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Now a certain man was sick named Lazarus of Bethany
The English reader would at first sight hardly recognize the New Testament “Lazarus” as identical with the Old Testament “Eleazar.
” The two words are, however, the same. In the dialect of the Jerusalem Talmud, words that begin with an aleph (in English, say, an unaspirated initial vowel, like a or e) often drop that initial. Eleazar (AL’AZR) thus becomes L’azar (L’AZR); and so the name occurs, in point of fact, more than once in the Talmud. When the word “Lazar,” again, was taken into the mouth of any person speaking Greek, he naturally added to it the Greek termination os (Latin, us), and so by gradual stages the Old Testament “Eleazar” became the New Testament “Lazarus.” (S. S. Times.)
From the plain of Esdraelon southward to Hebron, and nearly parallel to the Mediterranean coast line, there extends a range of mountainous table land, in some points reaching an elevation of three thousand feet, and varying in breadth from twenty to twenty-five miles. Toward the south of the range, like a diadem on the head of the mountains, is the city of Jerusalem. East of the city, just across the deep and narrow valley of Jehosaphat, which forms the bed of the storm brook Kedron, rises the Mount of Olives. It is the most pleasant of all the mountains that are round about Jerusalem; in pilgrim language “the Mount of Blessing;” and travellers are frequently surprised by the beauty which still haunts it. It consists of a ridge a full mile long, curving gently eastward in its northern part, and rising into three rounded summits, of which the central and highest is more than twenty-six hundred feet above the level of the Mediterranean, and more than a hundred above the highest part of the neighbouring city. In a well-wooded and terraced ravine, high up on the eastern slope of the mount, screened from the summit by an intervening ridge, nestled the sweet village of Bethany. It is reached from Jerusalem (from which it is distant two short miles) by a rough bridle path, winding over bare rock and loose stones. Its name, “the place of dates,” seems to hint that it stood originally in the midst of palm trees. These trees, emblems of strength and victory, once so numerous that, in the coins of the Roman conquerors, “Judea Capta” appears as a woman weeping under a palm, have now disappeared from this neighbourhood as from Palestine generally. The modern hamlet (El-’Azariyeh, or the village of Lazarus, the old name not being locally known)
is inhabited by twenty or thirty thriftless Arab families. Into the walls of many of the houses large hewn stones are built, some of them beveled, which have evidently belonged to more ancient edifices. Though itself squalid and poverty-stricken, the village is very beautifully situated, looking out from a cloud of fruit trees, chiefly fig, almond, olive, and pomegranate, and with abundant pasturage around. It is sheltered from the cold north and west, and produces the earliest ripe fruit in the district, On the whole, it may claim to be regarded as one of the sweetest spots in Palestine, though greatly changed in the course of long ages of misrule from what it must have been when the land nourished a free and noble people; and to one who loves quiet beauty and peacefulness combined with a certain mystery, it commands one of the most striking landscapes in the southern part of the country. The house of Martha, that of Simon the leper, and the tomb of Lazarus, are still pointed out to visitors. The last is a deep vault, hewn out of the solid rock, in the very edge of the village. Dr. Robinson (followed by many) rejects the tradition which names this as the tomb; while others, relying on the notices in the Jerusalem Itinerary (A.D. 333), and by Eusebius and Jerome, are disposed to accept it, affirming that the vault has every characteristic of an ancient Jewish tomb both in form and construction, and accounting for its being so close upon the present village by the tendency of Jewish towns to advance, in the course of ages, toward spots reputed sacred. Most beautiful is the way in which Bethany is here named. In celestial geography, which counts places according to the saints who inhabit and beautify them, it was known to Jesus, it is known forever as the town of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. “This man was born there.” (J. Culross, D. D.)
The family at Bethany; or, natural varieties in religion
1. The facts of this chapter are a sufficient answer to the objection that there is no recommendation of friendship in the Bible. The Incarnate One Master and Model of man was a friend. Needing all the succours of our nature He sought and found those which friendship yields. Hence among His apostles there was an inner circle of three, and one of these especially “loved”; and among His general followers there was the family of Bethany.
2. It is delightful to think of Jesus there. It often happens that great men have some home where they may unbend, and where they need not be other than men, with the certainty of being loved. To Bethany Jesus betook Himself after the labours of the day, and there He felt at home.
3. Who would not like to have seen Him there? Home is the best sanctuary of the heart. It is an evil sign when it ceases to attract. We could have missed many scenes in Christ’s life rather than this.
4. There were three dwellers in that house. I do not know that He would or could have found, apart from female society, what He wanted and craved. The greatest men have always a feminine element, and have always pleasure in female fellowship. The household which Jesus loved presents religious varieties
I. IN ACTUAL EXISTENCE. We meet with them also in 2 John 1:1-13; 2 John 1:1-13.
1. These passages bring before us three types of character. Martha and Mary answering to Peter and John. On each occasion Martha is in action; while Mary is hearkening, sitting still, or pouring out her affection in unselfish homage. Of Lazarus’s works and acts we know nothing; but as Jesus loved him, we cannot imagine that there was nothing in him, or that what was in him was not good; and therefore conclude that it was of a kind which does not seek publicity. So we have here specimens of the three great departments of our nature--thought, feeling and action. They all loved Jesus after a natural manner, and Jesus loved them all and gave their characteristics immortal honour.
2. Men are naturally different in soul as in flesh. Had not man sinned we have no reason to suppose it would have been otherwise. There is endless variety in nature. There is difference in the Church. As man is not made alike, so he is not remade alike. This is true also of our minor parts and separate powers; not only of thoughts, but kinds of thinking, so of emotions and actions. Why not then in religion? In the case before us, in their quiet common life the presence of Jesus brings out their characteristic qualities, and so it does in their great woe and social feast.
II. AS MANIFESTED IN CONNECTION WITH CHRIST.
1. The practical in Martha honours Jesus. It has been a question whether the world is more indebted to men of action or of thought. Both are best, and both are necessary. Strong coupling chains are as needful as good engines, and “the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee.” Martha was the hand. Christ needed refreshment and she prepared it. I fancy her the bustling housewife, of robust health and good spirits, clear, but not deep in mind; warm-hearted, but not profound in feeling; ready to help, but judging help by coarser tests; honestly wishful for Mary’s help, but not displeased to have it known that she was doing alone; a woman who had no idea of letting the “grass grow under her feet,” and could express a bit of her mind. There are people of this sort in the Church: men of practical genius and active habits. I have known some never cool but when in hot water, and who never slept but as a top--on the spin. Like Martha, they “serve” and feed the body. They are the sappers and miners of the army, the Levites of the congregation. Let none usurp their office, and let them not themselves neglect it. But Martha warns them against two dangers
(1) Of putting external activity in the place of the heart and essence of religion.
(2) Of depreciating and interfering with the fitting and, it may be, better sphere of others. “One thing is needful,” which in the fuss and flurry of such spirits is liable to be forgotten, and which alone can make their labour of any value.
2. Mary represents the quiet, tender, sentimental disciples. Gentle, retiring, with a deep power of emotion, she preferred listening to labouring, privacy to publicity, worship to work, while yet her heart could well up on occasions in acts of unwonted love that would never have entered into Mary’s brains. There are Marys still, and they are not always feminine; as the Marthas are also often masculine; persons in whom the heart is the head. They are not good at general action, and are more remarkable for the fervour than the efficiency of their labours. As a rule their conception of ends is too high, and their conception of means too low. They work by impulse, and then they do more than others or nothing. They contribute to the gracefulness of religion, which requires “whatsoever things are lovely.” They add taste to its talents. Marthas supply the business-like prose, Marys the poetry of religion. Marthas rear the needful things in the garden of the Lord. Marys cultivate its flowers. Marthas “serve” the meals of the household of faith, Marys bring the costly spikenard. But this temperament is preeminently the temperament of devotion. The prayers of some speed the toil of others, returning like the rain, and blessing other scenes than those from which they rose. The Marthas little think, when in the full swing of their engagements, how much of their security and success is due to the prayers of the Marys.
3. Lazarus is a type of the more reflective, recipient, passive class. Had he been a man of much speech or action something of his as well as something about him would have been preserved. He had a heart open to Christ’s influence, pondered His discourse and deeds, and enjoyed a feast of wisdom and love while many were only being fed. There are such men still; they know more than they say, and feel more than they know. They are too sensitive for the rude friction of common life, and their retiring ways prevent their being appreciated or understood. They on whom Christ works may honour Him as well as those by whom He works.
III. HOW CHRIST TREATED THESE VARIETIES.
1. He recognized and honoured them. He sat at Martha’s table; He proclaimed His pleasure in Mary’s offering; and on Lazarus He wrought His most wondrous work. Special qualities, even when in excess, He did not reject. He looked at the motive. Whatever may be our native characteristics, love to Jesus will make them acceptable, and without that they will be an offence.
2. He guards them. When Martha would intrude on Mary’s sphere, He forbad her. And when the apostles censured Mary’s offering He reproved them. And still He looks with no kindly eye on those who are impatient of their brethren’s different excellences. There is a bigotry of character as well as of creed. On the other hand, there is a tendency in some to despond when conscious of the want of qualities which others exhibit. But you are called to be yourselves and to cultivate your own gifts. If you try to imitate others, you will spoil yourselves and caricature them.
3. He controls them. He gently chastened Martha’s anxious mind though He approved of Mary’s apparently wasteful offering; as much as to say--“If there be any extravagance let it be in honouring Me.” Martha’s activity was in danger of becoming worldliness; but Mary might go a great length in her affection without equal peril of losing her soul. The world reserves its praise for the devotees of Mammon, and the world is wrong. (A. J. Morris.)
What can be more irksome than to hear two sisters continually setting each other right upon trifling points, and differing from each other in opinion for no apparent reason but from a habit of contradiction? This family fault should be watched against; for it is an annoyance, though but a petty one, never to be able to open your lips without being harassed by such contradictions as, “Oh no! that happened on Tuesday, not Wednesday;” or if you remark that the clouds look threatening, to be asked in a tone of surprise, “Do you think it looks like rain? I am sure there is no appearance of such a thing.” Narrate an incident, every small item is corrected; hazard an opinion, it is wondered at or contradicted; assert a fact, it is doubted or questioned; till at length you keep silence in despair. (G. S. Bowes, B. A.)
He whom Thou lovest is sick
Christ’s love the comfort in sickness
A faithful, pious preacher was once lying dangerously ill, and the members of his church were praying earnestly at his bedside that the Lord would raise him up and preserve him to them; in doing so, among other things, they made mention of his tender watchfulness in feeding the lambs of the flock, making use of the expression, “Lord, Thou knowest how he loves Thee.” At this the sick man turned to them and said, “Ah, children, do not pray thus I when Mary and Martha sent to Jesus, their message was not--Lord, he who loveth Thee, but--Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick! It is not my imperfect love to Him which comforts me, but His perfect love to me.” (R. Besser, D. D.)
The sisters’ message and the Lord’s response
The message contained no request. To a loving friend it was quite enough to announce the fact. Friends are not verbose in their descriptions. True prayer does not consist in much speaking, or fine long sentences. When a man’s child falls into a pit it is enough to tell the father the simple fact in the shortest manner possible. How useful it is to have praying sisters! As for our Lord’s reply, there was something very mysterious about it. He might of course have said plainly, “Lazarus will die, and then I will raise him again.” Yet there is a wonderful likeness between the style of His message and many an unfulfilled prophecy. He said enough to excite hope, and encourage faith and patience and prayer, but not enough to make Mary and Martha leave off praying and seeking God. And is not this exactly what we should feel about many an unfulfilled prediction of things to come? Men complain that prophecies are not so literally fulfilled as to exclude doubt and uncertainty. But they forget that God wisely permits a degree of uncertainty in order to keep on watching and praying. It is just what He did with Martha and Mary here. (Bp. Ryle.)
The appeal and the answer
I. THE COURSE THE SISTERS TOOK.
1. We need not doubt that they used all the means in their power for their brother’s restoration. But they looked to the Great Physician. This is one of the marks of a believer, that while he uses means he does not depend upon them.
2. They sent to Jesus. Their message was
(1) Short. This should encourage our applications in sudden emergencies when long prayer cannot be offered. This is frequently the case with the sick and their attendants. It is not the length, but the faith and sincerity of the prayer that makes it effectual. The most powerful prayers have been the shortest. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” “What wilt Thou have ms to do?”
(2) Confident. They did not ask Him to come, or to heal their brother. “All we ask is ‘Behold’--his languid eye, faltering breath, sufferings; we have confidence in Thy love and wisdom, and leave the matter in Thy hands.
(3) Humble. They send no panegyric, nor mention any quality that might interest Christ. All they remind Him of is His love. This is the only ground on which we can build our faith and shape our prayers.
II. THE GRACIOUS ANSWER. This was sent for present support until a complete answer could be given; and is so worded as to put their faith and patience to a severe test. The way by which Christ leads His people is that of simple confidence in Him. He directs them not to judge Him by the outward appearances of His providence at a dark and unfavourable moment; but by His sure word of promise (Isaiah 50:10). This answer may be viewed as the Lord’s general answer to His people--“for the glory of God.” The sorrow of the world has a different tendency Revelation 16:10-11). How mysterious must it have seemed after this message that their brother should die; but the mystery was afterwards unravelled, and the affliction, instead of terminating in death, was the occasion of giving physical and spiritual life. (J. Haldane Stewart, M. A.)
The test of discipleship
To whom do we go first in the time of our extremity? What is our resource in the day of trouble? Can we say with David, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee when my heart is overwhelmed?” or do we betake ourselves to some other helper? The answer to these questions will determine whether we are the friends of Jesus or not. Travelling once upon a railroad ear, I had among my fellow passengers a little laughing child who romped about and was at home with everybody, and while she was frolicking around it might have been difficult to tell to whom she belonged, she seemed so much the property of everyone; but when the engine gave a loud, long shriek, and we went rattling into a dark tunnel, the little one made one bound and ran to nestle in a lady’s lap. I knew then who was her mother! So 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. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The appeal to Christ’s affection
The man who was healed at the pool of Bethesda, the blind man who was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam, were merely suffering Jews; the bread at Capernaum was given to 5,000 men gathered indiscriminately; the nobleman at Capernaum seems to have heard for the first time of Jesus; the guests at the marriage feast may have been His neighbours, or even His kinsmen, but we are not told that they were. This message is the first which directly appeals to the private affection of the Son of Man, which calls Him to help as a friend because He is a Friend. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The friendship of Jesus
I. THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S FRIENDSHIP. That Jesus should have passed His life in solitude was impossible; how could it be that His Spirit, wrapped up within itself, should be alien to all human impulses. This friendship grew as do others. There may have been some restraint at the first interview, but this soon melted into respectful familiarity, and then into reciprocal union. Christ must have endeared Himself to many, but it did not always mature into friendship. To love another as a sinner, as a Jew, a townsman, a relative, was altogether different from His affection for this family. They were His friends. We may not be able to tell all the reasons of this friendship, but we doubt not it was founded on mutual esteem and like-mindedness.
II. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS IS NOT AFFECTED BY VARIETIES OF INDIVIDUAL TEMPERAMENT. Such varieties as existed in these people have existed in all ages. Divine grace does not produce uniformity in human nature. It left in their own prominence the valour of David, the genius of Isaiah, the pathos of Jeremiah, the fervour of John, the reasoning powers of Paul. So there are some believers in whom intellect predominates, in others emotion; others ruminate on what God has done for their soul, and others look forward with the full assurance of hope. I feed on doctrine says one; I live in practice responds another. The nature of one excites him to battle as a missionary, that of another fits him to endure as a martyr. Every gift is useful in its place.
III. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS DOES NOT EXEMPT ITS POSSESSORS FROM AFFLICTION. Jesus might easily have ordered it otherwise, and even the appeal to His friendship did not move Him. His religion does not free us from, but often leads us to, suffering. Its object is to train the mind, and it takes advantage of suffering to aid it in the process of tuition. The stars appear as the gloom falls; so the promises assume new lustre and power to the spirit lying under the shadow of suffering. I may rejoice in the attachment of my friend, though I have never put it to a severe trial; but if I am suddenly brought to ruin, and he as promptly rescues me at great sacrifice, I may safely say that I never knew the value of his friendship. It is therefore in the period of suffering that the soul is brought into nearer contact with God, and finds His grace sufficient. In this case the event proved that God’s ways are higher than man’s, and are not to be judged of in human weakness. They might have questioned His friendship during those four mysterious days, but afterwards they saw, as they could not have seen otherwise, how He loved them.
IV. While the friendship of Jesus does not exempt from affliction IT DEEPENS INTO SYMPATHY WITH THOSE WHO ENDURE IT. Even during His absence Christ’s soul was in Bethany. Once and again did He refer to it, and at last said Lazarus is dead. His mind thus brooded over the scene, and now, though His life was in peril, He did not hesitate to go. As He met Martha He could speak in a firm tone of assurance, but when He saw Mary weeping bitterly He was deeply moved. And as He took the first step to the tomb His emotion could no longer be restrained. There was no stoicism in His constitution. Try not to be above the Saviour.
V. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS IS NOT INTERRUPTED BY DEATH. What breaks up all other ties has no such effect on it. Friends walk arm in arm till they come to the tomb, and then one of them resumes his solitary path. Our Lord said of him who died, “He sleepeth,” recognizing the friendship as still existing. The objects of Christ’s affection, when taken out of the world, are brought into closer union with Himself. So it was with Enoch: today he “walked with God” on earth, tomorrow he walked with Him in heaven. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
Beloved and yet afflicted
The disciple whom Jesus loved is not backward to record that Jesus loved Lazarus too; there are no jealousies among those who are chosen by the well beloved. It is a happy thing when a whole family lives in the love of Jesus. They were a favoured trio, and yet as the serpent came into paradise, so did sorrow enter their quiet household.
I. A FACT. “He whom Thou lovest is sick.” The sisters were somewhat astonished; “behold,” we love him and would make him well directly. Thou canst heal him with a word, why then is our loved one sick? We need not be astonished, for the sick one
1. Is only a man. The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of life. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption or rheumatism.
2. Is under a peculiar discipline. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” If Job, David, Hezekiah must each one smart, who are we that we should be amazed if ill?
3. Is thereby benefited. How far this was so with Lazarus we know not, but many a disciple would have been of small use but for affliction. Strong men are apt to be harsh, imperious, and unsympathetic, and hence need to be put into the furnace and melted down. There are fruits in God’s garden as well as in man’s which never ripen till bruised.
4. Is a means of good to others. Throughout these nineteen centuries all believers have been getting good out of Lazarus’s sickness. The Church and the world may derive immense advantage through The sorrows of good men; the careless may be awakened, the doubting convinced, the ungodly converted, the mourner comforted through their testimony.
II. A REPORT OF THAT FACT. The sisters sent and told Jesus. Let us keep up a constant correspondence with Him about everything.
1. It is a great relief. He is a confidant who can never betray, a friend who will never refuse.
2. He is sure to support us. If you ask Him, “Why am I sick?” He may be pleased to show you why, or He will make you willing to be patient without knowing why.
3. He may give healing. It would not be wise to live by a supposed faith and cast off the physician, any more than to discharge the butcher and the tailor and expect to be fed and clothed by faith; but this would be far better than forgetting the Lord altogether, and trusting to man only. Some are afraid to go to God about their health; and yet surely if the hairs outside our head are all numbered it is not more of a condescension for Him to relieve throbs inside.
III. AN UNEXPECTED RESULT. No doubt the sisters looked to see Lazarus recover; but they were not gratified. This teaches us that Jesus may be informed of our trouble, and yet act as if indifferent. We must not expect recovery in every case, for if so nobody would die who had anybody to pray for him. Let us not forget that another prayer may be crossing ours. “Father, I will that they also,” etc. But Jesus raised him, and will raise us. Some want to live till the Lord comes, and so escape death; but so far from having any preference such would miss one point of fellowship in not dying and rising like their Lord. All things are yours, death included.
IV. A QUESTION. Does Jesus in a special sense love you? Many sick ones have no evidence of it because they do not love Him. If Jesus loves you and you are sick, let your friends, nurses, etc., see how you glorify God in your sickness. If you do not know this love, you lack the brightest star that can cheer the night of darkness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sickness of Lazarus
I. A PRIVILEGE OF INCOMPARABLE VALUE--to be loved by Christ. To be loved by some is no advantage; their love is carnal, selfish, fickle. But Christ’s love is
1. Tender--so tender that in all our afflictions He is afflicted. We are as dear to Him as Himself.
2. Constant. It is not founded on any mistakes as to our characters; as to what we have been, are, shall be. Men sometimes withdraw their love because they discover imperfections never anticipated.
3. All-sufficient. It has at command ample resources to supply all our wants, ample power to sustain, guard, and bless us, and that always.
II. A TRIAL STRIKINGLY SUGGESTIVE. Why did Christ permit His beloved friend to be sick?
1. Not because it was agreeable to Him. The sufferings of those whom we love are always painful to us. “He doth not afflict willingly.”
2. Not because He could not have prevented it. He who hushed the storm and raised the dead had power to keep off disease.
3. It was for some useful end. The afflictions of Lazarus were a blessing to himself and his sisters. It strengthened this faith and intensified their joy.
III. A FAITH OF REMARKABLE POWER. So assured were they of the genuineness and strength of His love that they felt that the mere statement of Lazarus’s sickness was enough. True love requires no persuasion. The appeals to benevolence that stream from the press and pulpit imply a sad lack of faith in the philanthropy of the land. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The uses of affliction
God often lays the sum of His amazing providences in very dismal afflictions, as the limner first puts on the dusky colours on which he intends to draw the portraiture of some illustrious beauty. (S. Charnock.)
Affliction, not destruction
I feel that repeated afflictions come, not as lightning on the scathed tree, blasting it yet more and more, but as the strokes of the sculptor on the marble block, forming it into the image of beauty and loveliness. Let but the Divine presence be felt, and no lot is hard. Let me but see His hand, and no event is unwelcome. (Power of Illustration.)
Affliction makes fruitful
Every vessel of mercy must be scoured in order to brightness. And however trees in the wilderness may grow without cultivation, trees in the garden must be pruned to be made fruitful; and cornfields must be broken up, when barren heaths are left untouched. (J. Arrowsmith.)
The benefit of severe affliction
When Mr. Cecil was walking in the Botanical Gardens of Oxford, his attention was arrested by a fine pomegranate tree, cut almost through the stem near the root. On asking the gardener the reason of this, “Sir,” said he, “this tree used to shoot so strong that it bore nothing but leaves; I was therefore obliged to cut it in this manner; and when it was almost cut through, then it began to bear plenty of fruit.” The reply afforded this inquisitive student a general practical lesson, which was of considerable use to him in after life, when severely exercised by personal and domestic afflictions. Alas! in many cases, it is not enough that the useless branches of the tree be lopped off, but the stock itself must be cut--and cut nearly through--before it can become extensively fruitful. And sometimes the finer the tree, and the more luxuriant its growth, the deeper must be the incision. (J. A. James.)
God’s love to His own people in a afflicting them
An invalid of twenty years, whose sufferings were extreme, was one night thinking of the reason of this long-continued affliction. Suddenly the room filled with light, and a beautiful form bent over her, saying, “Daughter of sorrow, art thou impatient?” “No; but I am full of pain and disease, and I see no end; nor can I see why I must suffer thus. I know that I am a sinner; but I hoped that Christ’s sufferings, and not mine, would save me. Oh! why does God deal thus with me?” “Come with me, daughter, and I will show thee.” “But I cannot walk.” “True, true! There, gently, gently!” He tenderly took her up in his arms, and carried her over land and water, till he set her down in a far-off city, and in the midst of a large workshop. The room was full of windows, and the workmen seemed to be near the light, and each with his own tools; and all seemed to be so intent upon their work, that they neither noticed the newcomers, nor spoke to one another. They seemed to have small, brown pebbles, which they were grinding and shaping and polishing. Her guide pointed her to one who seemed to be most earnestly at work. He had a half-polished pebble, which was now seen to be a diamond, in a pair of strong iron pincers. He seemed to grasp the little thing as if he would crush it, and to hold it on to the rough stone without mercy. The stone whirled, and the dust flow, and the jewel grew smaller and lighter. Ever and anon he would stop, hold it up to the light, and examine it carefully. “Workmen,” said the sufferer, “will you please to tell me why you bear on, and grind the jewel so hard? I want to grind off every flaw and crack in it.” “But don’t you waste it?” “Yes; but what is left is worth so much the more. The fact is, this diamond, if it will bear the wheel long enough, is to occupy a very important place in the crown we are making up for our king. We take much more pains with such. We have to grind and polish them a great while; but, when they are done, they are very beautiful. The king was here yesterday, and was much pleased with our work, but wanted this jewel, in particular, should be ground and polished a great deal. So you see how hard I hold it down on this stone. And, see! there is not a crack nor a flaw in it! What a beauty it will be!” Gently the guide lifted up the poor sufferer, and again laid her down on her own bed of pain. “Daughter of sorrow, dost thou understand the vision?” “Oh, yes! but may I ask you one question?” “Certainly.” “Were you sent to me to show me all this?” “Assuredly.” “Oh! may I take to myself the consolation that I am a diamond, and am now in the hands of the strong man, who is polishing it for the crown of the Great King?” “Daughter of sorrow, thou mayest have that consolation; and every pang of suffering shall be like a flash of lightning in a dark night, revealing eternity to thee; and hereafter thou shalt ‘run without weariness, and walk without faintness,’ and sing with those who have ‘come out of great tribulation.’” (Dr. Todd.)
Trouble in the family
I. A HAPPY FAMILY. It consisted of a brother and his two sisters. They were happy because Jesus loved them. The essence of real happiness is not riches or any temporal distinction, but an interest in Christ’s favour. His love is no empty sentiment. Whom Jesus loves He blesses. How rare are families whom Jesus lovest Individual believers are numerous, but “households” of faith are rare. Why? Is it because there is so little of family worship?
II. A GRIEVOUS TRIAL WHICH BEFELL THEM. This is no new thing. The children of God have never been promised a smooth life of it (Acts Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:7-8). The afflictions of believers are quite another thing from God’s ordinary visitations. God visits them in mercy not in judgment, for the best purposes (Romans 5:3-5). Better is it to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25-26; Job 5:17-18).
III. THE REMARKABLE CONDUCT OF OUR LORD WHEN HE WAS TOLD OF IT. There was nothing strange in a friend of Christ’s falling sick (1 Peter 4:12), but Christ’s conduct was very strange. Doubtless they expected Him as soon as the distance would admit of it. How we hasten at such a summons, and the consciousness of being able to do something quickens our steps. Yet Jesus, who had all power as well as all love, tarried. How trying this delay to the afflicted sisters--how heartbreaking when all was over that Jesus was not there. But stranger still Christ delayed out of love. No love is so high as that which prefers the real interests of its object before his present comfort, which aims at permanent good rather than momentary satisfaction. We often seek to gratify another’s feelings rather than to promote his good. But Christ is not a parent who gives His children everything they cry for, but everything that is best for them. He withholds a lesser mercy that He may impart a greater. Instead of raising Lazarus from a bed of sickness He raised him from the grave. Conclusion: The great lesson here is the duty of waiting patiently for the Lord in regard to answers to prayer--blessings--success. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
I. THE SOURCE OF AFFLICTIONS. Not spontaneous (Job 5:6-7). Godappoints (Psalms 66:10-11; Amos 3:6). God regulates their degree Isaiah 9:1; Jeremiah 46:28). God determines their duration Genesis 15:13-14, Isaiah 10:25). Not willingly sent Lamentations 3:33; Ezekiel 33:11). Consequent on sin Genesis 3:16-19).
II. AFFLICTIONS OF THE SAINTS. Saints must expect them (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Tempered with mercy (Psalms 78:38-39; Psalms 106:43-46). Comparatively light (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). Are but temporary (Psalms 30:5; 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 5:10). Are joyfully endured Romans 5:3-5; James 5:11). Are shared with Christ (Ro 1 Peter 4:13-14). Express God’s care (Hebrews 12:6-7; Revelation 3:19). God with afflicted saints (Psalms 46:5; Psalms 46:5; Isaiah 43:2). God preserves them (Psalms 34:19-20; Ro
8:37). Christ with them (Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). Christdelivers them (2 Timothy 4:17; Hebrews 2:18). They secure a James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).
III. AFFLICTIONS OF THE WICKED. Sent as judgments (Job 21:17; Jeremiah 30:15). Sent for impenitence (Proverbs 1:30-31; Amos 4:6-12). Are multiplied (Deuteronomy 31:17; Psalms 32:10). Come suddenly (Psalms 73:19; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 29:1). Sometimes humble them (1 Kings 21:27). Sometimes harden them Exodus 9:34-35; Nehemiah 9:28-29). Consummated in the judgment (Matthew 25:41; Luke 13:27; Luke 13:23). (S. S. Times.)
The uses of sickness
1. The message was not needed, nor was it immediately regarded. With the sisters nothing was more serious than their brother’s sickness, and the little chamber was the centre of the world. The Saviour took other views of the matter. The sickness and death of Lazarus were not ends in themselves, but means to a far higher end. It was more important that they should learn patience than that Lazarus should not be sick; that they should be taught a quiet and strong faith than that He should not die; that God and Christ should be glorified.
2. The uses of an illness is not a common topic. Men may live and die without considering it. This lack of consideration is due to the fact that sickness is unwelcome; and to ask what is the use of it is like asking what is the use of a hindrance, indeed, of uselessness. This, however, is a disheartening conclusion; for think of the vast amount of sickness there is. There is not a house to which the struggle does not come sooner or later. It ought to, and must be incredible to any man who believes in a heavenly Father that so much of human emotion should flow away without benefit. It does not require inspiration to teach us that there must be some light in these dark facts. Shakespeare says, “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head”; and “There is a soul of good in things evil, if men would but observingly distil it out.” The uses of sickness are
I. TO INQUIRE AS TO ITS SOURCE. This is the first duty with respect to any derangement of machinery whether mechanical or vital.
1. It would be a serious mistake to trace it all to the Divine hand. This may save thought, but at the cost of reason and reverence. Many afflictions bear no Divine mark.
(1) Some arise through indolence. The forces of life have not been kept in active flow--they have rested and rusted. There has been leisure for getting into moods and moodiness, and so the nerves become shaken and shattered.
(2) Some arise through overwork whether bodily or mental. Here there are difficulties which each must settle for himself--how long he can put forth power with safety; how he can pull in when he loves his work; but still retribution stands darkly behind the overworker, and will strike some day.
(3) The same result may be produced by the care which gnaws the fine strings of the soul first, and then the nerves of the body.
II. TO LEARN THAT WE ARE NO EXCEPTION TO THE FRAILTY OF THE RACE. “Men think all men mortal but themselves.” Long continued health has its snares. It engenders a spirit of boasting which forgets God and sympathy with others. Humanity is like a mighty tree, always flourishing and always in decay. Never for two moments together has it the same leaves upon it; always there are some bursting their sheath, or in their tender green, or in their full glory, or slipping from their hold. All come down at length leaving behind as rich a foliage. Thus each leaf learns its frailty in turn. And so it is with man who “at his best estate is altogether vanity.” He begins to receive strange hints of difference between what he is and what he was. The eyes will give intimation that they are not as clear as they were, and would be all the better for artificial help. As we walk hills seem more formidable than they were, limbs loose their nimbleness, and lungs and heart the freedom of their play. And the chariot of sickness seems to wheel a man nearer to the presence of death; and to familiarize him with the fact that for him as for others, there is no discharge in this warfare. Not to learn this is to leave the sick chamber with one of its most serious instructions unheeded.
III. TO TEACH US THAT WE ARE NOT INDISPENSABLE TO THE LIFE AND WORK OF THE WORLD. This, like our best lessons, is humiliating because true. It seems impossible at times to conceive of the world without some men being in it; they have been here so long, hold such office, and render such service. So many seem absolutely needful--the father, pastor, statesman, monarch. When sickness comes and one is withdrawn, it is a salutary admonition to him and to the world that the world goes on, and will go on, when he is no more.
IV. TO HELP US TO REVISE OUR VIEWS OF LIFE. No one can live wisely without times of pause and quiet thought; and yet men are often too busy to think. They live either without plan, or their plan is narrow and poor, and it will never be altered to the grand dimensions it ought to assume, unless they are laid aside and compelled to think.
1. There is the sensualist with whom life has been a race after pleasure. Is there no room for him to revise his plan of life when appetite palls, and the sweetest drinks have lost their flavour?
2. May not the worldling ask, “What shall it profit a man,” etc. (E. Mellor, D. D.)
The benefits of sickness
By it God designs
I. TO DISCOVER TO US OUR TRUE CHARACTER--whether Christians or worldlings. Christ is like the crucible which tries the gold.
II. TO MAKE US KNOW GOD.
1. His authority and our dependence on Him. Christ tells us how easily He could crush us, and how all our safety depends on His power.
2. His faithfulness supporting His children and proving that His grace is sufficient for them.
3. His goodness in standing by us, giving us the consolations of His gospel, and letting down into our souls an anticipated heaven.
III. TO GIVE US TO FEEL THE PRECIOUSNESS OF JESUS. Even in health the Saviour is the chief among ten thousand, etc., but His value is especially felt when sickness has brought us to look into the eternal world.
IV. TO ENABLE US TO ESTIMATE THE INFINITE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION. Then the most obdurate is constrained to feel the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The believer then feels more than he ever did, his unspeakable obligations to God for having forgiven his sins and sealed by His Spirit.
V. TO SHOW US THE VANITIES OF THE WORLD. On the bed of sickness, honours, pleasures, riches, the pursuit of which occupies the lives of so many men, to the forgetfulness of their soul, heaven, God, lose their lustre and appear but phantoms.
VI. TO BENEFIT OUR NEIGHBOUR AND GLORIFY GOD. Thousands of examples might be adduced of persons who received their first impressions from the conduct of Christians in dangerous illnesses. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Sickness a little death
Every sickness is a little death. I will be content to die oft, that I may die once well. (Bishop Hall.)
The benefit of sorrow.
It is said that gardeners sometimes, when they would bring a rose to richer flowering, deprive it for a season of light and moisture. Silent and dark it stands, dropping one fading leaf after another, and seeming to go down patiently to death. But when every leaf is dropped, and the plant stands stripped to the uttermost, a new life is even then working in the buds, from which shall spring a tender foliage and a brighter wealth of flowers. So, often, in celestial gardening, every leaf of earthly joy must drop before a new and divine bloom visits the soul. (Beecher Stowe.)
Trial a small matter in comparison with the benefit it confers
In the ancient times a box on the ear given by a master to a slave meant liberty; little would the freedman care how hard was the blow. By a stroke from the sword the warrior was knighted by his monarch; small matter was it to the new made knight if the royal hand was heavy. When the Lord intends to lift His servants into a higher stage of spiritual life, He frequently sends them a severe trial. Be it so, who among us would wish to be deprived of the trials if they are the necessary attend ants of spiritual advancement? (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Trial and progress
One of the swiftest Transatlantic voyages made last summer by the Etruria was because she had a stormy wind abaft, chasing her from New York to Liverpool, But to those going in opposite direction the storm was a buffeting and a hindrance. It is a bad thing to have a storm ahead pushing us back; but if we are God’s children and aiming toward heaven, the storms of life will only chase us the sooner into the harbour. I am so glad to believe that the monsoons, and typhoons, and mistrals, and siroccos of land and sea are not unchained maniacs let loose upon the earth, but under Divine supervision. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Afflictions prevent worse dangers
Two painters were employed to fresco the walls of a magnificent cathedral. Both stood on a rude scaffolding constructed for the purpose, some distance from the floor. One, so intent upon his work, forgetting where he was, stepped back slowly, surveying critically the work of his pencil, until he had neared the edge of the plank on which he stood. At this moment his companion, just perceiving his danger, seized a wet brush, flung it against the wall, spattering the picture with unsightly blotches of colouring. The painter flew forward, and turned upon his friend with fierce upbraidings, till made aware of the danger he had escaped; then, with tears of gratitude, he blessed the hand that saved him. Just so, sometimes we get so absorbed with the pictures of the world, unconscious of our peril, when God in mercy dashes out the beautiful images, and draws us, at the time we are complaining of His dealings, into His outstretched arms of love.
I remember, some years ago, when I was at Shields, I went into a glass house; and, standing very attentive, I saw several masses of burning glass of various forms. The workman took a piece of glass and put it into one furnace, then he put it into a second, and then into a third. I said to him, “Why do you put it through so many fires?” He answered, “Oh, sir, the first was not hot enough, nor the second; therefore we put it into a third, and that will make it transparent.” (G. Whitefield.)
Afflictions make us long for home
We had traversed the great Aletsch Glacier, and were very hungry when we reached the mountain tarn halfway between the Bel Alp and the hotel at the foot of the AEggischorn; there a peasant undertook to descend the mountain and bring us bread and milk. It was a very Marah to us when he brought us back milk too sour for us to drink, and bread black as a coal, too hard to bite, and sour as the curds. What then? Why, we longed the more eagerly to reach the hotel towards which we were travelling. Thus our disappointments on the road to heaven whet our appetites for the better country, and quicken the pace of our pilgrimage to the celestial city. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place
Christ’s special friends
The saints are all round about His throne, because He is alike near unto them for solace and tuition. Howbeit, as man, living among men, He was affected to some more than some, as to these three, and the beloved disciple. Plato commendeth his country at Athens, chiefly for this, that they were beloved of the gods. (J. Trapp.)
The everlasting Friend
“Doctor, what shall I do?” asked a patient of her medical adviser: “my friends are all out of town.” “You may have one Friend,” was the answer, “who is never out of the way, but ever near, and ever true. Jesus is the best friend for earth or heaven.” Pres. Edwards, when he came to die,--his last words, after bidding his relations goodbye, were, “Now, where is Jesus, my never-failing Friend?”
