Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying to him, Lord, if you had been here…
1. Mary fell at His feet; formerly she was willing to sit at them. The soul is never, as amid such desolation, constrained to cling to "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
2. There is continued confidence — it is still "Lord," notwithstanding what had happened — seen in the conviction that an earlier arrival would have brought deliverance, and leading to a hope of help even in this extremity.
3. Mary uses the same words as Martha (ver. 21). Perhaps they had often said so. But Mary did not finish her appeal as Martha did (ver. 22); not that her faith was less strong: it was finished in her own heart. Tears break in and check utterance (ver. 33).
4. Yet with this faith there is wonder at Christ's absence, which almost verges on reproach. Why so late? We shall look at the question in the light the narrative gives.
I. THE STRANGENESS OF CHRIST'S DELAY TO INTERPOSE AGAINST DEATH.
1. Turn to the circumstances around us, as Martha and Mary may have done. Consider —
(1) What death is to the sufferer. No happy translation. The end of all earthly sufferings but more dreaded than all. Man's heart recoils from its accompaniments. When we see a friend moving forward to his doom, what means do we not exhaust to save him? Yet Christ suffered Lazarus to die. And how many have been struck down since of the most lovely and loving; and yet death has no power without Christ's permission.
(2) What a bereavement death is to the survivors! In a Christian it is not the dead who are to be mourned, but those whom they leave. What ages of agony are lived while the wavering balance is watched! And then the anguish of the parting, and the slow groping which follows to realize it! The childless mother, etc., have wrestled over the dying and moaned over the dead and none seemed to listen.
(3) What a ground of reproach death has furnished to the enemies of Christ. There was no lack of unbelieving Jews in Bethany to take advantage of Christ's absence. Something like the feeling of the Psalmist must have been theirs, "My tears have been my meat...while they said unto me, where is thy God," and so now over closed graves we hear the reproach, "Where is the promise of His coming?" etc., and the Christian heart wearies for some interposition to vindicate its claim. "Arise, O God," etc.
2. Turn from our circumstances to Christ as these sisters did. We believe —
(1) That Christ is fully aware of our need. When a friend fails us through ignorance, we do not blame him. As soon as the sisters apprehended danger they sent to Jesus. Without this we know that Christ understands all our need. He can draw nearer than the nearest, and His foot does not step forward to the rescue. Is it not strange —
(2) That Christ has full power to interpose (vers. 22, 42). He has not only omnipotence, but the moral right and power, having paid the ransom price. The keys of death hang at His girdle, and that He should not use them occasions strange thoughts.
(3) That it is the desire of Christ to interpose (vers. 5, 33). But if He felt so deeply why did He not come sooner? And if He meant not to interpose why should He weep? (Jeremiah 14:8). Our very confidence in Christ becomes the occasion of bewildering doubts. "Lord...help Thou our unbelief."
II. THE REASON FOR CHRIST'S DELAY WHICH MAY BE FOUND IN THIS HISTORY. Other reasons there are to be found in the Bible, and probably outside. But here we see that Christ delays —
1. That His friends when dying may have confidence in Him, and have an opportunity for showing it. We have no account of Lazarus's death, but the period has its peculiar use in every spiritual history.
(1) The great end of Christ's dealing with any soul is to convince it that in Him it has an all-sufficient life, and that with Him it can pass safely through every emergency. But this course of teaching would want its crown if it did not end in death. He invites the soul, and constrains it to put all its confidence into that last act of surrender knowing Him whom it believes, and feeling that underneath are the everlasting arms.
(2) Death is the last touch of that purifying fire which Christ employs to melt the fallen nature, free it from its dross, and fuse it into His likeness.
2. That the sorrowing friends may learn entire reliance on Him. It is a subject for study how Christ leads on these sisters from a dead brother to the Resurrection and the Life, and teaches them through their loss to gain what they could never lose any more. Christ separates our friends from us for a while that we may learn to find our all in Himself.
3. That in the midst of death the union of sympathy between Christ and His friends is perfected. Jesus had given them many tokens of His love while Lazarus lived, but none with that touching tenderness which came forth at his grave. The fellowship of suffering brings hearts and lives together more than all the fellowship of joy. When Jesus wept the mourners knew He was one with them. Gethsemane shows us the agony of Christ's soul for man's sin — the grave at Bethany His agony of heart at man's suffering.
4. That God makes this a world of spiritual probation. By His delay Christ tried the character of all who knew the case, and Christ's delays now are the touchstone of spiritual life. You who would have Him never suffer the tears of His people to fall would lead men to seek Him, not for the love they bore Him, but for outward benefits. But God defers the time for interposition in order that He may sift their characters and prepare them for the day of judgment.
5. That He brings in thereby a grander and final issue.
(J. Ker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.