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Christ raiseth Lazarus, four days buried. Many Jews believe. The chief priests and Pharisees gather a counsel against Christ. Caiaphas prophesieth. Jesus hideth himself. At the passover they inquire after him, and lay wait for him.
Anno Domini 33.
John 11:1. Now a certain man was sick,— About this time a friend of Christ, named Lazarus, was afflicted with a dangerous sickness, ηνασθενων,— at Bethany, a village about two miles from Jerusalem, but at a great distance from the place where our Lord now was. See the last chapter, John 11:40. Bethany is supposed to have taken its name from a tract of ground in which it stands; so called from a Greek word, Αθηνη, signifying the fruit of the palm-tree, which grew there in great abundance: though others, with greater propriety, derive it from two Hebrewwords signifying the house of obedience, or the house of grace: it was a considerable place in our Saviour's time, situated at the foot of the mount of Olives, near two miles eastward of Jerusalem; but at present it is a very mean village. Modern travellers inform us, that, at the entrance into it, there is an old ruin, called "The Castle of Lazarus," supposed to have been the mansion-house where he and his sisters lived. Near it, at the bottom of a small descent, is a sepulchre, said to be that of Lazarus, and held in great veneration by the Turks, who use it for an oratory, or place of prayer. It has been thought that Lazarus was younger than his sisters, and that this villa, or country-seat, was their property: that they were people of some opulence, is manifest as well from this history, as from other parts of the gospel. This remarkable miracle was omitted by the former evangelists, as is supposed, because Lazarus was living when they wrote, and their mentioning it might have endangered his life. Ecclesiastical history informs us, that Lazarus was now thirty years old, and that he lived after Christ's ascension.—But farther, while the fact was recent, it did not require so particular a notice, as there were persons enough then living to attest it; but when John wrote his gospel, Lazarus being dead, as well as most of the witnesses, it was proper to record so remarkable a fact, which might otherwise have been lost to theworld. This miracle is related more at large than any other of Christ's miracles, says Henry, not only because there are many circumstances of it so very instructive, and the miracle itself is so strong a proof of Christ's mission, but because it was an earnest of that which was to be the crowning proof of all—Christ's own resurrection.
John 11:2. It was that Mary which anointed, &c.— Because the evangelist characterizes Mary, the sister of Lazarus, by her action of anointing the Lord's feet, Grotius imagines, that the three anointings mentioned in the gospels are one and the same: but the answer is obvious. John having mentioned one anointing only, ch. John 12:3, &c. she is sufficiently known by that character to all who have read his history: yet, if any one should say, that the evangelist does not mean to distinguish her from the other Marys, he would perhaps speak the truth, because to have called her the sister of Lazarus was sufficient for that purpose: her anointing is mentioned on this occasion, only to inform the reader how much and tenderly she loved the Lord, who doublyrepaid allthe kindnesses shewn to him, as in this very instance; notwithstanding he did not go into Judea immediately on receiving the sisters' message.
John 11:3. His sisters sent unto him,— The modesty of his sisters, and their confidence in Christ's affection for their brother, appear very great. They do not desire the Lord to come to him; they do not desire him to heal their brother at a distance, as he had done other persons who were in a dangerous condition. They only inform him that their brother, who happily enjoyed a place in his affection, was dangerously ill; and they leave it to the dictates of his own wisdom, and the warmth of his own love, to determine what measure to pursue.
John 11:4. This sickness is not unto death,— Compare Mat 9:24 and Mark 5:39. All that our Lord could mean here was, that this sickness ofLazarus was not designed to end in his death, considered as a final removal from this world; and indeed, our Lord so fully explains afterwards what he meant by this ambiguous speech, that nothing can reasonably be objected to it: but it is aremarkable instance of the candour and fidelity of the evangelists here, and in the places above quoted, so exactly to record the very words of Jesus; though malice might so cavil at them. The verse might be thus paraphrased, "Lazarus is permitted to be sick by the special providence of God; not that he designs to take him out of the world by death, as he does other men, but that the Son of God might be glorified by shewing his almighty power in raising him from the dead; hereby declaring that he has given to the Son to have life in himself, and to quicken whom he will; and therefore that he could fulfil his promise made to those who should perseveringly believe in him, that he would raise them up at the last day." So Christ expounds it himself in the 25th and 26th verses. We may remark from the words, but for the glory of God, that the Son, &c. which are parallel to those in ch. Joh 9:3 that the glory of God the Son, and God the Father, is one and the same; which plainly proves that Christ is God.
John 11:5. Now Jesus loved Martha, &c.— On account of their unfeigned piety towards God, their friendship and affection towards each other, and their faith in him as the Messiah. See John 11:27. The evangelist mentions the love which Jesus bore to Mary, and her sister, and Lazarus, before he informs us, that, after receiving the message, he stayed two days without stirring from the place where he was.His design in this might be, to insinuate that our Lord's delaying so long after the message came, did not proceed from want of concern for his friends, but had happened according to the counsels of his own wisdom. Had he gone as soon as the messenger from Martha arrived, there would have been nothing more in the recovery of Lazarus, than in that of Simon's mother, or of many sick persons whom he had restored to health. Had he cured him without going to him, no greater effect of power would have been shewn in this miracle, than in the cure of the centurion's servant; and might not the Jews, who lived at a distance from the scene of this transaction, have either questioned the reality of Lazarus's sickness, or have imputed his cure to a collusion between him and Jesus, especially as there was so strong an intimacy between them? Had Jesus gone immediately after his death, and raised him either in his chamber, or as they were carrying him to the sepulchre, it might have been said that his death was a mere pretence; or, if it were granted that there was no fraud, itmight have been alleged, that he was only in a fit or trance, and recovered luckily from it just as Christ pretended to raise him. Nay, even upon the supposition that the restoring of Lazarus to life before his interment, should have been granted to have been a real and proper resurrection, it would have afforded no stronger proofs than the resurrection of the widow's son: but the length of the time which Lazarus lay in the grave, put his death beyond all possibility of doubt, removed every suspicion of fraud, and so afforded Jesus a fit opportunity of displaying his love to Lazarus, as well as his own almighty power, by his unquestionable resurrection from the dead. Our Lord might also have a further view in thus heightening the circumstances of this miracle. The time of his own death being so near, he might intend hereby to convince his disciples, that, as he had life in himself, and could recal those to life who had been dead so long as to putrifyand become offensive, it was equally possible for him to raise himselfafter his own death, according to the intimations with which he always accompanied the predictions of his dying. Our Lord's delay, it is true, kept Lazarus's sisters in the most painful suspense, and at last pierced them with the affliction of seeing their brother die; yet they must, in the end, think themselves abundantly recompensed by the evidence accruing to the gospel from this astonishing miracle, as well as by the inexpressible surprise of joy which they felt on receiving their brother again from the dead.