Love of friendship
The English word “loved” is ambiguous; it may apply to all kinds of love--the love of friendship, for instance, or the love of man and woman. There is not the same ambiguity in Greek. The word used here is one (agapao) which conveys delicately the meaning that the love of Jesus for Martha and her sister was not the love of man for woman, but the love of friend for friend. The ambiguity of the English word makes this explanation necessary. (S. S. Times.)
The delays of Jesus
We know the value of time to a sick man (we say) when the disease is growing and the vital energies are failing. “Too late,” the physician tells you: “if you had called me just two days ago, I might have done something; but now the case is past my skill.” But Jesus (and His heart was love itself) “abode two days still in the same place where He was.” The abiding on this occasion reminds us of that which took place when He was on the way to the house of Jairus, whose little daughter lay a-dying. Human love, impatient of delay, would have urged Him to make haste; yet He tarries, during the last precious moments, over the case of the woman who had touched the hem of His garment and been healed of her issue of blood. It is a most noticeable feature of all His works that they were done without hurry; with the calmness of one who stays on God; with the calmness of conscious omnipotence that can afford to wait; with the calmness of strong-hearted love that will not forego its mighty purpose of blessing by taking premature action. In this case the delay was in His plan of loving kindness, and essential, as we shall see by and by, to its full development. It was not merely that He knew what He would do, how He would “take off their sackcloth, and gird them with gladness;” but the delay, strange and painful as it was, and inexplicable to the sisters, formed part of the preparation He was making to give them a blessing according to His own heart, who cares more for our being rooted in God than for our present happiness. He was letting them cry out of the depths, that they might afterward cry, “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.” (J. Culross, D. D.)
The delays of love
John is always particular about his use of “therefore,” and points out many a subtle and beautiful connection of cause and effect by it. But none of them is more significant as to the ways of Providence than this. How these sisters must have looked down the rocky road during those four weary days! How strange to the disciples that He made no sign of movement! Perhaps John’s care in pointing out that His love was the reason for His quiescence may reflect a remembrance of his doubts during this period.
I. CHRIST’S DELAYS ARE THE DELAYS OF LOVE. We have all had experience of desires for the removal of sorrows, or for the fulfilment of wishes which we believed to be in accordance with His will, and no answer has come. It is part of the method of Providence that hope in these respects should be deferred. And instead of stumbling at the mystery, would it not be wiser to lay hold of this “therefore,” and by it get a glimpse into the very heart of the Divine motives?
1. If we could get that conviction into our hearts, how quietly we should go about our work! How encouraging that the only reason which actuates God in the choice of times is our good.
2. Sorrow is prolonged for the same reason that it is sent. Time is often an element in its working its right effect. If the weight is lifted the elastic substance beneath springs up again. As soon as the wind passes over the cornfield the bowing ears raise themselves. You have to steep foul things in water for a good while before the stains are cleansed. Therefore, the same love which sends must protract the discipline.
3. The grand object and highest blessing is that our wills should be bent until they coincide with God’s, and that takes time. The shipwright knows that to mould a bit of timber into the right form is but the work of a day. A will may be broken at a blow, but it will take a while to bend it. God’s love in Jesus can give us nothing better than the opportunity of saying, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
II. THIS DELAYED HELP COMES AT THE RIGHT TIME. Heaven’s clock is different from ours. In one day there are twelve hours; in God’s a thousand years. What seems long to us is to Him “a little while.” The longest protraction of the fulfilment of a desire will seem but as a winking of an eye when we estimate duration as He estimates it. The ephemeral insect has a still minuter scale than ours, but we should not think of regulating our measure of long and short by it. God works leisurely because He has eternity to work in. But His answer is always punctual though delayed. Peter is in prison. The Church keeps praying for him day after day. No answer. The last night comes, and as the veil of darkness is thinning, the angel came. Mark the leisureliness of the whole subsequent procedure. God never comes too soon or too late. Take again the case of Sennacherib’s army.
III. THE BEST HELP IS NOT DELAYED. The preceding principle applies only to the less important half of our prayers, and Christ’s answers. In regard to spiritual blessings the law is not “He abode still two days,” but “Before they call I will answer.” The only reason why people do not get the blessings of the Christian life lies in themselves. “Ye have not because ye ask not, or ask amiss, or having asked you go away not looking to see whether the blessing is coming or not.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The apparent neglect of self-denying love
John is the only evangelist who speaks of the friendship between Christ and this family, who gives us in fact the picture of Christ in social life, Christ unbending, Christ in the intimacy, the freedom of tender, personal affection, Christ as a friend; just as He only gives the social miracle at Cana. The apostle of love, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he only gives us this aspect of Christ’s nature and history. How natural and beautiful! Note
I. THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING. Evil in connection with love in one who could remove it. Whatever may be said to lessen this mystery the facts are so. There was no doubt about the malady of the man, none about the mercifulness of the Master. And so we say still. Christianity is not responsible for the difficulty, for as Sir W. Hamilton observes, “No difficulty emerges in theology which had not previously emerged in philosophy.” Looked at alone the facts are not consistent but opposed. A God of love and a world of woe regarded as bare facts are a moral contradiction; and no wonder if through the veil of tears we cannot always see His goodness. Pain is evil in itself, and suggests evil. The consciousness of sin interprets it as the token of the Father’s frown; and the Bible teaches that suffering came by sin; but it also says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,” and makes suffering the necessary evidence of love and the choicest instrument of profit.
II. THE RESOURCE OF SORROW.
1. They sent to tell Jesus. It was natural even if they thought only of telling Him. True love will always tell what befalls it from natural dictate, because it likes to tell it, and because reciprocal affection has a right to know it. When John was killed “the disciples went and told Jesus,” and so should we, whenever our hearts are full, even if nothing come of it. Our words are modes of receiving as well as communicating. God hears best our prayers when we can hear them too; we pray best for ourselves aloud.
2. They merely informed Jesus. They must have meant and expected more. Both sisters exclaimed, “Lord, if Thou hadst,” etc. Was it not then to prevent his dying that Christ was told. But they did not know He knew. We do. Our prayers are not to inform God; He wants to know our prayers--the expression of our feelings, not the instructions of our wisdom.
3. They did not ask the boon they expected. Was it modesty or faith? We cannot tell; but the more we approach to this mode of prayer the better, at least, as to things of a temporal kind. The more we leave them to God, and remember that we are to “ask according to His will,” and that only spiritual blessings, are blessings always, the better. Many a parent has prayed the life of a child, whom afterwards he had wished had found an infant’s tomb. Many a merchant has craved the success of a venture, whose success has been the beginning of soul-destroying prosperity. But there is no danger or excess when we ask for salvation and holiness.
4. Note the way in which they said what they did say. They do not mention themselves, nor Lazarus’s love for Jesus, but Jesus’ love to him. They might have put it as the afflicted mother did--“Have mercy upon me,” or, “Him we love is sick,” or,” He who loveth Thee.” They thought Christ’s love was the best argument, and as there was no need to mention his name, verily it was. We always prevail with God when we make Him our plea, “for Thy name’s sake.”
III. THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE. Why did He not hasten to Bethany. Even if He did not chose to prevent Lazarus dying, He might have soothed him and his sisters. He did not go because He wished him to die, and intimates (verse 15) that if He were at Bethany He could not let him die. He delayed because He meant to raise him. Herein is a picture of Providence.
1. The transformation of evil into good.
2. The material made instrument of the spiritual.
3. Fellowship. One sickening and dying for the health, joy, and higher life of many. Conclusion: We have talked of Christ’s love and man’s sorrow. Here only can the two be found together. There are two states before us, one, in which there will be sorrow without love, and another in which there will be love without sorrow. Suffering without Christ--this is hell. Love with no trouble or death--the love of Christ ever present, filling the heart with joy unspeakable--that is heaven. (A. J. Morris.)
Are there not twelve hours in the day?
--What does this sentence mean here, following John 11:7-8? Why was it introduced? I do not know that we who are living easy and comfortable lives can quite solve that question. But many a patriot and confessor who has been concealing himself from the anger of those whom he wished to bless has learned its meaning and felt its support. If he had tried to rush forth into danger, merely in obedience to some instinct or passion of his own, he was walking in the night and was sure to stumble. If he heard a voice in his conscience bidding him go and do some work for God--go and aid some suffering friend--he would be walking in a track of light; it signified not what enemies might be awaiting him, what stones might be cast at him, he could move on fearlessly and safely. The sun was in the heavens--the stones would miss till his hour was come. If it was come, the sooner they struck the better. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Twelve hours in the day
I. THE PREDESTINATION OF LIFE. God has marked out beforehand the length of the life. This was true of the life of Christ. He was in daylight till the twelfth hour. He could not die. His time was not yet come. 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 thirty minutes or sixty. This is a call to confidence. Be not afraid to go at the summons of duty, in spite of snare, terror, accident or infection. The day will have its twelve hours.
II. THE COMPLETENESS OF LIFE. We speak of a child or young man’s life as prematurely closed. Isaiah speaks of the longevity of the time when a child shall die hundred years old. Certainly there have been children whose little life has been well completed--their innocence and death testifying powerfully for Christ. Their day has had its twelve hours, though the constituent hour was less than a year. We must cast away the common measurement of time. Christ’s life was a short one, and how large a part was spent in preparation? No time is less wasted than that given to preparation. 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, but the condition of the three. Each life, the shortest not least, is complete. Man’s work depends not on his longevity. Many a young man sleeping in the churchyard sends forth the fragrance of a perpetual sanctity. Use well your time, longer or shorter, and the hours shall be twelve, and the component hour shall have its constituent moments sure.
III. THE UNITY OF LIFE. We would fain divorce hour from hour, and never recognize their bearing upon each other and the day. And it is true that repentance severs one part of the day from another, and make old age--and therefore eternity--diverse from the boyhood. It is also true that a Christian does well to take his years, months, days, one by one and to live each as if it were the only one. Nevertheless, we cannot disguise the unity of this being. We may wish we had not done that wicked thing, fallen into that evil habit, but it is there: we cannot cut off the entail. God sees the day as one: and when He writes an epitaph He does so in one of two lines. “He did that which was good.” “He did that which was evil”--the identification is complete, the character one.
IV. THE DISTRIBUTION OF LIFE. God sees it in its unity. He bids us see it in its manifoldness; in its variety of opportunity and capability of good. Where is the moment which might not contribute something? Economize. Give up some fragment to God. (Dean Vaughan.)
The twelve hours of the day; or, lifetime and life’s duty in their indissoluble unity
I. THE CERTAINTY OF LIFE WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF DUTY.
II. THE SACREDNESS OF DUTY WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF LIFE. (J. P.Lange, D. D.)
Life the golden opportunity
I. THE WISDOM OF KNOWING OUR OPPORTUNITY. This chiefly depends on
1. Our walking.
2. Our working while it is light.
II. THE DANGER OF NEGLECTING IT
1. For vain amusements.
2. In the eager pursuit of trifles. (R. Cecil, M. A.)
God takes care of His workers
The Rev. T. Charles had a remarkable escape in one of his journeys to Liverpool. His saddlebag was by mistake put into a different boat from that in which he intended to go. This made it necessary for him to change his boat, even after he had taken his seat in it. The boat in which he meant to go went to the bottom, and all in it were drowned. Thus did God in a wonderful way preserve His servant--“immortal till his work was done.” God had a great work for this His servant, and He supported and preserved him till it was completed.
The providential care of life
When I was stationed in Swanson, in the year 1836, I was appointed delegate to the district meeting held at St. Ives, Cornwall. One Captain Gribble offered me a passage in his vessel. I accepted the offer, and said, “When are you going out?” He replied, “We have got our cargo, and shall go tomorrow if the wind is fair.” I went to the dock on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; the wind was still against him. He then advised me to take the packet to Bristol, as he said it was quite uncertain when he should be able to go to sea. I took the packet on the Thursday morning. We had a very rough passage; through mercy we arrived safe in Bristol next morning. I arrived at Hayle between one and two o’clock on Sunday morning. I then walked to St. Ives, a distance of five miles. I went to Mr. Driffield’s. When he saw me he said, “Is Joseph yet alive?” I answered, “Yes.” He further said, “We were informed you were coming with a sailing vessel, and it appears she is lost, for some of the wreck is come on shore. We have gone through the stationing and left you without a station.” I was given to understand that on the morning I left for Bristol the vessel went out. The wind was fair, but after being a few hours at sea all went to the bottom, captain and crew. What a providence it appears that the vessel could not go out until I was gone! (J. Hibbs.)
The contemplated journey
I. OPPOSED BY THE DISCIPLES as
1. Dangerous (John 11:8).
2. Unnecessary (John 11:12-13). Hence
3. Imprudent, if not also
II. JUSTIFIED BY JESUS. As
1. Imperative, being undertaken at the call of His Father.
2. Safe, since He could not stumble in the path of duty.
3. Merciful, inasmuch as He went to comfort the sisters and raise Lazarus.
4. Profitable, even for those who were so strongly against it. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Light and loyalty
The disciples were amazed when Jesus proposed to go to Bethany, and remonstrated with Him. Christ takes this opportunity of explaining the great principle on which He worked. “I walk in God’s light which shines upon My path during the time He has fixed for My ministry. Wherever that light shines, I go, regardless of everything but it. Do you the same, My disciples. Your path of duty will be clear. Without that light you will be as men walking in the dark and meeting disaster.” We are thus led up to the question of the simplicity of duty. Somehow duty has come to be to many a complicated matter. That it presents problems every one of us knows, but does the problem lie in the duty or in us? Do we not complicate the problem by adding factors of our own. The oculist says that there is a blind spot in every eye: possibly when we think duty obscure we have brought the duty into line with the blind spot. As a matter of precept, duty being a thing of universal obligation must be simple. To make it a matter of subtle casuistry or painful research would limit it. And men stumble none the less because of this simplicity. Christ does not put the blame of stumbling on the law or on the complication of duty. It is not the geological structure of the stone that makes men stumble, but darkness or blindness. And so morally. Our Lord asserts elsewhere that “the lamp of the body is the eye: When thine eye is single thy whole body is full of light,” etc. When a man sees two trees when there is only one, or prismatic colours in a house that is white, we do not blame the tree etc., but the man’s vision, A sound moral vision recognizes duty under every shape. Hence the truth of our text is that the recognition of duty, and the practical solution of its problems, lie in the principle of loyalty to Christ. A Divinely enlightened conscience and an obedient will, not only push, but lead. See this illustrated here. Going to Bethany involved a question of duty for Christ. To one who had no thought but to do the Father’s will, the case was simple. But the disciples, in their natural timidity, put another element into the question, which complicated it--personal safety. If Jesus entertained the suggestion, He would have been diverted from the plain duty. A new question would have been raised which God had not raised. God’s commission said nothing about danger--only “Go.” If He meant to do right the decision presented no difficulty; if He meant to save Himself, He would have walked in darkness. Is not singleness of purpose an element of all heroism? Was there ever a great general whose thought was divided between victory and personal safety? The men who have moved society have seen nothing but the end to be won. When a physician enters on his profession, he does so with the knowledge that he must ignore contagion. That makes his duty very simple--to relieve disease wherever he finds it. The moment he begins to think about exposure to fever, etc., his usefulness is over. Luther at Worms had a terrible danger to face, but a very easy question to solve; but his inability to do anything but the one right thing (“I can do no otherwise”) carried the Reformation, and this singleness is the very essence of Christianity. Its first law is, treat self, as though it were not “Follow Me.” It is not always easy to follow Christ; but the way at least is plain. A greater difficulty arises when the question becomes one of compromising between Christ and self. The only way in which self can be adjusted to the Cross is by being nailed to’ it. Duty is a fixed fact. It does not adjust itself to us. There is a nebulous mass in the depths of space. The problem before the astronomer may be difficult to work out, but its nature is simple. He is to resolve that mist into its component stars. If he is bent on bringing the facts discovered by his telescope into harmony with some theory of his own, he complicates his task at once: or let the glass be cracked or the mirror dirty, and his observation only results in guess work. But, with an unprejudiced mind and a good telescope, his eye penetrates the veil and brings back tidings which enrich the records of science. So when men look at duty with loyal and obedient hearts, its lines come out sharply. Let self put a film over the spirit, duty remains unchanged, but the man sees only a mist. When the engineer decided that his railroad had to go through Mont Cenis, he had a difficult task but a simple one; and in addressing himself wholly to that solution of his problem, he at once got rid of a thousand questions as to other routes, etc. No one ever had so clear a perception of the hardness of His mission as Christ. And yet the closest study reveals not a shadow of hesitation. He goes to the Cross saying, “The Scripture must be fulfilled.” He comes back from the dead with, “Thus it behoved Christ to suffer.” His motto was, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, etc.” He admitted no question of stoning or crucifying, and hence it is that His life while it is the most tremendous tragedy in history is the most purely simple. Suppose duty costs popularity, etc., Christ does not promise that the man who walks in the light shall have an easy walk. He promises that he shall not stumble: but Christ did not stumble because He was crucified, nor Stephen because stoned, nor Paul because beheaded. The stumbling would have been in Christ accepting Satan’s offer, in Stephen’s keeping silence, in Paul making terms with Nero or the Jewish leader. Popularity, etc., won by evasion of duty are not gains.
Better that Christ should have gone than that the world should have lost the lesson of the Resurrection. Better all that agony than that the world should have missed a Saviour. But this steadfast light giving principle is not a mere matter of human resolve. Christ is in the soul as an inspiration and not merely before the eye as an example. And remember that though Christ in setting you on that well-lighted track of duty does not allow you to take account of the hardness, He takes account of it. You cannot live a life so hard that Christ has not lived a harder. His word is “Follow Me.” Do that and you cannot go wrong. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not
are not as safe as Occidental streets, nor are Oriental roads as safe as Occidental roads. Setting aside all other differences, both streets and roads are in a chronic state of disrepair. The streets are narrow, and not too clean; the roads are often composed of nothing more than loose stones lying upon each other as chance sets them. The consequence is that it is a work of strategy to thread one’s way through Oriental streets, avoiding at the same time the filth of the street and the crowding of burdened donkeys or camels, and a work of art to ride or walk over an Oriental road without coming occasionally to the ground, or having one’s flesh torn by the thorns on either side. This is during the day; but at night the difficulty is increased a hundred fold; thus it is that “if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth.” Jesus felt that He was walking in the day, because He saw the danger, and knew how to avoid it. (S. S. Times.)
The walk of duty
It is a walk
I. of LIGHT. “Walk in the day.” The man who, from proper motives and with a single eye, pursues his mission in life, moves in open day. No dark cloud shadows his path, no haze hangs over him, he knows what he is about. His course lies clearly before him, and he sees the goal
II. Of SAFETY. “Stumbleth not.” He who moves within the bounds of duty makes no false steps, for the will of God enlightens him. But he who walks outside the limits of his vocation will err in what he does, since, not the will of God, but his own pleasure is his guide.
III. THAT MUST BE PURSUED. Though Christ was warned of the probable consequences He felt that He had to go. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Our friend Lazarus sleepeth
We have A SWEET RELATIONSHIP DECLARED.
1. “Our friend.” Behold here wondrous condescension. Our Lord does not turn to His disciples and say “Your friend sleepeth,” but places Himself side by side with them in their affection and says “Our friend.” It seems to me to teach so sweetly the blessed fact that Jesus is one with His people. It is equal to saying, “Do you love Him? so do I.” Let us meditate upon the friendship Christ has to His children, and in doing so I would notice
1. It is a real one. There is too much of superficial friendship abroad; plenty of the lip, but little of the heart. This is an age of shams; and among them, most hideous of the lot, is that of miscalled friendship. In the love of a saint to his Saviour there is a blessed reality. Whoever else he may not love with all his heart, his Saviour he must.
2. In this friendship there are no secrets kept on either side. The old saying runs “whisperers separate chief friends,” but in close friendships nothing is hidden, so whispers have nothing to reveal. When Jesus says to anyone, “My friend,” He declares a friendship that ignores all secret keeping, for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” If there be a secret sin in the heart, if a fall in the life, O bear me witness, saints of God, that there is no peace for us until, like the woman of old, we have “told Him all.” Heavy burdens roll off the soul, and sweet ease flows into it by telling Jesus everything.
3. Jesus shows His friendship by helping in time of need.
4. Moreover, if a person says to me, “my friend,” I naturally expect he will show his friendship by calling in to see me; and sweet are the love visits that Jesus pays His friends. That disciple knows but little of the sweets of the religion of Jesus who knows but seldom what it is to hear his Lord’s knock, and who but seldom sups with his beloved in closest fellowship.
5. Jesus is never ashamed of His friends. When once He has said “My friend,” He never retracts the sentence. There are many butterfly friends fluttering round us all, to be seen in the summer of prosperity, but conspicuous by their absence in the winter of adversity.
6. That the friendship of Jesus lasts forever. The sweeter the friendship the more terrible the blow, that severs it. But severed it must be at last.
II. A SOLEMN FACT SUGGESTED. Christ’s friends die.
1. The friendship of Christ does not exempt from death. This dread reaper spares none. Death asks not whether the shock of corn is ripe for glory, or is as yet green, and unprepared for the sickle. He asks not whether his victim is a child of God or one of the world’s devotees.
2. Christ permits His friends to die in order to make manifest how completely He has conquered death. Suppose that, instead of tasting death, all Christ’s friends were, like Enoch, translated into glory; might not death boast and say, “Aha! they dare not meet me in the field! Their Lord is afraid to put His conquest to the test.”
3. Another reason why the friends of Jesus die is that they may be brought into conformity with their Lord. It may seem strange to some of your ears; but I believe there are many here who would rather prefer to die than otherwise, in order that in everything they might be conformed to their Master.
III. WE HAVE IN THIS TEXT A VERY CHEERING DESCRIPTION. “Our friend sleepeth.” Not our friend is dead.
1. In sleep there is a rest from pain. There is rest from pain in death.
2. In sleep there is a rest from care.
3. Sleeping implies waking. (A. G. Brown.)
The friendship of Christ
I. JESUS IS THE FRIEND OF HIS PEOPLE. Human friendship is the choicest of earthly privileges. How much more the friendship of Christ! (John 16:14-15). Note the qualities of a true friend.
1. Amiableness, or having those properties which are calculated to attract the heart. We may be grateful to those we cannot esteem, and admire those we cannot love; but to make a friend there must be something lovely. This exists in Christ in the highest degree.
2. Power of wisdom to guide, of strength to support and defend; of riches to help. These all exist in their fulness in Christ.
3. Faithfulness to keep our secrets and to fulfil His promises.
4. Tenderness. Friendship is like a foreign plant which requires delicate treatment. It shrinks from whatever is rough and unfeeling, and cannot confide in rudeness.
5. Unchangeableness. Christ is not a summer friend, who, like the butterfly, flutters round us while the sun is shining, but retires when the sun has gone. He is “a friend horn for adversity.” He is “the same today,” etc.
II. THE SERVICES WHICH CHRIST DISCHARGES FOR HIS FRIENDS.
1. He sympathizes with them, as one of them sharing their sorrows.
2. He is their abiding companion.
3. He has paid their debts, ransomed their persons, reconciled them to God at the expense of His own life.
4. He has purchased for them an inheritance incorruptible, etc.
5. He has fitted up mansions as the eternal residences of the bodies and souls of His people.
III. TO THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST DEATH HAS CHANGED ITS NATURE. They cannot die, they only sleep. The emblem expresses
1. “The composure of soul which the Lord gives to His people in the hour of death,” “Mark the perfect man,” etc.
2. The temporary cessation of the powers of the body to recruit it for fresh service on the resurrection morn (Isaiah 26:19). (J. H. Stewart, M. A.)
The awakening Christ
Jesus awakes men out of the sleep of IGNORANCE, to give them intellectual life. His teaching
1. Awakes the power to think.
2. Strengthens the thinking powers.
3. Affords food for thought.
II. MORAL INSENSIBILITY, to give them spiritual life.
1. Men are dead in sin.
2. Christ’s call awakes the soul, and Christ’s power gives it life.
3. Christ supports, develops, and perfects this new life.
III. INDIFFERENCE, to give them a life of usefulness. (Weekly Pulpit.)
The Christian in life and in death
I. IN LIFE.
1. The friend of Jesus. Expressing ideas of
2. The friend of Jesus’ friends. Adding thoughts of
(1) Social intercourse.
(2) Loving brotherhood.
II. IN DEATH. Asleep.
1. Withdrawn from the ordinary activities of life, as the mind is during the hours of slumber.
2. Possessed of a real, though different existence, as the mind never ceases to be active during the hours of repose.
3. Certain to awake refreshed after the period of rest has terminated, as mind and body do when night is passed. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Death as sleep
Estius well remarks, “Sleeping, in the sense of dying, is only applied to men, because of the hope of the resurrection. We read no such thing of brutes.” The use of the figure is so common in Scripture, that it is almost needless to give references (see Deuteronomy 31:16; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 27:52; Acts 13:36; Acts 13:36; 1 Corinthians 15:6-18; 1 Corinthians 15:6-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). But it is a striking fact that the figure is frequently used by great heathen writers, showing clearly that the traditions of a life after death existed even among the heathen. Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Catullus, supply instances. However, the Christian believer is the only one who can truly regard death as sleep--that is, as a healthy, refreshing thing, which can do him no harm. Many among ourselves, perhaps, are not aware that the figure of speech exists among us in full force in the word “cemetery,” applied to burial ground. That word is drawn from the very Greek verb which our Lord uses here. It is literally a “sleeping place.” (Bishop Ryle.)
Death has the advantage of sleep
For sleep is only the parenthesis, while death is the period of our cares and trials. (M. Henry.)
A beautiful death
All Wales, when I was there, was filled with the story of the dying experiences of Frances Ridley Havergal. She got her feet wet standing on the ground preaching temperance and the gospel to a group of boys and men, went home with a chill, and congestion set in, and they told her she was very dangerously ill. “I thought so,” she said, “but it is really too good to be true that I am going. Doctor, do you really think I am going?” “Yes.” “Today? Probably.” She said: “Beautiful, splendid to be so near the gate of heaven!” Then, after a spasm of pain, she nestled down in the pillows and said, “There, now; it is all over--blessed rest.” Then she tried to sing, and she struck one glad note, high note of praise to Christ, but could sing only one word, “He,” and then all was still. She finished it in heaven. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Sleep and death
The angel of sleep and the angel of death reclined at eventide on a hill overlooking the abodes of men. As night came on, one rose from his mossy couch and scattered some seeds of slumber. The zephyrs bore them away to human dwellings, and presently the sick man forgot his pain, the mourner his sorrow, the poor his cares. “Oh, what joy,” exclaimed the angel of sleep, “thus to do good unseen!” The other looked at him in sadness, and a tear gathered in his dark eye as he said: “Alas, that I can have no thanks! Earth calls me its enemy and destroyer.” “Nay, my brother,” answered sleep, “in the morning men praise me as their friend, and will not the good in the resurrection morn praise and bless thee also as a benefactor? Are we not brothers and messengers of one Father?”
Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that! was not there
THE SAVIOUR IS ALWAYS ALIVE TO THE WELFARE OF HIS PEOPLE--“for your sakes.” Here is love beyond compare. Is He abased? “For our sakes He became poor.” Does He suffer? “He bears our sorrows, and for us He dies.” Does He go away? “It is expedient for us.” Does He appear in heaven? Still it is for us. Other people are the subjects of His providence; but His people are the end of it.
II. THERE IS NOTHING HE IS SO CONCERNED TO PROMOTE AS THEIR FAITH--“that ye may believe.” From this learn
1. That faith is no easy matter. Where is the Christian that has not often cried, “Help Thou mine unbelief.” The difficulty of believing may be seen by the means here employed to promote it, and from the persons for whom He wishes it--those who had been with Him and seen His miracles.
2. That faith admits of increase. The disciples believed, or they would not have followed Him, but they did not believe enough. Faith at one time is like a mustard seed, at another like a mustard tree. The blade may do very well in March, but we expect the full corn in August.
3. The importance of faith. Some persons are afraid to say much about faith, as if it were prejudicial to morality, whereas it is the tree which bears all the fruits of holiness. Everything in the Christian life has to do with faith. God is glorified by faith, we are filled with joy and peace, sanctified, purified, by faith; we stand, walk, live, and have access to God by faith, and that this may not fail Christ prays. Hence its importance here.
III. HE CAN ACCOMPLISH THE PURPOSES OF HIS LOVE BY WAYS PECULIAR TO HIMSELF. They would have said He ought to have been there. The sisters expected this. But His absence was to show that His ways were superior to theirs. The case of Joseph, Job, and the Three Children seemed very hard, but what advantage the world has derived from them! When, therefore, your views and His do not seem to harmonize, remember that He acts sovereignly, not arbitrarily; but “He gives no account of His matters.” Suspend your opinions. Never set His sun by your dial, but the reverse. You can see His heart if you cannot see His hand. Where? At Calvary. “He that spared not His own Son,” etc. Alphonsus, of Castile, thought that if the Maker of the world had applied to him he could have given Him good advice. But do you not think the same about the God of Providence? “Blind unbelief is sure to err.” If you see not now you will see hereafter. Ought you to judge of a building while all the materials are scattered about, especially if you had never seen the plan? Judge nothing before the time. The saints above shout, “He hath done all things well.”
IV. THE SUFFERINGS OF SOME ARE DESIGNED FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. Sometimes persons are afflicted by way of
1. Correction. “If His children forsake My law,” etc.
2. Prevention. Paul was buffeted not because he was proud, but “lest he should be exalted.”
3. Probation. Hence afflictions are called trials.
4. Usefulness to themselves and others. Ezekiel was forbidden to weep when the desire of his eyes was taken from him; not on his own account, but that he might be a “sign.” So Lazarus dies and the sisters weep for the disciples’ sake.
V. THE SAVIOUR IS NEVER TOO LATE IN HIS MOVEMENTS OR TOO CONFIDENT IN HIS RESOURCES. We often begin what we are not able to finish. Then there are different degrees of weakness and strength amongst us, but God has all power, “Nevertheless, let us go to Him,” not them. Why? It is too late, he is dead. “It may be too late for you, but not for Me.” Your extremity is My opportunity. I love not only to do what is needful for My people, but to surprise them; to do above all they can ask or think. It were much to have comforted the sisters, how much more to raise the brother! Let us learn to confide in Him
1. With regard to ourselves. Sinner, your case is desperate as to all relief from men or angels, yet that is no reason why you should despair. He is nigh.
2. With regard to others. Our work is hard, but we can do all things if the Raiser of Lazarus strengthens us. (W. Jay.)
The dark enigma of death
The man Jesus loved lay there on his bed dying. Now, I emphasize that, because there used to be a great deal of thinking about God’s relation to those that love Him and whom He loves--a great deal of teaching in the Christian Church that counted itself mostorthodox, and which was, indeed, deadly heresy, coarse, materialistic, despicable, misunderstanding the ideal grandeur of the Bible promises. Some of you know the sort of thing that used to prevail--the idea that God’s saints should be exceptionally favoured, the sun would shine on their plot of corn, and it would not shine on the plot of corn of the bad man; their ships would not sink at sea, their children would not catch infectious diseases, God would pamper them, exempt them from bearing their part in the world’s great battle, with hardness and toil of labour, with struggle and attainment and achievement. It came of a very despicable conception of what a father can do for a child, as if the best thing for a father to do for his son was to pet and indulge him, and save him all bodily struggle and all difficulties, instead of giving him a life of discipline. As if a general in the army would, because of his faltering heart, refuse to let his son take the post of danger, as if he would not rather wish for that son--ay, with a great pang in his own soul--that he should be the bravest, the most daring, the one most exposed to the deadliest hazard. Ah, we have got to recognize that we whom God loves may be sick and dying, and yet God does love us. Lazarus was loved by Jesus, yet he whom Jesus loved was sick and dying. Ah, and there is a still more poisonous difficulty in that materialistic, that worldly way of looking at God’s love; that horrible, revolting misjudgment that Christ condemned, crushed with indignation when it confronted Him. “The men on whom the tower of Siloam fell must have been sinners worse than us on whom it did not fall.” Never, never! The great government of the world is not made up of patches and strokes of anger and outbursts of weak indulgence. The world is God’s great workshop, God’s great battlefield. These have their places. Here a storm of bullets fall, and brave and good men as well as cowards fall before it. You mistake if you try to forestall God’s judgments, God’s verdict on the last great day of reckoning. Still we have got the fact that Christ does not interpose to prevent death, that Christ does not hinder those dearest to Him from bearing their share of life’s sicknesses and sufferings, that God Himself suffers death to go on, apparently wielding an undisputed sway over human existence. Is not that true of our world today? The best of you Christians, when death comes to your own homes, do you manage to sing the songs of triumph right away? Well, you are very wonderful saints if you do. If you do not, perhaps you say, “If God is in this world, how comes that dark enigma of death?” And others of you grip hold of your faith, but yet your heart cries out against it. You believe that God is good, but has He been quite good to you? Like Martha, you feel as if you had some doubt; you feel bound in your prayers; you say, “O God, I do not mean to reproach Thee;” weak, sinful, if you will, yet the sign of a true follower of the Christ. And then the enemies of Christ, the worldlings all about in this earth of ours, as they look upon death’s ravages, they are saying: “If there were a God, if there were a Father, if there were a great heart that could love, why does not He show it?” Now, I said to you that at first it looks as if nothing but evil came of God’s delay to interpose against death; but when you look a little deeper, I think you begin to discover an infinitely greater good and benefit come out of that evil. I must very briefly, very rapidly, trace to you in the story, and you can parallel it in the life of yourselves, that discipline of goodness there is in God’s refraining from checking sickness and death. Christ said the end of it is first of all death, but that is not the termination. Through death this sickness, this struggle of doubt and faith, should end in the glory of God. That tremendous miracle compelled the rulers of Jerusalem to resolve on and carry out His death. That miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection gave to the faith of the disciples and of Christ’s followers a strength of clinging attachment that carried them through the eclipse of their belief when they saw Him die on Calvary. Now, what would you say? Was it cruel of Christ to allow His friend Lazarus, His dear friends Mary and Martha, to go through that period of suspense, of anxiety, of sickness, of death, and of the grave, that they might do one of the great deeds in bringing in the world’s Redeemer “Ah” you say “you have still got to show God’s goodness and kindness to me individually. My death may be for God’s glory, it may be for the good of others; but how about me and those who mourn?” Well, now, look at it. You must get to the end of the story before you venture to judge the measure, the worth of God’s goodness. After all, was that period of sickness and death unmitigated gloom, and horror, and agony? Oh, I put it to you, men and women, who have passed through it, watching by the death of dear father or mother that loved the Lord and loved you, and whom you loved--dark, and sore, and painful enough at the time; but oh, if I called you to speak out, would you not say it was one of the most sacred periods of your life--the unspeakable tenderness, the sweet, clinging love, the untiring service, the grateful responses, the sacredness that came into life? Ay, and when the tie was snapped, the new tenderness that you gave to the friends that are left, the new pledge binding you to heaven, and to hope for it, and long for it--death is not all an evil to our eyes. Death cannot ultimately be an evil, since it is universal--the consummation, climax, crown, of every human life. It is going home to one’s Father. Yes, but you want the guarantee that death is not the end, and that day it was right and lawful for Christ to give it to anticipate the last great day, when in one unbroken army, radiant and resplendent, shining like jewels in a crown, He shall bring from the dark grave all that loved Him, fought for Him, and were loyal to Him on the road, and went down into the dark waters singly one by one, in circumstances of ignominy often, and yet dying with Christ within them, the Resurrection and the Life. Ah, that great grand vindication of God and interpretation of this world’s enigma was made clear that day when Christ called Lazarus back and gave him alive to his sisters in the sight of His doubting disciples, in the sight of those sneering enemies. (W. G.Elmslie, D. D.)
Lazarus dead and Jesus glad
What strange paradox is here. There was room in Christ’s heart for both emotions. The grief belonged to the Brother born for our adversity; the gladness to the omniscient God who sees the end from the be ginning, Note
I. THE SYMPATHY OF CHRIST WITH HIS PEOPLE. Somewhat analogous to the sympathy of the several organs of a living frame. Such is the vital union that every wound inflicted on the members pierces with pain the Head. He “knew the sorrows” of Israel in Egypt, and now He felt the grief which was rending the household at Bethany. By a message, Jesus and His disciples had learned that Lazarus was sick; but the Head, being in closer communion with the member, had secret and better intelligence. The dying throb of Lazarus beat also in the heart of Jesus. “Lo, I am with you alway,” in the dark days of pain as in the bright days of joy.
II. CHRIST HEARS THE CRY OF HIS PEOPLE AND SENDS THEM HELP. They were right in saying, “If Thou hadst been here.” He cannot endure to hear the prayer of His people and permanently to deny their request. Hence He could not remain in visible presence with His followers. It became expedient for Him to go away, permitting multitudes of His friends to sicken and die preparatory to a glorious resurrection.
III. ALIKE CHRIST’S ACTIONS AND EMOTIONS CONTEMPLATE THE PROFIT OF HIS PEOPLE. If He remained distant while Lazarus was battling with death it was for your sakes. If He rejoiced in the immediate issue of that unequal conflict, it was for your sakes. All things are for your sakes. In this case it was that they might believe. The death of Lazarus afforded opportunity for the display of omnipotence, thereby to confirm the disciples’ faith. But other benefits followed. The discipline the bereaved family endured was a means of purging away their dross. Application: The lesson bears on
1. The ordinary affairs of life. You try to obtain a lawful object in a lawful way, but your plans miscarry. This, however, does not prove that Christ lacks the will or power to help. Had He been in visible presence He would have put forth His power, but He is glad for your sake He was not. From the height of His throne He sees that the world on your side at this point would not be profitable for you.
2. Bereavements. “if Christ were standing weeping by the bed your child would not die, but for your sake He is not there. A mother who had lost all her children but the youngest said, “Every bereavement has knit me closer to Christ, and every child I have in heaven is another cord to hold me up”:--(W. Arnot, D. D.)
