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One of Robert McCheyne's sayings is still remembered in Collace (the scene of the early ministry of Dr. Andrew Bonar): 'Bethany was known in Scripture not so much as Bethany, but as the town of Mary and her sister Martha'. I wonder who in this place gives the name by which it is known in heaven? It will not be known there as Collace, but as the town of perhaps some bedridden believer up in the hills.
Reminiscences of Dr. Andrew Bonar, p. 8.
References. XI. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 182. XI. 1-4. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 1. XI. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1518. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 100. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 85. XI. 4. Ibid. p. 89.
The Loved Family
St. John never would have made this statement unless the love of Jesus had been most marked and well known. And there may be families upon the earth at this present moment of whom the same statement may be made. We all of us feel what an honour it would be if our own family were such an one And it is to be noticed that into that family circle Jesus entered, during the last few days of His earthly career, night after night It was His one place of rest. It was the only place where He received one iota of consolation.
I. Lazarus. In Bethany, Simon the leper lived, and he gave a feast a feast during such a week of sorrow. What made Simon's feast memorable was that Lazarus was present, and 'Mary anointed the feet of Jesus'. The guests must have looked at the man who had been dead and buried for four days, and they must have wondered. They must have gazed at him in awe. You will note how reticent the narrative is. A fabrication would have told us something of the unseen world into which for a time Lazarus had been ushered. Let me here say with emphasis that the very clearest evidence that can be given does not necessarily create faith. The resurrection of Lazarus was not denied it could not be denied there were too many witnesses to this astounding fact; yet, when the Pharisees heard of it they hated Jesus the more, and they planned His death.
II. Mary. From Lazarus let us turn to Mary. Mary seems to have been the only person upon the face of the earth with the least knowledge of the approaching death of Jesus. She, who loved to sit at His feet, learned more than Peter and John and James of the Apostles. And Mary's action was singular. She came beforehand to anoint His body for the burying. And so she poured the precious ointment over His feet and, stooping over, wiped them with her hair, as evidence, not only of service and love, but of faith. But Judas cared nothing for Mary's faith. Wicked men are rebuked for attempting to hinder in the slightest degree the zeal of those who love and serve our blessed Saviour. They can use their arguments against the followers of Jesus going to church, they can sneer at district visitors trying to afford some little consolation in the midst of sorrow, they can laugh at self-denial as shown on behalf of our missionary enterprise. It seems to me that there should come to them, if only they are students of that blessed book which is free and open to all, the peremptory words of our Master: 'Let her alone'.
III. Martha. Now let us turn to the personality of Martha. It was her habit to think of and to help others; it was her home characteristic, and the characteristic is here to be noted in the house of her neighbour, Simon the leper. She would do all in her power to give Jesus full honour at the feast. And Jesus loved her, just as He loved Mary and Lazarus. Her responsive love was service, while Mary's was contemplation and meditation at the feet of Jesus. Martha was like St. Paul: Mary resembled St. John.
References. XI. 5. W. H. Parsons, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 294. C. S. Home, Relationships of Life, p. 31. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays After Trinity, p. 299. Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 362. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 125. XI. 5, 6. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 74. XI. 5-7. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 17.
Therefore surely there is no more amazing illative conjunction in literature than this Therefore. He loved the two sisters, and therefore stayed away from them. They were in deep trouble and His presence might prevent the stroke from falling, 'If Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,' was the spontaneous cry of each of them (v. 21, 32), therefore He did not go! He had the intelligence, He knew their grief, He foresaw what was coming, He loved them, and therefore He withheld His help, remained away till the blow had come, and only went to find them bereaved and to mingle His tears with theirs.
Can it be a misprint this Therefore a mistranslation, a defect in the MS.? No; we turn to the Greek Testament, we examine the variants. There is no room for this explanation. Was the original writer careless or inexact? Ought he to have said: 'Now Jesus did not love Martha and Mary, and therefore He abode two days'? Or ought he to have used an adversative, instead of an illative conjunction? Might it not have been: 'Jesus loved Martha and Mary, and yet he abode two days'? Or, perhaps, better still, should it not read: 'He loved them, but was unable to come for two days'? Are we not to think that He was anxious to come at the earliest moment that He did come at the earliest moment, but obstacles and hindrances occurred? He was delayed and only arrived breathless at the last moment, to find He was too late? No, the calm narrative is before our eyes; the Therefore is imperturbable. We cannot, we may not, alter it; we must accept it.
But if it is there and is to be taken as the considered thought of the evangelist, who is laying bare for us the movement of Christ's mind, this unexpected and improbable Therefore may become the clue to our troubled life. I see a gleam of light, I begin to interpret things which have puzzled me by it. Because He loved Martha and Mary He stayed away and let their brother die. Because He loved them He led them through that sorrow, the sharp anguish of the death, the dull misery of the burial, the thought of the body decomposing in the tomb. This permission of sorrow and death and bereavement came from His love for them!