John 11:9-43.11.10. Jesus answered, &c.— In answer to the fears and remonstrances of his disciples, Jesus replies, That as the hours of the day are appointed for the various works necessary to human life, and as he who travels in the daytime need not be afraid of stumbling, because he has the sun, the light of this world, to shew him the way; even so the manwho has a season allotted him for performing God's works, and at the same time the light of the divine call requiring him to engage in them, need not be afraid of any danger to which he is exposed in the performance of them; God, whom he serves, being always ready to preserve him: but if any man undertakes God's work at an improper season, or without a call, Joh 11:10 he may justly be afraid of the danger that he exposes himself to thereby. "By these words," says Cocceius, "our Lord reminds his disciples, that he is the Light of the world, and that, as long as he is in the world, he must necessarily shine; and that there is no danger if they walk with him."
John 11:11. Our friend Lazarus sleepeth;— Our Lord might choose the expression Lazarus sleepeth, partly out of tenderness, as being least shocking, when he spoke of so dear a friend; and it may also be considered as an instance of that modesty which characterizes all our Lord's actions. He does not immediately say, "He is dead, and I go by my almighty power to burst the bonds of the sepulchre, and to command him back to life again;" but, avoiding all parade and ostentation, he chooses the simplest and humblest expression that can be thought of: it is likewise remarkable, that, after using the expression, Lazarus sleepeth, our Lord adds, I go, that I may awake him: but afterwards, when he says he is dead, Joh 11:14 he there stops, consistentlywith the same modesty, and mentions nothing of his restoring him to life; that he might not seem chargeable with the least shadow of ostentation.
John 11:12. Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.— The disciples, understanding our Lord's words in a literal sense, replied, that they took Lazarus's sleeping as a favourable symptom of his speedy recovery; and, by saying so, they insinuated that there was no need of their going into Judea on this account, to the hazard of their own, as well as of their Master's life.
John 11:15. And I am glad for your sakes, &c.— "I am glad for your sakes, that I was not in Judea before he died; for had I been there and recovered him, your faith in me as the Messiah must have wanted that great confirmation, which it will receive by your beholding me raising him again from the dead. Nevertheless,—(rather therefore, αλλα, see Acts 10:20; Acts 26:16.) to confirm your faith, and to manifest the great designs of my Father and myself, let us go unto him." Thus Jesus, who could have raised up Lazarus without opening his lips, or rising from his seat, leaves the place of his retirement beyond Jordan, and takes a journey into Judea, where the Jews lately attempted to kill him. The reason was, his being present in person, and raising Lazarus to life again before so many witnesses, at Bethany, where he died, and was well known, would be a means, under divine grace, of bringing the men of that and future ages to believe in his doctrine, which is so well fitted to prepare them for a resurrection to life eternal,—an admirable proof and emblem of which, he gave them in this great miracle.
John 11:16. Then said Thomas,—Let us also go,— "When Jesus had declared his resolution to go into Judea, Thomas, who is called Didymus, conceiving nothing but destruction from such a journey, yetunwilling to forsake his blessed Master, said, Let us also go, that we may die with him." For he knew the inveteracy and malice of his countrymen to be so great, that nothing seemed more certain to them than such an event; and therefore he generously proposed that they should not forsake, but go, and lay down their lives with their beloved Master. Some have supposed that Lazarus is the antecedent to him in this passage; "Let us go, and die with Lazarus, our dear departed friend." And others, considering the great incredulity of Thomas, have supposed these not the words of faith and affection, but of uneasiness and despair, as if Jesus was leading themon to destruction, and it was best to end so miserable and persecuted a life. The first appears to me the most rational and consistent interpretation. Thomas is always distinguished by the name of Didymus, that is, twin, or two-fold.
John 11:17. He had lain in the grave four days— As a day or two at least must have been spent in making preparations for the funeral, and as Lazarus, when Jesus came, had been already buried four days, he could not well have been less than five days dead when our Lord arrived—an additional circumstance to illustrate the miracle. See on John 11:5.
John 11:18-43.11.19. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem,— The evangelist mentions the vicinity of Bethany to Jerusalem, and speaks of the company of friends that were with the two sisters, to shew that, by the direction of divine providence, this great miracle had many witnesses, some of whom were persons of note, and inhabitants of Jerusalem. See on ch. John 12:5. Our Saviour might have delayed his coming, amongst other reasons, in order to meet a greater number of persons assembled to condole with the sisters; and as these guests had met for that purpose, it is evident that they could not be any parties with Jesus in raising Lazarus from the dead: for the very end of their coming shewed that they had no apprehension of his being recalled to life; and the place whence they came, makes it probable, that they were rather enemies than friends to Jesus; and the sequel of the narrative shews, that many of them atleast were really so. The general time of mourning for deceased relations, both among Jews and Gentiles, was seven days: during these days of mourning, the friends and neighbours of the mourners visited them, to condole with and comfort them. Many therefore, in so populous a part of the country, must have been going to and coming from the sisters, while the days of their mourning for Lazarus lasted. The concourse too would be the greater, as it was the time of the passover; and besides, a great multitude now attended Jesus in his journey.
John 11:20. Then Martha, as soon as she heard— It seems the news of our Lord's coming reached Bethany before him; for Martha, having heard of it, went out to meet him, being of a more active disposition than her sister, who continued in the house: being absorbed in grief, and perhaps retired to an inner apartment. Mary was not so much in the way to be informed of the arrival of Jesus, as her sister was; who, being busied in the management of the family, must naturally have been the first person to hear the joyful news. Compare Job 2:8. Eze 8:14 and Matthew 27:61.
John 11:21-43.11.22. Then said Martha unto Jesus,— Martha's intention, no doubt, was to welcome Jesus; but being in an excess of grief, the first thing she uttered was a complaint, that he had not come sooner. Imagining that he could not cure her brother while at a distance from him, she thought that, by delaying to come, he had neglected to save her brother's life: Lord, if thou hadst been here, &c. Thus Martha, in one respect, betrayed a mean notion of our Lord's power; though, in another, her faith aimed at something very high; for she immediately added, But I know, &c. Joh 11:22 insinuating, that she believed hisprayer might yet restore her brother to life: however, as she thought he could not of himself raise the dead, she founded her hopes not on his own power, but on the power of God, in a general sense, to be exerted at his intercession. It seems, she had not heard of theresurrection either of Jairus's daughter, or of the widow of Nain's son; or, if she had heard of them, she might think her brother's resurrection more difficult than theirs, as he had been so long in a state of death.
John 11:23-43.11.26. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.— Our Lord's meaning was, that he should be raised immediately, (see John 11:40.) according to her desire; yet, as the thing was so great, and beyond even her own expectation, she durst not understand him in any sense that favoured her wishes: (see Joh 11:24 and on Matthew 28:17.) therefore, to cherish her weak faith, and, as it were, to raise her by gradual steps to the belief and acknowledgment of his sovereign power, our Lord said unto her, in the most emphatical words, "I am the resurrection and the life: by me the general resurrection shall be accomplished, and by me a most glorious and happy life shall be given to all my faithful people, and be maintained even to eternal ages. He, therefore, that perseveringly believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he ere long live again; and his re-animated body shall be again united to that soul, which, in its separate state, continues its dependance on my power and faithfulness; and even at present I can loose the bands of death; and, though thy brother is now holden by it, I can recal him when I please to life. And every one that is now living, and perseveringly believes in me, shall never die; death shall be so disarmed and transformed, that it shall hardly deserve the name; the better part of the believer being immediatelyconveyed to immortal life and glory, and the body only keeping awhile in the dust, till I come to awaken it to everlasting vigour and joy." See ch. John 5:24 John 8:51. 2 Timothy 1:10. Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 12:22-58.12.23.Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 2:6.
