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1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
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.
Jesus, in fact, gave Lazarus time to die. Yet, "the sickness is not unto death." How could he say this? Because by death he meant death to remain dead. Death that was to be interrupted in a few days, though real death for the moment, could only be thought of as a transient phase of disease. All language of description is necessarily more or less borrowed from final results.
Especially is this so in the Scriptures, where an authorship is at work that foresees results. Thus the living are called dead, who are related to death as a finality. "Let the dead bury their dead" (Luke ix. 60). And thus, too, the dead are spoken of as living who are related to a futurity of everlasting life. "I am the God of Abraham ... God is the God of the living" (Mar. xii. 26, 27), "Look unto Abraham your father" (Isaiah li. 2). "We have passed from death unto life" (1 Jno. iii. 14). *
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5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
7 Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
8 His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
9 Jesus answered, Are there not 12 hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
A man's day is his appointed time. Some men have no appointed time, like the cattle; but where there is a time appointed, he is safe till it is past. His day has 12 hours. Christ was several times in danger, as we have seen, but it came to nothing "because his hour (12 o'clock) was not yet come." So it is with all who belong to him. They cannot be prevailed against till their work is done. This gives peace in the presence of danger. *
10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
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.
Again Jesus spoke in the language of figure to which he was prone. It is a more graphic style than the purely literal. There is life and colour in it. But the disciples thought it was literal. *
12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
If he had been "there," he would have been requested to cure Lazarus of his sickness, and he could not well have refused doing for Lazarus what he did for multitudes. And then Lazarus would not have died, and there would not have been that great opportunity for the display of God's power which his death afforded in his resurrection.
Did not the disciples already believe? Yes, but multitudes did not, and he and the disciples had just recently come fresh from the violent opposition of the ruling classes at Jerusalem, in the presence of which (as the mind ceases to be impressed with what it sees repeatedly) it was just possible that the mere works of healing would lose their effect on the minds of the disciples, who looked up to the chief priests and scribes as the divinely-appointed leaders of the nation.
Jesus, therefore was evidently desirous of a special opportunity of showing the power that was with him. The death of Lazarus afforded such a special opportunity; and therefore he was glad he was not with Lazarus in time to prevent its occurrence -- glad "for your sakes." To himself it mattered not at all; for he knew whence he came, what he was, and whither he went. But it mattered for the disciples, who only knew him and believed in him at this stage "by his works." *
16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave 4 days already.
18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about 15 furlongs off:
Arrived at Bethany, which was about two miles from Jerusalem, overlooking the city from the hill of Olivet, Jesus and the disciples found that Lazarus had been four days dead and buried (for the Jews in Palestine bury quickly on account of the rapidity of decomposition from the heat of the country).
He did not at once enter Bethany. He stayed at a place on the outskirts of the village, and sent word to Martha and Mary that he had arrived, probably wishing to avoid the embarrassment of a meeting in the presence of the promiscuous company that had come from Jerusalem to condole with them -- a conventional and shallow class, that are prompt and glib and officious on such occasions. *
19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
We misread this if we suppose it to mean that the proximity of the person of Christ would necessarily prevent death. His power knows not the limitations of space. He could as easily have cured Lazarus from a distance of 50 miles as in the house, as was shewn in previous cases. It is not a question of presence, but of circumstances. If he had been present, he would have been importuned to heal Lazarus, and, as already remarked, he could not well have refused a favour he was in the habit of daily granting to all and sundry. The presence of Christ did not prevent thousands dying all around him wherever he was.
The object of his work was not at that time to suspend the just operation of the law of sin and death; but to show the power of God as a foundation for the work of the final removal of death by the full and leisurely operation of the law of faith and obedience in those who are called. The manifestation of the power gave the ground of faith. To show this power, he arrested disease and death in certain cases.
