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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XI. JESUS COMFORTING HIS FRIENDS.

Personal Friendships Of Jesus by Elizabeth Miller

CHAPTER XI. JESUS COMFORTING HIS FRIENDS.

Not all regret, the face will shine
Upon me while I muse alone;
And that dear voice, I once have known,
Still speak to me of me and mine:

Yet less of sorrow lives in me
For days of happy commune dead;
Less yearning for the friendship fled,
Than some strong bond which is to be.
TENNYSON.

A gospel with no comfort for sorrow would not meet the deepest needs of human hearts. If Jesus were a friend only for bright hours, there would be much of experience into which he could not enter. But the gospel breathes comfort on every page; and Jesus is a friend for lonely hours and times of grief and pain, as well as for sunny paths and days of gladness and song. He went to a marriage feast, and wrought his first miracle to prolong the festivity; but he went also to the home of grief, and turned its sorrow into joy.

It is well worth our while to study Jesus as a comforter, to learn how he comforted his friends. For one thing, it will teach us how to find consolation when we are in trouble. This is a point at which, with many Christians, the gospel seems oftenest to fail. In the days of the unbroken circle and of human gladness, the friends of Jesus rejoice in his love, and walk in his light with songs; but when ties are broken, and grief enters the home, the hearts that were so full of praise refuse to take the consolation of the gospel. This ought not so to be. If we knew Christ as a comforter, we would sing our songs of trust even in the night.

Another help that we may get from such a study of Jesus will be power to become a true comforter of others. This every Christian should seek to be, but this very few Christians really are. Most of us would better stay away altogether from our friends in their times of sorrow, than go to them as we do. Instead of being comforters to make them stronger to endure, we only make their grief seem bitterer, and their loss more unendurable, doing them harm instead of good. This is because we have not learned the art of giving comfort. Our Master should be our teacher; and if we study his method, we shall know how to be a blessing to our friends in their times of loss and pain.

Much of the ministry of Jesus was with those who were in trouble. There was one special occasion, however, when there was a great sorrow in the circle of his best friends. We may learn many lessons if we read over thoughtfully the story of the way Jesus comforted them.

It was the Bethany home. Before the sorrow came, Jesus was a familiar guest, a close and intimate friend of the members of the household. He always had kindly welcome and generous hospitality when he came to their door. They did not make his acquaintance for the first time when their hearts were broken. They had known him for a long time, and had listened to his gracious words when there was no grief in their home. This made it easy to turn to him and to receive his comfort when the dark days of sorrow came.

There are some who think of Christ only as a friend whom they will need in trouble. In their time of unbroken gladness they do not seek his friendship. Then, when trouble comes suddenly, they do not know how or where to find the Comforter. Wiser far are they who take Christ into their life in the glad days when the joy is unbroken. He blesses their joy. A happy home is all the happier because Jesus is a familiar guest in it. Love is all the sweeter because of his benediction. Then, when sorrow's shadow falls, there is light in the darkness.

There seems to be no need of the stars in the daytime, for the sunshine then floods all earth's paths. But when the sun goes down, and God's great splendor of stars appears hanging over us, dropping their soft, quiet light upon us, how glad we are that they were there all the while, waiting to be revealed! So it is that the friendship of Jesus in the happy years hangs above our heads the stars of heavenly comfort. We do not seem to need them at the time, and we scarcely know that they are there; we certainly have no true realization of the blessing that hides in the shining words. But when, one sad day, the light of human joy is suddenly darkened, then the divine comforts reveal themselves. We do not have to hasten here and there in pitiable distress, trying to find consolation, for we have it already in the love and grace of Christ. The Friend we took into our life in the joy-days stands close beside us now in our sadness, and his friendship never before seemed so precious, so tender, so divine.

When Lazarus fell sick, Jesus was in another part of the country. As the case grew hopeless, the sisters sent a message to Jesus to say, |He whom thou lovest is sick.| The message seems remarkable. There was no urgency expressed in it, no wild, passionate pleading that Jesus would hasten to come. Its few words told of the quietness and confidence of trusting hearts. We get a lesson concerning the way we should pray when we are in distress. |Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of,| and there is no need for piteous clamor. Far better is the prayer of faith, which lays the burden upon the divine heart, and leaves it there without anxiety. It is enough, when a beloved one is lying low, to say, |Lord, he whom thou lovest is sick.|

We are surprised, as we read the narrative, that Jesus did not respond immediately to this message from his friends. But he waited two days before he set out for Bethany. We cannot tell why he did this, but there is something very comforting in the words that tell us of the delay. |Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When, therefore, he heard that Lazarus was sick, he abode at that time two days in the place where he was.| In some way the delay was because of his love for all the household. Perhaps the meaning is that through the dying of Lazarus blessing would come to them all.

