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PART IV. (E.)
V. JESUS AT THE GRAVE OF LAZARUS MANIFESTS HIMSELF AS LOVE AND POWER
1. The return from Peræa to Bethany after the death of Lazarus (John 11:1-16).
2. The fact of a resurrection asserted to Martha, and the great declaration made, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:17-32).
3. The love and sympathy of Jesus shown to the sorrow-stricken sisters (John 11:17-36).
4. The internal spiritual struggle of Christ with death and unbelief, and His manifestation of Himself as the life at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:37-44).
5. The antagonism of the world and unbelief, as represented by the Pharisees and the religious rulers, contrasted with the faith of other witnesses of the miracle (John 11:45-46).
6. The final decision of the unbelieving world (John 11:47-53).
7. The withdrawal of Jesus to the wilderness, and the thoughts of various classes of men concerning Him during His absence before the passover (John 11:54-57).
Third Year of our Lord’s Ministry
Time, and place in Synoptic narrative.—See Chap. 10, p. 283
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
THE RAISING OF LAZARUS
John 11:1-2. The various theories as to the reason why this great miracle is not recorded by the other Evangelists need not be fully discussed in this commentary, nor the rationalistic theories which seek to explain it away. But see note, pp. 70–72. Lazarus.—I.e. לַעְוָר, a shortened form of אֶלְעָוָר, Eleazar. Bethany.—See note, John 12:1. Town (κώμη).—I.e. village. Mary and her sister Martha.—They are thus mentioned as people whose names were familiar to those for whom this Gospel was first written (Luke 10:38-42). This is further shown in John 11:2. The attempts made to connect this narrative with the parable in Luke 16:0 are not convincing; nor are those which seek to identify Mary with Mary Magdalene, and the latter with the woman who was a sinner, who anointed Jesus’ feet at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).
John 11:3. Therefore the sisters, etc.—They felt sure of Christ’s sympathy and help. Thou lovest (δν φιλεῖς).—I.e. lovest with a personal affection.
John 11:4. For the glory of God.—This crowning miracle, the last and greatest of the series of seven recorded by St. John, had the same end as the first miracle and all the others (John 2:11). For (ὑπέρ).—“The preposition marks the notion of ‘sacrifice on behalf of.’ … There was some mysterious sense in which the sick man suffered in behalf of God’s glory, and was not merely a passive instrument” (Westcott).
John 11:5. Jesus loved (Ἠγάπα).—“ἀγαπάω is equivalent to diligo, and means the love of choice, of sentiment, of confidence and esteem” (Reynolds). This verse in a measure explains the one that follows. It shows that there was some special reason which prevented Him immediately setting out for Bethany.
John 11:6. He abode two days, etc.—Lücke, Neander, and others suppose that His work detained Him in Peræa (John 10:40). Was it now as at Cana: “His hour was not yet come” (John 2:4)?
John 11:7-8. Master (Rabbi).—The Aramaic word gives perhaps some idea of the reverential spirit the disciples displayed toward Jesus; but it may be said also to hint at that imperfection of their knowledge of His character and mission which still characterised them.
John 11:9-10. Jesus answered, etc.—He had left Jerusalem because the time of His departure had not come; and also that a further opportunity for repentance might be given to His enemies. Now the time is at hand, and He will not draw back from the conflict.
John 11:11. Lazarus, our friend, hath fallen asleep.—Death does not dissolve friendships to the good. Fallen asleep.—Acts 7:60, etc.
John 11:12-13. Lord, if he sleep, etc.—How natural is this! The disciples mistook our Lord’s meaning, and were ready with the common observation that sleep at the crisis of a sickness often gives hope of recovery. The disciples thought that now there would be no need that Jesus should rash into danger.
John 11:14. Lazarus is dead.—When the death actually took place does not appear. It would most likely take at least two days to go from where Jesus was to Bethany. It is a fair day’s journey on horseback from Bethany to the Jordan, i.e. going at a walking pace most of the way, as the roads do not admit of anything else. So that Lazarus had died perhaps the day after the message came to our Lord.
John 11:15. I am glad, etc.—He was glad He was not there (not glad that Lazarus was dead), as the issue of His going now would be the strengthening of their faith.
John 11:16. Thomas.—Hebrew תָאוֹם, from תָּאַם Greek δίδυμος, Didymus. Probably the latter name was that by which he was best known to those among whom this Gospel was first circulated. Thomas represents, among the disciples, those whose minds have a pessimistic cast (John 14:5, John 20:25).
John 11:18-19. Now Bethany, etc.—The circumstantiality of the details of this miracle shows the deep impression it made on the Evangelist. The nearness of Bethany to Jerusalem explains why so many of the Jews were able to be present to comfort the sisters.
John 11:20-27. Martha.—Evidently she was first informed of the approach of Jesus, as she was the elder of the sisters, and thus mistress in the house. She is true to her character as portrayed in Luke 10:0, etc.
John 11:21. If Thou hadst been here.—There is no shadow of reproach in the words; they are not, If Thou hadst come at once, not tarried, etc. They are simply the regretful utterance of an imperfect faith.
John 11:22. Ask.—αἰτήσῃ is not the word Jesus Himself uses when He speaks of supplicating His Father (John 14:16, etc.) Martha’s ideas concerning our Lord’s relation to the Father were not yet full-rounded. But, remembering Christ’s wonderful works at Nain and in other places (Luke 7:11, etc.), she still cherished a faint hope.
John 11:23-24.—Martha may have expected a somewhat different reply. Her words seem to indicate some disappointment. A general resurrection she believed in—a friend of Christ could hardly have done otherwise—but it was something more immediate she had hoped for.
John 11:25-27. Jesus said, etc.—The reply of Jesus, He is the resurrection because He is the life, brings back to Martha the feeling of hope. Her words imply her faith, that because Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, then all things will be well.
John 11:28-32. Evidently the conversation with Martha is not fully reported. Here, as elsewhere in this Gospel especially, we find evidence of the inspired wisdom with which the narrative was composed. Only what is of universal spiritual import is related.
John 11:28. Secretly.—So that Mary’s interview with Christ might be uninterrupted by the crowds of sympathisers.
John 11:30. Into the town, or village (John 11:1).—Jesus evidently knew there was a crowd of mourners, and wished to see His friends alone first.
John 11:31. The Jews, etc.—After the manner of Orientals, they followed the usual custom. Saying, She goeth, etc.—The best MSS. read “supposing,” or “thinking (δόξαντες) she was going.” To weep, etc.—The verb is κλαίω, to wail, and is used to express the loud and passionate utterance of grief.
John 11:32. Fell at His feet, etc.—Mary, as we gather from all the narratives, was in most things unlike her practical sister. Mary’s nature was emotional and sensitive. The crowds gathering round interrupted her interview with the Saviour, and she could only sob out the words Martha had already spoken (John 11:21). We seem thus to learn the thought that had been uppermost in the minds of the sisters, and which they had often expressed to each other.
John 11:33. He groaned, etc.—I.e. He was indignant, expressed indignant emotion in the spirit, and troubled Himself, i.e. reflected in outward physical movement the inward emotion. This seems to be the clearest and best interpretation of the original. Various explanations of the passage have been given, according as τῷ πνέυματι is taken as the dative of the object, or as signifying the sphere of His indignation (see Homiletic Note, p. 325).
John 11:34. Where, etc.—Equivalent to an invitation to lead the way to the tomb.
John 11:35. Jesus wept.—ἐδάκρυσεν, “shed tears.” Bengel: lacrymatus est, non ploravit, He shed tears, He did not cry aloud. This is the shortest verse in Scripture, but it reveals more than many the tender human heart of our great High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15). He wept in sympathy with those weeping friends. This reveals His true humanity, as the miracle shows His divinity.
John 11:36. Loved (ἐφίλει).—See John 11:3.
John 11:37. And some of them, etc.—Probably these were of the number of the unbelieving (John 11:46), and their words indicate a feeling of doubt as to the power of Jesus. Being natives of Jerusalem, and siding, it may be, with the enemies of Jesus, they had not heard of His raising the dead. The greatest work of His they were acquainted with was the miracle wrought in the man born blind
(9). If it were a reality, might Christ not also have prevented the death of Lazarus? The idea of raising the dead was evidently beyond them.
John 11:38. Jesus therefore.—The trouble was now caused, in part, by the suspicions of those Jews. Cave.—The sepulchres were excavated in the rock in the hillside. Such tombs are seen to-day about Bethany and Jerusalem, and witness to the graphic touch of the eye-witness in this narrative. The slab or stone covering the mouth of the sepulchre might be laid flat if the grave were a pit, or might be laid against the opening if the tomb were simply a chamber in the hillside. That the latter seems to have been the form of the cave at Bethany will appear from a comparison of John 11:44; John 20:6 with the “rolled back” of Matthew 28:2, etc.
John 11:39. Martha, etc.—The “touch of nature” is here most graphically brought before us. Martha is not looking for a present raising up of her brother, and she naturally shrinks from seeing the ravages death has made on that form, and from others seeing it with the evident stamp of death upon it. Four days.—Perhaps there is here an allusion to the Jewish tradition that after three days the spirit, which has hovered about the tomb, finally leaves the changing body.
John 11:40. Jesus saith.—A gentle rebuke of Martha’s “slowness of heart” to believe.
John 11:41. Jesus lifted up His eyes, etc.… I thank Thee that Thou didst hear Me.—This is a thanksgiving for a prayer or request which Christ knew was already granted. In what was to be done both Father and Son should be glorified (John 11:4). But to show His oneness with the Father, and the perfect accord of His will with the Father’s, Jesus uttered these words, so that men might see that He was the “Sent of God.”
John 11:43. Loud voice.—Comp. Revelation 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52. Lazarus, come forth.—δεῦρο ἔξω, here, out! Death does not destroy individuality. Death does not change the relationship to Christ of His own, or their relationship to each other (comp. John 11:23 : Thy brother shall rise, etc.).
John 11:44. And he that was dead came forth, etc.—All the details reveal the eye-witness. “The word rendered ‘grave-clothes’ … means properly the bands or straps by which the linen sheet was fastened to the body, and which kept the spice from falling out”—comp. John 19:40 (Watkins). Loose him, etc.—The bystanders may be thought of as standing petrified by astonishment, so that this command was needed to stir them into action to do what was needful, by unloosing the “bands or straps” (see above) that impeded free motion to Lazarus.
