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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 11

 

 

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Verse 1

THE DISCIPLINE OF SICKNESS

‘Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.’

John 11:1

Lazarus, ‘whom Jesus loved,’ was allowed to be sick, and in pain, and weary, and to languish, and suffer, like any other man.

I. Sickness can never be anything but trying to flesh and blood.—Our bodies and souls are strangely linked together, and that which vexes and weakens the body can hardly fail to vex the mind and soul.

II. But sickness is no sign that God is displeased with us.

III. It is generally sent for the good of our souls.

(a) It tends to draw our affections away from this world, and to direct them to things above.

(b) It sends us to our Bibles, and teaches us to pray better.

(c) It helps to prove our faith and patience, and shows us the real value of our hope in Christ.

(d) It reminds us betimes that we are not to live always, and tunes and trains our hearts for our great change.

Then let us be patient and cheerful when we are laid aside by illness. Let us believe that the Lord Jesus loves us when we are sick no less than when we are well.

Illustration

‘How often have we seen a man enter into sickness, a giant in the strength of nature, but a babe in grace, and how often has the same man come out of it prostrated indeed, shattered for the world and its uses, but mighty in spiritual achievement—victor of himself, victor of the world. For wonderful are the remindings at such a time of things lost; past words whose sound has long gone out of mind; the bringing up out of the depths of the memory of hidden knowledge; the life with which dead formalities suddenly become clothed; the divinity which begins to stir amongst the long laid up texts; the real conflict with self-deceit and pride in one who has been only talking about such a conflict all his life; the dropping away of exaggerated phrases of self-loathing; and of confidence in God, and the coming, like the flesh of a little child, of real utterances of self-abasement and the first genuine whisperings of Abba Father.’


Verse 5

A LOVED FAMILY

‘Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.’

John 11:5

The characters of these three people seem to have been somewhat different. Of Martha, we are told that she was ‘careful aud troubled about many things,’ while Mary ‘sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.’ Of Lazarus, we are told nothing distinctive at all. Yet all these were loved by the Lord Jesus. They all belonged to His family, and He loved them all. Let us bear this in mind in forming our estimate of Christians.

I. There are varieties in character, and the grace of God does not cast all Christians into one and the same mould. Admitting fully that the foundations of Christian character are always the same, and that all God’s children repent, believe, are holy, prayerful, and Scripture-loving, we must make allowances for wide varieties in their temperaments and habits of mind.

II. We must not undervalue others because they are not exactly like ourselves. The flowers in a garden may differ widely, and yet the gardener feels interest in all. The children of a family may be curiously unlike one another, and yet the parents care for all. It is just so with the Church of Christ. There are degrees of grace and varieties of grace; but the least, the weakest, the feeblest disciples, are all loved by the Lord Jesus.

III. Do not, therefore, despise or undervalue a brother.


Verse 6

DIVINE DELAY

‘When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was.’

John 11:6

It is impossible not to remark an intentional and most instructive connection between this verse and the preceding one. Our Lord loved the family of Bethany, all three of them; and yet when He heard Lazarus was sick, instead of hastening at once to Bethany to heal him, He quietly remained at Bethabara for two days, without moving.

I. This delay was intentional and of purpose.—It throws immense light on many of God’s providential dealings with His people. We know that the delay caused immense mental pain and suffering to Martha and Mary, and obliged Lazarus to go through all the agony of death, and the sorrow of parting. We can easily imagine the grief and suspense and perplexity in which the household at Bethany must have been kept for four days, when their loving Master did not appear: and we know that our Lord could have prevented it all, but did not. But we know also that if He had at once hurried to Bethany and healed Lazarus, or spoken a word from a distance at Bethabara and commanded his healing, as in John 4:50, the mighty miracle of raising him would never have been wrought, and the wonderful sayings of Bethany would never have been spoken. In short the pain of a few was permitted for the benefit of the whole Church.

II. We have here the simplest and best account of the permission of evil and suffering.—God could prevent it. God does not love to make His creatures suffer. But God sees there are lessons which mankind could not learn unless evil was permitted: therefore God permits it. The suffering of some tends to the good of many. ‘He that believeth shall not make haste.’ We shall see at the Last Day that all was well done. Even the delays and long intervals which puzzle us in God’s dealings, are wisely ordered, and are working for good. Like children we are poor judges of half-finished work.

