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not of themselves capable either of converting the world, or of inventing the wonderful things and sublime discourses which they relate.”
The readiness of the disciples to misunderstand figurative language is curiously shown in two other places, where our Lord spoke of “leaven” and “meat.” (Matt. xvi. 6; John iv. 32.) 14.—[Then said...plainly... Lazarus...dead.] Here at last our Lord
breaks the fact of Lazarus' death to His disciples openly, and without any further reserve. He had approached the subject gently and delicately, and thus prepared their minds for something painful, by steps. First He said simply, “Let us go into Judæa,” without assigning a reason. Secondly He said, “Lazarus sleepeth.” Lastly He says, “Lazarus is dead." There is a beautiful consideration for feelings in these three steps. It is a comfortable thought that our mighty Saviour is so tender-hearted and gentle. It is an instructive lesson to us on the duty of dealing gently with others, and specially in announcing afflictions.
The word rendered “plainly” is the same as in John x. 24. Here, as there, it does not mean “in plain, intelligible language”
so much as “openly, unreservedly, and without mystery.” 15.—[And I am glad...not there...believe.] This sentence would be more literally rendered, “And I rejoice on account of you, in order that ye may believe, that I was not there.” Our Lord evi. dently means that He was glad that He was not at Bethany when Lazarus became ill, and had not healed him before his death, as in all probability He would have done. The result now would be most advantageous to the disciples. Their faith would receive an immense confirmation, by witnessing the stupendous miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Thus great good, in one respect, would come out of great evil. The announcement they had just heard might be very painful and distressing, but He, as their Master, could not but be glad to think how mightily their faith would be strengthened in the end.
Let us note that our Lord does not say, “I am glad Lazarus is dead, but I am glad I was not there." Had He been there, He seems to say, He could not have refused the prayer of Martha and Mary, to heal His friend. We are not intended to be so unfeeling as to rejoice in the death of Christian friends : but we may rejoice in the circumstances attending their deaths, and the glory redounding to Christ, and the benefit accruing to saints from them.
Let us note that our Lord does not say, “I am glad for the sake of Martha and Mary and Lazarus that I am not there, but for your sakes.” It is no pleasure to Him to see His individual members suffering, weeping, and dying ; but He does rejoice to see the good of many spring out of the suffering of a few. Hence He permits some to be afflicted, in order that many may be instructed through their afflictions. This is the key to the permission of evil in the world : it is for the good of the many. When we ourselves are allowed of God to suffer, we must remember this. We must believe there are wise reasons why God does not come to our help at once and take the suffering away.
Let us note our Lord's desire that His disciples “may believe.” He did not mean that they might believe now for the first time, but that they might believe more firmly, heartily, and unhesitatingly; that their faith in short might receive a great increase by seeing Lazarus raised. We see here the immense importance of faith. To believe on Christ, and trust God's word, is the first step towards heaven. To believe more and trust more, is the real secret of Christian growth, progress, and prosperity. To make us believe more is the end of all Christ's dealings with us. (See John xiv. 1.)
[Nevertheless let us go unto him.] The first word here would be more literally rendered “But.” It is as though our Lord said, “But let us delay no longer : let us cast aside all fears of danger ; let us go to our friend.”
It is note-worthy that our Lord says, “let us go to Lazarus," though he was dead, and would be buried by the time they reached Bethany. Can it be that the disciples thought He had David's words about his dead child in His mind, “I shall go to him”? The words of Thomas, in the next verse, seem to make it possible.
We may notice three gradations in our Lord's language about going to Bethany. The first, in the 7th verse : there He says in the plural, “Let us all go into Judæa.”—The second, in verse 11 : there He says in the singular, “I go to awake him :" as though He was ready to go alone. The third is here in the plural, “Let us all go.”
Toletus thinks that by these words our Lord meant to hint His intention of raising Lazarus.
Burkitt remarks, “O love, stronger than death! The grave cannot separate Christ and his friends. Other friends accompany us to the brink of the grave, and then they leave us. Neither life nor death can separate from the love of Christ."
Bengel remarks, “It is beautifully consonant with divine propriety, that no one is ever read of as having died while the Prince of Life was present."