John 11:45. Many … which came to Mary.—Those most friendly with the family at Bethany would not likely be evil-disposed toward Jesus, who would be a frequent topic of conversation there.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 11:1-45
The raising of Lazarus.—“Let holy awe touch us at the threshold of this holy place which we are now to enter! All things are possible to the Almighty, are equally so to the Creator of all; but we call the one greater than the other. We call that the greatest which is the most impossible to us. This work of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus, is the greatest when we compare it with what is possible to men” (Lavater). Our Lord, when this history opens, was sojourning beyond Jordan. The enmity of the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem led Him to withdraw for a time from the city, and it was to Peræa that He turned His steps. Even there He was engaged in doing good. Great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1)—healed them physically and spiritually. But He was soon to be called thence to perform the greatest of His signs, and thus to manifest the glory of God and His own glory.
I. The entreating message and the delay of Jesus.—
1. This wonderful history introduces us to a house where Jesus was willingly and lovingly received while on earth, and in which He was pleased to dwell. It was a small household that dwelt there, but their house was a home of peace and piety, and therefore full of the sunshine of love.
2. But now the day in the house was darkened. Trouble had crossed the threshold; sore sickness had laid hold on a loved brother. It was no mere passing or temporary ailment; and as the two loving sisters of Lazarus saw the disease rapidly progressing, and threatening to lay the sufferer low in death, with one accord they sent an entreating message to Jesus: “Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.”
3. It was a considerate and gentle message, as much as to say, Thou wilt know what to do. They did not call Jesus away from His work; they did not even ask that a message of healing should flash through space, as between Cana and Capernaum when the nobleman’s son was healed (John 4:46-54). They left the matter to Jesus, believing that He knew what was best; but the note of entreaty is there notwithstanding. The sickness of Lazarus was evidently severe; nay, more, was dangerous.
4. When Jesus heard, He said, “This sickness is not unto death,” etc.; and He remained still two days in Peræa, probably completing some work that lay to hand. Then, in spite of the remonstrances of His disciples (who must have been glad to hear His declaration that the sickness of Lazarus was not unto death, for they would think there was thus no need for Him to go to Bethany), He declared His intention of going into Judæa.
5. Then on the way He told the disciples plainly that Lazarus was dead; and although words of hope were added to the announcement, its effect on the disciples was to cause depression, deepening in the case of one of them into a melancholy resignation. Lazarus is dead; Jesus is going into the very jaws of death; “let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).
6. The disciples were “men of like passions as we are.”
(1) They would have shrunk, and had their Master shrink from His work, because danger lay in the path. The path of duty is the path of day, and even when it leads through what seem dark and dismal regions, light shall ever arise on the darkness.
(2) How weak was their faith, even after the wondrous works wrought in their presence by Him! How slowly the consciousness of their Master’s true nature and greatness dawned upon them!
II. Christ’s coming with comfort to sorrowing hearts.—
1. As Jesus tarried, hope died out in the house at Bethany. The weary hours of waiting were sorrowfully ended. Death had entered and claimed its victim, and the mourners were going about the streets. The wistful message it seemed, had been in vain; and when the news came to the desolated home that Jesus was near, the joy of seeing Him was absorbed in the heavy grief that bowed down the bereaved sisters.
2. Jesus had come! But to those mourning ones He seemed to have come too late. “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” But the sorrow is not hopeless; a ray of hope’s light shines through the darkness of sorrow. “I know that even now,” etc. (John 11:22).
3. The reply of Jesus to Martha does not quench her hope, but it seems to remove it from the present to the future. But still there is comfort in the thought which, if it does not at once dry up all tears, yet lightens the burden of sorrow, and points to the hour when the tears shall be wiped “from every weeping eye.”
4. But there is also a foundation for the blessed assurance of this faith and hope in the words of Jesus, in which He declared Himself the Prince of life (John 11:25-26). Martha could not yet grasp this truth fully, as the great personal proof had not yet been given by the Lord; but she knew enough of Him and His love and power to believe, though she could not fully understand that He was the Son of God, the Life of men.
5. “Believest thou this?” Then it will prove a source of true comfort in every hour of trouble and sorrow. The Son of God, the Life of men, is near; and though you cannot understand His delay to help, although your prayer has been unanswered apparently, and the calamity has fallen, the loved ones have gone hence, still they are not lost, they shall come again; they are safe in the hands of God—and the Christ, the Son of God.
III. Christ’s manifestation of the divine glory at the grave of Lazarus.—
1. At first it appeared as if He would show only impotent human grief, as He wept in sympathetic sorrow with His sorrowing friends, and evidenced the signs of a conflict in His breast. But silence fell on the multitude as He looked up in loving confidence to His Father, and amazement and awe as, in response to His word of power, “Lazarus, come forth,” the loved friend came forth, rescued from death and the grave.
2. Three times during His ministry on earth the Lord raised the dead—the child, the young man on his bier, and Lazarus from his tomb. They were all mighty signs of His power, and must have impressed unprejudiced men that here was One in whose presence death itself must die. And thus their belief in a life beyond death, and that death is but temporal, not eternal, must have been immeasurably strengthened.
3. What would many men not give to see before their eyes such a proof of death vanquished! Nay, but there is given them a greater proof. “Jesus is the resurrection and the life.” His rising is the sure foundation on which the Church rests, on which our hopes for eternity rest. It was not the raising of Lazarus that the apostles preached, great and wonderful as was that sign; it was the rising again of Jesus.
4. And He comes with comfort as the Prince of life to all who sorrow not without hope in Him, and says to each, “If ye believe, ye shall see the glory of God.” Ye shall experience the power of Christ here to give the most blessed consolation, to bring joy with the thought that the departed spirit has indeed been called forth to the Father’s house, called to larger rooms and higher service, and that we too shall soon rejoice in meeting those gone before. “There is but a step betwixt us and death; nay, there is a bridge between us and life! To the irremissible prayer, Teach us to remember that we must die; add this other, Teach us to remember that we shall live.”
John 11:5; John 11:11. The love and friendship of Christ in the home.—It is the Redeemer’s public ministry, and His intercourse as the Master with His disciples, that the Evangelists record. They give only incidental glimpses of what may be termed His domestic life. There is in this a divine purpose which makes the gospel history unique as the record of a life. Still those incidental glimpses are fruitful for the Church, furnishing example and precept for the home life; and Christ’s people should come to the consideration of them with feelings of lively gratitude. They show that our Lord in social intercourse acted on those principles afterward shown by His apostles to be necessarily present in Christian conduct in the domestic sphere. Especially interesting are the hints we gain from our Lord’s intercourse with the family at Bethany, where He was a frequent and welcome guest. In thinking on this notice—
I. The Saviour was practically homeless on earth during His public ministry.—
1. He Himself said, “The foxes have holes,” etc. (Matthew 8:20). Until His baptism He seems to have resided at Nazareth or near it. From that time, however, He appears rarely to have resided in His former home.
2. Nor did He make any special place His home on earth thenceforward. His mission was to found a spiritual house, to raise up a spiritual family.
3. And yet our Lord had human feelings and affections, and His relinquishment of the comforts and domesticities of home must be regarded as an example of His self-sacrificing love, of His willingness to forgo and to endure for the sake of men. Out of pure love to men He laid aside for a time the blessedness of the eternal home, took upon Him our nature, dwelt on earth among men, was weary, hungry, thirsty, etc., so that He might live the life of willing obedience to the Father, as our example, and might die as our propitiation. And His example emphasised His teaching, in which He showed that there are higher objects than earthly joy, and things more important than those of sense and time. But—
II. The Saviour rejoiced in the intercourse of social life.—
1. Human nature calls for this. Men, as a whole, do not delight in the hermit’s solitary life. And as our Saviour was truly human, we may believe that it was a delight to Him to have intercourse with men.
2. Although, in prosecuting His work on earth, He went everywhere, mixed with all classes of society, endeavouring to “save the lost,” yet we may believe He found special delight in homes where piety was predominant.
3. Such a home was that of Lazarus at Bethany (also that of Simon). Thither after His labour in Jerusalem, and when His spirit was grieved by rejection and unbelief, He resorted for rest and refreshment, finding these under the roof of those humble, devoted disciples.
4. It was a typical home. The members of the household were of different dispositions and temperaments. It was, like all the homes on earth, not a perfect home; yet it was one where love reigned above all differences, because love to God was the rule in it. Jesus rejoiced in the social intercourse with Lazarus and his sisters, and counted them His friends. In their love and devotion to Him, in their faith and piety, He found solace and joy.
III. He brought blessing with Him to those who received Him lovingly.—
1. The joy of having Him as a guest, even, would be great beyond measure. Think on the conversations concerning heavenly things in which the family at Bethany were privileged to join. We have brief reports given us of such conversations (e.g. John 3:1-21; John 4:9-26; John 13-16., etc.). How delightful must it all have been!
2. And the influence of the Saviour tended to bring peace into that home. Where there are people of different temperaments and tastes living together there will be occasions when these will clash, and sometimes even good people may have “sharp contentions” (Acts 15:39). So was it at Bethany. Martha seems to have looked with impatience, if not with some little touch of scorn, on Mary’s quiet, thoughtful ways. But Jesus showed Martha that there was a devotion which was higher than that even of hospitable entertainment. And Martha seems to have recognised the justice of His words. The jars were silenced and peace reigned.
3. He brought blessed comfort to the sisters in their time of deepest sorrow. His very presence brought comfort, even though He had delayed a little after their modest message reached Him. His tears of sympathy must have been most blessed, and more so His promise that they need not sorrow as having no hope.
4. He brought to the home at Bethany a bright morning of joy after a night of bitter weeping. No wonder that thankful adoration and love joyfully served Him, and poured on His sacred head and feet their costly offering (John 12:2-3).
1. Earth would borrow more from heaven were the Saviour welcomed in Christian homes as He was at Bethany.
2. There peace will abide, because there love reigns.
3. There He will bring comfort and richest consolation in time of trouble or sorrow, even though our prayer may for the moment seem unanswered, and He delays to come to our aid. At the last He will come blessing-laden, bringing joy out of sorrow, making light arise in the darkness.
