Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. LIGHT IS HERE CAST UPON THE CHARACTER OF THE FAMILY AT BETHANY. What manner of people must those have been whom Jesus loved! The narrative gives us several particulars regarding the sisters, so that we can appreciate the affectionate temper of both - the eager and practical nature of Martha, and the more contemplative habit and the quiet enthusiasm of Mary. Perhaps too much has been made of the slight indications afforded by the evangelists of the characters of these two sisters respectively. However this may be, they and their brother Lazarus were all mutually attached, and were all in common devoted to Jesus. That it was exquisite grace and condescension on the part of Jesus to honor them with his society and his intimacy is undeniable. Yet there was a sense in which he counted this household "worthy," so that his peace rested upon it. The life of all three inmates of this happy and harmonious home was made radiant by the visits of Jesus during his lifetime; and by the memory of his friendship it must have been sanctified and sweetened as long as the circle was unbroken.
II. LIGHT IS HERE CAST UPON THE CHARACTER AND DISPOSITIONS OF THE LORD JESUS HIMSELF. We see him in his true and perfect humanity, when we see him in the household of Bethany. It is the same figure, the same Divine Teacher and Master whom we see upon the mountain or by the shore, and in the judgment-hall of Pilate. Yet we are familiar with the newness of aspect under which here and there a man appears to us when we meet him amidst his family, or as we English say, "by his fireside." It is in the home that the softer, gentler, more sympathetic features of the character reveal themselves. Imagination pictures Jesus as he visited the home at Bethany in its days of tranquility and prosperity, and reproduces the tones of his discourse, the expression of his countenance; or as he came when the household was plunged in sorrow, and when his sympathy soothed them, and when his omnipotence restored their dead one to life and fellowship. As the perfect Son of man, Jesus was not merely the public Preacher; he was the private Friend. His ministry was not only one of general benevolence; it was one of personal affection.
III. LIGHT IS HERE CAST UPON THE PROVISION MADE FOR A PERPETUAL FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN JESUS AND HIS PEOPLE. Our Lord, as St. John has recorded, declared his people to be his friends, and mentioned unquestionable proofs of his friendship toward his people. It is, however, somewhat difficult for us to realize this friendship on the part of the unseen and glorified Son of God towards us in our humiliation and imperfections. But the statement made in the text brings to our minds an actual instance of the Lord's friendship, which helps us to apprehend and to feel that it is not a mere matter of theory; that Jesus is indeed a Friend to those who welcome him into their heart and home with reverence and gratitude, and with the response of devout and ardent love. Jesus is, to those who love him, a Friend who can hallow their joys, and can soothe their griefs, who can make their dwelling bright with his radiant smile, musical with his gracious voice. - T.
Yet, in adopting it, he imparted to it a tone and character peculiar to himself. On the other hand, what he says concerning the awakening is altogether original; herein he claims a power which is unprecedented and unparalleled.
I. To THE CHRISTIAN DEATH IS SLEEP.
1. It is the close of the day of toil.
2. It is the hushing and silencing of the many harsh and jarring voices of care, of anxiety, of restlessness.
3. It is the soothing of sorrow and trouble.
4. It is looked for and welcome, when the due time comes.
II. IT IS THE PREROGATIVE OF CHRIST TO AROUSE HIS PEOPLE FROM THE SLUMBER OF DEATH.
1. Our Lord awakens slumbering souls from the stupors of sin. The message of the gospel to such is, "Awake, thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and he shall enlighten thee." This spiritual awakening is the pledge of the glorious and final awakening of the future unto the higher and immortal life.
2. As sleep is but for a season, so the sleep of death is appointed only as a temporary, a transitory experience.
3. The voice which woke Lazarus out of his sleep is the voice which summons from the slumber of death. Christ's assumption of this power is an implicit claim to Divine authority. God's omnipotence alone can create life, and alone can restore life when death has asserted its power and has done its work.
4. The awakening from death summons to an endless life of activity and holy service. Whilst the hours of slumber are hours of repose, the daylight which arouses the sleepers calls to the exertion of the powers of body and of mind. This law applies to the higher realm. When Christ awakens out of the slumber of death, it is to the happiness of conscious existence and to the energy of untiring effort. There is no reason to suppose that this brief earthly life is man's only period of service. It is the discipline and preparation for endless ages of glad devotion alike to the praise and to the service of our glorious Redeemer.
"If my immortal Savior lives,
I. A VIEW OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIP.
1. It has Christ as its Center and Inspiration.
(1) He is its Author, its Model, and Inspirer. He is the only true Friend of humanity. In him all the elements of true friendship pre-eminently meet; and they are pure, elevating, and Divine.
(2) By union with him it is alone attainable. Apart from Christ there can be no true Christian friendship.
(3) Love is its leading feature. It has other features, such as sincerity, truth, fidelity, guilelessness, and constancy; but they are all the emanations of deep, high, broad, pure, and burning love.
2. It is common and mutual. "Our friend." Not "my" nor" your friend," but "our friend." The friend of Jesus and that of his disciples. The friendship is common and mutual. Friendship expects and deserves the same in return. It manifests itself specially to Christ and his followers, and generally to mankind for Christ's sake. Many profess great friendship to Christ, who is personally absent and invisible, but act not as such to his followers, who are visible and present - a proof of a lack of Christian friendship altogether, or a great scarcity of it. The true friend of Jesus is the friend of all his disciples.
3. It is a mark of a high Christian excellency. Our Lord wished to make an honorable mention of Lazarus, and speak of him in high but appropriate terms. He did so by calling him a friend. There are degrees of Christian excellence, and there are outer and inner circles of Christian fellowship. Christian friendship is one of the inner ones. Lazarus had attained to this. Every believer is a brother, but every brother is not a friend. This is a distinction attained but by a comparative few.
4. It is not altogether excepted by death. Lazarus, though a friend, yet died. Christian friendship does not prevent all actions of death. In spite of it, the change, with its pangs and pains and separation, is experienced. The law of dissolution is left by Christ to take its natural course, even with regard to most of his best friends.
5. Although not excepted by death, yet it triumphantly survives it. Lazarus was dead, still he was the friend of Jesus and of his disciples. "Our friend Lazarus." Death, so far from destroying Christian friendship, serves its highest interests, intensifies and purifies it. It burns in the pangs of dissolution, blazes even in the swelling river, and shines with increasing brightness through the intervening gloom.
II. A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF DEATH. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth."
1. With regard to his friends, Jesus has changed the name of death. It is not to be called any more death, but sleep. Christ not only changes human character, and the character of human events, but changes human language. In the Christian dictionary the word "death" is not found but as an explanation of the word "sleep." The worldly mind cannot understand this new language of Christianity. And even the disciples could not yet understand it. Christ had to speak to them in their own language, the language of the old world, and say, "Lazarus is dead."
2. With regard to his friends, death is really transformed into sleep. Death to them is abolished. To his foes, death is death still, and will ever be so; but to his friends, all that makes it really death is taken away. They are too near him who is the Life for death to hurt them; if. acts as their friend, and lulls them into a quiet and happy sleep. Death is friendly to all the friends of Jesus.
3. This view of death is very consoling.
(1) In this view, departed pious friends are still in a conscious and a happy existence. They are neither annihilated nor lost, only asleep. Neither are they in a state of dormancy. Physical sleep is a state of unconsciousness, but the term as applied by Christ refers not to the state of the soul in relation to the spirit-life, but in relation to this life, with its trials, afflictions, and sin. In relation to these, it is asleep; but in relation to the spirit-life, it is awake and intensely and happily alive.
(2) In this view, death is necessary and refreshing. Physical sleep is a refreshing rest, and one of the essential conditions of life and health. We could not fully enjoy spiritual life without physical death. We cannot stand a hard day's work without a good night's rest. The sleep of death is a necessary and most refreshing preparation for the "weight of glory," and the pleasant enjoyments and duties of an eternal day.
(3) In this view, death is natural. Had man retained his primitive innocency, doubtless there would be some process of transit from this world tantamount to death, although not so called - called perhaps "birth;" but it would be perfectly natural, timely, desirable, and beautiful, like the falling of a ripe apple from the tree. But sin has made this transit unnatural, painful, and filled it with horrors; but union with Christ makes it natural again. It becomes natural and even desirable in the degree this union approaches perfection. "Having a desire to depart." It is not death, but sleep.
(4) In this view, death is robbed of all its real terrors. We may be afraid of sleep in the day, when duty calls; but at night, after the day's work is done, who is afraid of sleep? We are far more afraid to be awake. What parents are afraid in the bedroom at midnight, surrounded by their sleeping children? Christians' death is but sleep, and their graves are but beds in which they enjoy rest from their labors.
III. THE RESURRECTION OF THE FRIENDS OF JESUS.
1. It will involve a Divine process. It will involve the exercise of Divine power. Divine power alone could restore Lazarus to life. All the power of men and angels would be insufficient. The same power which made man at first a living soul can alone reunite body and soul at last, after the great dissolution.
2. This Divine process will be performed by Christ. He raised Lazarus, and he shall raise all the dead at last. This is most becoming and essential, as the resurrection is a most vital part of his redemptive work.
3. A Divine process most easily performed by Jesus, and most natural and improving to them. When on his way to raise Lazarus, he spoke of his Divine process not as an exploit of power, but as an easy task; as easy as it would be for one of his disciples to' awake a friend out of his slumbers. "I go that I may awake him." The resurrection of his friends to Jesus will be a most easy process, and to them a most natural and refreshing experience. There will be no sudden shock, no painful consciousness of the pangs of death and the grief of separation; but the throbbing delight and gratitude of awaking after a sweet and a refreshing sleep. The Christian's death being sleep, his resurrection will be an awaking out of it. How natural and delightful!
4. A process of Divine friendship. Not alone of power, but of friendship as well. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth," etc. He approached his grave as a Friend, and, as a Friend, called his friend back to life. The resurrection of the wicked will be an act of retributive justice, but that of the good of Christian friendship. Mutual friendship was an element in the resurrection of Lazarus, and will be at the resurrection of the last day.
1. The death of Lazarus was an opportunity for Jesus to show his Tower and friendship. Our greatest miseries are his special occasions of mercy.
2. His sower and friendship manifested in the resurrection of Lazarus were only specimens. What he did to him he will do to all his friends.