John 11:27. I believe that thou art the Christ,— By replying that she believed him to be the promised and expected Messiah, Martha insinuated, that she confided implicitly in every thing he said; and that there was no instance of power whatsoever which he was pleased to claim, that exceeded her belief. She began, it seems, to entertain some confused expectations of her brother's immediate resurrection: afterwards, when the considered the greatness of the thing more deliberately, many doubts arose; Joh 11:39.At present however, having some hope, she did not invite Jesus to go home with her; but, leaving him in the place where she had met him, she ran, and called her sister to come out, as it appears from the latter part of Joh 11:28 he had ordered her; for he designed that Mary and her companions should likewise have the honour, pleasure, and profit of being present at this stupendous miracle.
John 11:29-43.11.31. As soon as she heard that,— Mary no sooner heard the joyful news of the arrival of Jesus, than she arose, and went to him, without speaking a word to the company of friends, who, because she was of a softer disposition, paid especial attention to her grief; for they remained with her in the house after Martha was gone out; and when she went out, they followed her, fearing that she was going to the grave, to indulge her melancholy there: nay, they even wept with her, when they saw her weep, as she spake to Jesus, John 11:33. It was very customary with the ancients to retire to the sepulchres of their deceased friends, and weep there; and as those sepulchres were out of the town, and frequently near the road, it is probable that the place where Jesus stayed was near the sepulchre of Lazarus. The present circumstance tended also to the illustration of this miracle; for, by means hereof, the Jews who were come from Jerusalem were brought out to the grave, and made witnesses of the resurrection of Lazarus, who, probably, had they known that Mary was only gone out to meet Jesus, would not have accompanied her, through the hatred which they commonly bore to him.
John 11:32. She fell down at his feet,— When Mary came to Jesus, she fell down at his feet, and expressed herself just as Martha had done, only she wept as she spake. Her affliction is described, though in few words, yet in those the most natural and pathetic; and her prostration performed without reserve before the Jews, is a remarkable instance of the high veneration that she had for Christ; and his receiving of divine worship without any correction or reserve, is a proof of his supreme Godhead.
John 11:33. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, &c.— There never was a more striking picture of distress than that before us, the two affectionate sisters absorbed in grief, the numerous sympathetic crowd bathed intears, and the Son of God himself so affected, that he re-echoed their groans, and voluntarily afflicted himself with their distress. His compassionate heart could not contemplate the affliction of the two sisters and their friends, without having a deep share in it: he groaned deeply, (see Luke 10:21.) being grieved to find that his friends entertained a suspicion of his loving them less than their great love to him might give them reason to expect, and was troubled. In the Greek it is, He troubled himself, εταραξεν εαυτον, opening his mind to a set of melting and painful ideas. His affections were wholly in his own power; he voluntarily sustained sorrow now, as he voluntarily embraced death afterwards.
John 11:34. Where have ye laid him?— Our Lord proposed this question, in order to deliver the minds of Martha and her sister from the suspence with which they were now tortured; and he proposed it before the multitude, to convince them that there was no fraud in the intended miracle. We cannot suppose that our Lord, who knew without any information that Lazarus was dead, was ignorant of the place of his sepulchre: but when we admit the two reasons offered above, we must own that the question was kind.
John 11:35. Jesus wept.— It appeared on this occasion, that our blessed Lord was possessed of the most delicate sensibility of human passions; for, when he beheld Martha and Mary and their friends around him all in tears, the tender feelings of love, of pity, and of friendship, so moved him, that he mingled his sympathetic tears with theirs: Jesus wept. In this grief of the Son of God there was a greatness and generosity, not to say an amiableness of disposition, infinitely nobler than that which the Stoic philosophers aimed at in their so much boasted apathy. It would be easy to descant on this striking instance of our Lord's philanthropy; but this is not the place for such discussions: and indeed what Christian heart can be insensible to the force of this striking example? We observe only, that the power which Jesus exerted on this memorable occasion did not more strongly evince him to be the Son of God, than the tears which he shed conduced to demonstrate that he was the Son of man; a most merciful and compassionate man, touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
John 11:36-43.11.38. Then said the Jews, Behold, &c.— Our Lord's tears had also another use; they caused those who saw them to wonder the more at the death of Lazarus, and consequently to doubt of his divine power, who prevented it not; whence the subsequent miracle, as less expected by them, became the more wonderful. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! They perceived that his was no affected grief, but the real testimony of a sincere regard; and they could not but conclude that this regard for Lazarus was great indeed, when no ties of blood, relationship, or necessity, but undissembled friendship only, caused the generous woe: others, however, of a more malevolent and envious turn of mind, interpreted this circumstance to our Lord's disadvantage. For, according to their mean way of judging, they fancied that he had suffered Lazarus to fall under the stroke of death, for no other reason but want of power to rescue him; and thinking the miracle, said to have been wrought on the blind man at the feast of tabernacles, at least as difficult as the curing of an acute distemper, they called the former in question, because the latter had been neglected: "If," say they, "he hasreally opened the eyes of the blind, might he not have preserved this man from death?" These perverse and obstinate people were not persuaded by all the wonderful works which Jesus had done; neither would they be convinced by the great miracle that he was about to perform. They were to see him raise one to life and health again, who had been four days in the grave; yet so hard were their hearts, that many of them would persist in their infidelity still. Jesus, who knew the discourses which they now held among themselves in private concerning him, was likewise fully acquainted with the hardness of their hearts, and, at the same time, foresaw the miseries in which their unbelief would involve them; thatunbelief which yields not to his power, so soon as death itself. The thought of all these things afflicted him, and made him groan deeply within himself as he went to the sepulchre; which, according to the usual manner of burying with the Jews, was hewn out in a cave, and a stone was placed at it; that is, at the door of the cave, as was the case in our Lord's sepulchre. See on Luke 24:4.
John 11:39. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.— Our Lord could with infinite ease have commanded the stone to roll away of itself,without employing any to remove it. But he judiciously avoided all unnecessary pomp and parade, and mingled all the majestyof this astonishing miracle with the most amiable modesty and simplicity. Besides, he thus removed every the minutest suspicion of fraud; for they who removed the stone would have, from the putrified state of the body, sufficient evidence that it was there; while all who were present might, and no doubt did, see it lying in the sepulchre, when the stone was removed, before Jesus gave the commanding word, Come forth. Martha, yet weak in faith, yet struggling with doubt, in a painful agitation, with a variety of passions, says to Jesus, "Lord, it will be offensive to thee; the putrified body of my dear dead brother cannot be fit for thee to approach; by this time he certainly smelleth,— οζει,— for he hath been four days in the grave;" not four days dead only, as we render it; for the word dead is not in the original, being improperly supplied by the translators— τεταρταιος, quatriduanus, one who has continued in any state or place four days. Martha's meaning therefore was, that her brother had been in the grave four days, as is plain likewise from John 11:17. The gracious providence of God directed Martha to mention this circumstance before Lazarus was raised, that the greatness of the miracle might be manifest to all who were present: for if her brother had been buried four days, he must have been dead at least five; for we are to remember that in those hot countries, the dead sooner grow offensive, and cannot be kept so long unburied as with us. Dead bodies, says Dr. Hammond, after a revolution of the humours, which is completed in seventy-two hours, naturally tend to putrefaction; and the Jews say that by the fourth day after death, the body is so altered that one cannot be sure it is such a person.
