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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
John 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 25-26

DISCOURSE: 1667

CHRIST THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

John 11:25-26. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

IN great and long continued afflictions, we are apt to entertain hard thoughts of God. But, whatever be his intention with respect to the ungodly, we are sure that he designs nothing but good to his own peculiar people, even when he appears most regardless of their supplications. There are two ends which he invariably proposes to himself in his dispensations towards them; namely, the brighter revelation of his own glory, and the fuller manifestation of it to their souls.

In the history before us we have an account of a heavy affliction that had befallen a family, through the death of one, to whom Jesus had shewn a very peculiar attachment. He had been solicited to come and help them; but he had delayed his visit till the sick person had been dead four days. This however, though liable to misconstruction, he had done intentionally, in order that he might manifest more fully to the disconsolate sisters his own power and glory. Accordingly, when they intimated their persuasion, that, if he would pray to God for the restoration of their brother to life, God would grant his request, he told them that he needed not beseech God to effect it; for that he himself was the resurrection and the life; and was able to impart either bodily or spiritual life to whomsoever he would.

In considering this most remarkable declaration, we shall notice,

I. That part which relates to himself—

Martha having, in conformity with the prevailing opinion of the Jews, expressed her expectation of a general resurrection at the last day, Jesus says to her,

“I am the resurrection”—

[Our Lord, in his divine nature, possessed omnipotence necessarily, and of himself. In his mediatorial capacity he was invested with it by his Father, agreeably to the plan concerted in the divine counsels. To him who had undertaken to procure salvation for a fallen world, was delegated all power requisite for the full discharge of that office. The restoring of his people to a new and heavenly life after death, was essential to their complete salvation: this therefore was committed to him [Note: John 5:21; John 5:25-29.]; and he both declared he would execute this great work [Note: John 6:39-40.], and gave an earnest of its accomplishment in raising himself from the dead [Note: John 10:18. 1 Corinthians 15:20.].]

“I am the life”—

[In this term our Lord proceeds further than in the former, and asserts, that as he is the author and first-fruits of the resurrection, so is he the very principle of life whereby his people live. This might indeed be collected from many figurative expressions of Scripture, which represent him as the fountain of life to all his people [Note: John 15:1. Ephesians 4:15-16.]: but we are not left to gather such an important truth from mere parables; it is asserted frequently in the plainest terms: he is a quickening spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:45.], that liveth in us [Note: John 14:6; John 6:57 and Galatians 2:20.], and is our very life [Note: Colossians 3:4.]. He is to the soul, what the soul is to the body; he pervades, animates, and invigorates all our spiritual faculties: by his secret energy our understanding is enabled to apprehend divine truth, and our will inclined to obey it: and, without him, the soul would be as dead as the body without the soul.]

Let us now prosecute our inquiries into,

II. That which respects his people—

There is a remarkable correspondence between the two latter, and the two former clauses of the text; the latter declaring the operation of the powers expressed in the former.

1. As being “the resurrection,” he will raise the bodies of his people—

[Judging of things according to our weak reason, we are ready to think that the restoration of bodies, which may have undergone so many changes, is impossible. But cannot He who formed the universe out of nothing, collect the atoms that constitute our identity, and reunite them to their kindred souls? He can, and will; yea, that very Jesus, who died upon the cross, has the keys of death and of hell [Note: Revelation 1:18.], and will effect this by his own almighty power [Note: Philippians 3:21.].

This clause might further intimate, that by the first act of faith in him our souls should be made partakers of spiritual life. And this would accord with other passages of Scripture [Note: John 6:33; John 6:35; John 7:38; John 10:10.], and prepare us for the next clause, which, rising in a climax, delares the benefits that shall result from a continued life of faith upon him.]

2. As being “the life,” he will preserve the souls of his people unto everlasting life—

[The bodies of the saints must undergo the sentence denounced against sin [Note: Romans 8:10.]; (though death to them is scarcely worthy the name of death; it is rather a sleep, from which they shall be awakened at the morning of the resurrection [Note: ver. 11. Acts 7:60. 1 Thessalonians 4:14.],) but their souls shall never die: none shall prevail against them [Note: Isaiah 54:17.]; none shall pluck them out of Christ’s hands [Note: John 10:28.]; their life is hid in him beyond the reach of men or devils [Note: Colossians 3:3.]; the vital principle within them is an ever-living seed [Note: 1 Peter 1:23.], an over-flowing fountain [Note: John 4:14.]: as long as Christ liveth, they shall live also [Note: John 14:19.]. The separation that will take place between their souls and bodies will only introduce them to a higher state of existence, which they shall enjoy until the day that their bodies shall be awakened from their slumbers, to participate and enhance their bliss.]

We must not however fail to notice the description given of those to whom these promises are made—

[Twice, in these few words, are these blessings limited to believers: not because our Lord disregards good works, or because they shall not be rewarded; but because we cannot do any good work unless we first receive strength from Christ by faith [Note: John 15:5.]; and because, if we obtained life by working, we should have whereof to glory before God: and God has decreed that no flesh shall glory in his presence, and that we shall glory only in the Lord [Note: Romans 3:27. Ephesians 2:8-9. 1 Corinthians 1:29-31.]. It must never be forgotten that God has caused all fulness to dwell in his Son, Jesus Christ [Note: Colossians 1:19.]; and that we must, by a continued exercise of faith, receive out of that fulness grace for grace [Note: John 1:16.]. It is by faith that we live [Note: Galatians 3:11.], we stand [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:24.], we walk [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.], we are saved [Note: Galatians 2:16.]: in a word, “God has given us eternal life; but this life is in his Son: he therefore that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].”]

The pointed interrogation with which our Lord closed this address to Martha, directs us how to improve this subject: it suggests to us,

1. That all persons, however eminent in their profession, or decided in their character, ought to “examine themselves whether they be in the faith”—

[It was to one whom he knew to be an humble and faithful Disciple, that Jesus put this question: well therefore may we who are of more doubtful character, consider it as addressed to us; “Believest thou this?” Believest thou that Christ is the only fountain of life; and that there is no way of receiving life from him but by faith? And dost thou believe these things, not in a mere speculative manner (for that many do whose souls are dead before God) but in such a way as to reduce them to practice? The believing of this record forms the one line of distinction between those that shall be saved, and those that shall perish. If we truly receive it, we have already passed from death unto life [Note: John 5:24.]: if we do not receive it, we are yet dead in trespasses and sins: we have not life now; we cannot have life hereafter. A resurrection indeed we shall partake of; but it is a resurrection to damnation, and not a resurrection to life [Note: John 5:29.]: we shall live; but it will be a life justly denominated death, the second death [Note: Revelation 20:14.]. Let us not then defer our inquiries into a subject which is of such infinite importance.]

2. That the believing of this record is the most effectual antidote against the troubles of life or the fears of death—

[If Martha had felt the full influence of these truths, she would have moderated her sorrows, under the persuasion that her loss was her brother’s gain; and that, if her brother were not restored to life, she should soon meet him in a better world. Thus in every state the consideration of these truths will afford to us also unspeakable consolation: for if we believe in Christ, and have through him the possession of spiritual, and the prospect of eternal life, what cause can we have to complain; what cause to fear? The world will be divested of its allurements, and death of its terrors. Satisfied that all events are under the controul of our best Friend, we shall commit them cheerfully to his wise disposal; and looking forward to the day in which he will call us from our graves, we shall expect his summons with, composure at least, if not also with a holy impatience. Let us then live by faith in our divine Saviour, assured that he will keep us unto eternal life, and exalt us, both in body and soul, unto the everlasting enjoyment of his presence and glory [Note: In the place of the foregoing the following might be used:—

In considering this most remarkable declaration, we shall notice,

I. The affirmation—

This relates,

1. Partly to our Lord himself—

[“I am the Resurrection and the Life.” These expressions doubtless refer in a measure to that power which our Lord possesses, and which at a future period he will surely exercise, to raise the dead. But it must principally be understood as declaring his power to restore the souls of men to spiritual and eternal life. This power he possesses essentially as God; and in his mediatorial office he has received it from the Father to be exercised for his chosen people. In them he will not only act, but live; himself being the very life of their souls, and performing in their souls every office which the soul itself performs in the body — — —]

2. Partly to his believing people—

[There is a remarkable correspondence between the two latter, and the two former clauses of the text; the latter declaring the operation of the power expressed in the former.

The souls that are dead he will restore to life. Only let a person who has hitherto been dead in trespasses and sins, believe in him, and immediately he shall “pass from death to life,” and be enabled to perform all the functions of a child of God — — —

And one who by faith has been restored to life, shall, by the exercise of the same faith, be preserved even to the end: no enemy shall prevail against him, or separate him from the Redeemer’s love — — — His body may die even as others: but his soul shall live for ever; and his body too be raised again to be partaker of its bliss.]

II. The interrogation founded upon it—

This may be understood as put to Martha,

1. In a way of inquiry—

[Even she might profitably examine whether her faith in him was genuine. And much more does a similar inquiry become us. Let it not be supposed that all who are called Christians possess this faith: in truth, but few possess it — — — Yet is it that alone which will ensure to us eternal life.]

2. In a way of reproof—

[Her grief on this occasion, though natural, was, on the whole, carried to excess: and the question, thus put to her, might intimate, that her principles were not operative to a just extent. The proper office of faith was to compose her mind under all trials, and to elevate her above all the things of time and sense. Are any of you then greatly agitated, and sinking under the weight of your trials? Remember how unsuitable this is to your high calling: and beg of God that your faith and patience may have their proper work.]

3. In a way of encouragement—

[What can any person want, who has such a Saviour to go unto, and such privileges to enjoy? Surely in him there is all fulness for a supply of all our wants: and in our prospects of eternal life all other things should, as it were, be lost, like the stars before the rising sun. Brethren, behold your Saviour possessed of “all power in heaven and in earth.” Behold him engaged for you, and exercising all his powers for you. He is “the Resurrection,” that you may rise; “the Life,” that you may live. Through him you do live: through him you shall live. Nor need you be afraid of death: for to you it shall be the gate of heaven, the commencement of a glorious and everlasting life.]

N. B. The references in the former will afford suitable quotations for the illustration of this. And if it were a Funeral Discourse, the two latter heads might be profitably addressed to the surviving friends.].]


Verse 35

DISCOURSE: 1668

SYMPATHY

John 11:35. Jesus wept.

THE Holy Scriptures are, beyond all comparison, superior to any other book; in that they reveal to us truths which human reason could never have explored, and administer consolations which no human composition could ever have imparted. But it is not merely on these accounts that they are to be valued. Taking them as records only, they are deeply interesting, because of the incidents which they bring to our view, and the simplicity which pervades the narration of them. The history of Joseph, for instance, stands unrivalled in this view in the Old Testament, as does the account of Lazarus in the New. By what is related concerning him, we are introduced into the bosom of a pious family, the happiness of which is interrupted for a time by the disease and death of its chief member; and is afterwards exalted a hundred-fold, by the restoration of that person to life. We forbear to enter into the particulars of that history, as they may be read by every one at home: but we would call your attention to that particular incident mentioned in our text, “Jesus wept.”

In these words we have,

I. A memorable occurrence—

Only reflect on the person of whom this is spoken. He was no other than our incarnate God; who, being absolutely perfect in every respect, was far above the reach of those passions with which we are apt to be transported, and had all his feelings in perfect subjection: yet of him it is said, that, at the grave of Lazarus, “he wept.”

But from whence proceeded these tender emotions? They arose,

1. From sympathy with his afflicted friends—

[Such was his regard for Lazarus and his sisters, that his friendship for them was a matter of public notoriety [Note: ver. 3, 5.]. And now that death had made an inroad on their happiness, and reduced the surviving sisters to deep distress, he could not but feel for them, and participate in their sorrows. In truth, sympathy is a necessary fruit of love, and altogether inseparable from it. When, therefore, our Lord saw these friends weeping so bitterly, and their friends and attendants weeping also, he could no longer refrain, but had his own cheeks also suffused with tears [Note: ver. 33.]. To this principle the spectators ascribed his tears: they all exclaimed, “Behold, how he loved him [Note: ver. 36.]!”]

2. From compassion for their remaining infirmities—

[After all that they had seen and known of him, they should have assigned no limits either to his power or grace. Yet behold, though they did believe that he could have preserved their brother from death, they had no conception that he was able to restore him from the grave. Though he had intimated to them his intention to do so, they could not believe him: and when he actually prepared to do so, they imagined that the period which had elapsed since his death, and which, according to the common course of things, would have caused the body to decay, was an insurmountable obstacle to his purpose [Note: ver. 39.]. Well might this give pain to his holy soul. And that it did so, we see from the reproof which he administered: “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” With his own Disciples, also, he was frequently grieved on the same account [Note: Matthew 8:26. Mark 16:14.].]

3. From grief for the obduracy of those, who, he knew, would be yet further hardened by this miracle—

[This, I doubt not, entered deeply into his feelings at this time. It was for their conviction that he had refrained from healing Lazarus at first, and had afterwards delayed coming to his friends till he had been four days dead [Note: ver. 6, 15.]. It was for the very same end that, instead of exerting his own Almighty power in the way that he usually did, he prayed to his heavenly Father to effect the miracle; shewing thereby the Father’s union with him in all that he did, and thus placing beyond all reasonable doubt the truth of his own Messiahship [Note: ver. 41–43.]. But “he knew what was in man:” he knew that this stupendous miracle would only enrage some of them the more, in proportion as it carried conviction to the minds of others; and that, instead of converting their souls, it would only precipitate, them into more heinous guilt and wickedness. All this it eventually did [Note: ver. 46–50, 53, 57. with 12:10, 11.]: and all this he foresaw. We wonder not, then, that he wept; seeing that the very means he was using for the salvation of men, would issue, with respect to many of them, in their more aggravated condemnation. Nor were these things of rare occurrence. They prevailed amongst the great mass of his hearers, and proved a source of continual sorrow to his soul [Note: Mark 3:5 and John 13:21.].]

But in these words we have, also,

II. An instructive lesson—

Were we to trace this occurrence in all its bearings, we should scarcely know where to begin, or where to end. We shall content ourselves, therefore, with noticing only two or three things which naturally arise out of it.

We see then from it,

1. That there is no condition in this life, in which men are exempt from sorrow—

[Had there been any exception from the common lot of all men, we should have looked for it in such a family as that of Lazarus, where there was such ardent love between all the members of it, and so peculiar an interest in the favour of the Lord Jesus; or, at all events, we should expect to find it in our incarnate God. But death invaded their peaceful mansion; and filled the surviving sisters with distress, in which also the Saviour himself participated. Who then, amongst us, can hope for freedom from the general lot? Truly, this is a “Bochim [Note: Judges 2:5.],” a vale of tears, to every child of man. However prosperous our condition may be, no one “knows what a day or an hour may bring forth.” Either in our own persons, or in our families and connexions, it will be strange indeed if something do not frequently occur to damp our joys, and to remind us that “this is not our rest:” for “man is born to trouble,” as naturally and as certainly, “as the sparks fly upward.”]

2. What is of necessity the operation of divine grace in the soul—

[The sum and substance of all practical religion is love: and wherever love exists, there will be sympathy: for it is impossible but that the members of the same body should have a community of feeling with each other [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:25.]. To “rejoice with them that rejoice, and to weep with them that weep,” is the necessary fruit and consequence of grace in the soul [Note: Romans 12:15. See instances Hebrews 10:31. Philippians 2:26-28.].” The man that is devoid of these holy feelings is destitute of piety altogether [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. In truth, for our griefs and sorrows we have the very same occasions as at this time presented themselves to our blessed Lord. There are troubles and calamities all around us: and if we have our souls duly impressed with them, we shall be able to say, with holy Job, “Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor [Note: Job 30:25.]?” But if there are no particular troubles that come under our cognizance, who can open his eyes and not see to what an extent sign reigns in all the world? And should not that move us? Should not “rivers of waters run down our eyes, because men keep not God’s law [Note: Psalms 119:136.]?” Should we not say with the Prophet Jeremiah, “O that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the sins and miseries of my people [Note: Jeremiah 9:1.]! Nor should the defects of those who profess godliness escape our notice. When Paul marked the conduct of some at Philippi, he was quite distressed in his soul because of the delusions by which they were blinded: “Many walk,” says he, “of whom I have told you often, and tell you now even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, and that their end is destruction [Note: Philippians 3:18-19.].” And so tenderly did he enter into the concerns of all, that he could say, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:29.]?” This is “the mind that was in Christ Jesus;” and in this every true disciple will resemble him [Note: Philippians 2:4-5.].]

3. What a Friend we have, before whom to spread all the sins and sorrows wherewith we are oppressed—

[Has any temporal calamity befallen you? He who wept at the grave of Lazarus invites you to call upon him: “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will hear thee; and thou shalt glorify me [Note: Psalms 50:15.].” Are you loaded with a sense of guilt? The same Almighty Friend says to you, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden; and I will give you rest [Note: Matthew 11:28.].” Very remarkable is that expression of his pity for Ephraim of old: “Surely I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus . Is not Ephraim my dear son? is he not a pleasant child? For, since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: yea, my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 31:18-20.].” And do you think that he will exercise less compassion towards you? O, know for a certainty, that you “have not a High-Priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of your infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as you are, yet without sin [Note: Hebrews 4:15.].” Be it so, that your sins appear to be of more than ordinary enormity, because of the circumstances under which they have been committed: shall you therefore despond? Be assured, that He who wept over the murderous Jerusalem [Note: Luke 19:41-42.], has lost none of his compassion, but is alike willing to exercise his mercy towards you. He is justly called “the Consolation of Israel:” and, if you seek him, he will be found of you: though you were dead, yet should you live: and if you will truly believe in him, you shall assuredly behold the glory of God [Note: ver. 25, 40.].”]


Verse 40

DISCOURSE: 1669

LAZARUS RAISED

John 11:40. Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

SUCH is the state of God’s people upon earth, that they can scarcely ever come into trying circumstances without discovering the frailty of their nature, and laying themselves open to reproof from their Divine Master. But in all the rebukes which our Lord gave his Disciples, we may notice a peculiar tenderness, like that of a parent towards his beloved child [Note: Matthew 14:31. Mark 9:33-37.]. In the passage before us he had occasion to reprove the unbelief of Martha: but he could not possibly have done it in milder terms.

In considering this reproof, let us notice,

I. What it spake to her—

She, in her extremity, sent to Jesus, to entreat him to restore her brother Lazarus to health—

[Bethabara beyond Jordan, where Jesus was, was a long day’s journey from Bethany. Martha and Mary had foreborne to inform him of their distress, till they despaired of obtaining help for their brother except from his miraculous interposition. In answer to their petition, he sent them word, that “the sickness of their brother should not be unto death; but that the Son of God should be glorified thereby [Note: ver. 4.].” But, instead of attending to the request immediately, he staid where he was two days, and then went to Bethany, and found, that Lazarus, who had died soon after the departure of the messenger, “had been dead and buried four days [Note: ver. 17.].” Martha, hearing of his arrival, went forth to meet him, and expressed her regret that Jesus had not been there whilst her brother was yet alive, since she was confident, that he would have exerted his almighty power to restore him to health. Our Lord now repeated what he had declared to the messenger, and told her that “her brother should rise again [Note: ver. 21–23.].” She however, supposing him to speak of what should take place “at the last day,” took no notice of his words as a ground of present consolation. Jesus therefore proceeded to speak more plainly, that “He himself was the resurrection and the life: and that one who believed in him, though he were dead, yet should live, yea, and never die. [Note: ver. 25, 26.]” But still she did not see in this, that he who could restore dead souls to life, could also with equal ease restore a body that was dead. When therefore he ordered the stone to be removed from his grave, she intimated, that the state of his body, now putrid, placed it beyond a possibility of restoration to life. Upon this our blessed Lord administered the reproof which we are now considering: “Said I not, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Then, not being “extreme to mark what was done amiss,” he spake the word, “Lazarus, come forth:” and immediately he that was dead came forth, with all the solemn appendages of death adhering to him; and was again restored to the society of his beloved sisters and friends.]

By the mercy vouchsafed to her on this occasion “God was greatly glorified”—

[How wonderful must the condescension and grace of God appear to Martha, when she saw the request of such unworthy creatures as herself and her sister prevailing to such an extent as this! — — — And what a confirmation had she now before her eyes of that truth which she had already confessed, that “Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of God, that was to come into the world [Note: ver. 27.]!” — — — What an enjoyment too would they henceforth have of their brother’s society, whose presence could not fail of bringing all these things to their remembrance, and of calling forth on all occasions their devoutest praises and thanksgivings to their God and Saviour! — — — Thus then did she indeed see the glory of God, notwithstanding her faith, though true, fell very far short of that perfect standard to which it ought to have attained.]

But, not to confine the reproof to her, let us consider,

II. What it speaks to us—

To us does the Lord Jesus speak in his word, as truly as he ever spake to Martha, or to his own Disciples. To ourselves then we may apply that question, “Said I not thus and thus unto thee? and that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” Yes: and in this reproof we see,

1. That whatever the Lord Jesus has spoken to us, should be treasured up in our minds—

[In his word are “exceeding great and precious promises:” and every one of them is made to us: and it is no less our duty, than our privilege, to rely upon them, and to expect their accomplishment to our souls. For instance, He has told us that “those who come to God by him God will in no wise cast out” — that “all manner of sin and wickedness shall be forgiven unto them — and that “they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.” These, and ten thousand other promises we should treasure up in our minds, and plead them before God in prayer. Nor should we ever be discouraged by any difficulties or any delays. The difficulties may be designed of God for the fuller manifestation of his own glory — — — and the delays be permitted to endear to us the more the mercies that he will vouchsafe unto us.]

2. That the more we exercise faith in God the more will he manifest to us his glory—

[God will honour faith. See it in the case of Abraham and in the case of Moses: How much more visible were his power and grace in the birth of Isaac when he was given to Abraham after all hope of any progeny had ceased, and when restored to him afterwards, as it were, from the dead! And how did every difficulty that interposed between the first message delivered to Pharaoh and the final establishment of the Hebrews in the promised land, display and magnify the grace of God in that stupendous dispensation! So shall we find in all God’s dealings with us, the more we are tried, the more will his glory appear to us, if only we stagger not at his promises, but be strong in faith, giving glory to him! Only let us never limit his power, or doubt his veracity. If our case appear as desperate as that of Lazarus, let us not therefore doubt, and much less despond: for sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, that one jot or tittle of his word shall fail” — — —]


Verse 51-52

DISCOURSE: 1670

THE PROPHETIC COUNSEL OF CAIAPHAS

John 11:51-52. This spake he not of himself: but being high-priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

IT is often found that the people who are not humbled and converted by the Gospel, are irritated and incensed by it; and that, to justify their rejection of its truths, they become persecutors of those who preach it. When their prejudices are once excited, nothing will allay them. However exemplary a minister may be in his conduct, however benevolent in his purposes, however wise and discreet in his exertions, he cannot escape their censure, or ward off their hatred. Rather than he should pass without censure, the very best actions of his life shall be brought against him as grounds of accusation. The abundance of his labours and the success of his endeavours shall be reported as matters worthy of blame, and shall be made the grounds of inveterate persecution. It was thus when our blessed Lord himself ministered on earth. His wisdom or benevolence none can doubt: yet was he “a butt of contradiction [Note: σημεῖον ἀντιλεγόμενον.]” to all around him. He had just wrought a stupendous miracle in raising from the grave a man who had been dead four days, and who, in that climate, must have begun to putrefy. Would any one suppose that this should give offence? yet behold, some who were present, went and made the miracle an occasion of grievous complaint; insomuch that the high-priest instantly convened a council, in order to concert measures for preventing a repetition of such offences in future. After some of the chief-priests had offered their opinions, the high-priest himself, in a very contemptuous and dictatorial tone, decided the point at once; and determined, that private, should give way to public, good: this, he said, common policy required; and therefore it was expedient to destroy the author of this benevolent act, lest the popularity which he had acquired by means of it, should excite the jealousy of the Roman government, and call down their vengeance on the whole nation. This advice was immediately, though not unanimously [Note: Luke 23:51.], agreed to; (for any argument will suffice, when prejudice is the judge;) and means were instantly adopted for executing the decree. But the text informs us, that this advice, pronounced as it was with oracular authority, was indeed an oracle; though it was dictated by God in a very different sense from that in which it was intended by Caiaphas. We shall therefore illustrate it in both points of view:

I. As intended by Caiaphas—

Caiaphas meant only, that, as the state would be (in his apprehension) endangered by the popularity of Jesus, common policy required that they should destroy him at once. But what advice was this to come from a minister of religion, yea, from God’s high-priest!

1. How unjust!

[Here was nothing criminal laid to the charge of our blessed Lord; yet was he to be treated as a criminal, and to be put to death as a malefactor. On what principle could this be justified. We do not hesitate to say, that nothing can warrant such a procedure. If a man think that he can benefit the State by exposing his own life, he is at liberty to do it; yea, every true Christian ought to be willing to “lay down his life for the brethren:” he should even account the sacrificing of his life in such a cause, to be rather a source of exultation and triumph, than of dread and sorrow [Note: 1 John 3:16. Philippians 2:17.]. But no tribunal under heaven can take away the life of an innocent man: nor ought that which is radically unjust, ever to be sanctioned by legal authority.]

2. How impious!

[It was acknowledged by Caiaphas himself, that Jesus had wrought “miracles,” “many” miracles; and miracles of such a nature as to carry conviction with them to every beholder [Note: ver. 47, 48.]. Now these miracles proved to demonstration, that Jesus was sent by God himself: they were the broad seal of heaven attesting his Divine commission. What then was the advice, but a direct opposition to God himself? There was not so much as an attempt to cover the impiety: a fear of man’s displeasure was the avowed and only reason for the commission of it. To what a height of wickedness must that man have attained, who could offer such advice; and that council who could adopt it!]

3. How absurd!

[The Jewish history might have shewn the council, that the Romans could not prevail against them any further than God authorized and empowered them to do so. Consequently, if they looked no further than to their temporal happiness, it was their wisdom rather to conciliate the favour of God by doing what was right, than to provoke him to anger by murdering his dear Son. Yet, so infatuated were they, as to fear “the axe, rather than him that heweth therewith;” and to draw down the certain displeasure of the Almighty, rather than incur the danger of displeasing a worm like themselves. The event proved the folly of their choice: for the very means they used to avoid destruction, brought down destruction upon them, and that too from the very persons whose favour they had so impiously courted. In the space of forty years, God executed upon them the most signal vengeance: he inflicted upon them the judgment he had warned them of: and made use of the Roman armies “miserably to destroy those murderers, and to burn up their city [Note: Matthew 21:38-41; Matthew 22:7.].”]

But we are told that Caiaphas “spake this not of himself.” He meant indeed what he said; but his words bear a very different construction,

II. As dictated by God—

Since the Jews had been brought under the Roman yoke, the high priesthood, instead of being continued to the end of life, was changed as often as the interests of the Roman government appeared to require it. It now happened, that, notwithstanding Annas, the predecessor of Caiaphas, was yet alive, Caiaphas was high-priest. And, as God in former times had enabled the high-priests, by means of the Urim and Thummim, to declare his will, it pleased him now so to overrule the mind of Caiaphas, that he should utter a prophecy, when of himself he designed nothing more than to give the most impious advice. And though this was certainly a remarkable instance of God’s interposition, it was by no means singular: for none of the prophets fully understood the import of their own words [Note: Compare Psalms 22:16-18. with 1 Peter 1:10-12.]: some prophesied without any direct intention on their part [Note: 1 Samuel 10:10-12.]; and others, in words most opposite to their own wishes [Note: Numbers 22:38. with 24:10.].

In this prophecy he unwittingly declared,

1. The end of Christ’s death—

[Be astonished, O heavens! this inveterate enemy of Christ, at the very moment when he proposed that he should be put to death, proclaimed, that it was not for his own sins, but for the good of others! How careful was God to clear the innocence of his Son, when, in addition to this wretched pontiff, he stirred up Judas who betrayed him, and Pilate who condemned him, and one of the malefactors that suffered with him, and the centurion who superintended his execution, to unite their testimony to this effect! With this prophecy of Caiaphas agree those of Daniel and Isaiah, that “the Messiah was to be cut off, but not for himself [Note: Daniel 9:26.];” that he was to be “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities [Note: Isaiah 53:5.].” Yes, “he died, the just for the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 3:18.]:” he was a propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world [Note: 1 John 2:2.].”]

2. The efficacy of it—

[Caiaphas intimated, that if this Jesus were put to death, all cause of fear would cease, and the whole nation would enjoy both peace and safety. Blessed truth! provided only we believe in Jesus: we then indeed have nothing to fear from those who have enslaved us, or from those who seek our ruin: sin, Satan, death, and hell shall all be disarmed of their power. The whole Israel of God, wheresoever “scattered,” are the nation of whom Caiaphas unwittingly spake: they are “a holy nation:” they are interested in all that Christ has done or suffered: they “are gathered into the one” great community; partakers of one heavenly nature; members of one mystical body; and heirs of one eternal glory [Note: Revelation 5:9.]. Caiaphas, thy words are true; “they are tried to the uttermost;” that Jesus, whom thou persecutedst, “has by death destroyed death, and delivered those who were all their life-time subject to bondage [Note: Hebrews 2:14-15.].”]

Infer—

1. How mysterious is the providence of God!

[That act which was in itself the most atrocious that ever was committed, was in its effects the best! How deep a mystery! the life of the world secured by the death of God’s only Son! But so it is still: “God’s ways are in the great deep:” and the very efforts which are made by men and devils for the destruction of his people, are instrumental to their establishment and growth in grace. And the time shall come when all the saints shall see as much reason to bless God for the malice exercised towards themselves in particular, as now they see to adore him for the accomplishment of his word in and by the Lord Jesus.]

2. How rich his grace!

[For whom was it that Jesus died? it was “for that nation;” that nation that abused so many mercies, and persecuted so many prophets, and imbrued their hands in the blood of God’s only Son! Even Caiaphas himself, with all that were concerned in that unparalleled transaction, were free to accept of mercy, and, by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon their souls, to be cleansed from the guilt of shedding it. Nor are we excluded from the benefit. Whatever guilt we may have contracted, the way is open for us, if we desire reconciliation with our offended God: “Not one that comes to him shall ever be cast out.” Let this grace, this “exceedingly rich grace,” fill us with astonishment, and be now, as it certainly will be in the eternal world, the subject of our incessant praise.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 11:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/john-11.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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