This may explain much Jesus is not only as a man to us, He is also as God. Here we light on the mystery which has almost daily puzzled us. He loved me, and therefore He let me stumble down the dark and broken way, not holding out to me a hand. He loved me, and therefore He let my powers decay, my light be quenched, my success halt, my life sink down broken and contemned. He loved me, and therefore He took from me the desire of my eyes, the one who was more than life to me. He loved me, and therefore He gave me long years of sickness and suffering, hopes which had no realisation, purposes which could never be fulfilled.
What, then, is the explanation of the Therefore? The ills we dread are good for us, the preliminaries and the occasions of the greater blessing. We had not known the Resurrection but for death, nor understood the rapture of restoration but for loss. This Therefore carries us to the explanation even of the ultimate and tormenting difficulty, the existence of evil, man's first disobedience, the struggle and the travail of human life. Why do we not admit that of this, and of all, we have the solution, if we read this paradoxical conjunction aright? He loved us, therefore He permitted all this to be.
Robert F. Horton, Christian World, 24th November, 1910.
References. XI. 6. J. G. James, British Congregationalist, 23rd August, 1906, p. 81. XI. 8-10. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 33.
The Number of the Hours
I want to use these words as a lamp to illumine some of the characteristics of the Lord. For they seem to me to irradiate first, the earnestness; second, the fearlessness; and third, the fretlessness of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
I. First, then, their light on the earnestness of Christ. What first arrests us, reading the life of Jesus, is not His strong intensity of purpose. It is only gradually, and as our study deepens, that we feel the push of that unswerving will. We slowly discern the pressure of a mighty purpose moving without a swerve towards its goal. For that whole-hearted zeal were many reasons which it does not fall to me to touch on here. But one was the certain knowledge of the Lord that there were only twelve hours in His day. It is always very wonderful to me that Christ thus felt the shortness of the time This child of eternity heard with quickened ear the muffled summons of the fleeting hours. Most men, as Professor Lecky says, are afraid to look time in the face.
II. In the next place, our text illuminates Christ's fearlessness, and that indeed is the textual meaning of it, for it was when the disciples were trying to alarm Him that Jesus silenced their suggestions so. It is always a source of buoyant strength when a man comes to see that his way is ordered. But remember, according to the Master's doctrine, our times are fixed as surely as our ways; and if we are here with a certain work to do, which in the purposes of God must be fulfilled, no harm can touch us, nor is there power in death, till it draws to sunset and to evening star. And just here we ought to bear in mind that the true measurement of life is not duration. We live in deeds, not breaths it is not time, it is intensity that is life's measurement.
III. Then lastly, our text illuminates Christ's fretlessness. For never was there a life of such untiring labour that breathed such a spirit of unruffled calm. Every day was thronged with incident or danger. Yet through it all, with all its stir and movement, there is a brooding calm upon the heart of Christ that is only comparable to a waveless sea asleep in the stillness of a summer evening. All that God calls us to, and all that love demands is fitted with perfect wisdom to the twelve hours. Therefore be restful; do not be nervous and fussy; leave a little leisure for smiling and for sleep.
G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 236.
Walking in the Light
In order to get the full force of these words the first great principle in them is this:
I. He who walks with God walks in the day.
II. He who walks in the light of God walks with unerring certainty of step.
III. He who walks in the light of God shall stand firm before all temptation.
IV. He who walks in the light of God shall be upheld in the midst of sorrows and dangers.
Reference. XI. 10. Bishop Welldon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 109.
'I have seen in more than one Christian heart,' says Fere Gratry, 'that gloomy and obstinate courage which accepts death. But it seems to me that this is not heroism in its highest beauty. It is the somewhat peevish heroism of the Apostle Thomas who cried out, when he heard that Lazarus was dead: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him". I prefer that radiant and Divine cheerfulness which says: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep."
References. XI. 11. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 428. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 198. J. C. M. Bellew, Christ in Life, Life in Christ, p. 180. XI. 11-15. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 49. XI. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 136. XI. 14, 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 585. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 297.
I. The first thing which stands out high and clear as a beacon of hope for all time is this, that one of Christ's friends was a doubter. If it had not been for this, we might have been carried away by the popular idea that doubt in itself is wicked, and that instead of bravely facing doubts, and laying the spectres of the mind, we were meant to stifle the free play of our reason, and, as people say, 'just believe'.
II. But to safeguard this, we must notice that Thomas, to use a phrase of Plato's, 'doubted well'. (1) He realised what was involved in his doubts: there was not a grain of affectation about him. Doubt does not lose Christ's friendship, but flippancy, conceit, and levity undoubtedly do. (2) Thomas doubted well because he was loyal, not only to Christ but to the Church. (3) He wants light. There is a way of seeking for truth which does not want to find it. 'What can be better than seeking for truth?' asked a Secularist lecturer. 'Why, finding it,' was the obvious retort; and we may all take whether we think so as the true test of good or bad doubt.