A mystery! Saints sorrowing and Jesus glad
Jesus was glad that the trial had come.
I. FOR THE STRENGTHENING OF THE FAITH OF THE APOSTLES.
1. The trial itself would do this. Faith untried may be true faith, but it is sure to be little faith. It never prospers so much as when all things are against it. No flowers wear so lovely a blue as those which grow at the feet of the frozen glacier; no water so sweet as that which springs amid the desert sand.
(1) Tried faith brings experience, and experience makes religion more real. You never know your weakness nor God’s strength till you have been in the deep waters.
(2) Trial removes many of the impediments of faith. Carnal security is the worst foe to confidence in God, and blessed is the axe that removes it. The balloon never rises until the cords are cut.
(3) Affliction helps faith when it exposes the weakness of the creature. This trial would show the apostles not to depend on the bounty of any one man, for though Lazarus entertained them, Lazarus had died. We are in danger of making idols of our mercies.
(4) Trial drives faith to God. When the world’s wells are full of sweet but poisonous water we pitch our tents at the well’s mouth; but when earth’s water becomes bitter we turn away sick and faint and cry for the water of life.
(5) Trial has a hardening effect on faith. As the Spartan boys were prepared for fighting by the sharp discipline of their boyish days, so are God’s servants trained for war by the affliction which He sends upon them. We must be thrown into the water to learn to swim. If you want to ruin your child, let him never know a hardship.
2. The deliverance of Lazarus would do this.
(1) At the worst Christ can work; in the very worst He is not brought to a nonplus. The physician, Herod, Caesar, and all their power can do nothing here; and Death sits smiling as he says, “I have Lazarus.” Yet Christ wins the day.
(2) Divine sympathy became most manifest--“Jesus wept.”
(3) Divine power was put forth--“Lazarus, come forth.” All this was the best education the disciples could have for their future ministry. When in prison they would remember how Lazarus was brought out. When preaching to dead sinners they would remember the power of the word which brought Lazarus to life.
II. FOR THE GOOD OF THE FAMILY. The sisters had faith, but it was not very strong, for they doubted both Christ’s love and His power. Because He specially loved these people:
1. He sent them a special trial. The lapidary will not spend much time on an ordinary stone, but a diamond of the first water he will cut and cut again. So the gardener will a choice tree.
2. Special trial was attended with a special visit. Perhaps Christ would not have come to Bethany had not Lazarus died. If you are in trouble Christ will go out of His way to see you.
3. The special visit was attended with special fellowship. Jesus wept with those who wept. You may be well and strong, and have but little fellowship with Christ, but He shall make all your bed in your sickness.
4. And soon you shall have special deliverance.
III. FOR GIVING FAITH TO OTHERS. Afflictions often lead men to faith in Christ because
1. They give space for thought.
2. They prevent sin. A lad had resolved against advice to climb a mountain. A mist soon surrounded him, and compelled him to return. His father was glad because, had he gone a little further, he would have perished.
3. They compel them to stand face to face with stern realities. How often has God’s Spirit wrought in illnesses that have seemed hopeless.
4. They are sometimes followed by great deliverances. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. IN THE LIFE OF AN INTELLIGENT BELIEVER GLADNESS SOMETIMES GROWS OUT OF GRIEF. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, for it was a personal bereavement, but He was glad because it was a fine opportunity for glorifying God. This is the lowest form of Christian experience. Our light affliction works out an eternal weight of glory, This, understood as a means of exalting God, will enable the believer to glory in tribulations.
II. ONE’S ADVANTAGE IS SOMETIMES HID UNDERNEATH ANOTHER’S TRIALS. It was a surprising thing to announce that He had not intended to prevent Lazarus’s death; but it was still more surprising that it was for their sakes. What had they to do with it? Now, while all believers are independent of each other, and each stands or falls to his own master, yet the trials of one are often intended to benefit another. The law of vicarious suffering holds the race. A parent suffers for a child, a child for a parent. Joseph was sold into Egypt that Israel might go into Palestine. Peter’s imprisonment may have been needed to discipline Rhoda’s faith, and Paul’s confinement may have been ordered for the jailor’s conversion. Let us be resigned, then, when we suffer for others, and attentive when others suffer for us.
III. INCREASE OF A CHRISTIAN’S SORROW SOMETIMES ALLEVIATES IT. In the opinion of the disciples the sickness of Lazarus was a disaster, but the most unfortunate circumstance was the absence of Jesus. But a strange comfort now entered their hearts. They were worse off than they supposed, but they were better off, too. Up to this disclosure the event was a hard calamity of domestic life, and Jesus’ absence a melancholy accident. But now they perceived that Divine knowledge embraced this also, Divine wisdom was dealing with it, and Divine mercy was going to turn it to fine advantage. A great sorrow with a purpose in it is easier to bear than a smaller one which seems to have no aim now and no benefit hereafter.
IV. IN THE TRUE BELIEVER’S EXPERIENCE DOUBT IS SOMETIMES EMPLOYED TO DEEPEN TRUST. The one simple intention of this bereavement was to increase the faith of those who felt it. This was accomplished by permitting them to imagine for a while that they were forgotten of God. Just as a mother hides herself from a child who has grown careless of her presence that the child may run impulsively into her embrace and love her all the more, so God says, “In a little wrath I hid My face,” etc. The way to render faith confident is to make large demands upon it by onsets of trying doubt.
V. ABSOLUTE HOPELESSNESS AND HELPLESSNESS ARE THE CONDITIONS OF HOPE AND HELP. The turning point of the story is in the “nevertheless let us go,” and He goes to work His most stupendous miracle to remedy what His delay had permitted. By this time the sisters had given up all hope; but Hope was on the way. So one after another of our props must drop away, till at last we are shut up to God. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Death knocking away our props
“See, father!” said a lad who was walking with his father, “they are knocking away the props from under the bridge. What are they doing that for? Won’t the bridge fall?” “They are knocking them away,” said the father, “that the timbers may rest more firmly upon the stone piers, which are now finished.” God only takes away our earthly props that we may rest more firmly upon Him.
The uses of bereavement
When engineers would bridge a stream, they often carry over at first but a single cord; with that, next they stretch a wire across; then strand is added to strand, until a foundation is laid for planks; and now the bold engineer finds safe footway, and walks from side to side. So God takes from us some golden-threaded pleasure, and stretches it hence into heaven; then He takes a child, and then a friend: thus He bridges death, and teaches the thoughts of the most timid to find their way hither and thither between the shores. (H. W. Beecher.)
Build beyond the reach of death
Build your nest upon no tree here, for ye see God hath sold the forest to Death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end that we might flee and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock. (S. Rutherford.)
Relief under bereavement
1. There are reliefs arising from our constitution. There is a self-healing principle in nature. Break a branch from a tree, etc., wound the body, cut the flesh, or break a limb, and you see the self-healing power exude and work. It is so in the soul. Thought succeeds thought like the waves of the ocean, and each tends to wear out the impression its predecessor had made.
2. There are incidental reliefs. New events, new engagements, new relationships, tend to heal the wound.
3. There are Christian reliefs, the assurance of after life, the hope of a future reunion, etc. Such are the reliefs. These, like the flowers and shrubs of a lovely garden, spring up around our hearts and cover the grave of our sorrows and trials with the shadow of their foliage. Yes; though we have our trials, we have still our blessings.
Then said Thomas which is called Didymus
A very few verses contain the sum of all we know about Thomas.
They tell us nothing of his history. His travels, sufferings, missionary toils, death; tradition speaks of these One account says he preached the gospel in Persia, and was buried in Odessa. Another that he went to India and suffered martyrdom there. We need not imitate Thomas himself too closely by receiving all such accounts with incredulity. It would seem all but certain that he went eastwards, and that he laboured, and suffered, and died for Christ, thus meeting the fate he was prepared for when he said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with Him.” Probably he was by birth a Galilean, although this is by no means certain, as some accounts give him a foreign birthplace. The name Thomas is connected, especially by St. John, with the other name he bore, either synonym or surname of it, “Didymus.” He had a brother or sister (sister says one account, called Lysia), the same age as himself. Therefore he was called “the twin.” This is the origin of the name. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The spiritual significance of Thomas’ name
Is there any mystery here? Did St. John intend us to see any coming out in the name bearer of the qualities which the name expressed? Many have thought he did, and the analogy of similar notices in this gospel (John 1:42; John 9:7) would lead to this conclusion. It is very possible that Thomas may have received this as a new name from his Lord, even as Simon and the sons of Zebedee, certainly, and Levi very probably, received in like manner names from Him. It was a name which told him all he had to fear, and all he had to hope. In him the twins, unbelief and faith, were contending for the mastery, as Esau and Jacob, the old man and the new, wrestled once in Rebecca’s womb. He was, as indeed all are by nature, the double, or twin-minded man. It was for him to see that in and through the regeneration he obtained strength to keep the better and cast away the worse half of his being. He here utters words which belong to one of the great conflicts of his life--words in which the old and the new, unbelief and faith, are both speaking, partly one and partly the other; and St. John fitly bids us note that in this there was the outcoming of all which his name embodied so well. There was faith, since he counted it better to die with his Lord than to live forsaking Him--unbelief, since he conceived it possible that so long as his Lord had a work to accomplish, He, or any under His shield, could be overtaken by death. Thomas was evidently of a melancholy, desponding character: most true to his Master, yet ever inclined to look at things on their darkest side, finding it most hard to raise himself to the loftier elevations of faith--to believe other and more than he saw, or to anticipate more favourable issues than those which the merely human probabilities of an event portended. Men of all temperaments and characters were to be found in that circle of disciples, that so there might be the representatives and helpers of all who hereafter, through struggles of one kind or another, should at last attain to the full assurance of faith. Very beautifully Chrysostom says of this disciple, that he who would hardly venture to go with Jesus as far as the neighbouring Bethany, afterwards without Him travelled to the furthest India, daring all the perils of remote and hostile nations. (Archbishop Trench.)
Thomas’ doubt and faith
I. HIS DOUBT
1. As to the victory of life.
2. As to the way to heaven (chap. 14).
3. As to the certainty of the Resurrection (chap. 20).
II. HIS FAITH.
1. Prepared by his ardent love to Jesus and the brethren (chap. 11).
2. Introduced by his longing desire for a higher disclosure (chap. 14).
3. Decided by his joy at the manifestation of the Risen One (chap. 20). (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
Let us also go that we may die with Him
1. Let us with Jesus go.
2. Let us with Jesus suffer.
3. Let us with Jesus die.
4. Let us with Jesus live. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
I. HE IS AN EARNEST MAN. We might almost conclude this from the fact that he is one of the twelve. Some of them are ignorant, some quiet and simple, some strong and passionate, but all are earnest. Take all the verses that relate to Thomas, they bring before us very different mental states--deep depression, rejoicing, confidence; but they all pre-suppose a spiritual concernedness about himself, his duty, and his Lord. He is sometimes called “unbelieving Thomas,” but he is better than worldly Demas, or a vacillating Peter. What hope can there be for a creature like man, intellectual, spiritual, responsible if he will not think. You can do nothing with a man who is not earnest--but you may do much with an earnest man, though a doubter.
II. THIS EARNESTNESS HAS A TINGE OF MELANCHOLY AND IS CONNECTED WITH A DESPONDING DISPOSITION. As a certain vein runs through a geological formation, so a certain disposition runs through a human mind. You cannot expel it. It must be recognized and dealt with. Here Thomas threw himself on to the dark conclusion that all was over, and that nothing now was left to them but to die. This shows how truly he and all had lived for the kingdom and the Master. They all desponded in a while when the death came. It is characteristic of Thomas that he took the alarm sooner than the rest. One in a company will first say, “It is getting colder.” One in a family will be the first to see the death shadow, although it may turn out not to be that. So some among God’s children are nearer despondency than the rest, more quick to see the world going wrong, more keen to private troubles.
III. WITH WHAT DETERMINATION AND NOBLENESS THOMAS RESOLVES TO DIE WITH CHRIST, SINCE IN HIS OPINION NO BETTER MAY BE. Here is a melancholy man who yet can make the grand resolve that when his dearest visions and hopes are quenched in darkness, though what he cannot but regard as a mistaken judgment of the Master, yet resolves to follow that Master wherever He may choose to go. That purpose was the salvation of Thomas, and not less than that in principle will be the salvation of us. Thomas did not die with the Master. They all forsook Him for a little while. We shall not live up to the height of our best resolutions. But if our purpose be wisely and resolutely formed, and in dependence on Divine help, then we shall not renounce it; and it will be
IV. THE CONSOLATION AND THE CURE OF OUR DESPONDENCY. You cannot conceive of one abiding in it long whose life is ribbed by a great purpose reaching unto death--whose heart is moved and lifted by a great affection, as sun and moon lift the tide. With Him, come storm or calm! With Him, come life or death! Then the world will be brighter, and we shall go through it more bravely to our home in the world beyond. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Let us go with Jesus
We cannot tell whether this sentiment sprang from love, from dejection, or from conviction that such a resolve would lead Christ out of love for them to abandon His purpose. Leaving this discussion, let us go with Jesus.
I. THAT IN HIM WE MAY DIE UNTO SIN. In what frame of mind did Jesus enter on that course which led Him to Golgotha? If He knew so well, why did He go? Had He not perfect freedom to follow His disciples’ advice, and power to lay His foes at His feet? Why not then use it? Because He only desires to do the will of His Father. Now the hour arrives for Him to be obedient unto death. What urges Him thereto? The desire for reward or glory? No: love to His Father and sinful men. Thank God He went; and thank God we may still in spirit go up to Jerusalem. What for? To admire His heroism? Others have been as brave. To pity His agonies? Others have suffered more. “Weep not for Me, but for yourselves,” etc., and for the sin which cost Me so much. The resolution to go with Jesus implies more than reading the story of His passion, singing hymns or praying to Him, or repenting. It means union with Christ in the purpose of His death--the destruction of sin.
II. THAT FOR HIM WE MAY WIN SOULS. Ought we not to feel the sacred duty of gratitude to return His love, and resolve to go with Him, feeling unconcerned about our own death? He went for the purpose of raising Lazarus; let us go that the dead may become alive. Have we no loved friend who sleeps? May the love of Christ constrain us to awaken him.
III. THAT THROUGH HIM WE MAY INHERIT LIFE. If we die in Him unto sin, and for Him win souls, then our whole life shall be a walking in His footsteps to the Jerusalem above. (M. Coward.)
Devotion to the leader
General Grant had the faculty, in a large degree, of attaching very closely to himself all about him. His personal staff without exception, passionately reverenced him. Any one of them would have gladly risked his life for his chief. In the last year of the civil war they organized a system at City Point by which one sat up on guard of him every night to watch against the plots of the enemy; for there had been devices of dynamitic character, and attempts not only to capture, but to assassinate, prominent national officers. (H. O. Mackey.)
When Jesus came
Christ’s help is sure, if delayed
He usually reserves His hand for a dead lift.
When our faith begins to flag, and hang the wing when our strength is gone, and we have given up all for lost, “Now will I arise,” saith the Lord, “now will I be exalted, now will I lift up Myself” (Isaiah 33:10). (J. Trapp.)
Leaving His retreat beyond Jordan, Jesus calmly makes His way to the village of Bethany. We shall find it shown in the issue that, as regards the manifestation of the glory of God, the leading of the disciples into higher faith, and the discipline and blessing of the sisters, the Lord’s arrival is neither too early nor too late; but that it is as when separate trains move along separate lines of railway, “timed” to meet by a certain hour, at a certain junction, there to be combined. The distance to Bethany was a long day’s journey. Whether He made the journey in a single day we have no means of knowing. The earliest part of it would lie along some fertile glen of Gilead, and would be pursued amid “morning songs” from every side. Crossing the Jordan at a neighbouring ford, the next part of the journey would lie in the rich plain of Jericho, beautiful as a great pleasure ground, with bosks and groves of aromatic shrubs. Then He would pursue the wild dreary road that goes up from Jericho to Jerusalem, lying through a desolate rocky district, often winding along the edge of cliffs and frightful precipices, one of the wildest and gloomiest roads in the land. As He approaches Bethany, the dust of travel whitening His sandals, and as weary, it may be, as when He came to Jacob’s well at noon, He is told that Lazarus has already been four days in the grave. (J. Culross.)
Many of the Jews had come … to console them
According to the ancient Jewish ritual, those who came to condole with the mourners had to return with them from the grave to the house, there to station themselves in a circle around the mourners, repeating prayers, and offering consolation. The rule was that this circle of consolers should consist of not less than ten persons; but it usually consisted of many more. In token of grief, the couches upon which the mourners and the consolers sat were lowered so as to come nearer to the ground, or else all sat upon the ground. The consolers remained with the mourners during the days of mourning; but there was a certain defence from this publicity in the fact that the consoler had no right to speak until the mourner spoke; and the mourner had the privilege further of indicating, by nodding, that he was now comforted and that the consolers need not continue to sit around him any longer. (S. S. Times.)
The interview with Martha
I. MARTHA’S REGRETFUL LAMENTATION; or faith struggling with imperfect knowledge (John 11:21). The language neither of reproach nor complaint, but.
1. Of deep sorrow that Christ had not been present, at least, before the end came.
2. Of sincere faith, since she believed that had He been present, He would have healed him, or entreated God on his behalf.
3. Of imperfect knowledge
(1) Allied to superstition in thinking Christ’s presence needful (cf. chap. 4:47)
(2) Akin to over confidence in asserting that Lazarus would have lived had Christ not been absent.
II. MARTHA’S CONFIDENT PERSUASION; or faith rising into ardent hope (John 11:22).
1. Faith’s firm assurance. That Christ’s access to the Father on behalf of men is
(1) Immediate, at any moment.
(2) Direct, by simply asking.
(3) Unlimited, “all things.”
(4) Efficacious, certain to prevail.
2. Faith’s joyous expectation. That nothing will prove too great.
(1) For Christ’s love to devise, or
(2) Christ’s power to execute on behalf of His people Ephesians 3:20-21)--hence that a resurrection is neither impossible nor absurd.
III. MARTHA’S DESPONDING ADMISSION; or faith relapsing into doubt (verse 24).
1. Her disappointment. She had expected Christ to speak about an immediate restoration of her dead brother, whereas He only seemed to hint at a far away resurrection (verse 23).
2. Her concession. She acknowledges, notwithstanding, such a resurrection, and consequently Lazarus’s continued existence.
IV. MARTHA’S SUBLIME CONFESSION; or faith soaring into lofty adoration (verse 27). That which lifted her beyond the atmosphere of doubt was Christ’s exposition of the doctrine (verses 25, 26), in which were set forth
1. That the resurrection was not an event to be thought of as distinct from the life, but as a manifestation of the life.
2. That the resurrection and the life, as thus explained, have their primal source in Himself, in whom is life (chap. 1:4), and from whom all true life in the soul proceeds.
3. That the resurrection, and the life from which it springs, are secured to men by their union to Him through faith.
4. That in the experience of the believer there is
(1) A resurrection of the soul from sin.
(2) A living in the Spirit.
(3) A transformation of death so that the believer may be said to “never die.”
(4) A complete abolition of death by the resurrection of the body.
1. Christ’s presence with the soul is the certain destruction of death.
2. Christ’s intercession for His people is better understood now than it was Hebrews 7:25).
3. The resurrection, as explained by Christ, a perennial source of comfort for the bereaved and dying.
4. The only just verdict that can be pronounced on Jesus is that of “Son of God.” (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Jesus and Martha
I. THE SOCIAL SADNESS OF DEATH. The death of Lazarus had spread a dark shadow over the hearts of not a few. Besides the sisters the neighbours were affected (John 11:19). The God of Love has implanted in human hearts a mighty tie of sympathy, and the groan of one will vibrate on the heart chords of many. The more love a man has in him the larger the amount of vicarious suffering that he will endure in this world of grief. Hence He who had more love in Him than all the race besides became a “man of sorrows” to carry ours. To suffer for others by sympathy is not only natural, but Christly. We are commanded to “bear one another’s burdens.”
II. THE EXTRAORDINARY CLAIM OF CHRIST (John 11:25-26). These words, which flow so naturally from Christ, would have been blasphemy from any other. They imply
1. That death is a great evil--not as a mere dissolution of soul and body, which is natural, but as the consequence of sin, and so having a dreadful moral significance and terror--a “sting,” giving it virus and agony. There are
(1) Its physical sufferings. Had there been no sin there would have been no pain.
(2) Its grievous disappointments. Rut for sin man would have had no broken purposes.
(3) Its social disruptions.
(4) Its moral forebodings. Without these death might be hailed as a blessing--these make it a curse.
2. That from this evil Christ is the great Deliverer.
(1) Christ is life--original, absolute, “I am He that liveth,” etc.
(2) He is resuscitating life--not only creating the new, but raising the old. Understanding death as the curse of sin, Christ is the Resurrection in that
(a) He delivers men from sin.
(b) He has abolished death.
3. That from this evil He delivers on the condition of trust in Him, not in doctrines about Him, etc.
III. THE NOBLE CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 11:27). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Martha and Jesus
I. MARTHA IS A TYPE OF ANXIOUS BELIEVERS. They believe truly, but not with such confidence as to lay aside their care.
1. She set a practical bound to the Saviour’s words: “Of course there will be a resurrection, and Lazarus will rise with the rest.” We limit the words of the Holy One. Of course they mean so much, but we cannot allow that they mean more.
2. She laid the words of Jesus on the shelf, as things so trite and sure that they were of small practical importance. When you believe a truth, but neglect it, it is the same as not believing. Some never question a doctrine, that is not their temptation; they accept the gospel as true, but never expect to see its promises carried out.
3. She set the promise in the remote distance. This is a common folly. Telescopes are meant to bring objects near to the eye, but some look through the mental telescope at the wrong end. Do not refuse the present blessing and say, “My Lord delayeth His coming.”
4. She made the promise unreal and impersonal, mixing Lazarus with the rest of the dead. We take the promises and say, “That is true to all God’s people.” If so, it is true to us; but we miss that point. There is such a thing as speaking of the promises in a magnificent style, and yet being in deep spiritual poverty: as if a man should boast of the wealth of England while he has not a penny. If you are a child of God, all things are yours and you may help yourself.
II. HOW JESUS DEALT WITH MARTHA.
1. He did not grow angry with her and say, “I am ashamed of you that you should have such low thoughts of Me.” She thought that she was honouring Jesus by her acknowledgment of His special power with God. And in similar cases it ill becomes a servant to lose patience where the Master shows so much.
2. With gentle spirit Jesus proceeds to teach her more of the things concerning Himself. This is the true way to cure despondency. “I am,” not “I can get the Resurrection.” God’s people want to know more of Jesus. Some of them know more than enough of themselves, and they will break their hearts if they go on reading much longer in that black letter book. Poor Martha was looking up into the sky for life, or down into the deeps for resurrection, when the Resurrection and the Life was by.
1. To construe the promises in their largest sense.
2. To look to the Promiser, and not to the difficulties which surround the accomplishment of the promise. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Martha went … but Mary sat still
Martha meeting Christ
Martha’s “met” is a perfect tense; Mary’s “sat” is an imperfect. It is impossible not to see the characteristic temperament of each sister coming out here, and doubtless it is written for our learning. Martha--active, stirring, busy, demonstrative--cannot wait, but runs impulsively to meet Jesus. Mary--quiet, gentle, pensive, meditative, contemplative, meek--sits passively at home. Yet I venture to think that of the two sisters, Martha here appears to most advantage. There is such a thing as being so crushed and stunned by our affliction that we do not adorn our profession under it. Is there not something of this in Mary’s conduct throughout this chapter? There is a time to stir, as well as to sit still; and here, by not stirring, Mary certainly missed hearing our Lord’s glorious declaration about Himself. I would not be mistaken in saying this. Both these holy women were true disciples; yet if Mary showed more grace on a former occasion than Martha, I think Martha here showed more than Mary. Let us never forget that there are differences of temperament among believers, and let us make due allowance for others if they are not quite like ourselves. There are believers who are quiet, passive, silent, and meditative; and believers who are active, stirring, and demonstrative. The well-ordered Church must find room, place, and work for all. We need Marys as well as Marthas, and Marthas as well as Marys. (Bp. Ryle.)
Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died
“Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” How natural it all is! “If Thou hadst been here.” Prone is the human heart to utter just such words as these. “Much virtue in an if,” says the poet. But there is also much torture in it. Had this been done or that, had such and such precautions been taken, had the doctor been sent for a little sooner, had certain remedies been tried which were learned of too late, had we not moved into that house, the result might have been different. So we go over the whole miserable catalogue of peradventures and possibilities with much bitterness of spirit. That is the tendency and the temptation. But it should never be done. That “if’’ has no business in our bosom. It is a stinging serpent that should be ruthlessly cast out. There is no if. Nothing ever simply happens so. Chance is the god of atheism, and will minister no comfort in the time of trouble. Banish him. The Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and all things come of Him. Our ignorance is as much a part of the Divine plan as our knowledge. He does not mean us to know all things. (Boston Homilies.)
The imperfection of spiritual qualities
God made the first marriage--of the body and soul in creation, and man the first divorce--of the body and soul through sin. God allows no such second marriages as are implied in the transmigration of souls into other bodies. And because God has made this band of marriage indissoluble but by death, as far as man is immortal, his divorce is only separation. Body and soul shall come together again at the Resurrection. To establish the assurance of this God raised Lazarus and others here. Note from the text
I. THAT THERE IS NOTHING IN THIS WORLD PERFECT.
1. In the best things.
(1) Knowledge. What thing do we know perfectly? One philosopher thinks he has dived at the bottom when he says he knows nothing but this, that he knows nothing; and yet another thinks he has expressed more knowledge by saying that he knows not so much as that.
(2) Faith. This imperfection is seen in the apostle’s prayer for an increase of faith (Luke 17:5); in Christ’s upbraidings (Matthew 6:30; Matthew 8:26); in Paul’s congratulations and prayer for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3); in the expressions “rich in faith,” “abound in faith,” “measure of faith.” Deceive not yourselves, then, that if you have faith you need no more.
(3) That our hope is not perfect we see from James 4:3. We cannot hope constantly because we do not pray aright; and to make a prayer a right prayer there must go so many circumstances as that the best man may suspect his best prayer. Whereas, ordinarily, a fly, the opening of a door, a memory of yesterday, a fear of tomorrow, a noise in the ear, a fancy in the brain, destroy prayer.
(4) There is nothing perfect in our charity. There is no work so good as that we can look to God for thanks for it; none but has so much ill mingled with it that we need not bespeak God’s mercy.
2. How this weakness appears in the action in the text. Lest we should attribute it only to weak persons, note that Martha as well as Mary comes also in the same voice of infirmity (verse 32). Look upon
(1) Their faith. We cannot say as much as they did to any college of physicians; but the weakness of their faith lies in this, that they said so much and no more to Christ; and regard even that power to be derived from God and not inherent (verse 22). Again, they relied so much upon His corporal presence. It was this that Christ diverted Mary from after His resurrection (John 20:16). “Touch Me not--send thy thoughts whither I am going.” Peter had another holy distemper upon this personal presence, “Depart from Me” (Luke 5:8). The sisters longed for Him, and Peter to be delivered from Him, both out of weakness and error, as do they who attribute too much or too little to Christ’s presence in ordinances. To imprison Christ in opere operato, to conclude that where that action is done Christ must necessarily be is to err weakly with these sisters; but to banish Christ from those holy actions is to err with Peter.
(2) So in their hope and their manner of expressing it. For they did not go; they sent--unlike Nicodemus, who came in person for his sick soul, and the centurion for his sick servant, and Jairus and the woman with the issue. That is not enough; we must bring Christ and our necessities nearer together. Then they made no request, but left an intimation to work on Christ; but I must not wrap up my necessities in general terms, but descend to particulars. As God is an accessible God He is open to receive thy smallest petitions, and as He is an inexhaustible God He cannot be pressed too much. Pray personally, rely not upon dead or living saints, and pray frequently and earnestly.
(3) In their charity even towards their dead brother. To lament a dead friend is natural; but inordinate lamentation implies a worse state in him that is gone; and if we believe him in heaven to wish him here is uncharitable.
3. Yet for all these imperfections Christ doth not refuse or chide, but cherishes their piety. There is no form of building stronger than an arch, and yet an arch has declinations which even a flat roof has not. So our devotions do not the less bear up upright in the sight of God, because they have some declinations towards natural affections. All these infirmities of theirs multiply this consolation, that though God look upon the inscription, He looks upon the metal too; though He look that His image should be preserved in us, He looks in what earthen vessels this image is put by His own hand.
II. As in spiritual things there is nothing perfect, SO IN TEMPORAL THERE IS NOTHING PERMANENT.
1. The earth itself is in motion.
2. Consider the greatest bodies upon it--monarchies which one would think destiny might stare at and not shake; and the smallest bodies, the hairs of our head, which one would think destiny would hardly observe; and yet destiny or, to speak as a Christian, God, is no more troubled to make a monarchy ruinous than a hair grey; nay, nothing needs be done, the one will ruin and the other turn grey of itself.
3. In the elements there is no acquiescence, but a transmutation into one another; air condensed becomes water, and air rarefied becomes fire.
4. It is so in the conditions of men: a merchant condensed, packed up in a great estate, becomes a lord; and a merchant rarefied by a riotous son evaporates into nothing. And if there were anything permanent in the world, set we gain nothing, because we cannot stay with it.
5. The world is a great volume, and man its index. Even man’s body is an illustration of all nature. Even in its highest estates, as the temple of the Holy Ghost, it must perish. Conclusion: But as in spiritual things there is no perfectness, and yet God accepts our religious services, so, notwithstanding that all temporal things, God’s noblest piece included, decays, yet God affords this body a resurrection. The Gentiles describe the sad state of death as one everlasting night; but to a Christian it is the day of death and the day of resurrection. And looking at this we may invert the text and say, “Because Thou wast here our brother is not dead.” For Christ is with the Christian in life, death, and the resurrection. (J. Donne, D. D.)
Salvation, not from suffering, but by it
I. THE LOWEST VIEW OF LIFE looks out upon it only as a hostelry, where every guest is to seize on so many of the good things exposed as the laws allow. This selfish hunt will take different directions according to the ruling appetite. But the characteristic mark on it all is that it disowns God. This system not only fails to provide for the chief internal necessity--viz., a religion; it fails to meet the external fact of suffering. That is a test of all philosophies and theories of life. It is useless to leave it out of the calculation; it forces its way back into every lot. Life does not become a problem till we taste of its bitterness. Whenever pain, bereavement, etc., come, that comfort-seeking, epicurean plan of living collapses, and the least that the man can then do is to fly to Zeno’s porch and borrow some crumbs of frigid dignity that fall from the stoics table.
II. ASCEND A STEP HIGHER. Here we find God to be acknowledged, but more through fear than devout submission. Providence had returned to the world from which unbelief had rejected Him; but the confession, “Thy will be done,” is not so full as to include the giving up of the dearest idols, and there is the suspicion that here and there some sparrow or more precious thing may fall without the Father’s notice. This state is met by suffering, the touchstone; how does it behave itself? Well, but not best. Soberly but not serenely. Some selfish preferences linger to mar the beauty of resignation--to keep back part of the souls trust, and so disturb the perfect peace of believing. There is the beginning of faith--too much to be thrown away, not enough to live by. This is precisely where Martha stands. There is a mixture of the strength and weakness of faith, perhaps of faith and superstition. She believed in the power and love of Jesus--that was her true faith--but she believed that it must operate in prolonging her brother’s life, and was limited to His physical presence. That was the falsity and weakness of her faith. Jesus corrects it with, “Whosoever [anywhere] believeth on Me shall never die.”
III. Out of that state into A HIGHER ONE STILL Christ wishes to lift her and us. Where a holy soul will be felt to be of more value than any freedom from pain; when sympathy with Christ is valued more than having a human friend at our side. Saved by suffering, not from it, is the law of life revealed in Christ. Character depends on inward strength, but this strength has two conditions: it is increased only by being put forth, and tested only by resistance. So the spiritual character must enter into conflict, and stand in comparison with something formidable enough to be a standard of its power.
1. The ordinary conditions of a prosperous fortune furnishes no such standard. The favoured moral constitutions which ripen into sainthood under perpetual comfort are rare exceptions. Suffering in some form must put faith to the proof and purify it; what form God, who knows best, must determine. The sisters must see Lazarus die, Matthew must forsake all to follow the Master. How many of us take up Martha’s plaint instead of, “Lord in these chastenings of friendly love Thou hast been here--Thy will be done.” And Christ shows three times over that the design here was that the disciples, the sisters, and the people, might believe.
2. In another class of moral experiences the principle has a direct application--in those who long more earnestly for rest than faithful submission. They have heard that there is joy in believing, and so believe for the sake of the joy, and this, though a nobler thirst than that of the senses, is tainted with selfishness and wanting in faith. Then, again, the mercenary tendency to offer to God your good works as a price for purchasing self-complacency needs to be watched. It defeats its own end. Faith never comes that way: it comes swiftest when you seek it as an end least. Seek purity, harmony with God, and peace in God’s good time will come. Stillness is our needed sacrifice. Baffled and broken the soul must often be ere its immortal strength comes. Not from but by this suffering we shall be saved.
3. We may embrace all those instances in which we doubt whether some care was not omitted whereby the fatal blow might have been warded off When shall we learn that God takes the past into His secure keeping, and that even out of sorrows that we might have prevented, a spiritual benefit may be now drawn greater than their prevention. Vain cry, “Lord, if Thou hadst,” etc. But to receive and bless Him in whatever robes of darkness, when He comes. Conclusion:
1. Suffering is disciplinary.
2. If our desires reach only after exemption from it, they are but half faithless.
3. The true conquest and peace of faith, as well as the solution of the mystery of sorrow, lie in our willingness to suffer, so far as it may bring us to the society of our Lord. (Bp. Huntington.)
The power of God to prevent death
I. GOD IS ABLE TO PREVENT ANY PERSON DYING SO SOON AS HE DOES DIE. He preserved the lives of men much longer in former ages: but He could have prevented Methuselah dying at 969 had He pleased. He is able to preserve men from sickness, the common cause of death--and He does so often for seventy, eighty, or ninety years. And if men become sick He can raise them as He did Hezekiah. So with accidents, another cause of death.
II. GOD NEVER DOES PREVENT MEN DYING AS SOON AS THEY DO DIE. He might have prevented Lazarus dying, yet He did not. And this holds in all cases; and no power can move Him when He chooses that any shall die. This we see in David’s prayer for his little infant, in those of pious parents for theirs, and in those of the Church for good and useful men.
III. WHY GOD DOES NOT PREVENT PERSONS DYING AS SOON AS THEY DO DIE. Because
1. He knows that their appointed time to die is come. “Is there not an appointed time,” etc.
2. He sees it best for them to die then. He knows what will be the consequence of living, and takes them away from the evil to come.
3. He knows that it will be the-best for the survivors. Many have done more good by dying than they would by living.
How often has the death of a child resulted in the conversion of the parents! This was the reason of the death of Lazarus.
4. He has a supreme regard for His own glory. He displays a wisdom, goodness and sovereignty which surpasses that of all His intelligent creatures.
Improvement. If God can preserve human life or cut it short as He pleases, then
1. It is proper to pray for the sick as long as the least spark of life remains. Neither young nor old ought to give up the hope of living; and God has wrought wonders in answer to prayer.
2. We ought never to pray for the preservation of life unconditionally. We ought to rejoice that we are in God’s hands, who knows best. So Christ prayed conditionally in view of His tremendous sufferings--“Not My will.”
3. All ought to carry about with them a sense that they are dying creatures. They know not what a day or an hour may bring forth. “Lord make me to know mine end.”
4. Death commonly comes unexpected. We are ready to remember that God can preserve our lives as long as He pleases, but forget that He has an appointed time, and that time always comes suddenly.
5. None can enjoy life without becoming truly religious. Then whatever comes we shall be ready for the joy of our Lord.
6. Mourners have always reason to exercise unreserved submission to his bereaving hand. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Restoration better titan prevention
I. MARTHA SAW NOT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE DEATH AND BLESSEDNESS OF CHRIST’S SERVANTS. She had largely in her thought the Jewish idea of death as the disturber of fellowship. Truer to have said, “Thou hast been here and my brother has lived.” Christ’s influence goes to make men feel that they are citizens of heaven. The whole meaning of our life is in the future; death is the portal to that perfection.
1. We feel in our hearts that there is an inseparable connection between faith and knowledge. The relation is not complete here. We must die to know the right coordination of the two.
2. Aspiration and perfection are not equal here. In eternity demand and satisfaction are one.
3. How sundered are love and happiness here, where love and sorrow are fellows. In heaven measureless love will yield limitless gladness.
4. Power and opportunity are frequently divided. In heaven power and environment will be matched. We must die to realize the true correlation of our being with the spiritual universe.
III. SHE DID NOT SEE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CHRIST’S DELAY AND THE GOOD OF ALL CONCERNED. Jesus was absent not that Lazarus might die, but that he might die in faith without sight. Christ might have checked the disease in Person, but His delay furthered the purposes of His love.
1. To educate their trust.
2. To prepare them for the actual work about to be wrought.
3. To reveal His glory more fully.
4. To make the deepest impression on the unbelieving.
III. SHE DID NOT SEE AS WE DO NOW THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEIR SUFFERING AND THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS. John shows us how the miracle was a distinct link in the chain of events that led to the death of Jesus.
1. They suffered because Christ was to suffer. As some on-rushing star sets up perturbations in other worlds that come within the range of its influence, so this great process of God in sacrifice draws into its vortex the lives of men.
2. They suffered because Christ must suffer, “Ought not Christ to suffer these things?” Ought not His disciples to share in the community of His sorrows? This is the explanation of pain and conflict. To see the relation between our pain and Christ’s Cross is to be qualified to meet and conquer it. The fellowship of such suffering carries in its heart even now the sharing of His glory. (J. Matthews.)
