John 8.--Thus was it with Israel now. They knew not that they were still in bonds, and needing His hand to lead them out, and feed them again. They knew not that they had still to reach the true Canaan, Immanuel's land. They had been rejecting the grace of the Son of God, and were making their boast of the law; and now, in the confidence that it was theirs, and that they could use it, and by it entangle the Lord, they bring forward the adulteress.
They had, to be sure, noticed His grace to sinners. All His ways must have told them that. And they judge it, of course, an easy matter to show Him to be the enemy of Moses and the law. But He gains a holy and glorious victory. Grace is made to shout a triumph over sin, and the sinner over every accuser. The Lord does not impugn the law. He could not; for it was holy; and He had come not to destroy, but to fulfil it. He does not acquit the guilty. He could not; for He had come into the world with full certainty as to the sinner's guilt. It was that which had brought Him among us. And, therefore, in the present case, He does not pretend to raise such questions. The sinner is convicted, and the law righteously lies against her. But who can execute it? Who can cast the stone? That question He may and does raise. Satan may accuse, the sinner may be guilty, and the law may condemn; but where is the executioner? Who can handle the fiery power of the law? None but Himself. None can avenge the quarrel of divine righteousness upon the sinner; none have bands clean enough to take up the stone and cast it but Jesus Himself; and He refuses. He refuses to act. He refuses to entertain the case. He stooped down and wrote on the ground as though He heard them not. He was not presiding in any court for the trying of such matters. He came not to judge. But they persist. And then the Lord, in effect, replies, that if they will have Mount Sinai, they shall--if, like Israel of old, they will challenge the law, and undertake the terms of the fiery hill, why, they shall have the law, and again; hear the voice of that hill. And, accordingly, He lets out something of the genuine heat of that place; and they soon find that it reaches them, as well as the poor convicted one; and the place becomes too hot for them.
They had not reckoned on this. They had not thought that the thunders of that hill would have made them to quake, or its horrible darkness have inwrapped them as completely as the open and shamed sinner whom their own hand had dragged there. But as they had chosen the fiery hill, they must take it for better or worse, and just as they find it.
The Lord, however, in giving the law this character, in causing it to reach the judges as well as their prisoner, proved that He was the Lord of that hill. He let, as I said, some of its' genuine heat out. He marshalled its thunder and directed its lightning, and spread out its horrible darkness, as the Lord of it. He made the hosts of that hill take their march, and address themselves to their proper work. And then, on this being done, exactly as of old at the same place, this is found to be intolerable. "Let not God speak with us," said Israel then (Ex. 20); as now these scribes and Pharisees, "being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one." They can no more stand under that place, which they themselves had challenged, than Israel of old, when that mount let them know what it really was.
All this has a very great character in it. The Lord is greatly glorified. They designed to expose Him as Moses' enemy, but He displays Himself as Moses' Lord, or the Conductor of that lightning which had once made the heart of that stoutest Israelite exceedingly to fear and quake.
I read all this as something very excellent indeed.
But further. If this be His glory, it is equally our blessing. If the Lord Jesus be honoured as the Conductor of, the fiery power of the law, we find that He does this for us. He lets this poor sinner know this. While the scribes and Pharisees accuse her He is deaf to all they were saying; and when they still urge Him, He gives her to see Him turning the hot thunderbolt on the head of her accusers, so that they are forced to leave her alone with Him Who had proved Himself the Lord of Sinai, and her Deliverer.
Could she desire more? Could she leave the place where she now found herself? Impossible. She was as able to stand it as the very Lord of the hill Himself. Sinai had no more terror for her than for Him. Need she leave that place? She was free to do so, if she pleased. Those who had forced her there were gone. The passage was open. She had nothing to do but to go out after the rest, if she desired it. If she would fain hide her shame, and make the best of her case, she may. Now is the time. Let her go out. The Lord knows her sin in all its magnitude, and she need not think of remaining where she is and be accounted guiltless. If this be her hope, let her follow her convicted accusers, and hide her shame outside. But no. She had learnt the tale of delivering grace from the words and the acts of Jesus, and she need not go out. Nature would have retired. Flesh and blood, or the mere moral principles of man, would have sent her after the rest. But the faith which had read the story of redemption acts above nature, or the judgment of the moral man. She remains where she is. This Mount Sinai (as her accusers had made that place) was not too much for her. The still small voice of mercy, which once answered Moses and again answered Elijah there, had now answered her. The pledges of salvation were there exposed to her as of old time to the fathers, and the spot was green and fresh and sunny to her spirit. It had become "the gate of heaven" to her. The shadow of death had been turned into "the light of life." She need not go--she would not go--she could not go. She will not leave the presence of Jesus, Who had so gloriously approved Himself the Lord of Sinai, and yet her Deliverer. She was a sinner. Yes--and she knew it, and He knew it, before Whom in solitude she now stood. And so was Adam, as he came forth naked from the trees of the garden. But she is willing and able to stand detected before Him. She could no more retire to a thicket than Adam could continue in a thicket, or wear his apron of fig-leaves, after such a voice. Jesus had confounded all her accusers. They had roared of the evil she had done, but He had utterly and for ever silenced them. In the light of life she now walked. Her conscience, in a little moment, had taken a long and eventful journey. She had passed from the region of darkness and death into the realms of liberty, safety, and joy, led by the light of the Lord of life.