III. If the doubter doubts well, Christ is prepared to offer proofs. (1) There is nothing wrong with the documents which He puts into our hands they have been tested again and again, and subjected to the fiercest light, but they have come out more clearly today than ever. (2) But we are not dependent solely on the documents. What originated this extraordinary fact in history called the Christian Church? You may be certain that if the last that was seen of Christ was on the cross of Calvary, then it would have been the last that would have been seen of the Christian Church. (3) And so again with Sunday. How did a body of Jews, conservative beyond all things, change their holy day from Saturday to Sunday? There is no explanation, and there never has been any explanation, except that something happened on the Sunday, so extraordinary and so transcendent, as to throw every other day entirely into the shade. (4) And so again, what became of the Lord's body? Only two sets of people could have had it the disciples or the Jews. If the disciples had it, then they must have hidden it and proclaimed a lie, which every critic in the world declares to be impossible. If the Jews had it, why did they not produce it and confound the story of the disciples? If neither had it, what else can we think but that it was the same body, glorified and transfigured, which convinced even Thomas of its reality, and was seen by five hundred people in broad daylight on a mountain?
IV. But what has Thomas still to say, and what does he say today? (1) First and let religious people take note of it he says that 'Christians are so inconsistent; that this belief ought to mean so much and does mean so little; that Christians are just as uncharitable, just as apt to use sharp practice, just as hard at a bargain as other people'; and there is no doubt about it, that the greatest argument against Christianity is a bad Christian. (2) 'He can't be wrong whose life is in the right' Yes! but is his life in the right? and if it is, does he imagine he owes nothing to the great ideals and lofty standards produced in Europe by eighteen centuries of Christianity? (3) Lastly, 'a man is not responsible for his belief. But do you think that likely? Do you think it likely that the Great Sun should arise in the heavens, and man not have the power to see it. The soul has an eye like the body, only even more delicate and sensitive, and we are as responsible for seeing with the one as with the other.
Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christ and His Friends, p. 60.
St. Thomas the Apostle
This was the devoted resolution of St. Thomas directly our Lord had given the word to His little company to return into Judea, quite well knowing that the position in that district had become so bitter, that not only had His enemies threatened His life, but had even attempted to take it. But now His friend Lazarus had fallen sick and died, and there was something in that which showed Christ that it was His duty to return to Judea whatever the result. He knew He was doing nothing rash in returning to Judea amongst His enemies. The work presented itself for Him to do, it was a work of God, and it had to be done. He knew that the issue of this would be, in some most emphatic way, to the glory of God, but He was unable to communicate this to His disciples. To them it appeared impossible that it could end in anything but despair. These levelheaded men were beginning to count the cost of following Jesus Christ they had been realising how much it meant. There comes a cost greater than they expected they see failure and death reach first their Master, and then themselves. Their first thought seems to have been for their Master. But presently, perhaps when they saw Christ's resolve was made, their bearing showed signs of fear for themselves, and this makes Thomas revive their courage by saying, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him'.
I. A Lost Faith. It is not easy to mistake the meaning of these words. It meant that the faith of this disciple in Christ was dead at that moment. Something remained to him, something which he could not break away from, something which, for its own sake, was worth quietly and ingloriously going to meet death for it was the person of Jesus Christ, and in the wreck of His fondest hopes, in the overwhelming disappointment and shame at the failure of what had been full of the promise of success, this disciple of Jesus remained true. He was ready, therefore, to offer to Christ devotion and loyalty to their farthest limits even to the sacrifice of life, a sacrifice of life with no glory or grandeur attaching to it save an unseen and unknown glory.
II. Deliverance by Self-sacrifice. This hardly seems to be a counsel of despair. We have here a real example for all Christ's followers in days of darkness and difficulty. We are confused and disappointed, and a darkness looms around and ahead. It becomes more difficult to engage in prayer and worship, and the people who were so sure of God's Word, once such a world of comfort, once such a rich source of inspiration, find its voice sounds uncertain. Once so Divine in tone and teaching, it now becomes more and more obscure. At such times there is only one thought that can lead to the light again out of darkness. The real help is selfsacrifice. 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him.' Only when we are ready with set faces to go right into the heart of the struggle, only when we are ready to go on sacrificing more and more only then can we hope that to us will come the light, the power. With the spirit of self-sacrifice only let it be real the darkness will pass away.
References. XI. 16. W. E. Barton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 307. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 33. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 135. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 174. XI. 17. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 316. XI. 17-27. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 64. XI. 20. J. M. Neale, Sermons on some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 30. XI. 21-39. Expositor "(6th Series), vol. iv. p. 236. XI. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2249. XI. 24-26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1799.