Contingent events and providence
I. THERE IS A CLOSE ANALOGY BETWEEN THE FEELING HERE EXPRESSED AND THAT EXPERIENCED BY MOST BEREAVED PERSONS. How few afflictions which are not made doubly afflictive by an if. If our friend had done this instead of that--if we had only foreseen. These thoughts make perfect resignation impossible. They come in between us and God, and bewilder in a maze of second causes which no man can thread or find repose in.
II. IF THERE IS ROOM FOR THESE REFLECTIONS IN ANY, THERE IS ROOM FOR THEM IN EVERY CASE. Take any instance of death, except by constitutional decay, and you can always fix upon some circumstance which seemed the turning point. Only let danger be foreseen, and, humanly speaking, in nine cases out of ten deaths would be prevented. If a man knew he was going to catch a fever or meet with an accident, how he would avoid the dangerous localities. Calamities flow immediately from the shortness of human foresight. Could ocean storms be calculated or shifting currents mapped, there would be no shipwrecks. Here Divine Providence overrules and moves in ways higher than ours. To say, therefore, “Had it been thus my brother or child had not died is, to complain of the ordinance of Divine Wisdom by which man is kept ignorant of the future.
III. THIS PRINCIPLE APPLIES EQUALLY TO THE HAPPY PORTIONS OF OUR LIFE. Recovery, preservation, prosperity, depend equally on contingencies, which, when we look back, we see might have been otherwise. A choice which has led to the most fortunate issues was determined, not by foresight of the end, but by the most casual circumstances. Thus there is room for the if in our joys which we cannot number.
IV. THE NECESSARY LIMITS OF HUMAN FORESIGHT INDICATE THE POINT ON WHICH WE CHIEFLY NEED TO PRACTICE CHRISTIAN SUBMISSION. Our ignorance is part of the Divine plan, and is essential to happiness. You murmur that you could not see a particular calamity so as to have prevented it: but then you would have to see all. This would make you a secondary providence in your own circle, and impose a weight of care which Omnipotence alone could sustain for a single day.
V. THE CONDITION OF MORTAL LIFE IS SUMMED UP IN TWO WORDS--MAN’S DUTY AND GOD’S PROVIDENCE. In the hour of bereavement the question as to our faithfulness in the relation suspended will and ought to come up. When you can answer it to your satisfaction you have no ground for uneasiness. You did what you could. You had not Divine foresight: do not then torment yourself, because you were not in God’s stead. Do your duty, and in the majority of instances it will lead to the outward results you desire. Obey nature’s laws, and health will be the rule, disease the exception. But with all your care there is another system: that of Divine Providence, which has no law but eternal love. The decree has gone forth--“Ye shall have tribulation,” and we need the discipline as pilgrims todetach us from the attractions by the wayside, and to fix our affections on things above. When God sees that we need this, vain are our anxieties and precautions. All that remains is to say, “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemest to Him good.” (A. P. Peabody, D. D.)
The consolations of Christ adapted to She state and character of His people
(text and John 11:32)
I. HOW MUCH SAMENESS THERE IS IN GRIEF. It is remarkable that two persons so different in turn of mind and feeling should both utter the same words. It shows how the heart when deeply moved is the same in all. The sisters were united in their affection to Lazarus and in their reliance on Jesus. Together they watched, sent for Christ, waited anxiously for His coming, fell into the dreary sadness which follows the first violence of grief, then greet Jesus as He comes too late in the same way. It is the voice of nature mingling its vain regrets with the resignation of simple faith.
1. There is the feeling that it might have been otherwise. We know not what detained Thee, perhaps we did not send, or the messenger did not reach Thee in time. Oh that the sickness had happened when Thou was in Jerusalem! Is it not thus that the heart speaks under every trying dispensation? If some measure had been adopted, or such an accident not happened, my brother had not died. However natural, is this not the very folly of unbelief conceiving Christ as limited by events which He Himself ordains? Nay, He might have answered, I might have been there; and though not I might have kept him alive, or being there might have let him die. Whatever comes is not accident, but His will. Be still and know that He is God.
2. That it should have been otherwise. We sent a special message, why linger and not make haste to help us--an instinctive complaint in a season of bereavement. It is hard to believe that God ordains it and does no wrong. You can give many reasons. How serviceable that valuable life might have been to God and man. But remember God has many purposes with which you are unacquainted. Wait patiently and you will see that it was for His glory. It may be that He had need of His services elsewhere.
3. That it was sincere, if melancholy, satisfaction in meeting with Jesus at last. He had not come at the time, in the way, for the purpose they expected, and too late for their purpose, but still He had come for good, and they gratefully receive Him. Happy if you so meet the Saviour’s advances. Like Rachel, you may refuse to be comforted, and like Jonah, when your gourd withers, you may be angry, and turn away when Christ comes. Beware of such moods. It is enough if He is with you to fill the aching void in your affections, and be to you instead of what you have lost--better than a thousand brothers.
II. HOW MUCH VARIETY THERE IS IN GRIEF. The sisters differed in their sorrow as they did generally. Both regarded Christ with confidence and affection, but Martha showed it by active and Mary by quiet devotion. So now, when Martha received intimation of Christ’s approach, she rose in haste impatient to meet Him; but Mary remained in the house absorbed in her grief; and when she went forth they said, “she goeth to the grave,” etc., as though she, unlike Martha, could do nothing else.
1. Thus in different circumstances the same temper may be an advantage or a snare. Mary was never so occupied with an emotion of one subject as not to be ready for the call to another. This was a disadvantage when she was so hurried with this and that household care as to have no time to wait on the word of life: but it was an advantage now that she could shake off her depression and hasten to meet Christ. The same profound feeling, however, which made Mary an attentive listener made her the most helpless sufferer until Jesus sent specially to rouse her (verse 28).
2. In the meeting the difference is equally characteristic. Martha is calm and collected enough to enter into argument, and at length is sufficiently self-possessed to make a formal declaration of her faith. Not so Mary--her heart is too full for many words, she cannot command the passion of her soul. She can but cast herself down weeping, and say (verse 32).
III. HOW MUCH COMPASS THERE IS IN THE CONSOLATION OF CHRIST, ADAPTED TO GRIEF OF EVERY MOULD AND MOOD.
1. Martha’s distress admitted of discussion and discourse. Jesus spoke to her and led her to speak to Him, and though she understands Him not fully she is relieved by having laid on her Divine Friend the burden of her soul, and with her lightened heart she declares her entire acquiescence in Him (verse 27).
2. Mary is differently affected and His sympathy is shown in a different way. He is much more profoundly moved. He does not reply in words, for her own were so few. Grief has choked her, and His own responsive sigh is more comforting than any promise. Jesus wept. Blessed mourner with whose tears thy Saviour mingles His own. With Martha Jesus reasoned: with Mary Jesus wept.
3. How confidently every Christian mourner can come to Him. He will give you the very cordial you need. He is a patient hearer if you have anything to say, and He will speak as you are able to hear it, and if you cannot collect your thoughts, and your heart is hot within you-remember that with these groanings which cannot be uttered the Spirit maketh intercession for you. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Whatsoever thou wilt ask of God
The Master advocate
This is our comfort, that Christ is all in all with the Father, and may have what He will of Him. What need we of any other “master of requests” than Christ. If David will hear Joab for Absalom, and Herod Blastus for the Tyrians, what may not we hope? (J. Trapp.)
Death defeated by prayer
At a certain time Luther received an express, stating that his bosom friend and co-worker in the reformation, Philip Melancthon, was lying at the point of death; upon which information he immediately set out upon the journey of some hundred and fifty miles, to visit him, and upon his arrival, he actually found all the distinctive features of death; such as the glazed eye, the cold clammy sweat, and insensible lethargy, upon him. Upon witnessing these sure indications of a speedy dissolution, as he mournfully bent over him, he exclaimed with great emotion, “Oh, how awful is the change wrought upon the visage of my dear brother!” On hearing this voice, to the astonishment of all present, Melancthon opened his eyes, and looking up into Luther’s face, remarked, “Oh, Luther, is this you? Why don’t you let me depart in peace?” Upon which Luther replied, “Oh no, Philip, we cannot spare you yet.” Luther then turned away from the bed, and fell upon his knees, with his face towards the window, and began to wrestle with God in prayer, and to plead with great fervency, for more than an hour, the many proofs recorded in Scripture of His being a prayer hearing and prayer answering God; and also how much he stood in need of the services of Melancthon, in furthering that cause, in which the honour and glory of God’s great name, and the eternal welfare of unnumbered millions of immortal souls, were so deeply interested; and that God should not deny him this one request, to restore him the aid of his well-tried brother Melancthon. He then rose up from prayer, and went to the bedside again, and took Melancthon by the hand. Upon which Melancthon again remarked, “Oh, dear Luther, why don’t you let me depart in peace?” To which Luther again answered, “No, no, Philip, we cannot possibly spare you from the field of labour yet.” Luther then requested the nurse to go and make him a dish of soup, according to his instructions. Which being prepared, was brought to Luther, who requested his friend Melancthon to eat of it. Melancthon again asked him, “Oh, Luther, why will you not let me go home, and be at rest?” To which Luther replied as before, “Philip, we cannot spare you yet.” Melancthon then exhibited a disinclination to partake of the nourishment prepared for him. Upon which Luther remarked, “Philip, eat, or I will excommunicate you.” Melancthon then partook of the food prepared, and immediately grew better, and was speedily restored to his wonted health and strength again, and laboured for years afterwards with his coadjutors in the blessed cause of the reformation. Upon Luther’s arrival at home, he narrated to his beloved wife Catherine the above circumstances, and added, “God gave me my brother Melancthon back in direct answer to prayer;” and added further, with patriarchal simplicity, “God on a former occasion gave me, also, you back, Kata, in answer to my prayer.”
Thy brother shall rise again
Earthly relationship not destroyed by death
There was that in the tie of blood which death was powerless to alter. Many an aching heart would find comfort, if it were assured of this. Have we lost them forever as ours, those loved ones--lost all the claim upon their special answering love, which those old earthly names, “brother,” “sister,” and the like, gave us? Is the Communion of Saints one monotonous dead level of spiritual relationship? Or are the ties of earth--whether ties of blood, or ties of friendship, or ties of love--not abolished, but transfigured, in that mysterious world beyond death? On the warrant of these words of Jesus! dare to believe that they will be glorified, not destroyed; that that, which more than anything else makes earth bright and worth having, will be at least one of the lesser luminaries of heaven. Nay, even if we had no such words of Jesus as these, I could never bring myself to believe that God would so mock us, as to give us these relationships and bid us be faithful to them, only to tear our hearts in pieces with grief--grief which must necessarily be intense in proportion to our fidelity to them--when the cruel hour of death arrives to dissolve them. It is sad enough that they should be even suspended, through “ignorance of a common tongue”--their destruction would be intolerable to us. As the seed is transformed into the plant--as the natural body is transfigured into the spiritual body--so will the earthly relationship be glorified into its heavenly counterpart. (D. J.Vaughan, M. A.)
Let us survey
I. THE LIFE OF THE DEPARTED. Note
1. His affection as a relative.
2. His attachment as a friend.
3. His grace as a Christian.
4. His fidelity as a minister.
II. THE DEATH OF THE DEPARTED. It was
3. Gainful to Him. He has
(1) Full vision of Christ--of those around the throne.
(2) Full image.
(3) Full enjoyment.
4. Loss to you--as relative, friend, Christian, minister.
III. HIS RESURRECTION.
1. To an immortal life.
2. In a superior state.
3. For the noblest purposes. This resurrection is
(a) To see his bereaved kindred.
(b) To meet his sorrowing friends.
(c) To present his beloved people.
(d) To enjoy his incarnate God. (J. Judson.)
The identity of the earthly and the heavenly life
“Thy brother”--the very being that had died--the same in feeling, mind, sentiment. This is the Christian idea of immortality. The next life is an unbroken continuation of this as regards
I. OUR PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE. Why should this be closed by the opening of the soul’s prison gates? So far from this it hardly admits of doubt that the direction which the mind has assumed in the obscurity and distractions of the world will determine its favourite course when for darkness there shall be light, and for hindrances helps, in the case of, e.g., the philosopher, the scientist, the historian.
II. OUR AESTHETIC NATURE. No attribute of the Creator is more richly manifested than His love of beauty. For all refined tastes He has furnished nutriment with the same bounty as that with which He has provided for our lower needs. We trace God none the less in the beauty that flows from human hands. Man, in the pride of his art, and at the zenith of his power is the copyist of the Creator; and if I can be glad and worshipful in the presence of the copies, how much more in the better life shall I be sensible of their archetypes. And when St. John lays all nature under contribution, and piles splendour upon splendour to shadow forth the glories of the new Jerusalem, I know the very power of painting those gorgeous forms is an authentic prophecy of more of beauty in heaven than heart has conceived.
III. OUR CAPACITY FOR FRIENDSHIP. This capacity for transcends its earthly uses, and our power of enjoying it here. The most tender home love only intensifies and enlarges the power of loving. With this proclivity to form attachments we are saddened, not only by the death-thinned ranks of our friends, but by the multitude of the living who win our dear regard and then seldom come within our reach--friends of our travels, e.g., and friends in distant cities. Why are we made capable of loves so strong, and yet so evanescent? To lay up treasures for the heavenly life, providing friends that shall be ours forever. There will be in heaven time enough and room enough for all. (A. P. Peabody, D. D.)
I know he shall rise again in the resurrection
Grace imagined less
The grace was so great that Martha does what we all often do--imagines it less: as when you slip a sovereign into a boy’s hand on his birthday, and he imagines it a shilling, having no thought of a gift so great. (J. Culross, D. D.)
A near benefit not understood
This passage of the history may remind us of somewhat similar in the conversation with the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well. Neither does Martha here, nor that woman, understand the nearness of the benefit. In each case, half despondingly, they put it off. Yet to the one, speaking only of a distant future, and saying, “I know that Messias cometh: when He is come He will tell us all things;” the Lord suddenly rejoins, “I that speak unto thee am He.” And so here to the other, who can think of nothing nearer, nothing better, than the remote general resurrection, the Lord likewise rejoins, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Each has but the vague, inoperative idea of the final good: He speaks to each of an even present blessing. (G. J. Browne, M. A.)
Our treatment of the promises
We do with the promises often as a poor old couple did with a precious document, which might have cheered their old age had they used it according to its real value. A gentleman stepping into a poor woman’s house saw framed and glazed upon the wall a French note for a thousand francs. He said to the old folks, “How came you by this?” They informed him that a poor French soldier had been taken in by them and nursed until he died, and he had given them that little picture when he was dying as a memorial of him. They thought it such a pretty souvenir that they had framed it, and there it was adorning the cottage wall. They were greatly surprised when they were told that it was worth a sum which would be quite a little fortune for them if they would but turn it into money. Are we not equally unpractical with far more precious things? Have you not certain of the words of your great Lord framed and glazed in your hearts, and do you not say to yourselves, “They are so sweet and precious”? and yet you have never turned them into actual blessing--never used them in the hour of need. You have done as Martha did when she took the words, “Thy brother shall rise again,” and put round about them this handsome frame, “in the resurrection at the last day.” Oh that we had grace to turn God’s bullion of gospel into current coin, and use them as our present spending money. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I am the Resurrection and the Life
All the titles of our Lord are names of power. They express His nature, perfection, or prerogatives; what they declare He is. They are shadows of a Divine substance. He who is Very Life raised Himself from the dead: “I am the Resurrection.” On the first day of the week His glorious soul returned to His pure flesh, and His manhood, whole and perfect, through the power of His Godhead, arose of His own will. He came back the very same, and yet the same no more. The dishonour of His holy passion had passed away, but its tokens still were there. And as in body, so in soul. Death had no more dominion over Him, yet He was full of sympathy, learned by dying. All the depths of His human experience were in Him still. “He learned obedience by the things which he suffered;” and the ineffable mystery of His three and thirty years of sorrow rose with Him from the grave. Wherefore this Divine name, as it reveals the power of His own resurrection, so it is the pledge of ours. It is a pledge to us of many joys; but chiefly of three Divine gifts.
1. The first is a perfect newness of body and soul. 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, even as the spirit is above the flesh. The more we know of ourselves, the more incredible, if I may so speak of a very blessedness, this promise seems. To be without sin, what else is heaven? And can it ever be that we who brought sin with our life blood into the world--who have fallen and soiled ourselves through and through with wilful evil--that we shall be one day clean as the light, and white as the driven snow? Yet this is His pledge to us.
2. Another gift pledged to us is the perfect restoration of all His brethren in His kingdom (John 17:24; John 14:2-3). 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. What, then, means this unbelieving Christian world, when it asks, Shall we then recognize each other? Will not they all know Him as He them, and all know each other as He knows each? The law of perfect recognition is inseparable from the law of perfect identity. Our individual consciousness must be eternal. We should not be what we are to ourselves, if we were not so to others. The kingdom of God in glory is the perfection of His kingdom in grace, in which every several soul here tried, chastened, and purified, shall be there blessed, crowned and sainted--the same in person, changed only to perfection. And more than this. The perfect restitution which shall be in the kingdom of the resurrection will bring back, not only perfect mutual recognition, but the restoration of all pure and consecrated bonds.
3. This title pledges to us an immortal kingdom. The Resurrection has given back to us an inheritance in the paradise of God, where there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, of which the first creation, even in its perfection, was only an imperfect shadow. In that true paradise there shall be no seasons nor vicissitudes, no sweat of the face nor hard toil for bread. An everlasting noontide shall be there; an endless spring in the newness of unfading joy, a perpetual autumn in the ripeness of its gifts. There shall be “the tree of life bearing twelve manner of fruits”; all joy and all delight for every capacity of man; reward for every toil, and health for every wound, after the manifold trial of every soul, in the Israel of God. (Archdeacon Manning.)
After the resurrection comes life everlasting. “I am the Life”! This life and the life to come are not two, but one and the same. Death is not the ending of one, and 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. Night is but a veil between the light and us. 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.
2. 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. We shall all carry with us into the eternal world the very self which we have here stamped and moulded, or distorted and branded--the renewed image of God, or the image of the evil one. Our life from first to last teaches us this lesson; it is one continuous whole, gathering up itself through all its course, and perpetuating its earliest features in its latest self: the child is in the boy, the boy is in the man; the man is himself forever.
3. The resurrection will make each one perfect in his own several characters. Nay, even at death it shall be unfolded into a new measure of fulness. Our character is our will; for what we will, we are. Our will contains our whole intention; it sums up our spiritual nature; it contains what we call the tendency of our character: for the will gives the bias to the right or to the left; as we will, so we incline. Now this tendency, both for good and evil, is here imperfect; but it will be there fulfilled. Here it is hindered; the wicked are restrained by truth and grace, by laws and punishments, by fear and shame, by interest and the world; the good are hindered by sin and temptation, by their own infirmities and faults. But there all restraints shall be taken away, and all aids shall be supplied. It is both an awful and consoling thought. What sinners are now in measure, they shall then be in its fulness. So likewise with the faithful: what they have striven to be, they shall be made. God’s grace shall perfect what they had here desired.
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. (Archdeacon Manning.)
The Resurrection and the Life
I. THE CHARACTER. “I am the Resurrection,” etc. Christ is this.
1. As it is by Him that the doctrines of the resurrection and eternal life are revealed. None had a knowledge of the Resurrection, and there were only confused notions of immortality before Christ came. He taught these truths with the greatest clearness, and illustrated and proved them by raising others, and mostly by His own resurrection. This act of His was to extend His influence over the world and to the end of time.
2. As He has the power by which they are bestowed. Martha admitted the general fact; but Christ goes on to affirm that by His own power He could raise her dead brother when and how He pleased, when Martha came to the conclusion that He was the Messiah. In this assertion we see the supreme dignity of Christ. “As the Father raiseth up,” etc. The miracles at Nain of Jarius’ daughter, and here at the last day, prove Christ to be the Master of Eternity, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
II. THE PROMISE.
1. The characters to whom it is comprehensively directed. “He that believeth,” etc.
(1) The necessity of faith. It is the turning point in your immortality. Those who do not believe have no title to this and the other promises which make eternal life to depend upon faith.
(2) What have we to believe? Christ, in all the essential points of His character--Divinity, atonement, etc.
2. The particular application of the promise to the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed.
(1) “Though he were dead.” He who has believed, but is now in the grave, shall be restored to life. “I, who am the Resurrection,” etc., will not allow him to remain in that narrow house forever. Death itself shall die. We mourn not as those who are without hope.
(2) “Whosoever liveth.” He first goes and gives hope to the dead, and then He says of the living believer, “he shall never die.” What is death? The consequence of sin? The sins of the believer are pardoned. The effect of a curse? The curse from the believer is removed. The stroke is not in vengeance, but in love.
III. THE APPEAL. “Believest thou this?” Christ is desirous of bringing the whole to bear on personal experience. What is your answer? If we do believe this
1. We shall not mourn improperly for those who have gone, but have comfort concerning our departed friends.
2. It will be our principal security in the event of our own departure.
3. It will give the hope of a happy reunion on the day of final restoration.
4. The rejection of this testimony will be a cause of condemnation and eternal despair. (J. Parsons.)
Christ the Resurrection and the Life
1. Christ’s greatest utterance on death was spoken on the first occasion on which its dark question had come closely to His own soul. Elsewhere He had gone to meet it; here it had come to meet Him in that inner circle of friendship, and had gained complete possession.
2. The two mighty questions--What is death? Can it rend the friendships of life?--confronted the Redeemer; and the miracle was His answer. It showed that there was in Him a life which death had no power to destroy, and that death had not sundered Lazarus from Jesus or his sisters. It had made the ties of affection stronger than before, and had not quenched one faculty of his being.
I. OUR LIFE IN CHRIST IS A BATTLE; THROUGH DEATH IT RISES INTO A VICTORY. We carry within us our perpetual foe, and a thousand outward forces tend to quench the love of Christ within. This struggle is with death, for sin is death. The act of dying is but the outward and visible sign of this constant struggle. But in this last scene the apparent victim is conqueror; the life-long fight is finished, and the victory won. The life Christ gives demands a resurrection for its completion, and a resurrection in Christ makes death the fulness of life in victory.
II. OUR LIFE IN CHRIST IS A HOPE; BY DEATH IT RISES INTO ITS CONSUMMATION. The Christian’s hope is to see Christ, and be with Him, and like Him. From the earliest dawn of the new life that desire is kindled; and it deepens until it colours every aspiration, and finds its whole heaven in “absent from the body,” etc. To the first disciples the storms that swept over the lake had often been things of terror; but after Christ has calmed them every storm would seem holy with the memory of His presence. The desert hath oft seemed a strange, unfriendly region; but after Christ had fed the multitudes there, it would be sacred with the memory of the Saviour’s pity. Mount Tabor had long looked stern, but the memory of Christ’s unveiled glory there transformed it into a temple. And so it has ever been. The felt presence of Jesus has transfigured earth’s gloomiest places, poured a light into prisons, diffused peace through the cruel tortures of the rack, filled the martyr’s soul with the dawn of paradise. Where Christ is is heaven. But this hope demands a resurrection. Here our visions are transient and partial; and until the veil of the body be rent, we shall not see Jesus as He is.
III. OUR LIFE IN CHRIST IS A SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP: BY DEATH IT BECOMES PERFECT AND ETERNAL. No man can be constrained by the love of Christ without feeling that henceforth he is bound by new and holy ties to “the whole family in heaven and earth.” It was just the depth and power of that fellowship which, in the first disciples, startled the world as a new thing. The world might crush the men, but it could not touch the fellowship; it might try to break up their union with fire and sword, but, as apostle and martyr passed away, the brethren who remained said only that they had gone to the earlier home, and were now waiting in the Father’s house the reunion. And in these days the fellowship of spiritual life is as real and powerful, and demands a resurrection. Death seems the great divider. No friendship here is perfect, no sympathy complete, no love ever reaches the fulness of which it dreams. The constant longing for complete communion is the soul’s great outcry for the resurrection day. And here again Christ, who is the life of our fellowship, gives us the pledge of its rising. In restoring Lazarus to his home, He showed that the ties that bind a brother to a sister are, when spiritual, among the things which shall rise again. In His words of farewell, He promises a Father’s house where we shall meet again; and in the forty days He showed that our communion shall rise from death, having lost nothing but its infirmity, and clothed in a beauty and a blessedness which we must die to know. The hands for whose “vanished touch” we wept in agony shall be clasped again; the voices that grew still shall be heard again, only purified from the notes of sorrow and resonant with the praises of the Lamb. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Christ the Resurrection and the Life
The “Resurrection” of the body; the “Life” of the soul.
I. CHRIST AS PROPHET, BY HIS TEACHING AND MIRACLES, HAS REVEALED RESURRECTION AND LIFE. Many have stood beside an open grave and felt obliged to ask the question, Shall we ever see our friend again? Nature can give no satisfying answer, and reason can only form conjectures and suggest probabilities. But amid the silence of nature and the helplessness of reason, a voice has spoken and a light was shone from heaven, for Christ has “brought life and immortality to light.” The great fact He clearly revealed in words--“The hour is coming,” etc.--and in His works of raising. No one ever died in the presence of the Prince of Life, and no dead body ever remained dead when He approached it.
II. CHRIST AS PRIEST HAS REDEEMED HIS PEOPLE FROM SIN AND PURCHASED FOR THEM ETERNAL LIFE. The only cause of death is sin. That has exposed us to Divine wrath, and brought upon us the sentence of death. “The wages of sin is death;” and those wages must be paid. But Christ has paid them by the shedding of His precious blood. The strength of sin is the law and the law has been completely satisfied by the sacrifice of Calvary. In proof that His satisfaction was perfect, Christ rose. God sent His angel to roll away the stone, and set our Surety free. Believing in Christ, our sins are taken from us and reckoned to His account. And if sin be taken away, all is taken away that can make death terrible. Death now comes to a believer, not as an executioner of the broken law, but as the messenger of heavenly peace. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me,” etc.
III. CHRIST AS KING GIVES HIS PEOPLE THE VICTORY OVER DEATH AND BRINGS THEM AT LAST INTO THE ACTUAL POSSESSION OF ETERNAL LIFE. His own victory over the grave is a proof and pledge of ours. As our representative, He encountered the king of terrors in his own dark domain; and though He continued under the power of death for a time, yet He saw no corruption, and came forth a Conqueror. In this victory we are destined to share by living union to Him; and therefore, in our coming conflict, we can say, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” etc. And the reason of it is, not only because He died and rose, but also because He is alive for evermore; and not only alive, but invested with all power in heaven and earth. “He must reign,” etc.; and therefore “death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed,” like the rest. (John Thomson, D. D.)
I. THE RESURRECTION. Note
Christ the Resurrection and the Life
1. The authority with which these words are spoken. “I am,” not “I will be,” the instrument at some future time, but the thing itself. Surely no creature could speak thus. He speaks just as a king would speak to whom it never occurred that anyone should doubt of his royalty, or that he needed to vaunt of his power. The words assume a supreme and essential power over life and death. His was the original gift of life; His the right to dissolve its organisation, and to confer it again; and, therefore, He only could be the opener of the world of graves. This is the exclusive prerogative of Godhead. Man’s power is mighty, but it steps short of this. He can from a fossil bone construct a massive elephant, and, with Promethean ambition, he can shape its features faultlessly, and by clockwork or galvanism simulate life; but he cannot breathe the living fire. “Am I God,” said the frightened king, “to kill and to make alive?” The resurrection is a marvel and a mystery till we bring in the thought of God. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God,” etc.
2. But not only do the words affirm Christ’s divinity, but that through Him only resurrection came to man.
(1) Resurrection implies death, and death was not among the original arrangements of the universe. It came in after the “very good” had been pronounced. There must needs be, therefore, some provision to counteract its effects, and to restore the forfeited heritage of immortality to man. This has been secured by the vicarious atonement of Jesus. He bore the penalty on the cross, and, through death, destroyed Him who had the power of death. Christ is the Resurrection, therefore its Source and Spring, Author and Finisher. When He emerged from the tomb, He brought life and immortality with Him. The pearls of the deep sea, awaiting the plunge of the diver, the treasures before lying in the dark mine, were by Him seized and brought up to the light of day.
(2) But we must not limit the import of our term, and exclude the idea of a spiritual resurrection--not only a raised body, but a soul bursting from the tomb of its corruption, and blooming into newness of life. It is remarkable that, although all men inherit immortality, the future of the wicked is never dignified with the name of life. Everlasting contempt and destruction are the terms which Scripture uses. “They shall not see life.” A sinner breathes in physical, thinks in intellectual, feels in emotional, but is destitute of spiritual life. But the Christian becomes, by faith in Christ, “dead unto sin, but alive unto God”--“passes from death into life.”
II. THE LIFE. Christ is “the true God and Eternal Life,” and His culminating promise is “even eternal life.” What is this?
1. Conscious life. In all ages men have bewildered themselves by speculations as to the mode of their future existence. Some have taken refuge in dark materialism; others have held to transmigration of souls. Their inability to conceive of the spirit existing apart from the body was at the root of it all; and modern theorizers, perplexed by the same, have endeavoured to get out of it by teaching that the soul shall sleep till the body shall rise. But I am not disposed to give grim death an advantage over the Diviner part of man. If for ages He can paralyse the soul, then Christ has gained only a partial triumph. When Paul had “a desire to depart,” etc., was it “for better” that his mighty mind should cease its thinking, his heart be still, and his energies be powerless for a long cycle of years? Far better a protracted existence on earth. He knew full well that the moment he was released he would be in conscious enjoyment of Christ. The paradise of believers is like the heaven it adjoins, undeluged with a wave of woe. The dungeon of the impenitent is like the hell which it approximates, unvisited with one ray of hope. There is no human soul from the days of Adam that is not alive today.
2. Social life. Heaven is not a solitude; it is a peopled city, in which there are no strangers, no homeless, no poor. “It is not good for man to be alone” means something deeper than the family tie: it is an essential want which the Creator in His highest wisdom has impressed on the noblest of His works. The idea of sociality is comprehensive of the idea of the fulness of life. That is not life where the hermit drags out a solitary existence. All kinds of life tend to companionship, from the buzzing insect cloud up to man. Not only, therefore, did Christ pray that those who had been given Him should be with Him, but they are to come to “the general assembly of the firstborn,” etc. Take comfort, then, your dear ones are only lost to present sight. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
Christ the Resurrection and the Life
1. The terms are not synonymous. When Christ says “I am the Life,” He claims an attribute of God. None but God is “the Life,” and can impart it. “I am the Resurrection” implies that He can keep life when given, and restore it after it is lost. These powers measure the difference between the finite and the infinite. Of the myriad of insects that flutter in the sunshine, or that the microscope reveals in a drop of water, where is the man that with all his art can create so much as one? Much more hopeless to work in the atmosphere of the grave.
2. Note that Christ does not say “I produce,” or “I confer.” The text is a member of a magnificent series of “I am’s,” and the quality claimed is not anything that can be separated from Christ; it is not what He has, but what He is. The sun does not need to go anywhere for light, nor the ocean for water. “As the Father hath life in Himself,” etc.
I. Christ as THE RESURRECTION, or the restorer of lost life of every kind, not merely of the body.
1. Of the life forfeited by transgression. “The wages of sin is death.”
(1) It is a dismal thing to know this. It is as if a person, feeling breathless at times, were on describing his symptoms to be told by a physician that he was suffering from heart disease.
(2) It is more terrible to know that it ought to be so, that he deserves
2. Can anything be more bitter than when through meanness a man deserves the social reproach he gets? Yes; the consciousness of loathsomeness in the sight of God.
(3) But the “gift of God is eternal life,” etc. United to Christ by faith we get the blessing as He bore the curse. You may say that such deliverance is only partial, that it is a worse thing to deserve death than to suffer it. A substitute may deliver us from death, but not from the disgrace of having deserved it. Granted; but God will never remind the pardoned sinner of his sin, and it will not diminish the cordiality of his reception in heaven. He will be covered with Christ’s righteousness.
2. Of a life of purity, order, and holy beauty. Can it be necessary to prove that such a resurrection is needed? May we not find in a little child something to condemn us? And the first effect of our receiving Christ is to become as little children, having their purity without their weakness, their simplicity without their ignorance, their trust without their forgetfulness. Or have you not been shamed in reading the life of some saintly man or woman. We cannot of ourselves soar to these heights; but Jesus, the fountain of goodness, has come to restore this life too. But why confine ourselves to human excellence? To know what it is to live study the life of Jesus. “Fairer than the children of men.” This life may be ours. “I live, yet not I,” etc. “When Christ who is our life,” etc.
3. Of holy fellowship with God. We have left our Father’s house and lost all liking for it. But there can be no happiness for us in the “far off” country. This life is not to be regained by thinking reverently of God, or poring over other men’s love to Him in hope of getting into the same current. In welcoming Christ, and in that only, can I say, “O Lord, Thou art my God.”
II. Christ as THE LIFE. It is His office to continue what He restores, “Whosoever liveth,” etc.
1. If Jesus simply gave you life, and then left you to sink or swim, there can be no doubt what the issue would be. “The life that we now live in the flesh” must be “by the faith of the Son of God.”
2. He will watch and guard your faith, as He did Simon’s, that it fail not.
3. Beyond the grave the gift assumes a new character of glory, worthy of Him from whom it comes. The soul is made perfect in holiness, and the body will be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body. It is no longer a struggling but a steady life, like that of a plant which has at last found its proper soil and congenial atmosphere. When you think of eternal life think of
(1) The home of the soul and body.
(2) The intellect ever advancing in clearness and mastery.
(3) The emotions now in perfect order, growing perpetually in strength and sensibility.
(4) A love forever deepening its roots and enlarging its compass.
(5) The best fellowships yielding forever new harvests of enjoyment. Think of all this. And you have but the dimmest shadow of what “eye hath not seen,” etc.
III. IF ALL THIS BE TRUE, IS IT NOT STRANGE THAT CHRIST IS NOT MORE WIDELY WELCOMED? What do men prize so much as life? “All that a man hath,” etc. But for what life? For his animal life--the mere link between body and soul? What a strange thing that the higher you go in the scale of life the less do men care for it! And when you reach the highest life the indifference becomes aversion. “Ye will not come unto Me,” etc. (W. G.Blaikie, D. D.)
Christ, both Resurrection and Life
There is a glorious harmony in the words “Resurrection and Life.” Either of them alone would be insufficient, combined they are divinely satisfying. If Christ had said only, “I am the Resurrection,” without promising to bestow a new spiritual life, He would have told us merely of misery. To rise again into the life we have now, with its struggle, and care, and failure--to repeat it age after age--what were this but perpetual conflict and everlasting unrest? Or if He had said merely, “I am the Life,” without saying “I am the Resurrection,” we should still be of all men most miserable. For if He had given us new spiritual life in the love of God, without raising us after death, we should have been haunted with grand hopes and infinite aspirations that were destined never to be fulfilled. Christ combines the two, and therefore He tells 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. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The mystery of the resurrection
How shall the dead arise is no question of my faith; to believe only possibilities is not faith but mere philosophy. Many things are true in divinity which are neither inducible by reason or confirmable by sense, and many things in philosophy confirmable by sense yet not inducible by reason. (Sir T. Browne.)
Natural analogies of the resurrection
In New Sharon, in the state of Michigan, a child of great promise sickened and died. The little one, all beautiful, robed for the grave, was laid in its coffin, and in its little hand was placed a bouquet of flowers--the central flower of which was an unopened bud of the “Rose of Sharon.” On the morning for burial the coffin lid was removed for the sorrowing weepers to take their farewell look at the peaceful dead; when, lo! that bud had become a full-blown rose, while grasped in the dead child’s hand. That beautiful flower seemed to say, Weep not for the spirit that is gone, in heaven it now appears, and is “forever with the Lord.” (J. Wilson.)
One of the women encountered the vanquished army returning to Medina. “Where is my father?” asked she of the soldiers. “He is slain,” was the reply. “And my husband?” “Slain also.” “And my son?” “Slain, with them,” said they. “But Mahomet?” “He is here alive,” replied the warriors. “Very well,” said she, apostrophising the prophet; “since thou livest still, all our misfortunes are as nothing.” (Lamartine.)
The philosophy of Christian hope
I. THE BASIS OF THIS HOPE. How shall man be quite sure of a life beyond this?
1. By the resurrection of Christ. Christian hope differs from all other in that it rests neither upon any instinct of the heart, any inference from reason, or any promise sent from heaven, but upon a person. One is set before us who, born into the world, and living our chequered human life, has achieved victory over death. It is conceivable that this is not sufficient to assure us of our resurrection. We might argue that it is an exceptional distinction merited by a perfect character. And if Christ were only man the argument would have force. But His incarnation gives its proper significance to His resurrection. He is not a unit of the race singled out for favour, but one who, as equal with the Father, has power and right to take up the manhood into God. He took our nature, and therefore in all He does and is our nature has a share, that He might redeem, purify, exalt it. He did not merely reverse the sentence of death by an arbitrary annulling of it, but by the actual victory of life over death in the same nature which had become subject unto death. He thus became “a quickening Spirit.”
2. By the communication of the life of Christ to all who believe in Him.
(1) Jesus is the Resurrection because He is the Life, and He imparts that life to us. “Because I live,” etc. There is a sense in which the resurrection is begun here, because the germ of it is found in every renewed nature. A power has been put forth on man which must issue in His glorification. The resurrection, though sometimes described as a gift, is also to be regarded as the necessary development of the work of grace (John 5:26; John 6:57). Of the two-fold life of the Spirit here and the body hereafter, Christ is the source (John 10:17), and by communion with Him only is it sustained John 6:51-54). That which is spiritual is in its very nature eternal. Death is but as the episode of a sleep. So essential is the connection between the life eternal and the resurrection that there are only two places in the New Testament in which the resurrection of the wicked is mentioned (chap. 5:29; Acts 24:15).