—Bishop J. C. Ryle.

Illustrations

‘“Christ tarried,” so says St. Chrysostom, “that none might be able to assert that He restored Lazarus when not yet dead, saying it was a lethargy, a fainting, a fit, but not death. He therefore tarried so long that corruption began.” So too Calvin, “Let believers learn to suspend their desires, if God does not stretch out His hand to help as soon as they think necessity requires. Whatever may be His delays, He never sleeps, and never forgets His people.” “God permits evil,” according to Quesnel, “that He may make the power of His grace and the might of His love more conspicuous in the conversion of a sinner.” “We must not judge of Christ’s love to us,” says Poole, “by His mere external dispensations of Providence, nor judge that He doth not love us, because He doth not presently come in to our help at our time, and in such ways and methods as we think reasonable.’”


Verse 9

LIFE AND WORK

‘Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.’

John 11:9

God has marked out beforehand the length of the life. This was true, first and foremost, of the life of Christ. His day had its twelve hours. In the way in which He walked, He was in daylight till the twelfth hour. It is true of us. God knows exactly the length of our day, and therefore of our hour. Is not this an encouragement—a call to confidence?

I. The completeness of life.—We must cast away the common measurement of time. Christ’s life on earth was a short life. His hour was but of the length of two or three years. God counts not, but weighs the hours. Christ’s three years of speech had in them the whole virtue for the world of two eternities. Christ’s thirty years of listening were not the prelude only, they were the condition of the three.

II. The unity of life.—God sees the day as one; when God writes an epitaph He does so in one line, in one of two lines. ‘He did that which was evil,’ or, ‘He did that which was good.’ The identification is complete, and the character is one, not two, and not ambiguous. There were twelve hours in the man’s day, but the day was one.

III. The distribution of life.—God sees it in its unity; He bids us see it rather in its manifoldness; in its variety of opportunity and in its capacity and capability of good. Economise—determine to economise time. Give up something, some fragment, some particle of one of these twelve hours, to God and Christ, to thy soul and eternity.

—Dean Vaughan.

Illustration

‘Father, I know that all my life

Is portion’d out for me;

And the changes that are sure to come

I do not fear to see:

But I ask thee for a present mind,

Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will

That hurries to and fro,

Seeking for some great thing to do,

Or secret thing to know;

I would be treated as a child,

And guided where I go.

So I ask Thee for the daily strength,

To none that ask denied,

And a mind to blend with outward life

While keeping at Thy side;

Content to fill a little space,

If Thou be glorified.

In a service which Thy love appoints

There are no bonds for me,

For my inmost heart is taught the truth

That makes Thy children free;

And a life of self-renouncing love

Is a life of liberty.’


Verse 11

HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP

‘After that He saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.’

John 11:11

The death of true Christians is ‘sleep,’ and not annihilation.

I. It is a solemn and miraculous change.—The sharpest sting of death is the sense of unpardoned sin. Christians have nothing to fear for their bodies in the change: they will rise again by and by, refreshed and renewed after the image of the Lord.

II. The grave itself is a conquered enemy.—It must render back its tenants safe and sound, the very moment that Christ calls for them at the last day.

III. ‘Comfort one another with these words.’—Let us remember these things when those whom we love fall asleep in Christ, or when we ourselves receive our notice to quit this world. Let us call to mind in such an hour that our great Friend takes thought for our bodies as well as for our souls, and that He will not allow one hair of our heads to perish. The grave is the place where the Lord Himself lay, and that as He rose again triumphant from that cold bed, so also shall all His people. He that has Christian faith may boldly say as he lays down his life, ‘I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest: for it is Thou, Lord, that makest me dwell in safety.’

Illustration

‘“Our friend Lazarus.”—The disciples had been entertained by the family of Bethany as well as He. This gentle and beautiful touch is to enlist their sympathy in His plans and movements for the sake of the family. How different from the selfishness of ordinary human grief, which prides itself on a monopoly of mourning, and in proportion to its fancied intimacy with the departed tries to exclude others from the right of expressing their sorrow! “Sleepeth.”—This is one of those occasions when the human mind of Jesus exerted the Divine Omniscience to which it was indissolubly united, but which it did not always employ, just as it did not always employ the Divine Omnipotence.’