He will abolish them altogether at last, and it will be by means of his glorious presence: but there is a certain order to be observed in the process, and a certain principle in its effectuation. The order is defined by Paul: "Every man in his own order, (1) Christ the first fruits; (2) Afterwards those who are Christ's at his coming; (3) Then (at the end), when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1 Cor. xv. 23). *
22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
...She did not, however, seem to catch Christ's purpose to raise Lazarus. *
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
...could only mean in view of the surroundings, what Paul afterwards taught by the word of the Lord (1 Cor. xv. 51; 1 Thess. iv. 15) viz.: -- that believers who are alive when the moment comes for the completion of Christ's work will not die, but experience the instantaneous change from the corruptible to the incorruptible. *
27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
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.
29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
Instantly she rose and left the house without a word of explanation. The people who were with her thought she had gone to the grave, and they followed her, arriving closely after her where Christ was. She threw herself at his feet, and said what Martha had said before her, showing it was a communication that had passed between the sisters as a matter of strong belief: *
30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
31 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.
32 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.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.
What could Jesus do in the presence of outpouring grief? There are times when nothing can be said -- when the only comfort is to "weep with those who weep."
He asked the weeping company where they had laid Lazarus. The only answer was, "Lord, come and see." They then walked all together to the place. As they walked, some of the less affected Jews began to converse: they remarked upon Christ's evident love of Lazarus...
36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37 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?
A kind of superficial common sense dictated this comment. But suppose a purpose is to be answered that common sense does not recognise, what then? This is the explanation of many things that so called common sense stumbles at. The people were right in one thing: Christ could have prevented the death of Lazarus. We have seen that he expressly allowed it for a purpose the people could not sympathise with.
Their remark has a certain value. It shews they were cognisant of great works of power performed by Christ, for this was the basis of their present surmise. These works are of the first importance to us as the evidence of the divinity of the whole works of Christ. Consequently every testimony to their reality is to be appreciated. *
38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
The hills of Palestine abound to this day with such formations. *
39 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.
40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 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.
(He must have received some indication from on high that the resurrection of Lazarus would be permitted, in accordance with his desire.) *
42 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.
The Father and Jesus were so intimately in unison as to make the granting of Christ's requests a certainty when not inconsistent with the Father's purpose. Why then did Jesus single out the case of Lazarus for special thanksgiving?...
There are times when the effect on bystanders has to be considered. This was such a time when Christ, by mighty works, was laying the foundation of that faith in him which was hereafter to justify believers unto everlasting life. His words were intended to fix attention on what was about to happen as a proof that he was of God. His words were few and to the point. There is none of the studied and laboured formality of modern "devotion." Truth, sincerity, and modesty, regulating our relations to the Eternal Father, will find expression in a simple style.
Jesus then, with a loud voice, called upon "Lazarus" to "come forth." No mere loudness of voice will wake the dead in the absence of a concurrent operation of vitalising energy directed to the result desired. This was what was at work with Christ "God, by him," as Peter expressed it on the day of Pentecost, "did" all the works he performed. This energy directed by volition to a specific end, can accomplish anything. It made heaven and earth in the beginning: and it was an easy matter for it to concentrate on the lifeless clay of Lazarus, and restore the chemical and functional conditions that produce individual life.
It was the work of a moment. Lazarus awoke. It was no magic. As an effect of power appropriately directed, it was as natural as the death of Lazarus. He found himself alive and better, as the effect of an unusual operation of the laws of health; and he naturally did not wish to remain in the grave in which he found he had been unconsciously deposited. *
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
...sensible words, in response to which we may be sure sensible and loving hands were promptly at work. The company returned from the grave in a very different mood from that in which they had come to it. Many who had come to comfort Martha and Mary went away believing on Jesus. , "went their ways to the Pharisees and told them what things Jesus had done." *
45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
Some, of a malignant mind...*
* Nazareth Revisited Ch 42
50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
In this they showed themselves mere politicians -- a class of men sharp enough to discern the probable effects of events on the motives and actions of men, but too shallow and faithless to be influenced by the diviner bearing of matters. The measure they resolved on was the resolution of mere politicians -- dictated partly by regard for the public safety as affecting their own, but much more powerfully, though perhaps unconciously, inspired by the hatred excited by Christ's condemnation of their ways.