(2) Sometimes the same truth is associated with the indwelling in our hearts of a Divine Person (Colossians 1:27; Romans 8:11). The resurrection follows from such inhabitation; those bodies, in which He has vouchsafed to make His tabernacle, are not destined to be left in corruption. If Christ sent the Holy Ghost to make our bodies His temple, then that Divine Visitant sheds His sanctifying influences upon the whole man. Every member of the body, eye, ear, hand, foot, all have been consecrated to God’s service. One part of our nature is not left to curse and barrenness whilst the dew of heaven falls richly on the other.
II. SUCH A HOPE, CONSISTENT IN ITSELF AND SATISFYING THE DEEPEST NEEDS OF OUR NATURE, ESSENTIALLY DIFFERS FROM AND TRANSCENDS ALL PRE-CHRISTIAN HOPE.
1. What was the hope of the wisest pagan philosophers? At most a bare hope of continuance after death. But Christ gives us now the life that cannot die in the body that the body may be consecrated to God. Our souls and bodies are His, filled and pervaded with His life, and can never, therefore, perish.
2. What was the hope of the Jew? Kindling with ecstasy it rose above time and death, and laid its hand upon God with the conviction that He who was the Life of His children would be their portion forever. But the Jew had still the horror of death unvanquished, of the grave from which none had ever returned. The Christian is partaker of the Life of God which in human flesh overcame death, and therefore has the sure pledge that he will overcome.
III. THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION COMMENDS ITSELF AS IN HARMONY WITH THE FACTS OF OUR NATURE. All experience shows how close is the union between soul and body. So far as observation extends, the material organism is destroyed by death, and yet as by an imperious necessity it enters into all our conceptions of another life: we would not be “unclothed but clothed upon.” Does not all thought become action only through the instrumentality of the body? and does not the body express the beauty or ugliness of the unseen dweller within? How often, even after the soul has fled, there remains on the cold features of the corpse the living impress of that soul, as if it disputed the empire of death? It is almost as if the body were waiting for the return of its tenant?
IV. THE SPECULATIVE DIFFICULTIES WHICH BESET THE DOCTRINE. “How are the dead raised up,” etc. The particles of which the body is composed may be scattered, and enter into the formation of plants, animals, men. How can each particle be disentangled and brought together again? We put no limits on the power of God. But such a process is as unnecessary as improbable. The same body may be raised though no single particle of the present body be found in it. What is necessary to the identity of the body? Not the identity of its material particles. These are in a state of perpetual flux. The body of our childhood is not the body of our youth, etc., and yet it is the same body in patriarch and infant. The only thing that we need to be assured is that the principle of identity, which governs the formation of the body in this life, shall govern it at the Resurrection. What, then, is this thing that remains ever the same, which never perishes in all the changes of the material organism? It escapes all our investigations; we only see its manifestations; but that it is a reality all observation goes to show: and if, through all the changes of the body during this life, this principle continues in force, why may it not survive the shock of death? Why may not the same body, which was sown a natural body, be raised a spiritual body? There is everything in the analogies of nature to confirm it. (Dean Perowne.)
Though He were dead.--View the text
I. AS A STREAM OF COMFORT TO MARTHA AND OTHER BEREAVED PERSONS.
1. The presence of Jesus means life and resurrection. But what comfort is Christ’s spiritual presence to us? He will not raise our loved ones? I answer that Jesus is able at this moment to do so. But do you wish it? Yes. Now, consider. Surely you are not so cruel as to wish the glorified back to care and pain. Lazarus could return and fill his place again, but not one in ten thousand could do so. I had rather that Christ should keep the keys of death than I. It would be too dreadful a privilege to be empowered to rob heaven of the perfect merely to give pleasure to the imperfect. Jesus would raise them now if He knew it to be right.
2. When Jesus comes the dead shall live, and living believers shall not die, we shall all be changed.
3. Even now Christ’s dead are alive. They appear to die, but they are not in the grave, but with the Lord. “God is not the God of the dead,” etc.
4. Even now His living do not die. There is a difference between the death of the godly and the ungodly. To the latter it comes as a penal infliction, to the former a summons to his Father’s palace. Death is ours, and follows life in the list of our possessions as an equal favour.
II. AS A GREAT DEEP OF COMFORT FOR ALL BELIEVERS.
1. Christ is the Life of His people. We are dead by nature, but regeneration is the result of contact with Christ; “We are begotten again unto living hope by His resurrection.” He is not only the Resurrection to begin with, but the Life to go on with. Anything beyond the circle of Christ is death.
2. Faith is the only channel by which we can draw from Jesus our life. “He that believeth in Me,” not he that loves, serves or imitates Me. You want to conduct the electric fluid, and so you have to find a metal which will not create any action of its own: if it did so it would disturb the current. Now, faith is an empty handed receiver and communicator; it is nothing apart from that on which it relies, and therefore it is suitable to be a conductor for grace.
3. To the reception of Christ by faith there is no limit--“Whosoever,” however wrong, weak, unfeeling, hopeless.
4. The believer shall never die. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ’s treatment of death
1. It is only from great inspired natures that we get such contradictory words as these. In one breath Christ says that if a man dies and believes in Him, he shall live; and in the next breath He says that whosoever lives and believes in Him shall not die. Yet every docile reader feels that it contains a truth too subtle to be grasped with words. When the strata of rocks are twisted and upturned, the miner looks for gold, deeming that in the convulsions that so disposed them, a vein of precious metal may have been thrown up from the lower deep.
2. In order to get at their meaning, we must keep in mind that Christ was drawing comfort for these afflicted friends, not from the old sources, but Himself. Martha has expressed her faith in the common doctrine, but Christ passes over it as though it had little power to console. It is a far off event and hardly touches the present fact of death. So little power had it that Martha did not think of it till led to it by Christ’s question. God’s love may wait patient through ages, because ages are nothing to Him, but human love is impatient, because it is under finite conditions. Our children, that we could hardly bear out of our sight, die, and it is small comfort that ages hence they and we shall live again; and so, instead of dwelling on that, we cling to the form and mementos spared by death, and keep alive the past instead of making alive the present. Christ strove to give more substantial comfort.
I. His first purpose was TO GET THEIR MINDS AWAY FROM DEATH. There is but one natural fact to which Christ showed antipathy. He set the whole weight of His thought and speech against what was known as death. There is a fine significance in His indisposition to use the word. He said that the daughter of Jairus was asleep, and said the same about Lazarus till the dulness of the disciples forced Him to use the ordinary word. The early believers, fully taught by the resurrection of Christ, caught at once the remembered hints, and said that Stephen “fell asleep.” So St. Paul many times over, and St. Peter, and the Christians in the Catacombs. If Christ had done nothing more than give this word, He would have been the greatest of benefactors. To that which seems the worst thing He has given the best name, and the name is true. Amongst the profoundest words of Shakespeare are those in which he speaks of sleep as “great Nature’s second course.” In a profounder sense the sleep of death ushers in the “second course” of nature, even the life that shall never know death nor sleep.
II. His next purpose is TO GET THEM TO IDENTIFY HIMSELF WITH THE RESURRECTION. Martha has spoken of a general resurrection--not necessarily a spiritual fact--a mere matter of destiny. Christ draws it near, vitalizes it, puts it into the category of faith, and connects it with Himself. Faith in Him works away from death towards life. To believe in a person is to be like him. Christ is Life, and could not be holden of death; faith in Him works towards the same freedom. The assimilating power of faith is a recognized principle. We meet men in whose faces we see imprinted avarice, lust, or conceit. They have so long thought and felt under the power of those qualities that they are made over into their image. The Hindu who worships Brahma, sleeping in the stars in immovable calm, gets to wear a fixed impression. So Christ brings men to believe in Him in order to become like Him, and if like Him, then one with Him, sharers of His nature and destiny, and if one with Him then His life is theirs. And yet the fact and process of death remain. Yes, man needs for his supreme development to undergo the supreme experience, which is death. But in Christ this is to die to some purpose, to lay down life to take it again. It is of unspeakable moment that the whole matter of Christian believing and living is summed up as life--existence in the perfect fulfilment and enjoyment of all relations. We transport the matter into some future world; Christ puts it into the hour that now is. And so life is the single theme of Christ. We can so conceive one as so one with Christ as to have little sense of yesterday and tomorrow, to care little for one world above another, to heed death as little as sleep, because filled with the life of God. It is towards this high state that Christ conducts us, sowing in our hearts day by day the seed of eternal life--truth, and love, and purity.
III. THE SUBJECT LEAVES US WITH TWO LEADING EXPRESSIONS.
1. Comfort in view of the change called death. Christ does not strive to annihilate Martha’s grief, but to infuse it with another spirit. As Jesus wept, so we would not have love shed one tear less; but there are tears too bitter for human eyes--tears of despair; and there are tears which reflect heaven’s light and promise as they fall--tears of hope. Christ takes away from death its sting by taking away the sin of which it is the shadow. Aside from this we may approach death as sleep, a grateful ordinance of nature, not dreading it, not longing for it, but accepting it as God’s good way--a step in life.
2. A new sense of the value of faith in Christ. It is no small thing to be delivered from false views of death. Consider the hopeless views of the heathen, and the vague hope of the Jews. There is no certainty till we come to Christ, and no deliverance from fear except through faith in Him. (T. T.Munger.)
The consolation of the text
It makes the “lych gate” through which the dead enter the churchyard as the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, “a glorious arch of hope and triumph.” (J. Culross, D. D.)
A soldier who was wounded at Inkerman managed to crawl away from the place where he fell, and ultimately reached his tent. When he was found he was on his face. Beneath him was the sacred volume, and on its open page his hand rested. When his hand was lifted it was found to be glued by his life’s blood to the book. The letters of the page were printed on his hand and read, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” etc. It was with this verse still inscribed on his hand that he was laid in a soldier’s grave. (New Handbook of Illustrations.)
Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.--This saying points to mysteries which have occupied the thoughts of Eastern and also of Western philosophers, as the famous verses of Euripides show: “Who knoweth if to live be truly death, and death be reckoned life by those below?” and indicates a higher form of “corporate” life, such as St. Paul expresses by the phrase, “in Christ” (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:4). Part of the thought is expressed in a saying in the Talmud, “What has man to do that he may live? Let him die. “What has man to do that he may die? Let him live.” The last words of Edward the Confessor offer a closer parallel. “Weep not, I shall not die but live; and as I leave the land of the dying I trust to see the blessings of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Bp. Westcott.)
If we truly believe in Christ
I. THE HEALTHY ACTIVITY OF OUR SPIRITUAL POWERS WILL NEVER CEASE. Life is worthless without activity, and activity without health is misery. By faith in Christ the perceptive, reflective, imaginative, recollective, anticipative faculties will work harmoniously forever.
II. NOTHING VALUABLE IN OUR SPIRITUAL ACQUISITIONS EVER BE LOST. Life without ideas, emotions, memories, habits, is a blank, and with these, if they are not of a virtuous character, it is despicable and wretched. But when they are holy life is blessed. Faith in Christ secures their permanence and perfection. “Our works follow us.” We cannot labour in vain in the Lord.
III. ALL THE SOURCES OF TRUE PLEASURE WILL CONTINUE FOREVER: intellectual study, etc.; social--friendship, usefulness, etc.; religious--communion with God, worship. Faith in Christ, then, not in propositions concerning Him, but in Him as the loving Son of God and Saviour, is a condition of happy immortality. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Believeth thou this?
The earnest and compassionate look cast upon Martha is the look cast upon us as we are asked this question. Who in his reflective moods does not acknowledge the importance whether the answer is yes or no? Who does not want to be established in solid convictions. But there is a difficulty at the very entrance of the subject. What is it to believe? and how? But this is no real difficulty to practical men. To believe in a proposition is to be persuaded of its truth. It admits of degrees. It may shine like the sun in clear assurance, or be overcast with the wet atmosphere of thought; but still it is the light we are appointed to walk by. We are every day believing what we cannot prove. Our text lays no injunction, but simply asks a question: “Believest thou?” We ought to know whether we do or not.
I. WE HAVE FAITH IN SOME OF ITS LOWER DEGREES AT LEAST, and every degree is precious. We believe in something of the truth revealed in the Bible, too inadequately perhaps, and with reason to cry out, “Help Thou my unbelief”; or else we are utter sceptics. Which is it?
II. EVERY DEGREE TOWARDS THE HIGHEST AND FULLEST ASSURANCE IS PRECIOUS. This is certainly true so far as the comfort and peace of the mind are concerned, and what can be more important?
1. That it should be nourished with Divine truths.
2. Confirmed with spiritual assurances.
3. Near healing words of heavenly compassion.
4. Be protected against the agitations of doubt and dread.
III. IT IS SURPRISING, THEREFORE, THAT IT SHOULD BE SAID THAT IT IS OF LITTLE CONSEQUENCE WHAT A MAN BELIEVES PROVIDED HE CONDUCTS HIMSELF WELL. A principal point is overlooked, the need of the soul to be cheered and kept in the harmony of its own thoughts. One may be a very dutiful man, and yet a very restless and despairing one.
IV. ONE’S BELIEF MUST HAVE SOME INFLUENCE ON CONDUCT. His convictions must be a part of the basis of his character, if not of the very character itself. Human beliefs are of grave moment, and determine the behaviour, and faith in Christ from the first has been the means of changing sinful hearts. But I must look at the need of the troubled mind and heart to find satisfaction and rest. Who can allow himself to be indifferent or unassured when the highest realities are to be treasured up in reverent acknowledgment or else slighted and mistrusted.
V. TAKE THE DIRECT QUESTION OF OUR LORD. “Believest thou that whosoever hath a living faith in Me shall never die?” AND MARTHA’S RESPONSE, “I believe that Thou art He who should come into the world.” She stopped there. With a like consciousness of ignorance and weakness we may place ourselves at the feet of the great Teacher.
1. There is a Father, wiser than you can comprehend, better than you deserve, just, merciful, forgiving--believest thou this?
2. There is a heavenly providence--the Father’s care--believest thou this?
3. There is a better abode for the soul--the Father’s house.
4. There is sure retribution.
Finally: If we should be urged with questions too difficult let us prepare ourselves in Martha’s spirit. I believe in every doctrine and promise, so far as it is made plain to me, of the Saviour that was gent into the world. (N. L.Frotheringham.)
The believer catechized
When believers are sorrowful they may be sure that a consolation is provided exactly adapted to their cases. For every lock God has made He has provided a key. I doubt not that for every disease there is a remedy in God’s laboratory if we could but find it, and if we Christians are borne down by excessive sorrow it arises from a defect in our faith. This defect sometimes arises from
1. Slender knowledge. There is a promise that meets your case, and you know nothing of its efficacy because you have never read or understood it.
2. Want of appreciation of the person of Christ. This was the case with Martha. If Jesus were better known our burdens would be lightened. Submit then to a heart-searching inquiry. Believest thou
I. THIS PARTICULAR DOCTRINE? You have faith in the Scriptures in general. Now the point is to take each separate doctrine, and look over it in detail, and then say with heart and conscience, “I believe this.” Martha had already expressed her faith in certain great truths--in the Saviour’s power to heal the sick, in the efficacy of His prayer, and in the certainty of the resurrection--but all these were very general, and Christ set before her a specific fact, and said, “Believest thou this?” Let us do the same with the election of grace, justification by faith, union with Christ, etc. This inquiry wen managed and pressed home will enlarge the range and strengthen the grasp of faith and enrich the soul.
II. THIS DISTINCT DOCTRINE? There is great cloudiness about the faith of many, arising largely from its second-hand character. We believe not because we have personally grasped a truth, but because somebody else believes it. Instead of the hazy notion of the resurrection which Martha held in common with others, Christ challenged her faith on a crisp, definite teaching about Himself. Christian doctrines, the atonement, e.g., are robbed of half their delight if indistinctly stated. Read Isaiah 53:1-12, and then say to yourself, “Believest thou this?”
III. THIS DIFFICULT TRUTH. Certain truths are hard to grasp. There are points about them which stagger faith till faith rises to her true character. What Christ preached to Martha seemed contrary to experience. But when we become Christians and once accept an incarnate God, no difficulty need trouble us. Everything is simple in the presence of that profound mystery. Believing then in the Incarnation, what difficulty should there be in believing “when thou passest through the fire,” etc.?
IV. THIS TRUTH AS IT STANDS CONNECTED WITH CHRIST. Martha believed there would be a resurrection, but Jesus says, “I am,” etc. It is one thing to believe a doctrine, and another to believe it as embodied in the person of Christ. There the comfort lies. Martha was called upon to believe in Christ’s personal power, His present power, and the union of His people with Him.
V. THIS TRUTH WHICH IS APPLICABLE TO THYSELF NOW. This was where Martha fell short. We sometimes receive great truths, but are staggered by lesser truths, because the great truth has no present practical bearing, whereas the lesser one has. You believe that Christ’s blood can wash away all sin, do you believe that it cleanses yours? You believe that all things work together for good, do you believe that your present affliction does?
VI. THIS PRACTICAL TRUTH. “Martha said she believed it, but verse 39 did not prove it. Coleridge says: “Truths, of all ethers, the most awful and mysterious, and at the same time of universal interest, are too often considered as so true that they lose all the power of truth, and lie bedridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.” Why are people “better than their creed”? For the same reason that others are worse than their creed, because their creed is asleep. There is a house on fire--you believe it, but you don’t stir until you know it is your own. We believe that God hears prayer, but, nothing surprises us more than when He answers it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith, not understanding, brings us the blessing
He saith not, “Understandest thou this?” “For the mysteries of religion,” saith Rupertus, “are much better understood by believing than believed by understanding.” (J. Trapp.)
I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God
I. The GUIDE of her faith, the WORD of Christ.
II. The GROUND of her faith, the AUTHORITY of Christ.
III. The MATTER of her faith, that Jesus was
1. The Christ.
2. The Son of God.
3. The One who should come. (M. Henry.)
All that can be believed and known of Jesus is included in this threefold statement, which looks towards three possible sides: to the history of salvation, to the fellowship of salvation, and to the need and hope of salvation. We might say that the first names the theme of St. Matthew’s Gospel, the third the theme of St. Luke’s, and the second the theme of St. John’s. And that which in the higher combination of the scattered points is the theme of the fourth Gospel, is in direct generality and unity the theme also of the second. (C. E. Luthardt, D. D.)
The Master is come and calleth for thee
THE PROPRIETY OF THIS TITLE AS APPLIED TO OUR LORD.
1. He has a peculiar fitness for the office. He is the Master, i.e., the Teacher. Put the two together. A master teacher must have
(1) A masterly mind. All minds are not cast in the same mould. Some are princely by their very formation though they may belong to ploughboys. Such men as Napoleon, Cromwell, Washington, must rise to be masters among men. You cannot have a master teacher with a little soul. He may insinuate himself into the chair, but everyone will see that he is out of place. Many painters there are, but there have been few Raphaels or Michael Angelos; many philosophers, but a Socrates and an Aristotle will not be found every day, for great minds are rare. The Master of all the teachers must needs be a colossal spirit, and such Mary saw Christ to be. In Him we have Divinity with its omniscience and infallibility, and at the same time a full orbed manhood intensely manly and sweetly womanly. There is a grandeur about His whole human nature, so that He stands out above all other men, like some mighty Alpine peak which overtops the minor hills and casts its shadows all a down the vales.
(2) A master knowledge; and it is best if that be acquired by experience rather than by instruction. Such was the case with Jesus. He came to teach us the science of life, and He experienced life in all its phases.
(3) A masterly way of teaching. It is not every man of vast mind and knowledge who can teach. Some talk a jargon no one can understand. Jesus taught plainly and also lovingly. The way in which He taught was as sweet as His truth itself. Every one in His school felt at home. Moreover, He gave a measure of the Holy Spirit so that truths were taught to the heart as well as the ear. And that same Spirit now takes the things of Christ, and writes them on the fleshy tablets of the heart. And then Christ embodied His instruction in Himself--was at once Teacher and Lesson.
(4) A master influence. His pupils not only saw, but felt; not only knew, but loved; not only prized the lesson, but worshipped the Teacher. What a
Teacher this, whose very presence checked and ultimately cast out sin, gave new life and brought it to perfection!
2. He is by office the sole Master of the Church.
(1) He, and not Luther, Calvin, Wesley, has the right to determine what doctrines shall be believed.
(2) He, and not councils, synods, the State, etc., has the right to determine what ordinances shall be observed.
II. THE PECULIAR RECOGNITION WHICH MARY GAVE TO CHRIST AS MASTER.
1. She became His pupil. She sat reverently at His feet. Let us take every word of Jesus, and read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it.
2. She was a disciple of nobody else, and ours must not be a divided allegiance.
3. She was a willing scholar. She chose the good part. No one sent her to Jesus. He drew her and she loved to be there. Children at school always learn well if they want to--not if driven.
4. She perseveringly stuck to Him. Her choice was not taken from her, and she did not give it up.
5. She went humbly to Him, feeling it the highest honour to be sitting in the lowest place. They learn most of Christ who think least of themselves.
III. THE SPECIAL SWEETNESS OF THE NAME TO US.
1. To teachers.
(1) Their message is not their own, but His, which relieves them of responsibility, and makes them indifferent to criticism.
(2) When the work does not seem to prosper, what a comfort to be able to go to Jesus! This applies to all--business men, housewives, church officers, etc.
2. To sufferers. A gardener preserved with great care a choice rose. One morning it was gone. He, scolding his fellow servants, and felt very grieved till one said, “I saw the master take it.” “Oh, then,” said he, “I am content.” Have you lost a dear one? It was He who took it. Would you wish to keep what the Master wants? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Master calling
I. THE TITLE GIVEN TO CHRIST. “The Master,” suggesting
1. His authority.
2. His prophetic office.
II. HIS APPEARANCE--“is come.”
1. In the Incarnation.
2. In the means of grace.
3. In special providences.
4. At His saints’ deathbeds.
5. At the Judgment.
III. THE APPEAL--“and calleth for thee.”
1. In the Word read or preached.
2. In the example of others.
3. By the power of His Spirit. This is
(1) A personal call.
(2) An important call.
(3) A gracious call (Proverbs 1:24). (Preacher’s Portfolio.)
The call of the Master
I. THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST, “The Master.” Martha recognized Christ as her Teacher and Lord. This relation He bears still. All authority is given Him in heaven and earth.
1. He is the true Ruler of the world. There are many forms of government, but all are knowingly or ignorantly, willingly or unwillingly the subjects of Christ. He rules them at His pleasure.
2. He is the Ruler of His Church. His people are not their own, but His purchased possession, and He will not delegate His authority to another.
(1) Secular governments have usurped this authority, and have endeavoured to rule Christ’s people according to their ideas. Such have rightful authority in the world, but not in the Church. No Christian should resist it in the right sphere, but render unto Caesar, etc. But as soon as it intrudes into the spiritual sphere it is to be opposed, and God is to be obeyed rather than man.
(2) Priests have usurped this authority. The Man of Rome has declared himself to be Christ’s vicegerent, and Protestant popes have made similar claims. It is true that Christ’s ministers have authority in the Church Hebrews 13:17), but it is in perfect subordination to Christ.
II. THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. He came to Bethany palpably; He comes here spiritually, “Wherever two or three,” etc. You would feel excited if told that Queen Victoria were here, but a greater than Victoria has come
1. To inspect. Christ sees everything--our conduct in the world and in Church.
2. To listen to the sincere, the half-hearted, the hypocritical.
3. To bless. He has pardon for the sinful, teaching for the ignorant, strength for the weak, etc.
III. THE CALL OF CHRIST.
1. To the careless sinner.
2. To the anxious inquirer.
3. The Christian, halting, idling, sad, etc. Let all respond. (J. Morgan.)
Christ’s call to the personal heart
The line of thought will unfold itself through three principal steps, each including a doctrine, an encouragement, and a duty. The call is
1. In the two sisters we see two sharply contrasted types of natural character.
(1) One is made for practical action. The anxious housekeeper whose concern is that the rooms shall be hospitably ready, and the table furnished for the Divine guest--fit representative of the efficient workers, without whom the regularities of life and the decencies of Christian worship would go to destruction.
(2) The other dwells in a world of silent communion. Religion always has its spring in the heart; and her heart life is chief. Christ blesses her in that character as He does Martha in hers.
2. Out of this marked difference we infer the comprehensiveness of the gospel, which, like the charity it puts first among the graces, suits itself “without partiality” to every sort and grade of human constitution.
3. Forgetfulness of this grand truth exposes us to the danger of an arrogant and conceited judgment of those who manifest their faith in a way different from our own.
II. SYMPATHETIC. The call is in sympathy with our individual constitutions. A common hindrance, to the young especially, is the feeling that religion is something restricted to one particular line and shape. But the Master calls not that He may make you a follower just like some other and all unlike yourself, but just such a self-forgetful Christian as He intended you to be when He made you what you are. You read the biography of some eminent Christian and say, “I can never be a Christian like that, and it is useless for me to try.” Turn from the disheartening comparison to Christ. Though you find Him higher than all, there is never anything discouraging. His sinlessness is so blended with gentleness, His majesty with His understanding of your wants and sympathy with your struggles, that you feel safe under His hand. Notice especially His tenderness towards the two women’s imperfect faith. He never breaks the bruised reed, etc.
III. PERSONAL. He knows our whole personal history from the cradle. Most of us can understand the conviction of the woman of Samaria. At first sight where there is no trust this awful insight might affright us: but the longer we ponder it, the more we shall see its blessedness. There is one FRIEND who understands us, and it is safe to trust ourselves to Him, sins and all. The reason why our religion has so little power over us is that we keep Christ so far away, and regard His work as for the world in general, and not for us in particular. But the text is the appeal of the personal Christ to a person now as then. (Bp. Huntington.)
The visit and the invitation
I. THE MESSAGE.
1. The appellation given to our Lord. The rulers despised Jesus, but these women were not ashamed nor afraid to acknowledge Him as Master. Happy the families that acknowledge Him as such.
2. The message relating to Him: “is come.” He came to the grave of Lazarus; He comes to the graves of those dead in trespasses and sins.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM IT IS ADDRESSED.
1. Those who have hitherto kept at a distance from Christ without ever seeking Him.
(1) Some have not only neglected Him, but provoked Him by open sin.
(2) Others please themselves with the idea of their comparative innocence, and satisfy themselves with a cold, negative, heartless religion.
2. Those who have sought Christ, but never found Him.
3. Those who, after having been admitted to union with Him, are deprived of His sensible presence.
III. THE SEASONS WHEN IT MORE PARTICULARLY COMES.
1. The time of affliction.
2. When the means of grace are fully enjoyed.
3. When the Spirit of God strives.
4. When opportunities for religious usefulness occur.
1. How much to be admired is Christ’s condescension in His love.
2. How great are your obligations to hearken to His call.
3. How obligatory to communicate the message to others. (H. Grey, D. D.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO HIS FRIENDS.
1. Its benignity.
II. THE BEST WAY TO CONVEY CHRIST’S MESSAGES.
III. THE TREATMENT OF CHRIST’S MESSAGES BY HIS FRIENDS.
1. Mary listened to it.
2. Was influenced by it.
3. Obeyed it at once. (Stems and Twigs.)
The gospel message to every man
We have it
I. CLEARLY STATED.
1. The Master is come. Come from heaven, to this earth, for every man. Of all the facts of history none is better attested, more important, or more glorious than this.
2. The Master calls individuals
(1) In the operations of nature, in the events of history, in the working of conscience, in the ministry of His servants.
(2) To heal thy diseases, to break thy chains, to enlighten thy judgment, to cleanse thy conscience, to purify thy heart, and to save thy soul.
II. RIGHTLY DELIVERED. Martha delivered her message.
1. Undoubtingly (John 11:27). “And when she had so said” she proceeds, filled with the spirit of her mission, to Mary. He who delivers the message without being assured of its truth, is no genuine preacher. That Christ has come and calls for men, must be among his most settled convictions.
2. Judiciously. He “secretly” suggests prudence in regard to
III. PROPERLY RECEIVED. Mary received it as every hearer of the gospel should.
1. Promptly (John 11:29). She did not wait to consult her companion. The delay of a moment after the voice has come is wrong and perilous.
2. Resolutely (John 11:30). On an occasion so full of excitement, it required no little nerve to proceed to where Jesus was in sublime solitude. The Gospel call requires determination of soul: there are so many opposing forces and unfavourable considerations.
3. Fearlessly (John 11:31). Well she knew that her going forth would be contrary to the wish of the Jews; but, defiant of their prejudices, she obeys the command. Thus it must be with those who would comply with the invitations of the gospel.
4. Devoutly (John 11:32). “At His feet,” where every hearer should be.
Conclusion: Here is--
1. A fact in which humanity should rejoice. “The Master is come.” What fools those are who go not to meet Him!
2. An example that preachers should imitate--Martha’s.
3. The conduct gospel hearers should follow. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
It is said of Sister Dora that, no matter at what hour the hospital door bell rang, she used to rise instantly to admit the patient saying, “The Master is come and calleth for thee.”
As soon as she heard that she arose quickly, and came unto Him.
The believer goes to the Master
I. IN PROSPERITY hastens to Him for grace to bear it.
II. IN ADVERSITY for grace to improve it.
III. IN TEMPTATION for grace to overcome it.
IV. IN A FRIENDLESS WORLD for sympathy. (M. Henry.)
When Mary was come she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died (see John 11:21)
Christ’s delay to interpose against death
Mary fell at His feet; formerly she was willing to sit at them. The soul is never, as amid such desolation, constrained to cling to “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
2. There is continued confidence--it is still “Lord,” notwithstanding what had happened--seen in the conviction that an earlier arrival would have brought deliverance, and leading to a hope of help even in this extremity.
3. Mary uses the same words as Martha (John 11:21). Perhaps they had often said so. But Mary did not finish her appeal as Martha did (John 11:22); not that her faith was less strong: it was finished in her own heart. Tears break in and check utterance (John 11:33).
4. Yet with this faith there is wonder at Christ’s absence, which almost verges on reproach. Why so late? We shall look at the question in the light the narrative gives.
I. THE STRANGENESS OF CHRIST’S DELAY TO INTERPOSE AGAINST DEATH.
1. Turn to the circumstances around us, as Martha and Mary may have done. Consider
(1) What death is to the sufferer. No happy translation. The end of all earthly sufferings but more dreaded than all. Man’s heart recoils from its accompaniments. When we see a friend moving forward to his doom, what means do we not exhaust to save him? Yet Christ suffered Lazarus to die. And how many have been struck down since of the most lovely and loving; and yet death has no power without Christ’s permission.
(2) What a bereavement death is to the survivors! In a Christian it is not the dead who are to be mourned, but those whom they leave. What ages of agony are lived while the wavering balance is watched! And then the anguish of the parting, and the slow groping which follows to realize it! The childless mother, etc., have wrestled over the dying and moaned over the dead and none seemed to listen.
(3) What a ground of reproach death has furnished to the enemies of Christ. There was no lack of unbelieving Jews in Bethany to take advantage of Christ’s absence. Something like the feeling of the Psalmist must have been theirs, “My tears have been my meat … while they said unto me, where is thy God,” and so now over closed graves we hear the reproach, “Where is the promise of His coming?” etc., and the Christian heart wearies for some interposition to vindicate its claim. “Arise, O God,” etc.
2. Turn from our circumstances to Christ as these sisters did. We believe
(1) That Christ is fully aware of our need. When a friend fails us through ignorance, we do not blame him. As soon as the sisters apprehended danger they sent to Jesus. Without this we know that Christ understands all our need. He can draw nearer than the nearest, and His foot does not step forward to the rescue. Is it not strange
(2) That Christ has full power to interpose (John 11:22; John 11:42). He has not only omnipotence, but the moral right and power, having paid the ransom price. The keys of death hang at His girdle, and that He should not use them occasions strange thoughts.
(3) That it is the desire of Christ to interpose (John 11:5; John 11:33). But if He felt so deeply why did He not come sooner? And if He meant not to interpose why should He weep? (Jeremiah 14:8). Our very confidence in Christ becomes the occasion of bewildering doubts. “Lord … help Thou our unbelief.”
II. THE REASON FOR CHRIST’S DELAY WHICH MAY BE FOUND IN THIS HISTORY. Other reasons there are to be found in the Bible, and probably outside. But here we see that Christ delays
1. That His friends when dying may have confidence in Him, and have an opportunity for showing it. We have no account of Lazarus’s death, but the period has its peculiar use in every spiritual history.
(1) The great end of Christ’s dealing with any soul is to convince it that in Him it has an all-sufficient life, and that with Him it can pass safely through every emergency. But this course of teaching would want its crown if it did not end in death. He invites the soul, and constrains it to put all its confidence into that last act of surrender knowing Him whom it believes, and feeling that underneath are the everlasting arms.
(2) Death is the last touch of that purifying fire which Christ employs to melt the fallen nature, free it from its dross, and fuse it into His likeness.
2. That the sorrowing friends may learn entire reliance on Him. It is a subject for study how Christ leads on these sisters from a dead brother to the Resurrection and the Life, and teaches them through their loss to gain what they could never lose any more. Christ separates our friends from us for a while that we may learn to find our all in Himself.
3. That in the midst of death the union of sympathy between Christ and His friends is perfected. Jesus had given them many tokens of His love while Lazarus lived, but none with that touching tenderness which came forth at his grave. The fellowship of suffering brings hearts and lives together more than all the fellowship of joy. When Jesus wept the mourners knew 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.
4. That God makes this a world of spiritual probation. By His delay Christ tried the character of all who knew the case, and Christ’s delays now are the touchstone of spiritual life. You who would have Him never suffer the tears of His people to fall would lead men to seek Him, not for the love they bore Him, but for outward benefits. But God defers the time for interposition in order that He may sift their characters and prepare them for the day of judgment.
5. That He brings in thereby a grander and final issue. (J. Ker, D. D.)
Trials should be borne cheerfully
In the days of King Solomon there lived among the Jews a wise man named Lokman. His master once gave him a very bitter kind of melon, called the coloquintida; he ate without making wry faces or speaking a word. “How was it possible for you to swallow so nauseous a fruit?” asked the master. Lokman answered: “I have received so many sweets from you that it is not wonderful I should have swallowed the only bitter fruit you ever gave me.” The master was so much charmed with this reply that he gave Lokman his liberty. The beautiful answer teaches us a lesson. We must take the gifts from our heavenly Father with a smiling face; but when He sees best for our good to send us something we do not like, our countenance falls, and even if we do not speak, our sullen discontent is apparent to all. Fretful impatience under bereavement:--The Duchess of Beaufort, on the death of the Duke, shut herself up in a room hung with black and refused all comfort. A Quaker, who found her thus disconsolate, in the deepest mourning, ejaculated, “What! hast thou not forgiven God Almighty yet?” The rebuke had such an effect that she immediately rose and went about her usual and necessary business. (Madame D’Arblay.)
Resignation taught by the sorrows of others
“Peace, Mary, peace,” said a godly woman, who had lost all her family, to a godless neighbour who was rebelling against the Providence that had taken one child of many; “Peace, Mary; while I have six pairs of empty shoes to look on, you have but one.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping
Christ concealing His glory
In this history our Saviour appears under two very different aspects.
As the sun, on some days, sometimes shines out in full strength, and sometimes is clouded over, and yet is still the same fountain of light, so it is with our Sun of Righteousness, on the day of the resurrection of Lazarus. He shines in full splendour when He exerts His power over the grave, and breaks asunder the bonds of death: but He hides all that majesty when He appears under a great commotion of mind, which vents itself in sighs and tears. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
The effects of bereavement
After sore bereavement, Sir Walter Scott says,” I was broken-hearted for two years: and though handsomely pieced again, the crack will remain to my dying day.” Tears--Tears are the inheritance of our eyes; either our sufferings call for them or our sins; and nothing can wholly dry them up but the dust of the grave. (Bp. Hopkins.)
He groaned in spirit
The word occurs also in John 11:38; Matthew 9:30; Mark 14:5; Mark 14:5. The original meaning is “to snort, as of horses.” Passing to the moral sense, it expresses disturbance of mind--vehement agitation. This may express itself in sharp admonition, in words of anger against a person, or in a physical shudder, answering to the intensity of the emotion. In each of the earlier Gospels the word is accompanied by an object upon which the feeling is directed. In the present context it does not go beyond the subject of the feeling. Here it is “in the spirit” (cf. John 12:21)
, and in verse 38 it is “in Himself.” Both mean the same thing; and point to the inner moral depth of His righteous indignation. Taken in connection with what follows some such rendering is required as “He was indignant in the spirit and caused Himself to shudder.” (Archdeacon Watkins.)
At what and with whom was Jesus indignant? The notion of some Greek expositors that it was with Himself--that we have here the indications of an inward struggle to repress, as something weak and unworthy, that human pity, which found presently its utterance in tears--cannot be accepted for an instant. Christianity demands the regulationof the natural affections, but it does not, like stoicism, demand their suppression; so far from this it bids us “weep with them that weep” and “seek not altogether to dry the stream of sorrow, but to bound it and keep it within its banks.” Some suppose Him indignant in spirit at the hostile dispositions of the Jews and the unbelief with which this signal work of His would be received. Others, that His indignation was excited by the unbelief of Martha and Mary and the others, which they manifested in their weeping, testifying that they did not believe that He would raise their dead. But He Himself wept presently, and there was nothing in these natural tears of theirs to rouse a feeling of displeasure. Rather was it the indignation which the Lord of Life felt at all that sin had wrought. He beheld death in all its dread significance, as the wages of sin; the woes of a whole world, of which this was a little sample, rose up before His eyes: all its mourners and all its graves were present to Him. For that He was about to wipe away the tears of those present and turn for a little while their sorrow into joy, did not truly alter the case. Lazarus rose again, but only to taste a second time the bitterness of death; these mourners He might comfort, but only for a season; these tears he might staunch, only again hereafter to flow; and how many had flowed and must flow with no such Comforter to wipe them even for a season away. As He contemplated all this, a mighty indignation at the author of all this anguish possessed His heart. And now he will no longer delay, but will do at once battle with death and with Him that hath the power of death; and spoiling though but in part the goods of the strong man armed, will give proof that a stronger is here. (Abp. Trench.)
