A Mystery! Saints Sorrowing and Jesus Glad!
Delivered on Sunday Morning, August 7th, 1864, by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him"—John 11:14-15.
There lived in the little village of Bethany a very happy family. There was neither father nor mother in it: the household consisted of the unmarried brother Eleazar, or Lazarus, and his sisters, Martha and Mary, who dwelt together in unity so good and pleasant that there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. This affectionate trio were all lovers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and were frequently favoured with His company. They kept open house whenever the Great Teacher came that way. Both for the Master and for the disciples there was always a table, a bed, and a candlestick in the prophet's chamber, and sometimes sumptuous feasts were prepared for the whole company. They were very happy, and rejoiced much to think that they could be serviceable to the necessities of one so poor, and yet so honoured as the Lord Jesus. But, alas! affliction cometh everywhere; virtue may sentinel the door, but grief is not to be excluded from the homestead. "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward;" if the fuel be a log of sweet-smelling sandal wood, yet the sparks must rise, and even so the best of families must feel affliction. Lazarus sickens. It is a mortal sickness beyond the power of physicians. What is the first thought of the sisters but to send for their friend Jesus? They know that one word from His lips will restore their brother: there is no absolute need that He should even risk His safety by a journey to Bethany; He has but to speak the word and their brother shall be made whole. With glowing hopes and moderated anxieties, they send a tender message to Jesus—"Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick." Jesus hears it, and sends back the answer which had much comfort in it, but could hardly compensate for His own absence: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." There lies poor Lazarus after the message is come; he does not recover; he is a little more cheerful, because he hears that his sickness is not unto death, but his pains do not abate; the clammy death-sweat gathers on his brow; his tongue is dry; he is full of pains and racked with anguish, at last he passes through the iron gate of death, and there lies his corpse before the weeping sisters' eyes. Why was not Jesus there? Why did He not come? Tender hearted as He always was, what could have made Him thus unkind? Why tarrieth He so? Why is He so long in coming? How can His words be true? He said, "This sickness is not unto death"; and there lies the good man cold in death, and the mourners are gathering for the funeral. Look at Martha! She has been sitting up every night watching her poor brother; no care could have been more constant, no tenderness more excessive. There is no potion in the range of her housewifery which she has not compounded; this herb and the other she has gathered, and she has administered all sorts of medicinal drinks and nourishing foods; and anxiously has she watched until her eyes are red for want of sleep. Jesus might have spared her all this. Why did He not? He had only to will it, and the flush of health would have returned to the cheek of Lazarus, and there would have been no more need of this weary nursing, and this killing watchfulness. What is Jesus doing? Martha was willing to serve Him, will He not serve her? She has even cumbered herself about much-serving for His sake, giving Him not only necessaries but dainties, and will He not give her what is so desirable to her heart, so essential to her happiness—her brother's life? How is it He can send her a promise which He doth not seem to keep, and tantalize her with hope, and cast down her faith? As for Mary, she has been sitting still at her brother's side, listening to his dying words, repeating in his ear the gracious words of Jesus which she had been wont to hear when she sat at His feet, catching the last accents of her expiring brother, thinking less about the medicine and about the diet than Martha did, but thinking more about his spiritual health and about his soul's enjoyment. She has endeavoured to stay the sinking spirits of her beloved brother with words like these, "He will come; He may wait, but I know Him, His heart is very kind, He will come at the last; and even if He let thee sleep in death it will be but for a little; He raised the widow's son at the gates of Nain, He will surely raise thee whom He loves far more. Have ye not heard how He wakened the daughter of Jairus? Brother, He will come and quicken thee, and we shall have many happy hours yet, and we shall have this as a special love-token from our Master and our Lord, that He raised thee from the dead." But why, why was she not spared those bitter tears which ran scalding down her cheeks when she saw that her brother was really dead? She could not believe it. She kissed his forehead, and oh! how cold was that marble brow! She lifted up his hand—"He cannot be dead," said she, "for Jesus said this sickness was not unto death;" but the hand fell nerveless by her side: her brother was really a corpse, and putrefaction soon set in, and then she knew that the beloved clay was not exempt from all the dishonour which decay brings to the human body. Poor Mary! Jesus loved thee, it is said, but this is a strange way of showing His love. Where is He? Miles away He lingers. He knows thy brother is sick; yea, He knows that he is dead, and yet He abides still where He is. Oh! sorrowful mystery that the pity of such a tender Saviour should sink so far below their plumb-line to gauge, or His mercy should range so high beyond their power to reach.
Jesus is talking of the death of His friend, let us listen to His words; perhaps we may find the key to His actions in the words of His lips. How surprising! He does not say, "I regret that I have tarried so long." He does not say, "I ought to have hastened, but even now it is not too late." Hear, and marvel! Wonder of wonders, He says, "I am glad that I was not there." Glad! the word is out of place? Lazarus, by this time, stinketh in his tomb,and here is the Saviour glad! Martha and Mary are weeping their eyes out for sorrow, and yet their friend Jesus is glad! It is strange, it is passing strange! However, we may rest assured that Jesus knoweth better than we do, and our faith may therefore sit still and try to spell out His meaning, where our reason cannot find it at the first glance. "I am glad," saith He, "for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe." Ah! we see it now: Christ is not glad because of sorrow, but only on account of the result of it. He knew that this temporary trial would help His disciples to a greater faith, and He so prizes their growth in faith that He is even glad of the sorrow which occasions it. He does as good as say, "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there to prevent the trouble, for now that it is come, it will teach you to believe in me, and this shall be much better for you than to have been spared the affliction."
We have thus plainly before us the principle, that our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love, sets so high a value upon His people's faith, that He will not screen them from those trials by which faith is strengthened. Let us try to press the wine of consolation from the cluster of the text. In three cups we will preserve the goodly juice as it flows forth from the winepress of meditation. First of all, brethren, Jesus Christ was glad that the trial had come, for the strengthening of the faith of the apostles; secondly, for strengthening the faith of the family; and thirdly, for giving faith to others; for you find by the forty-fifth verse that the goblet passed round to sympathizing friends—"Many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him." (Please click here to read, A Mystery ! Saints Sorrowing and Jesus Glad!)