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Nazareth Revisited


The Charge of Blasphemy Against Christ -- The Raising of Lazarus.

Jesus then proceeded to affirm the truth concerning himself, which the blind Pharisees, who said they saw, could not receive. He did so in parable, as was his custom in dealing with the Pharisees. It was the parable of the Good Shepherd, which we fully considered in chapters 28, 29, and 30. Though the Pharisees were unimpressed by his words, many who heard them were powerfully exercised. "These," said they, "are not the words of a madman." There was a strong division of opinion among them, just as there has been in all the world ever since, with regard to the whole claims and character of Christ.

The division was not so sharply drawn in the crowd who daily heard Christ in the precincts of the temple, nor was it so stable as it has since become. This is not to be wondered at. A man seeing and hearing Christ with his own eyes and ears was in a different position from the mere controversial reader of subsequent centuries. However adverse his judgment might be to Christ, what he saw and heard was liable at any moment to cause him to doubt his own unfriendly views. The listeners frequently wavered. Many of them were in a quandary.

On this occasion, after debating the matter energetically among themselves, they crowded around Christ as he walked in Solomon's porch, and made an attempt to bring him to such an avowal as would suit their limited conceptions and their impulsive feelings. "How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly?" His communications had been plain enough for the sincere type which he alone sought to attach to himself -- the type, namely, described in the words, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." But they were not plain enough to suit the tastes or enter the understandings of those who had no concern for the will of God, but who were mere time and self-servers of the politician class Such were these who now clamoured for something unequivocal in their sense. Their clamour, literally interpreted, meant that all Christ's previous declarations went for nothing, and that the evidences he had exhibited before their eyes had no meaning. What answer, therefore, could be more suitable than the one he made them: "I told you, and ye believed not. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me." As much as to say, "If ye sincerely wish to know me, consider what I have done." But they had no such wish. It was that their own purposes might be served -- their own headstrong whims gratified -- perhaps that their animosity to him might get a more legal ground of action than his words had yet afforded them, that they called upon him to make a definite avowal.

"Ye believe not," he continued, "because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you." This might seem harsh, did we not remember that Jesus "knew what was in man" (Jno. ii. 25), and that the whole attitude of his present questioners was that of obtuse resistance to manifest truth. "My sheep," he went on to say, "hear my voice and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.... No man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." He had said that "no man was able to pluck his sheep out of his (Christ's) hand. It was therefore a natural climax to his words to say, as he now said, "I and my Father are one." At this the Jews were violently indignant. It is no wonder that "they took up stones to stone him." There was no principle in their understanding of things on which a man could claim unity with the God of Israel. They were angered by the blasphemy, as they considered it. Jesus presently reminded them of a fact in their own Scriptures that might have yielded them a clue. But first he sought to soothe their asperity by a gentle question of reason: "Many good works have I shown you from my Father: for which of those works do ye stone me?" This was a powerful appeal, looking back upon all that Christ had done in their midst. But the anger of animosity cannot be pacified. A strong argument only angers it the more.

"For a good work we stone thee not." Oh, dear, no; malice always works with such virtuous pleas. It never confessed to its true character yet. It is not in its nature to be able to do so. A man requires to be accessible to the motions of righteousness before he can detect the prevalence of the evil within himself. What was the cause of the stoning then? "Because that thou being a man makest thyself God." The accusation was not true in the Trinitarian sense; for Jesus had said just before (Jno. x. 29), "My Father is greater than all;" and afterwards, "My Father is Greater than I" (xiv. 28). "I can of my own self do nothing" (ver. 30). In what sense, then, did Jesus, being a man, make himself God? Christ's own answer on this occasion shews. "Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods? If he called them gods to whom the Word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God?" The argument of this may seem obscure at first. It will become clear with a little looking into.