3. If the friends of Jesus, we may venture to die. Death will be only sleep.
4. If so, we may venture to sleep. Jesus will awake us in due time. He cannot leave his friends to sleep long. It is worth while awaking a friend. We would leave a foe to sleep along, unless we awoke him to try to make a friend of him. His friends shall not sleep too long. He is on his way now to the resurrection.
5. It is worth while to sleep in order to be awakened by Jesus. How sweet his voice in the morning! But this cannot be experienced without the sleep. But the sleep would be intensely dismal but as an introduction to the glorious awaking.
6. The friends of Jesus at the general resurrection will be better off than Lazarus. Now he awoke to the old life; they to a new one. He awoke to experience, perhaps, trials untold, and weep over the grave of sisters, and pay with interest tears shed on his own; but they shall awake to weep no more. Lazarus left his grave and his grave-clothes to assume them again; but they shall forever leave the abode and garments of mortality and enter life eternal. - B.T.
I. ALL DEATH WOULD BE PECULIARLY REPUGNANT TO JESUS. JESUS, we may take it, had in him a fullness and healthiness of natural life which would lie at the very antipodes of death. Many live on the verge of death, as it were, for a long time. They have just enough of the vital principle in them to keep the organism going. But Jesus, in his own natural life, was far away from death. He had no occasion to look upon it in the despairing, bewildered way which the common run of men must adopt. To have spoken of Lazarus as dead, without being forced so to speak, would have suggested thoughts to the disciples which he wished to be swallowed up in the inspiring discoveries of a new revelation.
II. DEATH WAS TO GET X NEW AND SPECIAL MEANING. Contrast the way in which Jesus speaks of Lazarus here with the language he uses in Luke 9:60. Here he speaks of the dead Lazarus as only sleeping; there he speaks of living unbelievers in himself as being dead. This is the true death, to be (lead to the reception of the heavenly Bread. Lazarus was dead, according to the manner in which men use that word; no one would have thought of putting food into that mouth. But so far as concerned the Bread that cometh down from heaven, Lazarus was not dead. The life that needs nourishing from heaven is more than the flesh and blood, which is only converted food. The flesh and blood may go, but the life remains. With regard to the unbelievers, however, Jesus reckoned them as dead, for the true Bread found them as indifferent to its nearness as a corpse would he to a loaf laid beside it. "Death" is a word that very reasonably has the most dreadful associations, and Jesus wished to make the most of it as reserved for the most dreadful state of things he knows. That a believer in Jesus should pass from the world of sense is dreadful, just as a paroxysm of physical pain is dreadful; but once the experience is over, all may be right. But that any one should remain out of living union with Jesus is far worse than any pain or deprivation belonging to physical death.
III. SLEEP WAS TO GET A NEW AND SPECIAL MEANING. Human beings get separated from each other in sleep. No communication is possible between them that sleep and them that wake. But that very lapse of communication will make the communication fresher and-more active when the lapse is over. It is probable that Lazarus, returning to life, returned to a healthier and more vigorous life. Natural sleep comes after a period of labor, and as the result of exhaustion, and it is followed by fresh power and zest for work. But it is work of the same sort, and with the same faculties. When the Christian believer falls asleep, he falls to wake in an altogether new sort of morning, amid new scenes, and to engage in a new service, free from the toil and struggle and thwarting which belong to the service here. In the higher state of existence there will still be work, in a sense - the work of faith; but the toil of love and the endurance of hope will Mike have vanished. - Y.
I. THAT ALL THE MOVEMENTS OF CHRIST ON EARTH HAD AN IMMEDIATE REGARD TO OTHERS.
1. His life on earth was purely vicarious. "For your sakes." Not only his death was vicarious, but his life was equally so. Not only he died for others, but he lived for them as well. His vicarious death was only the natural outcome of his vicarious life. All his movements, his actions, his miracles, his teaching and utterances, the fact and sum of his life, were for others - for mankind generally and for his disciples particularly. "For your sakes."
2. His life on earth was purely self-sacrificing. "For your sakes." He sacrificed every personal feeling, convenience, and consideration for the advantage of others. Had he consulted his own personal feelings - feelings of the tenderest affection and the sincerest friendship - friendship for the dying and the living - nothing would have kept him away from the death-bed of his beloved friend at Bethany; but these tenderest feelings of personal friendship he sacrificed for the sake of others. For their sakes he was not there. This was the great and grand principle of his whole life.
3. The vicariousness and self-sacrifice of his life were to him the sources of the greatest pleasure. "I am glad," etc. He found his highest joy in doing good to his fellow-men, and the greatest delight of his life was spending it for the advantage of others. In benefiting them even his own pain was turned into pleasure, his sorrow into joy, and the greatest self-sacrifice afforded him the greatest satisfaction.
4. His life on earth was one of untiring activity. Nevertheless, let us go unto him. His time for sorrow and joy was very limited. His was to act.
(1) His activity was ever timely. He would ever act in his own time; but his time was always right. Some thought he was too late; but if he went, even to a grave, it was not too late.
(2) His activity was often wonderful in its aim, but ever successful. "Let us go unto him." Lazarus was dead, and his soul in the spirit world; but he was not too far for Jesus to reach him - he was at home there. To human view Lazarus was a prisoner of death, and it was a bold march to go to him through the territories of the king of terrors; but, bold as it was, Jesus undertook it successfully.
(3) His activity was ever inviting and inspiring. "Let us go." The disciples could not go as far as the Master, but let them go as far as they are able. If they can only see, weep, and witness, let them do what they can; he will do the rest. They were inspired to go.
(4) His activity was ever helpful, in consoling, teaching, and quickening.
II. THAT ALL THE MOVEMENTS OF CHRIST ON EARTH HAD A SPECIAL REGARD TO THE GREATEST GOOD OF OTHERS. "To the intent that ye may believe."
1. Whatever he did was done with a definite purpose. "To the intent." He had one great and special aim through life. In every movement and act and utterance of his there was a definite purpose, and he kept this ever in view. It was the inspiration and guide of his movements. In all his various and busy activities there was not a single random shot; but he ever took a definite aim, on which his whole being centered. This is one of the secrets of his ultimate success.
2. Whatever he did was done for the best and highest purpose. In relation to his own mission and the salvation of the world. "That ye may believe." This implies:
(1) That although his disciples had faith, yet it was weak. It was incomplete. This was only to be expected. They were as yet but babes in Christ, and their faith was young and tender. Their wings had net fully grown, and could not soar very high - not high enough as yet to reach and fully rest on the Savior.
(2) That it was capable of, and required growth and confirmation. Genuine faith, however weak and small, will grow by trial, by experience, by a fuller manifestation of its object, and cries out for this. Its growth is certain but gradual.
(3) That the growth and confirmation of their faith involved their greatest good. This alone could bring them into closer union with Christ and with the Father, and open to them the door of the spiritual kingdom, and fully present to their view the grand but real visions of the spiritual empire, and Jesus as the King in his beauty. This was the only true foundation of their character, and the only hope and sure means of its future perfection.
3. Whatever he did was done in the best way to effect the highest purpose. His absence from Bethany served the interest of faith far better than his presence would have done. This implies:
(1) That the death of Lazarus could scarcely take place in the immediate presence of Jesus. This is implied in what Jesus said to his disciples, and in what the sisters said to Jesus. We have no account that death ever took place in his presence. Even at a distance the prayer of faith was sufficient to call forth his triumphant power against it. When he met the "king of terrors" on the highway with a lad, a stranger to Jesus, in his prison-van, he had to give him back to his mother at once: how much more would this be the case with regard to a sick friend! Death could hardly perform his work in the very presence of life. However, Jesus could hardly trust himself, and was glad that he was not there.
(2) That the restoration of Lazarus from death was more beneficial to faith than his preservation from it would have been.
(3) That it was the highest aim of Christ to serve the interest of faith in the most efficient way. He did not expect it to live and thrive on nothing, but furnished it with the strongest proofs, and with the most nourishing diet. He not only produces faith, but supports it. His general aim was to produce faith where it was not, but especially to perfect it where it was. His aim was concentration of influence - the perfection of the few faithful ones, and through them the perfection of the many. "That ye may believe."
4. The confirmation of faith in the disciples produced in Jesus the greatest joy.
(1) This was the joy of a favorable opportunity of doing the greatest good. Such opportunities are rare. Jesus availed himself of it with delight. Faith was struggling in the gloom of a friend's death. But this furnished Jesus with a special opportunity to display his Divine power in the grand miracle of life.
(2) The joy of foreseen success. He foresaw the success of his last great miracle, which involved the success of his life, and through the wail of grief rolled the sweetest strains of music to his soul. What joy is like that of the joy of success in the chief aim of life?
III. WHAT PRODUCES REGRET AND SORROW IN US OFTEN PRODUCES GLADNESS IN JESUS. His absence caused sorrow to the sisters, but joy to him. The same event producing different feelings in different persons, as illustrated in Jesus and the sisters, and why?
1. Jesus could see the intention of his absence; the sisters could not,
2. Jesus could see the ultimate result of his absence; they could not. Jesus could see the restoration of his friend, the display of Divine power, the triumph of faith, and the glory of God. This produced in him gladness. The sisters could not see this, and they were sad.
3. Jesus could see the gain of faith by the death of Lazarus to be immeasurably greater than the loss of the family. They could not see this as yet.
(1) Their loss was only personal, limited to a few. The gain of faith was universal.
(2) Their loss was only physical and social. The gain of faith was spiritual and Divine. Social feelings are nothing to the ecstasies of faith.
(3) Their loss was only temporary, for a short time. The gain of faith was eternal.
(4) Their loss was made up with interest; but the loss of faith for the want of the miracle, who could repair? He was the prepared object of the miracle, and the only one of the family not to begrudge the sacrifice. His death was the occasion of life to faith, and doubtless shared the joy of Jesus at its triumph, and was the willing sacrifice to its life.
1. When the claims of personal feelings come in collision with those of public good, the former are to give way at any cost, and give way with joy.
2. In the strange dealings of Providence we should try to learn the Divine intention; that is our good.
3. This is difficult, if not impossible, often to realize. Therefore let us trust and wall.
4. In the light of results all will be plain and joyful. Jesus was glad in Peraea, while the sisters were sad in Bethany; but at the resurrection they could join with Jesus in the song of triumph and the anthem of life. "All is well that ends well." - B.T.