This is the triumph of grace; and this is the joy of the sinner. This is the song of victory on the banks of the Red Sea, the enemy lying dead on its shores. She has but to call Him "Lord," and He has but to say, "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more."
This was full deliverance. And the same deliverance awaits every sinner who, like the poor adulteress here, will come and be alone with Jesus. As sinners (as I have observed before), we have to do only with God. We may do offence or wrong to others, and they may complain and challenge us. But, as sinners, God must deal with us alone; and the discovery of this is the way of blessing. David discovered it, and got blessing at once. His act, it is true, had been a wrong to another. He had taken the poor man's one little ewe lamb. But he had in all this sinned against God also. And in the discovery and sense of this he says, "I have sinned against the Lord." But the effect of this was to leave him alone with God. As a wrongdoer, Uriah might have to do with him; but as a sinner, he had not. God must deal with him; and the moment his sin thus casts him alone with God, he, like the poor adulteress here, listens to the voice of mercy: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." He suffers chastening for the wrong he had done, but the wages of sin are remitted.
It is ever the sinner's victory when he can thus by faith claim to be alone with Jesus. The priest and the Levite have then passed by; for what could they do? What art or ability had the law to meet the sinner's case? It is grace--the Stranger from heaven--that must help. The needy, wounded sinner is lying in the way, and the good Samaritan must meet him. And truly blessed is it, when all through its further way, the soul still remembers how it thus began in solitude with Jesus the Saviour.
And He is glorified in all this as surely as we are comforted; glorified with His brightest glory, His glory as the Saviour of the guilty. A vial is prepared for redeemed sinners, which is to bear an incense the like to which can be found nowhere else. Ex. 30: 37. Even the vials of angels do not carry such perfume. They praise the Lamb, it is true; but not in such lofty strains as the Church of redeemed sinners. They ascribe to Him "power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing;" but the Church has a song before the throne, and sings, Thou art worthy. . . . for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation."
All this blessing for the sinner, and this glory for the Saviour, we see here. The sinner is hid from her accuser, and the Saviour silences him. The officers had been lately disarmed by the holy attraction of His words, and now the scribes and Pharisees are rebuked by the convicting light of His words. John 7: 46; John 8: 9. Those were not carnal weapons, but weapons of heavenly temper. Their enmity had exhausted all its resources. They had essayed the force of the lion and the guile of the serpent; and, all having passed, the Son of God at once takes His elevation, and shows Himself in His place of entire separation and distance from them; He raises the pillar of light and darkness in the present wilderness of Canaan, and puts Israel, like the Egyptians of old, on the dark side of it. "I am the Light of the world," says Jesus: "he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness."
Such was Israel now, spiritually called Egypt. They had no association with Abraham, or with God, though they boasted in them; for they had no faculty to discern Abraham's joy, or the Sent of God. They must take their place of atheistic darkness and alienation. The Lord gives them the place of Ishmael, the very place which Paul afterwards puts them in. See v. 35; Gal. 4. As the child of the bondwoman Israel still is, and will be, till "they turn to the Lord," till they know the truth, and the truth make them "free,"--make them as Isaac. The Jews assert that they had never been in bondage. v. 33. Jesus might have called for a penny, and by its image and superscription have proved their falsehood. But, according to the high and divine thoughts of this Gospel, He takes other ground with them, and convicts them of deadlier bondage than that to Rome, a bondage to flesh and to sin.
