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Bible Commentaries
John 11

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Verses 1-57

John 11:0

In selecting this word we are struck with the frequency of its occurrence in this chapter. There is:

I. The "If" of wisdom. Jesus answered "If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not." The Lord is laying down a great philosophy of work, he is indicating that there are times and seasons for labour; and that not only is work to be done, but done at the proper time the light for labour, the darkness for rest.

II. The "If" of hope shadowed by fear. "Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well." The disciples seem to have felt that Lazarus was dead, but hearing Jesus say that he slept, the disciples said, "Lord, if he sleep." Do we not sometimes say it is so, when we mean, we wish it were so?

III. The "If" of ignorance. "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." This is a beautiful "If" beyond doubt. It is employed for the purpose of increasing emphasis, deepening and enlarging spiritual certitude. With Jesus in the house, there can be no death. In the house of the saint bereavement itself becomes a sacrament. Death doth but enlarge the horizon, and show the greater width of the universe.

IV. The "If" that calls to faith. "If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God." God holds nothing back from faith.

V. The "If" of human despair. "If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him." Even the Pharisees must have an "If." There are people who must run down other people, depreciate them, who say "there are spots on the sun" there will be spots on the earth as long as they live.

VI. The "If" of self-righteousness. If I might go beyond this chapter, it would be to quote two other "Ifs" full of meaning. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." We deceive ourselves we deceive nobody else. We are liars, and the truth is not in us. Men must be faithful with themselves, right down frank with their own spirits.

VII. The "If" of confession. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Parker, Christian Commonwealth, July 21st, 1887.

References: John 11:0 G. Macdonald, The Miracles, p. 205; T. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 189. John 12:1 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 189. John 12:1-8 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 300. John 12:1-9 . J. R. Harington, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 388; E. de Pressensé, The Mystery of Suffering, p. 211. Joh 12:1-10 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xvii., p. 207. John 12:1-19 . W. Milligan, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 275.John 12:2 . Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 328; A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 3.

Verse 4

John 11:4

The Christian Uses of Sickness

I. We do not sufficiently consider sickness in a Christian light. Undoubtedly, the failure of health is, and will ever be, esteemed a misfortune to any man. It would be going counter to the current of nature to attempt to think of it otherwise. But at this point comes in the difference between the man of the world and the Christian. The man of the world looks upon sickness simply as a misfortune nothing more. The Christian regards sickness as a misfortune true, but it is only his infirmity that he thus regards it. He may speak thus, but his faith corrects him as he speaks, and the stronger it becomes, and the more prevalent, the more it will correct him, till he almost ceases to speak and think of sickness as a misfortune; till the current of nature is turned, and the sacred fountain of his thoughts tends upward and flows not with the world.

II. The blessed uses of adversity have been sung and spoken, even by the thoughtful ones of this world, and how much more of them do we Christians know. How often have we seen a man enter into sickness, a giant in the strength of nature, but a babe in grace, and how often has the same man come out of it prostrated indeed, shattered for the world and its uses, but mighty in spiritual achievement, victor of himself, victor of the world. For wonderful are the remindings at such a time, of things lost, past words whose sound has long gone out of mind; the bringing up out of the depths of the memory of hidden knowledge; the life with which dead formalities suddenly become clothed; the divinity which begins to stir amongst long laid up texts; the real conflict with self-deceit and pride in one who has been only talking about such a conflict all his life; the dropping away of exaggerated phrases of self-loathing; and of confidence in God, and the coming, like the flesh of a little child, of real utterances of self-abasement and the first genuine whisperings of Abba Father. To how many of us sickness may be the sanctuary of earth; to how many the vestibule of heaven.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. v., p. 95.

References: John 11:4 . Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 232; R. Tuck, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 113 John 1:11 :5 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 230; W. Braden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p.. 417; A. Mursell, Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 259; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part ii., p. 299. John 11:6 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 290. John 11:7 , John 11:8 . Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 348.

Verse 9

John 11:9

I. The first and most obvious thought which the text presents to us is that of the predestination of life. God has marked out beforehand the length of the life. This was true, first and foremost, of the life of Christ. His day had its twelve hours. In the way in which He walked, He was in daylight till the twelfth hour. It is true of us. God knows exactly the length of our day, and therefore of our hour. The day shall run its course, whether the season be winter or summer, whether the hour be of thirty minutes or sixty. It is an encouragement a call to confidence. Be not afraid to go hither or thither at the summons of duty. Be not afraid of snare or terror, of accident or infection. Thy day has its twelve hours. Thou wilt neither add thereto, nor diminish from them.

II. It is a second, and perhaps a less obvious thought, the completeness of life. We must cast away, as Christians, the common measurement of time. Christ's life on earth was a short life. His hour was but of the length of two or three years. God counts not, but weighs the hours. Christ's three years of speech had in them the whole virtue for the world of two eternities. Christ's thirty years of listening were not the prelude only, they were the condition of the three.

