7. Christ the Antagonist of death—a victory of love and power . The narrative of this chapter is a further advance in the proof that the unbelief of the Jews was aggravated by the greatness of the revelation. The issue of his sublime and culminating act of power, of his supreme and self-revealing work of transcendent tenderness and beauty, was a deeper and wilder passion of hatred. The evangelist completes his series of seven great miracles with one that in true and believing minds, evokes a new sense of the glory of God. This great last sign corresponds with the first (John it.) by being enacted amid the domestic and family life of a small and insignificant town, and also by express reference to the veritable manifestation involved in it of the δόξα θεοῦ , on which we have frequently commented. Baur treated the narrative as an ideal composition, illustrating the great metaphysical utterance, " I am the Resurrection and the Life." Keim endeavored to reduce the whole narrative to a fiction, not so well contrived as some of the evangelist's tours de force . This is almost as arbitrary and offensive as M. Renan's endeavor (which held its place in numerous editions of his 'Vie de Jesus') to represent the miracle as a got-up scene, into which Christ, by a kind of Divine mensonge , allowed himself to be drawn. Subsequently, Renan has suggested that Mary and Martha told Jesus their persuasion that such a miracle would convince his enemies, and that he replied that his bitter foes would not believe him even if Lazarus were to rise from the grave; and that this speech was expanded by tradition into an actual event. This corresponds with what Weisse had suggested, that the story is an expansion of the Lord's conversation with the sisters at Bethany. Gfrorer thought that it is the story of Nain over again in a developed form, and that Nain is equivalent to Bethany; and Schenkel has fancied that the parable of Luke 16:1-31 . has been expanded into a narrative of genuine resurrection. Thorns has , in like manner, regarded it as the poetic expansion of the idea of the Christ as the Prince of life and Conqueror of death, and as based on the synoptic account of two resurrections, and on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. These hypotheses are all incompatible with the simplicity of the account and with the apostolicity of the Gospel. Many attempts have been made to account for the silence of the synoptists concerning this narrative.
Some writers, with Epiphanius, have said they feared, when their narratives were made public, to call such marked attention to the family of Bethany, lest they might have endangered their lives; but this is exceedingly improbable. Others have argued that this crowning miracle would not take such a conspicuous place in their less-carefully arranged records. It was only one of "many signs" wrought by our Lord with which they were familiar. Matthew ( Matthew 9:18 ) and Mark ( Mark 5:22 ) had already described the raising of Jairus's daughter from the bed of death, from what was believed by the onlookers to have been veritable dissolution; and Luke ( Luke 7:11 ) had shown the Lord at the gates of Nain to have royally withstood the power of death, even when the corpse of a young man was being carried out to the burial. The narrative before us is not different in kind from these, though the prelude and the accompaniments of the miracle and its consequences are all wrought out with much dramatic force, while numerous touches, by-scenes, and references are introduced which give consummate interest to the whole. Another suggestion of moment is that it was not the purpose of the synoptists to detail the incidents of our Lord's ministry in Jerusalem. Let it not be forgotten that each of the evangelists records incident and discourse to which neither of the others had access. The peculiarities of Matthew and Luke are nearly as numerous as those of the Fourth Gospel. Why should not John bring forth facts from his memory which they had left untouched?.
(2) Human affection drawing from Christ the assertion and promise , "I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE ."
Jesus said to her, I am the Resurrection . Not merely that God will give me what I ask, but that I am in some sense already his gift to man of resurrection , inasmuch as I am that of Life . (So Luthardt and Godet, but not Meyer, who makes ζωή the positive result of ἀνάστασις .) By taking humanity into his Person, Christ reveals the permanence of human individuality, that is, of such individuality as is in union with himself. He associates ( John 14:6 ) "the Life" which he gives with" the Way" and "the Truth," i . e . with the whole sum of human experience and of human meditation and speculation, i . e . with all the conduct of the will and the mind. He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live. In these words he identifies the "life" with the transfiguration of the bodily life. The grand method of this blessed life is faith. The life which is the condition and ground of resurrection is the natural consequence of a faith which accepts Christ, and identifies itself with him. But "there are some who have believed, and have what you call died"— though they die , they shall live . In such cases, so-called "death" is veritable "life." The life of faith will survive the shock of death, and whosoever liveth, and believeth on me, shall never die— shall never taste of death (cf. John 6:51 , John 8:51 ). This is no new teaching for the more thoughtful of his hearers. There are multitudes now believing (and therefore living) in him. They shall never die in the sense in which death has been hitherto regarded; they shall by no means die forever . Faith is eternal life: death is only a momentary shadow upon a life which is far better. Whether the corruption of the grave passes over the believer or not, he lives an eternal life, which has no element of death nor proclivity to death in it. So far the Lord is lifting Martha to a higher experience of life and a comparative in difference to death. Before he offers any further consolation, he probes to the quick her faith in him and in the eternal life. Believest thou this? τοῦτο ; "Is this thy belief?" not τουτῷ ; "Dost thou believe in my statement?" "Believest thou that the Resurrection which I am and which I give can thus transform for thee the whole meaning of death?" The fullness of life after death is assured in virtue of the resurrection which Christ could effect at any moment, and will eventually effect for all. This life of which Christ speaks may be the life which is the consequence of the resurrection ( ἀνὰστασις ) of man effected in the Incarnation, or it may be the condition of "resurrection" and sufficient proof that, if a man receive it by faith, he is free' from all the curse of physical death, and assured of a perfect victory over it. So also the οὐ μὴ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα may either mean "not forever," and thus the words may be taken to refer to the resurrection. "He will not forever die," i . e . death may supervene, but will be conquered; or οὐ μὴ may mean "never," "in no wise," and the "never die" may refer to spiritual death, overlooking physical death altogether. The whole narrative is a great parable of life through death.