John 11:40. Said I not unto thee, &c.— Either Jesus had said more to Martha than is recorded, or possibly these words may be collected from the message which Jesus sent, Joh 11:4 and from what he said, John 11:25-43.11.26.; but we are not to suppose that in these histories we have an account of every word that was spoken. See ch. John 21:25.
John 11:41-43.11.42. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said,— On many occasions Jesus had publicly appealed to hisown miracles, as the proofs of his mission; but he did not ordinarily make a formal address to his Father before he worked them. Nevertheless, being about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he, in this instance, deviated from his usual mode, to make the persons present sensible, that, in working his miracles, he acted not by the assistance of devils, as his enemies maliciously affirmed; but with the co-operation of his heavenly Father.
John 11:43. And when he thus had spoken, he cried, &c.— The dead man heard the voice of the Son of God, and came forth immediately; for he did not revive slowly and by degrees, as the dead child did, which was raised by the prophet Elijah. But the effect, thus instantly following the command, plainly shewed whose the power was that revived the breathless clay. If our Lord had not intended this, instead of speaking, he might have raised Lazarus by a secret inward volition. As the people present were not so much as dreaming of a resurrection, they must have been greatly surprised when they heard our Lord cry out, Lazarus, come forth. But when they saw him who had been putrefying in the grave four days, come forth alive and in perfect health, they could not but be agitated with many different passions, and overwhelmed with inexpressible amazement.
John 11:44. And he that was dead came forth,— It would have been the least part of the miracle, had Jesus made the rollers, with which Lazarus was bound, to unloose themselves from around his body, before he came forth: but he brought him out just as he was lying, and ordered the spectators to loose him, that they might be the better convinced of the miracle. Accordingly, in taking off the grave-clothes, they had the fullest evidence, both of his death and resurrection; for on the one hand the manner in which it is supposed he was swathed, (see ch. John 19:40.) must of itself have killed him in a little time, had he been alive when buried, and consequently have demonstrated beyond all exception, that Lazarus was several days dead, before Jesus called him forth. Some, however, suppose, that the body was not bound over with bandages, but only wrapped up in a large linen cloth, tied at the hands and feet, [Κειριαις, a word which Phavorinus explains by επιταφιοι δεσμοι, sepulchral bands,] not altogether, perhaps, unlike what is customarywith us; and this is the more probable, as we may reasonably conclude, both from the words of Martha, Joh 11:39 and from this verse, that Lazarus was not embalmed, when it was usual to make use of such bandages. However, be this as it may, in taking off the grave-clothes, the linen might offer both to their eyes and smell abundant proofs of his putrefaction, and by that means convince them, that he had not been in a deliquium, or swoon, but was really departed. On the other hand, by his lively countenance appearing when the napkin was removed, his fresh colour, his active vigour, and his brisk walking, they who camenear him and handled him, were made sensible that he was in perfect health, and had an opportunity to try the truth of the miracle by the closest examination. It may be proper just to reply here to a difficulty suggested upon this history of Lazarus's resurrection. It is said that, when Jesus called upon Lazarus to come forth, he came out bound hand and foot; but deists, talking of this miracle, commonly ask with a sneer, how could he come out of a grave, who was bound in that manner? The answer however, is obvious. The reader is first desired to consider the form of the Jewish sepulchres, as described in the note on Luk 24:4 and then to reflect that the evangelist means not that Lazarus walked out of the sepulchre; but that, lying on his back, he raised himself into a sitting posture, then, putting his legs out of his niche or cell, slid down and stood upright on the floor; all which he might easily do, notwithstanding his arms were bound close to his body, and his legs were tied strait together by means of the shroud and rollers, or bandages, or whatever they were with which he was confined. Accordingly, when he was come forth, it is said, that Jesus ordered them to loose him, and let him go; a circumstance plainly importing, that the historian knew that Lazarus could not walk till he was unbound. If the Jews buried as the Egyptians did, the napkin did not cover the face of Lazarus, but only went round his forehead, and under his chin; so that he could easily see; but even on supposition that it was wound about his face, he could easily have raised himself out of his niche without seeing, in the manner above described.
John 11:45-43.11.46. Then many of the Jews—believed— Considering the nature and circumstances of this great miracle, it ought to have silenced the peevishness of cavilling, might have overcome the obstinacy of prejudice, and should have put to shame the impudence of malice; for the deliberate and purposed delay of Christ, his declaration of Lazarus's death, and prediction of his resurrection, the variety and multitude of the persons who were witnesses, the accidental circumstances which led them to be present, the consequent faith of many Jews who were there, (by no means prejudiced in favour of Jesus, or disposed to believe in him,) as well as the acknowledgment made of the reality of this miracle to the Jewish sanhedrim, are such testimonies, as must place this wonderful event beyond the power of cavil or contradiction: wherefore we cannot help being surprised to find that the cry, Lazarus, come forth, did not produce on all who were present an effect some way similar to that which it had on Lazarus: it raised him from the natural death, and might, through divine grace, have raised the most stupid of the spectators from the spiritual, by working in them the living principle of faith. It afforded, however, a dreadful confirmation of that weighty truth, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. Every reader must be sensible that there is something incomparably beautiful in the whole of our Lord's behaviour on this occasion; after having given such an astonishing instance of his power, he did not speak one word in his own praise, either directly or indirectly. He did not rebuke the Jews for having, in former instances, maliciously detracted from the lustre of his miracles, every one of which derived additional credit from this incontestable wonder. He did not say how much they were to blame for persisting in their incredulity, though he well knew what they would do: he did not insinuate, even in the most distant manner, the obligations which Lazarus and his sisters were laid under bythis signal favour; he did not upbraid Martha and Mary with the discontent that they had expressed, at his having delayed to come to the relief of their brother. Nay, he did not so much as put them in mind of the mean notion they had entertained of his power; but, always consistent with himself, he was on this, as on every other occasion, a pattern of perfect humility and absolute self-denial. It is beautiful to observe the gradation in the resurrections of the dead performed by our Lord: the first person he raised, Jairus's daughter, had been in the state of death only a few hours; the second, the son of the widow of Nain, was raised as his friends were carrying him out to burial; but when Jesus recalled Lazarus to life, he had been in the grave no less than four days; and therefore, according to our apprehensions, his resurrection was the greatest of the three, the whole power of death being accomplished upon h
John 11:47-43.11.48. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council,— The account which was given of Lazarus's resurrection raised the indignation of the rulers to the highest pitch. They assembled the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation forthwith, and, after consultation, blamed one another for having suffered Jesus to go so long unpunished: but this miracle being too evident to be denied, as indeed all his miracles were, they did not, even in their most private conferences, say or insinuate to one another, that their displeasure and opposition proceeded from his passing false miracles upon the ignorant vulgar; they rather condemned him upon the truth and notoriety of his miracles, pretending that they were designed to establish a new sect in religion, which might endanger, not their church only, but their state, our place, τον τοπον, our temple (see Acts 6:14; Acts 21:28.) and nation. Thus, though the Pharisees were his sworn enemies, they could not help giving him an ample testimony, even in full court. If we let him thus alone; say they, all men will believe on him, &c. "If we do not bestir ourselves to prevent it, the common people, astonished at his miracles, will certainly set him up for Messiah; and the Romans, on pretence of their rising in rebellion, will take away both our liberty and religion." They entered therefore into a resolution for putting Jesus to death at all hazards. But those politicians were taken in their own craftiness; for, while they proposed, by killing Jesus, to avoid the destruction of their temple and city, the sin which they committed in killing the Prince of Life was so great, that God, in his just indignation, made the very people, whose resentment they proposed to avoid by this wicked measure, the instruments of his vengeance. He brought the Roman armies against them, who destroyed the murderers, and burnt up their city; leaving, in that dreadful catastrophe, an awful warning to all statesmen to beware of prosecuting unjust measures, on pretence of consulting thegood of the nation whose affairs they direct. Again, the members of the Jewish council were not at all unanimous in their resolution of putting Jesus to death. Some of them, who were his disciples, (see ch. John 12:42.) particularly Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, urged the unlawfulness of what they purposed to do, from the consideration of his miracles and his innocence; but the high-priest Caiaphas treated Christ's friends in the council with contempt, as weak, ignorant people, who were unacquainted with the nature of government, "which," said he, "requires that certain acts of injustice should not be scrupled at, when they are expedient for the safety of the state."