I. A MISSION THAT COULD NOT BE ESCAPED. The mourners must not be left unvisited, however awkward and vain the condolences may be. Such visits may indeed be looked upon as often having somewhat of evil in them; but the evil is not a necessity, whereas the good is always a probability. And in certain circumstances, where everything is favorable, where Christian character belongs alike to the departed, the mourners, and the comforters, such a mission may have in it the highest good. Sympathy, though it be no more than silent companionship, is the demand of humanity.
II. A MISSION SUCH AS HAD BEEN PERFORMED INNUMERABLE TIMES. That very day, all over Israel, people would be setting out on similar errands. Condolence would be reduced to a system. The very words would get stereotyped.
III. A MISSION SUCH AS IN MANY INSTANCES WOULD ONLY INTENSIFY THE LOSS. When people are mourning for their dead, nothing the unaided intellect of men is able to devise can lighten the blow or heal the wound. Too often there is an incongruity between the words that must be spoken and the real feelings. We cannot sorrow for the bereaved as they sorrow themselves. If we could watch the vast majority of people so as to observe from what occupations they go to condole, and to what occupations they return, how we should be impressed with the inconsistencies of human life! A man may go visiting the widow and the fatherless in the afternoon, but that will not keep him from the convivial circle in the evening. To go from the house of mourning to the house of feasting is all in the business of the day. The visitor heaves a sigh or' relief when he has got the necessary formality over. And this is plainly what must be, according to the limits of nature. To feel the pain of bereavement as the bereaved feel it would make life intolerable.
IV. A MISSION WHICH JESUS OFTEN UNDERTAKES IN HIS OWN WAY. Jesus has done for few, very few, what he did for Martha and Mary. But, after all, we must not exaggerate the act whereby he comforted them. The resurrection of Lazarus was not as the resurrection of Jesus. Lazarus twice knew the pains of death. It was the mortal body into which he came back. But to all mourners Jesus would come with the plain, unvarnished truth. He would not say, "Comfort! comfort!" when there is no comfort. He would have his people understand that the only guarantee of abiding relations is that there should be a spiritual element in them. Mere natural relations soon break up when there is nothing better in them. Jesus virtually tells all so to live that, when they are gone, survivors may not be driven to delicate hypocrisies concerning them, as it were whitening their sepulchers to please the bereaved. - Y.
I. THE TEMPER OF MIND WHICH LAMENTED THE BODILY ABSENCE OF JESUS IN AFFLICTION. When this is analyzed, it appears to be mixed.
1. There was faith. In their trouble, the first thought of the sisters was of Jesus. They sent to him an earnest entreaty to come and interpose on their behalf. When he came - as they thought too late - they welcomed and honored him. They threw themselves upon his sympathy, and professed their belief that, even now, their case was not beyond the, reach of his power and compassion. All this implied faith.
2. The faith, however, was imperfect. This appears from their laying undue stress upon Christ's bodily presence. They ought to have been reassured by his language upon receiving tidings of his friend's sickness. They ought to have reflected that his absence was no sign of his want of interest or affection, was no sign of any lapse of power. Their tone of mind evinced the imperfection of their faith.
II. THE REASONS WHICH ACCOUNTED FOR THE BODILY ABSENCE OF JESUS IN THE TIME OF HIS FRIENDS' AFFLICTION.
1. The ultimate reason both for Lazarus's sickness and death, and also for the Lord's delay in visiting Bethany, was a moral reason, relating to his own ministry. The Son of Goal was hereby to be glorified; his mission was to be fulfilled.
2. More particularly, the faith of the disciples was called out and strengthened by this action of the Lord Jesus; it was partly "for their sake," to the end that "they might believe." They had witnessed many instances of his power; they were now to see the crowning proof of the omnipotence of him whom they trusted and honored.
3. The religious confidence of the sisters was to be developed, and a full confession was to be elicited from them. Much as they revered and loved their Lord, Martha and Mary had yet much to learn; and that their conception of Jesus and their faith in Jesus might be perfected, it was necessary that they should see him in a new light, and have a further proof of his Divinity. This end we know from the record to have been answered in their experience.
4. Many unbelieving Jews were convinced. Some such would not, in all likelihood, have been impressed by Christ's sympathetic spirit, had he come to Bethany and pitied the sorrowful family, and saved Lazarus from death. But when they saw their neighbor raised from the dead, these men believed. Thus there was wisdom, there was love, even in that conduct of Jesus which seemed at first sight inconsiderate and unkind. - T.
I. HER FAITH MANIFESTED.
1. In its strength. In her conversation with Jesus there axe proofs of a genuine and strong faith in him.
(1) Faith in his personal presence as capable of preventing her brother's death. "If thou hadst been here," etc. She had full confidence in the efficacy of his power and influence, and the sincerity and warmth of his friendship, to stand between her brother and death had he been present.
(2) Faith in his ever and all prevailing influence with God. "I know that even now," etc. In her faith God was the great source of supreme and universal power and favor, and the intercession of Christ with him was all-prevailing and coextensive with the power of God, and ever present and available. Even now it was not too late.
(3) Faith in the great resurrection. That all the dead shall rise at the last day, and that her own brother would appear then among the vast throng. This problem has baffled many a bright intellect, and staggered the faith of many a mighty giant, and driven him to the shades of doubt and unbelief. Then, as now, there was many a Sadducee and agnostic. But Martha was not one. This great and mysterious fact was a leading article in her faith, and could say to Jesus with serenity and full confidence, "I know that he shall rise," etc.
2. In its weakness. Though genuine, and strong in some of its features, it is still weak and incomplete. In her faith:
(1) Christ's power is limited by place. "If thou hadst been here," etc. In her faith the presence or absence of Jesus made all the difference with regard to the exercise of his mighty and friendly power. Present he would and could, absent he could or would not. Her faith partook largely of the character of her religion, and had a tendency to localize Divine energy. In this she was very different from that ruler who deemed himself unworthy of Christ coming under his roof. And there was no need: "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." In this his faith was right and strong; but Martha's wrong and defective. Christ could prevent her brother's death in Peraea as well as at Bethany if he so wished.
(2) Christ's power is limited by prayer. With regard to the best of men, prayer is the medium of Divine power, and yet its limitation. In his human nature and official capacity Christ ever exercised prayer, but was not limited by it; he was really above it. Martha had fully grasped what he was in relation to God, but not what he was in himself, the Source and Giver of life; and her faith had not yet risen to the Divinity of his Person and mission.
(3) Christ's power is limited by time. "If thou hadst been here;" but that is passed. "I know that he shall rise;" that is future and distant. Her faith could grasp the Divine power and infinite certainties of the present with regard to Jesus. "As the same yesterday," etc.
3. In its private struggles. In the language of Martha there are indications of the private struggles of her faith.
(1) Its struggle for some special favor, for consolation in their bereavement. Something which no one else could give. Her love was stronger than her faith, but still her faith timidly struggled for a blessing.
(2) Its struggle with doubt. That she had a faint belief that something great would be done seems evident. The sisters were too intelligent and true to dismiss as insignificant the message of their Lord. "This sickness is not unto death." Before his death they could well understand it, but what can it mean now? Scores of times it was pondered over in their minds. It must mean something good and great as coming from him, but what? There was a doubt, which is only the struggle of faith and its vacillation between light and darkness.
(3) Its struggle for a more definite knowledge and a clearer light. "I know that he shall rise," etc. This she said, not merely to indicate her faith in the distant resurrection, but also to draw him out, and it indicates the struggle of her faith for a nearer and a clearer light, and a more present help and solace.
II. HER FAITH STRENGTHENED.
1. By its own trials.
(1) It was tried by the absence of Jesus. Whoever would be absent from their brother's bedside, he was fully expected to be there. But he was not. Although sent for, he came not. A great disappointment, and a severe shock to faith.
(2) By his long delay. He was expected at the heel of the message; but came not for several days, and their brother was in the grave.
(3) It was tried by their sad bereavement. Their brother was dead - dead, while he might be alive if Jesus had been there. Faith was really in a storm. The night was dark, and there was no light but that of the resurrection; but that was too dim and distant to be but of little support.
(4) Faith is strengthened after all by its own trials. It gains strength by trouble, disappointment, and opposition. It gains strength in weakness, and is prepared for more; and down in the region of doubt it is often trained to take higher flights, to receive sublimer truths and grander visions.
2. By the special revelation of Christ of himself. (Ver. 25.) He reveals himself.
(1) As the Resurrection and the Life. There is an inseparable connection between the two. The former is the effect, the latter the cause. Jesus reveals himself first in relation to the effect, for this is first seen, and our first concern on this side. This was uppermost in Martha's thoughts. This was the subject of her constant meditation, towards which her faith stretched forth; and here Jesus meets her. "I am the Resurrection." But, as usual, he stops not on the surface with the effect, but leads faith down to the cause. "And the Life." This is complete, and faith is in the light.
(2) As being all this himself. "I am," etc. Not "I can raise the dead," but "I am," etc. Not "I can give life by prayer to God," but "I am the Life." He is this in himself, in virtue of the Divinity of his Person and commission. He is the Resurrection and the Life, physically and spiritually.
(3) He is all this now. "I am," etc. Not "I shall be at some future period," but "I am now, irrespective of time." Thus, to Martha's faith, what was distant is near, what was future is present, and the resurrection and the life are embodied before her in the person of her Lord. The resurrection is not entirely future, but in Christ it is potentially now.
3. By a revelation of the wonderful effects of faith in him.
(1) With regard to the believing dead. "He that believeth on me, though he died," etc. They continue to live in spite of the dissolution of the body, and shall live in union with it again.
(2) With regard to believing survivors. "Whosoever liveth," etc. The death of believers is not really death; to faith death is abolished. It is only a pleasant change, a sweet sleep, and a natural departure from the land of the dying to the land of the living. The life of faith is uninterrupted. "Shall never die." It is not in the least interrupted by the dissolution of the body, but suddenly advanced. What we call death is really a resurrection with Christ into a sublimer state of being, a birth to a higher life and a more perfect manhood.
(3) Faith in Christ produce these effects with regard to all believers without distinction. "Whosoever," etc.
