV “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.”

That little detail is important because there was a common belief among Jews that “a deceased person’s spirit remains around the body for up to three days after death before departing. It was well-known in Israel 2,000 years ago that someone deceased could come back to life during this 3-day period but not afterwards.”  “On the fourth day, the spirit left the body and went to Sheol or Hades, and there was no hope for life without a miracle. Also, by the fourth day in Israel’s hot climate, advanced decay would be destroying the body and the stench would have been overwhelming. When Jesus called Lazarus to life from the dead and healed his rotted corpse, the people knew that He was the true Messiah, performing genuine miracles as the prophets had foretold!”[iii]

John 11:20 GW “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. Mary stayed at home.”

Unfortunately, we aren’t told any more than that.  We don’t know if Martha told Mary she was going or if she asked Mary to join her.  We don’t know if Mary refused to go or if the two of them agreed that Martha should go, and Mary should remain with the people who had come to mourn with them.  But their different responses to Jesus’ approaching fall in line with how their personalities come across in Luke 10.  Martha was the “fixer”, the one in perpetual motion to get things done while Mary chose to be still at the feet of Jesus.  One commentator had this to say:

“Martha was a woman of impulse, energy, practical duty; like Peter, she was ready even to give advice to her Lord, and eager to put everybody in his rightful place. On the first opportunity she hastened at once to “meet” Jesus, even without at first warning her sister of his approach. Mary, contemplative, pensive, undemonstrative under ordinary circumstances, but with a great fund of love, was sitting in the house receiving the condolences of the Jews (cf. ver. 19).”[iv]

You can sort of envision Martha approaching Jesus.  She was possibly walking briskly, if not running. Arms swinging wildly at her side. A look of mixed anger and frustration. Not breaking eye contact with Jesus.  And before she gets to Him, she speaks.

John 11:21 ISV “Martha told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, he will give it to you.”

Those two sentences, though few in words say a lot.  Martha is upset at Jesus.  She feels neglected, betrayed, and disappointed that Jesus didn’t come before now.  But even in that first sentence, she expresses her belief in the power and authority of Jesus knowing that had He been there, the outcome would have been different. Her faith in Jesus and God remains solid because she speaks of still having hope despite what seems to be reality.  She’s hoping for a miracle and she’s voicing her belief that Jesus can deliver.  She never directly asks Jesus to bring Lazarus back.  She simply states the situation and expresses her trust in Him to do what He deems best.

John 11:23 ISV “Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha told him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

You can detect the disappointment in Martha’s response.  And if you’ve had someone that was close to you pass away, you can identify with her feelings.  There’s a raw mixture of emptiness from them no longer being there with an assurance that they are eternally with Jesus if they were saved. It’s a conflicting emotion to miss someone that you wouldn’t choose to bring back because you know where they are is far much better than we could ever imagine.

John 11:25 ISV “25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The person who believes in me, even though he dies, will live. 26 Indeed, everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.”

Martha identifies Jesus as four things.  Lord.  Messiah.  Son of God.  The One who was to come into the world.  Although she’s disappointed in what’s taken place, she still acknowledges the authority and power, as well as the identity of Jesus. 

There are many people who find themselves disappointed with outcomes in life.  Things don’t turn out the way they were expected.  Even though they called out to God and placed their trust in Him to fix it, to make things better, and perform a miracle, it doesn’t happen.  As a result, their anger, bitterness, and disappointment act like acid and dissolve their faith and trust in Him.

When we feel God has disappointed us, it’s our choice as to how we respond.  We can either become angry and distance ourselves from Him or we can do as Martha and trust Him. I believe the key to a healthy relationship is honesty and if we can’t be honest with God about how we feel, then it’s not much of a relationship, is it? God already knows. If you feel as if He’s let you down, He knows that. If you are disappointed in how things turned out and you blame Him, He knows that too. Going to Him and voicing our frustrations, our hurts, and our disappointments permit us to get it off of our chest and allow Him to align our expectations with His purposes.

John 11:28 NKJV “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”

32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

Verse 33 is endearing.  Jesus is troubled by their weeping.  His heart is touched. The humanness of Jesus is real here. The original Greek word used for weeping was “klaiousan” which means to mourn or wail aloud.[v]

John 11:35 NKJV “35 Jesus wept.”  The original Greek word used here in describing the reaction of Jesus is “Edakrysen” which means to cry silently or to shed tears.[vi] While others were wailing and very demonstrative of their emotional state, Jesus silently cries. Even though He knows what’s about to occur, He is with them in that moment, feeling their pain and hurt.