III. A third thought, lying not far from the last, is that of the unity of life. God sees the day as one; when God writes an epitaph, He does so in one line, in one of two lines. "He did that which was evil, or, He did that which was good," and his mother's name was this or, that; the indentification is complete, and the character is one, not two, and not ambiguous. There were twelve hours in the man's day, but the day was one.

IV. The distribution of life. God sees it in its unity; He bids us see it rather in its manifoldness; in its variety of opportunity and in its capacity and capability of good. Economise determine to economise time. Give up something, some fragment, some particle, of one of these twelve hours, to God and Christ, to thy soul and eternity. Do it in the name of God; do it for thy soul's health's sake; it shall not lose its reward.

C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, p. 145.

Verse 11

John 11:11

There seems to me to be contained in these few words one of the most powerful charms in the world to lull the bitterness of death, and to make us anxious to become such as that we may humbly venture to apply them to ourselves. What would we, each of us, give, when our last hour was come, to feel that Christ would so speak of us? "Our friend sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." Yet this is the language in which Christ does speak of every one who has died in His faith and fear in which He will speak of us, if we do not so live as to shut ourselves out from His salvation.

I. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." The disciples could not understand that by this gentle term He could possibly mean a thing so fearful as death. And in this we are all of us very like the disciples. We talk of another life, when we think of it at a distance, but we have really got but a very little way towards overcoming our fear of death. We fear it very nearly, if not quite as much, as the heathen do. And this is so natural that no mere words will ever get the better of it, unless we put ourselves in time into such a state of mind as may help us to see that the words are really nothing else but simply true. Christ does call the death of His friends a sleep; and we may learn to make our own death such as to deserve the name.

II. Christ comes to awake us out of sleep. The time will seem no longer than the four days which passed before He awakened Lazarus: a thousand years are in His sight as but one day; and when we have once done with earthly time, we may, perhaps, be able in some degree to reckon time as He does. But assuredly, whatever be our state in the interval, we shall have no consciousness of His tarrying; the weariness of expectation, the longings of hope deferred, will have ended then for ever. He comes as in a moment, to awake us out of sleep: to a waking which it is our best wisdom to endeavour humbly to dwell upon, however infinitely our highest aspirations may fall short of its reality. We may now make Christ our friend; nay, He entreats and calls upon us to suffer Him to be so. We may yet so fall asleep in Christ, that we shall assuredly share in the promise which He made to Lazarus. He will come and awake us out of sleep, that we may be where He is for ever.

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 198.

Thoughts of death are suited to do us good. It is well that we should consider now, while yet life may be granted us, our latter end. It is well, when by any cause, either in the outward look of nature, or from what may happen within our homes, we are called off from taking thought only of present things of what we shall eat, what we shall drink, wherewithal we shall be clothed and constrained to face the most distant future; constrained to look into the darkness of the grave, and to question ourselves, each for himself, as to our preparation and as to our readiness to die.

I. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." That is the way in which Jesus spoke of death. He called it by no harsher word than sleep. Christ cannot mislead us, and He calls the death of His friend sleep. Let us not fear to lean upon His words for ourselves, for our companions; let this henceforth be the idea which we attach to death, "Our friend sleepeth." His toil is ended, his sorrows are ended, his pains are ended; he is out of the reach of the miseries of the sinful world. And when we say this, let us carry on our thoughts further. Death is sleep, but sleep implies an awakening. And this awakening, what is it to the Christian but the resurrection the rising again of our body, the going back of the spirit; the fitting of the whole man to be an inheritor of everlasting life?

II. Note here a lesson (1) of warning, and that is, to be prepared for death and judgment to live now, so that we may be ready at any moment to depart. Be no more putters off, but performers of your Lord's will. Think how any day, any hour, His words may be heard. Think how soon that night cometh in which no work may be done, in which to repent and amend will be no longer possible. (2) A lesson of comfort. At the appointed time Christ will come and awaken His friends, that where He is there also may His true servants be.

R. D. R. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 4th series, p. 81.

References: John 11:11 . L. Tyerman, Penny Pulpit, No. 815.John 11:13-15 . G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 129. John 11:14 . Bishop Thorold, The Yoke of Christ, p. 205.John 11:14-15 Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 585.

Verse 15

John 11:15

Five Paradoxes

In the single verse of our text we find no less than five paradoxes. They are disclosed in the words, but interpreted in the deeds of Jesus Himself. If their force and significance be carefully studied, they will help our understanding of many a mystery in the providential dealings of God.

I. In the life of an intelligent believer gladness sometimes grows out of grief. This is the lowest form of true Christian experience. It means no more nor less than that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, will work out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

II. One's advantage is sometimes hid under another's trials. Two inferences may be suggested here. (1) When we are in deepest affliction, it is quite possible our sorrow is sent in some measure for another's advantage. (2) When others are afflicted, it may possibly be they are suffering for our sakes.

