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John 11:18-27

18. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs. 19. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 20. When Martha, therefore, heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. 21. Martha then said to Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died. 22. But I know that even now, whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23. Jesus saith to her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24. Martha saith to him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believeth in me, though he were dead, shall live. 26. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27. She saith to him, Yes, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.

 

18. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem. The Evangelist diligently follows out all that contributes to the certainty of the narrative. He relates how near Jerusalem was to the village of Bethany, that no one may be astonished that, for the purpose of comforting the sisters, many friends came from Jerusalem, whom God intended to be witnesses of the miracle. For, though the desire of performing an office of kindness was their inducement to go, yet they were assembled there, by a secret decree of God, for another purpose, that the resurrection of Lazarus might not remain unknown, or that the witnesses might not be only those who belonged to the family. Now it is a convincing proof of the base ingratitude of the nation, that this striking demonstration of Divine power at a well-known place, amidst a vast crowd of men, and near the gates of the city, and which might almost be said to be erected on a stage, instantly vanishes from the eyes of men. We should rather say that the Jews, by maliciously shutting their eyes, intentionally do not see what is before their eyes. Nor is it a new or uncommon occurrence, that men who, with excessive eagerness, continually gape for miracles, are altogether dull and stupid in the consideration of them.

About fifteen furlongs This distance between the two places was somewhat less than two thousand paces, or, two miles; for the Stadium, or furlong, contains six hundred feet; that is, one hundred and twenty-five paces. 316316     The Roman Passus, or pace — measured from the spot where either foot was planted to the spot where the same foot was planted after two ordinary steps — was five feet; so that the Mille, or thousand paces, contained five thousand feet, rather less than an English mile; and the Stadium, or furlong, which contained, as Calvin states, “one hundred and twenty-five paces,” was equal to six hundred and twenty-five feet. — Ed.

19. To comfort them concerning their brother. This was, no doubt, the object which they had in view, but God had another object to accomplish, as we have stated. It is evident from what is here mentioned, that the house of Lazarus and his sisters was greatly respected and honored. Again, as it is natural that the death of friends should occasion grief and mourning to men, this duty, which the Evangelist mentions, ought not to be blamed, unless on this ground, that sinful excess, which prevails in this and in other departments of life, corrupts what is not in itself sinful.

20. Martha having heard that Jesus was coming. Martha travels beyond the village, as we shall afterwards see, not only perhaps on account of the reverence which she bore to Christ, but that she might meet him more secretly; for his danger was fresh in his recollection, and the rage of enemies had not well subsided, which had been a little abated by Christ’s departure into Galilee, but might, on their hearing of his arrival, break out anew with greater violence.

21. Lord, if thou hadst been here. She begins with a complaint, though in doing so she modestly expresses her wish. Her meaning may be expressed thus — “By thy presence thou mightst have delivered my brother from death, and even now thou canst do it, for God will not refuse thee any thing.” By speaking in this manner, she gives way to her feelings, instead of restraining them under the rule of faith. I acknowledge that her words proceeded partly from faith, but I say that there were disorderly passions mixed with them, which hurried her beyond due bounds. For when she assures herself that her brother would not have died, if Christ had been present, what ground has she for this confidence? Certainly, it did not arise from any promise of Christ.

The only conclusion therefore is, that she inconsiderately yields to her own wishes, instead of subjecting herself to Christ. When she ascribes to Christ power and supreme goodness, this proceeds from faith; but when she persuades herself of more than she had heard Christ declare, that has nothing to do with faith; 317317     “Cela n’a rien de commun avec la foy.” for we must always hold the mutual agreement between the word and faith, that no man may rashly forge anything for himself, without the authority of the word of God. Besides, Martha attached too much importance to the bodily presence of Christ. The consequence is, that Martha’s faith, though mixed up and interwoven with ill-regulated desires, and even not wholly free from superstition, could not shine with full brightness; so that we perceive but a few sparks of it in these words.

23. Thy brother shall rise again. The kindness of Christ is amazing, in forgiving those faults of Martha which we have mentioned, and in promising her, of his own accord, more than she had ventured plainly and directly to ask.