John 11:9-10. Walk in the day.—In these verses Jesus points out the true way in which we are to view life. It should be lived in the light of duty. When it is thus lived all fear passes away; for nothing but what shall ultimately lead to the highest good can befall those who thus pursue their course. They may be confident that their life is not unnoticed from heaven, that their course is marked out, and the end certain. And consider:—
I. The period in which our work must be accomplished.—“Are there not twelve hours?” etc.
1. Of course this language is figurative. The reference is to the Jewish day, the hours of light from sunrise to sunset. This day was divided into twelve hours, and again into four divisions. And consequently its hours were longer or shorter according to the period of the year.
2. It is an apt emblem of human life—childhood, youth, manhood, and age. But in the case of many the day is short; it is eclipsed at morn or noon; the winter of death shortens its hours and brings it quickly to a close.
3. But it is a full day. Its full hours—all that are needful—are given to each, be they shorter or longer. Each has time to do his work.
4. But it consists of twelve hours only—no more. Therefore if work is to be done it must be within the compass of that day.
II. How is this allotted period to be used by men?—
1. They are to walk in the day, not to sleep. The period of rest will soon come. But in the day they must be up and doing. The day is for labour and action. Then our talents must be used, our powers employed, if when night comes there is to be any reward for our labour.
2. And in and through all, our heavenly calling should engage our thought, and to it we should give our energy. All the rest must be subordinated to it, and must contribute to it, if the hours of light and labour are to be used to the full.
3. Yes; and even when the evening shadows begin to fall, when “those that look out of the windows are darkened,” when “the grasshopper is a burden” (Ecclesiastes 12:0), by patient enduring, by wise direction, by giving the weighty counsel of experience, the hours of light may be used “till the last gleam fadeth.”
III. In what spirit are men to walk in the day?—They are to be fearless and confident.
1. Only those who walk in the murk of sin, who turn aside into its dark and deathful ways, need fear. They assuredly shall stumble, and unless they return shall utterly fall.
2. But they who walk in the right way, under the light of duty, cannot fail. Danger, and death even, cannot conquer them. Even tribulation will prove to have been not for evil, but for good. They fear not the judgments or condemnations of men, nor will be turned from their path thereby. Above them is the light of truth—before them the strait and narrow way. All that meets them on that path will in the end prove no hindrance. “Good shall be the final goal of ill” to them. On the way of duty they are rising ever nearer to God, even though amid the press and hurry of life they seem to be making little progress.
3. But they know that all shall be well. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” And when the day is ended shall come the time of rest. This Christ has taught us by precept and example.
John 11:11. Death a sleep.—This is an image common in other writings than the Scriptures, and is used by our Saviour as shadowing forth one of those universal truths already in a measure grasped by men, but which He came to make clearly known. He showed that the longing for another life beyond this scene had not been implanted in vain in the hearts of men. “Has nature, who quenches our bodily thirst, who rests our weariness and perpetually encourages us to endeavour onward, prepared no food for this appetite of immortality?” (L. Hunt). No; our Lord has declared it by His teaching and resurrection. But it is only those who are in Him, His friends, who can look on death as a sleep.
I. The Christian is freed from the fear of death.—
1. The fear of death is caused by sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Sin hides from us the love of God and the sense of His continual presence. The dread of meeting the eternal Judge haunts the thoughts of the impenitent and makes death to them terrible.
2. But Christ has removed for all His own this fear. Those who have been seeking to live according to the Father’s will do not fear to enter into the presence of His glory.
3. The fear of the anguish, etc., of dissolution is also removed. For to the believer Christ, who bore these pangs of dissolution in an extreme form, is with His people to comfort them. So that even a Stephen (and many a martyr since), going hence by such a stormy path, “lying on so stony a bed,” could be said to fall asleep.
4. As Christ Himself has slept and risen from this sleep, His people are strengthened and cheered by His promise through the apostle that those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
II. The Christian looks on death as rest from labour.—
1. As the labourer, tired in the fields, lays down at eventide the implements of his toil, so the Christian labourer, wearied in these fields of time, lays aside his toil when it becomes a burden.
2. In our present state it is a natural ending of physical life. Had there been no sin, the exit from life might have been different, a translation (like that of Enoch), or, at least, a euthanasia. And Christ has made this possible.
3. This image is true to nature in the case of the good. It is a calm and tranquil passage. Some “fall on sleep” more slowly than others—in some cases there is protracted disease; but one and all at last sleep.
4. Yet, as when men sleep they have not abandoned life, so believers live on, life and thought endure, unless we are “magnetic mockeries, wholly brain.” And would Christ have deceived us as to this?
III. The Christian regards death as a state of refreshment and renewal.—
1. It is a time of refreshment for the spirit, freed from the bondage of the present, when in the presence of the Lord (Luke 23:43) it shall await the final regeneration.
2. It will be a time of renewal for the body, preparatory to the hour when that which is “sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption,” and thus fitted to be reunited to the waiting, perfected spirit (Hebrews 12:23).
3. It will be prepared for the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17); for it will rest to rise in a new and bright day, prepared and quickened for a higher labour.
IV. The Christian remembers that death has an appointed end.—
1. The night is for sleep; when the sun rises man goes forth to labour. The night of death will also have an end. The Lord shall come and awaken all His own.
2. And as when men awake at morn, refreshed and strengthened, they raise thankful hearts to God, so on that resurrection morn shall rise songs of gratitude and praise, never to cease eternally.
John 11:16. Dark forebodings.—This word of Thomas was the expression of his character. He was ever looking on the dark side of things. He was hungering fully to believe, but was yet haunted by doubt. He is a type of many. And it is comforting to remember that Jesus included such a one among His apostles—one whose faith was so imperfect. The gospel is thus seen to be fitted for men of all temperaments. Thomas had forecast the probable issue of this journey to Judæa. His mind was filled with the gloomiest apprehensions. Yet he would not hold back; he felt bound to Jesus, and resolved to follow Him to the death. His words show—
I. A melancholy and pessimistic temperament.—
1. The speech is characteristic of Thomas. The same dark way of looking at things was brought out later, when in the upper chamber he said, “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest,” etc. (John 14:5).
2. A spirit of dejection seized him at the thought of what lay before them in Judæa. They had hoped so much from Christ. They had been convinced that He was the Messiah, that He had only to show Himself for men to recognise Him. But it had all turned out so different from what they expected. But if He were not to bring deliverance, who would or could? And now that hope had vanished it would be better that their shattered hopes should be buried in oblivion with Him.
3. Not unlike this is the pessimistic spirit in the case of some even in the Christian Church. The gospel does not seem to be making progress. Is it destined to pass away like other religions? Where, however, can a better be found? Therefore they will cling to it in a manner, hoping against hope. Thomas’ words further show—
II. Weakness of faith.—
1. The faith of Thomas seems to us miserably weak when we reflect on all that he had seen and heard with Jesus.
2. But this disciple was like those whom Jesus met on the way to Emmaus. They had heard His teaching concerning the spirituality of His kingdom—His warnings as to what would befall Him and them. But they had refused thoroughly to believe what they had heard. They put their own interpretation on His words. Consequently when the hour of darkness came their feeble faith and hope for the time failed them.
3. And so it is now. In view of the troubles that arise within and the storms that rage around the Church many are discouraged. The seeming loss of hold of the Church on the masses, and also on many of the cultured class, the rise and spread of socialistic and secularistic opinions and systems, the spreading abroad of sceptical ideas and the attacks of rationalism, have all alarmed them. The doubts of the age have found congenial soil in their pessimistic temperament.
4. Yet they cannot think of losing or forsaking the Church entirely. The fall of the Church they realise will mean the fall of hope for the world. Therefore they remain in it: yet often as those troubles accumulate they almost wish the conflict were past and the rest begun. But these words are also—
III. An expression of deep affection.—
1. Love to the Saviour was very real in the heart of this melancholy and desponding disciple. “To whom shall we go,” whether He shall lead to life or death? is the feeling of his heart.
2. And this is the hope in his despairing utterance, this is the bright ray that lightens up his sombre character—personal love to the Saviour.
3. Those who have this love—a love that is true unto death—shall not be left in their darkness. The light shall arise upon them. Thomas was led to the light, and rejoiced in it. The Evangelist who tells of his darker experiences tells also of his noble confession (John 20:28).
IV. There is a spiritual sense in which these words may be echoed.—
1. All Christ’s true disciples are called to follow Him, to die with Him.
2. They must accompany Him to Gethsemane and Calvary. Spiritually they are to die, spiritually to be buried with Him, in order that they may rejoice in His risen life. They die with Him, but it is unto sin; they rise with Him, unto newness of life.
John 11:25-26. Jesus, the resurrection and the life.—Turn where we will in our speculations, let our thoughts be actively concerned with many things in heaven and in earth, let us be immersed as deeply as it is possible to be in the many occupations and busied with the thousand distractions of every-day life, there is one subject which ever and anon presents itself to us in our hours of quiet contemplation, or is forced upon our view in the intercourse of common life. This is the thought of the end of life and what shall come after. Now one, now another, is snatched almost from our side and passes from our view. Now it is one on whom age has set its stamp, and to whom the threescore and ten years are a burden; but anon it is one who is young and vigorous, who might have hoped to see many days, that is called to pass into the invisible by accident or disease, thus warning us that no season, no period of life, is exempted from the assaults of disease and death. And mostly all of those departed ones leave those behind who mourn their absence and their loss, who cry out in their hours of loneliness—
“Oh for the touch of a vanished hand,
For the sound of a voice that is still!”
And what comfort have we to give these bereaved ones, to whisper to ourselves, in view of this fact so universal yet so awful for humanity? We could have none, or but a mere shadow of any, were it not for Christ and His gospel, but for the revelation God has given us of Himself and His love. The light of nature and the speculations of philosophy might from analogy have given men a more or less vivid hope of a life beyond, a hope, however, subject to frequent fluctuations, and oftentimes apt to be altogether shattered and dissipated. Consider what life would have been had at the close the curtain of death fallen on it for ever, never to rise revealing it in new scenes beyond, if over the tombs of the loved, the good, the true, men should have had to write, Here hope ends—this is the kingdom of despair. And it is not wonderful that men who believe that it is so should be found asking, “Is life worth living?” But we are not so shut up in despair. Every Sabbath morning, every Easter season, speaks of resurrection, tells us that the dead shall come again. The hope is founded simply—
I. On the word of Jesus.—
1. This was one of the great truths our Lord came to reveal fully—a truth of the highest importance to men—one of the foundation truths of this gospel, to reveal and confirm which He became incarnate and endured.
