Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.…
John is the only evangelist who speaks of the friendship between Christ and this family, who gives us in fact the picture of Christ in social life, Christ unbending, Christ in the intimacy, the freedom of tender, personal affection, Christ as a friend; just as He only gives the social miracle at Cana. The apostle of love, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," he only gives us this aspect of Christ's nature and history. How natural and beautiful! Note —
I. THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING. Evil in connection with love in one who could remove it. Whatever may be said to lessen this mystery the facts are so. There was no doubt about the malady of the man, none about the mercifulness of the Master. And so we say still. Christianity is not responsible for the difficulty, for as Sir W. Hamilton observes, "No difficulty emerges in theology which had not previously emerged in philosophy." Looked at alone the facts are not consistent but opposed. A God of love and a world of woe regarded as bare facts are a moral contradiction; and no wonder if through the veil of tears we cannot always see His goodness. Pain is evil in itself, and suggests evil. The consciousness of sin interprets it as the token of the Father's frown; and the Bible teaches that suffering came by sin; but it also says, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," and makes suffering the necessary evidence of love and the choicest instrument of profit.
II. THE RESOURCE OF SORROW.
1. They sent to tell Jesus. It was natural even if they thought only of telling Him. True love will always tell what befalls it from natural dictate, because it likes to tell it, and because reciprocal affection has a right to know it. When John was killed "the disciples went and told Jesus," and so should we, whenever our hearts are full, even if nothing come of it. Our words are modes of receiving as well as communicating. God hears best our prayers when we can hear them too; we pray best for ourselves aloud.
2. They merely informed Jesus. They must have meant and expected more. Both sisters exclaimed, "Lord, if Thou hadst," etc. Was it not then to prevent his dying that Christ was told. But they did not know He knew. We do. Our prayers are not to inform God; He wants to know our prayers — the expression of our feelings, not the instructions of our wisdom.
3. They did not ask the boon they expected. Was it modesty or faith? We cannot tell; but the more we approach to this mode of prayer the better, at least, as to things of a temporal kind. The more we leave them to God, and remember that we are to "ask according to His will," and that only spiritual blessings, are blessings always, the better. Many a parent has prayed the life of a child, whom afterwards he had wished had found an infant's tomb. Many a merchant has craved the success of a venture, whose success has been the beginning of soul-destroying prosperity. But there is no danger or excess when we ask for salvation and holiness.
4. Note the way in which they said what they did say. They do not mention themselves, nor Lazarus's love for Jesus, but Jesus' love to him. They might have put it as the afflicted mother did — "Have mercy upon me," or, "Him we love is sick," or," He who loveth Thee." They thought Christ's love was the best argument, and as there was no need to mention his name, verily it was. We always prevail with God when we make Him our plea, "for Thy name's sake."
III. THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE. Why did He not hasten to Bethany. Even if He did not chose to prevent Lazarus dying, He might have soothed him and his sisters. He did not go because He wished him to die, and intimates (ver. 15) that if He were at Bethany He could not let him die. He delayed because He meant to raise him. Herein is a picture of Providence.
1. The transformation of evil into good.
2. The material made instrument of the spiritual.
3. Fellowship. One sickening and dying for the health, joy, and higher life of many. Conclusion: We have talked of Christ's love and man's sorrow. Here only can the two be found together. There are two states before us, one, in which there will be sorrow without love, and another in which there will be love without sorrow. Suffering without Christ — this is hell. Love with no trouble or death — the love of Christ ever present, filling the heart with joy unspeakable — that is heaven.
(A. J. Morris.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.