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The Death of Lazarus


Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus the Resurrection and the Life

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. 53So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” 57Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

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.

28. And called Mary, her sister. It was probably at the request of Martha, that Christ remained on the outside of the village, that he might not enter into so great an assembly of people; for she dreaded the danger, because Christ had but lately escaped with difficulty from instant death. Accordingly, that the rumor about his arrival might not spread farther, she makes it known privately to her sister.

The Master is here. The word Master shows in what estimation Christ was held among those pious women. Though they had not hitherto profited so much as they might have done, still it was a great matter that they were entirely devoted to him as his disciples; and Mary’s sudden departure, to come and meet him, was a proof that she regarded him with no ordinary reverence.

31. Then the Jews who were with her. Though Martha was permitted by Christ to return home for the purpose of withdrawing her sister from the numerous assembly, yet Christ had another design in view, which was, that the Jews might be witnesses of the miracle. True, they have no thought of it, but it was no new thing that men should be led, as it were in darkness, and by the secret providence of God, where they did not intend to go. They think that Mary is going to the tomb, according to the custom of those who seek excitements of their grief. For it is a very prevalent disease, that husbands deprived of their wives, parents deprived of their children, and, on the other hand, wives deprived of their husbands, and children deprived of their parents or other relatives and friends, are eager to increase their grief by every possible method. It is also customary to resort to various contrivances for this purpose. The affections of men are already sufficiently disordered; but it is still worse, 322322     “Mais voyci le pis.” that they inflame them by new excitements, that they may rush against God with greater ardor and violence. It was their duty to dissuade Mary from going, that the sight of the tomb might not give fresh occasion for her grief; yet they do not venture to apply so harsh a remedy, but even themselves contribute to the excess of her grief, by accompanying her to the tomb. Thus it frequently happens, that they who treat too gently the excesses of their friends do them little good by their consolations.

32. She fell at his feet. From her falling down at his feet we learn that Christ was honored in that house beyond the ordinary custom of men. For, though it was customary to throw themselves down on the ground in the presence of kings and great men, yet as Christ had nothing about him, according to the flesh, that was royal or magnificent, it was for a different purpose that Mary fell down at his feet Indeed, she would not have done so, if she had not been convinced that he was the Son of God.

Lord, if thou hadst been here. Though she appears to speak of Christ respectfully, yet we have lately pointed out what is faulty in these words; for the power of Christ, which filled heaven and earth, ought not to have been limited to his bodily presence.

33. He groaned in his spirit. If Christ had not been excited to compassion by their tears, he would rather have kept his countenance unmoved, but when, of his own accord, he conforms to those mourners, so far as to weep along with them, 323323     “Quand de son bon gre il se conforme a ces pleurans, jusques pleurer avec eux.” he gives proof that he has sympathy, (συμπάθεια.) For the cause of this feeling is, in my opinion, expressed by the Evangelist, when he says that Christ saw Mary and the rest weeping Yet I have no doubt that Christ contemplated something higher, namely, the general misery of the whole human race; for he knew well what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and why he was sent into the world, namely, to free us from all evils. As he has actually done this, so he intended to show that he accomplished it with warmth and earnestness. Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before granting deliverance or aid, by the groaning of his spirit, by a strong feeling of grief, and by tears, he shows that he is as much affected by our distresses as if he had endured them in his own person.

But how do groaning and trouble of mind belong to the person of the Son of God? As some reckon it absurd to say that Christ, as one of the number of human beings, was subject to human passions, they think that the only way in which he experienced grief or joy was, that he received in himself those feelings, whenever he thought proper, by some secret dispensation. It is in this sense, Augustine thinks, that the Evangelist says that he was troubled, because other men are hurried along by their feelings, which exercise dominion, or rather tyranny, to trouble their minds. He considers the meaning therefore to be, that Christ, though otherwise tranquil and free from all passion, brought groaning and grief upon himself of his own accord. But this simplicity will, in my opinion, be more agreeable to Scripture, if we say that the Son of God, having clothed himself with our flesh, of his own accord clothed himself also with human feelings, so that he did not differ at all from his brethren, sin only excepted. In this way we detract nothing from the glory of Christ, when we say that it was a voluntary submission, by which he was brought to resemble us in the feelings of the soul. Besides, as he submitted from the very commencement, we must not imagine that he was free and exempt from those feelings; and in this respect he proved himself to be our brother, in order to assure us, that we have a Mediator, who willingly pardons our infirmities, and who is ready to assist those infirmities which he has experienced in himself.

It will perhaps be objected, that the passions of men are sinful, and therefore it cannot be admitted that we have them in common with the Son of God. I reply, there is a wide difference between Christ and us. For the reason why our feelings are sinful is, that they rush on without restraint, and suffer no limit; but in Christ the feelings were adjusted and regulated in obedience to God, and were altogether free from sin. To express it more fully, 324324     “Pour mieux dire.” the feelings of men are sinful and perverse on two accounts; first, because they are hurried along by impetuous motion, and are not regulated by the true rule of modesty; and, secondly, because they do not always arise from a lawful cause, or, at least, are not directed to a lawful end. I say that there is excess, because no person rejoices or grieves, so far only as is sufficient, or as God permits, and there are even some who shake themselves loose from all restraint. The vanity of our understanding brings us grief or sadness, on account of trifles, or for no reason whatever, because we are too much devoted to the world. Nothing of this nature was to be found in Christ; for he had no passion or affection of his own that ever went beyond its proper bounds; he had not one that was not proper, and founded on reason and sound judgment.