Mark also their low and mistaken thoughts about Him and His plainest words. He had said, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day;" but they reply as though He had said He had seen Abraham. The difference, however, was infinite, though they perceived it not. By the words He had used, the Lord was challenging the highest glories for Himself. He was making Himself the great Object from the beginning, the One Who had been filling the thoughts, the hopes, and answering the need, of all the elect of God in all ages. It was not He that had seen Abraham, but it was Abraham that had seen Him; and, without contradiction, I may say, the better is seen of the less. "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." That is Christ's place. He was Adam's Object, as he went forth from the garden. He was the confidence of Abel and of Noah. He was seen and rejoiced in by Abraham and the patriarchs. He was the Substance of the shadows, and the End of the law. He was the Lamb and the Light under the eye of the Baptist. He is now the confidence of every saved sinner; and He will be, through eternity, the praise and the Centre of the creation of God.
All this is a strong discovery of the state of Israel through this chapter. And this was a solemn moment for them. In Matthew the Lord tested the Jews by His Messiahship, and in the end convicted them of rejecting Him in that character. But in this Gospel He tests them by other and higher proposals of Himself: as the Light, the Truth, the Doer of the works and the Speaker of the words of God, as the Son of the Father; and thus convicts them, not of mere unbelief in Messiah, but of the common atheism of man. In this character Israel is here made to stand, Cain-like, in the land of Nod, in the place of the common departure of man from God. He had spoken the words of the Father, but they understood not, they believed not. As the Sent of the Father, He had come (as such a one must have come) in grace to them; but they refused Him. And so is it among men of this day. The Gospel is a message of goodness; but man receives it not. Man will not think well of God. This is the secret of unbelief. The Gospel is "goodness" (Rom. 11: 22); and man still asks, Is it from God? for man has hard thoughts of God, and Satan is persuading him still to have them He does what he can to obscure the sinner's title to God, that the sinner may look for some inheritance elsewhere.
So here with Israel. Jesus judged no man, but spake the word of the Father, which was freedom and life to them. But they understood not His speech, as He says to them. Their minds were formed by their father, who was a liar and a murderer; and "grace and truth," which came to them by Jesus Christ, they had no ears to hear. And now, as the disallowed Witness of the Father, as the hated Light of the world, He has no place in the land, no certain paths of this earth to go forth into. He passes by as knowing no spot or person here, but still, as the Light of the world, shining, wherever His beams may reach, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
John 9, 10.--Accordingly, in this character, He is separated from Israel. Israel is left in darkness, and the pillar of God moves onward. Jesus, the "Light of the world," goes forth and meets one who had been blind from his birth; and in such a one His works could well be manifested.
The Lord God, it is most true, is a great King, and acts as a Sovereign. He is the Potter that has power over the clay. But the Son came not as from the throne of the King, but from the Father. He came to manifest the Father. The blind may be in the world, but the Son came as the light of the world: and accordingly, as such, He applies Himself to His blessed labour of grace and power, and opens the eyes of this blind beggar.
But what was this to Jerusalem? There was darkness there; and the light may shine, but it will not be comprehended. Instead of that, as we read here, "they brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind." There was a high court of inquisition at Jerusalem, and it must try the ways of the Son of God. Instead of welcoming Him as of old, when the pillar of God was raised, and saying, "Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered," they love their own darkness, and will walk in it.
At first they question the man himself. But not finding him quite to their purpose, they commit the case to witnesses, who, they judge, were in their own power. They call his parents. But again; they fail, The fact that the light had shone among them cannot be gainsaid. They then seek to divert the whole matter into such a channel as would leave untouched their own pride and worldliness. and they say, "Give God the praise: we know that this Man is a sinner." But this will not do either. The poor soul maintains his integrity; and then they alarm him by separating him from all acknowledged ground of safety. "Thou art His disciple," say they, "but we are Moses' disciples." But he is kept still; and not only kept, but led on from strength to strength. He hath, and more is given him. He follows as the light leads, till at length it so shines as to reprove the darkness of the Pharisees; and they cast him forth without the camp.
But where do they cast him? Just where every lonely, outcast sinner may find himself--where the unclean Samaritan and the convicted adulteress had before found themselves--into the presence, and across the solitude, of the Son of God; and that is the very gate of heaven. For the Lord had gone without the camp before him. This sheep of the flock was now put forth; but it was only to meet the Shepherd, Who had gone before. In that place of shame and exposure they meet each other. There was he found by One who had Himself been shot by the archers. The meeting there was a meeting indeed. This poor Israelite, while he was within the camp, had met Jesus as his Healer; but now that he is put without, he meets Him as the Son of God. He meets Him to know Him as the One Who, when he was blind, had opened his eyes, and, now that he is cast out, talks with him. And, beloved, this is ever the way of our meeting Jesus, as sinners and as outcasts, in the unclean place. If He take us up there, it must be in the full grace of the Son of God, the Saviour. And thus our character as sinners leads us into the sweetest and dearest intimacies of the Lord of life and glory. As creatures we know the strength of His hand, His Godhead, and wisdom, and goodness; but as sinners we know the love of His heart, and all the treasures of His grace and glory.