24. I know that he shall rise again. We now see Martha’s excessive timidity in extenuating the meaning of Christ’s words. We have said that she went farther than she had a right to do, when she fabricated a hope for herself out of the feelings of her own mind. She now falls into an opposite fault; for when Christ stretches forth his hand, she stops short, as if she were alarmed. We ought, therefore to guard against both of these extremes. On the one hand, we must not, without the authority of God’s word, drink in empty hopes, which will prove to be nothing but wind; and, on the other hand, when God opens his mouth, it is not proper that he should find our hearts either blocked up, or too firmly closed. Again, by this reply, Martha intended to ascertain more than she ventured to expect from the words of Christ, as if she had said: “If you mean the last resurrection, I have no doubt that my brother will be raised again at the last day, and I comfort myself with this confident expectation, but I do not know if you direct my attention to something greater.”

25. I am the resurrection and the life. Christ first declares that he is the resurrection and the life, and then he explains, separately and distinctly, each clause of this sentence. His first statement is, that he is the resurrection, because the restoration from death to life naturally comes before the state of life. Now the whole human race is plunged in death; and, therefore, no man will be a partaker of life until he is risen from the dead. Thus Christ shows that he is the commencement of life, and he afterwards adds, that the continuance of life is also a work of his grace. That he is speaking about spiritual life, is plainly shown by the exposition which immediately follows,

He who believeth in me, though, he were dead, shall live. Why then is Christ the resurrection? Because by his Spirit he regenerates the children of Adam, who had been alienated from God by sin, so that they begin to live a new life. On this subject, I have spoken more fully under John 5:21 and 24; 318318     See pp. 200 and 204 of this volume. and Paul is an excellent interpreter of this passage, (Ephesians 2:5, and Ephesians 5:8.) Away now with those who idly talk that men are prepared for receiving the grace of God by the movement of nature. They might as well say that the dead walk. For that men live and breathe, and are endued with sense, understanding, and will, all this tends to their destruction, because there is no part or faculty of the soul that is not corrupted and turned aside from what is right. Thus it is that death everywhere holds dominion, for the death of the soul is nothing else than its being estranged and turned aside from God. 319319     “N’est autre chose qu’estre estrange et detourne de Dieu.” Accordingly, they who believe in Christ, though they were formerly dead, begin to live, because faith is a spiritual resurrection of the soul, and — so to speak — animates the soul itself that it may live to God; according to that passage,

The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they who hear shall live
(John 5:25.)

This is truly a remarkable commendation of faith, that it conveys to us the life of Christ, and thus frees us from death.

26. And whosoever liveth, and believeth in me. This is the exposition of the second clause, how Christ is the life; and he is so, because he never permits the life which he has once bestowed to be lost, but preserves it to the end. For since flesh is so frail, what would become of men, if, after having once obtained life, they were afterwards left to themselves? The perpetuity of the life must, therefore, be founded on the power of Christ himself, that he may complete what he has begun.

Shall never die. The reason why it is said that believers never die is, that their souls, being born again of incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) have Christ dwelling in them, from whom they derive perpetual vigor; for, though

the body be subject to death on account of sin,
yet the spirit is life on account of righteousness,
(Romans 8:10.)

That the outward man daily decays in them is so far from taking anything away from their true life, that it aids the progress of it, because the inward man is renewed from day to day, (2 Corinthians 4:16.) What is still more, death itself is a sort of emancipation from the bondage of death.

Dost thou believe this? Christ seems, at first sight, to discourse about spiritual life, for the purpose of withdrawing the mind of Martha from her present desire. Martha wished that her brother should be restored to life Christ replies, that he is the Author of a more excellent life; and that is, because he quickens the souls of believers by divine power. Yet I have no doubt that he intended to include both favors; and therefore he describes, in general terms, that spiritual life which he bestows on all his followers, but wishes to give them some opportunity of knowing this power, which he was soon afterwards to manifest in raising Lazarus.

27. Yes, Lord. To prove that she believes what she had heard Christ say about himself, that he is the resurrection and the life, Martha replies, that she believes that he is the Christ, and the Son of God; and indeed this knowledge includes the sum of all blessings; for we ought always to remember for what purpose the Messiah was promised, and what duty the prophets ascribe to him. Now when Martha confesses that it was he who was to come into the world, she strengthens her faith by the predictions of the prophets. Hence it follows, that we ought to expect from him the full restoration of all things and perfect happiness; and, in short, that he was sent to erect and prepare the true and perfect state of the kingdom of God.


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