John 11:36 NKJV “Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

They’ve been witnesses to His miracles in the past and have full belief that the death of Lazarus could have been prevented.  It had to have been a confusing moment for all of them because Jesus is demonstrating sorrow.  They see how much Jesus loved Lazarus and if He did love Lazarus that much, why did it have to end this way?  It’s a question we all have at some point in our lives.  We simply don’t understand.  Things happen and there seems to be no sense or purpose to it.  We can’t reason it out.  We can’t see God’s fingerprints.  We can only see the tragedy. Childhood cancer. Teenage suicides. Miscarriages.

Jesus gets to the tomb, this cave that has a massive stone placed at the entrance. Lazarus most likely would have been placed in a family tomb. 

“In Jewish tradition, the body was laid in the tomb, wrapped in cloth and spices. After roughly a year, the family would return to the tomb. They collected the bones and placed them in an ossuary (a small funerary box). They would then place that box in the back of the tomb with other boxes of its kind. In this way, they made room for future generations of family to rest in the same space.”[vii]

So, Jesus, Mary, Martha, and the others would most likely have been at the tomb that contained not just Lazarus, but other family members as well.

John 11:39 ICB “ 39 Jesus said, “Move the stone away.”

Martha said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.” Martha was the sister of the dead man.

40 Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

It would seem that Jesus is referring to what His response was when He heard the news in verse 4.  “This sickness will not end in death. It is for the glory of God. This has happened to bring glory to the Son of God.” (John 11:4 ICB)  Although it wasn’t said directly to Martha in those exact words, there was an implication that something glorious would come out of all of this.  But if Martha is anything like me, she’s long forgotten those words.  All she knows is that things didn’t turn out the way she expected, and not necessarily in a good way. My favorite verse is Isaiah 41:10 NIV

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

However, there have been countless times in my life when those words and the promise behind them were buried beneath layers of fear, dismay, weakness, and helplessness. I failed to remember God’s words of assurance and instead, zeroed in on my current circumstances. Like Martha, I have to be reminded that everything God says is important and that all that He reveals is worth remembering.

John 11:41 ICB “41 So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me. But I said these things because of the people here around me. I want them to believe that you sent me.” 43 After Jesus said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Jesus says out loud that He spoke out loud to God so that those around Him would hear and believe.  He knew what they needed to hear and He knew what they needed to see.  Lazarus, come out!

Literally, every translation of the Bible that I researched included Lazarus’ name in this verse.  Do you think Jesus had to be specific so that all of the dead bodies in there didn’t come back to life?  What a sight that would have been!

But Lazarus does hear Jesus and despite being dead for four days, Lazarus emerges from the tomb.

John 11:44 ICB “44 The dead man came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with pieces of cloth, and he had a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.”

45 There were many Jews who had come to visit Mary. They saw what Jesus did. And many of them believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees. They told the Pharisees what Jesus had done.”

What happened that day at the tomb was unexpected.  It was a miracle.  But before that miracle could take place, expectations were met with disappointment. 

Romans 10:11 CEV “11  The Scriptures say no one who has faith will be disappointed, 12 no matter if that person is a Jew or a Gentile.”

“The disappointment has come – not because God desires to hurt you or make you miserable or to demoralize you or ruin your life or keep you from ever knowing happiness. He wants you to be perfect and complete in every aspect, lacking nothing. It’s not the easy times that make you more like Jesus, but the hard times.”

Kay Arthur

The key is to trust Him even when you’re disappointed and realize that God wants only the best for you. His best for you may not be what’s most comfortable, convenient, and desired but rather what is needed to grow you, mature your faith, and mold you into who you were created to be. “God never disappoints anyone who trusts in Him.” (Unknown)

[i] The Death of Lazarus | Learn The Bible |


[iii] Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 356). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software

[iv] John 11:20 Commentaries: Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. (

[v] John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (


[vii] 7 Funeral Rituals from Jesus’ Time that Still Exist Today – Funeral Basics

Published by Diane Simcox

Daily I am humbled at how God shows me that He is active and involved in my life. He is gracious enough to simplify every day things so that I have a better understanding of Who He is to me.

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