2. He made known this great truth by direct statement, and in the whole tenor of His teaching. These direct statements need not all be recalled. They are all summed up indeed in this memorable utterance, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” The whole tenor of His teaching also showed how close He held the relation between the visible and the invisible to be—that spiritual and intellectual life here and hereafter form a continuity, and that to the eye of faith the spiritual world is as real, nay more real, than the material present.
3. And the teaching of Jesus on this theme came with authority, because He evidently lived so closely in union with the higher spiritual sphere, so that it could be said of Him, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven” (John 3:3). For the spiritual life is not a locality, but a state or condition; and it is possible for those who have grown spiritually to live in continual communion with the invisible. This Christ was able to do perfectly as the divine Song of Song of Solomon 4:0. And the truth of this was not shown by His miracles only, although these are impressive proofs of His union and communion with the Father; it is evident as well in the whole course of His life and teaching. His life on earth imaged the divine holiness; His teaching bore the impress of heavenly wisdom. It was so simple, yet so authoritative, satisfying the yearnings of the soul after God and eternal things. His spotless life confirmed His teaching. It is here that the best of earth’s teachers fail—their lives and their doctrine often disagree. Not so with Jesus. That divine life was realised even by His enemies to be far above the highest of earth. “Never man spake like this man.” Therefore His words had all the authority of a demonstration. And when He says, “If it were not so, I would have told you,” we feel that these are the words of eternal truth.
II. But His teachings on this great truth and this Christian hope are confirmed by His power over death.—
1. This He showed by, on at least three occasions and in the presence of many witnesses, raising those who were dead. Each of these wonderful works seems typical of His power over death in its every aspect. The first was the case of the child just passed away, the little maid who lay as if asleep, whose form the destroyer had scarce touched with corroding finger, when the word of power, “Talitha cumi,” brought her again into these realms of time. Next the youth in the flower of his manhood at Nain. Here death had more fully wrought his will. They bore the lifeless body to the tomb, when the word, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14), anew demonstrated Christ’s power over the last enemy, and brought joy to the heart of the weeping mother. And in the case of Lazarus death seemed to have wholly gained the mastery, until Christ came and showed that He had power to “bind the strong man” and to despoil him of his goods. And in this last case, as if more completely to show His authority, Jesus had permitted the event to occur, as if He desired to show Himself stronger than this dark power, even when the victim had lain in its fetters four long days. At Christ’s word the fetters were burst asunder and the prisoner set free. Those spirits were recalled from their “golden day” to testify to Christ’s glory as ruler in all the realms of being, able to satisfy the deepest needs of humanity.
2. And more convincing still was His own resurrection. This great event, of such universalimportance, was “not done in a corner.” So numerous were the witnesses thereof, and so convincing is the chain of evidences in its favour, that one of the greatest rationalists, when near the close of his life, declared that “the historical proof of this great event cannot be overturned” (De Wette). It is the truth on which the Church is founded; and since the days of the apostles all true Christian teaching and preaching have been concerned with “Jesus and the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
III. Therefore in Christ His people rise.—
1. Nothing need be said here regarding the two resurrections: “They that have done good participating in the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil in the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). Here it is the resurrection of life that is being considered. Union with Christ is the believer’s hope.
2. When men become Christ’s disciples, they have in themselves a strong proof of His ability to save to the uttermost. He hath redeemed them, rescued them from spiritual corruption, put a new song into their mouth. And He who hath done this is able surely to do more.
3. Living union with Christ is the believer’s hope amid conflicting doubts and fears, amid the conflicts and trials of the present, in view of death and eternity. Christ did not come to earth to mock men, to entice them to follow truth, holiness, and every heavenly gift, only that they might be engulfed at last in darkness and the dust of death. No! He has issued the blessed promise, “He that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” He is the resurrection because He is the life. “He is the resurrection of those who die, and the life of those who live” (Bengel). “Death is no more death, but life. Moses says the opposite. For if you will listen to the law, it will say to you, as the old spiritual song has it, ‘In the midst of life we are with death encompassed.’ But that is a song of the old covenant—the law. The gospel and faith, however, reverse this song and say, In the midst of death even we are in life. We praise Thee, O gracious Lord God, that Thou art our Redeemer. Thou hast awaked us from death and given us salvation” (Luther).
4. This is our comfort amid the uncertainties of the present, when those dearest are taken from us, when we think of lonely graves far away perhaps in distant lands or islands of the sea, and in the great deep itself, where the relics of humanity hurtle on its lonely, silent plains. The graves shall give up their dead. As the Redeemer rose, so shall His people arise. “Christ has risen” means the Sun has risen, the Light of life; and the flowers of hope and resurrection are seen blooming on the Christian’s grave.
John 11:32-45. Sympathy in sorrow.—Jesus is ever near to His people in their sorrow; and though He had delayed to come immediately to Bethany, when told of the sickness of Lazarus, it was only in order that the glory of God might be more fully manifested. But when the time had come He hastened with sympathetic feeling to comfort His sorrowing friends, “to give the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Meeting with Martha beyond the village confines apparently, He strengthened her weak faith, and sent her to call her sister to Him, in order that He might comfort her also. And as we view Mary coming weeping to Him, followed by a wailing crowd of friends, and Jesus Himself becoming troubled at the sight of this grief, and the thought that death should have such hateful power, we derive lessons of comfort and peace.
I. The grief of the mourners.—
1. It was natural, and Jesus did not rebuke it. He does not forbid His people to mourn in their hours of bereavement and sorrow. He bids them not sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
2. Relief to the burdened comes with the tears of sorrow. “As the gentle spring breezes and warm spring sunshine melt the ice that binds up the earth, so the bonds of heaviness that bind up the heart are dissolved by gentle tears.”
3. Sad is it when in the midst of heavy sorrow the relief of tears is denied, and the burdened heart is nigh to breaking. Therefore should men be thankful for this gift of tears, constituted as they now are. “Tears enable sorrow to vent itself patiently. Tears hinder sorrow from becoming despair” (Leigh Hunt).
II. The sympathy of friends in time of sorrow.—
1. After the manner of the East, many friends and acquaintances had come from Jerusalem to comfort the sorrowing sisters. The most part were, doubtless, sincere in their sympathy. But how little can friends do in such an hour, although often their presence soothes the feelings of the mourners and distracts their thoughts!
2. But some of those present were apparently merely formal in their sympathy (John 11:38-46). At the feigned sorrow of these the Saviour’s spirit was troubled. All “shams” were hateful to Him; and where are shams more hateful than in the presence of death, and in the light of eternity?
3. From such feigned sympathy sensitive natures shrink away wounded. Hypocritical sympathy wounds in place of healing. So in part the outward expression of grief, the formal wailing and crying peculiar to the East, is often merely formal. Such was the grief of a section of the mourners in the house at Bethany.
4. But sympathetic sorrow soothes the hearts of the bereaved ones. The silent pressure of the hand, the tender, consoling word, the eye moist with heart-felt grief, bring comfort to bereaved hearts.
III. The sympathy of Jesus.—
1. The tenderest and sincerest human sympathy, however, cannot bring highest or lasting comfort to bereaved ones. It cannot remove the chief cause of grief. It cannot call back the departed.
2. But the sympathy of the Saviour can do what human sympathy is unable to effect. For when we can go to Him or call Him to us when bereavement brings deepest sorrow, He can tell us with authority that those prison doors of death that have closed on our loved one shall one day be broken open and the prisoners set free.
3. He can tell with authority of the welcome awaiting those who have known and lived in the Father’s love, and have gone to a place in the house of many mansions. He can assure the mourner that the loved ones are safe now, and that even their dust is in safe keeping, and that at last we shall meet again those
Whom we “have loved long since and lost awhile.”
4. And even although He does not yet wipe away our tears, and bring back at once radiant joy as He did at Bethany, yet He points to His own empty tomb and recalls His promises, that are yea and amen, of that coming hour when the dead “shall be raised incorruptible,” when at His word of power from the field of death an exceeding great army shall come and death shall be no more.
“O Thou that dry’st the mourner’s tear!
How dark this world would be,
If, when deceived and wounded here,
We could not fly to Thee!
“But Thou wilt heal the broken heart,
Which, like the plants that throw
Their fragrance from the wounded part,
Breathes sweetness out of woe.
“Then sorrow, touch’d by Thee, grows bright
With more than rapture’s ray,
As darkness shows us worlds of light
We could not see by day.”
John 11:32. Christ’s delay to interpose against death.—With this faith of Martha (and Mary) there is wonder at the absence of Christ which verges almost on reproach. ‘Surely there must have been reason for my Lord’s delay, while we wept and prayed for His coming, while every morning, and through the long day, our eyes sought the hills where His steps might be first descried. Why so late when this dead brother of mine, and friend of Thine, was sinking to his grave? Oh, the Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldst Thou be as a stranger in the land?’Such thoughts as these have since passed through many a heart, and will do till the world’s close. What sore strokes befall us, in this matter of death, from which the Son of God could easily save us, if His power and His pity be as we are told! They are very natural thoughts—natural, above all, when we watch by the deathbed and weep over the dead.
I. The strangeness of Christ’s delay to interpose against death.—Let us turn our thoughts to the circumstances around us, as Mary and Martha might to the state of their home in the absence of Christ.
1. Consider what death is to the sufferer! The token of God’s displeasure against sin is on it. Man’s heart recoils from its accompaniments—the rending asunder of the dearest ties of affection, and of those closest friends, body and soul—the dismissal of our nature to the corruption of the grave and to a mysterious eternity.
2. Consider what a bereavement death is to the survivors! “Lover and friend hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.” How often has the old wailing cry burst from human hearts! how often the death-scene at Bethany been renewed in the homes of men! The childless mother and the orphan, the wife and sister, lover and friend, have wrestled in agony over the dying and moaned over the dead, and none seemed to listen.
3. Consider what a ground of reproach death has furnished to the enemies of Christ! There was no want of unbelieving Jews in Bethany to take advantage of Christ’s absence in this crisis.
4. There is still another way in which the strangeness of the delay may strike us—when we turn our thoughts from our own circumstances to Christ, as the sisters of Bethany did, and when we consider the just expectations we have of interposition from Him. We believe that Christ is fully aware of our need. When a friend fails us through innocent ignorance, we do not blame him. What pains us is his persistent absence when he knows our extremity. We believe, further, that Christ has full power to interpose. That He should be so slow to put His authority into exercise, when such tides of suffering would be rolled back, and such a flood of overwhelming joy set in, must occasion to many Christians strange thoughts.