4. Her faith is strengthened gradually. Jesus feeds faith as a mother feeds her babe, little by little; and he teaches faith to move as a mother teaches her child to walk, or as an eagle teaches her young to fly. She takes them on her back and soars aloft and throws them down on the friendly air, and repeats the process till they are able to reach the highest altitudes themselves. Thus Christ taught Martha's faith gradually and helpfully. "This sickness is not unto death." His absence, the death, the disappointment and doubt; but he comes at last, and in his welcome presence and revealing and hopeful words faith obtains a resting-place. "Thy brother shall rise again." Thus gradually, by self-exercise and Divine support, faith is taught to soar aloft till at last she reached the grand heights of the resurrection and the life.
III. HER FAITH TRIUMPHANT. "Yea, Lord," etc.
1. Her faith accepts him fully.
(1) As the Christ.
(2) As the Son of God.
(3) As the One expected to come into the world. Who would fill all the world's expectations and wants, and carry out his Divine purposes. Her faith accepts him as being all he had just revealed, and much more.
(4) As the Lord of her faith and whole spiritual being, who should rule over her, and to whom she would submit.
2. Although her understanding could not fully grasp his revelation, her faith could fully accept him. We are not to think that she understood all that Jesus had just told her; but, failing this, her faith embraced his Person and mission with implicit trust and hope.
3. In accepting him she ensured all at once. What he had just said, after all, contained only a few crumbs from his rich table, a few drops from the inexhaustible ocean of his power and love. Instead of remaining with these, her faith embraced him altogether, and ensured at once his Divine and infinite fullness.
4. She makes a hearty and full confession of her faith. The confession is fuller than the request. "Believest thou this?" "Yea, Lord," and much more: "I believe that thou," etc. To believe in Christ is much more than to believe a few truths of his revelation. Probably Martha's head had become dizzy in looking down from the heights of the resurrection and the life; but faith came to the rescue, and threw her arms around him who is both, and there found a safe repose and a glorious triumph.
1. In some directions too much may be expected of Christ. "If thou hadst been here," etc. There is a slight complaint in these words, as if Christ were bound to be there. But he was under no obligation to keep even Lazarus alive. Too much often is expected of his personal presence, time, attention, and service. He had other places to visit, other things to do, other wants to supply, and purposes of his own to accomplish. Some are ignorant and selfish enough to monopolize Christ and his ministers to serve their own personal and private ends.
2. In the right directions too little is expected of him. The appetite is often keener for the physical than for the spiritual, for the personal than for the general, for the temporal than for the eternal. Many are more anxious for health of body than for health of soul, for a physical resurrection than for a spiritual one. They prefer a dead graveyard to a living sanctuary, and some interesting talk from the minister during the week to a good sermon on the sabbath. Too little is expected of Jesus in the right direction. He will not satisfy our whims and low appetites, but wilt save our souls to the uttermost.
3. In the right direction too much cannot be expected of him. The more the better. The more by faith we expect, the more he will give and we receive. "According to thy faith be it unto thee." Expect as much as we like, his grace will exceed our highest expectations, and will surprise us with more. Martha's expectations were for a future resurrection at the last day, but Jesus surprised her with a present one in himself; and that very day became to her a day of resurrection.
4. The absolute necessity and importance of faith in Christ. It is necessary to the gracious operations of Jesus and to our participation of his grace. Without it even he could not do much, and we can do or enjoy nothing. But with it, in relation to our highest interest, Christ is omnipotent, and we through him are eternally happy and blessed. "He that believeth in me, though he were dead," etc. - B.T.
creed. He pointed her to himself as the Sum and Substance of all true beliefs, as the Object of all true faith. Creeds are good for the memory, Christ is good for the heart.
I. LIFE IS IN CHRIST. The miracles of raising from the dead which Jesus wrought were intended not only for the assuagement of human sorrow, but for the satisfying of human aspirations. He drew the attention away from the great work to the greater Worker. In him was life; and by his incarnation and sacrifice he brought the life of God to this world of sin and death.
II. THE LIFE OF CHRIST, WHEY COMMUNICATED TO MEN, BECOMES A SPIRITUAL IMMORTALITY. "The Son quickeneth whom he will." He introduced the new life into our humanity. How it has spread! In how many soils have barrenness and death disappeared, and spiritual vitality, vigor, and fruitfulness abounded in their place! Christ has taught the independence of the spiritual life upon the life of this body of our humiliation. In his own resurrection he manifestly conquered death. Living, he has the keys of death and Hades. He is both the Firstfruits of the rising again, and the Agent and quickening Power in raising his people. What can compare for spiritual potency with the life-giving authority of the Savior? In what other is there hope for man's deathless spirit? Like morning after a stormy night, like spring after a dreary winter, like triumph after arduous warfare, like the haven after a tempestuous voyage, - so is the immortality of the righteous who, living in Christ, live in perpetual blessedness. All their aspirations are realized, and all their hopes fulfilled.
III. IT IS BY FAITH THAT THE GLORIOUS IMMORTALITY OF THE BLESSED IS ACHIEVED. Christ presents himself as the Divine Object of faith. It is no arbitrary connection which is exhibited in these words of our Redeemer as existing between faith and life. Life is personal, and spiritual life comes from the Lord and Giver of life to those who believe. Faith is spiritual union with the Christ who died and rose for us, and is the means, first of a death unto sin and a life unto righteousness, and then of all which this spiritual change involves. A life in God is a life eternal. - T.
recorded of her, was an interesting and admirable character. She was not only warmhearted, frank, and practical, but one who thought clearly, and professed her faith with boldness and with no hesitation, no qualification. Where shall we find a confession of faith concerning Jesus more sound, more full, more ardent than this uttered by the sister of Lazarus of Bethany?
I. THE CHARACTER AND EXTENT OF MARTHA'S FAITH IN JESUS. Observe the language which is indicative of this - how it proceeds from point to point.
1. She calls Jesus "Lord." This would seem to be simply a title of courtesy, of respect, of reverence. In itself the word may imply no more; when applied to Jesus it may be the acknowledgment of a special authority.
2. She calls him "the Christ." This sounds natural enough to us; but, coming from Martha of Bethany, how much does this designation involve! How hard it must have been for one of Jewish birth and training to recognize in the Prophet of Nazareth the foretold Anointed of God, the Deliverer of Israel, the Savior of mankind!
3. She calls him "the coming One," i.e. the Being foretold in Hebrew prophecy, possessing the nature, the authority, the offices, belonging to the Commissioned of God.
4. She calls him "the Son of God." This is, indeed, a lofty flight of faith; justified, it is true, by the fact, yet exciting our amazement and admiration.
II. THE GROUNDS OF MARTHA'S FAITH. We cannot give a perfect account of these; but we can form a fair judgment as to the reasons and motives which led this woman to make a confession so remarkable and so just.
1. What she had seen Christ do. It is not credible that, intimate as were the members of her household with the Lord Jesus, she should never have witnessed any acts of Divine power such as he was wont to perform in every place where he discharged his ministry.
2. What she had heard Christ say. She too, like her sister, had often sat at the Master's feet, and heard his Word. The teaching of him who spake as never man spake, produced upon her mind a deep and abiding impression; for such a Teacher her reverence could not be too great.
3. The impression she had received of his character. As Guest at Bethany, Jesus had afforded Martha many opportunities of judging of his nature; and her reason and her heart alike assured her that he was indeed Divine. It was a just judgment, and wisely formed.
III. THE RECOMPENSE OF MARTHA'S FAITH. Her ardent and loving confession was not unrecognized or unrewarded. It brought her:
1. The sympathy of the Savior with her in her bitter sorrow.
2. The help of Jesus in her trouble - help bestowed readily and graciously, help taking a form miraculous and glorious.
3. The encouragement of the Savior in her own spiritual life. His companionship became the means of strengthening her beautiful faith, and intensifying her ardent love. - T.
I. THE COMING AND THE PRESENCE OF JESUS. Christ came from the Father, and has come unto men. He came once in his ministry, and he comes ever in his gospel. He is here to welcome and to bless. He is here both in his Word and in his Church.
II. THE CALL OF JESUS.
1. The intent of his call.
(1) It is a call to salvation from sin, and from its power and consequences.
(2) It is a call of sympathy addressed to those in sorrow, as in the case of Lazarus's sisters.
(3) It is a call to enter upon his service. To one he says, "Follow me!" to another, "Go, work in my vineyard!"
2. The character of his call.
(1) It is sincere. He always means what he says. This is not always so with the invitations men address to their fellow-men.
(2) It is authoritative. The Master calls. This is not an invitation which may be either obeyed or disregarded, according to men's caprice; for our Lord's royal call is ever a command.
(3) It is effective. There is power in Christ's voice. How many times has that voice awakened men from death to life? To such as have responded to its summons, no other voice has half the charm of this.
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF RECOGNIZING CHRIST'S PRESENCE AND RESPONDING TO HIS CALL. They who act thus are as prisoners who obey the summons to liberty; as the imperiled who answer the call which assures them of deliverance and safety; as guests who accept the invitation to the banquet; as friends who are welcomed to fellowship and to immortal honor. - T.
I. CERTAIN FEATURES OF MARTHA'S FAITH.
1. The satisfaction of her faith. "When she had so said," etc. Her faith was unspeakably satisfied with Jesus, with his presence, with his gracious words, and his wonderful revelations. She needed no further explanations. Her mind and heart were full to the brim. She was satisfied with her own confession, that she had been so far enabled to unbosom her heart and unburden her mind, and confess her full faith in her Lord. She could remain no longer, but, spiritually buoyant, joyous and elevated above her grief, she went her way.
2. The natural affinity of her faith. She came to Mary. She went not to some of her neighbors, nor even to the Jews, who were in her house, but to her own sister. Christianity does not destroy nor check the natural instincts of relationship; but, on the contrary, revives, sanctifies, and uses them for the highest purposes - to bring the soul to Jesus and Jesus to the soul, and form a spiritual alliance between them. Andrew sought his brother Simon.
3. The communicativeness of her faith. No sooner was she in the house than she called her sister. Her soul was all ablaze. Her faith was full and running over. Her heart was almost bursting to communicate its joy and satisfaction, and especially with a desire that her sister share the same, and go to the fountain to drink of its living waters. Genuine faith in Christ is ever communicative, benevolent, and sympathetic, it partakes of the genius and disposition of its object. Having found Christ for the first time, or found him more fully, or enjoyed a clearer vision of him, there is an intense desire to make it known to others, arising from the special request of the Master, and often from its own character and inspiration. We have a happy illustration of this in the woman of Samaria.
4. The discretion of her faith. Her faith met a difficulty at the threshold. There were in the house indifferent and unfriendly ears to Jesus, and it would be neither safe nor wise to make public her mission. But where there is a will there is a way. She called her sister on one side and told her secretly. Her message was secret and personal, and it was wise that it should be so conveyed. Faith should be discreet as well as bold and faithful, and encounter difficulties with discretion as well as with valour. Much harm may be done in the transmission of the message. What is intended to be private is often made public, and what is public is made private. Faith has its secret mission as well as its public one. In this case it should be whispered.
5. The message of her faith "The Master is come," etc. It is implied:
(1) That the family of Bethany had Jesus as their Master. He was their Master absolutely, and only one. He sat on the throne of their heart. He occupied that position, not on account of any worldly influence, wealth, or bearing, for he was poor. He occupied that position as the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior. The best of masters, not by usurpation, but by the choice of faith alone.
(2) The Master's arrival. "The Master is come." He was their Master wherever he was. It was joyous news that he had come at last. And his long delay made his arrival all the sweeter. Whatever complaint there was, it was on the surface. In the depth of the heart there was the most hearty welcome and gratitude. There was a vast difference between this meeting and the last. One of the members of the family had passed away. Lazarus was in his grave, but now there is no talk of him. Grief for him is for the time lost in the joy of the Master's arrival.
(3) The Master's invitation. "Calleth for thee." He will call some one else by-and-by. This call of Mary is not recorded by the evangelist, but it comes out in the message of faith. It is personal and gracious, and full of personal friendship and affectionate consideration and sympathy. She is not forgotten by the Master.
II. CERTAIN FEATURES OF THE FAITH OF MARY.
1. The readiness of her faith. "As soon as she heard," etc. The readiness of her faith is not only proved by her prompt response to the kind invitation of Jesus, but also by the interview between them. Jesus had not so much work to inspire and strengthen Mary's faith as he had with that of Martha. Her faith had been long ago nursed, strengthened, and prepared at his feet. Faith thrives well at the feet of Jesus.
2. The alacrity of he, faith. "She arose quickly." This was rather unusual for her. Martha was impulsive and quick in her movements. Mary was reflective and slow. Impulsiveness runs; reflection walks slowly, and often sits under its heavy but delightful burden. When the more reflective and deeper nature of Mary was thoroughly stirred, her movements were exceptionally quick, to the surprise of all who saw and knew her. Faith is very swift. There is only one swifter in movement, that is Jesus. Faith is willing to give up to him in the race. "He fainteth not, neither is weary."
3. The attractive Object of her faith. What made her rise and move so quickly? The known arrival of Jesus, his kind and gracious invitation, and the resistless attraction of his near presence. The Jews thought that she had gone to the grave to weep; but this was a mistake, and not the first nor the last mistake with regard to the movements of faith. She had now stronger attractions than those of the grave - the attractions of him who "is the Resurrection and the Life." He called, and she ran. A happy illustration of the words, "Draw me, and we shall run after thee."
4. The story of her faith.
(1) The story of the death of their brother. It was the same story as that of Martha. This was the sad tale of Bethany, and especially of the bereaved family in those days of weeping. Nothing else was scarcely thought and spoken of.
(2) The story of a conditional and glorious certainty. The presence of Jesus would have certainly prevented their brother's death. A present Savior would beyond doubt result in a living brother. "If thou," etc. How many "ifs" have we in relation to the death of dear, dear friends! If we had done or not done this or that! if the doctor were here in time! How groundless are our "ifs" generally! But in the "if" of these sisters there was a glorious certainty.
(3) The wail of a lost opportunity. Past possibilities and especially conditional certainties with regard to departed friends are ever very painful. It was so here, and the pain felt bursts forth in a wail to the Savior. "If thou," etc.
5. The attitude of her faith. Its story is the same as that of Martha's, but its attitude differs, and this makes all the difference. "She fell down at his feet."
(1) The attitude of deep humility; of a burdened and a broken heart, and a contrite spirit; of conscious unworthiness to address him but at his feet.
(2) The attitude of profound reverence, of humble homage, affectionate devotion; an acknowledgment of the majesty and graciousness of his presence; and gratitude for his kind invitation and continued esteem.
(3) The attitude of earliest prayer. The deepest prayer of her faith could only be expressed in the silent but eloquent language of her prostrate and suppliant attitude. The attitude of simple submission and trust. Submission with regard to the past, and trust with regard to the future. What Martha said to Jesus, Mary says also, but at his feet. If she complains, she pours her complaint out at his feet; and there leaves the profoundest prayer of her faith and the heaviest burden of her heart in simple trust and submission.
1. In our bereavements Jesus ever comes to us. When we are m trouble he is never far, and even his delay is only to try our faith, and agreeably surprise it at last. How welcome is his presence in such an hour!
2. In our bereavements he has a special message to us, and the message is gracious and personal. "He calleth for thee." He calls through the living and the dead. Departed pious souls are his ministering spirits. He calls us through others who have been with him. Martha, fresh from the Savior, called Mary to him to share the same comfort.
3. If Jesus is met by faith we shall find more than we have lost. He takes away to give us more - to give us himself more fully. Before he could not draw us near enough to himself, neither was the way clear for him to come to us. When the temporal sea ebbs, let us look out for the flow of the eternal.
4. Rather than go to the graves of departed friends, let us go to Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life. And if we go to their graves, let us take Jesus with us as a Companion. He is the only safe Guide through a graveyard. Without him it is dark, dead, and dangerous; but he will fill it with light, life, and joy, and will restore our friends, not to sense, but, far better, to faith, and bring us even now into spiritual fellowship with them, and a bright prospect of a complete reunion in the future. - B.T.
I. THE PROPRIETY OF THE DESCRIPTION. What a flood of light this one word "Teacher' (διδάσκαλος) casts on the relations of Jesus to the family at Bethany! How it corresponds with what we are told elsewhere of the docile attitude of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his Word! Martha, lacking as she seems to have been in spiritual insight and sympathy, could not have known the significance and propriety of her description; but we speak ofttimes better than we know, and the description was very significant and appropriate. The time had come when Jesus had a very practical lesson for both Martha and Mary, but Mary would learn the most. The service of Jesus to mankind, always essentially the same, has many aspects, many ways of beginning. Jesus began his work in some by bodily healing, but in very many - more, probably, than we imagine - by dropping into their ears marvelous utterances which attracted and charmed them. And of this number Mary seems to have been one. Jesus was a Friend of the household, and Martha might have said, "Our Friend is come, and calleth for thee;" but some happy providence ruled her tongue, and she spoke just the word that set prominently forward the teaching mission of Jesus.
II. THE LESSONS THE TEACHER HAD COME TO TEACH. Jesus, indeed, was always teaching, always shedding fresh light on dark places. Not one of his wonderful deeds but was full of instruction. His miracles were instructive, and his teaching was miraculous. His miracles were great object lessons, and here surely is one of the richest. How it stops the men who want to map out the laws of life and death with scientific precision! No wonder they deny the validity of such a record. Jesus comes in here, as elsewhere, with a truth greater than any our senses can tell us. Mere human experience points out the sequence thus: life, death, corruption, and so union with mother earth. Jesus comes with his power, and makes the sequence thus: life, death, incipient corruption, life again. Our experience tells us the actual, not the necessary. Then another great lesson Mary bad to learn was that of absolute trust in Jesus. Jesus was using the dead decomposing body of Lazarus for nobler purposes than one would have thought possible to reside in a corpse. Jesus can make use of the dead not less than of the living.
III. WE SHOULD FEEL THAT THE TEACHER IS CALLING FOR US CONSTANTLY. Not a day but what we can apply the great leading principles of the truth as it is in Jesus. Not a day but what we can find illustrations of his laws kept and his laws broken. The very daily newspaper should be read with Jesus to explain its bearing on his great purpose. He can show us what is really great and what is really little. Without him to guide, we are very likely to overlook things of the greatest moment, and dwell admiringly on things of little worth; and especially, amid the frequent inroads of death, we need to be thoroughly taught the lesson that there is One greater than death. Jesus never points to more glorious and inspiring truth than when he points to himself. - Y.
I. ONE SAYS, "IF THOU, LORD, HADST BEEN HERE, I WOULD HAVE BELIEVED ON THEE." To some Jesus seems so far away, in time, in space, that they feel it hard to cherish faith in him. But such should remember that faith is more truly faith when it is tried by the distance of its object. "Blessed," said Christ, "are those who, not having seen, yet believe." II ANOTHER SAYS, "IF THOU, LORD, HADST BEEN HERE, I SHOULD HAVE RESISTED. TEMPTATION." In the absence of the mighty Master, how can the servant stand? Yet, reflection assures us that the Spirit of Christ and the Word of Christ are sufficient to enable the tempted to resist the adversary, and to overcome in the trial. Peter yielded to temptation, and denied his Lord, in his very presence. The same Peter afterwards boldly confessed his Lord when that Lord was no longer present in the body upon earth.
III. ANOTHER SAYS, "IF THOU, LORD, HADST BEEN HERE, I SHOULD HAVE BEEN SPARED THIS SORROW, OR, AT THE LEAST, I SHOULD HAVE BEEN SUPPORTED UNDER IT?' But this is not certain. Trouble is often - to the Christian it should be always - blessing, even though in disguise. If so, wisdom and love may permit it, whether Christ be, as to the body, present or absent. And certainly his Divine supports and consolations may be experienced, even though his form be not seen, his voice not heard.
IV. ANOTHER SAYS, "IF THOU, LORD, HADST BEEN HERE, I WOULD HAVE BOLDLY ENCOUNTERED PERSECUTION AND DARED DEATH." They who through timidity and faithlessness fail in witnessing to their Lord, and then make to themselves this excuse, prove how little knowledge they have of their own hearts. Some have thought, "If, like the dying malefactor, we could have hung by the side of Jesus, with his presence to encourage and his example to cheer us, then we could have dared to die for him; but how can we suffer for his sake when unnoticed, unsupported, and alone?" This way of thinking overlooks Christ's spiritual presence. In reality, they who suffer for him "suffer with him."
V. ANOTHER SAYS, "IF, LORD, THOU HADST BEEN HERE, THEN THY WORK ENTRUSTED TO MY HANDS WOULD HAVE PROSPERED." There are those who fear that in this spiritual dispensation, where no present Lord stands ready to work signs and wonders for the conviction of men, it is vain to hope for great results to follow the preaching of the gospel and the witness of the saints. Yet it cannot be denied that greater works than those wrought during Christ's ministry were effected after his ascension, and that the spiritual economy was introduced into the world with signal trophies of might and signal omens of victory. It is not the Master's bodily absence which accounts for the slow progress of the truth and kingdom of Christ. Spiritual causes account for this lamentable fact; spiritual powers alone can check the advance of error, and hasten the kingdom of God, of righteousness, of truth. The Church has not faith enough in the Lord's own assurance, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
APPLICATION. It is well for us to remember that, as a matter of fact and reality, Christ is always here. His Spirit is near our spirit. He is truly present to those who have faith. When duty is difficult and arduous, let us reflect, Christ is here! When temptation is urgent, or when trials are severe, let us not forget that Christ is here! When bereavement overtakes us, and we are very sensible that those whom we have loved, and upon whom we have relied, are gone, then let us cherish the comforting assurance that Christ is here! - T.
I. CHRIST'S CAPACITY FOR TEARS.
1. It is obvious to say this capacity lay in his true human nature. As we read in Job, "Man is born to sorrow;" as our poet sings, "Man is made to mourn." Jesus was "a Man of sorrows."
2. Christ was capable of human sympathy. Men weep for themselves, and they weep for others. The tears of Jesus were tears shed, not for himself, but for members of this race whose nature he assumed.
3. This capacity lay yet deeper in our Lord's Divinity. It is unjust to represent God as unfeeling; he is susceptible of some deep "painless sympathy with pain." He pities and grieves over the sorrow he nevertheless in wisdom and in love permits.
II. THE OCCASIONS OF CHRIST'S TEARS. The narrative reveals:
1. His personal sorrow for the death of his friend. He had been wont to come to Bethany to meet with a cordial welcome and a friendly smile from Lazarus. And as he knew the joys of friendship, so did he experience the distress of bereavement. There was justice in the exclamation of the Jews, "Behold how he loved him!"
2. His sympathy with the grief of the bereaved sisters. Mary and Martha were nearest in kindred and in affection to the deceased Lazarus; and Jesus, who loved all three, could not but feet for the sisters whom he found in sorrow and in tears.
3. Consciousness of the power of sin. Nothing less than this can account for the prevalence and the bitterness of the heart's anguish. Jesus, who knew all things, knew this; it was sin which "brought death into the world with all its woes." In every instance of human mortality Jesus could not fail to discern the bitterer root of fruit so bitter. Hence the strong emotion he displayed, as he groaned and was stirred and moved by the mighty wave of feeling which swept over his soul.
III. THE PRACTICAL OUTCOME OF CHRIST'S TEARS. There are cases in which tears are a substitute for help. It was not so in the instance before us. The heart that found expression for its woe in tears, found expression for its sympathy and pity in the reaching out of a hand of help. Jesus first wept, and then succored the sorrowful and raised the dead. Christian sympathy should be like Christ's sympathy, which was not content with words and tears, but made for itself a way of practical compassion.
IV. THE SIGNIFICANT LESSONS OF CHRIST'S TEARS.
1. They assure us that we have in him a feeling Friend, who in all our afflictions is afflicted.
2. They teach us a lesson of sympathy - that we should "weep with those who weep."
3. They remind us by contrast of that state where "all tears shall be wiped from off all faces."
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
I. AS EXPRESSIONS OF HIS DEEP SYMPATHY WITH THE SISTERS. They were in the depths of trouble and grief. They had lost:
1. A brother. Their brother Lazarus was dead, and now in his grave. A brother is one of the nearest and dearest relations of life. It is not a neighbor or a friend that was cut off by death, but a brother.
2. An only brother. To lose one out of many is a great trial, but in such a case there is an alleviating consideration - there are others to share the grief, and to whom wounded affection may still cling. But these sisters, as far as we can see, had lost their only remaining brother. As they returned from the graves of dear ones before, they had Lazarus with them as the center of their human affections, the healer of their grief; but now he is under the cold hand of death.
3. A most kind and good brother. Even the death of an undutiful and prodigal brother is keenly felt, for he is a brother in spite of all. But the death of a good brother is more keenly felt still. Lazarus was a model brother. The natural relationship was intensified and endeared by sweetness of temper, kindness and goodness of nature, and piety of character, which made him not only their support, but their chief solace and sunshine.
4. Jesus deeply sympathized with them.
(1) With their personal and social loss and grief. They were left lonely and undefended in the world.
(2) With their utter helplessness in the face of death. In themselves they were entirely helpless in this circumstance. They could do nothing but weep, and he wept with them.
(3) He sympathized, as they represented the grief and bereavements of the whole human family. The death of Lazarus was only a specimen of the ravages and the universal reign of the "king of terrors" on earth, which he had come to abolish; and the grief of these sisters was only a specimen of the universal grief of the human race whose nature he had assumed, and whose sorrow he carried; and he could not contemplate all this without expressing his sympathy.
5. This expression of sympathy is most tender. Jesus was not only sympathetic, but most tenderly sympathetic with all human woes. Many have sympathy, but they manifest it awkwardly and even roughly; it is spoilt in transmission. But Jesus manifested his sympathy with these sisters most tenderly; he conveyed it to them in tears. "Jesus wept."
II. AS EXPRESSIONS OF STRONG AND GENUINE FRIENDSHIP. Jesus wept, not only in sympathy with the bereaved sisters, but in friendship to their departed brother. The Jews were right for once in their interpretation of Jesus when they said, "Behold how he loved him!" Lazarus was the special friend of Jesus. Their friendship was not long.
1. It was very intimate and sincere. It was the highest and purest friendship, arising from a general agreement in temper, taste, character, principles, and sympathies. In Lazarus Jesus could see his image; and in Jesus Lazarus could see a perfect Model, and all that his heart could wish. So intimate and sincere was the friendship, that Jesus could not refrain from weeping for the temporary separation of his friend. And his were not mercenary tears - he was not a paid mourner - but they were tears of genuine friendship.
2. It was very valuable. The friendship of Lazarus was very valuable to Jesus during his active ministry. His foes were many, but his friends were very few; he had only one Lazarus. Many a time had he sheltered from the storm under the wing of his friendship, and there tasted of the sweets of human kindness in an hostile world; these reminiscences now crowded his memory, filled his heart with sorrow, and his eyes with tears.
3. It was most intense. If it had been only of a short duration, this was amply made up in depth, breadth, and intensity. Jesus could love in an hour more than we can in an age. His love to Lazarus must be intense ere he would weep. Small natures can weep often, but great ones only weep on extraordinary occasions. Only twice it is recorded that Jesus wept. Once over a spiritually dead city; now near the grave of a departed friend. One was the wail of pity, and the other the wail of personal and wounded love; and so intense were his feelings that they could not be suitably expressed but in tears, nor find relief but in a wail of sorrow.
III. As EXPRESSIONS OF HIS THOROUGH HUMANITY.
1. It is characteristically human to weep. We know not of any other being that can weep but man. Angels, perhaps, have not the power to weep; they certainly have no need. Devils have need, but not the inclination and power. Man has the need and power to weep. Jesus was a thorough Man; he wept.
2. It is human to weep with those that weep. Human sorrow is ever contagious. Tears are its natural language. A thorough man will ever be impressed by the emotions of his fellows, and will express them, as well as those of his own, in the general language of tears.
3. Jesus was thoroughly human. "Jesus wept." We are glad in a sense that he wept; we rejoice in his tears, for in them we meet him as a thorough Man. A Savior who could not weep, could not be a perfect Savior for us; but in tears we embrace him as our human Friend. We scarcely know which to admire and adore most - Jesus on his way to the grave, in his thorough humanity weeping; or Jesus at the grave, in his thorough Divinity calling the dead to life. In the one he is our God, in the other he is our Brother; and in both he is our perfect Savior.
IV. AS EXPRESSIONS OF DIVINE COMPASSION.
1. His compassion was Divine. The tears were human, but the compassion and sympathy were Divine as well. God, as such, cannot shed tears - cannot weep; but he can sympathize, pity, and sorrow. The tears of Jesus were virtually those of incarnate Deity, they were faithful and expressive translations of Divine emotions into human language, and a revelation of the Divine in the human.
2. His compassion was practical. Our compassion often begins and ends in tears. We are helpless. We weep over the graves of departed friends; we can do nothing else. Our tears cannot restore them to life and society. But the tears of Jesus did this. They became unbearable to Heaven; they moved Divine power, and Lazarus had to return. They were divinely practical, and practically Divine. Jesus does not literally weep now, but in his friends, and this wail shall by-and-by bring about the great resurrection and the grand reunion at the last day.
LESSONS. It is natural and right to weep after departed friends.
1. Although we know that they are in happy existence, far happier than on this side. Jesus knew that Lazarus was so; still he wept.
2. Although we know that we shall soon meet again. Jesus knew that he should soon meet Lazarus even on this side; still he wept.
3. When we weep after our departed friends, who are also the friends of Jesus, we are not alone. Jesus wept, and virtually weeps still, and shall not cease till all his friends are fully with him, and with each other, and death swallowed up in victory. - B.T.
Luke 19:41, ἔκλαυσε is used, not ἐδάκρυσε, as here.) But Jesus, going to the grave of Lazarus, did manifestly shed tears, and this intensity of emotion was noticed. Why, then, was he moved to this extent?
I. A TESTIMONY TO THE FULLNESS OF HIS HUMANITY. These were the tears of friendship. Many a time Jesus must have been filled with profound pity for human suffering and bereavement, but that by itself would not cause him to shed tears. Jesus was on terms of loving intimacy with the family at Bethany. Every bit of evidence should be welcomed that deepens the impression of this; for to be sure that Jesus had special friends is to make us feel that he was a true, full Man. Every true man must have some who are dearer to him than others. A Jesus without intimate friends would have been a contradiction to all that is best in humanity.
II. A TESTIMONY TO FULL COMMUNION OF FEELING. In one sense there was no need for these tears. In a few minutes many tears might be shed, but they would be tears of joy over the restored relative. Jesus knew what was going to happen; why, then, did he seem as if plunged in the very depths of sorrow? The answer is that he really was in the very depths of sorrow, in full communion of grief with the two sisters who were his friends. Jesus behaved in all respects naturally and tenderly.
III. We must not, however, forget that these were THE TEARS OF JESUS. They are part of the proof of his humanity, but they must be looked at in the light of the whole of that humanity. They were the tears of a sinless Jesus. Tears must be looked at according to their cause. Oftentimes they express the most utter selfishness. The passion of grief, natural and inevitable as it is, brings out the whole man by the very violence of its expression, and so enables us to see how much evil there is in the heart. People can hear with equanimity of deaths all round them; it never strikes them there is anything wrong-anything that wants explaining. The problems and the mysteries of life are as if they were not. But let the blow break their own circle, and utterances the most reckless and purely self-regarding come from their lips. - Y.
I. THESE WORDS CONTAIN A GREAT DOCTRINE, VIZ. THAT THE GLORY OF GOD CAN ONLY BE SEEN BY THE EYE OF FAITH. This is universally true, whether we think of his glory as displayed in nature and in providence, or by his Word and his Son from heaven. The psalmist of Israel exclaims (Psalm 19.), "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork." And so it has been from the beginning. But what multitudes have, alas! been deaf and blind to all this teaching - in some ages worshipping the host of heaven instead of him who made them all; and in later times seeing nothing in God's grandest works but a vast and complicated machine without a final purpose, a thickly woven veil of laws and second causes with nothing behind it! Ah! the last word of unbelief is a blank and cheerless materialism. And the same thing must be said of the very highest display of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ. There, surely, it shines forth in wondrous and yet attractive radiance. "Christ the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God." His life on earth the very image of God's holiness. His cross the meeting-place of righteousness and mercy. His resurrection the triumph of victorious grace. But why is Christ to so many a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence? Why is he still despised and rejected of men, so that they turn from him with indifference or, perhaps, with a far worse feeling? Why do they think naught of his Divine glory, and make so much of the glory of man, which is as the flower of grass? The Apostle Paul replies that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God... neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The god of this world, or the spirit of the age, or, it may be, some lust of their own hearts, has blinded their eyes, so that they will not believe. On the other hand, every Christian knows, by a very practical experience, that the glory of God is a spiritual thing, which can only be seen by the eye of the spirit. By whatever way he has been led in providence and grace, he has learned this much, that God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in his heart and opened his eyes. And what has been the result? May we not say that, so far as he has walked in this light, life has become a more solemn and blessed thing than it was before, and the Bible a different book to what it was, and the day of rest otherwise hallowed and welcomed, and the means of grace, instead of seemly and well-meaning forms, have become wells of salvation? Not seldom among his fellow-pilgrims in life's journey he recognizes men and women who have the mark of God on their foreheads; and there are times, too, when on the face of nature itself - on the many-colored earth beneath and on the heavens over his head - there seems to him to rest "a light that never was on land or sea," revealing to him a glimpse, as it were, of the glory of the Eternal.
II. THESE WORDS CONTAIN A GREAT PROMISE, TREASURED UP HERE FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF EACH DISCIPLE OF CHRIST. "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe," etc.? For this vision of faith of which we have been speaking does not perpetuate itself. I do not mean that it passes away like a dream in the night, leaving no traces behind it. The Christian who has seen ought of the Divine glory must desire to see it still, or he would be no Christian at all; but how many things tend to veil it from his view! Sometimes, from the inevitable cares and engagements of life, often from causes which cannot be traced, he finds himself in perplexity and gloom. But, weak and changeful as he is, God's promises do not depend on his varying moods of mind; and in view of such a promise as this, faith bursts into prayer, and evermore the prayer of faith shall live. "I beseech thee, show me thy glory;" "Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy Law; " Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." But it is in the greater trials of life that the soul feels most its own intrinsic weakness, and that the promise in the text is "exceeding great and precious." When, for example, health is suddenly shattered; or when fair earthly prospects are dashed to the ground; or when the family circle is broken in upon, and a tenderly loved member is taken away; - then nature's darkness and nature's sorrow compass us in on every side. The heart whispers, "Vanity of vanities." Oar common life loses its interest - "like a dream when one awaketh." And perhaps unbelief, no longer like a silent, lifeless weight, but rather like a mocking demon, assails the very foundations of the faith, or tells us that our interest in them has been all a delusion. Thus it was with the Psalmist Asaph, when in an hour of infirmity he exclaimed (Psalm 77.), "Will the Lord cast off forever? Both his promise fail forevermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" Poor and cold is the comfort that the world can give in such a case - perhaps telling the sufferer that things might have been worse; or that misfortune is the common lot of man; or that time will in the long run blunt the edge of his feelings; and that "wild flowers may yet grow among the ruins of his happiness," and that meanwhile "to bear is to conquer his fate." Ah! surely if these are the only lessons that trial has to each us, we must often come to look upon providence as a necessary evil. How different are the Master's words, "If thou wouldest believe," etc.! This is indeed the sum and substance of many an ancient oracle. In all ages the Spirit of Christ, which breathed in the prophets, had spoken in the same tones. God's children were ever taught to look within the veil and walk by faith. "Who is among you that feareth the Lord,... that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the Name of the Lord, let him stay himself on his God" (Isaiah 1:10). But here Christ himself adds his "Yea and Amen" to all the promises given by his forerunners; and not only when he raised Lazarus from the grave, but above all when he burst forever the chains of death in his own resurrection, he gave assurance unto all men that his words are faithful and true. What, then, is the perpetual message of these words of his to his disciples? Believe that your secret trials are not the shafts of a blind fate, but the decrees of a reconciled Father's will. They are not designed to crush you, inscrutable as they now appear. They bid you "be still, and know that he is God;" but they are never lightly inflicted, never inconsistent with his wisdom and love. Trust him, then, in the dark. Trust him when your heart is aching. Trust him when human sympathy falls short of your need, and your faith shall not be in vain. He has many ways in providence and grace of showing you his glory; tempering your trials with mercy; perhaps giving them an unexpected issue; raising you above them, and, as it were, above yourselves; giving you new discoveries of his love, a deeper assurance than you ever had before that he is your God. Thus those who walk by faith and not by sight have this promise of Christ fulfilled to them even here below. Through the checkered experiences of life, whether those be joyous or grievous, God is ever drawing near to them and manifesting himself to them. They shall never, indeed, take the measure of his perfections, and they adore him for this; but whilst their knowledge of him cannot be full, it may be most real; whilst it cannot be comprehensive, it may yet be sufficient for their life-journey. They may see enough of his glory to make them habitually humble and thankful and hopeful, to strengthen them for daily work, and support them under daily trial. How often may two persons be met with whose lives have been visited with much the same trials and enriched with much the same outward blessings, and yet as they approach the evening of their days you hear the one complaining that he was born under an unlucky star, that his steps have been dogged by an unkind fate, and that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; while the other is saying that goodness and mercy have followed him all the days of his life, and asking what he shall render to the Lord for all his benefits towards him! Whence the difference between the two? Is it not from this - that the one has lived without God in the world, whilst the other has sought for grace to walk in the light of his countenance? So much for the life that now is. But there is a larger fulfillment of this promise that belongs to the life to come. Here the glory of God can only be seen amidst the clouds and darkness of this storm-tossed world. The faith of his children, too, is not only tried by the long conflict between good and evil which rages around them, but by the unbelief of their own hearts and the weakness of their bodies of humiliation. "Now they see through a glass darkly." But this is not to last forever. This vision is only for an appointed time. And when the mystery of God has been finished, and the children of the resurrection open their eyes on the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, then shall each one of them learn the fullness of these words of Christ, "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? " - G.B.
I. THE FUNDAMENTAL MISAPPREHENSION. We must understand clearly the great and fundamental error that underlay all the animosity of the Pharisees and priests towards Jesus. To understand that error makes their relentless pursuit of Jesus more explicable. Jesus talked much of a kingdom, and what should the Pharisees take that to mean unless a visible kingdom - a kingdom the establishment of which must be contested and prevented by the Roman empire, tolerant, of no authority that rivaled its own? If these Jews had only comprehended what the kingdom of heaven really was, they would have spared themselves much anxiety, and been free from the stains of great wickedness. That all men should believe in Jesus meant, in the esteem of the priests and Pharisees, that Jesus would be made a King after the fashion of men. They judged Jesus by themselves. They had no standard by which to guess at his motives and proceedings, save their own ambitious hearts. Each one of them would have been glad to be a king if they could have got the multitude to accept them. They did not yet understand that human government, an exceedingly important thing in its place, is but secondary and subordinate compared with the perfect subjection of the individual to Jesus. If Jesus had had all the authority and power of the Roman empire at his back, he could have done nothing with it.
II. THE UNSUCCESSFUL SCHEME. Successful, and yet unsuccessful. The priests and Pharisees succeeded beyond their hopes. Jesus did not become the sort of king they feared he might be. They got him out of the way, and then they were happy. But, for all that, the Romans did in due season come and take away both their place and their nation. It is the frequent delusion of men that if only they do certain things they will prevent or secure certain other things. The best way of providing for the future is to attend to present truth and present duty.
III. THE UNCONSCIOUS PROPHET. Caiaphas knew full well how popular Jesus was in many quarters, and what a hold he had on the people in the country districts, so to speak. No doubt the national party was in a dilemma to begin with, and to this was added the deep feeling in the hearts of many that to attack him was to attack a really good Man. They would not have hesitated for a moment if he had been a mere demagogue, but being what he was they did hesitate. So Caiaphas comes to the front with what, from his point of view, was a statesmanlike proposition enough. What he says amounts to this, "We must not think of the character of the one, but the necessities of the many." You do not hesitate to demolish a fine building and scatter its contents if that will stop the burning down of many streets. And the Father of Jesus has the same principle underlying his plans, only it is a principle carried out with true wisdom and perfect success. - Y.