A Story of the Catacombs
Henri Perreyve, in a letter written from Rome in 1856, tells of his visit to the Catacombs. M. de Rossi, superintendent of the excavations then being made in the subterranean vaults, called the attention of the party to a threefold inscription placed on the walls by some pilgrim of the fourth or fifth century, who had loved a woman named Sophronia. 'What was her relation to the poor pilgrim? His mother? his sister? his wife? his betrothed?... However it may have been, that unknown Christian went for the purpose of soothing his grief, or of praying for her whom he had lost, to visit the Catacombs of St. Calixtus. On reaching the first winding paths of the underground region, he stopped and wrote on the wall these words: Sophronia, vivas in pace [Sophronia, mayest thou live in peace], then he continued his pilgrimage. He reached further on the subterranean room where rest the bodies of twelve Popes. for which search had long been made, and which M. de Rossi recently discovered. Here he was constrained to pause once more, to kneel down and pray. Then, recalling the memory of that dear soul amidst the sacred names of the Popes of the third century... he wrote a second time with trembling hand the beloved name: Sophronia, vivas in Domino [Sophronia mayest thou live in the Lord]. He then resumed his walk and turned towards a neighbouring room in which archæology and piety have had the good fortune to discover the tomb of St. Cecilia. For the last time, the memory of his angel returned to him; but now, emboldened by hope, doubting no longer the efficacy of his prayer, and piercing with eye of faith and love into the secret place of heaven, he wrote firmly: Sophronia dulcis, semper vivis in Domino Sophronia semper in Domino [Dear Sophronia, thou livest for ever in the Lord for ever in the Lord].'
References. XI. 25. A. T. Pierson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 72. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 189. J. W. Boulding, Sermons, p. 251. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 56. J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 31. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 172. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 98. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 117. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 135.
Salvation by faith is the greatest of all Christian ethics; it is also the most novel and original. There can be no doubt that Christ put it in the forefront of all His teaching. Manifestly, the first question to be asked is: What is Belief, in the Christian sense of the term?
I. Belief, in the Christian sense of the term, is reliance upon the intuitions rather than upon the reason. With the heart man believes unto righteousness. Put to the test, we refuse to be governed wholly by our reason, and we refuse every day. A man who never thought or acted, save upon the full consent of his reason, would be a sorry creature, and his life a dismal spectacle. There is a logic of the heart which is stronger than the logic of the reason. No logic of the reason could justify George Eliot, who had repudiated Christianity as vigorously as Harriet Martineau, in reading Thomas a Kempis all her life, and having the immortal meditations of the old monk beside her bedside as she died; but the logic of the heart justified her, and we love her for submitting to it. It is not argument but intuition that makes the Christian believer. Faith is a venture, the venture of the soul, in opposition to the reason.
II. All belief in the Christian sense narrows itself down to belief in the spiritual nature of man, and of the universe. To Martha, Christ puts one question and submits but one article of faith: 'He that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live: believest thou this?' Believeth thou what? That Lazarus even now is something more than decaying dust in the charnel-house. It all hinges there is Lazarus, is man, only so much matter liable to disruption and dispersion, or is he spirit? There is but one real issue to be fought: it is between faith and unfaith, the material or the spiritual nature of man. Decide that, and all is decided. It is because Christ thus narrows belief to this single issue that He simplifies it too. The thing that saves a man is belief in his own soul. How far that belief may go, or what it may include, will vary; but the abiding and invariable factor of belief is this belief in man as a creature with a soul. But it will follow as a matter of course, that in believing large things we shall also be enabled to believe lesser things. Christ continually taught that knowledge comes through faith; we do not know in order to believe, but we believe in order that we may know.
W. J. Dawson, The Evangelistic Note, p. 273.
The Resurrection and the Life
These words were spoken by Jesus in the presence of death. Before we consider the practical lessons of our text, let us notice two general truths it clearly conveys. They are expressed in the first two words of the sublime declaration. 'I am,' said Jesus, 'the Resurrection and the Life.' 'I' Jesus emphatically gathered up into His own Person the blessing He was about to bestow. It was this investing by Jesus of His words with a personal character which gave to them a new meaning and force. In the declaration of Jesus there is no vagueness, no uncertainty. With all its simplicity, it is still the most comprehensive and far-reaching statement which man had yet received. For and this is the second truth to which I wish to refer Jesus does not hold out this risen life as a far-away promise of what is to come to men after death. Three very practical lessons we may learn from the truths we have been considering.
I. We are bid no longer to fear death. Left to himself, man cannot but dread the hour of dying. We cannot, indeed, expect it would be unnatural to do so that belief in Christ will at once take away all fear of death; but who does not feel that it casts over its terrors a new and soothing light? The dark valley still lies before us, but there is light upon the path.
II. We learn not to sorrow too much for departed friends. They are not dead, but gone before. The great truth of the Resurrection, Christ's living testimony to His words, tells us of the new life in which our loved ones already share. It is little, indeed, that we know of that life impossible for us to picture to ourselves the state or the occupations of those who have already entered upon it. Over the future God has cast a veil, which it is not for us in our curiosity to try to raise. Of this only we may be sure, that those who sought communion with Jesus upon earth are enjoying still higher communion now.
III. We have a solemn warning to prepare even now for the future that awaits us. There is no fact more certain than the fact of death: no law which more surely embraces all men within its scope than 'It is appointed unto men once to die' (Hebrews 9:27 ). And how we shall meet death when it comes, and what shall be in store for us hereafter, depend upon our lives and conduct now.