5. We cannot doubt the desire of Christ to interpose. But if He felt so deeply for His friends, why did He not come sooner to comfort them and interpose in their behalf? Our very confidence in Christ’s ability and willingness to help us thus becomes the occasion of bewildering doubts, and our faith passes through that painful struggle, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”
II. Some of the reasons for Christ’s delay which may be found in this history.—Other reasons may be found in the whole divine plan, as it is revealed in the Bible.
1. The reasons why Christ delays to interpose against death are, that His friends, when dying, may learn confidence in Him, and have an opportunity of showing it.
2. Christ permits death that the sorrowing friends may learn entire reliance on Him.
3. In the midst of death the union of sympathy between Christ and His friends is perfected.
4. By delaying to interpose against death God makes this a world of spiritual probation.
5. A last reason for Christ’s delay to interpose against death is that He brings in thereby a grander final issue. It is in this interval of delay that our life is cast. The world is represented by this home of Bethany before Christ reached the grave, and all the phases of character and all the stages of Christ’s progressive advance may be seen in the hearts of men around us. But at whatever step of his journey man’s faith may discern Him, He is surely on His way.
6. One thing connected with all these reasons, and impressed upon us by the present narrative, cannot be omitted—that there is a fitness in Christ being absent from the world while death reigns. Mary felt this. “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Meantime He gathers the fold of His cloud over His countenance, that we may not think He looks with cold indifference on our anguish, until He shall withdraw the veil fully and for ever. Happy those to whose eye of faith the cloud is already pierced and who feel in the heart that sunshine of His face, which shall give life and light at last to all the dead in Christ.—Dr. John Ker.
John 11:35. The tears of Jesus.—Everywhere over the earth there is weeping. Death, and a sorrow that is often worse than death, bring tears to many eyes. The surface of the river of life smiles and sparkles; but there is ever a deep undercurrent of sadness. And a Saviour who could not draw near to men with a fellow-feeling for their sorrows were no Saviour to whom they could eagerly turn. Thrice in the gospel history we read that Jesus wept. He wept bitter tears over doomed Jerusalem. In Gethsemane He wrestled with “strong crying and tears” in His great spiritual conflict. But here He appears as the divine human friend, not wailing like a formal mourner, but shedding tears of sympathy with His bereaved friends. Those tears of Jesus at Bethany are:—
I. An expression of the Redeemer’s oneness with humanity.—
1. “It behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren.” As the perfect Son of man He felt for human suffering more keenly than any merely human friend could do. But as man He expressed His sympathy in truly human fashion. And as true-hearted men are ever touched by the sorrows of their fellows, so Jesus wept with those who weep, sincerely, compassionately, etc., in all this proving Himself a “brother born for adversity.”
2. And in the grief of His friends, as He drew near the grave of Lazarus, He saw no doubt vividly reflected the world-wide grief, the sorrow, crying, and tears, which have followed sin and death in their hateful course on earth. Who does not feel his heart moved at the contemplation of this? No wonder then that He “who bare our griefs and carried our sorrows” was troubled in spirit, in part at this epitome of human misery.
3. The thought of all the sorrow and suffering caused by sin and death to humankind affected the Saviour’s heart, and the pressure of His grief found relief in tears.
II. An expression of sympathy with those friends of the Redeemer.—
1. The heart of Jesus was moved by the grief of those sorrowing sisters of Lazarus, whom He viewed with such regard.
2. Martha and Mary had lost a kind and loving brother. Heart-broken they waited the Master’s coming until all hope had fled, while Jesus still delayed. Jesus felt for all this sorrow, even though He knew it was soon to be turned into joy. The grief of the sisters was real; they had been prostrated by the awful blow. To loving hearts such grief is contagious; and their divine Friend, as truly man, was touched at the view of their affliction.
3. Nor was the thought of Lazarus absent from the mind of Jesus. He sorrowed that death should have such power, to break up homes, to sunder friends, to chill the heart, and make the life dark. All the pains and pangs of dissolution which His friends must endure, His martyrs and faithful followers, to the end of time, who must submit to this awful spoiler, moved His heart as He went to the grave of His friend. Further, those tears of the Redeemer are—
III. An expression of the divine love bringing heavenly comfort to men.—
1. He who wept with the sisters of Lazarus was the Man of sorrows, the incarnate Son of God. His mind and will were at one with the mind and will of His Father. So that we are here assured of the divine sympathy in our sorrows. The Father does not weep. There are no tears in heaven. Only by becoming man, and tabernacling here, could the Son taste the cup of human woe.
2. But there are sympathy and love in the heart of the divine Father; and the sympathy of Jesus with human sorrow, and those tears at Bethany, are the visible expression of the Father’s heart.
3. And the divine sympathy is the forerunner of the divine help. Jesus raised Lazarus and restored him to his sorrowing sisters and friends. But this was only a pledge and prophecy of the coming time when sin, sorrow, and death shall pass away, “and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).
1. Men may, and if true and loving must, sorrow when loved ones are taken away. At such times genuine human sympathy is most comforting and valuable. But when that fails, and above and beyond it even when it exists, there is the assurance that in Jesus His people have an ever-present friend who will comfort them in hours of sorrow.
“Thou, Saviour, mark’st the tears I shed,
For Thou didst weep o’er Lazarus dead.”
2. Jesus can do more than sympathise and comfort: He can infuse into bereaved and sorrowing hearts a “lively hope,” a greater hope, than could be given to Martha and Mary ere their brother was raised. For He Himself has risen from the grave, that all His own might have an assured, hope.
3. While the thought that Jesus sympathises with His people in their sorrow brings heavenly comfort, not so the thought that He mourns for some who have gone back from Him. His feeling for such, so far as it can find expression in the heavenly places, is like that which moved Him to weep over Jerusalem.
John 11:1-27. Help from the Lord.—
I. As help sought (John 11:1-5).—
1. The inducement to seek this help is an external one, and is found in the sickness of a brother (John 11:1).
2. The true way in which to seek Christ’s help is this—to be prepared to acquiesce that it should come according to His will. They simply sent the message that Lazarus was sick.
3. The deeper reason why help is sought from Jesus is faith, by which we are united to Him (John 11:3). He whom Thou lovest.
4. The issue and final result of it is (John 11:4), that all should redound to the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, because Jesus loves us (John 11:5).
II. As help delayed (John 11:6-16).—
1. Jesus does not always at once hurry to our help (John 11:6).
2. But unknown to us He prepares to help us (John 11:7-10).
3. The consequence of the delay is that the necessity for help rises to extremity (John 11:11-14).
4. The design of Jesus in such delay is the strengthening of the faith of His people (John 11:15), however despairing they may be (John 11:16).
III. As help drawing near (John 11:17-27).—
1. Help comes when it seems almost impossible that it should (John 11:17-19).
2. Still there remains a glimmering of hope in the hearts of His people (John 11:20-22).
3. And Jesus’ precious word of promise powerfully quickens this hope anew (John 11:23-27).—Lisco.
John 11:28-46. The Lord as the helper of His people.—
I. The drawing nigh to Him as helper (John 11:28-32).—
1. It was occasioned by the notification of His arrival (John 11:28-30).
2. It took place concealed from the eye of the world (John 11:31).
3. It was accompanied by the outpouring of the heart before Him (John 11:32).
II. The love of this mighty Helper (John 11:33-37).—
1. It revealed itself in the form of tender and lively sympathy (John 11:33-35).
2. It was recognized by many (John 11:36).
3. By others it was regarded as a sign of impotent weakness (John 11:37).
III. The help accorded by this loving Helper (John 11:38-46).—
1. It went far beyond every human conception (John 11:38-39).
2. It revealed the glorious power of God (John 11:40).
3. It redounded to the divine glory (John 11:41-42).
4. It could not be denied or doubted (John 11:43-44).
5. It was not followed in the case of all who witnessed it by the same result (John 11:45-46).—Lisco.
John 11:1-45. What can bring us comfort at the graves of our loved ones?—
I. The sympathy of Christ with our sorrow.—
1. Jesus saw the grief of the sisters of Lazarus and their friends. He understood their sorrow and was Himself moved by it.
2. The world sees our affliction, but remains cold, and even friends underestimate our grief sometimes, because it may be that on account of our loss our outward condition is not greatly altered. Jesus understands our sorrow better, He sees what our soul has suffered, when a loved one is taken hence, that not alone a material but a spiritual portion is, as it were, broken from us. He is moved with compassion thereat.
II. The words of Jesus bring comfort to our hearts.—
1. The words of Jesus to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again: I am the resurrection,” etc., brought comfort, although she did not fully realise what Christ was to do.
2. The world has surface comfort to offer, and never shows its emptiness more than at the grave, where all its wisdom cannot rise above the thought, We must submit, we cannot do anything here. But the words of Christ open to us a glimpse of what is beyond, and bring to all who believe on Him most blessed promises. Sorrow is turned into joy, weakness into strength, the transitory life becomes unfading in the skies. Such considerations teach us to look beyond this earthly life, and make earthly sorrow retreat behind the hopes of the blessed eternity.
III. Christ’s authority over the power of death.—
1. Christ commanded the bystanders to take away the stone from the grave. He spoke the word of power, and Lazarus, who had been dead four days, heard that word and came forth.
2. True, our Lord does not now in this present time awaken our dead. His wisdom has reserved this mighty act of His power for the future. The raising up of the dead by Jesus during His ministry on earth is, however, our warrant that He will assuredly fulfil all His promises, and awake all the dead in the end of the days. Then shall there be no more death: the fashion of it shall be changed; the faithful dead shall inherit immortal life.
IV. The love of Christ in restoring to us our own.—
1. The Lord brought back Lazarus to His sorrowing sisters and friends, renewed in body, and also spiritually strengthened to show forth Christ’s praise.
2. The Lord will give back to His people their loved ones (who have gone hence in faith), freed from all earthly imperfections, clothed with glory, and made fit for full, undefiled, and unfading affection.—After J. L. Sommer.