At length he reached Bethany. Lazarus had been dead four days. The family had many friends; and their house was filled with those who had come, after the custom of the times, to console them. Jesus lingered at some distance from the house, perhaps not caring to enter among those who in the conventional way were mourning with the family. He wished to meet the sorrowing sisters in a quiet place alone. So he tarried outside the village, probably sending a message to Martha, telling her that he was coming. Soon Martha met him.

We may think of the eagerness of her heart to get into his presence when she heard that he was near. What a relief it must have been to her, after the noisy grief that filled her home, to get into the quiet, peaceful presence of Jesus! He was not disturbed. His face was full of sympathy, and it was easy to see there the tokens of deep and very real grief, but his peace was not broken. He was calm and composed. Martha must have felt herself at once comforted by his mere presence. It was quieting and reassuring.

The first thing to do when we need comfort is to get into the presence of Christ. Human friendship means well when it hastens to us in our sorrow. It feels that it must do something for us, that to stay away and do nothing would be unkindness. Then, when it comes, it feels that it must talk, and must talk about our sorrow. It feels that it must go over all the details, questioning us until it seems as if our heart would break with answering. Our friends think that they must explore with us all the depths of our grief, dwelling upon the elements that are specially poignant. The result of all this |comforting| is that our burden of sorrow is made heavier instead of lighter, and we are less brave and strong than before to bear it. If we would be truly comforted we would better flee away to Christ; for in his presence we shall find consolation, which gives peace and strength and joy.

It is worth our while to note the comfort which Jesus gave to these sorrowing sisters. First, he lifted the veil, and gave them a glimpse of what lies beyond death. |Thy brother shall rise again.| |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.| Thus he opened a great window into the other world. It is plainer to us than it could be to Martha and Mary; for a little while after he spoke these words, Jesus himself passed through death, coming again from the grave in immortal life. It is a wonderful comfort to those who sorrow over the departure of a Christian friend to know the true teaching of the New Testament on the subject of dying. Death is not the end; it is a door which leads into fulness of life.

Perhaps many in bereavement, though believing the doctrine of a future resurrection, fail to get present comfort from it. Jesus assured Martha that her brother should rise again. |Yes, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.| Her words show that this hope was too distant to give her much comfort. Her sense of present loss outweighed every other thought and feeling. She craved back again the companionship she had lost. Who that has stood by the grave of a precious friend has not experienced the same feeling of inadequateness in the consolation that comes from even the strongest belief in a far-off rising again of all who are in their graves?

The reply of Jesus to Martha's hungry heart-cry was very rich in its comfort. |I am the resurrection.| This is one of the wonderful present tenses of Christian hope. Martha had spoken of a resurrection far away. |I am the resurrection,| Jesus declared. It was something present, not remote. His words embrace the whole blessed truth of immortal life. |Whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.| There is no death for those who are in Christ. The body dies, but the person lives on. The resurrection may be in the future, but really there is no break in the life of a believer in Christ. He is not here; our eyes see him not, our ears hear not his voice, we cannot touch him with our hands, but he still lives and thinks and feels and loves. No power in his being has been quenched by dying, no beauty dimmed, no faculty destroyed.

This is a part of the comfort which Jesus gave to his friends in their bereavement. He assured them that there is no death, that all who believe in him have eternal life. There remains for those who stay here the pain of separation and of loneliness, but for those who have passed over we need have no fear.

How does Jesus comfort his friends who are left? As we read over the story of the sorrow of the Bethany home we find the answer to our question. You say, |He brought back their dead, thus comforting them with the literal undoing of the work of death and grief. If only he would do this now, in every case where love cries to him, that would be comfort indeed.| But we must remember that the return of Lazarus to his home was only a temporary restoration. He came back to the old life of mortality, of temptation, of sickness and pain and death. He came back only for a season. It was not a resurrection to immortal life; it was only a restoration to mortal life. He must pass again through the mystery of dying, and his sisters must a second time experience the agony of separation and loneliness. We can scarcely call it comfort; it was merely a postponement for a little while of the final separation.

But Jesus gave the sisters true consoling besides this. His mere presence brought them comfort. They knew that he loved them. Many times before when he had entered their home he had brought a benediction. They had a feeling of security and peace in his presence. Even their inconsolable grief lost something of its poignancy when the light of his face fell upon them. Every strong, tender, and true human love has a wondrous comforting power. We can pass through a sore trial if a trusted friend is beside us. The believer can endure any sorrow if Jesus is with him.

Another element of comfort for these sorrowing sisters was in the sympathy of Jesus. He showed this sympathy with them in coming all the way from Perea, to be with them in their time of distress. He showed it in his bearing toward them and his conversation with them. There is a wonderful gentleness in his manner as he receives first one and then the other sister. Mary's grief was deeper than Martha's; and when Jesus saw her weeping, and her friends who were with her weeping, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled. Then, in the shortest verse in the Bible, we have a window into the very heart of Christ, and find there most wonderful sympathy.

|Jesus wept.| It is a great comfort in time of sorrow to have even human sympathy, to know that somebody cares, that some one feels with us. The measure of the comfort in such cases is in proportion to the honor in which we hold the person. It would have had something -- very much -- of comfort for the sisters, if John or Peter or James had wept with them beside their brother's grave. But the tears of Jesus meant incalculably more; they told of the holiest sympathy that this world ever saw -- the Son of God wept with two sisters in a great human sorrow.

This shortest verse was not written merely as a fragment of a narrative -- it contains a revealing of the heart of Jesus for all time. Wherever a friend of Jesus is sorrowing, One stands by, unseen, who shares the grief, whose heart feels every pang of the sorrow. There is immeasurable comfort in this thought that the Son of God suffers with us in our suffering, is afflicted in all our affliction. We can endure our trouble more quietly when we know that God understands all about it.

There is yet another thing in the manner of Christ's comforting his friends which is very suggestive. His sympathy was not a mere sentiment. Too often human sympathy is nothing but a sentiment. Our friends cry with us, and then pass by on the other side. They tell us they are sorry for us, but they do nothing to help us. The sympathy of Jesus at Bethany was very practical. Not only did he show his love to his friends by coming away from his work in another province, to be with them in their sore trouble; not only did he speak to them words of divine comfort, words which have made a shining track through the world ever since; not only did he weep with them in their grief, -- but he wrought the greatest of all his many miracles to restore the joy of their hearts and their home. It was a costly miracle, too, for it led to his own death.

Yet, knowing well what would come from this ministry of friendship, he hesitated not. For some reason he saw that it would be indeed a blessing to his friends to bring back the dead. It was because he loved the sisters and the brother that he lingered, and did not hasten when the message reached him beyond the river. We may be sure, therefore, that the raising of Lazarus, though only to a little more of the old life of weakness, had a blessing in it for the family. This was the best way in which Jesus could show his sympathy, the best comfort he could give his friends.

No doubt thousands of other friends of Jesus in the sorrow of bereavement have wished that he would comfort them in like way, by giving back their beloved. Ofttimes he does what is in effect the same, -- in answer to the prayer of faith he spares the lives of those who are dear. When we pray for our sick friends, we only ask submissively that they may recover. |Not my will, but thine be done,| is the refrain of our pleading. Even our most passionate longing we subdue in the quiet confidence of our faith. If it is not best for our dear ones; if it would not be a real blessing; if it is not God's way, -- then |Thy will be done.| If we pray the prayer of faith, we must believe that the issue, whatever it may be, is God's best for us.

If our friend is taken away after such committing of faith to God's wisdom and love, there is immeasurable comfort at once in the confidence that it was God's will. Then, while no miracle is wrought, bringing back our dead, the sympathy of Christ yet brings practical consolation. The word comfort means strengthening. We are helped to bear our sorrow.

The teaching of the Scriptures is that when we come with our trials to God, he either relieves us of them, or gives us the grace we need to endure them. He does not promise to lift away the burden that we cast upon him, but he will sustain us in our bearing of the burden. When the human presence is taken from us, Christ comes nearer than before, and reveals to us more of his love and grace.

The problem of sorrow in a Christian life is a very serious one. It is important that we have a clear understanding upon the subject, that we may receive blessing and not hurt from our experience. Every sorrow that comes into our life brings us something good from God; but we may reject the good, and if we do, we receive evil instead. The comfort God gives is not the taking away of the trouble, nor is it the dulling of our heart's sensibilities so that we shall not feel the pain so keenly. God's comfort is strength to endure in the experience. If we put our life into the hands of Christ in the time of sorrow, and with quiet faith and sweet trust go on with our duty, all shall be well. If we resist and struggle and rebel, we shall not only miss the blessing of comfort that is infolded for us in our sorrow, but we shall receive hurt in our own life. When one is soured and embittered by trial, one has received hurt rather than blessing; but if we accept our sorrow with love and trust, we shall come out of it enriched in life and character, and prepared for better work and greater usefulness.

There is a picture of a woman sitting by the sea in deep grief. The dark waters have swallowed up her heart's treasures, and her sorrow is inconsolable. Close behind her is an angel striking his harp, -- the Angel of Consolation. But the woman in her stony grief sees not the angel's shining form, nor hears the music of his harp. Too often this is the picture in Christian homes. With all the boundlessness of God's love and mercy, the heart remains uncomforted.

This ought not so to be. There is in Jesus Christ an infinite resource of consolation, and we have only to open our heart to receive it. Then we shall pass through sorrow sustained by divine help and love, and shall come from it enriched in character, and blessed in every phase of life. The griefs of our life set lessons for us to learn. In every pain is the seed of a blessing. In every tear a rainbow hides. Dr. Babcock puts it well in his lines: --

The dark-brown mould's upturned
By the sharp-pointed plough --
And I've a lesson learned.

My life is but a field,
Stretched out beneath God's sky,
Some harvest rich to yield.

Where grows the golden grain?
Where faith? Where sympathy?
In a furrow cut by pain.

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