III. Increase of a Christian's sorrow sometimes alleviates it. Lazarus' illness may be taken for a mere annoyance or a vexation; but Lazarus' positive death, especially after we discover that the Lord knew all about it forty-eight hours before, opens our eyes to see Divine wisdom has unflinching hold of the reins. A great sorrow, with a purpose in it, is easier to bear than a smaller one which seems to have no aim now, and promises no benefit hereafter.

IV. In the true believer's experience doubt is sometimes employed to deepen trust. Earthly perplexity is a heavenly discipline. The way to make a careless Christian careful is to increase His cares. The way to render faith confident and unbroken is to make large demands upon it by onsets of trying doubt.

V. Absolute hopelessness and helplessness are the conditions of hope and help. In all our bewildering experiences, while sorrow keeps increasing, Jesus intentionally keeps away, so that our entire reserve of human reliances is used up. When the case becomes utterly desperate, we may be sure He has started for Bethany, and will soon be here for our relief.

C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 90.

References: John 11:15 . T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 220. John 11:16 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 295; J. Foster, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 24; W. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 206. John 11:21 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 140; W. Simpson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 312; J. E. C., Welldon, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 280.

Verse 21

John 11:21

(with John 11:32 )

The Reason of Christ's Absence

It seems to me that the language of the two sisters, confirmed as it is by our Saviour's own words, gives us a wonderful glimpse of His human character, and a great insight into the meaning of His miracles of healing.

I. "If Thou hadst been here, our brother had not died." It was quite true, for He could not have helped healing him; He could not possibly have resisted the silent appealing glance of the sick man upon his bed of pain, nor the lowly confident entreaties of the anxious sisters. Far less faith than they possessed had made thousands whole, and He would have been other than Himself if, being there, He had refused to go and see the sick man, or, if seeing him, He had failed to make him well. So He was obliged to stay away in order that He might not feel obliged to heal him there and then. What a lesson this teaches us as to the use He made of His miraculous powers. What a holy necessity of blessing and healing lay upon Him.

II. If Christ were here, as of old, sickness and bereavement would not be allowed to do their painful necessary work upon us, and death itself would not have liberty to open the gate of paradise to God's beloved. Believe me, this is the secret of human sorrow and bereavement; when your dear ones sicken and die before your eyes, it is not that the Master does not know, it is not that the Saviour does not care for His servant's trouble, His children's grief; it is that, as He was made perfect through suffering, so should we be purified by that chastening of the Lord of which we all stand in need. He stays on purpose at a distance, that we may have the discipline of sorrow now, and that He may work a greater miracle of resurrection for us hereafter.

R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 267.

The Sorrowful "If."


I. That the friends of Jesus are not exempted from affliction in the world. If such immunity might have been expected in any case, it surely would have been in that of the members of the Bethany family who so often received and entertained the Lord. In the highest sacrificial sense of the word, no one ever suffered for others as Christ did; but in a lower sense it is true that believers often do suffer for others; and when their benefit is secured thereby, the afflicted ones discover that their sickness has really been for the glory of God, so that they enter in a very real way into the fellowship of the Saviour's sufferings.

II. The friends of Jesus in their affliction turn directly and immediately to Him. In the day of prosperity it may be occasionally difficult to say whether a man is a Christian or not; but when, in time of trouble, he makes straight for Christ, we know then most surely whose he is and whom he serves. Take a note of it, then, and when affliction comes, observe to whom you flee for succour for that will tell you whether you are, or are not, a friend of Jesus.

III. The response of the Lord comes often in such a way as seems to aggravate the evil. Christ loved the family at Bethany, therefore He did not come immediately at their call. That looks like a non-sequitur, but it is the sober truth. He had in store for them a greater kindness than they could have dreamed of; and therefore He delayed till He could confer that upon them. There is nothing for us at such a time but to wait in patient, trustful expectation; but when we get to the end we shall see that there was love in the discipline.

IV. The friends of Jesus have different individualities but a common danger in their sorrow. In all our trials we are prone to lose sight of the universality of God's providence, and to torment ourselves with this unbelieving "if." It proceeds on the principle that the providence of God is not concerned in everything, and it gives to secondary causes a supremacy that does not belong to them. When calamity comes upon you, be sure that it is not because this or that accident prevented relief, nor because the Saviour was not with you, but because it was His will, and His will only, to bring about that which shall be better for you and others than your deliverance would have been.

V. The friends of Jesus have a blessed end to all their sorrows. "Rest in the Lord, therefore, and wait patiently for Him," for the day is coming when you shall be constrained to say, "Because the Lord was with us our trials came upon us, and He brought us safely through them into His wealthy place."

W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 292.

References: John 11:21 , John 11:32 . R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, pp. 197, 210. John 11:23 . A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 84.John 11:24-26 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1799.