John 11:33. Jesus troubled—Without enumerating various other interpretations of the passage, we think Augustine, Erasmus, Luthardt, Hengstenberg, and Moulton meet our difficulty by the suggestion that death itself occasioned this indignation. Though, like the good Physician in the house of mourning, He knew the issue of His mighty act, yet He entered with vivid, intense human sympathy into all the primary and secondary sorrows of death. He saw the long procession of mourners from the first to the last, all the reckless agony, all the hopelessness of it, in thousands of millions of instances. There flashed upon His spirit all the terrible moral consequences of which death was the ghastly symbol. He knew that within a short time He too, in taking upon Himself the sins of men, would have taken upon Himself their death. And there was enough to rouse in His spirit a divine indignation, and He groaned and shuddered. He roused Himself to a conflict which would be a prelibation of the cross and the burial. He took the diseases of men upon Himself when He took them away. He took the death-agony of Lazarus and the humiliation of the grave and the tears of the sisters upon Himself when He resolved to cry, “Lazarus, come forth!” and to snatch from the grasp of the grim conqueror for a little while one of his victims. Compare the toil of Hercules in wrestling with death for the wife of Admetus. Compare also chap. John 13:21, where moral proximity to the treacherous heart and ghastly deed and approaching doom of Judas made Him once more to shudder.—Reynolds.
John 11:1. Lessons from Bethany.—Bethany, thou home of peace, thou place beloved of the Lord, joyfully didst thou see Him in the midst of thee, joyfully went He in and out. Well shall it be for us when in our house and heart He finds a place beloved by Him!
“Friend, so near unto Thine own,
Here be Thy home, Thy Bethany.”
Is thy house such a Bethany? Does true brotherly love dwell there? Is the common love to Jesus the uniting bond? When afflictions come, dost thou, in union with all thine own, call the Lord to thee as the Prince of helpers? Is every period of sickness for thee and thine a time for the testing and strengthening of faith? When thou comest to the bed of languishing, what of inner willingness and receptivity dost thon bring with thee? Dost thou receive a blessing therefrom? Is Christ’s mind thy mind, that the result shall be for the glory of God? It is part melancholy, part bravado, that makes a Thomas declare. “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” But even this is governed by the spirit that rules in Bethany, the love of Jesus, and the unbearableness of life without Him. And then, is the trust of this community unchanged when He seems to withdraw His help and to delay it?… But was the Lord not present when the sickness began, and as it became ever more and more severe? Was He not present when He … in supernatural prescience declared that the sickness was not unto death—present when He said, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth”?—Translated from Kögel.
John 11:4. God can bring good out of evil.—The fact of the existence of evil … is the mystery of mysteries. Here is the thought which baffles thought; here is, above all other spheres of exercise, “the patience of God’s saints.” It is impossible to argue against this contradiction. It is impossible to explain, even to the satisfaction of the explainer, why evil must exist, why evil must live and work, why evil must be mighty and victorious, if God be power and if God be love. Impossible, I say, to explain these things. Not impossible—blessed be His holy name—to trust Him through the darkness and silence, to say with the patriarch, “He is able to raise up even from the dead”; to say with Him once again, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Enough, if we are assured that what we see not He sees, and that which we know but in part He knows perfectly and from end to end. The man who takes God Himself into his heart by faith, knows Him as his God, and finds in Him, as revealed in Christ, present comfort and present strength, can wait for Him though He tarry. “Times of refreshing,” “times of restitution,” are promised in His word. This complicated, this perplexed, this chaotic world,—He is able to raise it up even from the dead. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
John 11:5. The spirit of love.—The spring of truth is alone the spirit of truth, the spring of love is alone the spirit of love which Christ has shed abroad on His people. That which any one is, through and for this, alone expresses his true worth. And how much soever any one has succeeded by deeds of another sort, and however much of renown he may have gained here among men, all this will fade and become invisible in the light of truth, when we contrast it with that which a spirit effects, even in the most modest positions in this our human life, when it is pervaded by the divine spirit of truth and love. Only the gifts which flow from that can effect what is true and permanent in the life of men, and what in every way should be reckoned as a common good. We know nothing more of Lazarus than this, that as he was a friend of the Lord he walked in this spirit of love and truth; and never was deeper sorrow expressed than at his death.—Translated from F. Schleiermacher,
John 11:5-6. Trials of faith.—There is a trial in these days not absolutely unworthy to be set side by side with that of the father of the faithful. It is that which comes to us more directly in the form of an apparent inconsistency between God and His word, between God and His promise, between God and His self-manifestation in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of this kind are all those delays and denials of the thing earnestly prayed for, which, when the spiritual life is in question—and it is of this that we speak now—are of the nature (to our own limited view) of contradiction to the great promise, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” It is, idle to dispute, it is wrong to disparage, the severity of this trial, where the desire is after God, and where the prayer is honest, humble, and importunate. Is faith strong to say under such trial, “Oh, tarry thou the Lord’s leisure.… Hath He said, and shall He not make it good?… Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”?—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
John 11:9 -
10. Light on the path of duty.
Thou who art victory and law,
When empty terrors overawe,
From vain temptation dost set free,
And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity.
There are who ask not if Thine eye
Be on them …
Glad hearts, without reproach or blot,
Who do Thy work and know it not:
May joy be theirs while life shall last,
And Thou, if they should totter, teach them to stand fast.
Serene will be our day, and bright
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security.
And blest are they who in the main
This faith, even now, do entertain,
Live in the spirit of their creed,
Yet find that other strength according to their need.
Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace.
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
And the most ancient heavens through Thee are fresh and strong.
John 11:9-10. Activity dispels doubt.—Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct. Nay, properly, conviction is not possible till then, in as much as all speculation is, by nature, endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices: only by a felt, indubitable certainty of experience does it find any centre to revolve around, and so fashion itself into a system. Most true is it, as a wise man teaches us, that “doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action.” On which ground, too, let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart, which was to me of invaluable service: “Do the duty which lies nearest thee,” which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer.—Carlyle.
John 11:11. Bereavement mitigated for the believer.—Beloved brothers and sisters, our sorrow should be after a godly manner: “that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope,” i.e. as the heathen. In great sorrow, as in great joy, a man’s inner nature comes forth to the light. And thus, in the bitter sorrow of death, it will be seen on what foundation of faith we stand, whether our sorrow is a Christian or a heathenish sorrow. Immoderate grief is heathenish when we idolise our departed ones, as if with them all had gone, as if no God existed in heaven, who alone is absolutely necessary, who alone is the holy and incomparable One. A hopeless sorrow is heathenish when we grieve as if death were the annihilation of our loved ones, and that from the day of their burial nothing more remained of them than the mouldering bones in the sepulchre, and the pain in our hearts. A faithless sorrow is heathenish when we forget in our affliction that a God rules in heaven, without whose will no leaf from the tree, no hair of our head, falls—when in our woe we chide with God, as if He, the Holy One, had done us a wrong, in place of humbly bending ourselves beneath His mighty hand, which is yet a Father’s hand, and remains so even when it most afflicts us. An inconsolable grief is heathenish when we obstinately put aside consolation, and self-tormenting nurse our pain and suicidally pine away, in place of taking the burden on our shoulders trustfully in God’s name, in order to live on for the sake of our dear ones, and to work while it is day, and to advance personally in holiness and preparation for a peaceful end. Thus inordinately, hopelessly, without faith, and inconsolably may a heathen sorrow by the cinerary urn of his dead, but not a Christian at the green grave-hillock of those who sleep. Such a heathenish sorrow the apostle prohibits by the beautiful words by which he designates the dead: “Those that sleep.” The death of the Christian is a sleep. This is certainly only a figure, but in this figure lies a beautiful meaning and tender consolation.—Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 11:11. Similitudes of death.—There are many figures by which men have represented death in order to rob him of his terrors and accustom the mind to his appearance. He has been likened to an extinguished torch and a broken thread; to a door through which the dying one enters into the glories of heaven; to a messenger whom the Lord sends to bear His bride, the soul, out of the world, to lead her to Him and give her into His arms; to a chariot on which the soul journeys to its native home; to a ferryman who steers from Meshech to Jerusalem. But the most beautiful and comprehensive of all those similitudes is still that which Christ chose specially, which indeed had already been used before Him by Jews and Gentiles, and which is readily used at all times by believers and unbelievers alike—the figure, death is a sleep. For very striking is the resemblance between them. Sleep is the brother of death.—Translated from F. Arndt.
John 11:11. The figure of the sleep of death points to a sacred, divine order.—As it is according to the appointment of God that in autumn nature prepares for her winter rest—that as in the ordinary daily course of nature at eventide tired men should lie down to sleep—so to the Christian the sleep of death is a holy, divine law, to which each should reconcile himself in pious resignation with the acknowledgment, “I am not better than my fathers.” This figure of death as a sleep points further to a sweet rest. How does the labourer rejoice when at night he forgets the day’s burdens and cares in sweet slumber! So to the weary pilgrim on earth death is a rest, a sleeping away of the fatigues of this earth; and so should we rejoice when our loved ones sleep in the Lord, that they have attained to peace, resting in their silent chambers, and that no troubles and pains of earth touch them more. This image of death as a sleep points finally to a joyful awakening. As morning follows on the night, when, as if new born, men arise from sleep, so do we hope that after the night of death a more glorious morning and a blessed resurrection are awaiting all who sleep in the Lord. So shall we not sorrow as others who have no hope; so shall our woe be subdued to pious sadness; and whoever of you have, during this past year, wept in bitter anguish by the bed of death, refusing to be comforted, oh! look to-day, since the Lord hath helped you hitherto, with mitigated grief on the graves of those who sleep, and for your comfort remember—
“Christ’s people pass from place to place,
O’er ways of toil and sorrow,
And reach at last their resting-place,
Where they await the morrow.
God, when their journey’s o’er,
Receives them evermore.…
The seed-corn in the furrow thrown
Is with the hope of harvest sown.”
Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 11:21-24. Submission to the divine will.—There is, however, … something else to be considered in regard to those with whom God has placed us in immediate relationship in our life. For these are not given to us merely that they should help and succour us, but as much for this reason, that we should influence and help them. And when they are taken from us and depart hence, and the consciousness remains to us that we have not influenced them as we should or could have done, that we have not been for them instruments of the divine Spirit, and have not succoured and supported them with all our power in the work of the Lord, which they were carrying on, then this truly is a sorrow of a very different kind. May we so receive that true wisdom which comes only from above, that we may prepare for ourselves this sorrow less and less with every year of our life, and ever more perfectly fill the station in which God hath placed us. But may we do this in such a way that our trust shall be placed ever more unboundedly on Him who directs all, so that we shall gladly leave to Him to determine when and how He shall call hence this one and that one from among us. And truly if we only listen to His word, attend to the voice of His Spirit, honour and love men from the heart according to the measure in which His Spirit works in them, oh! then we shall not murmur when, in conformity with the divine order, now this one, now that one, is called away. But we shall firmly trust that the loss of each dear leader will be made good for the common cause and for us, if not, indeed, always by another single individual, yet certainly through the working together of those powers which make toward the same end, through the common works of love which flow from the same spiritual source. In this sense also let us think of death so that we may be wise—wise that we may view its effects on our own lives with complete submission to the will of God, and wise that we may be resigned ourselves to go hence in accordance with that will when the hour strikes, and He purposes to give us rest from earthly labour.—Translated from F. Schleiermacher.