Jesus and Martha.
Our Lord had at last come to the neighborhood of Bethany, but not to the village itself.
I. THE CONDOLENCE OF THE JEWS WITH THE BEREAVED SISTERS . "And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother."
1. This visit of sympathy implies that the family at Bethany was well known and highly respected by the Jews of Jerusalem .
2. It afforded a providential opportunity to Jesus for the working of his last miracle in sight of the Jews .
3. The time of bereavement is the time that demands all the resources of consolation . The days of mourning were divided among the Jews into three periods of three days of weeping, seven days of lamentation, and twenty days of sorrow.
II. THE INTERVIEW BETWEEN JESUS AND MARTHA . "Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat in the house." The different character of the two sisters is revealed in these words.
1. Martha would evidently be the first to receive the news of Christ ' s coming . Not so much, perhaps, because the message would be first brought to her as the mistress of the house, as because, going about the house in the busy routine of her life, she would be in the way of first receiving intelligence.
2. Mary ' s profound feeling, that made her a better listener than Martha, makes her a more helpless sufferer now . She sits still in the house. She is not so capable as Martha of shaking off her depression at once.
3. Martha's address to our Lord shows that she is not so overwhelmed by grief as to prevent her utterance . " Lord, if thou hadst been here, our brother had not died."
4. Our Lord ' s answer to Martha ' s touching appeal . "Thy brother shall rise again."
5. Martha ' s apparent misunderstanding of his saying . "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
6. Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life .
(a) as he is "the First-Begotten from the dead" ( Colossians 1:18 );
(b) as he is the Author or Cause of the resurrection of believers: "I will raise him up at the last day" ( John 6:54 );
(c) as his resurrection involves their resurrection ( 1 Corinthians 15:23 ).
(a) He is eternal Life.
(b) He gives his life for his people.
(c) He is the Life of his people ( Colossians 3:3 ).
(d) His life in glory is the guarantee of the believer's life. "Because I live, ye shall live also."
(e) He is the Life of both soul and body in the resurrection ( Romans 8:11 ).
(a) They are dead in sin ( Ephesians 2:1 ).
(b) Yet when quickened by God's Spirit they believe upon Christ.
(c) And their faith ensures life spiritual and everlasting. "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
( α ) The faith and life are regarded as equivalent terms, because they are inseparably joined together.
( β ) Death cannot break the continuity of Christian life. The second death does not touch it at all.
7. Martha ' s triumphant faith . Jesus says, "Believest thou this? She said unto him, Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."
(a) Jesus was Christ, the end of the theocratic prophecies and promises;
(b) the Son of God, dwelling in mysterious relation with God, and therefore able to act as Daysman between God and man, and restore the long-broken fellowship;
(c) making the world the theatre of his Divine power in resurrection and life. Her confession was the simple but profound acknowledgment of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life.
The living and life-giving Lord.
The confession of Martha was a good and sound one. Yet it is clear that our Lord did not wish her to rest in her creed . He pointed her to himself as the Sum and Substance of all true beliefs, as the Object of all true faith. Creeds are good for the memory, Christ is good for the heart.
I. LIFE IS IN CHRIST . The miracles of raising from the dead which Jesus wrought were intended not only for the assuagement of human sorrow, but for the satisfying of human aspirations. He drew the attention away from the great work to the greater Worker. In him was life; and by his incarnation and sacrifice he brought the life of God to this world of sin and death.