G. Milligan, The Divine Artist, p. 217.
References. XI. 25, 26. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 285. XI. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1568. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 61; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 284. XI. 26, 27. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 81. XI. 28. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 137. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1198. XI. 28-38. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 80. XI. 29. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching fora Year, vol. ii. p. 29. XI. 30-45. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 91. XI. 33. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 217. XI. 33-38. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 200.
Why Jesus Wept At the Grave of Lazarus
This is the shortest verse in the Bible, at all events in our English Version, and it is one of the most familiar and most affecting; but have you ever noticed what a problem it presents?
Why did Jesus weep? It is no wonder that Martha and Mary and the friends who had come to comfort them concerning their brother should weep as they stood beside his grave; but why should Jesus share their sorrow and mingle His tears with theirs? He knew what He had come thither to do. He had come to dry the tears of the mourners and fill their hearts with gladness by bringing their dear dead back to life. Why then should He weep, knowing what would presently come to pass?
I. Why did Jesus weep at the grave of Lazarus? Was it simply because His compassion was so quick and tender that He was touched even by unreasonable sorrow?
It may be so, but there is a deeper reason for those tears of Jesus.
He knew what the eternal world is and what glory lies behind the veil; and He did not weep because Lazarus was done with life and its gladness and sunshine; no, but because His friend had passed 'to where, beyond these voices there is peace,' and He must summon him back, must fetch the wanderer who had got home out once more into the weary wilderness. And His tears say to us: 'Oh, if you only knew the glory which lies behind the veil and which I know so well since I dwelt there from everlasting; if you only knew that radiant world of rest and peace and joy, you would never wish your dead back in this dark world of toil and tumult and sorrow; you would rejoice that they are at home with God.'
II. Our Lord asks us to make a double venture of faith in view of the dark and solemn mystery of Death and the Hereafter.
(1) He asks us, on the one hand, to trust in the Providence of God. You, poor mother, sitting here with your desolate heart and thinking of the fresh grave out in the cemetery and the empty crib at home, consider what might have been had your child remained with you. There are worse sorrows than death, and perhaps he has been taken away from the evil to come. It is all so dark to us, but God knows, and Jesus asks us to trust God and believe in the wisdom and goodness of His appointments.
(2) He asks us to accept His assurance that, if we be His, there awaits us, in the undiscovered country whither we are hastening, an undreamed-of glory, 'things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him'.
David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 81.
Jesus At the Grave
A strong man's tears are always sacred. They are symbolical of much, and the fountains from which they spring are hardly to be unearthed without profanity. Yet since this is recorded of the Son of man, we are surely at liberty to let our thoughts play around it and to gather from it what we may.
I. To begin with, then, shall we not say that Jesus wept here for pity of the frailty of man. Of course He does not stand alone in this feeling; all serious men share it with Him more or less, and the profoundest souls feel it deeply. The great literatures of the world are all shadowed by the sense of the shortness of man's life on earth, and the most moving poetry in particular vibrates to this deep undertone. And naturally, for the fact goes deep into human existence, and shapes and colours it all through.
II. Again, let us say that Jesus wept here for sympathy with the sorrow of man. For His was not the only heart that grieved for Lazarus's loss, nor even, in some respects, the heart that grieved most. The gift of tears is a greater one than we are apt to think. It is a merciful provision of the Maker whereby man may gain relief for a bursting heart. Sometimes by reason of joy, more commonly for grief, the man is beside himself, and does not regain his self-composure till his surcharged feeling has found vent in the grateful relief of tears. It is a human necessity this, a gentle accommodation to man's frailty, and the Saviour so human was He was not ashamed to yield to it.
III. Once more we can, I think, detect another source from which sprang the Saviour's tears. Tears start to the eyes of man for pity and for sorrow. True, and for anger also. And as He beheld the dolorous evidences of Death's grim power, we shall hardly go wrong if we say that Christ wept tears of indignation for the grievous wrong that had been done to man. We are not to suppose that death, as we know it, formed originally any natural and necessary stage in man's career. How it would have gone with him in this matter had he maintained his innocence, we, of course, do not know; yet that he would have been spared the kind of experience he now is subject to seems inevitable. Death entered into the world by sin. Jesus felt the deep wrongousness of the usurper's rule. The anarchy that had invaded human life stirred His soul to its lowest depths: the wrong under which man bled, and earth became a charnel-house, wrought Him to a Divine fury, the more deep because so calm; and the scalding tears that fell from Him measured the intensity of the internal protest He had lodged and the resolve He had taken that He would yet abolish death, and set His brethren free. Christ's is no impotent pity, it is a pledge of deliverance.
A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 265.
The Tears of Jesus
The Scriptures speak much on the subject of tears, and often emphasise the sacredness of weeping. It would be worth while to go through the Bible and notice all those who are brought in weeping; and one thing that you would learn very distinctly by such a study would be this: that weeping belongs to true manliness not less than to true womanliness. There are at least three occasions on which our Lord is said to have wept, and I think we may say that His tears were different on these different occasions.