I. THE ADMISSION ACCOUNTS FOR THE FEARS AND THE MALICE OF CHRIST'S ENEMIES. Had Jesus been a mere teacher, he would not have excited the enmity which, as a matter of fact, encountered him. But he wrought mighty works, and by their means not only excited interest among the people, but acquired influence over them. That this influence might be used to the detriment of the religious leaders of the Jews was their chief dread with regard to Jesus. The exact ground upon which they might well fear him they did indeed misunderstand. Yet it was his possession of superhuman power which made him formidable to their imagination and to the foreboding of their guilty hearts. It was this authority which in fact, though in a different way from that expected by them, did prove fatal to their position, and subversive of their sway.
II. THIS ADMISSION ESTABLISHES THE FACT OF CHRIST'S POSSESSION OF MIRACULOUS POWER. If it had been possible for these selfish and calculating ecclesiastics to do so, doubtless they would have denied the fact of Christ's miracles. It was against their interests to admit it, could it with any plausibility be questioned. The witness of Christ's friends to his superhuman power is valuable; than that of disinterested and impartial spectators is more so; but that of his avowed enemies is most valuable of all. They attributed his mighty works to an infernal power; but they never denied them. How can the conclusion be avoided that these signs and wonders did really take place?
III. THIS ADMISSION AGGRAVATES THE GUILT OF THOSE WHO CONSPIRED TO SLAY CHRIST. There could be no question that the miracles of Jesus were for the most part obviously benevolent and merciful, and that this was well known to his enemies. What excuse then could they have for plotting his death? If he was not only a wise Teacher, but a popular Benefactor and Healer, his enemies, in conspiring to bring his ministry to a close, proved theft indifference to the welfare of the people, which Jesus so compassionately and powerfully promoted. It was not only that they slew "the Holy One and Just;" they slew the Self-denying and Compassionate.
IV. THIS ADMISSION SHOULD SERVE TO CONVINCE THE SKEPTICAL THAT CHRIST WAS THE SON OF GOD. If men enter upon the consideration of Christ's claims with the foregone conclusion in their minds that no miracle can by any power be wrought, then all evidence that may be adduced will be adduced in vain. But if they come with unprejudiced and candid minds, the testimony recorded in this verse must surely have weight with them. At all events, it may serve to show that the objections against our Lord's claims advanced in these days are utterly unlike those advanced in his lifetime. There was keen criticism then, although of a different kind from that we meet with now. Then, the only ground on which our Lord's authority was disputed was the very natural ground of the selfish interests of his enemies. It was thought expedient to bring his ministry to a close by violence, falsehood, and injustice. With such a method of opposition to Christ many modern unbelievers have no sympathy. But it is very hard to substantiate any other method of opposition, that is, upon the grounds of rational plausibility. Take the testimony of Christ's worst foes, and deal fairly with it. And their admissions will be seen to preclude the possibility of impugning Christ's authority. Nor must it be forgotten that the "many miracles" which Jesus wrought when here on earth were the earnest and the promise of those greater and more amazing moral miracles which from the throne of his glory he has been working through the long ages of the Christian dispensation. - T.
I. THE LANGUAGE OF THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND PHARISEES IS IMPLICIT TESTIMONY BOTH TO THE INNOCENCE AND THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS. If they had possessed any information, or had even cherished any suspicion, that Jesus was in any way unworthy of confidence and respect, it' is certain that charges against his character would have been adduced, and that an effort would have been made to substantiate them. But it does not seem to have occurred to them that there was any evidence upon which they could found such charges. This goes a long way towards proving that our Lord was acknowledged to be of blameless character, and that his ministry was felt to be irreproachable and benevolent. At the same time, it was explicitly admitted that his miracles were genuine. The enemies of our Lord did not complain that he professed to wield miraculous power whilst all the time he only made a baseless boast. For the very gravamen of their consultations was that Jesus did many miracles. They, at all events, admitted that superhuman authority resided in our Lord.
II. CHRIST'S ENEMIES CONSIDERED HIS MINISTRY MERELY IN THE LIGHT OF ITS CONSEQUENCES, AS THESE WOULD PROBABLY AFFECT THEIR OWN POSITION AND INTERESTS. When men look at conduct, not in its relation to principles, but in relation to results, they are usually in danger of error and of grievous practical misdeeds. It is better to think of actions as agreeing or disagreeing with a standard, than as involving results. The reasoning of Christ's foes was sound enough upon their own assumptions. They argued thus: Jesus works many miracles; the result of these will be the faith and adhesion of increasing numbers of the Jewish people; this will lead to popular excitement, which will give rise to tumults or, at all events, to manifestations of enthusiasm, and perhaps fanaticism; such movements will bring about the interference of the Roman authorities; and, as surely as this takes place, the Sanhedrin will be blamed for its inability to restrain the populace, the last remnants of national rule will disappear, and the subjection of Israel will be complete. It is not possible to regard this train of reasoning as motived by exalted patriotism. It was for themselves that the chief priests and rulers were concerned - for themselves chiefly, if not solely. It is easy to cloak selfishness in the garb of public spirit and love of country. The discerning and just mind can see through such hypocritical pretences.
III. CONSIDERATIONS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE OFTEN LOST WHEN THE CONSIDERATIONS OF SELFISHNESS AND AMBITION TAKE POSSESSION OF THE SOUL. After all said and done, Jesus was one single Person; his enemies were many. He was lowly in the world's esteem, and they were the dignified leaders and rulers of the people. He had no force to back him - at least, none that they were cognizant of - and they had their own armed men to support them, and could command the troops of the Roman procurator. Such being the case, why should they scruple to oppose Jesus by fraud and by violence? Nothing prevented save the sense of justice; and this they silenced and stifled. Accordingly their decision was taken, their plans were laid, and in due time were executed, under the influence of selfish fears, it is all too true to human nature. Let self be lost sight of, and then justice, equity, fairness, may prevail. But let self be made prominent, and alas! how often will the right be sacrificed as of no account! A lesson this as to the importance of cherishing a high standard of morality; and a lesson, too, of the proneness from which we all suffer to give heed to the counsels of interest and of personal advancement. Let all men beware lest, beginning with indulging foolish views of the importance of personal aims, they end by "crucifying the Son of God afresh." - T.
I. THE INTENTION OF CAIAPHAS IN HIS PREDICTION OF CHRIST'S VICARIOUS DEATH. To understand this we must notice:
1. The character of the high priest himself. Caiaphas was a Sadducee, who is said to have bought his sacred office; he was the nominee of the Roman authorities, and acted in public business under the influence of Annas, his father-in-law. We do not wrong him in deeming him pre-eminently a politician, whose aim was the maintenance of the existing order of things, and the repression of any popular display of feeling, and especially any symptom of disaffection or disorder.
2. The position of Jesus at this critical period of his ministry. His miracles, and especially the raising of Lazarus, had produced a great impression; the courage and hopes of his adherents were raised; the number of his disciples and admirers was increasing, and consequently the fears of his enemies were aroused, and their hatred was intensified. Jesus was the great Figure in the view of all classes of the people. The hopes of some and the fears of others centered in the Prophet of Nazareth.
3. Such being the character of the high priest, and such the position occupied by Jesus in the public estimation, it is evident what was the meaning of the remarkable language which Caiaphas used. In their hearts, the Jewish leaders would have rejoiced if a great Deliverer, such as they expected their Messiah to be, had risen up among them - had emancipated Israel from a foreign yoke, and had provided for themselves posts of honor and power under the new dynasty. But they saw that Jesus was not the Deliverer they hoped for. They thought it likely that his preaching and teaching might lead to insurrection, which the Romans would certainly repress with severity. They preferred to retain such self-government as still lingered among them, such dignity and honors as were still allowed them, rather than risk the repression, the humiliation, the subjection, to which an unsuccessful insurrection would lead. Hence, the counsel of Caiaphas. He was for immediate, stringent, and violent measures. Having no sympathy with the profound teaching and spiritual aims of Jesus, looking upon religion only in the light of statecraft, Caiaphas advocated the ruthless destruction of him who was the occasion of so much anxiety and selfish fear. His policy was to crush Jesus, to propitiate the Romans, and to keep his own position until the advent of the expected Deliverer. Let the innocent Jesus be sacrificed; but let the nation be saved, or rather the rulers, who ever thought more of themselves than of those whom they governed. After all, Jesus was but one, and they were many. With no care for truth, for righteousness, for religion, for God, the degenerate leaders of the chosen people sacrificed to worldly policy him whom the Father had consecrated and sent into the world.
II. THE INTENTION OF GOD, PUTTING A DEEPER MEANING INTO THE PREDICTION OF CAIAPHAS. It is true that genius often utters language which is susceptible of a meaning far deeper than appears on the surface. But according to the interpretation of the evangelist, Caiaphas, being high priest during that memorable year of sacrifice, was prophetically guided or overruled in his language. Thus it was foretold:
1. That Jesus's death should have a bearing upon others. It is true that no man dieth unto himself. But Jesus so lived and so died as to secure the salvation of those whose nature he assumed. For others he lived, and for others he died.
2. That Jesus should die for his own nation. He came to his own. He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And though he was rejected and cast out, he did not die in vain, as far as his own people were concerned, The first converts made after his ascension were for the most part Jews. The apostles were themselves Hebrews, and some of them were ministers to the circumcision. True, the nation as a whole refused the Savior, and for that refusal they suffered the most terrible disasters. But their fall was the rise of the Gentiles, and the time is yet to come when the Jews shall be gathered in.
3. That Jesus should die for the spiritual Israel. "Not for that nation only." To this conception Caiaphas could not rise; but St. John, by Divine inspiration, read this meaning into his words. No doubt, St. Paul did very much to enlarge the general conception entertained regarding the objects of Christ's mission to earth. He showed how Christ had broken down the middle wall of partition, and had made of Jew and Gentile "one new humanity." Thus the mystery which had been hidden was disclosed; that the salvation of God is for all, irrespective of race and privilege. The text makes it manifest that, in this view of Christianity, St. John was in perfect sympathy with the apostle of the Gentiles.
4. That the death of Jesus should issue in the union in Christ of all the scattered children of God. This fifty-second verse is one of the sublimest in the whole compass of revelation. Not only shall the children of the Jewish dispersion be reunited. All lowly, faithful, prayerful, obedient hearts in every land shall come under the mighty sway of Christ's precious cross. Christ is the divinely appointed head of the ransomed race; in him its true unity shall be realized, and in him the benevolent purposes of the Father shall be completely and eternally fulfilled. - T.