By J.R. Miller
The eleventh chapter of John's gospel introduces us to an experience of our Lord's life which will ever be unspeakably precious to His friends. Here we enter a home which was in a very real way, our Lord's own home. Here He found love which was unspeakably rich and dear to His heart in its comforts and blessings. The house in which Martha and Mary and Lazarus lived--was one place in which Jesus was always sure of welcome when He came to their door weary--and always sure of refuge when He came from the strifes and enmities of the world.
Into this home, there came sore and fatal sickness. Jesus was absent. When Lazarus was stricken, a messenger was sent to Jesus bearing the simple message from the burdened hearts, "He whom you love is sick!" (11:3). We would think that such a message would have brought the Master at once. We think at least, that if we had been in His place, we would have made all haste, traveling by night and day, to get to our dying friend. But, strange to say, Jesus, after receiving the message, lingered two days longer where He was. Evidently He was not alarmed, although He knew all the circumstances. Explaining His delay in starting to the home of His friends, we have this remarkable statement: "Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick--He stayed two more days in the place where He was."
That is, it was just because He loved the sisters and Lazarus, that He abode two days longer before He sent out to minister to them. When He reached Bethany at length, Lazarus had been dead four days. In the narrative we have our Lord's conversation with the sisters. Then we have the exquisite picture of the wary and way worn Christ, standing beside His friends in their grief, weeping with them. But we have more than tears--the same One who weeps--calls the dead from the grave, and gives back to the darkened home, its light and joy.
Martha was the first to meet Jesus when He reached the village. It was outside the home, in some quiet place. Presently He sent her to call Mary. The message was, "The Master has come--and is calling for you." John 11:28. Mary was sitting in the house in deep grief. Evidently the sisters and brother were bound together in very warm ties of affection. Probably they were orphans, keeping up the old home after father and mother were gone. A good brother is a great comfort and blessing to His sister, especially when they have neither parent to lean on. Great, therefore, was the grief when Lazarus died. Jesus had been a friend to them all, and when Mary had learned that He had come and that He wished to see her, she rose up quickly and hastened to Him. Jesus sends the same message to everyone who is in sorrow, "The Master has come--and is calling for you." He wants to comfort His friends who are in sorrow. He bids them come to Him with their trouble. No matter how deep the grief is, we should always do as Mary did--hasten to Jesus. He is the only true Comforter.
When Mary came to Jesus--she fell down at His feet. A true picture of Mary should always show her there. Mary seems to be grieving, almost complaining, at the Master's long delay in coming to the sad home. She told Jesus that if He had been there, her brother would not have died. Perhaps that was true. So far as we are told--no one ever died ever in the presence of Jesus. But the saving of Lazarus from dying was not the best thing for even divine power and love to do that day. When the word came that Lazarus was sick, Jesus said to His disciples that the sickness was "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby." Curing His friend's fever would have glorified God and His Son--but raising him from the dead was a far greater glory! When a friend of ours is sick, it is right for us to pray for His restoration to health--but we do not know that this is the best thing. Perhaps the death of our loved one may be a better thing and more for God's glory than His living longer would be.
We do not know where God wants us to serve Him, nor how He would have us honor Him. It is better that we leave it all with our great Intercessor. The "if" was not a word of faith--but it is a word we are all too apt to use in like cases. "If we had sent for another physician," we say, or, "If we had tried some other remedies, our friend would not have died." But such words are not the language of the quietest trust in God. We are to do what seems to be wisest at the moment, with all the light we have, and then have no regrets or doubts afterwards.
The shortest verse in the Bible is that which contains only the two words, "Jesus wept." This was His first way of comforting Mary. He entered into full and deep sympathy with her. This little verse is a great window into Christ's heart, showing us the depths of His very heart. It tells us that our blessed Lord, though so glorious, has a tender love for us and is touched by all our griefs. This alone is a wonderful comfort to those who are in trouble.
A little child visited a neighbor who had lost her baby, and came home and told her mother that she had been comforting the sorrowing one. Her mother asked her how, and she said, "I cried with her." It does us good when we are in trouble to know that some other one cares, feels with us. It brings a sense of companionship into our loneliness. It puts another shoulder under our load. Sympathy halves our sorrows. But when it is Jesus who cares and is touched, weeps with us, and comes up close beside us in gentle companionship, it is wondrous comfort indeed.
When Jesus came to the grave, He gave a command that the stone should be taken away. Could He not have taken it away Himself by a word, without any human help? Certainly He could. The power that called the dead back to life--could easily have lifted back the piece of rock from the door of the tomb to let the risen man out of His prison. But there is always something left for human hands to do. Christ honors us by making us coworkers with Himself, both in providence and in grace. He makes His word dependent, too, upon our fidelity in doing our little part. He still wants us to take away the stones that shut our friends in their prison.
The manner of the raising of Lazarus is suggestive. We may place together all Christ's calls to the dead He raised. To the daughter of Jairus, His words were, "Maiden, arise!" To the young man of Nain, He said, "Young man, I say unto you, Arise!" He calls neither of these by name. Neither of them had been personally known to Him. But Lazarus was His own familiar friend; and therefore, He called him by his dear household name. Death does not destroy personality. Lazarus, in the region of the dead, knew His name, heard it called, and answered to it. In the coming of Lazarus from the grave at the call of Christ--we have a glimpse of what will take place at the final resurrection, when the same voice will be heard by all the dead.
When Lazarus came forth at Christ's call, his friends had something to do in assisting him. Jesus bade them, "Loose him, and let him go." His limbs were bound so that he could not walk freely. It was necessary that these wrappings should be removed in order that he might be free in his movements. Note Christ's economy in miracle. He did not by supernatural power take off these bandages, though He could have done so. Nor did He with His own hands unwrap the clothes and remove them. He bade His friends to do this, thus making them coworkers with Himself.
There is here a parable of spiritual things. When a soul hears Christ's voice and comes from its grave of death, there are still many old wrappings of sin, the grave clothes of an old life, chains of bad habits, the bonds of evil companionships and friendships. Lazarus walking forth from his grave with his limbs bound about and his freedom hindered, is a picture of every saved life at the first. The removing of these chains and hindrances, is work which Christ gives us to do for our friends who are beginning their new life. We are to set our friends free. We are to help them overcome their old habits and break off their sinful associations, and in all ways to seek to set them free for loving service.