John 11:25-26. The winter of death and the spring of resurrection.—This is a lofty article of our faith. Heathenish philosophers have at all times stumbled at it and rejected it. The glory of Christianity lies in this, that it universally acknowledges it. St. Augustine sought to bring it within the comprehension of simple believers by a common but popular and familiar similitude. When the cold and dark winter commences, he rages with fury in the fields and woods, in the gardens and in the meadows, in towns and villages, just as if he would subdue men and beasts and overturn in ruins universal nature. He robs the trees of their leaves, the meads of their flowers, the birds of their nests, the mountains of their verdure, the springs of their flow. Does it not appear as if all hope for these had gone, as if the sap were dried up, the roots dead? But so soon as summer appears the trees resume their leafage, the meads their flowers, the mountains their verdant pasturage, the brooks flow again. Even thus will it be with the bodies of the dead. The bones are robbed of their flesh, the flesh of its veins, the veins of blood, and all the members of sensation. But at the dawn of the great day, and at the sounding of the last trumpet, all will be retrieved as in a glorious summer. We shall proceed and add another similitude for the comfort of pious believers in this world—the similitude of the corn of wheat, which the apostle Paul himself made use of (1 Corinthians 15:36-37). A corn of wheat is cast into the earth. Soon it changes in such a fashion that it becomes a white viscid substance. Still, the particles gradually coalesce, and throw out a white point as a germ. This bores upward through the ground, and as soon as it peeps forth throws aside its white colour and takes on a green shade. Now it grows up like grass, but before this sends its roots branching out into the soil in filaments, and extends these filaments on every side, so that the plant may have a firm hold. And as carpenters know how to secure a house by strong binding beams, so God strengthens the growing haulm that it may be able to support the ascending ear. And now the wonders increase. The blooms appear in the form of tender filaments. Fine flower-dust brings about fructification. In beautiful order the grain appears, closely packed together; and each grain is set in a husk, protected as in a cell; and still more, as soon as the ear is set, prickly beards, like a stockade, are set around it, so that the grain may be protected from birds and vermin. Now behold, O children of men; see how much there is that is wonderful in an ear of corn that dies. When once it falls into the earth it rises up, bringing with it and from itself a hundred others. Now, if God can bring from a simple grain of corn a hundredfold, how much more easy will it be for Him to reawaken the body of a man! Therefore let us go with the prophet to the field, and see how at the voice of Christ there is a rustle of movement, how all begins to stir, the bones coming together to each other, “each to his bone,”—how the veins are figured out, and the flesh “comes up” and is covered with skin; how the winds from the four quarters rise and blow upon the dead, so that these may live; and how, finally, the breath enters these new-formed bodies, so that they are animated and stand up on their feet. Let us consider them! They are a great army! O Lord Jesus Christ, breathe upon me with the spirit of holiness against sin, with the spirit of wisdom, to deliver me from folly! Breathe upon me with the breath of life, so that I may be quickened from death! Breathe upon me with the breath of freedom, so that I may be delivered from the bondage of this evil world! Breathe upon me with the breath of grace, so that after this tribulation I may receive and taste of Thy mercy! Amen.—From Dr. J. M. Mayfart’s “himml. Jerus.”
John 11:25-26. The dead not lost.
They are not lost! they live, they live for aye;
To those rent hearts this healing hope is given:
When from our sight our loved ones pass away,
All that seems lost to earth is found in heaven.—Thomas Hill.
The blest are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye,
But not extinct; they hold their way
In glory through the sky.
John 11:25-26. Types of the resurrection.—God gave a type of the resurrection to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:0.). In those words God gives us a perfect parable of the rising again of the dead. He gave thereby to the Jews in Babylonian exile a promise that they would unfailingly be brought back again. But if the resurrection of the dead had been a doubtful matter to them, how could God have given to the Jews therefrom a proof of the certainty of His promise being fulfilled! Some will not believe this. They consider that it would be impossible for a body scattered abroad, it may be in different countries, to be brought together so speedily. And even if all the members were present, it would be impossible for them to be united. The old Church doctor, Gregory of Nyssa, thus spoke to the unbelieving: “You will admit that God can do as much, surely, as a potter learns from his master to do. Now, what does a potter do? He takes a piece of vile clay, and forms out of it a beautiful vessel, according to his pleasure, and places it in the sun. But when, through some mischance, the vessel is damaged, has fallen, has been broken or thrown down, and has thus lost its former shape, then the potter presses it, if he chooses, again into a lump, and makes out of it a new vessel as beautiful as the former. This the potter can do; and you believe that he can, although he is but a weak creature of God. Why, then, will you not believe God, when He has promised that He will awake the dead?”—F. Arndt.
John 11:25-26. Death as foe and death as friend.—A great German artist (Rethel) has graphically depicted in two companion pictures this foe, overcoming and overcome; and thus indirectly teaches us how we may best conquer all our enemies. By the one canvas the beholder is conducted in thought to a scene of gaiety—a masquerade. The fête has been proceeding merrily in a spacious apartment, at one end of which the musicians occupy a gallery. But the artist has depicted an awful pause in the revelry. The plague is raging in the city, and has reached those halls of pleasure, where men are trying to drown the thought of the destroyer. The musicians are fleeing from the gallery; and the gay company shrink with horror from a young gallant who stands with his mask fallen off in the centre of the scene. By him stands a dark spectre, whose uplifted mask tells that he is death. The terrified wretch looks round with beseeching expression, as if he would fain compromise with the unwelcome intruder who has come to mar his pleasure—but in vain, for the spectre seems to beckon him away. Death has come to him like a thief, like an avenging foe. The companion picture shows us a different scene. It is a small chamber in the belfry tower of a village church. The little square window of the room is open, and through it we look on a rural landscape. The time is eventide. All without is marked by calm and peaceful gladness, as if the old earth smiled ere night drew her curtains around. Flocks are browsing and herds returning homeward, for the sun is just beginning to dip the horizon; and a long stream of light, like a pathway to heaven, lies between the window of the little room and the setting sun. The peace without reigns within. On a rustic armchair sits the sacristan. The bell-rope hangs by his hand, as if he had just rung or were about to ring the evening bell. He seems as if peacefully sleeping. But his sleep is of the deepest; for near him stands the same figure that called the pleasure-seeker away. Into the bony face of the spectre the artist has managed to put a sad, yet pleasing expression. On the sill of the window sits a little bird, irradiated by the glow of the setting sun and trilling his evening song, as if he rejoiced with the spirit speeding heavenward on the pathway of light.
John 11:28. “The Master it come, and calleth for thee.”—Spinoza, the sceptical philosopher, declared that so soon as he could hold this story of the raising up of Lazarus to be true, he would break his philosophical system in pieces. But he rather left his theory whole than that he would yield his heart in thankfulness and humility. A married pair in our city had piously made an agreement with each other that when it was evident that one of them was dying the other should not conceal the nearness of the danger, but should say, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” Oh no, it is not dying to go forth to God! As Jesus asked for the grave of Lazarus, saying, “Where have ye laid him?” so during thy whole life the Saviour inquires concerning all conditions and places where thou art, and dost comfort thee even though thy outward man should perish. He will also concern Himself with thy last resting-place, and will write thereon: “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” Let each of us pray in the Spirit:—
“When Thou shalt raise the dead
On the great judgment day,
Touch with Thine outstretched hand
The grave where rests my clay,
And let Thy voice be heard
Even in my silent tomb;
My body glorified
Bring to its heavenly home.’
Translated from Kögel.
John 11:32. The sympathy of Jesus in sorrow.—Jesus had given many convincing proofs of His love to the household of Bethany while Lazarus lived, but none with that touching tenderness in it which came forth at his grave. The fellowship of suffering brings hearts and lives together more than all the fellowship of joy. There must have been a divine compassion in the Redeemer’s look which melted Mary’s soul as she fell at His feet and felt that her grief was also His. And when His grief broke out into that trouble of spirit at the grave—when His heart was overpowered by it and Jesus wept—the mourners knew that He was one with them. Gethsemane shows us the agony of Christ’s soul for man’s sin—the grave at Bethany His agony of heart at man’s suffering. All that sad, sorrowful walk to the sepulchre where He mingled His tears with theirs was as necessary to make them feel the sympathy of His soul, as was the great deliverance when He said, “Lazarus, come forth.” Nor need we be at all stumbled by the objection that He could not feel so deeply since He knew what He was about to do. A man may pity the breaking heart of a child although he can see away beyond its short sorrow, and God pities us in the midst of our life’s troubles though He perceives the speedy end of them. Be very sure of this, that Christ’s grief was as genuine as theirs, and that the compassion of God and of His Son is as true at every step of the road to the grave as it is when it rises up at last into full redemption, and the gate of the grave is thrown wide open. To form this fellowship of suffering on the way to death is one reason why Christ permits it. He says, “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee,” and we are brought to reply, “We did pass through the flood on foot, there did we rejoice in Him.”—Dr. John Ker.
John 11:33. Two classes of mourners.—There be two manner of mourners for the dead. The heathen and unbelievers mourn without hope of the resurrection; their opinion is that, seeing their near friends are dead, there is no more of them, but that they have utterly lost them for ever. This heathenish sorrow will not St. Paul have of Christians. The Christians mourn also, but with a living hope of the joyful resurrection. For like as God the Father left not Christ the Lord in death, but raised Him up again, and placed Him in eternal life; even so us that believe shall not He leave in death, but bring us out into everlasting life. For this cause doth the apostle speak of the dead as of those that sleep, which rest but from all travail and labour, that they may rise again in better case. Like as the flowers with all their virtue, smell, and beauty lie all the winter in the root, sleeping and resting till they be awaked with the pleasant time of May, when they come forth with all their beauty, smell, and virtue; even so ought not we to think that our friends which be departed are in any cumbrance or sorrow, but their strength and virtue being drawn in, liveth in God and with God. They lie and rest till the last day, when they shall awake again, fair, beautiful, and glorious, in soul and body. Who will not now rejoice at this comfort … and set aside all unprofitable sorrow for this exceeding joy’s sake?—Coverdale.