Verse 25

John 11:25

This Divine name is a pledge to us of many joys; but chiefly of three Divine gifts.

I. The first is a perfect newness of body and soul. This is a thought of wonder almost beyond conception or belief. Death and the forerunners of death have so fast a hold upon the body; sin and the soils of sin pierce so deep into the soul, that the thought to be one day deathless and sinless seems to be a dream. People believe, indeed, that they shall rise again, not disembodied, but clothed in a bodily form; but do they realise that they shall rise again with their own bodies, in their very flesh, healed and immortal? And yet this is pledged to us. This very body shall be deathless and glorious as the body of His glory when He arose from the dead. And so, too, of the soul. It shall be still more glorious than the body, even as the Spirit is above the flesh. To be ourselves the subject of this miracle of love and power, to be personally and inwardly restored to a sinless perfection ami raised to the glory of an endless life, as if death and sin had never entered, or we had never fallen, is among those things which we almost "believe not for joy." This is the first Divine gift pledged to us by the resurrection of our Lord.

II. Another gift also pledged to us is the perfect restoration of all His brethren in His kingdom. We shall be with Him. We shall behold Him as He is; He will behold us as we are; He in the perfect sameness of His person; we in ours. And they who knew Him after He rose from the dead, and knew each other as they sat in amazement before Him in the morning at the sea of Tiberias, shall they not know each other in the light of His heavenly kingdom? O dull hearts, and slow to believe what He has Himself spoken! "God is not the God of the dead," of nameless, obscured, obliterated spirits, of impersonal natures, beings robbed of their identity, spoiled of their consciousness, of blinded eyes, or marred aspects. The law of perfect recognition is inseparable from the law of personal identity.

III. And lastly, this title pledges to us an immortal kingdom. "There remaineth a rest for the people of God." When the happiness of this life burns down, who can re-kindle it? The joy of today sinks with the sun, and is remembered with sadness tomorrow. All things are fleeting and transient; to see them, we must look behind us. Old friends, old homes, old haunts, old faces, bright days and sweet memories, all are gone. Such is the best the old creation has for man. But the kingdom of the resurrection is before us, all new, all enduring, all Divine; its bliss has no future, no clouds upon the horizon, no fading, no instability. All that we are, by the power of God, we shall be, without cloying or change or weariness for ever.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 342.

We learn from the text

I. That this life and the life to come are not two, but one and the same. Death is not the ending of one, and the resurrection the beginning of another, but through all there runs one imperishable life. A river which plunges into the earth is buried for awhile, and then bursts forth more mightily and in a fuller tide, is not two, but one continuous stream. The light of today and the light of tomorrow are not two, but one living splendour. The light of today is not quenched at sunset and rekindled at tomorrow's sunrise, but is ever one, always burning broad and luminous in the sight of God and of holy angels. So with life and death. The life of the soul is immortal, an image of God's own eternity. It lives on in sleep; it lives on through death; it lives even more abundantly and with fuller and mightier energy. When we put off our sinful flesh we begin to live indeed. The one endless life of the soul comes forth from its restraint and passes onward to a wider and more kindred world.

II. Another great law here revealed is, that as we die so we shall rise; as there is no new beginning of our life, so there is no new beginning of our character. The stream which buries itself cloudy and turbid shall rise clouded and foul. The waters that pass clear and bright into the earth shall rise from it clear and bright again.

III. We learn further that the resurrection will make each one perfect in his own several character. Our character is our will; for what we will we are. Our will contains our whole intention; it sums up our spiritual nature. Now this tendency is here imperfect; but it will be there fulfilled. The sinful soul which has here been curbed by outward check, will there break forth into an intensity stretched to the utmost by despair. As lights, when they pass into an atmosphere akin to fire, burst forth into a volume of flame, so the soul, charged with sin, issuing into the abode of anguish, will break forth into the full measure of its spiritual wickedness. So likewise with the faithful; what they have striven to be, they shall be made. Let this, then, teach us two great truths of practice. (1) How dangerous is the least sin we do. Every act confirms some old tendency or develops a new one. (2) How precious is every means of grace as a step in the heavenly stair.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 356.

In these words Christ says to us: there is in Me a life which, by dying, rises to its perfection; and therefore death is no more death, but resurrection to the fulness of life. In three ways this is true.