John 11:49-43.11.52. And—Caiaphas, being the high-priest that same year, said, &c.— It is well known, that the high-priesthood among the Jews was not annual; but the manyrevolutions about this period might justify thepresent manner of speaking, which signifies no more, as some think, than in those days, or at that time. See Luke 3:2. Others, however, imagine, that the expression is emphatical; that year, that memorable year, in which Christ was to die; it was the last and chief of Daniel's seventy weeks, the fortieth year before the destruction of Jerusalem, and was celebrated, for various causes, in Jewish history. As God was wont anciently to communicate his oracles to the high-priest clothed with the pontifical garments;so he inspired the words, Joh 11:50 into Caiaphas, who now bare that office, though he was not sensible himself of the inspiration, and meant what he said in a different sense from what God intended should be signified by it; and thus he gave unawares as clear a testimony to the priestly, as Pilate did to the kingly office of Christ. By the children of God, Joh 11:52 are meant his true worshippers, not only among the Jews, but likewise among all nations in the world; who were to be gathered, through Christ, into one flock, one glorious and happy society. See ch. John 10:16.
John 11:53. Then from that day forth they took counsel, &c.— The evangelist does not tell us what the measure was which they pitched upon for this purpose; only from the last verse of the chapter, it seems probable, that they agreed to issue out a proclamation against Jesus, promising a reward to any one who would shew where he was, that they might take him.
John 11:54. Into a city called Ephraim,— The situation of Ephraim has not yet been determined; all that John says of it, is, that it stood in a country near the wilderness; perhaps he meant the wilderness which is said to have gone up from Jericho to Bethel, Joshua 16:1. For Josephus mentions Ephraim as not far from Bethel. Eusebius, in his Onomasticon, upon the word Αγγαι, the ancient Ai, tells us, that Bethel lay in the road from Jerusalem to Sichem in Samaria, at the distance of twelve miles from Jerusalem. The same author says, that Ephraim was a larger city, eight miles from Jerusalem towards the north.
John 11:55. To purify themselves.— As a variety of circumstances might happen to multitudes, which would require purification, so some sort of cleansing required no less than seven days; and the vows of the Nazarites likewise required some time. Compare 2 Chronicles 30:17. Some would render the last clause of the 56th verse, What think ye? Will he not come to feast?
Inferences on the raising of Lazarus, John 11:14-43.11.46. There is a time when we must preach Christ on the house-top, as well as a time when we must speak of him as it were in the ear, and with the lips shut. Doubtless Martha was greatly overjoyed at the presence of Christ; and though she knew how equally welcome it would be to her sister, yet she does not proclaim it aloud in the open hall, but secretly whispers the pleasing tidings in her sister's ear. The Master is come, and calleth for thee. What a happy word, what a high and honourable favour was this! that the Lord of life, that the divine Ambassador should personally come, and call for Mary; yet are they such, as may not be appropriated to her alone. Thou comest still to us, O Saviour, if not in thy bodily presence, yet in thy spiritual. Thou callest us still, if not in thy personal voice, yet in thine ordinances; and it is our fault if we do not, as this good woman did, arise quickly, and come to thee. Her friends were there about her, who came purposely to condole with her; her heart was full of heaviness; her hopes were now, alas! all at as low ebb; and yet, as soon as ever she hears the mention of Christ coming, of Christ calling her, she forgets friends, brother, grief, cares, and hastens to his presence.
Such good women were well worthy of kind friends: these, knowing the value, and hearing of the death of Lazarus, came over to comfort the sad pair. Charity, together with the common practice of their nation, calls them to this amiable duty. How grievous was that complaint,—I looked for some to comfort me, but there was none! It is some kind of ease in sorrow to have partners: as a burden is lightened by many shoulders, or as clouds scattered into many drops easily vent their moisture in the air; so even the very presence of friends is a sweet abatement of grief.
These friendly neighbours, seeing Mary hasten forth, make haste to follow her: it was but a loving suspicion, Joh 11:31 she is gone to the grave to weep. They well knew how apt sensible minds are to take all occasions to renew their sorrows; every object around affects them. When she saw but the chamber of her dead brother, straight she must think that there her Lazarus was wont to lie, and then she wept afresh; when the table was spread, "there Lazarus was wont to sit," and then new tears arise; when the garden appeared, "there
Lazarus had wont to walk," and then again she weeps. How much more do these sympathetic friends suppose the passions would be stirred with the sight of the grave, when she must needs think, "there is Lazarus, an inanimate, dissolving lump of clay!" their indulgent love, however, mistook Mary's errand: kind as they were, their thoughts were much too low: while they suppose her going to a dead brother, she is hastening on the wings of affection to a living Saviour, the Lord of life.
Both the sisters met Christ; not both in one posture. Mary is still noted, as for more passion, so for more ardent devotion: she that before sat at the feet of Jesus, now falls prostrate at those feet. Where the heart is affected with an awful acknowledgment of the divine majesty, the body cannot but bow.
Even before all her neighbours of Jerusalem, does Mary thus sink down in humility before her Saviour. It was no less than excommunication for any one to confess him; yet good Mary, fearless of the informations that might be given by these Jewish observers, adores him, and in her silent gesture says as much as her sister had spoken before, Thou art the Christ, the Son of God. Those who would give Christ his right, must not stand upon scrupulous fears. Are we naturally timorous?—Why do we not fear the denial, the exclusion of the Almighty? O let us remember, Without are the fearful! Revelation 21:8.