The argument is founded on Psalm lxxxii. Recognising the character attributed by Christ to "the Scripture" of which it forms a part ("the Scripture cannot be broken"), we may feel encouraged in attempting to dive as deeply as possible into it, and to rest as implicitly as we may on all we may discover in it. The scope and bearing of the psalm seem evident at a glance. It is an address to the judges of Israel -- those who sat in Moses' seat, dispensing justice to the people. They are adjured to "defend the poor and fatherless: to do justice to the afflicted and needy" (verse 3) on the ground that God is among them, as set forth in the first verse: "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty: he judgeth among the gods," that is, among the magistrates (rulers, powerful ones). As Jehoshaphat told them, "Ye judge not for man but for Yahweh, who is with you in the judgment" ( 2 Chron. xix. 6). Instead, however, of judging justly, they judged for reward (i.e., in favour of those who could bribe them -- Micah iii. 11). Therefore enquired the Spirit in David in the end verse of this psalm: "How long will ye judge unjustly, and except the persons of the wicked? ... All the foundations of the earth (the foundations of society in Israel) are out of course." What is the finish of the matter? "I have said, ye are gods: (He so called them in the opening verse) and all of you children of the Most High: but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes" (i.e., of the heathen). Was it to be then that justice should perish from the earth in the death of the unjust judges of Israel? This were a gloomy climax to God's work in the earth. Oh, no. "Arise, O God: judge thou the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations." The kingdom of God will come, and banish darkness from the earth in the brightness of the glory of God.

The feature of the psalm, as used by Christ, lies here, that the men who were placed to judge on behalf of God in the midst of Israel were "called gods." It would not affect the argument founded by Christ on this, even if we could not see why they should be called gods; but there seems to be no difficulty even in this. They were gods by deputy; they stood for God to Israel, as the angels stood for God to them. Even Moses stood for God by God's own appointment in his dealings with Pharaoh. "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet" (Ex. vii. 1). He (Aaron) shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God" (Ex. iv. 16). On this principle, the occupants of the judgment-seat in Israel were "called gods." To them "the word (or commandment or appointment) of God came" to this very effect, and, therefore, though they were men, it was no blasphemy to call them "gods."

The argument of Christ from these facts was irresistible. Why should they think it blasphemy in him to claim to be God who had been "sanctified and sent forth into the world" as the very bearer of the Father's name, the manifestor of the Father's presence, and the instrument of the Father's reconciliation, since the mortal representatives of God's justice in Israel's midst were "called God?" "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. v. 19). The Father dwelt in him bodily (Jno. xiv. 10; Col. ii. 9). Where was the blasphemy in those circumstances in that "being a man, he made himself God?" There was none except such as was created by a narrow and fossilized superstition on the subject.

Jesus grounded his appeal on reason: "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in Him." There can be no true resistance to this appeal. Men may be impervious to it through ignorance or unbelief of "the works," to which they become a prey through affinity for the voice of cavil which musically resounds in the modern air. But when men take to reading the Bible rather than reading about the Bible, "the works" loom before them as living verities which no amount of "learned" criticism can dispose of. They are facts in earth's history which yield but one meaning to the ear of reason, and that is the one that Jesus put upon them -- that the things he did, and the things he said, could emanate from God only.

This is true of the Bible as a whole, and all the history to which it stands related; but especially of the personality of Christ, which stands invincibly written and engraved in the records of men. It cannot be removed; it cannot be blotted out. Men may close their eyes, but the thing is there. It cannot be explained away. Men may nurse their theories, but the theories do not stand. The facts are in fundamental contradiction to every theory that would deny God in Christ. The theories come and go with every age, like the changing clouds that sometimes hide the sun; but Christ, like the sun, remains, and imparts, even to the obscuring clouds the only bit of radiance they ever display. All modern beauty of character or intellect is borrowed from Christ if the development is only skilfully traced.