I. The Tears of a Friend. Our text tells us that at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus wept. It shows how human He was, perhaps more than any incident of His career; at least more directly and instantly it brings this out than almost any incident of His career. Though He was the Son of God He never wrapped Himself up in a garment of stoical indifference; and still He is the same, yesterday, and today, and for ever. But we may draw from it another inference, I think, and that is that He does not expect us to put on the garment of stoicism which He never wore Himself, when our Lazarus is dead and is carried out to the cold and lonely grave. There are many things that will never be seen by eyes that have not been salved with tears.
II. The Tears of the Sufferer. The second occasion on which our Lord shed tears was the scene in Gethsemane. I do not think it is said in any of the Gospels that mention that scene that our Lord shed tears, but there can be no doubt, I think, that it is to this scene the Epistle to the Hebrews refers when it says: 'In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears'. The tears in Bethany were for others; but those in Gethsemane were for Himself. His pain was due to the collision of His will with the Divine will. Or shall we rather say His tears were the sign of the reconciliation of His will to that of His Father. If there had been nothing but collision hard, unbending collision He would not have wept; He would have hardened Himself against His Father's will. But His tears were the indication of reconciliation, they were the sign and the sacrament of peace. We, too, have our tears of pain.
III. The Tears of a Redeemer. The third occasion on which Jesus is said to have wept was the most triumphant hour of His life, outwardly at least. As He was entering Jerusalem for the last time, a great crowd of sympathisers met Him at Bethany, and brought Him in triumph into the city. But when He reached the brow of Olivet, from which Jerusalem could be seen down below, He halted, and when He beheld the city He wept over it. You might call them the tears of a patriot. Or you might call them the tears of a philanthropist. But I think the best name for these tears are the Redeemer's tears. It was His estimate of the soul; it was His clear vision of the eternal doom to which these people were going forward; it was the sorrow of the Saviour's heart for people that would not be saved, that made Him weep. There is one kind of tears that Jesus never wept. These are the tears of penitence.
J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 154.
There is a melancholy which enervates, but there is also one that tempers fine souls to keenness and action. It is easy to discriminate the weak sentimentality of Sterne from true, noble pathos, that does not nurse its tears, but wipes them away that it may see to help. Jesus wept, but what succour followed!
Dr. John Ker, Thoughts for Heart and Life, p. 125.
References. XI. 35. U. R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 199. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms from the King's Garden, p. 200. W. J. Hills, Sermons, and Addresses, p. 21. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 1. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 57. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2091. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 199. XI. 36. F. Lynch, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 205. XI. 37. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1944.
The Bible is full of caves, and we have taken too little notice of them either in our imagery or in our doctrine. The caves are a rich field for preachers if preachers were awake; the caves are a species of moral harvest-field and fine sentiment with many a seam of true poetry running through their darksome folds.
I Let us read Genesis 23:19 : 'And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave.... And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for... a burying-place.' Are more people going to die? Why not let the era of death close with the wife of Abraham? The cave now is turned into a casket, and in that casket is a stone most precious; the cave is no longer a cave, it is in very deed a jewel-case, a casket, a place wherein is hidden a life that loves and a life that seemed to begin another life thousands and millions thick in its numbers, too big for any cage, yet that cage should be the beginning of nations. In a sense we may all be landholders. No foot of land do I possess, nor want to possess, except in one melancholy instance. How little land we want at the last! The grave to the Christian is a key; he never goes to the grave without taking the key with him. 'I have the keys of the invisible, the grave, and the dead; I am the Resurrection and the Life.'
II. We shall hear more about this cave if we turn to Genesis 49:29 . Old Israel charged his boys, as we should call them, and said unto them: 'I am to be gathered unto my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite'. This is the definition clause of the will, and all definition clauses in deeds and wills and legal documents of all sorts should be very explicit; so the dying old man continues: I mean 'the cave that is in the field of Machpelah' you remember Machpelah 'which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan' the cave 'which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying-place'. There is law, before your legal instruments were thought of. You owe everything to Moses, but you are too mean in soul to confess it. You are willing to go back to certain Roman bandits, and to say that law is built largely upon Roman conceptions. And where did Roman conceptions come from? Largely from the Pentateuch. Moses is the father of all lawyers; he builds on the rock, he shows examples that cannot fade with yellowing time. And there they buried Abraham, quoth Israel, and they buried Sarah his wife; in the same cave I buried Isaac and Rebekah; and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. Caves are beginning to be historical, yet poetical; we shall find flowers in caves.
III. There is a very historical cave mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:1 : 'David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam'. That cave may be partly known to those unbiblical souls who are only politicians. What is this cave of Adullam, historically and symbolically interpreted? It is the assembly, I had almost said the Church, of the disaffected. Every one has something to be thankful for; every one has a reason for not going into the cave of Adullam.