He was troubled, rather “troubled Himself,” for a certain Divine decorum tempers all we read of Him, and He is not represented to us as possessing a nature to be played upon by passive emotions. Why? We cannot fully tell. Perhaps, we may conceive the case of a physician coming into a room, where friends and children are sobbing over one whom they supposed to be doomed, himself weeping in sympathy though sure that he can heal. But at least this shows us that we have a real Christ. It was never invented. The imaginary Christ would have walked majestically up the slope of the Mount of Olives, and, standing with a halo of the sunset around his brow, have bidden the dead to rise. The real Christ was a dusty and wayworn man, who wept over the grave, and lifted up His eyes. The reality teaches us that the dead are not raised by a stoic philosopher, with an eye of ice and a heart of marble, but by One who is very Man with the tender weakness that is more beautiful than all our strength. His is more majestic as well as more moving. But could St. John have invented it? (Bp. Alexander.)
- The word is different from that used to express weeping in John 11:33; but this latter is used of our Lord in Luke 19:41. The present word means not the cry of lamentation, nor the wail of excessive grief, but the calm shedding of tears. Men have wondered to find in the gospel, which opens with the express declaration of the Divinity of our Lord, and at a moment when that Divinity was about to receive its fullest manifestation, these words, which point them still to human weakness. But the central thought of St. John’s Gospel is “The Word made flesh,” and He is for us the Resurrection and the Life, because He has been manifested to us, not as an abstraction which the intellect could receive, but as a Person, living a human life and knowing its sorrows, whom the heart can grasp and love. A “God in tears” has provoked the smile of the stoic and the scorn of the unbeliever; but Christianity is not a gospel of self-sufficiency, and its message is not merely to the human intellect. It is salvation for the whole man and for every man; and the sorrowing heart of humanity has never seen more clearly the Divinity of the Son of Man than when it has seen His glory shining through human tears. (Archdeacon Watkins.)
(Text, and Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7):--It is a commonplace to speak of tears; would that it were a common practice to shed them. Whoever divided the New Testament into verses seems to have stopped in amazement at the text, making an entire verse of two words. There is not a shorter verse in the Bible nor a larger text. Christ wept thrice. The tears of the text are as a spring belonging to one household; the tears over Jerusalem are as a river, belonging to a whole country; the tears on the cross (Hebrews 5:7) are as a sea belonging to all the world; and though, literally, these fall no more into our text than the spring, yet because the spring flows into the river and the river into the sea, and that wheresoever we find that Jesus wept we find our text, we shall look upon those heavenly eyes through this glass of His own tears in all these three lines. Christ’s tears were
I. HUMANE, as here. This being His greatest miracle, and declaring His Divinity, He would declare that He was man too.
1. They were not distrustful inordinate tears. Christ might go further than any other man, both because He had no original sin within to drive Him, and no inordinate love without to draw Him when His affections were moved. Christ goes as far as a passionate deprecation in the passion, but all these passions were sanctified in the root by full submission to God’s pleasure. And here Christ’s affections were vehemently stirred (John 11:33); but as in a clean glass if water be troubled it may conceive a little light froth, yet it contracts no foulness, the affections of Christ were moved but so as to contract no inordinateness. But then every Christian is not a Christ, and He who would fast forty days as Christ did might starve.
2. But Christ came nearer to excess than to senselessness. Inordinateness may make men like beasts, but absence of affection makes them like stones. St. Peter tells us that men will become lovers of themselves, which is bad enough, but he casts another sin lower--to be without natural affections.
The Jews argued that saw Christ weep, “Behold how He loved him.” Without outward declarations who can conclude inward love? Who then needs to be ashamed of weeping? As they proceeded from natural affection, Christ’s were tears of imitation. And when God shall come to that last act in the glorifying of man--wiping all tears from his eyes--what shall He have to do with that eye that never wept?
3. Christ wept out of a natural tenderness in general; now out of a particular occasion--Lazarus was dead. A good man is not the worse for dying, because he is established in a better world: but yet when he is gone out of this he is none of us, is no longer a man. It is not the soul, but the union of the soul that makes the man. A man has a natural loathness to lose his friend though God take him. Lazarus’s sisters believed his soul to be in a good estate, and that his body would be raised, yet they wept. Here in this world we lack those who are gone: we know they shall never come to us, and we shall not know them again till we join them.
4. Christ wept though He knew Lazarus was to be restored. He would do a great miracle for him as He was a mighty God; but He would weep for him as He was a good-natured man. It is no very charitable disposition if I give all at my death to others, and keep all my life to myself. I may mean to feast a man at Christmas, and that man may starve before in Lent. Jesus would not give this family whom He loved occasion of suspicion that He neglected them; and therefore though He came not presently to His great work, He left them not comfortless by the way.
II. PROPHETICAL--over Jerusalem. His former tears had the spirit of prophecy in them, for He foresaw how little the Jews would make of the miracle. His prophetical tears were humane too, they rise from good affections to that people.
1. He wept in the midst of the acclamations of the people. In the best times there is ever just occasion of fear of worse, and so of tears. Every man is but a sponge. Whether God lay His left hand of adversity or His right hand of prosperity the sponge shall weep. Jesus wept when all went well with Him to show the slipperiness of worldly happiness.
2. He wept in denouncing judgments to show with how ill a will He inflicted them, and that the Jews had drawn them on themselves (Isaiah 16:9). If they were only from His absolute decree, without any respect to their sins, could He be displeased with His own act? Would God ask that question, “Why will ye die?” etc., if He lay open to the answer, “Because Thou hast killed us”?
3. He wept when He came near the city: not till then. If we will not come near the miseries of our brethren we will never weep over them. It was when Christ Himself, not when His disciples, who could do Jerusalem no good, took knowledge of it. It was not when those judgments drew near; yet Christ did not ease Himself on account of their remoteness, but lamented future calamities.
III. PONTIFICAL--accompanying His sacrifice. These were expressed by that inestimable weight, the sins of all the world. And if Christ looking on Peter made him weep, shall not His looking on us here with such tears make us weep.
1. I am far from concluding all to be impenitent who do not actually shed tears. There are constitutions that do not afford them. And yet the worst epithet that the best poet could fix on Pluto himself was “a person that could not weep.” But to weep for other things and not for sin, this is a sponge dried into a pumice stone. Though there be good tears and bad tears, yet all have this degree of good in them that they argue a tender heart; and the Holy Ghost loves to work in wax not in marble. God made a firmament which He called heaven after it had divided the waters: after we have distinguished our tears worldly from heavenly then is there a firmament established in us, and a heaven opened to us.
2. I might stand long upon the manifold benefits of godly tears, but I contract all into this, which is all--godly sorrow is joy. (J. Donne, D. D.)
In our recoil from Socinianism we are apt to go too far to the other extreme. This accounts for our surprise at reading that Jesus wept. We are not surprised that Jeremiah wept, or that Paul or Peter wept. Why be surprised to hear that Jesus wept, except that we do not acknowledge His manhood? On three occasions Jesus wept. To each of these I wish to call your attention.
I. TEARS OF SYMPATHY. Three thoughts are suggested.
1. It is not sinful to weep under afflictions.
2. The mourner may always count on the sympathy of Jesus. Jesus thought not of these sisters alone. There sounded in His ears the dirge of the ocean of human misery. The weeping of Mary and Martha was but the holding of the shell to His ears. That tear of love is a legacy to every Christian.
3. When our friends are mourning we should weep with them. The truest tenderness is that which distils in tears. When the heart feels most keenly, the tongue refuses to do its bidding, but the tear expresses all. The tear is never misunderstood.
II. TEARS OF COMPASSION (Luke 19:41). He was about to enter Jerusalem over Mount of Olives. Before His vision, instead of the fair scene, He saw the legions of Rome, etc. “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” etc. It was baffled affection.
1. Observe the privileges which were granted the Jews and neglected. Who shall say what glory had been Jerusalem’s had she heard the prophets and Jesus? All hearers of the Word have privileges and visitations.
2. Observe the sorrow of Jesus for the lost. He saw that the chance to save was past forever. He abandoned the effort in tears.
III. TEARS OF PERSONAL SUFFERING (Hebrews 5:7). The tears Paul speaks of very probably referred to Gethsemane.
1. Think not because you suffer that you are not chosen. As Christ was made perfect in His work, through His suffering, so are we thus to be led.
2. Nor are we to think that we are not Christians because we feel weak. Tears are liquid emotion pressed from the heart. It is not murmuring in you to feel the sting of suffering. Yet the undercurrent must always be, “Thy will be done.” Patience is not apathy. Rest sure of this, the prayer cable is not broken. The Gethsemane angel has gone on many a strengthening mission since that day in Gethsemane. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The tears of Christ
I. HE WEPT FROM VERY SYMPATHY WITH THE GRIEF OF OTHERS. It is of the nature of compassion to “rejoice with those,” etc. It is so with men, and God tells us that He is compassionate. We do not well know what this means, for how can God rejoice or grieve? He is hid from us; but it is the very sight of sympathy that comforts the sufferer. When Christ took flesh, then, He showed us the Godhead in a new manifestation. Let us not say that His tears here are man’s love overcome by natural feeling. It is the love of God, condescending to appear as we are capable of receiving it, in the form of human nature.
II. HE WEPT AT THE VICTORY OF DEATH. Here was the Creator seeing the issue of His own handiwork. Would He not revert to the hour of Creation when He saw that all was very good, and contrast man as He was made innocent and immortal, and man as the devil had made him, full of the poison of sin and the breath of the grave? Why was it allowed? He would not say. What He has done for all believers, revealing His atoning death, but not explaining it, this He did for the sisters also, proceeding to the grave in silence, to raise their brother while they complained that he had been allowed to die.
III. HE WEPT AT HIS OWN IMPENDING DOOM. Joseph could bring joy to his brethren at no sacrifice of his own. The disciples would have dissuaded Christ from going into Judaea lest the Jews should kill Him. The apprehension was fulfilled. The fame of the miracle was the immediate course of His seizure. He saw the whole prospect--Lazarus raised, the supper, joy on all sides, many honouring Him, the triumphal entry, the Greeks earnest to see Him, the Pharisees plotting, Judas betraying, His friends deserting, the cross receiving. He felt that He was descending into the grave which Lazarus had left. (Cardinal Newman.)
The tears of Jesus
I. CAUSES OF CHRIST’S SORROW.
1. The possession of a soul. When we speak of the Deity joined to humanity we do not mean to a body, but to manhood, body and soul. With a body only Jesus might have wept for hunger, but not for sorrow. That is the property not of Deity or body, but of soul. The humanity of Christ was perfect.
2. The spectacle of human sorrow.
(1) Death of a friend (verse36). Mysterious! Jesus knew that He could raise him. This is partly intelligible. Conceptions strongly presented produce effects like reality, e.g., we wake dreaming, our eyes suffused with tears--know it is a dream, yet tears flow on. Conception of a parent’s death. Solemn impression produced by the mock funeral of Charles V. The sadness of Jesus for His friend is repeated in us all. Somehow we twine our hearts round those we love as if forever. Death and they are not thought of in connection. He die!
(2) Sorrow of His two friends. Their characters were diverse: two links bound them together: love to Lazarus, attachment to the Redeemer. Now one link was gone. His loss was not an isolated fact. The family was broken up; the sun of the system gone; the keystone of the arch removed, and the stones lose their cohesion. For the two minds held together only at points of contact. They could not understand one another’s different modes of feeling: Martha complains of Mary. Lazarus gave them a common tie. That removed the points of repulsion would daily become more sharp. Over the breaking up of a family Jesus wept. And this is what makes death sad.
II. CHARACTER OF CHRIST’S SORROW: Spirit in which Jesus saw this death.
1. Calmly. “Lazarus sleepeth” in the world of repose where all is placid. Struggling men have tried to forget this restless world, and slumber like a babe, tired at heart. Lazarus to his Divine friend’s imagination lies calm. The long day’s work is done, the hands are folded. Friends are gathered to praise, enemies to slander, but make no impression on his ear. Conscious he is, but not of earthly noise. But “he sleeps well.”
2. Sadly. Hence, observe
(1) Permitted sorrow. Great nature is wiser than we. We recommend weeping, or prate about submission, or say all must die: Nature, God, says, “Let nature rule to weep or not.”
(2) That grief is no distrust of God--no selfishness. Sorrow is but love without its object.
3. Hopefully--“I go,” etc. (John 11:11). “Thy brother” (John 11:23).
4. In reserve. On the first announcement Jesus speaks not a word. When He met the mourners He offered no commonplace consolation. He is less anxious to exhibit feeling than to soothe. But nature had her way at last. Yet even then by act more than word the Jews inferred His love, There is the reserve of nature and the reserve of grace. We have our own English reserve. We respect grief when it does not make an exhibition. An Englishman is ashamed of his good feelings as much as of his bad. All this is neither good nor bad: it is nature. But let it be sanctified and pass into Christian delicacy. Application. In this there is consolation: but consolation is not the privilege of all sorrow. Christ is at Lazarus’s grave, because Christ had been at the sisters’ home, sanctifying their joys, and their very meals. They had anchored on the rock in sunshine, and in the storm the ship held to her moorings. He who has lived with Christ will find Christ near in death, and will find himself that it is not so difficult to die. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The import of Jesus’ tears
The weeping was preceded by groans. After the groans come tears--a gentle rain after the violent storm. Jesus in this, as in all things, stands alone.
1. Different from Himself at other times.
2. Very unlike the Jews who came to comfort the two sisters, and
3. unlike the sisters themselves. Jesus’ tears imply
I. THE RELATION BETWEEN THE BODY AND THE MIND (Lamentations 3:51). Tears are natural. The relation existing between matter and mind is inexplicable. Yet it exists. From this fact we can reason to the relation existing between God and the material universe.
II. THE RELATION BETWEEN THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE. Here we have a proof of His humanity. What more human than weeping? Following this manifestation of humanity is the manifestation of divinity. We should guard against the old errors concerning the constitution of Christ’s person; for they appear from age to age under new forms:
1. Arianism--denying His proper Divinity.
2. Appolinarianism--denying His proper humanity.
3. Nestorianism--dual personality.
4. Eutychianism--confounding the two natures in His person.
III. THE RELATION BETWEEN CHRIST AS MEDIATOR AND HUMANITY, IN GENERAL, IN ITS MISERY, AND HIS PEOPLE, IN PARTICULAR, IN THEIR AFFLICTIONS.
1. The question, why He wept? is here answered.
(1) He was sorrowful because of the misery caused by sin. As Jerusalem was before His eyes when He wept over it, so here humanity in its sin and all its misery passed in review before His face.
(2) His weeping was a manifestation of His sympathy. No comparison between His consoling, comforting tears and those of the Jews.
2. The intercessory work of Christ as our High Priest in heaven is here implied. He is the same there as when here upon earth (Hebrews 13:8). Has the same heart beating with ours. He is our sympathizing Friend and Brother there. APPLICATION:
1. Have you wept on account of your sins? They have caused, and are still causing, Jesus to weep.
2. Do you realise Christ’s friendship for you?
3. Let us learn from His example to sympathise with the sorrows of our fellow men. (T. E. Hughes.)
A unique verse
I have often felt vexed with the man whoever he was, who chopped up the New Testament into verses. He seems to have let the hatchet drop indiscriminately here and there; but I forgive him a great deal of blundering for his wisdom in letting these two words make a verse by themselves, “Jesus wept.” This is a diamond of the first water, and it cannot have another gem set with it, for it is unique. Shortest of verses in words, but where is there a longer one in sense? Let it stand in solitary, sublimity and simplicity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Embodied sympathy powerful
“Ideas are often poor ghosts; our sun-filled eyes cannot discern them. They pass athwart us in this vapour and cannot make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh, they breathe upon us with warm breath, they touch us with soft, responsive hands, they look at us with sad, sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing tones. They are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts, its faith, and its love. Then their presence is a power, and we are drawn after them with a gentle compulsion, as flame is drawn to flame.” (George Eliot.)
Jesus sympathizes with all who suffer
If a man be found weltering by the roadside, wounded, and a stranger comes along, he will pity him, for the heart of man speaks one language the world over. But if it were a near neighbour or strong personal friend how much more tender the pity. That of the man’s own father far transcends those. But the noblest heart on earth is but a trickling stream from a shallow fountain compared with the pity of God, which is wide as the scope of heaven and abundant as all the air. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ satisfying the instinct of sympathy
There is a word in our language--the iron Roman had to arrange many circuitous approaches to it--we borrow it straight from the plastic, responsive Greek--the word sympathy
I. THE INSTINCT. The word has gone through one process since it left its root “to suffer,” which root does not mean suffering in our common sense, but “being affected.” So sympathy does not mean fellow suffering, but community of affection. It may be
(1) A community of congruity. There is sympathy between two persons where there is such a likeness of disposition that they are mutually drawn to each other.
(2) A community of contagion. You sympathize with a person when in some particular sorrow or joy you share the feeling arising out of circumstances not your own.
1. As a community of disposition, sympathy is
(1) The spring of all love. We see in the soul which looks through those eyes, its windows, the very counterpart and complement of our own. Even beauty acts through sympathy. It is not the flesh, grace, colour, etc., but the idea or promise of beautiful qualities which wins the heart. Another may be more comely, but we are not attracted because we read not the disposition which ours craves. We blame ourselves for not loving. Why do we not love? For the lack of that sympathy of congruity represented by the word “liking.”
(2) The inspiration of eloquence. What is there in that insignificant figure, uncomely countenance, unmusical voice which nevertheless sways multitudes as the orator lists. An empire has hung in suspense while one man has talked to 10,000. Why? Because of the charm of sympathy.
(3) The secret of power in poetry and fiction. What is it which draws tears from eyes which know they are Witnessing imaginary sorrows? It is the skill with which genius draws upon the resources of human feeling. The moment the tragical passes into the artificial, the tear dries of itself.
(4) The explanation of all magnificent successes. A want of sympathy accounts for the failure of men possessed of every gift but one. You see it in oratory: there is learning, industry, etc., but the audience is unimpressed because there was no heart. You see it in action: there is education, character, opportunity, etc., but coldness of temperament chilled the touch of friendship.
(5) This sympathy has its excesses. It is so charming and remunerative that some men are guilty of practising on good impulses, and become insincere, and destroy others by means of the soul’s best and tenderest affections.
2. Sympathy of contagion, too, is an instinct. To feel is human; we call a man unnatural, unhuman who cannot pity. But some men feel without acting, and consequently feeling is deadened. Others keep away from them what will make them feel, and waste the instinct. To this kind of sympathy belong all those efforts by which we throw ourselves into another’s life for benevolent influence. This alone renders possible an education which is worthy of the name, the teacher sharing personally the difficulties, games, weaknesses, etc., of the taught.
II. CHRIST SATISFYING THIS INSTINCT.
1. He presented Himself to us in one thrust, as possessing all that beauty which has a natural affinity to everything that is noble and true.
(1) He appeals to the instinct in its form of likeness. We must be cautious here, a not confuse the ruined will, the original temple. Still there is no one who has no response in him to that which is lovely and of good report. The instinct finds not its rest here below. Some profess to be satisfied: they have what they want. They are happy--might it but last; were there no storms and eventual death. But for the rest care, toil, ill-health, bereavement have forbidden it, or they have not yet found the haven of sympathy. The first movement of such in hearing of Christ satisfying the wants of the soul is one of impatience: they want something substantial. What they really want is community of affection. There is offered to them a perfect love.
(2) Christ guides and demands sympathy. He makes it religion, which is sympathy with God; “liking” the drawing of spirit to spirit by the magnet of a felt loveliness. “I drew them with cords,” etc. Without this religion is a burden and bondage.
2. Christ satisfies the sympathy of contact. We might have thought that the Creator would shrink from the ugly thing into which sin has corrupted His handiwork. But He never heard the lepers cry without making it a reason for drawing nigh. Again and again He went to the bereaved, and it was to wake the dead; and this not officially, as though to say, “This proves Me the Christ.” Jesus wept. There was no real peril or want with which He did not express sympathy. He loved the rich young man; He wept over Jerusalem with its unbelief and hypocrisy; He was in all points tempted, and so is able to sympathize with our infirmities. What He sympathized with was poor sin-spoilt humanity, and for that He died. Conclusion: What Christ did He bids us do not in the way of condescension, but as men touching to Him, not loving the sin, yet loving the sinner. Lonely people cease to be alone. “Rejoice with them that rejoice,” etc. (Dean Vaughan.)
The tears of the Lord Jesus
I. JESUS WEPT; FOR THERE WAS CAUSE WORTHY OF HIS TEARS. The finest, noblest race of God’s creatures dismantled, sunk in death before Him, all across earth and time from the world’s beginning. Tears, we know, show strongest in the strongest. When you see the strong man broken down beside his sick babe you cannot but feel there is a cause. Whatever else there may be in the man, you see that he has a heart, and that his heart is the deepest, is the Divine part of him. As the father’s tears over his child testify the father’s heart, so the tears of Jesus testify that He has a heart which beats with infinite love and tenderness toward us men. For we are His, and in a far more profound and intimate sense belong to Him, than children can to an earthly parent. And the relation into which the Lord Jesus has come with our humanity is closer and tenderer than that of earthly parent. We speak of Him as our Brother, our Elder Brother; but the truth is, Christ’s relation to us is Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Husband, Friend, all in One. But He knew--further--that a sadder thing than death and its miseries lay behind, even sin. This touched and affected Him most, that we were a fallen and dishonoured race, and therefore death had come upon us and overshadowed us. Why else should we die? The stars do not wax old and die, the heavens and the earth remain unto this day, though there is no soul or spirit in them. Why should the brightness of an immeasurably nobler and more exalted creature like man wax dim? Stars falling from heaven are nothing to souls falling from God. The one are but lights going out in God’s house, the other the very children of the house perishing. Jesus wept then for the innermost death of all death, the fountain misery of all miseries But while in His Divine thought and sorrow He penetrated to the root and source of that evil and of all evil, the mighty attendant suffering awoke in Him the truest and deepest compassion and sympathy. He wept, then, with each one of us; for who has not been called to part with some beloved relative, parent, partner, companion, guide, or friend? With all sorrowing, desolate hearts and homes of the children of men He then took part. Again, the Lord Jesus felt how much the darkness and sorrows of death were intensified and aggravated by the state of ignorance and unbelief in which the world lay. How mournful to His spirit at that hour the realization of the way in which the vast bulk and majority of the human race enter the world, go through it, leave it 1 for He knew, better than any other that has been on earth, man’s capability of higher things and of an endless life and blessedness. “Like sheep they are laid in the grave,” says the writer of the 49th Psalm, What a picture! Like that abject, unthinking, and helpless animal, driven in flocks by awful forms, cruel powers, they can neither escape nor resist, to a narrow point and bound, where all is impenetrable darkness.
II. Let us consider “THE TEARS OF JESUS” AS REVEALING THE DIVINE HEART. Are we to believe that He out of whose heart have come the hearts of all true fathers and mothers, all the simple, pure affections of our common nature and kinship, of the family and the home; are we to believe, I say, that God has no heart? Some one may say, There is no doubt God can love and does love--infinitely; but can He sorrow? Now, my friend, I pray you, think what is sorrow but love wanting or losing its objects, its desire and satisfaction in its objects, and going forth earnestly in its grief to seek and regain them? Sorrow, suffering, is one of the grandest, noblest, most self-denying, and disinterested forms and capabilities of love, apart from which love could not exist, whether in nature or in name.
III. THE TEARS OF JESUS ARE THOSE OF A MIGHTY ONE HASTENING TO AVENGE AND DELIVER. They are not the tears of one whose pity and sympathy can only be thus expressed, but who has no power--whatever may be his willingness and desire--to help. The tears of Jesus are those of a hero over his native country and kingdom laid waste by an enemy whom he hastens to meet and avenge himself upon. There is hope, there is help for our world; Jesus Christ weeps over it, and He “will restore all things” of which we have been robbed and spoiled.
IV. HENCE WE LEARN OUR TRUE SOURCE OF COMFORT, HELP, AND RESTORATION. He who wept and bled and died for man has proved Himself to be our great Deliverer. Do we ever feel we can go anywhere else but to Him when sickness and death threaten and invade us and ours? (Watson Smith.)
Behold how He loved him
Christ’s love to man
This is seen
IN HIS ORIGINAL ENGAGEMENT IN HIS FAVOUR. By covenanting to live with us, die for us, and take our happiness into His hands.
II. IN HIS ASSUMPTION OF HUMAN NATURE.
1. He passed by the higher nature of angels.
2. He took our nature with all its poverty and trial.
III. IN THE TENOR OF HIS LIFE AND CONVERSATION.
1. His inspiration was that of mercy. When His disciples would have called down fire from heaven He told them that that was not His spirit.
2. This mercy was not a sentiment which dwelt in imagination on miseries it was not prepared to relieve, but was a vigorous active principle. “He went about doing good.”
IV. IN THE SOURCES OF HIS JOY AND GRIEF. Nothing reveals the character so much as the action of the passions.
1. We have joy when our health, friends, temporal circumstances are good. Christ’s joys turned not on Himself, but were connected with the happiness of men.
2. His griefs, too, were not connected with His own poverty and trouble, but with our misery. “Ye will not come unto Me.”
V. IN THE CHARACTER OF HIS MINISTRY.
1. Its subject--salvation.
2. Its invitations, so tender and winning--“Come unto Me.”
3. Its very threatenings are only hedges thrown up against the way to danger.
VI. IN HIS DEATH.
1. He died for us, which is a proof of love in any case.
2. He died when He had no need to die.
3. He died as no other could die.
VII. IN HIS LEAVING THE WORLD.
1. This was expedient for us, not for Him.
2. He establishes the ministry of reconciliation as He leaves.
3. He now governs all things for our good. (A. Reed, D. D.)
Demonstration of Christ’s love
If the Jews exclaimed, Behold how He loved Lazarus! merely because they saw Him weeping at the tomb, with how much reason may we exclaim, Behold how He loved us when we see Him at Bethlehem, in Gethsemane, and on Calvary! Christ’s love is demonstrated
I. BY THE SACRIFICES IT MAKES. The greater the inconvenience to which our friends submit for us, the greater do we take their love to be. To what has not love impelled affectionate parents and devoted servants. But Jesus, “Though He was rich,” etc., He laid aside His glory and lived a life of labour, poverty, and contempt for us. Persons who had seen heaven only would be able to estimate this sacrifice
II. BY THE SUFFERINGS IT ENDURED. Self-love makes us unwilling to suffer. Here again we labour under a difficulty arising from ignorance. We can know little even of His physical sufferings, which were the smallest of His agonies. His mental pain wrung from Him great drops of blood, the occasion of which was the curse of the law He bore for us. Of this He said, “If it be possible”; this extorted the “My God,” etc. “Greater love hath no man than this.” Should we die for a friend we should but anticipate what would come sooner or later; but Christ was immortal: and although as averse to suffering as we consented to die in a most painful manner.
III. BY THE GIFTS IT BESTOWS. Tried by this Christ’s love is great beyond all comparison. He gives Himself, and all that He possesses--pardon, illumination, grace, comfort, heaven. Nor does He give what costs Him nothing. If we measure His gifts by what He gave for them they are inestimable.
IV. BY THE PROVOCATIONS IT OVERLOOKS. To love the kind and grateful is easy; but to persevere in doing good to the ungrateful and perverse, to forgive again and again is the triumph of love. The love of Christ transcends a father’s or mother’s love for their ungrateful offspring. He came to a race which for four thousand years had been disobeying Him, and when He came He was persecuted, and so He has been ever since. Even His professed disciples treat Him with distrust, etc.; but He endures still the contradiction of sinners. Conclusion: Is the love of Christ so immeasurably great?
1. Then surely we ought to return it with a love which bears some proportion to His.
2. Those who have not loved Christ begin to love Him now. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Christ as a Friend
I. KNOWS ALL OUR CIRCUMSTANCES AND FEELINGS. Want of knowledge is a great impediment to friendship, and so is want of suitable expression. But Christ knows all, and needs no laboured utterances of ours.
II. HAS MANIFESTED SUPREME AFFECTION. No mother, sister, or lover can compare with Him. His love is neither impulsive, influenced by fancy, variable, selfish, or fastidious.
III. HAS HAD GREAT EXPERIENCE. He has always been in the world making friends. Abraham rejoiced to see His day; Jacob enjoyed His friendship; and He will continue to form new friendships as long as the world stands. Hence He knows how to treat different types of friends.
IV. HAS PASSED THROUGH GREAT AFFLICTIONS. In such a world as this an angel would be an unsuitable friend; there would be no minor key in his feelings, for what has he ever known of sorrow. We want a friend “stricken of God and afflicted.” Then we can tell each rising grief, knowing that He has felt it. In all points tempted as we are, and as Captain of our salvation made perfect through suffering, He has been wherever it must be our lot to go.
V. IS CONSTANT. “Having loved His own,” etc., He never gave up one friend for another. Those whom He loves once He loves forever. Amid the changes of life, and when we cease to move the affections once felt for us, the Saviour will love us as He did when we were young.
VI. IS KIND.
1. He never reproaches or upbraids. Who has not been subdued by the delicate methods of a true friend? “His gentleness hath made me great.”
2. We should have broken the heart of any other friend; but He is long suffering.
VII. IS ALWAYS WITH US. Some of our greatest trials are by separations. We land among strangers, but Christ is at our side.
VIII. CAN DO FOR US WHAT NO OTHER FRIEND CAN.
1. When the wisdom of friends fail He is the Wonderful,
2. When our friends are dead He abides.
3. When friends are impotent, as at the hour of death and in the day of judgment, He is the hope of glory.
IX. IS EVER ACCESSIBLE. If we called on our best earthly friend as often as we call on Christ, he could not endure it. When we have stated our case to our friend we have to leave it; Christ permits us to state it over and over again. Conclusion:
1. Whoever may love us we cannot be truly happy with out the friendship of Christ.
2. We should be such friends to others as Christ is to us.
3. The greatest sin, which is not unpardonable, is ingratitude to Christ. (N. Adams.)
The tender love of Christ
He never flattered the friends who enjoyed His closest intimacy; but He made them feel His penetrating affection; “See how He loved him” was a testimony to the deep reality of a calm, unostentatious sorrow. (Knox Little.)
The love of Christ
“Behold how He loved him.” What? for shedding some few tears for him? Oh, how then did He love us for whom He shed the dearest and warmest blood in all His heart! (J. Trapp.)
Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave
The burial of Lazarus
“It was a cave,” such as that rocky neighbourhood abounds with, “and a stone lay upon it.
” Among some nations the bodies of the dead were burned, and the ashes consigned to urns. This was never a Jewish custom, though there were exceptional cases in which it was practised (Saul and his sons, and Amos 6:10), which seems to have been owing to pestilence. The Jews buried. When a person died, after the affecting solemnity of the last kiss and closing the eyes, the body was washed in lukewarm water, and perfumed, and then swathed in numerous folds of linen, with spices in the folds. Thus, e.g., Joseph and Nicodemus and the women showed their affection for the Lord. The limbs were bound in linen bands, not together, but separately; and in many cases the very fingers; while the head was wrapped in a linen cloth (the sudarium or napkin), which also veiled the face, thrown loosely over it. The necessary preparations being completed, burial took place within twenty-four hours after death. By a wise arrangement, absolutely necessary in the East, the burial places were always situated without the cities, though seldom if ever at any great distance. In case poverty permitted nothing more, the dead was laid in a grave as with us, and a little plain mason work was placed above; at the least a simple slab of the white rock of the country. For the most part, however, the burial places were caves, either natural or hewn out of the solid rock. In such a cave a number of persons could stand upright: and all around its sides there were cells (no coffins being used) for the dead, of such a size as to contain each a single body. In such a cave, in the rocky side of Olivet, amid the luxuriant vegetation of the district, where birds sang, and flowers blossomed, and feathery palm branches waved, and the soft golden sunshine fell from the skies of morn on the spangled turf, and evening threw its grateful shadows, there the body of dead Lazarus was laid; and, for protection against the ravages of beasts of prey, the cave’s mouth was closed by a large closely-fitting stone, which it required the strength of many men to move. (J. Culross, D. D.)
The story of the grave
I. THE GRAVE VICTORIOUS.
1. In the first family (Genesis 4:8; Genesis 5:5).
2. Among the patriarchs (Genesis 23:2-4; Genesis 23:19-20; Genesis 35:19-20).
3. Over kings (1Sa 31:4-6; 1 Kings 2:10; Daniel 5:30).
4. Over conquerors (Joshua 24:29-30; 2 Samuel 3:27).
5. Over prophets (Deu 34:5-6; 2 Kings 13:20,
6. Over all men (Psalms 90:3; Psalms 90:3; Hebrews 9:27).
7. Over Jesus (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:45-46).
8. Ends all service (Psalms 88:11; Psalms 88:11; Ecclesiastes 9:10).
9. Destroys the body (Psalms 49:14; Matthew 23:27).
10. Opens suddenly to some (Job 21:13; Acts 5:5; Acts 5:10).
II. THE GRAVE VANQUISHED.
1. Redemption therefrom assured (Psalms 49:15).
2. Ransom therefrom provided (Hosea 13:14).
3. Deliverance typified (John 2:1-2; Matthew 12:40).
4. Lazarus brought from the grave (John 11:43-44).
5. Other saints came forth (Matthew 27:52-53).
6. Christ came forth (Matthew 28:2-6; 1 Corinthians 15:3,
7. All shall come forth (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29).
8. The song of victory (1 Corinthians 15:55). (S. S. Times.)
Christ at a grave
I. THE GROANS OF JESUS.
1. Over mortal man. He felt as with an electric shock that He was in a world of pain and infirmity.
2. Over sorrowing man. Jesus sympathized with sorrow as sorrow. He was moved by the mere contagiousness of grief.
3. Over unbelieving man. The sisters and the Jews alike lacked faith, and lack of faith always troubled Him. There might be more than one feeling here.
(1) an oppressive sense of loneliness.
(2) A deep conviction of the guilt of unbelief.
(3) A distressing feeling of the miseries of unbelief.
II. THE WORDS OF JESUS.
1. He spoke to God (John 11:41)--a thanksgiving for an answer not yet vouchsafed to an unrecorded prayer.
2. He spoke to men--“Take ye away the stone.” This was the work of man, and therefore not included in the scope of the miracle. And in religion we have a part to play as well as God. He gives the grace, we must use it. “Work out your own salvation.”
III. THE WORK OF JESUS.
1. Direct resurrection: here physical; in us moral.
(1) Faith; as an effect of the miracle (John 11:45).
(2) Unbelief and animosity (John 11:46). (Caleb Morris.)
The raising of Lazarus
I. THE LITERARY RECORD OF THE MIRACLE.
1. The preparatory order (John 11:39). Christ never sought to accomplish by supernatural means what could be done by natural (chap. 2:7, 8; 6:10-11).
2. The encouraging remonstrance (John 11:40).
3. The solemn thanksgiving (John 11:41); expressive of
(1) Gratitude for the assurance of power to accomplish the miracle.
(2) Confidence that as the Son He always stood within the Father’s favour.
(3) Care for the multitude that they might be prepared to believe when they beheld the stupendous sign.
4. The awakening summons (John 11:43).
5. The concluding charge (John 11:44). Issued
(1) For the sake of Lazarus, to complete his restoration to the world.
(2) For the sake of the sisters that they might withdraw with and rejoice over their brother.
(3) For the sake of the spectators, to convince them of the reality of the miracle.
II. ITS HISTORIC CREDIBILITY.
(1) The silence of the synoptists. Answer
(a) This is not more strange than their other omissions (John 2:1-11; John 2:13-22; John 9:1-41).
(b) This less strange than the omission of the raising at Nain by Matthew and Mark, or that of the five hundred witnesses mentioned only by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6).
(c) This not at all strange if we consider that the narrative would compromise the safety of the family, that it and the earlier miracles at Jerusalem did not enter into the scope of the Synoptists who dealt with the Galilean ministry.
(d) This is required to account for the popular outburst of enthusiasm which all record (Matthew 21:8-11; Mark 11:1 - Luke 19:29-40).
(2) The so-called improbabilities of the narrative.
(a) Christ’s representation (John 11:4).
(b) Christ’s delay(John 11:6).
(c) The disciple’s misunderstanding of the figure already employed in the house of Jarius (John 11:12-13).
(d) Christ’s grief in prospect of resurrection (John 11:35).
(e) Christ’s prayer for sake of bystanders.
(3) The non-mention of the miracle at the trial of Jesus. But
(a) Christ offered no defence at all, nor did He call any witnesses on His behalf.
(b) The Sanhedrim were naturally silent (John 11:47). It would have destroyed their plot.
2. Considerations in support of authenticity.
(1) It is evidently the report of an eyewitness.
(a) In what it includes (John 11:44; John 11:44, etc.).
(b) In what it omits--the return of messengers, call to Mary, etc.
(2) It was performed publicly, and in the presence of enemies.
(3) The Sanhedrim believed it (John 11:46; John 11:53).
(4) The insufficiency of other offered explanations that the mirable was a myth, that Lazarus was not really dead.
III. ITS DOCTRINAL SIGNIFICANCE. Its bearing on
1. The question of the Divinity of Jesus. He proclaimed Himself the Son of God, and appealed in vindication of that to the miracle He was about to perform.
2. The doctrines of the spirituality and separate existence of the soul; which are abundantly demonstrated.
3. The truth of a future resurrection.
(1) It shows its possibility.
(2) It is a type of it. There will be the same loving call, authoritative summons, efficacious word.
(3) It presents contrasts. Lazarus was raised to this world of sorrows to die again. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone
Taking the stone away
I. GOD NEVER PERFORMS AN UNNECESSARY ACT. We know most of God in Christ, and Christ never spoke an unnecessary word or did an unnecessary deed, although He had omnipotence at His command. Had this merely been delegated to Christ as a man it is inconceivable that He should not at some time have put forth His power to gratify the curiosity of friends, or to bind the hands of foes. But He never did; then God never does. It is the merest fanaticism to pray that God would give us a sign and set the universe agape.