They resolved on the death of Christ. "From that day forth" it was the object of their policy to bring this about. Of course, they put a virtuous complexion on the foul resolve. **
51 And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
The fact that the Holy Spirit should use such a man at such a time loses its apparent difficulty when we remember that as high priest, he was the official head and mouth of the divine system of Moses, and the personal instrument by which the great sacrifice typified by all the sacrifices of that system was about to be brought about. **
53 Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
It was not within those ordinary rules that a man should die for others at the hands of his own enemies, and yet with power to escape their malice if he had so chosen. This was Christ's case. As he said,
"No man taketh it (my life) from me; but I lay it down of myself" (x. 18).
He suffered himself to be taken when he could have repelled all the efforts of his destroyers...
"This commandment I have received of my Father."
To judge of the death of Christ apart from this is to ignore the principal ingredient -- the leading "factor" in the case. To judge it so, is not to judge but to violate it. It must be judged as a whole -- not in parts: and this judgment of it as a whole requires that we recognise what Peter and the other apostles afterwards testified by the Spirit: that the Jewish rulers destroying Christ carried out a divine pre-determination (Acts iv. 28).
...The Jews were filled with malice and intended evil: yet God used their feelings and their actions to accomplish His own plan. The glory of the plan is not to them, though God accomplished it by them. For the wickedness of their actions they are responsible, though God used that wickedness to work out His own righteousness.**
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.
If we were to be guided by the appearance of things in John's narrative, we should conclude that his stay here was of brief duration, and that he returned from here to Jerusalem to keep the last passover. But we must not be misled by appearances.
John's narrative was written when the others had been for a long time in the hands of believers throughout the world; and though strictly chronological in the order of its narration, it was not intended to give an account of all that Jesus said and did, as John expressly says at the close of his narrative (chap. xxi. 25). We must therefore make room at the indicated breaks for the further matters recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There appears to be such a break at this point. It is not expressly indicated, but there is room for it, and, therefore, the other narratives requiring it, we must avail ourselves of it.
...The commencing of a new narrative, or new passage in a narrative, by the word "and" is a common peculiarity throughout the scriptures, as if to say "In addition to what is written before," rather than to say "and next in order happened this." Illustrations of this will be found in the opening verse of Luke iv. v. vi. viii. xi. xvi., &c., &c., and many other places.
It is, therefore, not taking an unwarrantable liberty to read into the space between verses 54 and 55 of John xi., whatever appears by the other evangelists to have occurred in the interval. Therefore, here we depart a while from the narrative of John, and return to the guidance of Luke and the other writers.
Here we must place the return of the seventy whom Jesus had appointed in addition to the twelve apostles to go "two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself would come" (Luke x. 1). They returned to him "with joy," reporting the successful invocation of his name in all cases of disease, even to the dispossession of the demonised (Luke x. 17). Their report was a satisfaction to Christ. His response was brief and characteristic.
"I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" -- beheld in vision, as a matter of prospect, the complete dethronement of the power of the Adversary in every form -- for Satan merely signifies the Adversary. It was as if Jesus had said, "My name has prevailed at your hands on a small scale. The time is coming when all evil will disappear by the same power. The work has already begun." His allusion to this was an encouragement to the seventy who had returned from an arduous journey.
He further comforted the laborious seventy by saying, "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." This was in allusion to the further gift with which they should be armed on his departure -- which came to pass fifty days after his resurrection, when the Holy Spirit came with power on the day of Pentecost, Its power in the direction indicated by Christ was illustrated in the case of Paul, on whom a venomous beast fastened, in the island of Malta, after his shipwreck, and which he shook off without harm (Acts xxviii. 5).
The possession of such a power, and the power of controlling disease, would naturally be a source of satisfaction to any man. Jesus warned them against holding it in this spirit. "In this rejoice not ... but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
This is another of the constantly recurring indications of the divine nature of the work of Christ. Who but such as he said he was, and showed himself to be, would have propounded such a cause of personal gladness?
It is according to man to rejoice in present power: it is according to God only to forbid such joy, and to invite gladness for a reason that is in God's control only. Nevertheless, the triumphant operation of divine power upon earth was a satisfaction to Christ as well; for Luke adds:
"In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said 'I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.' "
**Nazareth Revisited Ch 43