Verse 16

‘THAT WE MAY DIE WITH HIM’

‘Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow=disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

John 11:16

This was the devoted resolution of St. Thomas directly our Lord had given the word to His little company to return into Judæa, quite well knowing that the position in that district had become so bitter, that not only had His enemies threatened His life, but had even attempted to take it. But now His friend Lazarus had fallen sick and died, and there was something in that which showed Christ that it was His duty to return to Judæa whatever the result. He knew He was doing nothing rash in returning to Judæa amongst His enemies. The work presented itself for Him to do, it was a work of God and it had to be done. He knew that the issue of this would be, in some most emphatic way, to the glory of God, but He was unable to communicate this to His disciples. To them it appeared impossible that it could end in anything but despair. These level-headed men were beginning to count the cost of following Jesus Christ—they had been realising how much it meant. There comes a cost greater than they expected—they see failure and death reach first their Master, and then themselves. Their first thought seems to have been for their Master. But presently, perhaps when they saw Christ’s resolve was made, their bearing showed signs of fear for themselves, and this makes St. Thomas revive their courage by saying, ‘Let us go, that we may die with Him.’

I. A lost faith.—It is not easy to mistake the meaning of these words. It meant that the faith of this disciple in Christ was dead at that moment. Something remained to him, something which he could not break away from, something which, for its own sake, was worth quietly and ingloriously going to meet death for—it was the Person of Jesus Christ, and in the wreck of His fondest hopes, in the overwhelming disappointment and shame at the failure of what had been full of the promise of success, this disciple of Jesus remained true. He was ready, therefore, to offer to Christ devotion and loyalty to their farthest limits—even to the sacrifice of life, a sacrifice of life with no glory or grandeur attaching to it save an unseen and unknown glory.

II. Deliverance by self-sacrifice.—This hardly seems to be a counsel of despair. We have here a real example for all Christ’s followers in days of darkness and difficulty. We are confused and disappointed, and a darkness looms around and ahead. It becomes more difficult to engage in prayer and worship, and the people who were so sure of God’s Word, once such a world of comfort, once such a rich source of inspiration, find its voice sounds uncertain. Once so Divine in tone and teaching, it now becomes more and more obscure. At such times there is only one thought that can lead to the light again out of darkness. The real help is self-sacrifice. ‘Let us go also, that we may die with Him.’ At such times at least, to men and women, there ever remains, as to St. Thomas, the figure of Jesus Christ. Dissolved, perhaps, much of that glory which once they beheld, of whom perhaps nothing seems left save Ecce Homo! Behold the man! Yes, still Ecce Homo! can be said, and Christ still remains, with all that majesty still unapproachable, at the head of the human race, worthy of all love, of all devotion. From that height Christ calls to all to follow with Him the real road of self-sacrifice. Yes, do not let us mistake, it is real self-sacrifice that is required. ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ Do not let us mistake the self-sacrifice open to us to-day—the charity—of which we have so many lamentable examples. God, if we may say so reverently, cannot treat us seriously in our defence of faith unless we treat ourselves seriously, and prove ourselves ready to make a great venture—the daring attempt to take the Kingdom of Heaven by violence. Only when we are ready with set faces to go right into the heart of the struggle, only when we are ready to go on sacrificing more and more—only then can we hope that to us will come the light, the power. With the spirit of self-sacrifice—only let it be real—the darkness will pass away.

Rev. G. K. S. Marshall.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THOMAS, THE DEVOTED DISCIPLE

To some, Thomas is merely the disciple who doubted, an example of unorthodoxy, of denial, one to whom we can feel pleasantly superior. This is due to the concentration of attention on one episode of his life, not altogether understood. We all know the Thomas who said, ‘I will not believe’; we are apt to forget the Thomas who said, ‘Let us go.’ But to others, an increasing number, Thomas is—

I. The devoted disciple, whose devotion is all the more noteworthy because it went hand in hand with doubt. If his belief was wavering, his loyalty is unswerving. Belief is of the head, loyalty of the heart. In the first three Gospels Thomas is a name and nothing more. In John he is a living man, hampered by human infirmities, but ennobled by human devotion.

II. He was absolutely sincere and in deadly earnest.—He would not affect a faith which he had not reached, neither did he affect a doubt which he did not feel. He was not like the dilettante doubters we sometimes meet with, who brush the whole thing aside lightly with the superior air of those who have outlived old-fashioned superstitions: he was quite aware in his grim and silent way that what he doubted was life or death, not only to himself but to a dying world. He was sincere: his doubt was the logical result of his mental temperament.

III. He was a pessimist.—He took habitually the dark side of things. When others saw a risk of disaster he saw a desperate certainty; when others could leap to a conclusion he not only would not, but could not; he must feel his way step by step. Never with him was the wish the father to the thought; because he wished a thing true he hesitated, lest his intellect should be misled by inclination. This temperament has its virtues as well as its vices, its advantages and disadvantages. Its danger lies in its temptation; because it cannot believe everything, it believes nothing; also in its temptation to sloth, in paralysis of the sense of duty, in excuse for disloyalty. But not so with Thomas. Tidings had come from Bethany, ‘Behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ which determined our Lord to return to Judæa and place Himself once more in the power of His deadly enemies—‘Let us go into Judæa again’—but there was only one thought among the disciples. They said, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone Thee; and goest Thou thither again?’ Their fear was perfectly well founded; the Lord did not set it aside—He invited them to share His peril: ‘Let us go to him.’ We can picture the still sadness which fell on the little band when they heard His words. At last the silence is broken. By whom? By Peter, dauntless in his impetuous courage? By John, strong in unquestioning love? No, by Thomas—‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ He could buoy himself up with no illusions; he might think his Master mistaken in venturing to Judæa; he would profess no hope in which he could not share; his presence could not save his Master; but there was one thing he could do—he could die with Him.

If this is not devotion, tell me what is? Devotion surely worthy of all reverence and imitation when combined with any mental temperament, but when allied to such a cast of mind as Thomas’s, devotion doubly great.

—Rev. F. Ealand.


Verse 25

THE MOURNER’S HOPE

‘I am the Resurrection, and the Life.’

John 11:25

Our Church has chosen these words of comfort and of hope to be the very first to be sounded in the ears of Christian mourners as they bring some well-loved form to the churchyard—‘the garden of the dead.’ Before the lifeless body is committed to the ground and hidden from sight the souls of sorrowing survivors are strengthened for the bitter separation by the cheering promise of an Almighty Saviour.

I. The promise realised.—On the fairest feast of the Christian Church the comforting promise was fully realised. ‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day,’ and if Christ, the head of our race, has conquered death, we, too, the members, may be partakers in the glory of the Resurrection. In considering the mercies revealed to us at Easter we must not forget those wonderful events which took place before the actual rising from the grave; they usher in the Easter Feast and partake of Easter joys. After the resignation of His sinless soul, and its departure from His holy body, the invisible Spirit, invisible to mortal eyes, is ushered by attendant angels into Paradise. ‘He descended into hell,’ the place of departed spirits, rendered by His Divine Presence a Paradise indeed to each redeemed and waiting soul. How these spirits must have been thrilled through and through with rapturous joy as they were told the glorious news of the completion of their redemption, the successful issue of that mighty contest between the New Adam and all that would defile and destroy human souls. While the living were sleeping upon earth the dead were alive to the joys and the glories of our coming Easter victory.

II. It is well for us to clasp firmly to our hearts the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus, for it is the earnest and pledge of our own. Let no difficulties of reason come in between us and the light. ‘Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?’ Why, indeed? Instead of hesitating one moment about its eternal truth, let us all receive it as a revelation and miracle of Divine love. The thought may come into our minds—when will be this splendid fulfilment of the promise of Jesus, when this beautiful realisation of the Christian’s hope? When will take place the happy, thrilling reunion of all loving hearts, when they will be able to walk together in the light of God and love again in the beauty of fond affection? When in the perfection of glorified manhood shall we be able to live in the unbroken Communion of Saints? We cannot tell what year it will be, what day, what hour. We cannot tell how many generations shall first pass away, how many kings be buried or kingdoms be overthrown. But we know it will be when Jesus comes again in glorious majesty. Then the waiting in Paradise shall cease and give place to the thrilling joys of the Resurrection. You, doubtless, remember that in St. Paul’s time the Thessalonians were very excited about the Coming of the Lord, and misunderstanding some of the Apostle’s expressions, imagined it would take place while they were yet alive; and they even went so far as to express their sorrow that some whom they had loved had not been permitted to live a little longer that they might participate in the joy and the glory of the Coming Lord. St. Paul writes unto them the true doctrine: ‘But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.’

III. When Jesus comes.—We may reverently gather from Scripture some few events that must happen when Jesus comes again. The summons would pass through Paradise that the fullness of time has come, that Christ is about to take unto Himself His Almighty power and reign. The multitudes of ransomed souls would arise with untold rapture to form a part of His triumphant train. Oh! how glad would they be to be witnesses of His exaltation, to see Him crowned the Lord of all. The numberless choirs of angels would be ready with all their radiant brightness to escort their Creator and their King. The Second Coming in majesty and might they could at least better comprehend than His First Coming to sorrow and to death. The mysteries of the Incarnation were beyond them; but this would give them exultation without a limit. What would the redeemed among the living behold as they gazed upwards into the heavens? They would see Jesus, Whose glory no human tongue or pen could describe—the army of angels, the army of light coming with the mighty King; they would hear the announcing trump, the voice of the Archangel, and the triumphant shout. And there would be something else to delight their hearts and fill up their rapture to the brim. They would see the blessed dead; those whom they had loved when upon the earth, after whom their spirits had longed as they often and often thought of them in the peace and rest of Paradise. May be before the eyes of the wondering quick would be wrought the mighty miracle of the Resurrection: ‘The dead in Christ shall first arise.’ Before the holy living are summoned to take part in the ineffable manifestation of glory, the souls and bodies of those who are already dead shall be reunited. He has brought the cherished souls with Him not only to participate in the mighty rendering of homage to the King, but also that they themselves may be perfected. He has brought the happy spirits to earth that from the earth their bodies may be summoned; this is not the general Resurrection, but the first and special Resurrection of those who love the Lord Who redeemed them. ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first Resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ.’

IV. And as Jesus was the joy of the disembodied spirits in Paradise, so now is He the very power that raises their bodies from the grave.—It is not only that He summons them to arise; but He is the living principle which rescues them from the power of death. He Himself is their life. ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life,’ saith the Lord. Those who arise to glory have Him within them. His own words are: ‘Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ Yes; all the blessed dead have fed upon Christ. All those who long for the Resurrection to glory must feed on Him. This holy food is still given for penitent sinners who are manfully fighting in the ranks of the Church militant, that they may be cleansed and purified ready for participation in the unspeakable joys of the Church triumphant.

—Rev. W. E. Coghlan.

Illustrations

(1) ‘’Twas at the matin hour, early before the dawn,

The prison doors flew open, the bolts of death were drawn.

’Twas at the matin hour, when prayers of saints are strong,

Where, two short days ago, He bore the spitting, wounds, and wrong,

From realms unseen, an unseen way th’ Almighty Saviour came,

And following on His silent steps an Angel armed in flame.

The stone is roll’d away, the keepers fainting fall;

Satan’s and Pilate’s watchmen—the Day has scar’d them all.’

(2) ‘When we pull down a house for the purpose of rebuilding it or repairing its ruins, we warn the inhabitants out of it, lest they should be soiled with the dust and rubbish or offended with the noise, and for a time we provide some other place for them; but when we have newly trimmed and dressed the house, we bring them back to a better habitation. Thus God, when He overturneth our flesh, calleth out the soul for a little time, and lodgeth it with Himself in some corner of His kingdom; He repaireth the imperfections of our bodies against the Resurrection, and then having made them beautiful, glorious, and incorruptible, He doth put our souls back again into their purified mansions.’


Verse 28

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MASTER

‘The Master is come.’

John 11:28

There are five different Greek words in the New Testament translated ‘Master’ in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us think of these five characteristics of the Master.

I. The Overseer.—He the Overseer and we the underworkers. It is our restful privilege to be at His orders.

II. The Leader.—We have simply to be His followers. We are never called to go to any place where He has not been, or to do anything that He has not done before.

III. The Teacher.—The Teacher takes His ready, willing pupil up into sympathy with Himself.

IV. The Despot.—The rendering in 2 Timothy 2:21 being ‘a vessel … meet for the despot’s use.’ He is our Ruler, and this on our part means when His will is clear, absolute submission.

V. The Owner.—Our Master is our Owner; we are His slaves—at the Owner’s word of command and control.

Rev. Hubert Brooke.


Verse 35

THE TEARS OF CHRIST

‘Jesus wept.’

John 11:35

The emotions of Christ were perfectly true to nature. The Saviour dissolved in tears, presents a spectacle of apparent effeminacy of character not in keeping with His dignity and greatness. Yet, was it really so? Tears are not always marks of weakness, they are oftener evidences of power. Springing from the depths of the soul, they are sometimes the exponents of great thoughts, of mighty purposes, of manly feelings, and have a language and a meaning more eloquent and effective than ten thousand tongues. Such were the tears of Jesus.

I. They were tears of sympathy.—We must not omit the sympathetic in Christ’s present emotion. His heart was not only touched with a sense of His own personal affliction, but it was also touched, deeply touched, with sympathy for the sorrows of others: He wept because the mourning sisters wept. He mingled His tears with theirs. This is true sympathy, ‘weeping with those that weep,’ making their sorrow our own. How really our Lord does this with His people! Our present griefs are so entirely absorbed in Him, that, softened by His love, soothed by His sympathy, succoured by His grace, trial is welcome, affliction is sweet, and the rod of a Father’s chastening buds and blossoms into delectable fruit.

II. Bereaved mourner! the sympathy of Christ is yours!—The Saviour who wept at the grave of Bethany, now shares your grief and joins your tears. Deem not your sorrow is lone, or that your tears are forbidden or unseen. You have not a merciful and faithful High Priest Who cannot be touched with your present calamity. There exists no sympathy so real, so intelligent, so deep, so tender, so sanctifying as Christ’s. And if your heavenly Father has seen it wise and good to remove from you the spring of human pity, it is but that He may draw you closer beneath the wing of the God-man’s compassion, presence, and love. O child of sorrow! will not this suffice, that you possess Christ’s sympathy, immeasurable and exhaustless as the ocean, exquisite and changeless as His being? Yield your heart to this rich compassion, and then, ‘though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold.’

III. Learn a lesson from the practical sympathy of Jesus.—Compassion is as luxurious an emotion of our nature as it is manly and graceful in him who shows it. ‘To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend’ (Job 6:14). What a sacred privilege to imitate Him ‘Who went about doing good’! To visit the widow and the fatherless in their distress, the prisoner in his dungeon, the bereaved in their grief, the sick in their solitude, the poor in their need, the fallen in their self-reproach; in a word, to be an angel of comfort to some child of woe from whose bosom hope has fled—this, oh! this is sympathy.

Rev. Dr. Octavius Winslow.

Illustration

‘Tears of love! behold them flowing

From the Elder Brother’s eye!

See Him as a mourner going

To the grave at Bethany!

He, Who through its shadowy portal

Summon’d back the freed immortal—

He, Whose all-commanding word

Sheathed the gloomy victor’s sword—

There, where buried friendship sleeps,

He, our own Immanuel, weeps.

‘Tears of pity! see them gushing

From their pure and sacred fount!

Angels! your hosannas hushing,

Bend ye from the holy mount.

Stoop to read the wondrous story,

How the “Father’s brightest glory”

At a sinner’s grave can stand,

Mourner ’mid a mourning band,

With the heart, the voice, the eye

Of a perfect sympathy!

‘Tears of Jesus! while I ponder,

Blessed comfort let me reap;

“That same Jesus” liveth yonder

Who on earth was wont to weep.

Though His brow the rainbow weareth,

Yet my thorny crown He shareth;

Yet that loving heart Divine

Throbs responsively to mine:

Not a struggling sigh can rise,

But ’tis echo’d in the skies.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

TEARS OF SYMPATHY

There is scarcely a more precious gift of God than ‘tears.’ How precious, none know but those who would give the world for ‘tears,’ and cannot find them.

I. It is a blessed thing to have a ‘tearful’ nature.—We all have ‘tears’ in childhood. Why does the man weep less than the babe? Has he less cause to weep? Is it a stern law of nature that is given to infancy, and denied to our maturity? Or is it the hardening process which has been going on ever since we left our mother’s knee? The rough contact of life, the schoolroom, the playground, the associations of early life, the habits of youth, the infection of the world: of its money, its dissipations, its cares, its hardness? Softness is a bud which needs cherishing, and which will go if it is not carefully watched, and if it does not find itself in a genial atmosphere! It is a bloom which must be protected, or it will be brushed off! I speak earnestly to those who are just passing out of childhood. Keep jealously—jealously—that sweetest treasure which you carry with you from your nursery—an eye that can weep, a cheek that can blush, a heart that can melt! A poor bargain will it be, if you barter those ‘tears,’ for all the excitement that amusement can ever give; or for all the possessions which money has ever bought! Young man! never be ashamed of ‘tears.’ It is the highest honour of a man—to have a man’s strength with a woman’s softness!

II. ‘Tears’ belong to Jesus.—It was His unfallen humanity that was so exquisitely ‘tearful.’ It is by union with Jesus that you will get back ‘tears.’ You will recover your childhood, and so you will partake in Christ’s gentle, gushing nature. Is not this part of what is meant—that ‘you must become as a little child’—that you may cry? ‘The world, the flesh, the devil,’ kill ‘tears.’ Every sin you do kills a ‘tear.’ Jesus is their resurrection. You must not only go to Him—you must be in Him. Still do you say, ‘I have no tears’? Think of Jesus. Perhaps one of those many ‘tears’ He shed on earth is for you. ‘Tears’—yes, blood; for that dear Lord wept blood! At this moment, if you could see Jesus—as He looks on you even in heaven—I believe there would be a ‘tearfulness.’ ‘But still no tears?’ What, and if Jesus’s ‘tears’ may stand for ours, even as His righteousness is our righteousness? Then, in Him my ‘tearless’ being has ‘tears.’ Those ‘tears’ are mine. I do not weep, I cannot weep; but I weep in Him, and God accepts the weeping.

III. You will do well distinctly to understand that Jesus’s ‘tears’ at the grave of Bethany were purely ‘tears’ of sympathy. Jesus’s heart beat at once with the hearts about Him. He ‘wept’ because others ‘wept.’ Not Mary and Martha only, but many. ‘When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid Him? They said unto Him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.’ It would be a beautiful and Christ-like thing to go about life with a tearful sympathy, carrying everywhere—to the sad and the sorrowful—not words, not comforting—‘tears!’ To the sinner—not words, not reproaches, not preaching—‘tears!’ There is a sympathy which is hard to rouse, and which very soon goes to sleep; which has in it more of duty than feeling; which fixes objects; which is very capricious in its work; which seldom rises to any loving height; which has a great deal of self and pride in it. I am not speaking of that. I speak of a sympathy which has fine, delicate cords running into every one’s heart, which goes out, in a moment, to any one; to the happy, as to the unhappy; to the wicked; to the repulsive; which is set to every nature; which has a word, a thought, a feeling, which fits into every part of our common manhood: which can ‘weep with all that weep,’ and, higher still, which can ‘rejoice’—however dull itself—‘with all that rejoice’: nay, which can also still, in purest sympathy, rejoice with the weeper—for every weeping has its rejoicing; and weep with the rejoicer—because every rejoicing has its sorrow. The soul that does that—for Jesus’s sake—has an immense amount of Jesus in it. Do not be content with a low level of sympathy. Sympathy is not worth much unless it bring a ‘tear’ to the eye.

Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 43-44

THE RAISING OF LAZARUS

‘Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth.’

John 11:43-44

I. The sympathy of Jesus.

(a) He was vehemently moved against the havoc wrought by sin in the world, and the necessity of submitting to the presence of the prying Jews.

(b) He shed quiet tears for Martha and Mary, showing His feeling for all in sorrow (cf. Romans 12:15).

II. The visit to the tomb.

(a) Perhaps in the gardens, near the house of the family; hollowed out of the rocky side of the hill; still the custom in the East.

(b) Mournfulness of the visit.—All speak in brief and subdued tones; Martha’s faith grows dim. Jesus reminds her of the message sent from Bethabara (the other Bethany) in John 11:4, and of what He had just said.

III. The giving of life.

(a) With thanksgiving, that those around Him should understand that it was a Divine Power that was acting, and that they should recognise Him to be the Son of God.

(b) After prayer, from the human nature to the Divine Father.

(c) With authority (John 11:43). Death unable to resist His word.

IV. Results.

(a) What joy in the house that night!

(b) Belief of many of the Jews.

(c) Report to the Pharisees.

(d) The Pharisees and Sadducees summon the Sanhedrin.

(e) Unconscious prophecy of Caiaphas.

(f) Death decreed against the Lord of Life.

(g) Publication of the Decree.

(h) Retirement of Jesus to Ephraim or Ephron, near some wilderness, till the Passover.

V. This miracle should remind us of the life of the soul in God, in holiness and happiness.

(a) The gift of Christ (Romans 6:23).

(b) Must begin in this life through faith in Him (John 5:24).

(c) Will be continued to all eternity.

(d) The death of the body will only be freeing that new life from all that was subject to decay (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Archdeacon William Sinclair.

Illustrations

(1) ‘“Are you afraid to die?” is the question which once called out from a sick person the following beautiful reply, “No; I have taken Him at His word: I am not afraid to die.” This expression, “I have taken Him at His word,” and the calm state of mind from which it flowed, well illustrate that “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” which is the very name as it is the foundation of the Christian religion.’

(2) ‘We read of a supper at Bethany, where Lazarus “sat at the table” among the guests—Lazarus, who had been publicly raised from the dead, after lying four days in the grave. No one could pretend to say that his resurrection was a mere optical delusion, and that the eyes of the bystanders must have been deceived by a ghost or vision. Here was the very same Lazarus, after several weeks, sitting among his fellow-men with a real material body, and eating and drinking real material food. It is hard to understand what stronger evidence of a fact could be supplied. He that is not convinced by such evidence as this may as well say that he is determined to believe nothing at all.’


Verse 52

THE GATHERED ONES

‘But that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.’

John 11:52

This prophecy is the more remarkable as being—with the exception of Balaam’s—the only prophecy in the Bible which was spoken by a bad man. The great design of the whole work of Christ was ‘to gather in one’; to make oneness. And He did it in this order. First, a mystic oneness of a soul with Himself. Then, a oneness of every pardoned sinner with the Father. Then, a oneness of the whole man within himself, when every part of his being was in unity, by an act of consecration, of everything he is, and everything he has, for one single object, the glory of God. And then the oneness of man with man—the Unity of the Church, the Communion of Saints.

Thus formed, let us see in what this oneness always consists; its nature, and its extent.

I. One City.—We can fancy—in one of ‘the cities of refuge’—what a oneness there must have been of all the inhabitants. All one—in the same condemnation. All saved upon the same conditions: all within, all safe, and all necessarily kept together by the same bonds. Their shame, their joys, were all alike. The theme of their conversation must always be the same. What they had done: the danger they had incurred: how they had escaped: when they should be quite free. They had the same interests; the same hope; and equally all owed all to the same law of mercy. And there is not a believer upon this earth who is not an inhabitant of ‘the city of refuge.’ And here is our oneness. No one can reproach, no one can set himself above another. All once as good as dead; all alive now; all saved; and all by the same grace; and all bound to the same caution, least they should take one step of trespass! And all intent upon the same happy future of liberty and hope.

II. One Family.—But we may extend the illustration from ‘the city’ to ‘the family.’ What are we all again but ‘one family,’ on which ‘one Name is named in earth and heaven,’ and that name ‘Father!’ ‘My Father!’ And all owing the right to use that dear Name of ‘Father’ to One—to One only—and that One the Elder Brother of us all—alike to the highest saint in heaven, and to the poorest, blood-washed sinner that walks this earth! And it is one house. They, up there, are in the higher chambers of it; but we, as many as are His, are in the lower rooms. It is the same ‘house.’ ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions.’ And this is one.

III. One Body.—But we are more than a family, we are one body. Some members have more honour than other members. But all are in the same great spiritual framework. The One Head gives life to all. From that Head all the guidings come. And in that Head all the sympathies meet. All beat, as with one pulse. The sorrow of one is the sorrow of all: the joy of one is the joy of all. And there is ‘no schism in the body.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 11:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-11.html. 1876.

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