Her humble prostration is seconded by a remarkable complaint; Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died! Both she and her sister as with one voice, betray both strength and infirmity of faith; strength, in ascribing so much power to Christ, that his presence could preserve from death; infirmity, in supposing the necessity of a bodily presence for this purpose. It is a weakness of faith to measure success by means, and means by bodily presence, and to tie effects to the concurrence of both, when we deal with an almighty Agent. O Saviour, while thou now fittest gloriously in heaven, thou dost no less by thy Godhead impart thyself to our souls, than if thou stood'st visibly by us, than if we stood locally by thee. No place can make a difference in thy virtue and thy aid.
This was Mary's moan: her silent, yet not unseen suit, is returned with a silent answer. No notice is taken of the error in her expression; all the reply that we hear from the blessed Redeemer, is a compassionate groan within himself, and an inquiry, Where have ye laid him? He who knew in absence that Lazarus was dead, now asks where he is buried: not out of need, but of will; that as in his sorrow, so in his inquiry, he might depress himself in the opinion of the standers-by; unwilling to fix their minds upon the expectation of some marvellous thing, till the grand fiat shall announce it, and raise the sleeping Lazarus from his tomb.
They were not more glad of the question, than ready for the answer—Come and see. It was their manner to lay up the dead bodies of their friends, like the Egyptians, with great respect: more cost was bestowed on some of their graves, than on their houses. Here, as neither ashamed nor unwilling to shew the decency of their sepulchre, they say, Come and see.
Never was our Saviour more submissively dejected than now, immediately before he would approve and exalt the majesty of his godhead. To his groans and inward grief, he adds his tears: JESUS wept! well indeed might the Jews construe them up to their true source, and cry, See how he loved him! and well had it been, could they have rested there, without so unworthily misconstruing, as they did, his motives, John 11:37. Could not he that opened the eyes of the blind, &c.?
It is not improbable that Jesus, who before groaned in himself for compassion of their tears, now groaned for their incredulity. Nothing could so much afflict the Saviour of men, as the sins of men; no injury goes so deep as our spiritual provocations of God. Wretched men, why should we grieve the good spirit of God in us? Why should we make him groan for us, who died to redeem us?
With these groans, O Saviour, thou comest to the grave of Lazarus; the door of that house of death was strong and impenetrable: thy first word was, Take away the stone. O weak beginning of a mighty miracle! If thou meantest to raise the dead, how much easier had it been for thee to remove the grave-stone? One grain of faith, even in thy disciples, were enough to remove mountains; and dost thou say, Take away the stone?—But it was ever thy just will that we should do what we may. To remove the stone, or to untie the napkin, was in their power; this therefore they must do: to raise the dead was out of their power; this therefore thou wilt do alone: our hands must do their utmost, ere thou wilt put to thine.
In spite of all the unjust discouragements of nature, Christ's command must be obeyed; Martha may doubt, but Christ hath spoken, and shall he not make it good? Whatever the good woman's staggering faith may suggest, the glory of God is concerned, and it must now be displayed: the stone is removed; all impediments give way; all hearts are ready for the result: the Saviour addresses himself to the miracle.
His eyes begin, they are lifted up to heaven: his tongue seconds his eye; yet we hear of no prayer, but of thanks for hearing: Father, I thank thee, &c. Thy will, O Saviour, was thy prayer. Words express our hearts to men, thoughts to God: well didst thou know, out of thy self-sameness with the Father, that the grant must keep pace with the idea of thine intention. I knew that thou hearest me always; but this I said for their sakes, that they might believe.
But hark! the word is past, Lazarus come forth! Why did the Saviour thus loudly lift up his voice?—Was it that the strength of the call might answer to the measure of the affection; since we faintly require what we care not to obtain, and vehemently utter what we earnestly desire? Or was it to signify that Lazarus's soul was called from far;—since the speech must be loud, that shall be heard in the other world? Or was it in relation to the sleeping state of his body; since those who are in the deadness of deep sleep cannot be awakened without a loud call?—Or was it in representation of that last loud trumpet's summons, which shall sound into all graves, and raise all flesh from their dust for ever?—Even so still, Lord, when thou wouldst raise a soul from the death of sin, and grave of corruption, no still, small voice will serve. Thy strongest commands, thy loudest denunciations of judgment, the shrillest and sweetest promulgations of thy mercies, are but enough to arouse the slumbering faculties.
Here was no suit to the Father, no adjuration to the deceased, but a fiat, an absolute injunction, Come forth! O Saviour, that is the voice which I shall once hear sounding into the bottom of my grave, and raising me from my dust. That is the voice which shall pierce the rocks, and divide the mountains, and fetch up the dead from the lowest caverns of the deep. Thy word made all; thy word shall repair all for thy faithful saints. Hence, far hence, all ye diffident fears!—he whom I trust is omnipotent.—Behold, he that was dead came forth!
Thou didst not only, O Saviour, raise the body of Lazarus, but the faith of many of the by-standers. O clear emblem, irrefragable argument of our resurrection also! If Lazarus did thus start up from death, at the bleating as it were of this Lamb of God, who was now daily preparing for the slaughter; how shall the dead be roused hereafter in millions from their graves, at the roaring of that glorious and immortal Lion, whose voice shall shake the powers of heaven, and move in trembling horror the very foundations of the earth?
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The miracle contained in this chapter is recorded by this evangelist alone. We have,
1. The persons particularly interested. Lazarus is mentioned first, a particular friend of Christ's who was sick at Bethany, a little village near Jerusalem, where he had lived with his sisters Mary and Martha; at whose house Jesus seems to have chiefly resided, when he went up to Jerusalem on the great festivals. Mary, whose brother was ill, was a woman of singular piety, which particularly appeared in the respect that she paid our Lord some time after this, Chap. Joh 12:3 when at a public entertainment she anointed his feet with a box of precious ointment, and wiped them with her hair. Note; Christ keeps a faithful account, and will not fail to make honourable mention of all the works of faith and labours of love done for his sake by his faithful people.
2. The sisters, anxious for their brother, who was so dear to them, dispatched a messenger to acquaint their Lord and Master of his imminent danger; knowing it would be enough to mention the case to him, since he who was sick was a person that he loved so tenderly. Note; (1.) When we ourselves, or our dear relatives, are sick, we must spread the case before the compassionate Saviour, and commit it with humble submission to his care. (2.) They are happy souls indeed, who are distinguished as the disciples whom Jesus loves. (3.) The dearest children of God share in the common afflictions incident to humanity; yea, often are most severely exercised.
3. Christ foretold the issue of the sickness, that it should not be unto death; at least, that death should not keep Lazarus as his prisoner, but that the glory of God should be most eminently displayed in his recovery, for which end this sickness was sent. Note; (1.) It is a great consolation to every child of God, that in all his sufferings God has purposes of his own glory to answer. (2.) Though we be sick, even unto death, we know, if Jesus loves us, that the perishing of our outward man can do no real harm, but will open for our disembodied souls a passage to eternal life and blessedness.
4. He defers his visit to Lazarus two days, though his love to him and the family was well known, and very singular; and this he did to prove their faith and patience, and give them a more signal manifestation of his power and grace.
5. When the two days were expired, Christ calls upon his disciples to attend him to Bethany, designing to carry relief to the afflicted family there. But they expostulate with him on the danger to which he must expose himself by such a journey, when so lately the Jews had attempted to murder him, and still harboured some malicious intentions: but perhaps this concern for his safety was not without some regard to their own also, who were so nearly connected with him; for very apt are we to mix selfish considerations, where we seem to mean only our divine Master's honour and interests. In reply to their suggestion, he answers, Are there not twelve hours in the day, according to general estimation, allotted for labour? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world, that sun which gilds his path, and makes his way plain before his face. Thus while the time of life appointed by the Father lasts, I fear no danger, and go forward in my work; but if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. So when my day of work expires, then, and not till then, shall I be suffered to fall into the hands of my foes. Note; (1.) The consideration how soon the night of death approaches, should quicken our diligence, while yet the day of life continues, to redeem the time, and finish the work that Christ hath given us to do. (2.) They who walk under the guidance of the word and Spirit of Jesus, go on their way unmoved; while they who follow any other guide, are sure to stumble upon the dark mountains of error, and fall into the pit of destruction.
6. He informs them of the death of their common friend Lazarus, and his design to raise him up again to life, which he represents under the figure of sleep. Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. The disciples, understanding him literally, thought this a favourable symptom, and that he would do well without their Master's going into the jaws of danger. But as he spake of his death under this figure, and not of common rest, as they apprehended, he rectified their mistake by plainly telling them, Lazarus is dead; and adds, I am glad, for your sakes, that I was not there before he died, to the intent ye may believe, when, by his resurrection from the grave, after so long a time, your faith may receive the greater confirmation. Nevertheless, though he is dead, let us go unto him. Note; Sleep is death's lesser mystery; and every day that we awake from our beds, we experience a kind of resurrection.
7. Thomas, called Didymus, or the twin, on hearing what Jesus had said, and his resolution to go into Judea, said to his fellow-disciples, let us also go, that we may die with him; either with Lazarus, whom he loved so much as not to wish to survive him; or rather with their Master, who, by going, seemed to expose his life to inevitable danger: and he, zealous to attend him, offers himself, and encourages his brethren to cleave to him wherever he went, though death itself should be the consequence. Note; (1.) To go to join the spirits of just men made perfect, is indeed a consummation devoutly to be wished for. (2.) Faithful disciples will be intimidated by no danger from following their Master, and encouraging each other to stand fast in the day of trial.
2nd, Jesus, having declared his purposes, began his journey with his disciples, and arrived at Bethany, which was distant from Jerusalem about two miles.
1. He found a melancholy scene: the house where with joy he had lately been entertained, is drowned in tears; such awful changes do we often see after the shortest absence from our friends. Lazarus had lain in the grave four days already, and many of the Jews had come from Jerusalem to console the afflicted sisters. Note; (1.) It is kind to weep with those that weep; and, by partaking, to alleviate the sorrows of the miserable. (2.) When we lose our dearest relatives, if they fall asleep in Jesus, we have abundant reason to be comforted concerning our brother; his lot is to be envied; our tears should rather flow for ourselves left yet behind, to conflict with the powers of evil. (3.) The house of most distinguished piety is not barred against affliction; but though we sorrow as men, we can rejoice as believers. There is hope in the end.
2. Martha no sooner heard of the Master's approach, than she went to meet him; while Mary, who had not yet heard of his arrival, sat still in the house. We are told what passed at this first interview.
[1.] Martha, with deep respect addressing the Saviour, said, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; so confident was she of his power and compassion, though her weakness appeared in supposing his bodily presence necessary to the cure. But I know that even now, desperate as the case is, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee; she mentioned no particulars, but meekly referred the case to his grace and wisdom. Note; In our deepest sorrows, our only relief is to draw near to Jesus, to tell him our sorrows, and cast our care upon him.
[2.] Christ answers her with good and comfortable words. Thy brother shall rise again. He expresses it so as to leave it doubtful, whether he meant a present or a future resurrection: in either view it administered matter for her faith, and hope, and consolation. Note; It is a most reviving consideration, when death robs us of our brethren in Jesus, that the separation is but short.
[3.] Martha professes her faith in what her Lord had spoken. I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day; that there would be a resurrection she was persuaded, and that Lazarus would rise among the just; but though this was some consolation, her loss hung heavy upon her.
[4.] Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; not only by his intercession could he obtain life from God for whom he would, but he had the power of life in himself, and at his own pleasure could raise the dead, and call the things that are not, as though they were. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; though by nature dead in trespasses and sins, his soul shall here live a life of faith; and his very body, as well as soul, if he be faithful, shall live in the eternal world; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, quickened to spiritual life, and walking by faith, shall never die; though his body may return to the dust, whence it came, yet shall it be raised again, and be immortal as his never-dying soul. Believest thou this?—a solemn question which we should often put to ourselves? The resurrection of the body is to sense improbable; but faith overlooks every difficulty. He who raised us from the dust at first, can again re-assemble the scattered atoms, and bring bone to his bone. Note; (1.) Christ is the author of natural life; in him we live, and move, and have our being: of spiritual life; by his power and his Spirit are we quickened from the death of sin: of eternal life; as he hath procured it for his faithful saints, and by him they shall be raised up at the last day. (2.) They who have this faith in them, and perseveringly enjoy it, are truly blessed and happy; they live in comfort, and die in Divine assurance.
[5.] Martha said unto him, Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world; the true Messiah, so long promised, so greatly expected. Note; They who know the Saviour's all-sufficiency, may comfortably and confidently rest all their hopes upon him.
3. Mary comes to meet the Lord. Martha, in haste to communicate the glad news, and to make her sister partaker of the blessings of his converse, goes and secretly whispers to her that Jesus the Master was come, and wished to see her. Eager to meet him, she hastily arose, and came to him without the town where he had halted, as nearer to the grave where his business lay. The Jews who came to condole with her, observing her sudden departure, concluded that she was gone to the grave to weep, and followed her. But Mary had now found her Lord, and at his feet poured out with tears her sorrowful complaint, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Note; (1.) Gracious souls delight to be instrumental in bringing others to Jesus, to partake of his consolations. (2.) Christ is a better comforter than ten thousand friends: at his feet under all our sorrows let us be found, and he will calm our troubled breasts. (3.) It is kind to visit the house of mourning, and seek to divert from inordinate sorrow the afflicted, who often study how to sharpen and aggravate their own griefs. (4.) We are often apt to torment and grieve ourselves unnecessarily with apprehensions that something was neglected or overlooked, which might have been done for our departed friends, instead of submitting to the divine will with silent resignation.