And I notice the changed tone of this poor beggar. In the presence of the Pharisees he was firm and unbending. He does not abate the tone of conscious righteousness and truth all through. He set his face as a flint, and endured hardness. But the moment he comes into the presence of the Lord he is all humility and gentleness. He melts, as it were, at the feet of Jesus. Oh, what a sweet sample is this of the workmanship of the Spirit of God! Courage before man, but the meltings of love and the bowings of worship before the Lord Who has loved and redeemed us.
But this unclean place without the camp, where the Lord of heaven and earth now stood with this favoured sinner, was not only the place of liberty and joy to the sinner, but the wide field of observation to the Lord. From this place He surveys Himself, the beggar, and the whole camp of Israel, outside of which He had gone with His elect one; and in the parable of the Good Shepherd, He draws the moral of it all. In the scene of the ninth chapter He had shown that He had entered by the door into the sheep-fold; for He had come working the works of the Father, and had, in that way, approved Himself to be in the confidence of the Owner of the fold, the sanctioned Shepherd of His flock. He was estranged from Israel; but, like Moses in such a case, He was to keep the flock of His Father in other pastures, near the mount of God. The Pharisees, because they were resisting Him, must therefore needs be "thieves and robbers," climbing into the fold some other way. And the poor blind beggar was a sample of the flock, who, while they refuse the voice of strangers, hear and know the voice of Him that had entered by the door; and, entering by Him, "the Door of the sheep," find safety, rest, and pasture.
All this had been set out in the scene before us, and is expressed in the parable. The parable thus passes a blessed commentary on the present condition of this poor outcast. The Jews, no doubt, judged, (and would have had him judge so likewise) that he had now been cut off from safety, being cut off from themselves. But Jesus shows that not until now was he in safety; that had he been left where he was, he would have become a prey to those who were stealing, and killing, and destroying; but that now he was found and taken up of One Who, to give him life, would lay down His own.*
*I may just notice how it was that this poor weak one of God broke the snare of the fowler. We see in his ways two things: first, his honest, faithful following of the light, as it was given to him, and as it shone in him more and more brightly; secondly, his simple pleading of the works and ways of Jesus, his Deliverer and Friend, in answer to all the suggestions of the enemy. This was his security; and this is ours too, whether we be pressed or entangled by Satan.
All this we have, both in the narrative and in the parable. And it is at this point in our Gospel that the Lord and the remnant meet together; "the poor of the flock" are here manifested, their own shepherds pitying them not; and the Shepherd from heaven takes them up as all His care, to guard and to feed them. Zech. 11
But the love and care of Him Who said to Him, "Feed the flock of slaughter" (Zech. 11: 4), is also seen here most blessedly. It is, perhaps, the sweetest thing in the parable. We learn the mind of the Father towards the flock. For the Lord says, "As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep;" letting us know that one of the deepest secrets of the Father's heart was His love and care for the sheep. The flock, indeed, was the Father's before it was committed to Christ, the Shepherd. "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me." They lay in the Father's hand before they were put into Christ's hand. They were the Father's by election before the world was, and became Christ's by the gift of the Father, and by purchase of blood. And all the tenderness and diligent care of the Shepherd do but express the mind of the Owner towards His flock. The Shepherd and the Owner of the flock are one. As the Lord says, "I and My Father are one." One, it is true, in glory, but one also in their love to and carefulness about their poor flock of redeemed sinners. Christ met the Father's mind when He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; and they rest for ever one in that love, as surely as they rest one in their own glory. This is truth of precious comfort to us. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." We learn, indeed, that God is love; and the moment we discover this we get our rest in God; for the wearied, broken heart of the sinner may rest in love, though nowhere else. "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."
Here, then, "the poor of the flock" feed and lie down. But Beauty and Bands are to be broken. The Shepherd's staves that would have led and kept Israel must now be cast away. It was only a remnant that knew His voice. Who can hear the voice of a Saviour but a sinner? The whole need not the physician. And thus, in this place, our Lord's dealings with Israel close. He refuses to feed them any more: "That that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off." Zech. 11: 9.
And I may notice that His dealing with Israel closes here in a way fully characteristic of this Gospel by John. They seek to stone Him, as we read, because that He, being a Man, had made Himself God. In the other Gospels the soul of Israel loathes Him (as Zechariah speaks) for other reasons; because, for instance, He received sinners, or impugned their traditions, or touched their Sabbath. But in this Gospel it is His assertion of Sonship of the Father, the assertion of the divine honours of His person, which chiefly raises the conflict. See John 5, 8, 10. In this place we observe that the Lord, in answer to the Jews, pleads the manifestation which He had now given of Himself, as others had done in Israel before Him. Others, set in authority, had been called "gods," because they had manifested God in His place of authority and judgment, and were the powers whom God had ordained. And He, in like manner, had now manifested the Father. The judges and kings could have shown that the word of God had come to them, committing to them the sword of God. And Jesus had shown Himself the Sent of the Father, full of grace and truth, working among them now as the Father had hitherto worked, in the exercise of grace; restoring, and healing, and blessing sinners. Thus had He shown that the Father was in Him, and He in the Father. But their hearts were hardened. The darkness could not comprehend the Light and He has to escape out of their hands, and take up again a position in the earth apart from the revolted nation.*
*See John 2: 13; John 6: 4; John 7: 2; John 11: 55. In this Gospel I observe that the feasts are called "feasts of the Jews," as though the Spirit of God looked at them as something now estranged from His mind. This is highly characteristic of this Gospel, in which, as I have noticed, the Spirit is separated from Jewish recollections, because He is tracing the way of the Son of God, the Son of the Father, Who stands above Jewish connection. Similarly to this, in the Old Testament, Horeb, or Sinai, is called "the Mount of God;" but in the New, under Paul's hand, it is called "Mount Sinai in Arabia;" the Spirit of God no longer owning it, but leaving it simply to its earthly description.
Here the second section of our Gospel ends. It has presented to us our Lord's controversies with the Jews, in the course of which He set aside one Jewish thing after another, and brought in Himself in the place of it. In the fifth chapter He set aside Bethesda, the last witness of the Father's working in Israel, and took its place, as Minister of grace. In the sixth and seventh chapters He set aside the feasts; the passover and the tabernacles (the first of which opened the Jewish year with the life of the nation, while the second closed it with their glory) taking the place of these ordinances Himself, showing that He was the only Source of life and glory. In the eighth, after exposing the utter unsuitableness of the law to man, because of the evil and weakness of man, He takes His place as "the light of the world," as the One by Whom alone, and not by the law, sinners were to find their way into truth, and liberty, and home to God. And then, in the ninth chapter, in this character of the Light of the world, He goes out from Israel. He had been casting His beams on that people, but they comprehended Him not. He goes forth, therefore, and draws the poor of the flock after Him; and in the tenth exhibits Himself and them outside the camp, leaving the land of Israel, as the prophet had spoken, a chaos without form and void. The Word of the Lord, that would have called it into beauty and order, was refused; and, now, the place of Jehovah's ancient husbandry, on which His eyes rested from one end of the year to the other, and which He watered with the rain of His own heavens, is given over to become the wilderness and the shadow of death.
John 11, 12.--Thus was it with Israel. They were left in unbelief and darkness, having refused the proposals of the Son of God. But these chapters show that though Israel may delay their mercy, they shall not disappoint it. God's purpose is to bless, and He will bless. In the way of His own covenant, that is, in resurrection power and grace, He will bring the blessing to Israel. It was as the Quickener of the dead He had of old entered into covenant with their father Abraham. It was thus that He appeared to Moses, as the Hope of the nation at Horeb. Ex. 3; Luke 20: 37. It was by resurrection that He was to give to Israel the promised Prophet, like unto Moses. Deut. 18; Acts 3. It is in this character that all the prophets speak of Him as acting for the seed of Abraham in the latter day. And our own apostle tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of all the blessing promised to the fathers. Acts 13: 33. Jehovah will restore life and glory to Israel, in resurrection power and grace. When all their own strength is crone He will Himself arise for their help. He will plant glory in the land of the living. The barren woman shall keep house. The Lord will call them from their graves, and make the dry bones live. And that He will accomplish all this for Israel is here, in these two chapters, pledged and foreshown. The previous chapters had shown Israel to be in ruins, and at a distance from God; but here, ere the Lord entirely hides Himself from them, He gives them, in the raising of Lazarus, and its results, full pledges of final life and glory.
This, I doubt not, is the general bearing of these two chapters; and thus they form a kind of appendix to the previous section, rather than a distinct portion of the Gospel.
The Lord had left Judea, and was in retirement beyond Jordan, when a message came to Him that one (in Judea) whom He loved was sick. He abides in the place where He was till this sickness had taken its course, and ended in death. Then He addresses Himself to His journey, for He could then take it as the Son of God, the Quickener of the dead; and in the full consciousness that He was about to act as such, He sets forward, saying, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." v. 11.
But here let me turn aside for a little.
The words of the two sisters in the progress of this chapter are, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died." But they were not in the divine secret the secret of the Son of God. He had come into this world now, as of old He had gone to the house of Abraham, as a Quickener of the dead. He was bringing victorious life with Him. He must be displayed in that glory. This had been done, since sin had entered and brought in death. But nature is not equal to this great mystery. Faith receives it, and talks of it; but faith is of the operation of God. And so, when Peter owned this life in Jesus, confessing Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was told him that the Father had revealed that to him. Matt. 16. None in this chapter were equal to it. They all talk of death, and not of life, even Martha and Mary themselves. But Jesus has life in Him and before Him. "I am the Resurrection, and the Life," He says: "he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die."
It is life, thus qualified, that the Son imparts to us - life eternal, infallible, victorious--and faith apprehends, receives, and enjoys it. "He that hath the Son hath life." Peter, as we said, had it revealed to him by the Father (Matt. 16); Jesus took knowledge of it as in Himself (John 2: 19; John 8: 51; John 11: 25); the empty sepulchre displayed and celebrated it; the risen Christ imparted it. John 20. It is undefilable, as it is eternal or victorious. Death cannot reach it, the gates of hell prevail not against it.
What a story of life in a world where sin has reigned unto death! What glory to God! What effectual relief and consolation to us! It is life won from death, life brought in by the putting away of sin through the inestimably precious sacrifice of the Lamb, the Son of God. of Him "Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God" l What a mystery! "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." Heb. 3: 12.*
*Let me just notice the tears of Jesus here. The consciousness that He carried resurrection-virtue in Him, and was about to fill the house at Bethany with the joy of restored life, did not stay the current of natural affection. "Jesus wept." His heart was still alive to the sorrow, as to the degradation, of death. His calmness throughout this exquisite scene was not indifference, but elevation. His soul was in the sunshine of those deathless regions which lay far away and beyond the tomb of Lazarus, but He could visit that valley of tears, and weep there with them that wept.
But we must leave this precious, wondrous theme. The Lord, here in our chapter, also consciously bore the day as well as the life with Him; for "the life was the light of men;"--and thus He says also, in answer to the fears of His disciples, "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." v. 9. He not only saw the light, but He has the Light, of the world--not merely a child of light, but the Fountain of light. His disciples, however, are dull of hearing. They neither discern the voice of the Son of God, nor see the path of the light of life. They judge that, death to Himself, rather than life to others, was before Him; and one says, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." v. 16. There might have been human affection in this, but there was sad ignorance of His glory. The disciples now, like the women afterwards, would fain take their spices to the Saviour's tomb; but both should have known that He was not there.
Onward He goes, the Son of God, the Quickener of the dead; and His path lies to the grave of Lazarus, His friend, in Judea. There He stands, in the full vision of the triumphs of sin; for "sin hath reigned unto death;" and, had all ended here, Satan had prevailed. "Jesus wept." In another Gospel He had wept, as the Son of David, over the city which He had chosen to put His name there, because she had refused Him. But here the Son of God, Who had life in Himself, weeps over the vision of death. But He groaned in Himself also; and He that searcheth the hearts knew that groan; and Jesus, in full assurance that it was heard, had only to acknowledge the answer with thanksgiving, and, in the power of that answer, to say, "Lazarus, come forth;"--and he that was dead did come forth, the witness that, "as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself."
Here did the path of the Son of God end. He had met the power of sin at its height, and had shown that He was above it - the Resurrection and the Life. But this was not the destruction of him that had the power of death; for it was not the death and resurrection of the Captain of salvation Himself. Nor was it properly a pledge to the saints of their resurrection in glorious bodies; for Lazarus came forth bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, to walk again in flesh and blood. It was rather a pledge to Israel of the quickening power of the Son of God on their behalf; showing them that the promised resurrection or revival of the nation rested on Him, and that He would in due time accomplish it.*
*I would notice the paths of Martha and Mary in this scene. Martha goes out to meet the Lord, on hearing that He was coming. But she does not really meet Him. He was above her. He was standing in the consciousness of a glory that she as yet could not apprehend, and He speaks from His elevation, "I am the Resurrection and the Life;" while she answers from hers, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Thus there was a distance between them, the sense of which becomes painful to her, and she goes her way. There was then, I judge, a whisper in her soul that her more heavenly-minded and better-instructed sister would understand the Lord better than she did; and under this suggestion she went and told Mary that the Master had come, and called for her. This, I believe, was the secret of Martha's word to her sister. It was not that the Lord had really called for Mary, and much less was Martha the bearer wrongfully of a false report. But Martha's heart suggested that there was a sympathy between the Lord and Mary; and this suggestion, without wrong, expressed itself thus: "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." And so it proved. Mary goes forth to meet her Lord, and really meets Him. There is not the same distance between them as there had been between the Lord and Martha. Mary, on meeting Him, falls at His feet; and He, on seeing her, groans in spirit. This was a meeting indeed, a meeting between the Lord of life and His worshipper. Mary does not, like Martha, multiply words without knowledge; nor has the Lord to rebuke any slowness of heart in her, as He had in Martha. But we know He loved them both; and blessed is it to have any living fellowship with Him. Some may have more burning thoughts and brighter views of Him than others; but though our measure be but the Martha measure, yet there is heaven in the fellowship, wherever it is true and living.
But Israel had no eyes to read this sign of their mercy, nor heart to understand it. Instead of its becoming the ground of their faith, it is made the occasion of the working of full enmity. "From that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death." v. 53. The husbandmen set themselves to cast out the heir of the vineyard. And their entire departure from their father Abraham, their complete apostasy from God, is manifested. Israel had been separated out of the nations unto God; but they now deliberate, and take their place among the nations again." Unlike Abraham, they take riches from the king of Sodom, instead of blessing from the hand of Melchizedek. They choose the patronage of Rome rather than know the resurrection-power of the Son of God. "If we let Him thus alone," say they, "all will believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation." And the judgment then comes upon them, "Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not." Isa. 6: 9. For now, having the voice of the Spirit in their high priest, there is no ear to hear it aright; and having the doings of the Son of God among them, there is no eye to perceive Him aright.
But still He was the Quickener of Israel; and in the latter day the dry bones shall hear the word of the Lord, and live; of which, as I have observed, Lazarus is the pledge. And the remnant in Israel in that day is also illustrated in the family at Bethany.* Into the midst of this well-loved family the Lord comes, and finds refreshment, and fellowship, and the acknowledgement of His glory; as He will find these things in His remnant in the latter day. There He sits as the Lord of life, the witness of His quickening power being seated beside Him; and there too He sits as "the King of glory," the homage of His willing people being laid at His feet. In these two holy dignities is He now received by this faithful household. "While the King sitteth at His table" (says Mary), "my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof." Cant. 1: 12.
*But in this house at Bethany we see also the Church, there being so much of moral kindredness between the two. For the Church is the witness of Christ's resurrection-power during the long age of Israel's unbelief, and before the remnant is manifested. And in the Church also, during that age, the Lord finds His only refreshment and fellowship. In Martha serving, Lazarus sitting, and Mary anointing the feet, we see the saints in their various grace and characters of communion with the Lord: some waiting on Him in the activities of love; some resting beside Him in the calm certainty of His favour, hearing His voice and learning His ways; seine pouring forth the fulness of their loving and worshipping hearts.
It is thus He here sits; one family in the apostate land owning Him Lord of life and King of glory. But the city itself, and the strangers there, were soon to see Him, as well as this house at Bethany; as, by-and-by, the nation and the whole earth will own Him after He is owned by the Remnant.
Accordingly, "on the next day," as we read, much people, moved by the report of His having raised Lazarus from the dead, meet Him on His coming to Jerusalem, and lead Him into the royal city, as the Son of David, the King of Israel.* The time was the time of the passover; but the people are moved as with the joy of the feast of tabernacles, and take branches of palm-trees to gladden their King. And the nations, as it were, come up to keep the feast also; for certain Greeks come to Philip, and say, "Sir, we would see Jesus." Glory shines for a moment in the land of the living. Here was Lazarus raised from the dead, the city receiving her King, and the nations worshipping there. The great materials of the kingdom in which He is to be glorified had now passed before the Lord. The joy of Jerusalem and the gathering of the nations He had now witnessed; but His soul was full of the holy certainty that death awaits all here, however promising or pleasurable; and that enduring honour and prosperity must be hoped for only in other and brighter regions. In the midst of all this festive scene Jesus Himself sits solitary. His spirit muses on death, while the thoughts of all around Him are full of a kingdom, with its attendant honours and joys. "Verily, verily, I say unto you," is His word now, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." Resurrection was every thing to Him. It was His relief amid the sorrows of life, as we saw in John 11; it is His object amid the prospects and promises of the world, as we now see in John 12. It gave His soul a calm sunshine, when dark and heavy clouds had gathered over Bethany; it moderates and separates His affections, when the brilliant glare of a festive day was lighting up the way from thence to Jerusalem. The thought of resurrection thus stayed His mind amid griefs and enjoyments around Him. It made Him a perfect Exemplar of that fine principle, Let him that weepeth be as if he wept not, and he that rejoiceth as though he rejoiced not. See 1 Cor. 7: 29-31.
*The Lord does not send for the ass's colt here, as He is shown to do in the other Gospels. Here the scene of the entry into the city is produced by the zeal of the people. This distinction is still characteristic for this Gospel does not give the Lord in Jewish connection, as I have observed.
How little of this elevation above the conditions and circumstances of life the hearts of some of us are acquainted with!
This season was really to be the passover, and not the feast of tabernacles to Jesus; and His soul passes, for another moment, through His paschal trouble. but the Father again acknowledges Him. He had glorified Him as Son of God, Quickener of the dead, at the grave of Lazarus; and now He glorifies Him as Son of man, Judge of the world and of the prince of the world, by the voice from heaven.
And here did His path as the Son of man end, as His path as the Son of God had before ended at the grave of Lazarus. The Son of God and Son of man had now been fully displayed before His unbelieving Israel. He was glorified among them as the Prince of life, and the Holder of all authority and power. The things now accomplished and displayed in these two chapters, were the fulfilling of His words to them at the beginning: these were the "greater works" at which they should "marvel." John 5: 20-22. They had now witnessed His quickening power as Son of God, and had His judicial glory as Son of man pledged to them by the voice from heaven. They should have honoured Him as they honoured the Father. But instead of this they would soon kill Him. They would soon disown the Lord of life and the King of glory, on Whom all their hopes of life and the kingdom hung. He had tested them by the promised "greater works;" but there was no response from Israel. The harvest was past, the summer ended, and they were not saved. The lamentation of the prophet was now to be uttered, "Who hath believed our report?" It was not that His works had not manifested Him as the Hope of Israel. Many even of the chief rulers felt and owned them in their consciences, as we here read. But they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, as He had said unto them. Chapter 5: 44; 12: 43. All that remained was judgment on Israel and the heavenly glory of this earth-rejected Jesus. vv. 40, 41. So does our evangelist himself tell us, drawing the awful moral of the whole scene--"He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him." All closed in judgment upon Israel, and in glory, heavenly glory, glory within the veil, for the blessed Jesus. Isaiah 6: 1, 2.
Thus our Gospel seats the Son of God in heaven again. His way ends there, as it had begun there. The Gospel by Matthew ushers Him forth as the Son of David from Bethlehem, and closes with Him (as far as His ministry is concerned) on the Mount of Olives. Matt. 1; 24. But this Gospel opened with His descent from the Father, and here closes (as far as His ministry was concerned) by His return to heaven. There He still dwells in the high and holy place, and with the humble and broken-hearted. Isaiah 57: 15. He speaks from heaven; and His voice must be in the power of all that finished work which has taken Him there. He is gone into the holiest, through the outer courts, throwing down all enmities, all middle walls and partitions, and has again; come forth from thence, in the virtue of His blood, and in the power of the Holy Ghost, to preach peace to all. Eph. 2: 12-22. He cannot but speak of all that is there, and not of what is here. He cannot but speak, by His Spirit, of the peace and gladness and glory which are there, and not of the accusings with which our sins still committed here would fill our hearts.
All through His divine ministry in this Gospel, as I have before observed, the Lord had been acting in grace, as "the Son of the Father," and as "the Light of the world." His presence was "day-time" in the land of Israel. He had been shining there, if haply the darkness might comprehend Him. And here, at the close of that ministry (John 12: 35, 36), we see Him still as the Light casting forth His last beams upon the land and people. He can but shine, whether they will comprehend Him or not. While His presence is there, it is still day-time. The night cannot come till He is gone. "As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." But here, "He departs and hides Himself;" and then God; by His prophet, brings the night upon the land. v. 40. It was not that the light had imperfectly shone. Their own consciences told them otherwise. vv. 42, 43. The Light had done its service, and ruled the day, but the darkness had not comprehended it; and then this Ruler of the day sets in Judea, only to rise in other spheres. For His cry in these closing verses (44-50) is not addressed to Israel merely, but to the whole earth. It is but the same "Light of the world," which had lately run His race in Judea, coming forth out of His chamber to run a longer race. And this race He is running still. "The day of salvation" is still with us. The night of judgment on the Gentiles has not yet come. We may still walk without stumbling; we may still know whither we are going. The Light still says, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Such are Thy ways, blessed Saviour, Lamb of God, Son of the Father!