16.—[Then said Thomas...go...die with him.] The disciple here named
is also mentioned in John xiv. 5, and John xx. 24, 26, 27. On each occasion he appears in the same state of mind, -ready to look at the black side of everything, -taking the worst view of the position, and raising doubts and fears. In John xiv. 5, he does not know where our Lord is going. In John xx. 25, he cannot believe our Lord has risen. Here he sees nothing but danger and death, if his Master returns to Judæa. Yet he is true and faithful nevertheless. He will not forsake Christ, even if death is in the way. “Let us go,” he says to his fellow disciples, “and die with our Master. He is sure to be killed if He does go; but we cannot do better than be killed with him.”
Some, as Brentius, Grotius, Leigh, Poole, and Hammond, think that “with him,” refers to Lazarus. But most commentators think that Thomas refers to our Lord : with them I entirely agree.
Let it be noted that a man may have notable weaknesses and infirmities of Christian character, and yet be a disciple of Christ. There is no more common fault among believers, perhaps, than despondency and unbelief. A reckless readiness to die and make an end of our troubles is not grace but impatience.
Let us observe how extremely unlike one another Christ's disciples were. Peter, for instance, overrunning with zeal and confidence, was the very opposite of desponding Thomas. Yet both had grace, and both loved Christ. We must not foolishly assume that all Christians are exactly like one another in details of character. We must make large allowances, when the main features are right.
Let us remember that this same Thomas, so desponding in our Lord's life-time, was afterwards the very Apostle who first preached the Gospel in India, according to ecclesiastical history, and penetrated further East than any whose name is recorded. Chrysostom says, “The very man who dared not go to Bethany in Christ's company, afterwards ran alone through the world, and dwelt in the midst of nations full of murder and ready to kill him.”
Some have thought that his Greek name “Didymus,” signifying
“two" or "double," was given him because of his character being double, viz., part faith and part weakness. But this is very doubtful. In the first three Gospels, in the catalogue of the twelve, he is always named together with Matthew the publican. But why we do not know.
The Greek word for "fellow-disciple” is never used in the New Testament excepting here.
JOHN XI. 17–29.
17 Then when Jesus came, he found, that he shall rise again in the resurthat he had lain in the grave four days | rection at the last day. already.
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jeru | resurrection, and the life: he that besalem, about fifteen furlongs off :
lieveth in me, though he were dead, 19 And many of the Jews came to yet shall he live: Martha and Mary, to comfort them con 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth cerning their brother.
in me shall never die. Believest thou 20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard this? that Jesus was coming, went and met | 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord : I him: but Mary sat still in the house. believe that thou art the Christ, the
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Son of God, which should come into Lord, if thou hadst been here, my the world. brother had not died.
28 And when she had so said, she 22 But I know, that even now, what went her way, and called Mary her soever thou wilt ask of God, God will sister secretly, saying, The Master is give it thee.
come, and calleth for thee. 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother 29 As soon as she heard that, she shall rise again.
arose quickly, and came unto him. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know!
THERE is a grand simplicity about this passage, which is almost spoilt by any human exposition. To comment on it seems like gilding gold or painting lilies. Yet it throws much light on a subject which we can never understand too well: that is, the true character of Christ's people. The portraits of Christians in the Bible are faithful likenesses. They show us saints just as they are.
We learn, firstly, what a strange mixture of grace and weakness is to be found even in the hearts of true believers.
We see this strikingly illustrated in the language used by Martha and Mary. Both these holy women
had faith enough to say, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Yet neither of them seems to have remembered that the death of Lazarus did not depend on Christ's absence, and that our Lord, had He thought fit, could have prevented his death with a word, without coming to Bethany.—Martha had knowledge enough to say, “I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee, I know that my brother shall rise again at the last day,—I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”—But even she could get no further. Her dim eyes and trembling hands could not grasp the grand truth that He who stood before her had the keys of life and death, and that in her Master dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colos. ii. 9.) She saw indeed, but through a glass darkly. She knew, but only in part. She believed, but her faith was mingled with much unbelief. Yet both Martha and Mary were genuine children of God, and true Christians.
These things are graciously written for our learning. It is good to remember what true Christians really are. Many and great are the mistakes into which people fall, by forming a false estimate of the Christian's character. Many are the bitter things which people write against themselves, by expecting to find in their hearts what cannot be found on this side of heaven. Let us settle it in our minds that saints on earth are not perfect angels, but only converted sinners. They are sinners renewed, changed, sanctified, no doubt; but they are yet sinners, and will be till they die. Like