IV. There is a cave mentioned in 1 Kings 18:4 : 'It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah' a man who feared the Lord greatly 'took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with' all the luxuries he had, fed them with 'bread and water'. No man knows how sweet and good bread and water may be until he is driven before the fury of a terrific persecution and is made to feel that the necessaries of life are its real luxuries. Do something for those who are persecuted by the Jezebels of the day.
V. There are other caves, wonderful caves. 'They wandered about in dens and caves of the earth.' These are our supposed ancestors; we who have every comfort are supposed to be in the line of heredity which connects us with men of what I cannot but regard as another breed, a holier, diviner quality, and we ought to interrogate ourselves as to whether we have any right to be in this pulpit or that pulpit, or under this roof or under that roof, and whether we are in the succession of men who hazarded their lives for the Lord Jesus.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p 232.
References. XI. 38, 39. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1550, p. 33. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 48. XI. 39. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 158. XI. 39-44. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1052. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 297. XI. 39-46. C. Bosanquet, The Consoler and the Sufferer, p. 96.
The Vision of the Glory
I. The glory of God can be seen by men.
II. The glory of God is seen by Faith. Faith is the eye of the soul.
III. Christ's gentle persuasives to Faith. Notion Martha's wavering which shows how confidence may fluctuate Christ puts His own word before her. The object of Faith is Himself.
The Prayer At the Resurrection of Lazarus
I. The Prayer Gesture. First comes a gesture the uplifted eyes to heaven; and then He prayed the prayer which we have for our text When the prayer is finished He faces Lazarus in the tomb and cries in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth'. Watch this sheeted form bound so tight that if he would he could not bend, stands straight upon his feet, swaying, doubtless, to and fro. Then Jesus turned to those who stood around and said, 'Loose him and let him go'; as if to say, 'I have done my part; I have raised him from the dead; you can unloose him; you can get these bands off, and take this sheet off. This is your work.'
I do not believe in all the ministry of Jesus there is a more striking incident than this great miracle. It is more than a miracle: it is a parable and a prophecy; it is a prophecy in that it holds up to us the hope of the future resurrection of our bodies. It is a parable in that it sets forth the magnitude, of the scheme of redemption. It teaches that all mankind everywhere is dead in trespasses and sin; there is absolutely no power by which man can save himself; by which he can lift himself from the grave of his sin; Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the resurrection power for the dead soul. With one word spoken a soul is redeemed and a grave is robbed of its victim. Then comes the development of the soul; after the soul has been saved, there is the afterwork of making it free, which is the work in which man himself must co-operate with God.
II. The Prayer Itself. This prayer is one of the prayers of thanksgiving, and it serves to set forth three great essential truths. (1) The first is this: that Jesus had already been praying over this matter. 'I thank Thee, Father, that Thou heardst Me.' Jesus unquestionably is referring to a prayer experience in the past. Perhaps it was at the time when He first received news of Lazarus's sickness. He prayed and God gave Him the assurance of the answer to His prayer. When He started over across the Jordan back to Judea to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, He had the full assurance that Lazarus was to be raised from the dead.
(2) And then it is also suggestive of His unwavering confidence in His unity with His Father. 'I know that Thou hearest Me always.' The life of Jesus as we find it revealed in the four Gospels is one constant submission to the will of His Father. He says: 'I do always the things that please Him'. If we go back to the twelfth year of His lite we find Him in the Temple setting forth the fact that the will of His Father is His first consideration, and if we go to the last day of His life, yonder in the Garden of Gethsemane, we find Him setting forth the same truth: 'Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done'; there is a constant co-operation between His will and the will of His Father, and He knew the final issue at the grave of Lazarus because He knew that His will and the Father's were one.
(3) He prayed also that those about Him might know, as He said, 'That the Father had sent Him'. It is for this reason that in this prayer we see Him in the outset lifting His eyes towards heaven as much as to say, 'Yonder is My source of strength and power'. I believe in psychological law. I believe that it is a great science. I believe that we are now just upon the verge of comprehending it I believe that in the days to come it is to be recognised as one of the great laws of nature. But I do not believe that the power of Jesus was obtained in any sense by psychological law. He was the author of psychological law, and there is a vast difference between one being the slave of a law and the subject of it He was the author of the law, and therefore its master. Jesus Himself was the power. With His will He could change the course of planets, conserving all the laws that govern them. With one stroke of His hand He could turn the earth and change day into night. And so, with respect to the miracles of Jesus. Jesus Himself is the great miracle-working power, and He need not subject Himself to any law save the law of Himself. He was a perpetual walking miracle wherever He went.
And so Jesus prays this prayer in order that those who stand round about Him may see that He is depending not upon any law of science, not upon any peculiar manipulation of spirits, not upon the operation of any psychological principle: He is praying this prayer that He may show them that it is because of the fact that He is one with His Father and His Father is one with Him; that He has the power to raise the dead.
Len G. Broughton, The Prayers of Jesus, pp. 71-80.
