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§ 231. The Death of Lazarus; Christ’s Conversation with the Disciples in regard to it. (John, xi., 11, seq.)

The affliction of Lazarus determined Jesus to leave Peraea, where his labours had been so fruitful. Still, he remained there two days (v. 6), continuing his ministry. But although his course was thus decided by circumstances, he very well knew that the result would produce the happiest religious effects upon the sisters.

It was probably on the very evening of the return of the messengers that Lazarus died. What comfort could Christ’s encouraging language now afford them! The word of promise seemed to be broken; his word, whom they had always known as the Faithful and True; his word, which they had never seen come to naught. What conflicting feelings must have struggled for the mastery in their hearts! Either they sent a second messenger to the Saviour,621621   John’s not mentioning a second messenger (v. 11) does not prove that none was sent. Moreover, when John is giving any instance of the exercise of Christ’s supernatural knowledge, he generally intimates it in some way; here he gives no such intimation. When Christ told the disciples that Lazarus “slept,” they understood his words in a natural sense; and it appears most probable that they thought he had received a message from the sisters. Be the case decided as it may, John’s language is not such as would be used by a man who wished to give special prominence to the supernatural. or the latter became 339aware of the event by his own supernatural knowledge. When he announced to his disciples that Lazarus “slept,” they thought at first that he had heard it in some way, and took it as a sign of recovery.622622   The disciples knew, at least, that persons believed to be dead had been restored by Christ; they knew, also, that “sleep” was a common image of death; yet their misunderstanding is by no means inexplicable, as some suppose; nor does it throw the least shade upon the credibility of the Evangelist. Thereupon he said to them in express terms, “Lazarus is dead; and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe” (still further). Not, however, by any means asserting that he had purposely stayed away, that Lazarus might die and their faith be confirmed by his resurrection; but, in fact, implying that although his delay had been caused by other reasons, he rejoiced at the means it would afford of strengthening their faith at a time when such rude shocks were at hand. His words imply, also, that if he had been in Bethany, he would not have suffered the family to reach such a pitch of anguish merely for the sake of relieving them, and displaying the highest degree of miraculous power afterward; in compassion to their grief he would not have suffered the sick man to die. Just as a merciful man employs natural means to relieve suffering according to the circumstances, so Christ made use of his super-natural power; with this difference, however, that the aims of his Divine calling were always kept in view in the exercise of those powers. For this reason, too, he did not cure all the sick around him.

His decision to go to Bethany astonished and alarmed the disciples to such an extent that they lost sight of their higher expectations from him as Messiah, and of their higher view of his person. It was characteristic of Thomas, who was more in bondage to sense than the others, to give utterance to his anxiety more prominently (v. 16); and, in fact, this anxiety must have appeared out of place to the disciples had they kept in view their ordinary conceptions of Messiah.

The Saviour now set himself to dispel the clouds which their fears had created; to revive their higher intuition of his person and their just sense of communion with him; and to remind them that, in the few remaining days in which they were to enjoy his personal guidance, they should submit to it implicitly and trustfully. They were accustomed to hear him compare himself with the natural sun, shedding its beams upon the earth during certain fixed hours;623623   John, ix., 5; cf. p. 294, 299. A similar figure, Luke, xi., 33: The light that cannot but shine. Cf. p 228, 246. and it was, perhaps, 340in allusion to this symbol that he now said,624624   The words are enigmatical without this allusion; with it, they are plain.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.” So the disciples, so long as they had the Sun of the spiritual world to guide them with his light, were to follow him without fear or care. “But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because their is no light in him.” So, in the time then rapidly approaching, when they should lose this light, they were to choose their way with caution, lest they should stumble. Yet, in the mean time, the higher life was to become independent within them, so far that they should not need this sensible guidance; inward communion with the Light of the World was to supply the place of his visible presence, as Christ afterward told them in his last discourses. In this spiritual sense, it is always true that Christ is the Light of the World.

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