I. Our life in Christ is a battle; through death it rises into a victory.

II. Our life in Christ is a hope; by death it rises into its consummation.

III. Our life in Christ is a spiritual fellowship; by death it becomes perfect and eternal.

E. L. Hull, Sermons, vol. i., p. 1.

Verses 25-26

John 11:25-26

I. There is in this text something far beyond the general lot of man, or of man's world; here is a conscious act of man's spirit spoken of as the condition of life with Christ, and that state asserted to place a man superior to death and all its power. And this conscious act of man's spirit is faith; believing on Him. This expression "believeth on Me" is one of much depth of meaning. It is quite distinguished from "believing me" merely; I may believe a fellow-man, but I never can believe on a fellow-man. There is involved in the expression, receiving and resting on Christ; believing what Christ says, but so believing it as to cast a man's whole being and energies and sympathies and hopes on and into Christ and His words; so receiving Him, as to live on Him, and to wait on Him, and to hope on Him, and to look for Him, and to have Him for the soul's centre and the chief desire and object in life. Now to those who thus receive Christ, He is the Resurrection and the Life. "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die," i.e., they who believe on Me here on earth, in them is begun a glorious life, which, though they must pass through natural death by the common sentence of all flesh, shall not by that be interrupted or brought to an end, but shall continue through in spite of that natural death, so that they shall never die, but live for ever.

II. What kind of life is this of which these glorious words are spoken. Is it the life of the body? Doubtless it is. These frames, so fearfully and wonderfully made, shall not perish. They shall moulder away into dust, but God shall build them up again; freed from sin and sorrow and pain, they shall live for ever. Is it the life of the mental faculties, the judgments, the feelings, the affections? Doubtless it is. But above all, this life here spoken of is the life of the Spirit. The life of the body the natural man lives; the life of the mind and affections the worldly man lives; but the life of the Spirit no man lives, but they who have been born again by the operation of the Holy Spirit of God working in them through faith in Christ. The resurrection life inherent in our risen Saviour is imparted to all who believe in Him, so that through death they shall live; and even though subject to what men call death, they shall never die.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 285.

Comfort for Mourners

The intention of our Lord in this passage was so plainly to to make an immediate comfort out of that which is generally held as a prospective joy, the expressions are so strong, and the idea is so exceedingly high and wonderful, that it is as important as it is difficult to get at the exact sense of the passage. Life and death are both very deep mysteries. We can only go a very little way; but both the language which our Lord used, and the mighty words by which He illustrated, have a meaning, and we must try to read it.

I. Christ, then, lays down two great bases, "I am the resurrection," whatever rises, rises in Me. That is the first. And then I am more than the resurrection; I am that which follows the resurrection, that which makes the resurrection; I am the life. The life is greater than the resurrection, even as the end is greater than the means by which that end is attained. Of the resurrection, properly so-called, the resurrection of the body, Christ does not say any more. But he follows on and expands the word "life" as the higher and conclusive thought. When a man really believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, an act of union takes place between Christ and his soul. That union is life. Over that life death has no power; because there is no dividing principle, there is no death. And so we arrive at it, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."

II. Now let us see how this affects those whom we call, but who are not, dead. Say they were once joined to Christ, and say that you are joined to Christ. Then, neither of the great relationships in which they once stood can be severed. They cannot die to God; they cannot die to you. Otherwise, Christ's words are extravagant; they lead the mind astray; they mock us. What then is the death of those we love? What we make it. It may be a wretched sense of parting and absence, a severance of everything, a rending of the most sacred ties, an utter desolation. It may be as if they were only just out of sight, occupying a higher range, ever ready to appear, never far off, not a link broken, interested in us and we interested in them, doing the very same work, sunning ourselves in the very same love, living for the very same objects. Do not say they were so tender, but say they are they are His and they are mine.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 278.

References: John 11:25 , John 11:26 . F. W. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 156; R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 251. Joh 11:26 . J. B. Paton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 52; F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 300; L. Mann, Life Problems, p. 18; W. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 117; W. Morley Punshon, Sermons, p. 22 John 1:11 :26 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1568; Homilist, vol. ii., p. 310; J. Kennedy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 225.John 11:28 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1198; W. Hay Aitken, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 179; J. Morgan, Ibid., vol. xv., p. 81; S. R. Macduff, Communion Memories, p. 151. Joh 11:29 . S. Baring Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii.; Appendix, p. 29.

Verse 32

John 11:32

There is in these words

I. A consciousness of Divine power and mastery. There is no lingering doubt about our Lord's Divine power. It is admitted in the term Lord, and in this unhesitating confession of His Kingship over death. The sisters realised that He was able to save, even from death. Not even the empire of the grave lay outside His royal dominion; they were sure of that.

II. A conception given us of the character of Christ. Not merely was Jesus conceived of as the powerful one, but, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, Thy love to us would not have let Lazarus die." This was no hasty supposition. They had seen no love in all human life like that of the Son of man; when He returned at evening, they would hear Him speak of the world's sickness, disease and sorrow, and of the unrest and sadness and care of men; and how He had healed them all. Both the sisters believed in Christ's great love, and they thought, as we too often think, that His love would give immunity from death.

III. A common mistake concerning the presence of Christ, "If Thou hadst been here ." Christ is always here. No need of a priest to bring Him to an altar. In the simple meeting-place, where two or three village labourers are gathered together for prayer; in the upper room of the humblest lodging; out on the wild, melancholy sea; in the still room, where death seems for the time to be so cruel a king there is Christ. Make not the sister's mistake, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."

IV. A conception given us of the graduation of Faith. It is a thing of degree. There are degrees in the best, the noblest, the strongest faith. And how tenderly Christ deals with us, we may learn from His treatment of these sisters. Learn that the way to have more faith is to have some faith.

V. A conception of the wisdom of Christ. Why did He wait? If consolation is delayed, there is wise reason for it, be sure of that. True life is not given without pain. If Christ had gone to the sisters at once, the deniers of miracle in every age would have raised the Sadducean cry, that it was natural strength, a sort of recuperative power in a slumbering Lazarus. Had He been there, as the sisters so ardently desired Him to be, the Church of all ages would have lost one of the richest and most glorious of testimonies, such as the resurrection of Lazarus gives, to Christ's kingship over death.

W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 49.


I. The strangeness of Christ's delay to interpose against death. Consider (1) what death is to the sufferer. (2) What a bereavement death is to the survivors. (3) What a reproach death has furnished to the enemies of Christ. (4) Christ is fully aware of our need, and we cannot doubt His desire to interpose.

II. Some of the reasons for Christ's delay which may be found in this history. (1) One reason is that His friends, when dying, may learn confidence in Him, and have an opportunity of showing it. (2) Another reason is that, in the midst of death, the union of sympathy between Christ and His friends is perfected. (3) By delaying to interpose against death, God makes this a world of spiritual probation. (4) He brings in thereby a grander final issue. The wisdom with which He chooses His time makes His delay not callous nor cruel, but considerate of our best interests in withholding for a while that He may bless us at last with an overflowing hand.

J. Ker, Sermons, p. 266.

Verses 34-36

John 11:34-36

What led our Lord to weep over the dead, Who could at one word restore him; nay, had it in purpose so to do?

I. First of all, as the context informs us, He wept from very sympathy with the grief of others. We cannot see God's sympathy, and the Son of God, though feeling for us as great compassion as His Father, did not show it to us while He remained in His Father's bosom. But when He took flesh and appeared on earth, He showed us the Godhead in a new manifestation. He invested Himself with a new set of attributes, those of our flesh, taking unto Him a human soul and body, in order that thoughts, feelings, affections, might be His, which could respond to ours, and certify to us His tender mercy. The tears of men touched Him at once, as their miseries had brought Him down from heaven. His ear was open to them, and the sound of weeping went at once to His heart.

II. But next, we may suppose that His pity, thus spontaneously displayed, was led forward to dwell on the various circumstances in man's condition which excite pity. It was awakened, and began to look around upon the miseries of the world. What was it He saw? He saw visibly displayed the victory of death; a mourning multitude everything present which might waken sorrow except him, who was the chief object of it. He was not a stone marked the place where he lay. Here was the Creator surrounded by the works of His hands, who adored Him indeed, yet seemed to ask why He suffered what He had Himself made to be so marred. Here, then, were abundant sources for His grief, in the contrast between Adam, in the day in which he was created, and man as the devil had made him.

III. Christ was come to do a deed of mercy, and it was a secret in His own breast. All the love which He felt for Lazarus was a secret from others. He had no earthly friend who could be His confidant in this matter; and as His thoughts turned on Lazarus, and His heart yearned towards him, was He not in Joseph's case, who, not in grief, but from the very fulness of his soul, and his desolateness in a heathen land, when his brethren stood before him, "sought where to weep," as if his own tears were his best companions, and had in them a sympathy to soothe that pain which none could share? Is there any time more affecting than when you are about to break good news to a friend who had been stricken down by tidings of ill?

IV. This marvellous benefit to the forlorn sisters how was it to be attained? At His own cost. Christ was bringing life to the dead by His own death. This, doubtless, among a multitude of thoughts unspeakable passed over His mind. He felt that Lazarus was wakening to life at His own sacrifice; that He was descending into the grave which Lazarus left. Contemplating there the fulness of His purpose, while now going about a single act of mercy, he said to Martha, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," etc.

J. H. Newman, Sermons, vol. iii., p, 128.

Verse 35

John 11:35

I. We hardly know a statement of greater comfort than that of our text, and the account of Christ's sorrowing over the impenitent Jerusalem. The Christian mourner would be scarcely able to dry his tears if he must believe that Christ had never shed tears, and he would not comparatively be comforted by the gracious words "Weep not," if he did not find in the narrative of the raising of Lazarus, such words as these, "Jesus wept." We can hardly fail to be conscious of the testimony of the tears of the Redeemer to the human tenderness with which He was fraught. A man, with all a man's sympathy, all a man's compassion, all a man's yearnings, stood revealed, so as to forbid for ever our doubts as to His fellow-feeling with us; for it was with bitter tears of sorrow that He wept as He beheld the city; so that, as He approached Jerusalem, just as when He stood at the grave of Lazarus, the record is not, Jesus was angry, Jesus was proud; but simply "Jesus wept."

II. I know nothing so appalling as the tears of Christ. They are not so much the gentle droppings of pity as evidence wrung from a disquieted spirit, that nothing more could be done for the unbelieving. He would save them if He could, but He cannot. The case has become hopeless, beyond even the power which had raised the dead, yea, built the universe. And therefore He weeps. He weeps to show that it is not want of love, but that He knew the Divine vengeance must be left to take its course.

III. We ought to learn from Christ's tears the worth of the soul. It was not, in all probability, so much over the temporal, as over the spiritual misery which was coming on Jerusalem, that Christ bitterly sorrowed. His tears tell the mightiness of the catastrophe, to express whose fearfulness the whole of nature might become vocal and yet not furnish a cry sufficiently deep and pathetic. And whilst on earth Christ wept twice; in each case it was over the loss of the soul. Let sinners be no longer indifferent towards themselves. Throw not away as of no worth those souls which He feels to be so precious that He must weep for them, even when He cannot save them.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1740.

I. Jesus wept in sympathy with others. (1) It is not sinful to weep under bereavement; (2) The Christian mourner may always count upon the sympathy of Jesus. (3) When our friends are mourning we should, like Jesus, weep with them.

II. Turn your attention to the tears of pity dropped by Jesus over the Holy City. (1) Note the responsibility of privilege. (2) Mark the pity of the Redeemer for the lost.

III. At Gethsemane the Redeemer's tears were those of suffering. (1) Christians should expect suffering. (2) Let us learn in suffering the benefit of prayer.

W. M. Taylor, Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 364. (See also Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 92.)

References: John 11:35 . D. Swing, American Pulpit of the Day, p. 271; H. Melvill, Voices of the Year, vol. i., p. 119; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 104; W. Skinner, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 217; J. B. Heard, Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 67; W. M. Taylor, Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 87; W. Smith, Preacher's Lantern, vol. i., p. 434.John 11:35 , John 11:36 . L. Mann, Life Problems, p. 1; F. W. Robertson, The Human Race and Other Sermons, p. 108.

Verses 38-39

John 11:38-39

I. The general truth which is symbolically taught through such a miracle as the raising of Lazarus, is the truth that man's natural state is a state of moral death; and that to Christ alone must we look if we would be restored to moral life. In going towards the grave that He might summon forth the dead, our Lord exhibited Himself as appointed for the quickening of the world. The sepulchred body represented the spiritual condition of men; and the life-giving utterance betokened that through Him they might rise from their graves.

II. There can be no life communicated to the tenant of the sepulchre except through the Divine utterance, "Come forth," but there is a previous Divine command to which obedience must be rendered, "Take away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre." You cannot convert yourself; but you may be diligent in the use of means and the removal of hindrances. God requires that you take away the stone, every stone which you have power to move, though He could as easily evoke you from a sepulchre closed, as from a sepulchre opened. It is, so to speak, the test to which He puts you; and by which He determines whether or no you have any sincere desire to be brought out of darkness into marvellous light.

III. The word which set Lazarus free from the power of the grave, might also have set him free from the raiment of the grave; but the miracle was strictly confined to what was beyond natural means, and will not interfere with what was within them. Evil habits are the grave clothes, fastened with a cordage, than which there is none more difficult to loosen. The command which follows the restoration to life is still "Loose him and let him go." It is a command to those around, just as was that for the removing of the stone, seeing that believers are both required and expected to do much towards aiding the new convert to renounce all unrighteousness. But it is a command also to the convert himself. He has his part in taking away the stone, and not the less in loosening the grave clothes. Not unto the man who supposing himself converted, supposes himself therefore certain of salvation, without a struggle and a sacrifice. He cannot have life unless he is striving to free himself from the furniture of death. The great change of conversion has not passed upon anyone of you, if he be not continually endeavouring to cast off the bindings of a corrupt nature, that he may walk more freely in the service of God and look more closely towards the heaven which is above him.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1550.

Verse 39

John 11:39

We have here the Grave, the Stone, the Command

I. In the grave we are to see heathendom. Under any circumstances it is hard, and ought to be hard, to change the religion, whether of an individual, or of a race. It is hard, because it is so noble. I suppose if anything under the sun should be dear to an honest man, it is his religion. It colours his life, shapes his principles, points his motives, consecrates his actions. It is inherited from his parents; it twines round the roots of his childhood; it smiles on his bridal; it softens the shadows of his grave. And when the religion you propose to substitute is a religion with a Cross in it, with no material prosperity for its reward, and a world to come as its distant recompense, is it wonderful that one who asks what the exchange will bring to him, and is told "the reproach of Christ," is slow in giving his reply?