References. XI. 41,42. A. E. Belch, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 348. XI. 42. W. J. Danson, The Evangelistic Note, p. 79. XI. 43, 44. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 87. C. Bickersteth, The Gospel of Incarnate Love, p. 60. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1776, and vol. xliv. No. 2664. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 98. XI. 47. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2736. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 119. XI. 47, 48. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1603, p. 161. XI. 47-50. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 278.
I. There are times when we must leave God alone. (1) There is a sphere where God is sovereign. It is the sphere of action. It is the realm of life. And there it is wisdom, it is peace, just to let God alone to have His way with you. It is one secret of a strenuous life. I have known young men curse when they fell ill. I have known fathers whose hearts turned hard as adamant when the angel of death stooped down and kissed their children. O follower of Christ, let God alone. Perhaps it is kinder to bring the rod upon thy back than to put the jewelled ring upon thy finger. (2) I believe, too, that there is a wider sense in which we are called to let God alone. For I am conscious in the religious life of our time of a certain fretful anxiety and unrest, and the absence of a quiet and solemn dignity that gave a grandeur to our father's piety. There is an irreligious anxiety for God.
II. There are times when we must let men alone. Where does it come in in human life? We shall take a Gospel incident and see. I find Christ sitting at Simon the leper's table, and the woman who was a sinner is kneeling there, and she has broken the alabaster box, and is pouring the precious ointment on the feet of Jesus. And the disciples murmur and are indignant 'Might not this ointment have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?' 'Let her alone,' says Jesus, 'Why trouble ye the woman? She is serving with a service of her own, moved by the passion of an all-pardoning love; there is one work, there is one character for her, there is another service and another life for you.' And that is one glory of the Gospel. It does not crush men into one common mould, but it gives the freest play to individuality, and perfects and crowns each struggling soul apart. It is not because I want to be original, it is because I want to be a Christian, that I say to all murmuring disciples, Let me alone, I have my box to break, it is not yours. I just want to say this in closing. The hour may come when God lets us alone. It is not by a desperate career, and it is not by one black and awful deed that a man shall sin away the grace of God. It is by the silent hardening of our common days, the almost unnoticed tamperings with conscience; it is by that the spiritual dies, it is by that men become cast-away. Better the harshest discipline than that.
G. H. Morrison, Flood-Tide, p. 136.
References. XI. 48. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 121. XI. 49. W. R. Inge, All Saint's Sermons, 1905-1907, p. 30. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 87. XI. 49, 50. A. M. Fairbairn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 113. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 107. XI. 49-51. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 88. XI. 60. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, The Men who Crucify Christ, p. 38. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 61; ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 27. XI. 51, 52. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 299; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 110. XI. 54-67. Ibid. vol. v. p. 296. XL 55. Ibid. vol. v. p. 387; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 113.
Will He Not Come to the Feast?
'What think ye, that He will not come to the feast?' Of course He will. You are bidden today to His table to commemorate that great deliverance that Jesus Christ wrought out for you upon the cross, and through the rended tomb, you are bidden to the table to re-consecrate yourselves to the service of your risen Lord. 'What think ye then, that He will not come to the feast?' Far, far hence be that unworthy thought.
I. He will come, in the first place, because of His own most true promise that 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there, am I in the midst of you'. We are drawing near to His table, but He is the Host. He would not act so discourteously to His guests as to be absent when He bids us to come to His table. Besides, He is not only the Host, but He is the meat and the drink of our spiritual life.
II. Our feast would have no meaning if He did not come. If He were not here, there would be no blessing in our gathering together. There would be no joy if He were not here. Why, if He be absent we may indeed hold a Good Friday service all the year round. We may hang our churches in black; nay, there would be no use our entering into the House of God at all unless we knew that He would be amongst us.
III. When, then, He comes to the feast, what are we to do? (1) We must admit Him. 'If any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and He with Me.' Oh, why keep we Him waiting outside? (2) And when we admit Him, we must serve Him. In the very next chapter you will see that He came to the feast, and there they made a great supper for Him, and Martha served. And we, too, would wish to serve Him, we, too, would put ourselves at His disposal, we, too, would willingly stand as servants of the Lord ready to do His bidding. And not we will serve Him, but He will serve us.
IV. And if He comes to the feast we must give Him to eat. 'Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.' Have you anything to set before Him if He comes to the feast? He will feed upon the fruits of the Spirit, produced in your life the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace. If He comes to your feast, then lean upon His breast: pillow your aching head upon His heart of love; tell Him all your secrets: ask Him those things which you do not understand. And, then, constrain Him to abide.
E. A. Stuart, The New Creation, and other Sermons, vol. in. p. 177.
References. XII. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 130. XII. 1-3. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 368. XII. 1-8. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 341. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 161. XII. 1-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. John, p. 119. XII. 3. John Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 117. XII. 4. Ibid. (4th Series) vol. i. p. 18. XII. 6. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 221; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 426; ibid. vol. xii. p. 469.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany