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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XXIII. JESUS THE RESURRECTION AND LIFE.

The Expositors Bible The Gospel Of St John Vol I by Marcus Dods

XXIII. JESUS THE RESURRECTION AND LIFE.

|Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent unto Him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick. But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore He heard that he was sick, He abode at that time two days in the place where He was. Then after this He saith to the disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. The disciples say unto Him, Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone Thee; and goest Thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him. These things spake He: and after this he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. The disciples therefore said unto Him, Lord, if he is fallen asleep, he will recover. Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that He spake of taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Thomas, therefore, who is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him. So when Jesus came, He found that he had been in the tomb four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha, therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha, therefore, said unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. And even now I know that, whatsoever Thou shalt ask of God, God will give Thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith into Him, Yea, Lord: I have believed that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even He that cometh into the world. And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is here, and calleth thee. And she, when she heard it, arose quickly, and went unto Him. (Now Jesus was not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him.) The Jews then which were with her in the house, and were comforting her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she was going unto the tomb to weep there. Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, and saw Him, fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 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 say unto Him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said, Behold how He loved him! But some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God? So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes, and said, Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me. And I know that Thou hearest Me always: but because of the multitude which standeth around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me. And when He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.| -- JOHN xi.1-44.

In this eleventh chapter it is related how the death of Jesus was finally determined upon, on the occasion of His raising Lazarus. The ten chapters which precede have served to indicate how Jesus revealed Himself to the Jews in every aspect that was likely to win faith, and how each fresh revelation only served to embitter them against Him, and harden their unbelief into hopeless hostility. In these few pages John has given us a wonderfully compressed but vivid summary of the miracles and conversations of Jesus, which served to reveal His true character and work. Jesus has manifested Himself as the Light of the World, yet the darkness does not comprehend Him; as the Shepherd of the Sheep, and they will not hear His voice; as the Life of men, and they will not come unto Him that they might have Life; as the impersonated love of God come to dwell among men, sharing their sorrows and their joys, and men hate Him the more, the more love He shows; as the Truth which could make men free, and they choose to serve the father of lies, and to do his work. And now, when He reveals Himself as the Resurrection and the Life, possessed of the key to what is inaccessible to all others, of the power most essential to man, they resolve upon His death. There was an appropriateness in this. His love for His friends drew Him back at the risk of His life to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem: it is as if to His eye Lazarus represented all His friends, and He feels constrained to come out from His safe retreat, and, at the risk of His own life, deliver them from the power of death.

That this was in the mind of Jesus Himself is obvious. When He expresses His resolve to go to His friends in Bethany, He uses an expression which shows that He anticipated danger, and which at once suggested to the disciples that He was running a great risk. |Let us go,| not |to Bethany| but |into Judaea again.| His disciples say unto Him, |Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?| The answer of Jesus is significant: |Are there not twelve hours in the day?| That is to say: Has not every man his allotted time to work, his day of light, in which he can walk and work, and which no danger nor calamity can shorten? Can men make the sun set one hour earlier? So neither can they shorten by one hour the day of life, of light, and toil your God has appointed to you. Wicked men may grudge that God's sun shine on the fields of their enemies and prosper them, but their envy cannot darken or shorten the course of the sun: so may wicked men grudge that I work these miracles, and do these deeds of My loving Father, but I am as far above their reach as the sun in the heavens; until I have run My appointed course their envy is impotent. The real danger begins when a man tries to prolong his day, to turn night into day; the danger begins when a man through fear turns aside from duty; he then loses the only true guide and light of his life. A man's knowledge of duty, or God's will, is the only true light he has to guide him in life: that duty God has already measured, to each man his twelve hours; and only by following duty into all hazards and confusion can you live out your full term; if, on the other hand, you try to extend your term, you find that the sun of duty has set for you, and you have no power to bring light on your path. A man may preserve his life on earth for a year or two more by declining dangerous duty, but his day is done, he is henceforth only stumbling about on earth in the outer cold and darkness, and had far better have gone home to God and been quietly asleep, far better have acknowledged that his day was done and his night come, and not have striven to wake and work on. If through fear of danger, of straitened circumstances, of serious inconvenience, you refuse to go where God -- i.e., where duty -- calls you, you make a terrible mistake; instead of thereby preserving your life you lose it, instead of prolonging your day of usefulness and of brightness and comfort, you lose the very light of life, and stumble on henceforward through life without a guide, making innumerable false steps as the result of that first false step in which you turned in the wrong direction; not dead indeed, but living as |the very ghost of your former self| on this side of the grave -- miserable, profitless, benighted.

John apparently had two reasons for recording this miracle; firstly, because it exhibited Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life; secondly, because it more distinctly separated the whole body of the Jews into believers and unbelievers. But there are two minor points which may be looked at before we turn to these main themes.

First, we read that when Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in spirit and was troubled, and then wept. But why did He show such emotion? The Jews who saw Him weep supposed that His tears were prompted, as their own were, by sorrow for their loss and sympathy with the sisters. To see a woman like Mary casting herself at His feet, breaking into a passion of tears, and crying with intense regret, if not with a tinge of reproach, |Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,| was enough to bring tears to the eyes of harder natures than our Lord's. But the care with which John describes the disturbance of His spirit, the emphasis he lays upon His groaning, the notice he takes of the account the Jews give of His tears, -- all seem to indicate that something more than ordinary grief or sympathy was the fountain of these tears, the cause of the distress which could vent itself only in audible groans. He was in sympathy with the mourners and felt for them, but there was that in the whole scene with which He had no sympathy; there was none of that feeling He required His disciples to show at His own death, no rejoicing that one more had gone to the Father. There was a forgetfulness of the most essential facts of death, an unbelief which seemed entirely to separate this crowd of wailing people from the light and life of God's presence. |It was the darkness between God and His creatures that gave room for, and was filled with, their weeping and wailing over their dead.| It was the deeper anguish into which mourners are plunged by looking upon death as extinction, and by supposing that death separates from God and from life, instead of giving closer access to God and more abundant life, -- it was this which caused Jesus to groan. He could not bear this evidence that even the best of God's children do not believe in God as greater than death, and in death as ruled by God.

This gives us the key to Christ's belief in immortality, and to all sound belief in immortality. It was Christ's sense of God, His uninterrupted consciousness of God, His distinct knowledge that God the loving Father is the existence in whom all live, -- it was this which made it impossible for Christ to think of death as extinction or separation from God. For one who consciously lived in God to be separated from God was impossible. For one who was bound to God by love, to drop out of that love into nothingness or desolation was inconceivable. His constant and absolute sense of God gave Him an unquestioning sense of immortality. We cannot conceive of Christ having any shadow of doubt of a life beyond death; and if we ask why it was so, we further see it was because it was impossible for Him to doubt of the existence of God -- the ever-living, ever-loving God.

And this is the order or conviction in us all. It is vain to try and build up a faith in immortality by natural arguments, or even by what Scripture records. As Bushnell truly says: |The faith of immortality depends on a sense of it begotten, not on an argument for it concluded.| And this sense of immortality is begotten when a man is truly born again, and instinctively feels himself an heir of things beyond this world into which his natural birth has ushered him; when he begins to live in God; when the things of God are the things among which and for which he lives; when his spirit is in daily and free communication with God; when he partakes of the Divine nature, finding his joy in self-sacrifice and love, in those purposes and dispositions which can be exercised in any world where men are, and with which death seems to have no conceivable relation. But, on the other hand, for a man to live for the world, to steep his soul in carnal pleasures and blind himself by highly esteeming what belongs only to earth, -- for such a man to expect to have any intelligent sense or perception of immortality is out of the question.

2. Another question, which may, indeed, be inquisitive, but can scarcely be reprehended, is sure to be asked: What was the experience of Lazarus during these four days? To speculate on what he saw or heard or experienced, to trace the flight of his soul through the gates of death to the presence of God, may perhaps seem to some as foolish as to go with those curious Jews who flocked out to Bethany to set eyes on this marvel, a man who had passed to the unseen world and yet returned. But although no doubt good and great purposes are served by the obscurity that involves death, our endeavour to penetrate the gloom, and catch some glimpses of a life we must shortly enter, cannot be judged altogether idle. Unfortunately, it is little we can learn from Lazarus. Two English poets, the one fitted to deal with this subject by an imagination that seems capable of seeing and describing whatever man can experience, the other by an insight that instinctively apprehends spiritual things, and both by reverential faith, have taken quite opposite views of the effect of death and resurrection upon Lazarus. The one describes him as living henceforth a dazed life, as if his soul were elsewhere; as if his eye, dazzled with the glory beyond, could not adjust itself to the things of earth. He is thrown out of sympathy with the ordinary interests of men, and seems to live at cross purposes with all around him. This was a very inviting view of the matter to a poet: for here was an opportunity of putting in a concrete way an experience quite unique. It was a task worthy of the highest poetic genius to describe what would be the sensations, thoughts, and ways of a man who had passed through death and seen things invisible, and been |exalted above measure,| and become certified by face to face vision of all that we can only hope and believe, and had yet been restored to earth. The opportunity of contrasting the paltriness of earth with the sublimity and reality of the unseen was too great to be resisted. The opportunity of flouting our professed faith by exhibiting the difference between it and a real assurance, by showing the utter want of sympathy between one who had seen and all others on earth who had only believed, -- this opportunity was too inviting to leave room for a poet to ask whether there was a basis in fact for this contrast; whether it was likely that in point of fact Lazarus did conduct himself, when restored to earth, as one who had been plunged into the full light and thronging life of the unseen world. And, when we consider the actual requirements of the case, it seems most unlikely that Lazarus can have been recalled from a clear consciousness and full knowledge of the heavenly life -- unlikely that he should be summoned to live on earth with a mind too large for the uses of earth, overcharged with knowledge he could not use, as a poor man suddenly enriched beyond his ability to spend, and thereby only confused and stupefied. Apparently the idea of the other poet is the wiser when he says: --

|'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?'
There lives no record of reply,
Which, telling what it is to die,
Had surely added praise to praise.

|From every house the neighbours met,
The streets were fill'd with joyful sound,
A solemn gladness even crown'd
The purple brows of Olivet.

|Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unrevealed;
He told it not; or something seal'd
The lips of that Evangelist.|

The probability is, he had nothing to reveal. As Jesus said, He came |to awake him out of sleep.| Had he learned anything of the spirit world, it must have oozed out. The burden of a secret which all men craved to know, and which the scribes and lawyers from Jerusalem would do all in their power to elicit from him, would have damaged his mind and oppressed his life. His rising would be as the awaking of a man from deep sleep, scarcely knowing what he was doing, tripping and stumbling in the grave-clothes and wondering at the crowd. What Mary and Martha would prize would be the unchanged love that shone in his face as he recognized them, the same familiar tones and endearments, -- all that showed how little change death brings, how little rupture of affection or of any good thing, how truly he was their own brother still.

To our Lord Himself it was a grace that so shortly before His own death, and in a spot so near where He Himself was buried, He should be encouraged by seeing a man who had been three days in the grave rise at His word. The narrative of His last hours reveals that such encouragement was not useless. But for us it has a still more helpful significance. Death is a subject of universal concern. Every man must have to do with it; and in presence of it every man feels his helplessness. Nowhere do we so come to the limit and end of our power as at the door of a vault; nowhere is the weakness of man so keenly felt. There is the clay, but who shall find the spirit that dwelt in it? Jesus has no such sense of weakness. Believing in the fatherly and undying love of the Eternal God, He knows that death cannot harm, still less destroy, the children of God. And in this belief He commands back to the body the soul of Lazarus; through the ear of that dead and laid-aside body He calls to His friend, and bids him from the unseen world. Surely we also may say, with Himself, we are glad that He was not with Lazarus in his sickness, that we might have this proof that not even death carries the friend of Christ beyond His reach and power.

There is no one who can afford to look at this scene with indifference. We have all to die, to sink in utter weakness past all strength of our own, past all friendly help of those around us. It must always remain a trying thing to die. In the time of our health we may say, --

|Since Nature's works be good, and Death doth serve As Nature's work, why should we fear to die?|

but no argument should make us indifferent to the question whether at death we are to be extinguished or to live on in happier, fuller life. If a man dies in thoughtlessness, with no forecasting or foreboding of what is to follow, he can give no stronger proof of thoughtlessness. If a man faces death cheerfully through natural courage, he can furnish no stronger evidence of courage; if he dies calmly and hopefully through faith, this is faith's highest expression. And if it is really true that Jesus did raise Lazarus, then a world of depression and fear and grief is lifted off the heart of man. That very assurance is given to us which we most of all need. And, so far as I can see, it is our own imbecility of mind that prevents us from accepting this assurance and living in the joy and strength it brings. If Christ raised Lazarus He has a power to which we can safely trust; and life is a thing of permanence and joy. And if a man cannot determine for himself whether this did actually happen or not, he must, I think, feel that the fault is his, and that he is defrauding himself of one of the clearest guiding lights and most powerful determining influences we have.

This miracle is itself more significant than the explanation of it. The act which embodies and gives actuality to a principle is its best exposition. But the main teaching of the miracle is enounced in the words of Jesus: |I am the Resurrection and the Life.| In this statement two truths are contained: (1) that resurrection and life are not future only, but present; and (2) that they become ours by union with Christ.

(1) Resurrection and Life are not blessings laid up for us in a remote future: they are present. When Jesus said to Martha, |Thy brother shall rise again,| she answered, |I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day,| -- meaning to indicate that this was small consolation. There was her brother lying in the tomb dead, and there he would lie for ages dead; no more to move about in the home she loved for his sake, no more to exchange with her one word or look. What comfort did the vague and remote hope of reunion after long ages of untold change bring? What comfort is to sustain her through the interval? When parents lose the children whom they could not bear to have for a day out of their sight, whom they longed for if they were absent an hour beyond their time, it is no doubt some comfort to know that one day they will again fold them to their breast. But this is not the comfort Christ gives Martha. He comforts her, not by pointing her to a far-off event which was vague and remote, but to His own living person, whom she knew, saw, and trusted. And He assured her that in Him were resurrection and life; that all, therefore, who belonged to Him were uninjured by death, and had in Him a present and continuous life.

Christ, then, does not think of immortality as we do. The thought of immortality is with Him involved in, and absorbed by, the idea of life. Life is a present thing, and its continuance a matter of course. When life is full, and abundant, and glad, the present is enough, and past and future are unthought of. It is life, therefore, rather than immortality Christ speaks of; a present, not a future, good; an expansion of the nature now, and which necessarily carries with it the idea of permanence. Eternal life He defines, not as a future continuance to be measured by ages, but as a present life, to be measured by its depth. It is the quality, not the length, of life He looks at. Life prolonged without being deepened by union with the living God were no boon. Life with God, and in God, must be immortal; life without God He does not call life at all.

In evidence of this present continued life Lazarus was called back, and shown to be still alive. In him the truth of Christ's words was exemplified: |He that believeth in Me, though he were dead yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.| He will doubtless, like all men, undergo that change which we call death; he will become disconnected from this present earthly scene, but his life in Christ will suffer no interruption. Dissolution may pass on his body, but not on his life. His life is hid with Christ in God. It is united to the unfailing source of all existence.

(2) Such life, now abundant and evermore abiding, Christ affords to all who believe in Him. To Martha He intimates that He has power to raise the dead, and that this power is so much His own that He needs no instrument or means to apply it; that He Himself, as He stood before her, contained all that was needful for resurrection and life. He intimates all this, but He intimates much more than this. That He had the power to raise the dead it would, no doubt, revive the heart of Martha to hear, but what guarantee, what hope, was there that He would exercise that power? And so Christ does not say, I have the power, but, I am. Is any one, is Lazarus, joined to Me? has he attached himself confidingly to My Person: then whatever I am finds exercise in him. It is not only that I have this power to exercise on whom I may; but I am this power, so that if he be one with Me I cannot withhold the exercise of that power from him.

They who have learned to obey Christ's voice in life will most quickly hear it, and recognise its authority, when they sleep in death. They who have known its power to raise them out of spiritual death will not doubt its power to raise them from bodily death to a more abundant life than this world affords. They once felt as if nothing could deliver them; they were dead -- deaf to Christ's commands, bound in bonds which they thought would hold them till they themselves should rot away from within them; they were buried out of sight of all that could give spiritual life, and the heavy stone of their own hardened will lay on their ruined and outcast condition. But Christ's love sought them out and called them into life. Assured that He has had power to do this, conscious in themselves that they are alive with a life given by Christ, they cannot doubt that the grave will be but a bed of rest, and that neither things present nor things to come can separate them from a love which already has shown itself capable of the utmost.

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