John 11:34-35. The gift of tears.
Be not thy tears too harshly chid,
Repine not at the rising sigh:
Who, if they might, would always bid
The breast be still, the cheek be dry?
How little of ourselves we know
Before a grief the heart has felt!
The lessons that we learn of woe
May brace the mind as well as melt.
The energies too stern for mirth,
The reach of thought, the strength of will,
’Mid cloud and tempest have their birth,—
Through blight and blast their course fulfil.
Tears at each pure emotion flow;
They wait on Pity’s gentle claim,
On Admiration’s fervid glow,
On Piety’s seraphic flame.
’Tis only when it mourns and fears
The loaded spirit feels forgiven,
And through the mist of falling tears
We catch the clearest glimpse of heaven
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 11:46. But some of them, etc.—It is possible to misjudge their motives; but in view of John 19:22 and John 10:31 their action can hardly be viewed as friendly.
John 11:48. The Romans, etc.—If Christ were to be raised to the position of leader of the people the jealous Roman government might take away the last vestige of their power. “They feared temporal loss and incurred eternal, and did not even escape the temporal” (Augustine). Place.—Their position probably as ecclesiastical rulers of the Jewish people. Thus both such political and religious privileges as they possessed might be endangered, they thought.
John 11:49. Caiaphas.—Joseph Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas, who had been deprived of the priesthood by Valerius Gratus (Josephus, Ant., 18). To conciliate him the members of his family were elected in turn to the office. That same year.—I.e. that memorable year.
John 11:50. Caiaphas was politically an opportunist, and an unscrupulous one to boot. Justice, human life, he little regarded where his interests and those of his class were concerned. Expediency must rule.
John 11:51. Prophesied.—Like Balaam (Numbers 24:0).
John 11:53. Then from that day, etc.—The Pharisees had now overcome their last scruples, and united for evil with the sceptical Sadducees.
John 11:54. Jesus therefore, etc.—Ephraim is said by Robinson to be near Bethel; and he identifies it with Ephron (2 Chronicles 13:19), and this Ephron with Ophrah (Judges 18:23).
John 11:55. Purify.—2 Chronicles 30:16-20; Acts 21:24.
John 11:56-57. Then sought they.—The simple country folk would have heard Jesus gladly; and the commandment of the chief priests and Pharisees was no doubt given with the intention of making our Lord appear to be one unworthy of their regard.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 11:47-57
The unconscious prophecy of Caiaphas.—The wonderful miracle at Bethany could not remain hid. Many of those who had seen it believed. Some of them, however, although they could not doubt the evidence of their senses in the matter of the miracle, appear not to have been drawn more closely to Christ. These went to the Pharisees with the news of the miracle and of the fact that many had believed on the Saviour. It does not seem necessary to seek for either a good or a bad motive in their action. They went with that eagerness to bear news, especially to such as will welcome it, which seems characteristic of some people. The tidings those men brought threw the dominant party into a state of perturbation. A crisis had arrived; and Pharisee and Sadducee were joined in an unholy league against God’s holy child, Jesus.
I. The perplexity of the Jewish leaders in council.—
1. The opening scene in the council of Christ’s enemies reveals the unholy conspirators in a state of pitiful perplexity. They cannot deny Christ’s miracles. They see that if He continues His course a large following will gather around Him, which by ordinary methods they will be unable to control.
2. And then, in spite of all their proud boasts about their freedom (John 8:33), they have to acknowledge the dominant power of Rome. They fear that power—fear that, if Jesus attracts a large band of followers, the Roman governor may step in to disperse it, and may tell them, the present religious rulers of the people, that, being incapable, apparently, of exerting any proper authority, they must in every department give up the reins of power.
3. This, no doubt, influenced some. But many of them must have known that the kingdom Christ spoke of setting up was no earthly dominion. There was another influence at the bottom of all this bitter enmity against Jesus. He had put the Sadducees more than once to silence. And this last miracle struck at one of the fundamental tenets of their sect, “that the spirit of man is an emanation of the Deity, and after death returns to Him, so that there can be no resurrection of the body.” Our Lord’s rebuke of this sect made them especially bitter, and indeed the leaders in the plot against Jesus.
4. While the council was in perplexity, and the more law-abiding no doubt shrinking from extreme measures, a man unscrupulous and able brought all to a speedy decision. Caiaphas, the high priest, owed his position to the intervention of the Roman governor, Valerius Gratus, and thus was interested in preventing anything which would arouse the jealousy of Rome. He evidently had sat silent in the council whilst the members were blindly and confusedly dubitating, with cynical scorn expressed in his look. At last he intervened, rating the council for their indecision and weakness, and impressing on them his idea as to what their line of action should be.
II. The counsel of Caiaphas.—
1. He interpreted the desires of the majority of his colleagues which they themselves were afraid to give expression to, far less to carry into execution. His counsel was one of expediency pure and simple. Justice, righteousness, truth, were nothing to him.
2. The present danger must be averted by some means or other, if the position of the Jewish rulers, both toward the people and in relation to the Roman power, was to be maintained. If this Jesus continued to work and gain adherents as He had been doing, then farewell to their authority over the people as teachers and administrators of their law—farewell also, perhaps, to the limited power they still possessed under Rome. Therefore said this bold and evil man, “Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us,” etc. (John 11:50). That was his decision: Remove this man by death, and your difficulties vanish.
3. A simple cutting of the knot, Caiaphas! No question as to the antecedents of this Jesus, as to the manner and substance of His teaching, as to the truth of His mighty works, as to whether He has encouraged any feeling of disloyalty among His followers toward the reigning powers. No! simply: This man stands in our way; remove Him, and we shall be able to advance: He seems to endanger our authority; let Him die, and we shall stand secure. It is a counsel which some would count worldly-wise, but its inspiration is from beneath, not from above. “What is necessary is right”; “Necessity knows no law”; “The end justifies the means”: such are Caiaphas’ counsels.
4. Swayed by this dominant mind, even those who had qualms of conscience seem to have yielded to this evil counsel (John 11:53). How far had these formal adherents to the law of Moses fallen below its standard of justice between man and man! how far below those Roman conquerors whom they hated, and who prided themselves justly on the protection which their laws afforded to the citizens of the Roman State in all quarters of the world! Caiaphas must bow before the heathen who wrote, “Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum.”
5. And let thy counsel, Caiaphas, appear successful for the time: will it prove so in the end? Has ever true good come from unrighteousness? God, it is true, may and does bring good out of evil,—
“From seeming evil still educing good,
And better thence again.”
But will it be for good to those who do the unrighteous deed, carry out the unrighteous plan? Never!
III. The unconscious prophecy of Caiaphas.—
1. He was high priest. And even though one who was unworthy occupied the office, the office itself had a theocratic dignity, and served a divine purpose. And here God made use of the office. The high priest, who year by year entered into the Holiest of all, “not without blood, which he offered for himself and the errors of the people” (Hebrews 9:7), is here led unwittingly to prophesy concerning the one offering which was to be made not only for the Jewish “nation,” but for all the children of God scattered abroad, who were thus to be brought into unity (John 10:16).
2. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Caiaphas and his fellow-councillors thought that by getting rid of Jesus they might preserve the small remnant of authority they possessed, and through it might yet regain their national power. In this view he appealed to the better part of the council and the national party, who may even yet have dreamed that Jesus might have some Messianic message for them, and many of whom believed Him to be a prophet. But the appeal of Caiaphas prevailed over their better feelings.
3. And yet by the divine guidance this evil counsel resulted in the true good of the spiritual Israel, in a wider blessing than any mere restitution of the Jewish “nation,” in the state in which it then was, would have been. It would result in the blessed unity of all peoples, which later Judaism had failed to pray and labour for (John 12:32; Psalms 67:0; 1 John 2:2).
4. But although God could and did bring blessing to all men by the carrying out of the evil counsel of Caiaphas, no blessing, rather the reverse, would come on those who planned and carried it out. These men ostensibly based their action on the danger of the Romans interfering or taking away what power remained to them, etc. (John 11:48). They thought to avert this danger by an unrighteous action. But from the moment they carried out their designs that which they feared began to come upon them.
5. The Sadducees sought to crush One who had brought their errors home to them, and had thus given opportunity for triumph to their opponents (Matthew 22:34). But lo! when He had been crucified, in place of One who taught the resurrection of the dead there arose multitudes who proclaimed the resurrection of that same Jesus whom they had crucified, and preached the Resurrection with amazing power and results (Acts 4:2; Acts 23:9).
6. And in the end the power of the Jewish rulers, their temple, their city, and the “nation” itself, passed away amid blood and fire. Unrighteousness may triumph for a time, yet in the end it shall not prevail.
1. Righteousness is the only safe principle to guide the activity both of governments and individuals. Such merely worldly-wise, unjust, and tyrannical modes of action as that of Caiaphas and all his kind will result only in disaster to those who adopt them. Unrighteousness carries within it the elements of its own punishment and final ruin here and hereafter. The Christian rule of action is:—
“Perish policy and cunning!
Perish all that fears the light!
Whether losing, whether winning,
Trust in God and do the right.”
2. What has been planned by evil men can in God’s hand be turned to good. He that sits in heaven laughs at their designs; and whilst they go on and often perish in their wickedness, He bends their actions to subserve His own eternal purposes.
John 11:50. Hypocritical excuses for crime.—The real ground of opposition was hatred of the light; the ostensible ground was patriotism, public zeal, loyalty, far-sighted policy. And such is life. The motive in which a deed of sin is done is not the motive which a man allows to others or whispers to himself. Listen to the criminal receiving sentence, and the cause of condemnation is not the enormity of the crime, but the injustice of the country’s law. Hear the man of disorderly life, whom society has expelled from her bosom, and the cause of the expulsion is not his profligacy, but the false slander which has misrepresented him. Take his own account of the matter, and he is innocent, injured, pure. For there are names so tender, and so full of fond endearment, with which this world sugars over its dark guilt towards God with a crust of superficial whiteness, that the sin, on which eighteen centuries have looked back appalled, was, to the doers of that sin, nothing atrocious, but respectable, defensible, nay even, under the circumstances, necessary.—F. W. Robertson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany