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Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
John 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-26

John 11:1. Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town or Mary and her sister Martha.

In God’s book, towns are most remarkable for saints that dwell in them. “The town of Mary and her sister Martha.” A day will come when a city shall be more illustrious for a saint than for a Caesar — be more renowned for deeds of faith than for deeds of battle. It was “the town of Mary and her sister Martha.”

John 11:2-3. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick). Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

They did not say anymore. They felt that it was quite enough to tell him that Lazarus was sick, and they left it to the tender heart of Jesus to do whatever seemed good in his sight. Some prayers would be all the better if they were shorter — all the better if they did not so much declare our own will as declare our confidence in the good will of Christ. I like the omissions of Martha’s and Mary’s prayer.

John 11:4. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

Our Saviour speaks in a different style from us. He should have said that the sickness was unto death, but, ultimately, to the glory of God. But he who sees the end from the beginning streaks with a grandeur of style which could not be imitated by us. So the Lord speaks of things, not as they seem to be, nor even as they are in the present moment, but as they shall be in the long run. “Not unto death, but that the Son of God might be glorified.”

John 11:5. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Yet Lazarus died. Jesus loved Lazarus, yet Lazarus was sick. Jesus was not of that cruel sort of people, of whom we have some in these days, who call themselves saints, and who attribute all sickness among God’s people to their sin or to their want of faith. Not he. Here was one that was sick, but Jesus loved him just as much for all that.

John 11:6. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

Notice the connection. “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus”; and yet when he had heard that Lazarus was sick, “he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Sometimes true love may think fit to make us wait. It may be the truest love on God’s part to let us lie sick, and not to come post-haste to us to make us well. Ay, the truest love may demand that the sickness should turn to death, for out of the death he may bring the greater glory. The Lord acts not upon the scale of man, for he sees not as man sees. He sees the end as well as the beginning.

John 11:7. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.

— and that because he loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. If that love in its wisdom made him tarry, yet that love in its sincerity at last moved him to seek the house of grief.

John 11:9. Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day?

Is there not a time in which the sun will not go down — in which it is safe and right for men to work?

John 11:9-10. If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

There is a singular turn, is there not, in that expression? We expected it to be “Because he seeth not the light of the world,” instead of which the Saviour says, “Because there is no light in him” — because in spiritual things our light not only comes from above, but it shines within; and without that inner light we are sure to stumble.

John 11:11. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth: but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

It is the Saviour’s way to use terms concerning his miracles, which, so far from exaggerating them, even appear to depreciate them. He is about to raise a man from the dead, but he says, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.” I am afraid that our tendency is always to describe our actions in the largest possible terms consistent with truth; perhaps, sometimes forgetting those last words. But the Saviour describes truthfully what he does, but still in terms which, like his humanity, seem to veil the glory. Wonderfully condescending is it of him to speak thus: —

John 11:12. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.

It is considered to be a sign of getting better when a patient can sleep.

John 11:13-16. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

A singular mixture of faith and unbelief. He so believes his Master that he is willing to die with him. He so doubts him that, although the Saviour had plainly told him that he was immortal till his work was done, yet he is afraid that his Master and all of them will be put to death. Oh, the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves, and the Lord accepts us notwithstanding our infirmities.

John 11:17. Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.

So that he was probably dead as soon as the messengers arrived to tell the Saviour that he was ill.

John 11:18. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.

Just a nice little walk which our Saviour had often taken in the evening after the toils of the day in Jerusalem. He had loved to make Bethany his quiet resting-place. “Fifteen furlongs off.”

John 11:19-20. And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.

Because she had not heard that Jesus was come, or else, no doubt, she would have been there as soon as Martha.

John 11:21. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

They had often said to one another, “Oh, we wish the Lord were come.” They had sent for him. They felt sure that he would come. But, alas, their brother had died before the Master had arrived; and now this thought which was uppermost in their hearts is uppermost in their speech, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.”

John 11:22. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.

There is faith there, and there is unbelief too. She believes that Christ can have what he wills of God, but she does not recognize his own personal Godhead — his own power to work resurrection.

John 11:23-26. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 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?

She looked upon the resurrection and the life as things that were to be in some dim and misty future. “No,” says Christ, “I am the resurrection and the life. Not only do I get these things by prayer from God, but I am these things.” And then he goes on to explain it. He says, “I am the resurrection. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. I am the life. Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” He has taken her out of the thought of this poor common animal-life into the thought of the spiritual and higher life, which is, indeed, to the soul what the resurrection is to the body. It was well for the Saviour thus to teach her higher truth than as yet she knew.


Verses 1-44

John 11:1. Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

To many people, it may have seemed an event of no particular importance that “a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany,” but great consequences often depend upon what appear to us to be very minor matters, and we must not despise the least of the Lord’s people, nor think slightingly of anything that concerns them. When a king or an emperor is ill, the news is published in all the papers; but when a friend of the Lord Jesus, a man “named Lazarus of Bethany,” was sick, that event was recorded in the Bible because of something very remarkable which was to follow that sickness. Lazarus was a son of God, and grace makes greater distinctions than earthly rank and worldly honours ever can make.

John 11:2-3. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

So you see that those whom Jesus loves may be themselves ill, or may have dear ones who are ill; ay, and the illness may be sent by God as a token and testimony of his affection for them. Men polish gems, but they do not take the trouble to polish common pebbles, and God sends affliction to his own beloved ones for their good and for his own glory.

John 11:4. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death,-

That was not to be the end of it; God had quite another purpose in view in allowing Lazarus to be sick: “This sickness is not unto death,”-

John 11:4. But for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

Jesus knew that Lazarus would die, but he also knew that his death would only be a kind of interlude; the great design of God was not to take Lazarus home at that time, but to glorify his Son in the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.

John 11:5. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Happy was the family at Bethany of which it could be said that all the members of it were dear to Christ. Is it so with your household, Martha? Or is it only Mary who is thus loved? Has Lazarus been left out? Then pray for your brother as these gracious sisters sent to tell Jesus about Lazarus.

John 11:6. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.

We cannot always understand what our Master does. It seemed a strange thing that, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stopped where he was, yet there was a good reason for the delay, Christ was waiting in wisdom and in love. I think I see Mary and Martha, day after day wondering where Jesus could be; perhaps thinking hard thoughts of him, and saying, “He loved us, and he loved our brother, why did he not come directly we sent to him?”

John 11:7-10. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

Christ felt that his day was not over, and that he could not die before his work was done, and therefore he did not fear the stones cast by unbelieving foes. So, my brother, at all risks go on with your God-given work; you will live through your twelve hours, and you will not live a moment longer. Be so much a believer in predestination that, even if duty calls you to risk your life, you will bravely do it, knowing that you are in the hands of God, and that your life cannot end until your appointed twelve hours have expired.

John 11:11. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth;-

“Our friend.” Why, Lazarus was Christ’s friend. Yes; but those who are Christ’s friends are our friends too if we belong to Christ. I have recently met with a large number of persons from different countries; but, the moment we discovered that we loved the same Lord, we seemed to be as intimate as if we had been next-door neighbours for the last fifty years.

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth;”-

John 11:11-14. But I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

Let me remind you, my dear brethren who preach the gospel, that you will have to preach very plainly, for you see that even the apostles could not understand a figure of speech. When Christ said, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth,” they mistook his meaning, so he had to say plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” That is how we must preach the gospel; not only so that our hearers can understand it, but so that they cannot misunderstand it.

John 11:15-16. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe, nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Thomas always took a dark view of things, so he thought his Master was going to be killed; but he was a brave disciple, for he said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There are still many very timid despondent disciples, but they cling to Christ, and, if necessary, they would die for him, as Thomas was willing to die with him. God bless you, Thomas! There are worse men than you, and not many better.

John 11:17. Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.

You know that, in the East, they have to bury the dead almost immediately because of the heat of the climate; so that Lazarus was, not long after he was dead, put away in the family vault.

John 11:18. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:

An easy walk of somewhere about two miles.

John 11:19-20. And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.

You will often hear people praising Mary at the expense of Martha, but although Mary is commended for sitting at Christ’s feet, Martha here was the first to meet her Lord. The varying characters of different persons come out best at different times. Mary is best at sermon-time, she forgets the cups and the platters, but Martha is the more practical in the time of grief. She is active, and does not give way as Mary does. She is not so contemplative, and not so crushed as Mary is, so she is the first to go to meet her Lord.

John 11:21. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

There seems to have been just a tinge of reproach in Martha’s words, and Mary said exactly the same words to their dear Master and Friend a little later; and I have often heard Martha and Mary talk in this fashion: “Oh, if we had only had another doctor!” or, “If our dear friend had not gone to the seaside;” or, possibly, “If he had gone to the seaside, he might not have died.” Well now, beloved friends, you have grief enough in having lost your relative or friend without adding to it by these unwise suppositions about what might have happened if you had done something else. Do not fall into that mistake and wound yourselves and grieve your best friend by unnecessary and useless regrets.

John 11:22-24. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

She could not believe the joyful meaning that Christ meant to convey to her when he said, “Thy brother shall rise again.”

John 11:25. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection,-

Note that our Lord did not say, “I am he who raiseth the dead;” but, “I am the resurrection,”-

John 11:25-27. 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? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Will not many of you make Martha’s grand confession of faith your own? Believe in Jesus, and then you will be able to believe anything and every thing that he says.

John 11:28. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.

Martha’s title for Christ might be rendered, “The Teacher, The authoritative Teacher,” yet I am glad our translators put it “The Master.”

John 11:29. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.

The coming of Christ had such an effect upon her that she arose from amid the ashes of her sorrow, and went out to meet her dear Lord and Master.

John 11:30-31. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

It is significant that these mourners did not follow Martha when she went to meet Jesus, but they did follow Mary. Sometimes, sinners who are not converted by listening to one preacher, are blessed by the testimony of two. One sister may not be able to lead her brother to Christ yet God may enable two to do it. Jesus sent out his seventy disciples “two and two,” and the apostles are usually mentioned in pairs,-Simon and Andrew, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew and so on; and we shall find that two Christians can often accomplish what one alone could not do.

John 11:32-33. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

His heart was full of sympathy; he felt the grief of these mourners, and sorrowed with them.

John 11:34-35. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.

In the original, a very blessed and expressive word is used here concerning Christ’s weeping; quite a different word from that used to describe the weeping of Mary and the Jews. It should be a constant comfort to the sorrowing Church of God that “Jesus wept.”

John 11:36-39. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

“Wilt thou expose that corrupt corpse to the air? “Ah, me! what poor foul creatures we are through the Fall! See what we may, any of us, become in a few days, so that even the one who loves us best will have to say of us, “Bury my dead out of my sight.”

John 11:40-41. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

That groaning in spirit was Christ’s prayer to his Father, that inward tumult of his soul was his earnest supplication; and now he thanks his Father that he has heard him. Yet Lazarus was still dead, and lying, a mass of corruption, in the grave. Oh, for faith to bless God for the mercies that are on the way to us!

John 11:42; John 11:44. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

See what wonders our Lord can work, and ask him to work similar miracles in the spiritual realm, and to raise to life those who are dead in trespasses and sins.


Verses 27-46

Our Lord’s greatest miracles were ever the reward of faith.

John 11:27. She saith unto him, Yea, Lord I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come unto the world.

By which she as good as said, “I believe that, and I believe everything else. I have an implicit faith in thee. Whatever thou sayest, whatever thou hast said or shalt say, I am prepared to believe it all. for I believe in thee. I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”

John 11:28. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly,

Because she knew that the Jews hated the Saviour, she could not tell what would come of it if they knew of his coming, so she whispers to her:

John 11:28-30. Saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was at that place where Martha met him.

Their cemeteries were outside the town, and probably the Saviour was near the very grave where Lazarus slept.

John 11:31-32. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died

Her thought was just the same as the thought of Martha, but she did not say so much as Martha. She never did. Martha had a dialogue with the Saviour, but Mary bowed at his feet.

John 11:33. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord. come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave.

Many have asked why Christ groaned. Why, brethren, it is the way in which he gives life — by his own death. We say sometimes of one who does a great action, “It took so much out of him.” So it did out of the Saviour. He must groan that Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus may rejoice. It is not without the stirring of his very life that he gives life to the dead.

John 11:38-39. It was a cave and the stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone, Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

“It were a pity to roll away the stone.”

John 11:40-41. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me.

That is grand praying, is it not? Sometimes we ought to say, “Just so.” “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.”

John 11:42-44. And I knew that thou hearest me always. but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he had thus spoken he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.

He probably slipped himself off from the ledge in the tomb upon which he been laid, and there he appeared before them bound so that he could not move farther.


Verses 45-57

Lazarus had been publicly raised from the dead. A great number of persons saw the miracle, and there was never any question about its having been wrought.

John 11:45-46. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

We could hardly have conceived it possible that men would have been guilty of such conduct as this to post off to Christ’s enemies, and lay it as an accusation against him, that he had raised a man from the dead.

John 11:47-48. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

They pretended that if Jesus Christ gathered to himself a great party, the Romans would take umbrage at it — pounce upon the whole nation and destroy it, for fear of its revolting from under their sway. A gross falsehood throughout.

John 11:49-50. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all. Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, And that the whole nation perish not.

That was his advice. You are, none of you, up to the mark. You do not handle this thing rightly. Let us kill this man. Let him be put to death —not that he deserves it, but that it is expedient that it should be, lest our nation should be destroyed; and this is the way that governors and kings have been accustomed to think — not “Is it right?” but “Is it expedient “and we may always pray to God that we may have a Government that will do that which is right, and not be guided by the evil direction of that which is expedient. One has well said that if the death of a righteous man would save ten thousand, yet it would be an atrocious thing that he should be put to death unwillingly for the saving of any. The right is, after all, expedient. Yet Caiaphas did not know what he said. He was speaking a great truth.

John 11:51. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation:

He did not understand his own words. He was saying a great deal more than he meant to say — for it was expedient — blessedly expedient — that Jesus should die willingly and of his own accord, giving himself up to death for the sake of his people.

John 11:52-53. And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.

One bold wicked man can often sway the counsels of men who are equally bad, but more cowardly. It had not yet come to this — that they would hurt him to the death; but now they take counsel to put him to death.

John 11:54. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.

We do not find that he wrought miracles there or preached, but in a holy and devout retirement, it may be, he prepared his mind for the last great week — the week of his passion and his death. It is generally best for us to imitate him in this; and when we have some great work to do — something that will need all the grace that we can get, it is well to make a retreat —get into retirement, and school the heart, and seek to drink in fresh strength that we may be prepared for that which lies before us.

John 11:55-56. And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?

They had heard much of him in the country. Country people coming to town want to hear the great minister — to see the great Prophet: so that is their question, “Will he come to the feast?”

John 11:57. Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him.

They could not deny the miracle: they could arrest and punish the miracle-worker.

 


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Bibliography Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on John 11:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/john-11.html. 2011.

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