3rdly, We have,
1. The compassion of Jesus. He felt for the anguish that appeared in the tears so plentifully shed; he groaned in the spirit and was troubled, sympathizing with Mary and her friends in their grief; and, knowing his own designs of grace, he asked, Where have ye laid him? Not that he could be unacquainted with any event, but that it might appear there was no contrivance between him and the relations of the deceased: They say unto him, Lord, come and see; and being come to the place, he, whose tender heart felt deeply for human misery, and as man possessed the tenderest feelings of our nature, gave vent to his grief: Jesus wept. Note; (1.) Jesus was very man as well as very God, the subject of our sinless passions and infirmities. (2.) Tears of tender sympathy become the disciples of Jesus, who are commanded to weep with those that weep.
2. The reflections made by those present on the tears of Jesus. Some said, and the observation was most natural, Behold, how he loved him! Others, with malignant insinuations, suggest, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? intimating, that had he really possessed the power he pretended, he would have kept his friend from death; but as he could not do this, it was to be suspected that what had passed for so extraordinary a miracle before, was really a mere deception. Note; (1.) If we consider what Jesus hath done, how he has shed not only tears, but drops of blood for us,—with much more reason may we say, Behold, how he loved us! (2.) They who determine to cavil, will always find a presence.
3. Jesus, groaning in the spirit at the malice and wickedness of such a suggestion, cometh to the grave; which, according to their usual method of burying the dead, was a cave, with a stone laid on its mouth. This he bids them remove, that all might be convinced of the reality of Lazarus's death, by the putrefaction of the corpse. Martha, concluding, from the time he had lain in the grave, that the body must be very offensive, and thinking it too late to hope for his revival, would have diverted Jesus from his purpose; but he said unto her, Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God displayed in a more eminent manner than has yet appeared? And herein probably he refers to something that he had said in the former conversation with her, which is not recorded by the evangelist. Note; (1.) Nothing serves more deeply to mortify our pride on any bodily excellencies, than the reflection how awful will be the change, when we have lain but a few days in the grave. (2.) If we have true and constant faith, we shall surely see the great salvation of God, whatever difficulties may seem to be in our way.
4. The grave being opened, and the corpse being discovered, Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me; not as imploring assistance for the performing the miracle of Lazarus's resurrection, which by his own power he would accomplish; but as thanking him for the present opportunity afforded him for the display of his divine power and authority. And I knew that thou hearest me always, because my will and thine are one; but because of the people which stand by, I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me, and be assured of my being the true Messiah by this stupendous miracle, which will add still greater evidence to my mission. Note; (1.) In our approaches to God, we should draw near to him as the Father of mercies, with full confidence in his faithfulness, power, and love. (2.) Thanksgivings for past mercies, are an encouragement to the present exercise of our faith. (3.) Christ is an all-prevailing advocate; his prayers are always heard; therefore we may boldly draw near to a throne of grace.
5. By a word the miracle is wrought. With the voice of Majesty, as the Lord of life, he speaks aloud, Lazarus, come forth; and instantly, obedient to his command, death surrenders his prisoner; by omnipotent power the corpse is raised, Lazarus comes forth alive, enveloped with all the swathings and the napkin round his face, as he was laid in the grave. Jesus bids them loose him, and let him go; being perfectly restored to health and strength, he was able as ever to walk to his own house. Note; The change in a resurrection-day will be thus instantaneous, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, 1 Corinthians 15:52.
4thly, This miracle produced very different effects upon the spectators.
1. Many of the Jews there present, who had come to console the sorrowful sisters, struck with the evidence of the divine power of Jesus, believed in him as the Messiah. Thus their kindness to the afflicted, was repaid with the best of spiritual blessings upon their own souls.
2. Others, obstinate in infidelity, and exasperated, instead of being convinced, by what they had seen, went with malicious wickedness to the Pharisees, who were members of the sanhedrim, and informed them what was done, that they might take measures to suppress the increasing fame of Jesus.
3. A council was instantly summoned, in order to deliberate on some more vigorous methods to stop this man. Being assembled, they said, What do we? How dilatory are our proceedings? how long shall we see ourselves run down, and our interests in the people usurped? for this man doth many miracles, which could not be denied; and if we let him thus alone to root himself in the people's affections, all men will believe on him as the Messiah, and set him up as king: the consequence of which will be, that the Romans will come to crush such a rebellion, and take away both our place and nation. This they dreadfully apprehended; and by the very methods they took to prevent it, filled up the measure of their iniquities, and brought that very destruction, which they feared, upon their own heads. Note; (1.) The enemies of Christ have often pretended zeal for the public good, as a pretence to persecute the public's best friends. (2.) They who, under the influence of carnal policy, by wicked methods, think to extricate themselves from their difficulties, only pull down the more surely that ruin which they seek to shun.
4. Caiaphas the high priests that year, (this dignity and office under the Roman government having become venal, and the persons being often changed,) a man of a Sadducean spirit, (Acts 5:17.) unconcerned about the judgment to come, with daring effrontery and haughtiness, said, Ye know nothing at all, to sit thus debating and deliberating; nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not: when matters are come to such a crisis, there can be no ground to hesitate about proceeding, nor need we enter into the inquiry whether he be a prophet or no; the case is desperate, and requires a desperate remedy: better is it, though he were innocent, to destroy him, than endanger, by a foolish lenity, the safety of the nation. Note; (1.) When secular interest, court favour, bribery and corruption, exalt men to the highest offices in the church, no wonder if the chief rulers are arch-persecutors. (2.) Reason and justice stand in little stead, when power is in the hands of oppressors.
5. The evangelist informs us, that Caiaphas spake not this of himself: but being high-priest that year, whose words would be looked upon as oracular, God so ordered it that he should express his sentiments in such a way, as that, though he designed the mode malignant and murderous counsel, he declared the most important and glorious truth—he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, as the Messiah, to redeem them from the Adamic curse, and all the faithful from all their sins: and not for that nation only, to save the faithful of the Jewish people, but that also he should gather together in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad; even those of the Gentiles also, wherever dispersed, as well as Jews, who would believe in his name.
6. Caiaphas's discourse determined the sanhedrim, and from that day forward, with resolute purpose, they took counsel to put Jesus to death, and thought only on the properest means to execute their design.
7. Christ, who knew this combination against him, and the determination of his implacable enemies, withdrew, and walked no more openly among the Jews; retiring to a city called Ephraim, in the least frequented part of the country, where he spent his time in conversation with his disciples. The hour of his departure approaching, this season was most usually employed in teaching them the things which pertained to the kingdom of God.
8. The last passover which our Lord was to celebrate on earth, now drew nigh; and multitudes, according to custom, resorted to Jerusalem to purify themselves from any ceremonial uncleanness which they had contracted, before the feast began, that they might be legally prepared to partake of it. Many inquiries were then made concerning Jesus, by those who met together in the temple; it being a question much agitated among them, whether he would venture to come up to the feast or not? For the chief-priests had issued strict orders, that if any man knew where he was, he should shew it, that they might arrest him, and put him to death. And this made some doubt, whether such an open declaration of their intentions might not intimidate him; whilst others would have been glad to have an opportunity of delivering him up to his implacable enemies. Note; When rulers are wicked, they never want instruments to execute their iniquitous purposes.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 11". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany