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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Lazarus

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LAZARUS of Bethany comes as near to Jesus of Nazareth, both in his character, and in his services, and in his unparalleled experiences, as mortal man can ever come. Lazarus's name is never to be read in the New Testament till the appointed time comes when he is to fall sick, and to die, and to be raised from the dead, for the glory of God. Nor is his voice ever heard. Lazarus loved silence. He sought obscurity. He liked to be overlooked. He revelled in neglect. You could have taken any liberty you pleased with Lazarus with the most perfect impunity. Our Lord and His twelve disciples often found where to lay their head in Martha's house, as it was called. But where Lazarus laid his head at such times no one ever asked. The very evangelists pass over Lazarus as if he were a worm and no man. They do not give him the place of a man in his own house. But Lazarus never takes offence at that. 'He is a sheep,' said the men and the women of Bethany. And so he was. For, when Jesus of Nazareth and His twelve disciples came to Martha's house, Lazarus hewed wood, fetched water, and washed the feet of the whole discipleship; and then, when they were all asleep, 'though he was the staff and sustentation of the family,' he supped out of sight on the fragments that remained. All Bethany was quite right, Lazarus was a perfect sheep. They laughed him to scorn, they shot out the lip at him, and he never saw it. At any rate, he never returned it. Let Martha sweat and scold; let Mary sit still and listen; and let Lazarus only be of some use to them, that he would never believe he was, and that was Lazarus's meat and drink. So much so, that the world would never have heard so much as Lazarus's name unless the glory of God had been bound up with Lazarus's sickness, and death, and resurrection.

Our Lord had this happiness, that He loved all men whether they loved Him or no. But there were some men that He loved with a quite special and peculiar love. And Lazarus was one of the most eminent of those men. But, even in our Lord's love to His friend, Lazarus is pushed back almost out of sight. Martha and Mary always come in before their brother in our Lord's love, as in everything else. This evangelist, that bare record according as he saw, had seen his Master's love to Martha and Mary many a time; but it was only now and then that he had the opportunity of seeing either Lazarus's love to his Lord, or his Lord's love to Lazarus. Lazarus loved his Lord far more than they all. But his love had this defect about it that it was a silent love. It was what we call a worshipping love. It was a wholly hidden love. Only, Lazarus's love could not elude His eyes Who knows what is in man without man testifying what is in him. And He so loved Lazarus back again, and so expected all His disciples to love Lazarus also, that He was wont to call Lazarus their universal friend. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth," He said. For Lazarus by that time, for the glory of God, and for the glory of the Son of God, had fallen into a fatal sickness. And Martha had despatched a swift messenger to Bethabara beyond Jordan to summon Him and to say, Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick. 'Trouble not the Master,' Lazarus had said to his sister in his sickness. 'The Jews of late sought to stone Him, and wouldest thou bring Him hither again?' And with a great shame and a great pain at himself for so troubling his sister and his Master, and with a great hunger in his heart for his Father's house in heaven, Lazarus turned his face to the wall and fell asleep.

Lazarus is altogether left out by us as we read this heavenly chapter. We leave out Lazarus in glory even more completely than he was left out by all men in this life. We leave out of this chapter heaven itself also as much as if we were all Sadducees. And not till we have our eyes opened to the ascended Lazarus, and to his throne in glory, will we ever read this magnificent chapter aright, or at all aright understand why in all the world Jesus should groan and weep all the way to where Lazarus's dead body lay and decayed in the grave. Our Lord did not leave Lazarus out. No, nor his glory either. Our Lord knew what He was on His way to do, and He took to heart what He was on His way to do, and it repented Him to a groaning that could not be uttered, to work His last miracle for the awakening of Jerusalem at such a cost to Lazarus. He knew all the time how it would all end. He knew what Caiaphas would say. And He knew what Judas and Pilate and Herod and the people would do. And He groaned in His spirit because He so clearly foresaw that His friend Lazarus, like Himself, was to be such a savour of death in them that perish, and at such a price to Lazarus.

So o'er the bed where Lazarus slept,
He to His Father groan'd and wept:
What saw He mournful in that grave,
Knowing Himself so strong to save?
The deaf may hear the Saviour's voice,
The fetter'd tongue its chain may break:
But the deaf heart, the dumb by choice,
The laggard soul that will not wake,
The guilt that scorns to be forgiven:-
These baffle e'en the spells of Heaven:
In thought of these, His brows benign,
Not even in healing cloudless shine.

Jesus wept. Yes: and if you saw a friend of yours in glory, and then saw also that he was to be summoned to lay aside his glory and to return to be a savour of death to so many of your fellow-citizens, you could not but weep also. Even if you knew that it was the will of God, and for the glory of the Son of God, your friend was coming, you could not but weep. And our Lord wept because Lazarus, who had been but four days in glory, was to be summoned to lay aside his glory and to return to this world of sin and death, and that on such an errand; an errand, as it would issue, of exasperation and final hardness of heart to his enemies. Chrysologus, the Chrysostom of Ravenna, has it: "When our Lord was told of Lazarus's death He was glad; but when He came to raise him to life, He wept. For, though His disciples gained by it, and though Martha and Mary gained by it, yet Lazarus himself lost by it, by being re-imprisoned, re-committed, and re-submitted to the manifold incommodities of this life."

"This last and greatest of His miracles was to raise our Lord much estimation," says the distinguished John Donne, "but (for they always accompany one another) it was to raise both Him and Lazarus much envy also." And I will always believe that the sight of Lazarus's share in this terrible tragedy mingled with the sight of His own share. Dante wept when he saw that he had to return to envious Florence from the charity of Paradise, even though it was to compose The Commedia for God and for the world. And Teresa has it that Lazarus entreated his Master not to summon him back to this life for any cause whatsoever. But it was to be to Lazarus as it was to he to his Master, and that is enough. "Now is my soul troubled: and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy name."

And thus it was that scarcely had Lazarus sat down in his Father's house: he had not got his harp of gold well into his hand: he had not got the Hallelujah that they were preparing against the Ascension of their Lord well into his mouth, when the angel Gabriel came up to where he sat, all rapture through and through, and said to him: 'Hail! Lazarus: highly honoured among the glorified from among men. Thy Master calls up for thee. He has some service for thee still to do for Him on the earth.' And the sound of many waters fell silent for a season as they saw one of the most shining of their number rise up, and lay aside his glory, and hang his harp on the wall, and pass out of their sight, and descend to where their heavenly Prince still tarried with His work unfinished. And Lazarus's soul descended straightway into that grave, where for four days his former body had lain dead, and towards which our Lord was now on His way. And the first words that Lazarus heard were these, and the voice that spake was the voice of his former Friend-"Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard me. And I knew that Thou hearest me always. Lazarus, come forth." And he that was dead came forth bound hand and foot with grave clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. And Jesus wept at the contrast between heaven and earth, and said, "Loose him, and let him go." Just where did Lazarus go? Like himself, he no doubt hid himself till his Master would not eat till Lazarus was called. For they made our Lord a supper again in those days, and Martha served again, and Lazarus this time was one of them that sat at the table with Him. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death: because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away and believed on Jesus.

Whether they carried out their counsel and put Lazarus to death the second time we are not told. The evangelist to whom we owe Lazarus had not room within his limits to tell us any more about Lazarus. But a post-canonical author has these entries in his Arabic diary, which I will faithfully copy out for your satisfaction about Lazarus. The entries are abrupt, and unfinished, and broken off, and sometimes quite unintelligible, as you will see. 'The man had something strange and unearthly in the look of him.' 'He eyed the world like a child.' 'He was obedient as a sheep, and innocent as a lamb.' 'He let them talk.' 'A word, a gesture, a glance from a child at play, or in school, or even in its sleep, would startle him into an agony.' 'His heart and brain moved there, his feet stay here.' 'Often his soul springs up into his face.' 'The special marking of the man is prone submission to the will of God.' 'He merely looked with his large eyes on me.' 'He loves both old and young; able and weak; he affects the very brutes, and birds, and flowers of the field.' 'The man is harmless as a lamb, and only impatient at ignorance and sin.' You can construct for yourselves out of these authentic fragments what Lazarus's second life was as long as the chief priests let him alone.

God's great demands that He sometimes makes on His great saints, is the great lesson that Lazarus teaches us. As, also, that great lowliness of mind, and great meekness, and great self-surrender, is our greatest saintliness. And, accordingly, that God made His greatest demands on His own lowly-minded Son, the meekest and the most self-emptied of all men. And, after Him, on Lazarus the friend of His Son. A demand on Lazarus that made his divine Friend mourn and weep for him, as he came down to earth to comply with the demand. Lazarus was the most lamb-like of men in all the New Testament, next to the Lamb Himself; and his services and his experiences were, if after a long interval, yet not at all unlike the services and the self-surrenders and the self-emptyings of his Master. For Lazarus also laid aside his glory.

Now, God's work in this world demands this very same meekness, and lowly-mindedness, and self-emptiness, and laying aside of our own glory, from some men among us every day. And God's work stands still in our hands, and all around us, just because He has no men like-minded with Jesus of Nazareth and Lazarus of Bethany. Who will offer themselves to take up the kenotic succession? Some humiliation, some self-emptying, some surrender, as of heaven itself in exchange for earth, may be demanded of you as your contribution to the glory of God, and to the glory of the Son of God. Something that will make your best friends groan and weep for you, as Lazarus's best friend groaned and wept for him. Yes; God may have as terrible a service to ask of you, when you are ready for it, as when He asked His own Son to go down to Bethlehem, and to Nazareth, and to Gethsemane, and to Calvary. Some self-emptying and self-sacrifice like that He asked of the glorified Lazarus also, when He sent him back to Bethany which was so nigh unto Jerusalem. Are you able? Are you ready? Are you willing to be made able and ready? Let your answer be the answer of Jesus of Nazareth, and of Lazarus of Bethany: "Lo, I come. In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart."


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Lazarus'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/l/lazarus.html. 1901.

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