II. THE LIFE OF CHRIST , WHEY COMMUNICATED TO MEN , BECOMES A SPIRITUAL IMMORTALITY . "The Son quickeneth whom he will." He introduced the new life into our humanity. How it has spread! In how many soils have barrenness and death disappeared, and spiritual vitality, vigor, and fruitfulness abounded in their place! Christ has taught the independence of the spiritual life upon the life of this body of our humiliation. In his own resurrection he manifestly conquered death. Living, he has the keys of death and Hades. He is both the Firstfruits of the rising again, and the Agent and quickening Power in raising his people. What can compare for spiritual potency with the life-giving authority of the Savior? In what other is there hope for man's deathless spirit? Like morning after a stormy night, like spring after a dreary winter, like triumph after arduous warfare, like the haven after a tempestuous voyage,—so is the immortality of the righteous who, living in Christ, live in perpetual blessedness. All their aspirations are realized, and all their hopes fulfilled.
III. IT IS BY FAITH THAT THE GLORIOUS IMMORTALITY OF THE BLESSED IS ACHIEVED . Christ presents himself as the Divine Object of faith. It is no arbitrary connection which is exhibited in these words of our Redeemer as existing between faith and life. Life is personal, and spiritual life comes from the Lord and Giver of life to those who believe. Faith is spiritual union with the Christ who died and rose for us, and is the means, first of a death unto sin and a life unto righteousness, and then of all which this spiritual change involves. A life in God is a life eternal.—T.
We have here—
I. HER FAITH MANIFESTED .
1. In its strength . In her conversation with Jesus there axe proofs of a genuine and strong faith in him.
2. In its weakness . Though genuine, and strong in some of its features, it is still weak and incomplete. In her faith:
3. In its private struggles . In the language of Martha there are indications of the private struggles of her faith.
II. HER FAITH STRENGTHENED .
1. By its own trials .
2. By the special revelation of Christ of himself . ( John 11:25 .) He reveals himself.
3. By a revelation of the wonderful effects of faith in him .
4. Her faith is strengthened gradually . Jesus feeds faith as a mother feeds her babe, little by little; and he teaches faith to move as a mother teaches her child to walk, or as an eagle teaches her young to fly. She takes them on her back and soars aloft and throws them down on the friendly air, and repeats the process till they are able to reach the highest altitudes themselves. Thus Christ taught Martha's faith gradually and helpfully. "This sickness is not unto death." His absence, the death, the disappointment and doubt; but he comes at last, and in his welcome presence and revealing and hopeful words faith obtains a resting-place. "Thy brother shall rise again." Thus gradually, by self-exercise and Divine support, faith is taught to soar aloft till at last she reached the grand heights of the resurrection and the life.
III. HER FAITH TRIUMPHANT . "Yea, Lord," etc.
1. Her faith accepts him fully .
2. Although her understanding could not fully grasp his revelation, her faith could fully accept him . We are not to think that she understood all that Jesus had just told her; but, failing this, her faith embraced his Person and mission with implicit trust and hope.
3. In accepting him she ensured all at once . What he had just said, after all, contained only a few crumbs from his rich table, a few drops from the inexhaustible ocean of his power and love. Instead of remaining with these, her faith embraced him altogether, and ensured at once his Divine and infinite fullness.
4. She makes a hearty and full confession of her faith . The confession is fuller than the request. "Believest thou this?" "Yea, Lord," and much more: "I believe that thou," etc. To believe in Christ is much more than to believe a few truths of his revelation. Probably Martha's head had become dizzy in looking down from the heights of the resurrection and the life; but faith came to the rescue, and threw her arms around him who is both, and there found a safe repose and a glorious triumph.
1. In some directions too much may be expected of Christ . "If thou hadst been here," etc. There is a slight complaint in these words, as if Christ were bound to be there. But he was under no obligation to keep even Lazarus alive. Too much often is expected of his personal presence, time, attention, and service. He had other places to visit, other things to do, other wants to supply, and purposes of his own to accomplish. Some are ignorant and selfish enough to monopolize Christ and his ministers to serve their own personal and private ends.
2. In the right directions too little is expected of him . The appetite is often keener for the physical than for the spiritual, for the personal than for the general, for the temporal than for the eternal. Many are more anxious for health of body than for health of soul, for a physical resurrection than for a spiritual one. They prefer a dead graveyard to a living sanctuary, and some interesting talk from the minister during the week to a good sermon on the sabbath. Too little is expected of Jesus in the right direction. He will not satisfy our whims and low appetites, but wilt save our souls to the uttermost.
3. In the right direction too much cannot be expected of him . The more the better. The more by faith we expect, the more he will give and we receive . "According to thy faith be it unto thee." Expect as much as we like, his grace will exceed our highest expectations, and will surprise us with more. Martha's expectations were for a future resurrection at the last day, but Jesus surprised her with a present one in himself; and that very day became to her a day of resurrection.
4. The absolute necessity and importance of faith in Christ . It is necessary to the gracious operations of Jesus and to our participation of his grace. Without it even he could not do much, and we can do or enjoy nothing. But with it, in relation to our highest interest, Christ is omnipotent, and we through him are eternally happy and blessed. "He that believeth in me, though he were dead," etc . — B.T.