II. GOD NEVER DOES DIRECTLY WHAT HE CAN DO THROUGH OTHERS. He has begotten children capable of knowing, feeling, and acting. He has made them free, He gives them the field, He allows them time; they must do the rest.
1. He will never do for the race what the race can do for itself. He could have stocked the world at the first with all the implements of agriculture, travel, and research. But He did not. He put man down among the quiet facts and laws of His universe, with physical, intellectual, and moral powers, and man was to produce the result. God made the garden because man could not, and then set man to dress it because God would not.
2. The same rule holds good spiritually. Man’s agency precedes God’s working. In regeneration there is first the agency of man in Churches, preaching, books, etc., and then the power of God doing what man cannot do.
III. THE HELP WE CAN RENDER GOD IN THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS GREAT DESIGNS. We can remove the stones which hinder spiritual resurrections. What are they?
1. Indifference. This is produced by
(1) The engrossing work of life. Your friend is like the racer who does not notice whether the sun is shining or clouds gathering, all he thinks of is the goal. All he needs is to be arrested and made to feel that he is wasting his energies for a prize he may not gain, or if gained, nothing in comparison with what is lost.
(2) Ignorance. He does not know that there is gold in California, and so keeps at his potato patch. Not knowing the treasures of religion he satisfies himself with the best he knows--worldly pursuits and joys.
(3) The frigidity of the religious atmosphere he breathes. When people are at freezing point they would rather die than stir. It is no mercy in a fellow traveller to indulge a freezing man with a short nap. It may be the sleep of death.
2. Scepticism. There are two courses open to doubters. They may open their minds to their friends. Their friends may sympathetically enter into their questions and answer them, and thus remove the stone. Or their friends may do, as too many do, treat them as lepers, in which case they bury their doubts in their own hearts, and a stone is placed over them. Don’t do that. Do as Christ did with Thomas.
3. The inconsistency of Christians. How many neighbours, employes, are kept away from Christ by the practical unbelief of the professors with whom they are in daily contact.
4. Vicious indulgence which can only be removed by personal influence and example. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The sphere of instrumentality
(text and John 11:44):--Although God alone is the Quickener there are many things which we can do for others.
I. BEFORE CONVERSION.
1. We can call in the Master, as the sisters did. We must earnestly pray for souls and get them in contact with the Saviour
2. We can believe as they did, that whatsoever Christ asks of God will be granted; that He is able and willing to raise the spiritually dead.
3. We can roll away the stone of
(1) Ignorance. Let not the people die for lack of knowledge.
(2) Error--that they will be saved by their good works, etc.
(a) That religion is gloomy, by being happy.
(b) That religion is effeminate, by being men.
(c) That religion is mere sentiment, by experimentally demonstrating its reality.
(d) That religion is not for “such as us,” i.e., the working classes, by showing that Jesus is the people’s Man.
(4) Solitariness. Let men feel that Christianity is social and fraternal.
(5) Degradation. Help men out of the mire of sin.
(6) Despair. Infuse hope into the most hopeless.
II. AFTER CONVERSION. Lazarus is alive, but he is encumbered with grave clothes; it is the business of his friends to loose him and let him go. New converts want loosing for the sake of their own
1. Comfort. Remove their doubts and fears.
2. Freedom. Gently lead them out of those habits which still bind the new man.
3. Fellowship. Just as Lazarus could not enjoy his sisters’ society till his swathing bands were off, so real Christians are kept back from fellowship by a sense of unfitness, etc. Encourage them: compel them to come in.
4. Testimony. Lazarus was unable to bear witness while the napkin was about his head, so young converts are deterred by nervousness, etc.
5. Service. Take them by the hand and teach them how to use their hands and feet for God.
6. Communion with Christ. After Lazarus was unbound he sat at the table with Jesus. Don’t leave the new convert until he enjoys full fellowship with Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man as a helper in Divine work
(text and John 11:44):--God’s power is all-sufficient. He does not need human help. The utmost that man can do is little. What little man is required or permitted to do is for his own welfare and improvement.
I. Is THE REALM OF NATURE.
1. Physical. God has given bodily life, and then continues to uphold its powers, so that man is capable of work within the appointed limits.
2. Natural. God has adapted the seed to the soil, and sunshine, rain, and seasons to harvests; but to man He has given the important work of combining the conditions. God will not plough and scatter the seed; neither will He cut and grind the grain. God stops His work where man’s may begin, and begins His where man’s must stop.
II. IN THE REALM OF THE SUPERNATURAL.
1. The miraculous. It was just as easy for Christ to do all, in the raising up of Lazarus, as only a part. But at the grave He said, “Take ye away the stone;” and after the working of the miracle, Jesus said unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.” This the friends of Lazarus might do, and in doing might either receive unmistakable proof of the life-giving power, or show their tender sympathy for the sisters and the risen man by ministering to them and him.
2. The spiritual. It is the Holy Spirit that gives life or renews the soul, and then the means of grace are to be faithfully used in building up a Christlike character.
3. The providential. Here the renewed are directed to offer prayer for the fulfilment of the promises as relate to nations and individuals, for the evangelization of the world, for the coming of God’s kingdom, and then faithfully to employ all necessary instrumentalities by which to secure these ends.
1. “Take ye away the stone.” This is preliminary. If the word is to enter a soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” the stone of prejudice, ignorance and unbelief must be taken away, and then the life-giving word will enter and do its work.
2. “Loose him.” Let us help others to a greater freedom and larger usefulness.
3. “And let him go.” Let us not chide others if they do not work in exactly our chosen methods, or in the same branches of moral and spiritual work. There is “one Spirit,” and “to every man his work.” (L. O. Thompson.)
The stone taken away
When Luther received the Divine call: “Take away the stone!” the body of the Church had already lain more than four hundred years in the Romish grave, and more than one faint-hearted Martha shrank from the smell of corruption which was being wafted by the stone-removing Reformation; but Luther’s faith prospered unto the seeing of the glory of God. And we, if we would believe, should then know by real experience that the fragrance of incorruptible life, which goes forth from the Head of the Church, is powerful enough to overcome the corruption which Death is working in her members. Before every Lazarus grave of Jesus’ beloved Church the glory of the Lord stands ready to reveal itself. (R. Besser, D. D.)
Pity must be followed by active help
Suppose we had read, Jesus wept, and went about His daily business, I should have felt small comfort in the passage. If nothing had come of it but tears, it would have been a great falling off from the usual ways of our blessed Lord. Tears! what are they alone? Salt water! A cup of them would be of little worth to anybody. But, beloved, Jesus wept, and then He cried, “Lazarus, come forth.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The reticence of power
The Divine modesty, if we may so say, of the miracle which tells us that this setting aside for once of the stern law of death is the work of Him who is the Lord of law, and respects it in all His worlds--the Author not of confusion, but of peace. To have done these other things without means would not have rendered the true marvel greater, it would only have added something of prodigy to miracle, which Jesus never did. What is still more to the purpose, it would have been out of keeping with His working, who never wastes His power, who never confuses the natural and the supernatural, the human and the Divine. In His all-wise hand the two systems are one plan. The supernatural is never made to do the work of the natural, but the natural is the basis and preparation for the supernatural. The principle is a most important one, and most pointedly applicable to the kingdom of grace. You say, if God means to save my friend, or my child, his salvation will be of grace; and grace is wholly supernatural. The new heart is a Divine gift; nothing but an immediate act of Divine power will make him a new creature; just as nothing but the voice of Jesus could call Lazarus from the tomb. True! yet He bids you “take away the stone.” Remove ignorance, root up bad habits, implant good ones, rescue your neglected brother from degradation and misery. Give your children Christian education, prepare their minds to receive the truth in Jesus. Do these things, then may you pray and look for the raising of the morally lifeless. But if you do nothing; if you neglect to teach, to train, to strive and pray for them, wonder not if they sink into utter ungodliness and spiritual death. (J. Laidlaw, D. D.)
If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God.
The soul’s organ of sight
I. THE DUTY ENJOINED. Faith is
1. A transaction between God and the soul.
2. A voluntary process.
3. Is to be exercised regardless of apparent difficulties.
4. Is to be employed in connection with corresponding works.
II. THE BLESSED RESULT. We shall see the glory of God in
3. His Word.
4. The Resurrection. (W. W. Wythe.)
Persuasives to faith.
I. MAN’S SLOWNESS TO BELIEVE. The words of our text may refer to some checking, on the part of the elder sister, of the expectation of a wondrous work to be done by Christ. She had said, “I know that even now whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee.” She was doubtless no stranger to His wondrous power; and yet, now, when He is there, and her part should have been silent obedience, she must needs interpose, perhaps to prevent that very thing which, if effected, would be the consummation of their highest desires. And in this was she not a type of humanity? Will not men acknowledge that God can do all things, and yet interpose difficulties in the way of His doing that which would be most for their advantage? The fact is, man measures God by himself. He will not believe a thing can be done because he himself cannot do it, or because he cannot see how it can be done. Think rather of what He has done, and await what He may, and what indeed He promises to do.
II. MAN SHALL NOT LOSE BY BELIEVING. We are far from denying the possession of faith by the trembling, mourning sister of Lazarus. She knew that He had done great things. And now her faith and theirs was rewarded; for from that dark sepulchre he came forth whom they had so mournfully laid there; and had not the sister indulged the feeling that led her to interpose a check upon Christ’s act, the event might have rewarded her even more. Think of the rewards which Abraham, the father of the faithful, received upon his faith. Must not the result of trusting the infinite God be a good one? If you honour Him, will He not be likely to honour you? A right course is sure to be attended with profit: to trust in God is a right course; therefore it shall be attended with profit. And, as it could be shown that to believe on the Son of God, even on Jesus Christ, is the most righteous course for man to take, so it is that one which is attended by the most profit. It is the means of obtaining righteousness in the sight of God--justification--present peace and future glory--the greatest possible blessings.
III. FOR GOD HAS CONNECTED THE SIGHT OF HIS GLORY WITH THE EXERCISE OF OUR FAITH. “Said I not unto thee,” etc. Wilt thou, therefore, not desire to behold the light of God’s glory--a light that eclipses the sun, and pours fresh life and joy into the souls of them upon whom it falls--a glory that shall know no gloom, no cloud, no night, and yet be always pleasant, always sweet--yea, a thousand times more so than that of our brightest morning of joy after a night of sorrow? Dost thou rejoice to see the light and feel the heat of the sun? and wilt thou not desire to look upon and be beneath the blessing of Him whose smile fills a thousand suns with light? The very love of this world thus becomes an argument for the love of that which is to come. But men seem willing to lose the last in their too eager efforts to gain the first. That was wondrous glory which lit up the dark tomb of Bethany, and” which poured the light of life into those sightless eyeballs; but a greater glory shall shine into and revive the frame of him whom the Saviour shall call forth into everlasting life. How appropriate will the words of our text be in his easel
IV. THERE IS SOMETHING IN MAN WHICH MAKES HIM LOOK FOR GREATER THAN PRESENT BLESSINGS, and this makes the exercise of faith suitable to him. Our life, to a great extent, is one of expectancy. Let our cup be full in the present life, yet are we not completely satisfied. If the Scripture asks for faith it is in harmony with the constitution of man’s mind. The great future throws its shadow forward, and man is conscious of its coming. Rich in all good, it draws him, as the heavenly bodies act upon our earth; only too, too often, he supposes that future is bounded by the time of his physical death. Let him indulge the expectancy natural to his mind only in a larger degree, and let it have holier and better objects. Let him place his expectations in God and in heaven rather than in himself, his fellow creatures, or the world. Let him only transfer his faculty of trust to higher, or rather to the right objects, even to God and His promises in Christ Jesus. Consider, in conclusion, with what force and beauty the words of our text may be addressed to the faithful when they are surrounded by the scenes of heaven--when the promises of Scripture are more than fulfilled. The sceptic may look doubtfully on now, but he will look ruefully on then. Let us look forward with faith in Christ to that glory. (A. Hudson.)
Believing to see
Man always desires to see in order to believing. Martha is called upon to give an example of the contrary process: of believing in order to see. (F. Godet, D. D.)
The seeing of God’s glory suspended on faith
Though the sun shines, yet if my eye is closed I am in darkness. If you meet a man in the spirit of unbelief, or scorn, or pride, he will not unbosom himself to you; and if you so meet God, neither are you fitted to see, nor will He disclose to you, His glory. The order is, If thou wilt believe, thou shalt see. We recognize this order throughout our Lord’s procedure. “He could not do many of His mighty works there because of their unbelief.” “All things are possible to him that believeth.” What is needed is not so much a keen, strong intellect, that can fight its way through perplexities and falsehoods, that can cross-question witnesses, that can balance evidence--not this half so much as the spirit of a little child. This is heaven’s law throughout the economy of grace, He that believeth shall see. (J. Culross, D. D.)
The importance of faith
I. FAITH REPROVED BECAUSE OF ITS WEAKNESS. Martha’s was genuine, but weak, and Christ’s delay was to strengthen it. God’s dealings are mysterious, but gracious in design. Do not question Christ’s power or doubt His word.
II. FAITH ENJOINED BECAUSE OF ITS WORTH.
1. It enriches the soul. “Rich in faith.” “Precious faith.”
2. It is the channel of Divine communications--pardon, purity, peace, joy, etc.
3. It is the eye of the soul, and sees things unseen and eternal.
4. It is necessary to the saint passing securely through the world and out of the world. “All things are possible to him that believeth.”
III. FAITH ENCOURAGED BECAUSE OF ITS REWARD. “Thou shalt see.” Death vanquished by Christ. (J. Dobie, D. D.)
The honour given to faith
1. That which alone is worth seeing, which gladdens the soul, which Moses prayed to see, which holy men of old saw only in glimpses, which heaven and earth were intended to reveal, for the beholding of which our eyes were formed, for the appreciation of which our minds were made, for the revelation of which Christ lived and died, is “the glory of God.”
2. Christ does not speak of God Himself, but of some visible display of His invisible excellencies. The glory of God is that which shows Him to be the glorious Being He is, and through it we reach the knowledge of Himself; but the special glory here is that of the bringer of life out of death. That Lazarus’s resurrection was a signal display of Divine glory is evident from the greatness of the thing itself. To remove the penalty of death, to undo its work, to swallow it up in victory, are things in which man can have no share, and the glory God is to get from it is the greatest next to Christ’s resurrection. One man raised was to show His glory; what will not myriads do?
I. GOD’S PURPOSE TO REVEAL HIS GLORY. Man may hide himself because he has nothing of his own; God cannot, because all His fulness is His own. For His own sake and the creature’s He must show Himself. For the sun to withdraw its shining would not be half so terrible as God’s refusal to reveal Himself.
II. CHRIST’S DESIRE IS THAT WE SHOULD SEE THE GLORY OF GOD. Sin had hidden the Father, Christ came to roll off the clouds. Love for the Father makes Him desirous of this, for He desires the Father’s glory; and love to us, for He desires our blessedness; and all our life, consolation, holiness, heaven, lie in this.
III. UNBELIEF HINDERS OUR SEEING HIS GLORY.
1. It hinders Christ from working those works which show the glory Mat_13:58; Mat_6:5-6; Mark 9:23-24).
2. It hinders us from perceiving the glory that is in the works even when they are wrought (John 6:26). To unbelief the miracles appeared only striking things in which there was little meaning; it was faith that drew aside the veil.
3. It hinders us from enjoying the glory even after we have in some measure seen it. We only get rays at intervals when we should see the whole sun continuously.
IV. CHRIST’S REPROOF OF UNBELIEF AND CALL TO FAITH. Let Christ’s words shame us out of our unbelief. Trust Him in your sorrows as well as your joys, and you will see the glory of God in both. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Faith is of supreme importance
An Evangelical clergyman, visiting the late Princess Charlotte at Claremont, Her Royal Highness said to him, “Sir, you are a clergyman; will you have the goodness to give me an answer to a question which I wish to propose to you?” The clergyman replied, “Most readily shall I answer any question your Royal Highness shall please to put to me.” “Then, sir,” said the Princess, “which is the way a sinner can be saved?” The clergyman modestly replied that Her Royal Highness must be informed upon that subject, and had frequent opportunities of knowing the opinions of eminent persons respecting it. Her Royal Highness said she put the same question to every clergyman, and their opinions being at variance, she requested to have his. He then replied, “Through faith in the sacrifice and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Her Royal Highness then observed, “That is what my grandfather told me; he said, ‘Faith in Christ is everything in religion.’” (Religious Tract Society Anecdotes.)
Jesus lifted up His eyes and said
The words of Christ at the grave of Lazarus
THOSE HE ADDRESSED TO HEAVEN (John 11:41-42). In these we have
1. His recognition of God as His Father. He was the Son of God in a higher sense than any other has been or will be.
(1) In mutual resemblance. “The express image of His Person.”
(2) In mutual love. “This is my beloved Son.”
2. His consciousness of the Father’s regard. Ever in close communion with the Father, to every aspiration He felt the Father’s response “always.” No true word of prayer is ever lost.
3. His consideration of the people in His devotions. “Because of the people.” Audible words, though not essential, and having no influence on God, are often useful to our fellow men.
II. THOSE HE ADDRESSED TO THE DEAD (John 11:43). These were
1. Personal. “Lazarus.”
2. Earnest. He could have done it by a whisper or volition, but He raised His voice to the highest pitch to startle bystanders into solemn thought.
3. Mighty. They struck life into the dead.
III. THOSE HE ADDRESSED TO THE LIVING (John 11:44). Here again is the human cooperating with the Divine. Conclusion: This resurrection is an illustration of that of a dead soul which can be effected only by Christ, may still be entangled with old associations, habits, etc., and requires in order to its freedom the help of the living. The work of a living church and ministry is to loose encumbered souls. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ’s prayer and thanksgiving
I. THE PRAYER WHICH JESUS HAD EVIDENTLY OFFERED. It is unrecorded, doubtless because silent.
1. Probably His first feeling on hearing of the sickness of Lazarus was one of sadness (John 11:5).
2. This sadness it would seem soon relieved itself through prayer. By a natural filial instinct His heart rose out of its depression into confident communion with His Father.
3. The practical lesson for us is not to measure the force of prayer by its elaborateness or audibleness. The most effective are frequently unuttered. This should not discourage public, but encourage private devotion.
II. CHRIST’S ASSURANCE THAT HIS PRAYER WAS ANSWERED.
1. To “hear” prayer in Scripture means to answer, he miracle was not wrought, but the Saviour was conscious of His own adequacy and its accomplishment.
2. This hearing was no rare favour. “Always” (Hebrews 5:7).
3. The secret of this was the perfect oneness of Christ’s will with the Father’s. Many of our prayers are unanswered for the opposite reason 1 John 5:14).
III. CHRIST’S THANKSGIVING FOR GOD’S RESPONSE. Nothing is more noticeable in Christ’s prayers than His sense of filial obligation. Although not inferior to the Father He will not stand on His prerogatives, but as man’s representative shows His sense of need and His trustful dependence.
1. Let us rejoice in this proof of Christ’s complete assumption of our humanity.
2. Let us learn to gratefully acknowledge God’s goodness in answering our prayers (Psalms 116:1-2).
IV. CHRIST’S PURPOSE IN THIS THANKSGIVING. Had Christ wished simply to thank God audible words would have been unnecessary. That were as pleasing to God as the unspoken prayer. But Christ wanted to show others that His claim to be the Son of God was no arrogant assumption, and that His works were wrought by no diabolical aid. In this also Jesus is our exemplar. We must not only have the thankful feeling, but express it Psalms 66:16-17). We should be careful as to
1. The sincerity of our praises.
2. Their propriety.
3. Their earnestness. (B. Wilkinson.)
The force of the prayer and thanksgiving
By addressing His Father Christ put God into the position of either granting or withholding His cooperation. If Lazarus remained in the tomb let Jesus be acknowledged an impostor, and all His other miracles be attributed to Beelzebub! If God, who was thus solemnly invoked, should manifest His arm, let Jesus be acknowledged as sent by Him! Thus this act before the still occupied sepulchre made this moment one of solemn ordeal, like that of Elijah on Carmel, and imparted to this miracle a supreme and unique character in the life of Jesus. (F. Godet, D. D.)
Because of the people which stand by
The folly of merely “standing by”
It would seem to all who knew you a very odd thing if you were seen loafing about a certain shop for an hour and a half one day in the week for twenty years, and yet you never bought a pennyworth of goods. Why do you hang about the gospel shop and yet purchase nothing? On your own showing you are a fool. I do not like using a hard word, still it is used in Scripture for such as you are. He who believes a thing to be so important that he spends one day in the week in hearing about it, and yet does not think it important enough to accept it as a gift, stultifies himself by his own actions. How will you answer for it at the last great day when the Judge shall say, “You believed enough to go and hear about salvation; why did you not believe enough to accept it?” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Lazarus come forth.
A royal command befitting the majesty of God. (St. Cyril.)
Look at our Lord by this grave. How truly man, partaker of our common nature! The sight of the tomb awakens all His grief; the sufferings of these two sisters, clinging to each other, touch His loving heart; and there He stands, forever sanctioning sorrow, and even exalting it into a manly, most noble thing. His eyes swim in tears, groans rend His bosom; He is so deeply, so visibly affected, that the spectators say, “See how He loved him!” Jesus wept. So it was some moments ago. But now what a change! The crowd retreat, surprise, wonder, terror seated on every face; the boldest recoiling from that awful form which comes shuffling out of the grave. This Man of tears, so gentle, tender, easily moved, endued with a sensibility so delicate that the strings of His heart vibrated to the slightest touch, has by a word rent the tomb. Struck with terror, the Witch of Endor shrieked when she saw the form of Samuel. What a contrast this scene to that! Not in the least surprised at the event, as if, in raising the buried dead, He had done nothing more remarkable than light a lamp or rekindle the embers of an extinguished fire, calm and tranquil, Jesus points to Lazarus, saying, “Loose him and let him go.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The raising of Lazarus
I. A MEMORABLE MIRACLE. There is no measuring miracles, for they are all displays of the infinite, but in some respects it stands as the head of a wonderful series, and is a type of what Jesus is doing now in the world of spirit. Its memorableness is seen
1. In the subject of it.
(1) Lazarus had been dead four days. When a man has newly died he might seem to resemble an engine just now in full action, and now though motionless, the valves, wheels, and bands are still there: only rekindle the fire and reapply the motive force and the machinery will work. But when corruption comes, valves displaced, wheels broken, metal eaten away, what can be done now? It were an easier task to make a new man than to reanimate a corrupted one.
(2) There are some who are symbolized by this case, who are altogether abominable. The pure mind desires to have them put out of sight. It does not seem possible to restore them to purity, honesty, or hope. But when the Lord makes them live, the most sceptical are obliged to confess “this is the finger of God.” However far a man may be gone he is not beyond the Lord’s arm of mighty mercy.
2. The manifest human weakness of its Worker. In no passage is the manhood of Christ more manifested.
(1) He showed the sorrows and sympathies of a man.
(2) As a man He seeks information.
(3) He walks to the tomb--quite unnecessary action.
(4) He seeks human assistance.
(5) He prays. This is a parable of our own ease as workers. Sometimes we see the human side of the gospel and wonder whether it can do many mighty works, yet out of the foolishness of preaching the wisdom of God shines forth. Despise not the day of small things, but glory in your infirmity.
3. The instrumental cause--a repetition of the man’s name and two commanding words. A miracle seems all the greater when the means are apparently feeble. So in the salvation of men. It is marvellous that poor preaching, a short sentence, should convert great sinners. But the quickening power is not in the words but in the Spirit of the living God.
4. The result. The thunder of Christ’s voice was attended by the lightening of His Divine power, and forthwith life flashed into Lazarus and he came forth, and that at once. It is one of the glories of the gospel that it does not require weeks to quicken men.
5. The effect on the bystanders. Some believed; others reported to the Pharisees. Never mind what enemies do so long as sinners are saved.
II. A SINGULAR SPECTACLE.
1. A living man in the garments of death. Some quickened by Divine grace have still their grave clothes about them, and the superficial question their vitality.
2. A moving man bound. So some souls can move away from sin, but seem bound hand and foot as to faith.
3. A repulsive object, but yet attractive--how charming to the sisters! So some sinners are enough to frighten people with their groans, but what Christian does not love to see them?
4. A man strong and yet helpless. Lazarus was able to quit his grave but not his grave clothes. So men have been mightily moved by the Spirit, but unable to enter into the liberty of Christ.
III. A TIMELY ASSISTANCE.
1. What are the bands which often bind newly-awakened sinners?
(1) Ignorance, which we must enlighten.
(2) Sorrow, that we must comfort.
(3) Doubts, that we must resolve.
(4) Fears, that we must assuage.
(5) Prejudices, that we must remove.
(6) Evil habits, that we must help tear off.
2. Why are these bandages left?
(1) Because Christ will not work an unnecessary miracle. Christ is as sparing with the genuine as Rome is prodigal with the counterfeit coin. Men could do this, therefore Christ did not.
(2) That those who came to unwind Lazarus might be sure that he was the same man who died. For some such cause Christ permits a quickened sinner to remain in a measure of bondage that he may know he was the same who was dead in trespasses and sins.
(3) That those disciples might enter into rare fellowship with Christ. It is sweet to do something with Christ for a saved person. It gives us such an interest in Him.
3. Why should we remove these grave clothes?
(1) The Lord has bidden us do so.
(2) But perhaps before conversion we helped to bind them on him, and after by our coldness or unbelief helped to keep them on.
(3) Somebody has helped ours off, and if we cannot repay that individual by a similar service let us do so for someone else.
IV. A PRACTICAL HINT. If Christ employed these disciples in this He would employ us in similar work. Saul is struck down by Christ, but Ananias must visit him that he may receive his sight. The Lord is gracious to Cornelius, but he must hear Peter. Lydia has an opened heart, but only Paul can lead her to Jesus. When the prodigal came home the father personally forgave and restored him; but the servants were told to bring forth the best robe, etc. The father might have done this, but he desired that the whole house should be in accord in the joyful reception. Christ could do all for a sinner, but He does not do so because He wishes all of us to have fellowship with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A picture, a parable, or a prophecy
I. Take it as A PICTURE OF CHRIST. Here we note the following aspects of the Saviour
1. The interceding One (John 11:21-22).
2. The prophetic One (John 11:23-24): promising to us the same resurrection that He promised to the friends of Lazarus.
3. The living One (John 11:25-26): who has life in Himself, not as an endowment, but as an element of His Being.
4. The anointed One (John 11:27): the word “Christ” meaning “anointed,” and pointing to the mission of Jesus to the world,
2. The sympathizing One (John 11:28-38): who is afflicted in all our affliction.
6. The commanding One (John 11:39-41); whose commands are to be obeyed, even when they seem strange and contrary to nature.
7. The quickening One (John 11:42-44): who gives life to the dead.
II. Take it as A PARABLE OF SALVATION.
1. Lazarus is the type of a world dead in sin.
2. There is but One who can impart spiritual life, the One who is “the Life.”
3. When Christ comes to give life He enters into fellowship with our sufferings.
4. Though we cannot give life we can help to give it by rolling away the stone and bringing those spiritually dead into relation with Christ.
5. When Christ calls the soul must obey, and come forth from the death of sin to the life of righteousness.
III. Take it as A PROPHECY OF THE RESURRECTION.
1. Death is universal.
2. Death is corrupting.
3. No human power can call the dead from their graves.
4. Christ can summon the dead, and His voice will reach them in their abode.
5. There will come a day when the picture of Lazarus rising from his tomb will be repeated in a general resurrection.
Lazarus of Bethany
The significance of this mighty deed we cannot over estimate, for it is, on the one hand, a profoundly significant symbol of Christ’s redemption, and, on the other, a signal testimony to His right and power to redeem. Whether we regard it as a symbol or a witness, it is equally noteworthy. This great transaction was
I. AN EMINENT EMBLEM OF CHRIST’S REGENERATING AND SOULQUICKENING WORK; and that both in the details and in the substance. The details if followed out make an almost complete allegory of spiritual resurrection. The sinner, like Lazarus, is dead, buried, we may say already corrupt and loathsome. Christ comes Himself to the sinner’s tomb. He bids, “Take away the stone.” He calls His servants to ply all preliminary means. He sends His agents to warn and teach. But when all this is done there is no life till He calls. He cries with a loud voice. It is the “effectual call” of His Word and Spirit. The man hears, the dead lives, the soul is converted. Then comes in the use of means. Let the living help their new-raised brother--“Loose ye him and let him go.”
1. The Divine element in the transaction. The mighty shout which raised Lazarus of Bethany was not the prayer of a mortal. It was the command of God. The Divine will is first cause, without the intervention, in the act itself, of any second cause whatever.
2. This power which raises the dead is the power of God in the voice of Jesus. The Father hath given all things into His hands. The spiritual resurrection is going on. One rises and leaves his lusts and base passions, and becomes a sober, true, God-fearing man. Another leaves his poor legal strivings and becomes a humble debtor to the grace of God for righteousness. Another rises from the tomb of doubt--that “creeping palsy of the mind, despair of truth”--and sits clothed at the Redeemer’s feet.
II. A SUPREME TESTIMONY TO THE DIVINITY AND GLORY OF JESUS. (J. Laidlaw, D. D.)
Newly-quickened souls may yet be spiritually bound
Some of them are blindfolded by the napkin about their head; they are very ignorant, sadly devoid of spiritual perception, and withal the eye of faith is darkened. Yet the eye is there, and Christ has opened it; and it is the business of the servant of God to remove the napkin which bandages it by teaching the truth, explaining it, and clearing up difficulties. This is a simple thing to do, but exceedingly necessary. Now that they have life we shall, each them to purpose. Besides that, they are bound hand and foot, so that they are compelled to inaction; we can show them how to work for Jesus. Sometimes these bands are those of sorrow, they are in an awful terror about the past; we have to unbind them by showing that the past is blotted out. They are wrapped about by many a yard of doubt, mistrust, anguish, and remorse. “Loose them and let them go.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ’s resurrection different from the restoration of Lazarus
There was no revelation of the future made by the restoration of Lazarus, and his silence was in perfect keeping with that fact. He was brought back to the old life, with its old relationships to his sisters, his neighbours, and his friends, and he had to die again. When Christ rose from the grave, however, He did not come back, but went forward. His resurrection was not a return but a going on. He saw His followers, indeed, but it was not after the former fashion. There was a complete difference between the nature of His intercourse with them after His resurrection and that of His fellowship with them before His death. He did not come back to His former life; but He went forward to a new and higher human life, and so His resurrection was also a revelation of the nature of the life beyond. He brought life and immortality to light by it, and He did so because He rose not to die again but to pass in spiritual and glorified humanity up to the throne of glory. This is what gives its distinctive feature to His resurrection, as contrasted with all mere restorations to life--such as those effected by prophets and apostles, and even by Christ Himself. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The raising of Lazarus
I. WE HAVE HERE A REVELATION OF CHRIST AS OUR BROTHER BY EMOTION AND SORROW. This miracle stands alone in the whole majestic series of His mighty works by the fact that it is preceded by a storm of emotion, which shakes the frame of the Master, which He is represented by the Evangelist not so much as suppressing as fostering, and which diverges and parts itself into the two feelings expressed by the groans and by the tears. Here, for one thing, is the blessed sign and proof of His true brotherhood with us. Here we are also taught the sanction and the limits of sorrow. Christianity has nothing to do with the false stoicism and the false religion which is partly pride and partly insincerity, that proclaims it wrong to weep when God smites. But just as clearly and distinctly as the story before us says to us “Weep for yourselves and for the loved ones that are gone,” so distinctly does it draw the limits within which sorrow is sacred and hallowing, and beyond which it is harmful and weakening. Set side by side the grief of these two poor weeping sisters and the grief of the weeping Christ, and we get a large lesson. They could only repine that something else had not happened differently which would have made all different. Thus oblivious of duty, murmuring with regard to the accidents which might have been different, and unfitted to grasp the hopes that fill the future, these two have been hurt by their grief, and have let it overflow the banks and lay waste the land. But this Christ in His sorrow checks His sorrow that He may do His work; in His sorrow is confident that the Father hears; in His sorrow thinks of the bystanders, and would bring comfort and cheer to them. A sorrow which makes us more conscious of communion with the Father who is always listening, which makes us more conscious of power to do that which He has put it into our hand to do, which makes us more tender in our sympathies with all that mourn, and swifter and readier for our work--such a sorrow is doing what God meant for us; and is a blessing in so thin a disguise that you can scarcely call it veiled at all.
II. And now turn to what lies side by side with this in the story, and at first sight may seem strangely contradictory of it, but in fact only completes the idea, viz., THE MAJESTIC CALM CONSCIOUSNESS OF DIVINE POWER BY WHICH HE IS REVEALED AS OUR LORD. A consciousness of continual cooperation with the Almighty Father, a consciousness that His will continually coincides with the Father’s will, that unto Him there comes the power ever to do all that Omnipotence can do, and that though we may speak of a gift given and a power derived, the relation between the giving Father and the recipient Son is altogether different from and other than the relation between the man that asks and the God that receives.
III. THE REVELATION OF CHRIST AS OUR LIFE IN HIS MIGHTY, LIFE-GIVING WORD. The miracle, as I have said, stands high, not only in the greatness of the fact, but also in the manner of the working. With tenderest reticence, no word is spoken as to what followed. No hint escapes of the experiences which the traveller brought back with him from that bourne whence he had come. Surely some draught of Lethe must have been given him, that his spirit might be lulled into a wholesome forgetfulness, else life must have been a torment to him. But be that as it may, what we have to notice is the fact here, and what it teaches us as a fact. Is it not a revelation of Jesus Christ as the absolute Lord of life and death, giving the one, putting back the other? And there is another lesson, namely, the continuous persistency of the bond between Christ and His friend, unbroken and untouched by the superficial accident of life or death. Wheresoever Lazarus was he heard the voice, he knew it, and obeyed. And so we are taught that the relationship between Christ-life and all them that love and trust Him is one on which the tooth of death that gnaws all other bonds in twain hath no power at all. Christ is the Life, and, therefore Christ is the Resurrection. And the thing that we call death is but a film which spreads above, but has no power to penetrate into the depths of the relationship between us and Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ the Life of the spirit
This raising is a parable as well as a prophecy; for even as Christ was the Life of this Lazarus so, in a deeper and more real sense, and not in any shadowy, metaphorical, mystical sense, is Jesus Christ the Life of every spirit that truly lives at all. We are “dead in trespasses and sins.” For separation from God is death in all regions, death for the body in its kind, death for the mind, for the soul, for the spirit in their kinds; and only they who receive Christ into their hearts do live. Every Christian man is a miracle. There has been a true coming into the human of the Divine, a true Supernatural work, the infusion into a dead soul of the God-life which is the Christ-life. And you and I may have that life. What is the condition? “They that hear shall live.” Do you hear? Do you welcome? Do you take that Christ into your hearts? Is He your Life, my brother? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Then many of the Jews … believed on Him.
But some went their ways to the Pharisees
Different effects of the same revelation on different, men
1. Many believed. In their ease
(1) The moral end of the miracle was then answered. They saw the “glory of God.”
(2) The end of Christ’s mission was answered. He became their Saviour.
2. Some did not believe. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets.” The different effect of the same revelation on different minds is
I. A COMMON OCCURRENCE (Acts 17:32-34). The gospel is to some the “savour of life unto life,” etc. In every congregation there are believers and unbelievers. Like the sun, which wakes the vital germ in a grain of corn, and calls into being a beautiful and manifold life yet draws poisonous vapours out of the morass, so the gospel brings life to some objects and death to others.
II. A SIGNIFICANT OCCURRENCE, indicating
1. Diversity in men’s minds. If all men were alike, the same cause acting upon them would produce the same results. But they are not alike.
(1) Naturally. No two have the same kind and measure of faculty.
(2) Morally. No two have the same quality and force of disposition.
(3) Educationally. No two have had exactly the same training.
At St. Paul’s conversion some saw the light, but heard not the voice. Here is an extraordinary circumstance which is common in life. Everywhere there ere men hearing the same voice but receiving different impressions; seeing the same lights, but observing different objects. A voice fraught with deep meaning to some is mere empty sound to others: a light revealing the grandest realities to some discloses nothing to others.
2. The moral force of depravity. Men, through prejudices, sinful habits and carnal tendencies, become strong enough to resist the mightiest evidences and appeals. “Ye do always resist the Spirit of God.”
3. The uncoerciveness of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God, but not a resistless force. It reasons and persuades, but does not outrage the freedom of the soul
4. The need of perseverance in the Christian preacher. Do not be discouraged because some do not believe; other’s will. “Sow beside all waters.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The power of unbelief
Death more readily yielded to Christ than man’s infidelity. (J. A. Bengel.)
The consequences of unbelief
A vessel named The Thetis was cruising in the Mediterranean in search of a shoal or bank, or something of that kind, said to exist beneath the treacherous waters. The captain, after he had adopted all the means he thought necessary, having failed, abandoned the enterprise, declaring that the reported danger was all a dream. An officer on board formed a different judgment, went out by himself on an expedition afterwards into the very same latitude and longitude, and there discovered a reef of rocks, which he reported at the Admiralty; and it was inserted in the charts, the discoverer being rewarded with a high appointment. The intelligence came to the captain’s ears; he would not believe in the discovery. He was a shrewd, clever, practical man, but unscientific, incredulous, and obstinate. “The whole thing is a falsehood,” he exclaimed, adding, “If ever I have the keel of The Thetis under me in those waters again, if I don’t carry her clean over where the chart marks a rock, call me a liar, and no seaman.” Two years after he was conveying, in the same vessel, the British ambassador to Naples. One windy night, he and the master were examining the chart on deck by the light of the lantern, when the latter pointed out the sunken rock on the map. “What!” exclaimed the old seaman, “is this invention to meet me in the teeth again? No; I swore I would sail over the spot the first chance I had; and I’ll do it.” He went down into the cabin, merrily related the story to the company, and said, “Within five minutes we shall have passed the spot.” There was a pause. Then, taking out his watch, he said, “oh! the time is past. We have gone over the wonderful reef.” But presently a grating touch was felt on the ship’s keel, then a sudden shock, a tremendous crash: the ship had foundered. Through great exertions, most of the crew were saved: but the captain would not survive his own mad temerity, and the last seen of him was his white figure, bare headed, and in his shirt, from the dark hull of The Thetis, as the foam burst round her bows and stem. He perished, a victim of unbelief. So perish multitudes. (J. L. Nye.)