II. But Jesus said, "Take ye away the stone." It may be roughly observed that there are three stages in mission work, with usually a logical order of their own. Though, of course, when it pleases Him, God confounds this order, by cutting across it, or anticipating it, thereby manifesting His sovereignty and doing all the work Himself. (1) There is the work of preparation by civilisation and education, in which the stone is rolled away for light and air to come in. (2) There is the work of evangelisation by which the Word of God is spoken straight into the spirit, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." (3) There is the final work of watering and watching and maturing the young life just born by pastoral care and superior tendence. "Loose him, and let him go." We believe in the redeeming purpose of God, and that it is His will presently to gather together in one all things in Christ; and though He seems to be waiting, He knows why He is waiting; be sure, that when all things are made plain at break of day, there will be no flaw in His perfect righteousness, no speck or stain on the mercy of His heart.

Bishop Thorold, Good Words, 1880, p. 458.

References: John 11:39 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 281; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 87. John 11:39-44 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1052 John 1:11 :40 . F. Stephens, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 374; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 281; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 537. John 11:41 , John 11:42 . A. Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, p. 125; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. vii., p. 141. Joh 11:43 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 193. Joh 11:43-44 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1776; Homilist, new series, vol. iv., p. 636; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 307. John 11:46 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xvii., p. 106.

Verses 47-48

John 11:47-48

The Retributive Character of Divine Justice


I. That men who set what they foolishly count their interest against their convictions determined to stifle the latter lest they should sacrifice the former these allow that Christ wrought miracles, but persist in rejecting Him for fear of being overtaken by temporal calamity. We are apt to regard such a case as that of the chief priests and Pharisees as standing wholly by itself, and not to be paralleled by any amongst ourselves, because the precise case can hardly recur the case of the rejection of a prophet, whose miracles prove his claims, through dread of the consequences of acknowledging his authority; but we forget that the principle which produced this conviction may be at work in ourselves, that it may only be modified or disguised by external circumstances. Is it not a possible case a case, which may occur among ourselves, that of a man feeling the duty of confessing and obeying Christ; but who is withheld from the performance of his duty by fears of the effect on his temporal condition? In defiance of their own convictions, men determine to conciliate the world, either fearing that religion may injure their hopes, or hoping that irreligion may advance their temporal interests. What is the resolve to do wrong, after being satisfied that it is wrong, if not the gathering of a council to resist the truth, after being compelled to confess, "This Man doeth miracles?"

II. God will demonstrate His retributive justice by bringing on men the very evil they hope to avert by consenting to do violence to conscience. The Romans, whom the Jews hoped to propitiate by rejection of Christ, came down on their land with fire and sword and took their place and nation, which they thought to preserve by acting against conscience, and they were utterly destroyed and dispersed, and that by the very power whose favour it was their object to conciliate. There is often, if not always, an analogy between what men do and the punishment they are made to suffer; so that in reference, at least, to the temporal penalties of sin, God makes a scourge of the crime, or imprints on His judgment the very image of the provocation. The lesson from the whole subject is, that in place of averting any dreaded evil, we do our best to produce it, if through fear of it we are induced to sacrifice any principle.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1503.

References: John 11:47-57 . Homiletic Magazine, xvii., p. 160.

Verses 49-50

John 11:49-50


I. This unscrupulous priest and his savage advice. Remember who he was: the high priest of the nation, with Aaron's mitre on his brow and centuries of illustrious traditions embodied in his person; in whose heart justice and mercy should have found a sanctuary, if they had fled from all others; whose ears ought to have been opened to the faintest whisper of the voice of God; whose lips should ever have been ready to witness for the truth. And see what he is: a crafty schemer, as blind as a mole to the beauty of Christ's character and the greatness of His words; utterly unspiritual; undisguisedly selfish, rude as a boor, cruel as a cut-throat; nay, he has reached that supreme height of wickedness in which he can dress his ugliest thought in the plainest words and send them into the world unabashed. This selfish consideration of our own interests will, (1) make us as blind as bats to the most radiant beauty of truth; (2) bring us down to any kind and degree of wrong-doing; (3) must sear our conscience so that we may come to view the evil and never to know that there is anything wrong in it.

II. The unconscious prophet and his great prediction. The evangelist conceives that the man who filled the office of high priest, being the head of the theocratic community, was naturally the medium of a Divine oracle. Caiaphas was in reality the last of the high priests, and those that succeeded him for something less than half a century were but like ghosts that walked after cock-crow. "Being high priest, he prophesied." The lips of this unworthy, selfish, unspiritual, unscrupulous, cruel priest were so used as that, all unconsciously, his words lent themselves to the proclamation of the glorious central truth of Christianity, that Christ died for the nation that slew Him and rejected Him, nor for them alone, but for all the world.

A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 257.

References: John 11:49 , John 11:50 . F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 321; Homilist, vol. vi., p. 40. John 11:49-52 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 299. John 11:52 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 12th series, p. 109.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 11". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/john-11.html.
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