To make this matter still more clear, it will be of importance for us to distinguish between man’s first nature, as it was created by God, and this degenerate nature, which is corrupted by sin. When God created man, he implanted affections in him, but affections which were obedient and submissive to reason. That those affections are now disorderly and rebellious is an accidental fault; that is, it proceeds from some other cause than from the Creator. 325325     “C’est a dire, venant d’ailleurs que du Createur.” Now Christ took upon him human affections, but without (ἀταξία) disorder; for he who obeys the passions of the flesh is not obedient to God. Christ was indeed troubled and vehemently agitated; but, at the same time, he kept himself in subjection to the will of the Father. In short, if you compare his passions with ours, they will differ not less than pure and clear water, flowing in a gentle course, differs from dirty and muddy foam.

The example of Christ ought to be sufficient of itself for setting aside the unbending sternness which the Stoics demand; for whence ought we to look for the rule of supreme perfection but from Christ? We ought rather to endeavor to correct and subdue that obstinacy which pervades our affections on account of the sin of Adam, and, in so doing, to follow Christ as our leader, that he may bring us into subjection. Thus Paul does not demand from us hardened stupidity, but enjoins us to observe moderation

in our mourning, that we may not abandon ourselves to grief, like unbelievers who have no hope
(1 Thessalonians 4:13;)

for even Christ took our affections into himself, that by his power we may subdue every thing in them that is sinful.

36. Behold, how he loved him! The Evangelist John here describes to us two different opinions which were formed about Christ. As to the former, who said, Behold, how he loved him! though they think less highly of Christ than they ought to have done, since they ascribe to him nothing but what may belong to a man, yet they speak of him with greater candor and modesty than the latter, who maliciously slander him for not having hindered Lazarus from dying. For, though they applaud the power of Christ, of which the former said nothing, yet they do so, not without bringing against him some reproach. It is evident enough from their words, that the miracles which Christ had performed were not unknown to them; but so much the more base is their ingratitude, that they do not scruple to complain, because now, in a single instance, he abstained from working. Men have always been ungrateful to God in the same manner, and continue to be so. If he does not grant all our wishes, we immediately launch into complaints: “Since he has been accustomed to aid us hitherto, why does he now forsake and disappoint us?” There is here a twofold disease. First, though we rashly desire what is not expedient for us, yet we wish to subject God to the perverse desires of the flesh. Secondly, we are rude in our demands, and the ardor of impatience hurries us before the time.

38. Jesus therefore again groaning within himself. Christ does not approach the sepulcher as an idle spectator, but as a champion who prepares for a contest; and therefore we need not wonder that he again groans; for the violent tyranny of death, which he had to conquer, is placed before his eyes. Some explain this groan to have arisen from indignation, because he was offended at that unbelief of which we have spoken. But another reason appears to me far more appropriate, namely, that he contemplated the transaction itself rather than the men. Next follow various circumstances, which tend to display more fully the power of Christ in raising Lazarus. I refer to the time of four days, during which the tomb had been secured by a stone, which Christ commands to be removed in presence of all.

39. Lord, he already stinketh. This is an indication of distrust, for she promises herself less from the power of Christ than she ought to have done. The root of the evil consists in measuring the infinite and incomprehensible power of God by the perception of her flesh. There being nothing more inconsistent with life than putrefaction and offensive smell, Martha infers that no remedy can be found. Thus, when our minds are preoccupied by foolish thoughts, we banish God from us, if we may be allowed the expression, so that he cannot accomplish in us his own work. Certainly, it was not owing to Martha, that her brother did not lie continually in the tomb, for she cuts off the expectation of life for him, and, at the same time, endeavors to hinder Christ from raising him; and yet nothing was farther from her intention. This arises from the weakness of faith. Distracted in various ways, we fight with ourselves, and while we stretch out the one hand to ask assistance from God, we repel, with the other hand, that very assistance, as soon as it is offered. 326326     “Ceste mesme aide, si tost qu’il nous la presente.” True, Martha did not speak falsely, when she said, I know that whatsoever thou shalt ask from God he will give thee; but a confused faith is of little advantage, unless it be put in operation, when we come to a practical case.

We may also perceive in Martha how various are the effects of faith, even in the most excellent persons. She was the first that came to meet Christ; this was no ordinary proof of her piety; and yet she does not cease to throw difficulties in his way. That the grace of God may have access to us, let us learn to ascribe to it far greater power than our senses can comprehend; and, if the first and single promise of God has not sufficient weight with us, let us, at least, follow the example of Martha by giving our acquiescence, when he confirms us a second and third time.

40. Did not I tell thee? He reproves Martha’s distrust, in not forming a hope sufficiently vigorous from the promise which she had heard. It is evident from this passage, that something more was said to Martha than John has literally related; though, as I have suggested, this very thing was meant by Christ, when he called himself the resurrection and the life Martha is therefore blamed for not expecting some Divine work.

If thou believe. This is said, not only because faith opens our eyes, that we may be able to see the power of God shining in his works, but because our faith prepares the way for the power, mercy, and goodness of God, that they may be displayed towards us, as it is said, Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it, (Psalm 81:10.) In like manner, unbelief, on the other hand, hinders God from approaching us, and may be said to keep his hands shut. On this account it is said elsewhere, that Jesus

could not perform any miracle there on account of their unbelief, (Matthew 13:58.)

Not that the power of God is bound by the caprice of men, but because, as far as they are able, their malice opposes the exercise of that power, and therefore they do not deserve that it should be manifested to them. Frequently, indeed, does God overcome such obstacles; but yet, whenever he withdraws his hand, so as not to assist unbelievers, this is done because, shut up within the narrow limits of their unbelief, they do not allow it to enter.

Thou shalt see the glory of God. Observe, that a miracle is called the glory of God, because God, displaying in it the power of his hand, glorifies his name. But Martha, now satisfied with Christ’s second declaration, permits the stone to be removed. As yet she sees nothing, but, hearing the Son of God, not without a good reason, give this order, she willingly relies on his authority alone.

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