"Believe," cried Christ, "that the Father is in me and I in Him" It was too much for the "blind Pharisees." They made a final rush to get the person of Christ into their hands; but the time had not yet come. "He escaped out of their hand." And escaping, he went away and tarried no more among them at that time in the open way he had done. He left the temple and left Jerusalem and left the district. Ascending by the Mount of Olives, he passed by the descending pathway on the other side towards the Dead Sea, and came to the Jordan, near where Elijah and Elisha crossed a thousand years before. In Elijah's day there were no bridges, and the ferry that took David across some generations previously was either not working, or was not at that part of the river bank where they arrived, for he made a way across by smiting the waters with his mantle. In the days of Christ, the Jordan had been bridged by the Romans in more than one place. Mr. Oliphant has recently found and described the remains. It is probable that Christ crossed by one of these Roman bridges. "He went away again beyond Jordan unto the place where John at first baptised, and there he abode." How long he stayed is not stated -- probably a few weeks. "Many resorted unto him," which suggests a considerable time of stay. "And many believed on him there," we are told; and we are also told the reason they gave for their belief. "John," said they (in whom all men believed), "did no miracle, but all things that John spake of this man were true." There was force in this. Jesus did many miracles, and John had virtually foretold he would. So there was a double ground of belief which weighed with those who were capable of yielding to conviction. Their allusion to the "all things that John said of this man," gives a passing insight into the fact that John had said much more concerning Christ titan is recorded. What is briefly recorded is direct enough, but this remark of the people would suggest that Christ had been much the theme of John's remarks, and excludes the foolish suggestion of Renan that there was a degree of jealousy between John and Jesus.

When Jesus had been some time "beyond Jordan, at the place where John at the first baptised," he received a message from Martha and Mary, who lived at Bethany with their brother Lazarus -- all of whom "Jesus loved." The message was that Lazarus was dangerously ill. The fact that Jesus loved Lazarus was put forward in the message: "He whom thou lovest is sick," and there was an implied request that Jesus should come at once. Jesus did not go at once. He remained two days after receiving the message, remarking to those about him, who perhaps wondered that he lingered so long from the sick bedside of him whom he loved, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." Jesus, in fact, gave Lazarus time to die. Yet, "the sickness is not unto death." How could he say this? Because by death he meant death to remain dead. Death that was to be interrupted in a few days, though real death for the moment, could only be thought of as a transient phase of disease. All language of description is necessarily more or less borrowed from final results. Especially is this so in the Scriptures, where an authorship is at work that foresees results. Thus the living are called dead, who are related to death as a finality. "Let the dead bury their dead" (Luke ix. 60). And thus, too, the dead are spoken of as living who are related to a futurity of everlasting life. "I am the God of Abraham ... God is the God of the living" (Mar. xii. 26, 27), "Look unto Abraham your father" (Isaiah li. 2). "We have passed from death unto life" (1 Jno. iii. 14).

After two days, Jesus proposed to his disciples that he and they should return to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, from which they had fled from the menace of the Jews some weeks before. The disciples expressed their surprise: "Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again?" Christ's answer was parabolic but instructive. "Are there not 12 hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not." A man's day is his appointed time. Some men have no appointed time, like the cattle; but where there is a time appointed, he is safe till it is past. His day has 12 hours. Christ was several times in danger, as we have seen, but it came to nothing "because his hour (12 o'clock) was not yet come." So it is with all who belong to him. They cannot be prevailed against till their work is done. This gives peace in the presence of danger.

Evidently, the disciples did not know why Christ wished to "go into Judea again." He condescended to tell them. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake hint out of sleep." Again Jesus spoke in the language of figure to which he was prone. It is a more graphic style than the purely literal. There is life and colour in it. But the disciples thought it was literal. They said, "Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well." They thought Jesus "had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead" (Jno. xi. 7-14).

He then added a remark suggesting some consideration: "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe." The meaning is evident. If he had been "there," he would have been requested to cure Lazarus of his sickness, and he could not well have refused doing for Lazarus what he did for multitudes. And then Lazarus would not have died, and there would not have been that great opportunity for the display of God's power which his death afforded in his resurrection. But why was it necessary there should be such a display? Did not the disciples already believe? Yes, but multitudes did not, and he and the disciples had just recently come fresh front the violent opposition of the ruling classes at Jerusalem, in the presence of which (as the mind ceases to be impressed with what it sees repeatedly) it was just possible that the mere works of healing would lose their effect on the minds of the disciples, who looked up to the chief priests and scribes as the divinely-appointed leaders of the nation. Jesus, therefore was evidently desirous of a special opportunity of showing the power that was with him. The death of Lazarus afforded such a special opportunity; and therefore he was glad he was not with Lazarus in time to prevent its occurrence -- glad "for your sakes." To himself it mattered not at all; for he knew whence he came, what he was, and whither he went. But it mattered for the disciples, who only knew him and believed in him at this stage "by his works."

The announcement of the death of Lazarus made a deep impression on the apostolic circle, and on Thomas especially, who exclaimed, "Lord, let us go, that we may die with him." "Let us go unto him" said Jesus: and they went. It would be two or three days' journey if they walked, which they probably did. Arrived at Bethany, which was about two miles from Jerusalem, overlooking the city from the hill of Olivet, Jesus and the disciples found that Lazarus had been four days dead and buried (for the Jews in Palestine bury quickly on account of the rapidity of decomposition from the heat of the country). He did not at once enter Bethany. He stayed at a place on the outskirts of the village, and sent word to Martha and Mary that he had arrived, probably wishing to avoid the embarrassment of a meeting in the presence of the promiscuous company that had come from Jerusalem to condole with them -- a conventional and shallow class, that are prompt and glib and officious on such occasions.

As soon as Martha heard he had come, she went to him. Her first greeting was probably intended as a mild reproof of Christ's delay in coming. It was a statement which Jesus well knew to be true, and the truth of which had in fact led him to put off a little: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." We misread this if we suppose it to mean that the proximity of the person of Christ would necessarily prevent death. His power knows not the limitations of space. He could as easily have cured Lazarus from a distance of 50 miles as in the house, as was shewn in previous cases. It is not a question of presence, but of circumstances. If he had been present, he would have been importuned to heal Lazarus, and, as already remarked, he could not well have refused a favour he was in the habit of daily granting to all and sundry. The presence of Christ did not prevent thousands dying all around him wherever he was.

The object of his work was not at that time to suspend the just operation of the law of sin and death; but to show the power of God as a foundation for the work of the final removal of death by the full and leisurely operation of the law of faith and obedience in those who are called. The manifestation of the power gave the ground of faith. To show this power, he arrested disease and death in certain cases. He will abolish them altogether at last, and it will be by means of his glorious presence: but there is a certain order to be observed in the process, and a certain principle in its effectuation. The order is defined by Paul: "Every man in his own order, (1) Christ the first fruits; (2) Afterwards those who are Christ's at his coming; (3) Then (at the end), when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1 Cor. xv. 23). The principle he exhibits when he tells us in Heb. v. 9, that Christ is "the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." Obedience requires time for trial. He gives his people this time in every generation: he gave it to them when upon earth himself (his mere being with them did not immortalise them); and in the kingdom, the multitudes who are to furnish the harvest for eternal life at the close of the kingdom will have the same scope during the kingdom. They will be saved from death by faith and obedience. Christ's being upon the earth will not suspend the law of sin and death before the time.

Let us not then make the mistake of some, and put upon Martha's words a meaning she never thought of, and which, as a matter of record, they were not intended to bear -- a meaning which would destroy truth in other directions. She did not mean that so long as Christ was bodily near, death could not happen, but that had he been at Bethany a week sooner, he would have cured the sickness that killed Lazarus. She went further, "I know that even now whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." She knew he had raised the dead It was natural for her to think of this power in connection with her dead brother. Christ's answer dealt with her suggestion generally: "Thy brother will rise again." This was not direct enough for her urgent desires. She recognised in it a mere abstract allusion to the coming resurrection of all the friends of God: "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But Christ had intended a personal application. as we know from what he said to his disciples: "I go that I may awake him out of sleep." He sought to lead Martha to this personal application, in general words: "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me (as Lazarus did) though he were dead (as Lazarus was), yet shall he live ... Believest thou this?" Martha did not hesitate in the confident response which will come ardently from every heart enlightened in the facts of the case: "Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." She did not, however, seem to catch Christ's purpose to raise Lazarus. The other words that he addressed to her -- "He that liveth and believeth on me shall never die" -- could only mean in view of the surroundings, what Paul afterwards taught by the word of the Lord (1 Cor. xv. 51; 1 Thess. iv. 15) viz.: -- that believers who are alive when the moment comes for the completion of Christ's work will not die, but experience the instantaneous change from the corruptible to the incorruptible.

Jesus asked her to let Mary know of his arrival, so she broke off at this point, and went back to call her. Arrived at the house where the condolences were going on, Martha whispered in Mary's ear, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee!" Instantly she rose and left the house without a word of explanation. The people who were with her thought she had gone to the grave, and they followed her, arriving closely after her where Christ was. She threw herself at his feet, and said what Martha had said before her, showing it was a communication that had passed between the sisters as a matter of strong belief: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." She wept as she knelt before him, and the Jews who came with her were similarly affected.

What could Jesus do in the presence of outpouring grief? There are times when nothing can be said -- when the only comfort is to "weep with those who weep." This was such a moment. "Jesus groaned in the spirit, and was troubled." "Jesus wept." He asked the weeping company where they had laid Lazarus. The only answer was, "Lord, come and see." They then walked all together to the place. As they walked, some of the less affected Jews began to converse: they remarked upon Christ's evident love of Lazarus and said: "Could not this man which opened the eyes of the blind have caused even that this man should not have died?" A kind of superficial common sense dictated this comment. But suppose a purpose is to be answered that common sense does not recognise, what then? This is the explanation of many things that so called common sense stumbles at. The people were right in one thing: Christ could have prevented the death of Lazarus. We have seen that he expressly allowed it for a purpose the people could not sympathise with. Their remark has a certain value. It shews they were cognisant of great works of power performed by Christ, for this was the basis of their present surmise. These works are of the first importance to us as the evidence of the divinity of the whole works of Christ. Consequently every testimony to their reality is to be appreciated.

In a short time, the sorrowful company arrive at a place where Lazarus had been interred. It was a cave, closed by a massive block of stone. The hills of Palestine abound to this day with such formations. Mr. Oliphant has explored hundreds of them, and has described many of them in a particular manner. The mechanical features are of no particular importance. Sufficient that this was the mode of sepulture, and that Lazarus had been thus buried for four days. Jesus asked that the stone might be removed. Martha seemed to doubt the propriety of this. "Lord, by this time he stinketh." She either had not yet divined the purpose of Jesus, or was aiming to draw from him a distinct intimation of it. Jesus chided her. "Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God?" Then the stone having been removed, Jesus assumed the attitude of petition, and prayed in few and pregnant words: "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me." (He must have received some indication from on high that the resurrection of Lazarus would be permitted, in accordance with his desire.) And I knew that thou hearest me always." The Father and Jesus were so intimately in unison as to make the granting of Christ's requests a certainty when not inconsistent with the Father's purpose. Why then did Jesus single out the case of Lazarus for special thanksgiving? His next words answer: "But because of the people that stand by, I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." There are times when the effect on bystanders has to be considered. This was such a time when Christ, by mighty works, was laying the foundation of that faith in him which was hereafter to justify believers unto everlasting life. His words were intended to fix attention on what was about to happen as a proof that he was of God. His words were few and to the point. There is none of the studied and laboured formality of modern "devotion." Truth, sincerity, and modesty, regulating our relations to the Eternal Father, will find expression in a simple style.

Jesus then, with a loud voice, called upon "Lazarus" to "come forth." No mere loudness of voice will wake the dead in the absence of a concurrent operation of vitalising energy directed to the result desired. This was what was at work with Christ "God, by him," as Peter expressed it on the day of Pentecost, "did" all the works he performed. This energy directed by volition to a specific end, can accomplish anything. It made heaven and earth in the beginning: and it was an easy matter for it to concentrate on the lifeless clay of Lazarus, and restore the chemical and functional conditions that produce individual life. It was the work of a moment. Lazarus awoke. It was no magic. As an effect of power appropriately directed, it was as natural as the death of Lazarus. He found himself alive and better, as the effect of an unusual operation of the laws of health; and he naturally did not wish to remain in the grave in which he found he had been unconsciously deposited. "He came forth." He was in his grave clothes, of course. His very face was tied up in the napkin put upon the corpse. "Loose him," said Jesus, "and let him go" -- sensible words, in response to which we may be sure sensible and loving hands were promptly at work. The company returned from the grave in a very different mood from that in which they had come to it. Many who had come to comfort Martha and Mary went away believing on Jesus. Some, of a malignant mind, "went their ways to the Pharisees and told them what things Jesus had done."

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