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council
The NAME συνέδριον. Sanhedrin is more accurate than Sanhedrim, though this is more frequently used, and means a sitting together, an assembly.
II. SIGNIFICATION: the supreme, theocratico-hierarchical court of the Jews, resident at Jerusalem.
III. COMPOSITION AND ORGANIZATION. It consisted of seventy-one members forming three classes--chief priests, elders, scribes. At that time it was composed of Pharisaic and Sadducean elements. Its president was ordinarily the High Priest who was assisted by a vice-president.
1. Extraordinary: in urgent cases at the house of the High Priest.
2. Ordinary: held daily, with the exception of the Sabbath and feast days, of old in a session room adjoining the Temple, called Gazith, but from a period of forty years before the destruction of the Temple in places near the Temple mount.
V. MATTERS COMING UNDER THE COGNIZANCE OF THE COURT AS A FORUM. Matters concerning a whole tribe, a false prophet, the high priest, an arbitrary war, or blasphemy.
VI. PUNITARY POWER. Formerly infliction of capital punishment; stoning, burning, beheading, hanging, later, excommunication and recommendation for capital punishment.
VII. ADMINISTRATION. Connection with the minor courts; highest court of appeal from these; intercourse with them through surrogates and apparitors.
VIII. EXTENT OF AUTHORITY: legislation, administration, justice.
IX. HISTORY. According to the Talmudists, this court originated in the institution of Moses (Numbers 11:24). That probably was preclusive. So, too, the supreme court of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:8). Increased importance of this institution after the Exile. The γευουσία in the time of the Selucidae (2MMalachi 1:10); the first decided mention at the time of Antipater and Herod (“Jos. Antiq.” 14:9, 4). (J. P. Lanye, D. D.)
What do we
Men active for destruction
Alas! if only this question had been: “What must we do to be saved?” But, like all ungodly men, they are, as Augustine says, more active in devising ways to cause destruction than to escape destruction. “What do we?--this man doeth many miracles!” What a fearful antithesis is here! (R. Besser, D. D.)
It is ever in the way of those who rule the earth to leave out of their reckoning Him who rules the universe. (Cowper.)
The perplexity Jesus occasions His enemies
Man cannot come into the presence of truth and purity without shame and confusion. The Chief Priests and Pharisees felt this in the presence of Jesus. The subject suggested is--The perplexity Jesus occasions His enemies.
I. ONE SOURCE OF THEIR PERPLEXITY WAS FOUND IN HIS POSSESSION AND EXERCISE OF MIRACULOUS POWER. “This man doeth many miracles.” What should have been to them the strongest proof of the dignity of His character, and validity of His mission, only excited their jealousy and increased their fears. Unbelievers fear the power of Christianity, while they despise its teaching, and reject its author.
II. THEIR PERPLEXITY WAS INCREASED BY THE FAME AND SUCCESS OF HIS MISSION. “If we let Him thus alone all men will believe on Him.” The resurrection of Lazarus, added to the fame of Jesus, which had been increasing as He swept along in His career. His success recorded in verse
45. Nothing troubles infidels more than the tenacious life of Christianity,and its irrepressible extension.
III. THEIR PERPLEXITY REACHED ITS CLIMAX WHEN THEY DECIDED TO PUT HIM TO DEATH (John 11:53). Murder has ever been the miserable subterfuge of the tyrant--the ghastly policy of the weak and despotic. But what a condition of heart does this reveal--bewilderment, cowardice, cruelty. The man least disturbed was their victim. Calm and unmoved, Jesus pressed forward to finish His work.
IV. THE DEED BY WHICH THEY SOUGHT TO END THEIR PERPLEXITY ONLY INCREASED IT. To die was the object of Christ’s coming into the world. By
His death atonement was made for sin. The cruelty of the wicked defeats its purpose.
V. HOW VASTLY WAS THEIR PERPLEXITY INCREASED WHEN JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD! Learn
1. How vain and fatal a thing it is to fight against God.
2. That believing in Jesus is the readiest and only way of ending all perplexity concerning Him. (G. Barlow.)
The prime agents in the Crucifixion
In the events of the Passion three chief actors offer in individual types the springs of hostility to Christ. Blindness--the blindness that will not see--is consummated in the High Priest: weakness in the irresolute governor: selfishness in the traitor apostle. The Jew, the heathen, the apostate disciple form a representative group of enemies of the Lord. These men form a fertile study.
I. All that St. John records of CAIAPHAS is contained in a single sentence; and yet in that one short speech the whole soul of the man is laid open. The Council in timid irresolution expressed their fear lest “the Romans might come,” etc. (verse 48). They both petrified their dispensation into a place and a nation, and they were alarmed when they saw their idol endangered. But Caiaphas saw his occasion in their terror. For him Jesus was a victim by whom they could appease the suspicion of their conquerors (verse 49, etc.). The victim was innocent, but the life of one could not be weighed against the safety of a society. Nay, rather, it was as His words imply, a happy chance that they could seem to vindicate their loyalty while they gratified their hatred. To this the Divine hierarchy had come at last. Abraham offered his son to God in obedience to the Father in whom he trusted: Caiaphas gave the Christ to Caesar in obedience to the policy which had substituted the seen for the unseen.
II. Caiaphas had lost the power of seeing the truth: PILATE had lost the power of holding it. There is a sharp contrast between the clear resolute purpose of the priest, and the doubtful wavering answers of the governor. The judge shows his contempt for the accusers, but the accusers are stronger than he. It is in vain that he tries one expedient after another to satisfy the unjust passion of his suitors. He examines the charge of evil doing and pronounces it groundless; but he lacks courage to pronounce an unpopular acquittal. He seeks to move compassion by exhibiting Jesus scourged and mocked, and yet guiltless; and the chief priests defeat Him by the cry “Crucify” (John 19:6). He hears His claim to be a “King not ofthis world” and “the Son of God,” and is “the more afraid”; but his hesitation is removed by an argument of which he feels the present power John 19:12). The fear of disgrace prevailed over the conviction of justice, over the impression of awe, over the pride of the Roman. The Jews completed their apostasy when they cried, “We have no king but Caesar”; and Pilate unconvinced, baffled, overborne, delivered to them their true King to be crucified, firm only in this, that he would not change the title which he had written in scorn, and yet as an unconscious prophet.
III. Caiaphas misinterpreted the Divine covenant which he represented: Pilate was faithless to the spirit of the authority with which he was lawfully invested; JUDAS perverted the very teaching of Christ Himself. If once we regard Judas as one who looked to Christ for selfish ends, even his thoughts become intelligible. He was bound to his Master, not for what He was, but for what He thought that he would obtain through Him. Others, like the sons of Zebedee, spoke out of the fulness of their hearts, and their mistaken ambition was purified: Judas would not expose his fancies to reproof. St. Peter was called Satan, an adversary; but Judas was a devil, a perverter of that which is holy and true. He set up self as His standard, and by an easy delusion he came to forget that there could be any other. Even at the last he seems to have fancied that he could force the manifestation of Christ’s power by placing Him in the hands of His enemies (John 6:70; John 18:6). He obeys the command to “do quickly what he did,” as if he were ministering to his Master’s service. He stands by in the garden when the soldiers went back, and fell to the ground, waiting, as it were, for the revelation of the Messiah in His Majesty. Then came the end. He knew the sovereignty of Christ, and he saw Him go to death. St. John says nothing of what followed; but there can be no situation more overwhelmingly tragic than that in which he shows the traitor for the last time, “standing” with those who came to take Jesus. (Bp. Westcott.)
One of them named Caiaphas being the high priest that same year … prophesied
A memorable year
If this circumstance had taken place in the palmy days of the theocracy, the expression would be incomprehensible; for, according to the Mosaic law, the high priesthood was held for life. But since the Roman supremacy, the rulers of the land, dreading the power derived from a permanent office, had adopted the custom of frequently changing one high priest for another. According to Josephus the Roman governor, Valerius Gratus, “deprived Ananus of the high priesthood and conferred it on Ishmael, and afterwards deposing him made Eleazar, son of Ishmael, high priest. A year after he also was deposed, and Simon nominated in his stead, who, retaining the dignity for a year only, was succeeded by Joseph, surnamed Caiaphas.” The latter continued in office from A.D. 24 to 36, and consequently throughout the ministry of Jesus. These frequent changes justify the expression of the Evangelist, and deprive criticism of any excuse for saying that the author of this Gospel did not know that the pontificate lasted for life. But since Caiaphas was high priest for eleven consecutive years, why did St. John three times over (verses 49, 51; 18:18) use the expression, “that year”? Because he desired to recall the importance of that unique and decisive year in which the perfect sacrifice terminated the typical sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood as exercised by Caiaphas. It devolved upon the high priest to offer every year the great atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people, and this was the office now performed by Caiaphas, as the last representative of the ancient priesthood. By his vote he, in some degree, appointed and sacrificed the victim who in that ever memorable year was “to bring in an everlasting righteousness,” etc. (Daniel 9:24-27). (F. Godet, D. D.)
If some historian were to write that Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States that same year in which the great civil war broke out, would any be justified in imputing to him the mistake that the presidency was an annual office, or in concluding that the writer could not have been an American living at the time, and to whom the ordinary sources of information were open? And who has a right to ascribe to the words of St. John any further meaning than that Caiaphas was high priest then? Whether he had been so before, or should be after, was nothing to his present purpose. The oracular, even prophetic, character which his utterance obtained requires some explanation. That a bad man should utter words which were so overruled by God as to become prophetic, would of itself be no difficulty. He who used Balaam could use Caiaphas. Nor is there any difficulty in such unconscious prophecies as this evidently is. It exactly answers as such to the omina of Roman superstition, in which words spoken by one in a lesser meaning are taken up by another in a higher, and by him claimed to be prophetic of that. Cicero (“De Divin.” 1:46) gives examples: these, too, resting on the faith that men’s words are ruled by a higher power than their own. How many prophecies of a like kind meet us in the history of the Crucifixion! What was the title over our Lord but another such scornful, yet most veritable prophecy? Or what, again, the purple robe and the homage; the sceptre and the crown?
The Roman soldiers did not mean to fulfil Psalm xxii when they parted Christ’s garments, etc., nor the Jewish mockers when they spoke those taunting words; but they did so none the less. And in the typical rehearsals of the crowning catastrophe in the drama of God’s providence, how many a Nimrod, Pharaoh, Antiochus and Nero--Antichrists that do not quite come to the birth--have prophetic parts allotted to them which they play out, unknowing what they do. We have an example of this in the very name Caiaphas, which is only another form of Cephas. But the perplexing circumstance is the attribution to him because He was the high priest of these prophetic words. But there is no need to suppose that St. John meant to affirm this to have been a power inherent in the high priesthood; but only that God, the extorter of the unwilling, or even unconscious, prophecies of wicked men, ordained this further: that he in whom the whole theocracy culminated, who was “the Prince of the People” (Acts 23:5), for such, till another high priest had sanctified Himself--and his moral character was nothing to the point--Caiaphas truly was, should, because he bore this office, be the organ of this memorable prophecy concerning Christ, and the meaning and end of His death. (Archbishop Trench.)
Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people.
What is morally wrong can never be politically right. (C. J. Fox.)
1. The resurrection of Lazarus had raised a wave of popular excitement. Any stir was dangerous, especially at Passover time, when Jerusalem would be filled with men ready to take fire from any spark. So a hasty meeting of the council was summoned to discuss the situation and to concert measures for repressing the nascent enthusiasm. Like all weak men, they feel that “something must be done.” Their fear is not patriotism or religion, but self-interest. They are at a loss what to do.
2. But there is one man who knows his own mind, and no restraint of conscience or delicacy keeps him from speaking it out. Impatient at their vacillation, he brushes it all aside with, “Ye know nothing at all.” The one point for us is our own interests. This Man must die. Never mind His miracles, teaching, character. He is a perpetual danger to our prerogatives. And so he clashes his advice down into the middle of their waverings, like a piece of iron into yielding water, and the strong man is master of the situation, and the resolve is taken (John 11:53).
3. But John regards this advice as prophecy. Caiaphas spoke wiser things than he knew. The Divine Spirit breathed in strange fashion and moulded his savage utterance into an expression of the deepest thought about Christ’s death. Consider
I. THE UNSCRUPULOUS PRIEST AND HIS SAVAGE ADVICE.
1. He was set by his office to tend the sacred flame of Messianic hope, with pure hands and heart to offer sacrifice for sin, and to witness for the truth. And see what he is! A crafty schemer, blind to Christ’s character and teaching, unspiritual, rude, cruel. What a lesson this speech and the character disclosed by it read to all who have a professional connection with religion. Priests of all churches have always been tempted to look upon religion as existing somehow for their personal advantage. And so “the Church is in danger” means “my position is threatened;” and heretics must be got rid of because their teaching is inconvenient, and new truth is fought against because officials do not see how it harmonizes with their preeminence.
2. All who professionally handle sacred things are tempted to look upon truth as their stock-in-trade, and to fight against innovations that appear to threaten the teacher’s position.
3. But the lessons are for all. This selfish consideration of our own interests
(1) Will blind us to the most radiant beauty of truth; aye, to Christ Himself. Fishes which live in the water of caverns lose their eight, and men who live in the dark holes of their own selfish natures lose their spiritual sight. When you put on regard for yourselves as they do blinkers on horses you lose the power of comprehensive vision, and only see straight forward upon the line marked out by self interests. Lord Nelson at Copenhagen put his telescope up to his blind eye at the signal of recall, and this is what selfishness does with hundreds who do not know it. There are none so blind as those who won’t see; and there are none who won’t see so certainly as those who have a suspicion that if they do they will have to change their tack.
(2) May bring a man down to any kind and degree of wrong-doing. Caiaphas was brought down by it from supreme judge to assassin. If you begin with “it is expedient” as the canon of your conduct you get on an inclined plane that tilts at a very sharp angle, and is sufficiently greased, and ends away in darkness and death, and it is only a question of time how far, fast, deep and irrevocable will be your descent.
(3) Has in it an awful power of so twisting and searing a man’s conscience as that he comes to view the evil and never knows there is any wrong in it. Caiaphas had no conception that he was doing anything but obeying the dictate of self-preservation. The crime of the actual crucifixion was diminished because done unconsciously; but the crime of the process by which they came to be unconscious--how that was increased and deepened!
4. The only antagonist to this selfishness is to yield ourselves to the love of God in Christ, and to say, “I live, yet not I,” etc.
II. THE UNCONSCIOUS PROPHET AND HIS GREAT PREDICTION.
1. The Evangelist conceives that the high priest, being the head of the theocratic community, was naturally the medium of a Divine oracle. In that fateful year the great “High Priest forever” stood for a moment by the side of the earthly high priest--the Substance by the shadow--and by this offering of Himself deprived priesthood and sacrifice of all their validity. Caiaphas was in reality the last of the high priests, and those that succeeded him for less than half a century were but like ghosts. Solemn and strange that Aaron’s long line ended in such a man!
2. Being high priest he prophesied. And there was nothing strange in a bad man’s prophesying. Balaam did; so did Pilate when he wrote the inscription, and the Pharisees when they said, “He saved others.”
3. The prophecy suggests
(1) The two-fold aspect of Christ’s death. From the human standpoint it was murder by forms of law for political ends. From the Divine point of view it is God’s great sacrifice for the sin of the world. The greatest crime is the greatest blessing. Man’s sin works out the Divine purpose, even as the coral insects blindly building up the reef that keeps back the waters, or, as the sea in its wild impotent rage, seeking to overwhelm the land, only throws upon the beach a barrier that confines its waves and curbs their fury.
(2) The two-fold consequences of that death upon the nation itself.
(a) The thing which Caiaphas had tried to prevent was brought about by the deed itself. Christ’s death was the destruction, and not the salvation, of the nation.
(b) And yet it was true that He died for that people, for Caiaphas as truly as for John. You must either build upon Christ, the Foundation Stone, or be crushed into powder under Him.
4. The two-fold sphere in which that death works its effect. When John wrote the narrower national system had been shivered, and from out of the dust and ruin had emerged the firmer reality of a Church as wide as the world.
(1) The scattered children of God were to be united round the Cross. The only bond that unites men is their common relation to Christ. That is deeper than all the bonds of nation, blood, race, society, etc.
(2) Christ’s death brings men into the family of God. “To as many as received Him,” etc. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Truth borne by strange witnesses
A flaming torch may be found in a blind man’s hand. (J. Trapp.)
Caiaphas; or, a glance as government, human and Divine
I. AN INIQUITOUS POLICY IN THE GOVERNMENT OF MAN. At the meeting of the Sanhedrim two things were admitted--Christ’s mighty deeds; His power over the people, These admissions by enemies are important as evidence and significant as lessons. In relation to Caiaphas’s policy, note
1. That it was apparently adapted to the end. Christ was alienating the people from the institutions of the country, and shaking their faith in its authorities; and the most effective plan for terminating the mischief seemed to be to put Him to death.
2. Though seemingly adapted to the end it was radically wrong in principle. The Victim was innocent. The apparent fitness of a measure to an end does not make it right.
3. Being radically wrong it was ultimately ruinous. It brought upon them the judgments which broke up the Commonwealth. Let Governments study the policy of Caiaphas.
II. A STUPENDOUS FACT IN THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. Caiaphas unconsciously predicts a feature of the Divine administration--that the death of Christ was necessary to the salvation of others.
1. Negatively. The death of Christ
(1) Does not change the mind of God in relation to man. It is the expression, proof, and medium of God’s love.
(2) Does not relax the claims of laws. Nothing can do this but annihilation.
(3) Does not mitigate the enormity of sin, but rather increases it.
(4) Does not change the necessary conditions of spiritual improvement--the intellectual study, heart application, and devotional practice of Divine truth.
(1) It gives a new revelation of God.
(2) It gives new motives to obedience. “Ye are not your own,” etc.
(3) It supplies new helps to spiritual culture.
(a) The highest ideal--the character of Christ.
(b) The highest incentives--gratitude, esteem, benevolence.
(c) The highest Minister--God’s Spirit. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The modern Caiaphas
Caiaphas appears in three characters.
I. As a WITNESS
1. To the truth of Christ’s miracles. He had every reason to deny it, and that he did not is certain evidence that he could not. In this he was wiser than his modern disciples, who admire Christ’s doctrines but deny His works. Eliminate the latter and you throw discredit on the authenticity of the former. If Christ be not risen (the greatest miracle), says Paul, preaching is false and faith vain. And if you get rid of Christ’s miracles, what about those of nature and man?
2. To the power of formality--the deep seated hatred of innovation which is in man. Christ was a mighty Phenomenon. He struck out a new line of thought and life, and those who do that must expect opposition. When Wilberforce began his career a nobleman pointed to a picture of the Crucifixion and said, “That is the end of reformers.” If you have not found it true it is because you have not tried to reform anything. Men hate to be disturbed in their sins.
3. To Christ as a disturbing force in history. He may be hated and crucified, but He cannot be ignored. He brings Divine tumult with Him, and divides the world into hostile camps. All kingdoms are shaken that His kingdom may be set up. From the days of Caiaphas to now the supreme question is,
“What think ye of Christ?” “What are we to do?” said the priest. “How long halt ye?” etc. If Christ be false then “away with Him.” But if He be true be honest enough to act on your conviction.
II. As a PROPHET. The gift of prophecy was supposed never to have died out of the Jewish priesthood. So when Caiaphas arose all voices were hushed as he said, “It is expedient,” etc. Mark how God raises the speech of a frantic bigot so that it becomes a prophecy of the atonement. Even as storm, wind, hail, etc., do God’s bidding no less than the sunshine, so God uses even evil men to do the very thing they oppose. What does sceptical criticism do for Christ but reveal that there is that which is above all criticism. The mountain is never so grand as when the storm gathers round it. And so Christ stands unshaken, triumphant amid the loud tempest and tumult of history. The wrath of men praises Him, etc.
III. As a PHILOSOPHER. He recognizes the sacrificial element which has always been at work in society. Do you turn to Leviticus and regard it as an obsolete record of curious ancient custom? If so you will never grasp its significance, which goes down to the root of human life. The word written across the Book is “sacrifice.” Life is built up of sacrifice. It is the law of motherhood and of love, the soul of heroism, the essence of nobleness. Ages sacrifice themselves for the race that follows. There is nothing Diviner than for a man to die for sins not his own. The world will never be redeemed until men are ready to die for it. Caiaphas defines the meaning of Christ in history. He is “the Lamb of God.” (W. J. Dawson.)
The counsel of Caiaphas
I. THE DEATH OF CHRIST AS A POLITICAL CRIME.
1. The real reason: because Christ would not be another Maccabaeus to achieve political emancipation.
2. The ostensible pretext: that He threatened to bring them into conflict with the Roman power, and thus imperilled their interests
3. The fatal blunder. All political crimes are blunders. The murder of Jesus brought about the destruction of the Jewish State.
II. THE DEATH OF CHRIST AS A DIVINE SACRIFICE.
1. Its substitutionary character. It was, and that according to the Divine intention, the death of one Man for the people. The Son of Man gave His life a ransom for many, and died the just for the unjust.
2. Its worldwide significance. Christ died not for Jews only but for Gentiles 1 John 2:2).
3. Its ultimate design: “that He shall gather,” etc. (John 10:16).
The enlargement of the Spirit on Caiaphas’s prophecy
I. FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED.
1. The Jews.
2. The children of God scattered abroad.
(1) Then living.
(2) Throughout all time.
II. THE PURPOSE OF HIS DEATH CONCERNING THESE: to gather them into one. Christ’s dying is
1. The great attraction to our hearts.
2. The great centre of our unity.
(1) By the merit of His death recommending all in one to the favour of God.
(2) By the motive of His death drawing each to the love of every other. (M. Henry.)
A certain town called Ekrikok was devoted to destruction for high treason. But it was allowed to redeem itself, partly by a fine and partly by one life being offered in expiatory sacrifice for the whole, which was accomplished in the person of a new slave, bought for the purpose. Mr. Waddell, the missionary, remonstrating on the subject with “Old Egho Jack, the head of a great family,” that personage asserted that “it was impossible the affair could be settled without a death, for Egho law was the same as God’s law to Calabar,” and he pointedly asked me if it were better for all Ekrikok to die, or for one slave to die for all the town? I thought of the words of Caiaphas, and of the value of life as a substitution and atonement for sin. A poor slave, bought in the market for a few hundred coppers, by his death redeemed a town, for which many thousands of money would have availed nothing. (Missionary Record of the U. P. Church.)
In the time of Napoleon I a certain man agreed to join the ranks in the place of a comrade who had been drafted. The offer was accepted, the battle was fought, and the man was killed. Some time after another draft was made, and they wanted a second time to take the man whose substitute had been shot. “No,” said he, “you can’t take me; I’m dead. I was shot at such a battle.” “Why, man, you are crazy. Look here, you got a substitute; another man went in your place, but you have not been shot.” “No, but he died in my place; he went as my substitute.” They would not recognize it, and it was carried up to the Emperor; but the Emperor said the man was right. Napoleon I recognized the doctrine of substitution. (D. L. Moody.)
Some 350 years B.C. a great chasm opened in the Forum of Rome, which the soothsayers declared could only be filled up by throwing into it Rome’s greatest treasure. Thereupon Mettus Curtius, a young and noble Roman knight, arrayed himself in full armour, and mounted his charger, and, declaring that Rome possessed no greater treasure than a brave citizen, leaped into the chasm, upon which the earth closed over him. (W. Baxendale.)
The sacrifice of one the salvation of many
At Ragenbach in Germany one afternoon a great number of people were assembled in the large room of the inn. The room door stood open and the village blacksmith, a pious, brave-hearted man, sat near the door. All at once a mad dog rushed in, but was seized by the smith with an iron grasp and dashed on the floor. “Stand back, my friends,” cried he. “Now hurry out while I hold him. Better for one to perish than for all.” The dog bit furiously on every side. His teeth tore the arms and thighs of the heroic smith, but he would not let go his hold. When all the people had escaped he flung the half-strangled beast from him against the wall, left the room and locked the door. The dog was shot; but what was to become of the man? The friends whose lives he had saved stood round him weeping. “Be quiet, my friends,” he said, “don’t weep for me: I’ve only done my duty. When I am dead think of me with love; and now pray for me that God will not let me suffer long or too much. I know I shall become mad, but I will take care that no harm comes to you through me.” Then he went to his shop. He took a strong chain. One end of it he rivetted with his own hands round his body, the other end he fastened round the anvil so strongly that no earthly power could loose it. Then he turned to his friends and said, “Now it’s done! You are all safe. I can’t hurt you. Bring me food while I am well and keep out of my reach when I am mad. The rest I leave with God.” Soon madness seized him, and in nine days he died--died gloriously for his friends; but Christ died for His enemies. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The plague was making a desert of the city of Marseilles; death was everywhere. The physicians could do nothing. In one of their councils it was decided that a corpse must be dissected; but it would be death to the operator. A celebrated physician of the number arose, and said, “I devote myself for the safety of my country. Before this numerous assembly, I swear in the name of humanity and religion, that tomorrow at the break of day I will dissect a corpse and write down as I proceed what I observe.” He immediately left the room, made his will, and spent the night in religious exercises. During the day a man had died in the house of the plague and at daybreak on the following morning the physician, whose name was Guyon, entered the room and critically made the necessary examinations, writing down all his surgical observations. He then left the room, threw the papers into a vase of vinegar that they might not convey the disease to another, and retired to a convenient place where he died in twelve hours. (Homiletic Monthly.)
From that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death
THE CROWNING CRIME OF HUMANITY
1. It was sanctioned by religion. A religious institution is often the corruptest, and a religious man the worst.
2. It was pursued with deliberation. When murder is perpetrated by the impulse of passion it is an awful crime: when by cold deliberation it is worse; when by the deliberation of one man it is hideous; but when by the deliberation of a whole assembly its enormity is enhanced.
3. It was delayed by Christ (John 11:54).
II. THE MANIFOLD ASPECTS OF WICKEDNESS.
1. Wretched superstition (John 11:55). They could not partake of the passover if they were defiled. But here are men with murder in their hearts careful to attend a mere ceremony. Wickedness often runs into superstition.
2. Profane curiosity (John 11:56). It was a sort of betting whether He would come or not.
3. Organized malice (John 11:57). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Watching the good to take them
When John Huss retired from the consistory of the Pope and cardinals, his lodging was encircled from that time by watchful sentinels; and a monk was let loose upon him, to ensnare him with dangerous questions--for Huss had protested that he had rather die than be justly condemned as a heretic; and that if convinced of error he would make full recantation. He had the shrewdness to “detect in the monk, who affected the utmost simplicity, one of the subtlest theologians of the day.” Jesus therefore walked no more openly.
I. THE CONCEALMENT OF CHRIST’S PERSON
1. The reason of His retirement. The fresh outburst of hostility provoked by the raising of Lazarus. Christ never ceased to exercise a holy watchfulness over His personal safety. Not until His hour was come, and the Father gave the signal, would He expose Himself. Nor was it worth while to continue testifying to a generation that would not see or hear. Jerusalem’s day of grace had closed, and He had withdrawn forever. When next He appeared in her streets it would be to fall a victim to her murderous hate, and thereby save a world.
2. The place of His seclusion. Ephraim in the neighbourhood of Bethel, about twenty miles to the northeast of Jerusalem, on the confines of the Judaean wilderness. It was a region full of great memories of Abraham, and Genesis 12:8; Genesis 28:10-19; Genesis 35:14).
3. The occupation of Christ while at Ephraim. The time spent was about six weeks; and was spent we doubt not in instructing His disciples and preparing Himself for the end.
II. THE COMMOTION AT JERUSALEM ON ACCOUNT OF CHRIST’S PROLONGED ABSENCE (verse 56).
1. The disappointed search. The country people hoped to find Christ in the Temple. There they had seen Him on earlier visits. This was the most natural place to look for Him, and is still. Nor will any who seek with their whole hearts look in vain,
2. The animated conversation. Not finding Christ they formed themselves into eager groups to talk about Him--the best object of talk, given a praiseworthy spirit, as seen in the Emmaus travellers, but not in Caiaphas or these idle and curious gossips.
3. The reduplicated question. They hardly anticipated His presence, because of the action of the Sanhedrim. But they were in error, showing how little reason is capable of understanding the movements of the God of grace. Christ had every reason for being present at the feast. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Many went … to purify themselves
Ceremonial purity not enough
The most of them, it may be feared, neither knew nor cared anything about inward purity. They made much ado about the washings, etc., which formed the essence of popular Judaism, and yet they were willing in a few days to shed innocent blood. Strange as it may appear, these very sticklers for outward sanctification were found ready to do the will of the Pharisees and put Christ to death. Extremes like these meeting in the same person, are unhappily far from uncommon. Experience shows that a bad conscience will often try to satisfy itself by a show of zeal for the cause of religion, while the “weightier matters” of the faith are entirely neglected. The very same man who is ready to compass sea and land to attain ceremonial purity, is often the very man, who, if he had fit opportunity, would not shrink from helping to crucify Christ. Startling as these assertions may seem, they are abundantly borne out by plain facts. The cities where Lent is kept at this day with the most extravagant strictness, are the very cities where the carnival after Lent is a season of glaring excess and immorality. The people in some parts of Christendom, who make much ado one week about fasting and priestly absolution, are the very people who another week will think nothing of murder! These things are simple realities. The hideous inconsistency of the Jewish formalists in our Lord’s time has never been without a long succession of followers. A religion which expends itself in zeal for outward formalities, is utterly worthless in God’s sight. The purity that God desires to see is not that of bodily washing and fasting, of holy water and self-imposed asceticism, but purity of heart. Will worship and ceremonialism may “satisfy the flesh,” but they do not tend to promote real godliness. The standard of Christ’s kingdom must be sought in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:8; Colossians 2:23). (Bp. Ryle.)
What think ye that He will not come to the feast
Will He come to the feast?
The question was doubtless asked from a variety of motives. Curiosity prompted it in many; the fame of Jesus had reached the town or village where they lived; they had heard of His power to heal the sick and raise to life the dead, and the miracle performed on Lazarus had been the talk of the place for weeks; they wished to see what He was like who did such wondrous things. This they thought was their only opportunity, so anxiously they asked whether He had yet come; and when answered in the negative, asked whether they thought He would. There were also some sullen, evil-eyed Pharisees, who gathered together in groups, argued the likelihood of His presence. But in all probability the vast majority of those who asked the question did so because they felt a true desire to see Him, and hear the words of His mouth. To be in His company was their chief inducement in journeying to Jerusalem. “Will He come to the feast?” is ever the language of God’s people in all their gatherings; and the motive that prompts the question is that of intense desire for His presence and company. Let us then dwell upon the text not as the language of the Jew at the passover feast, but as the question of the saint in relation to every service. We will dwell first on THE QUESTION AND DIFFERENT REASONS FOR ASKING IT; secondly, we will GIVE OUR ANSWER AND THE REASONS FOR IT BEING SUCH AS IT IS; thirdly, MENTION SOME SIGNS INDICATIVE OF HIS BEING AT THE FEAST; AND LASTLY, TRY AND POINT OUT SOME WAYS TO ENSURE HIS COMPANY.
I. First then--THE QUESTION. It was, “Will He come?” They saw many others going up to the feast, but that sight satisfied them not. Ii is a happy thing to come to the feasts of the Lord, surrounded by family and friend s, and if He be present, their company lends an extra charm. But how, if He be absent? Can they supply His place? Ah, “No.” The goodness of a meeting can never be reckoned by its numbers. A crowded house may be full without Christ, and the room with only the “two or three” may be full with Him. Nor will the respectability of those present. The best families in the land were doubtless represented in Jerusalem as well as the poorest. Yet their presence in no way lessened the desire for Christ’s, the prosperity of the Church, or the value of its services. The child of God would sooner worship with the poorest and their Lord, than with the wealthiest without Him. Many of these Jews had come on purpose to see Him. The journey had been undertaken with this expectation. Let them see never such glorious sights, yet if they see not Him they must return to their homes disappointed men and women, the one design of their coming being unfulfilled. Say, child of God, has not the expectation of meeting your Lord been the sole motive power that has brought you here? There are many reasons prompting the question; dwell on one, and that is that we feel it will not be a feast at all if He does not come. No true child of God can feast on externals. Without Christ the feast is no better than a fast. Here is the touchstone whereby the true saint is discovered, and the formalist detected. The latter is satisfied with the temple--the people and the service. He never takes the trouble to seek Jesus or ask whether He be at the feast or no. He will desire his Lord’s presence, moreover, because it is His being at the feast that gives him a spiritual appetite. Not only must Christ give us the food but He must also give us the appetite to desire the food; and this is most necessary, for the very choicest of food is insipid to the taste if appetite be wanting. This question was also asked, because they knew there were many reasons why He should stay away from the feast. The high priests were up in arms against Him. The Sanhedrim had determined His death. And do not we know of many things sufficient to make us doubt whether He can come into our company? Has He lived in our warmest heart’s affections? Have we not to confess to a terrible amount of worldliness, coldness and indifference? Have we not often been ashamed of Him? Blushed to speak His name? Have we not also been often absent from the feast when He has been present? There is yet another cause sufficient to make us wonder whether He can come to the feast, and it is the many vows we have made at former feasts and broken.
II. Secondly, I WILL TRY TO GIVE THE ANSWER AND SOME REASONS FOR IT BEING WHAT IT IS. “Will He come to the feast?” I reply, “Yes, I think He will.” Nay, “I believe He will.” Yea, more, “I know He will.” My reasons for giving such an answer are fourfold.
1. I think He will come to the feast because He loves it Himself Is it a joy to you to commune with Him? It is an equal joy to Him so to do. De you love His company? He also loves yours. It is no irksome work to Him to be in company with His people. Therefore, because it is His delight I think He will come to the feast.
2. I think moreover He will come because He has instituted the feast and invited us to it.
3. Very likely also these Jews entertained the hope He would come from the fact that He had often come before. May not we do the same? Cannot we call to mind many times when He has favoured us with His company at the feast, when we have been no more deserving of it than we are now.
III. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF HIS BEING AT THE FEAST?
1. A melting heart on account of sin. Our own unworthiness will appear great in proportion as we have communion with Christ. Self and Christ can never stand together, where He is, self lies in the dust. Pride will be trampled under foot, and every soul be filled with what John Newton termed “pleasing grief.”
2. A second sign of His presence will be a joyful heart on account of pardon. When Christ visits His people, He not only makes them see the number of their sins, but also their complete pardon, and it is this double sight that prepares the soul for sweetest fellowship.
3. The third sign of Jesus being at the feast is an indifference and forgetfulness about all externals.
IV. And now fourthly and lastly.
I WILL TRY AND POINT OUT SOME WAYS TO ENSURE HIS COMPANY.
1. The first and most apparent way is by asking for it. Christ will never say “nay” to the united request of His people, and we may rest most assured, that when that united request is simply for His presence it will be granted.
2. Another way is by forgiveness. Nothing so surely hinders Christ’s communing with us as an unforgiving spirit; where that is, the joy of fellowship cannot be. And now, poor sinner, ere we close, a word to you. Jesus is here, closer to each one of us than we are to the other. He is by your side. He has come up now to the feast. What will you do? What will you say to Him? Oh, invite Him to your feast; tell Him “you have nothing to offer Him but a broken heart and contrite spirit,” and He will not despise that. (A. G. Brown.)
I. CHRIST WILL CERTAINLY BE AT OUR FEASTS AS A JUDICIAL SPECTATOR. As God, He is everywhere. No walls or doors will keep Him out. He will know the moral character and bearing of every feast, and bring “every work to judgment,” etc.
II. HE MAY COME AS A LOVING FRIEND.
1. He is preeminently social in His nature. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.”
2. He personally attended feasts when on earth.
3. He has promised to be present in the social gatherings of His people through all time. “If any man will love me,” “Where two or three are gathered,” etc. If He is not with you it is your fault. Have you invited Him? “Behold I stand,” etc.
III. IF HE DOES NOT COME AS A LOVING FRIEND WE HAD BETTER NOT HAVE THE FEAST AT ALL. If He is absent
1. It would be an affair unworthy of our natures.
2. It will be an affair pernicious to us. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The place of the chapter in the Evangelical history
Every intelligent reader of the gospel will see that John purposely omits at this point certain events which are recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He passes at once from our Lord’s retirement to the city called Ephraim to His return to Bethany for the last time. In this interval will be found the things related in Matthew 20:17-34; Mark 10:32-52; Luke 18:31 to Luke 19:1-28. In whatever part of Palestine this city Ephraim was, it is almost certain that between it and Bethany Jesus passed through Jericho, healed two blind men there, converted the publican Zacchaeus, and spoke the parable of the nobleman who went into a far country, after giving to his ten servants ten pounds. Why St. John did not record these facts we do not know, and it is mere waste of time to inquire. A reverent mind will be content to remember that John wrote by inspiration of God, and was guided by infallible direction, both as to what he recorded and what he did not record. Reason and common sense, moreover, tell us that if the four Evangelists had all narrated exactly the same things, their value as independent witnesses would have been greatly damaged. Their variations and diversities are a strong indirect proof of their credibility. Too close an agreement would raise a suspicion of collusion, and look like an attempt to deceive. (Bp. Ryle.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter