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Lords Day 25, 2010


I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.

Thou hast made me
John Donne (15721631)

Thou hast made me, and shall thy worke decay?
Repaire me now, for now mine end doth haste,
imageI runne to death, and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday,
I dare not move my dimme eyes any way,
Despaire behind, and death before doth cast
Such terrour, and my feeble flesh doth waste
By sinne in it, which it twards hell doth weigh;
Onely thou art above, and when towards thee
By thy leave I can looke, I rise againe;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one houre my selfe I can sustain,
Thy Grace may wing me to prevent his art,
And thou like Adamant draw mine iron heart.

John Donne, Poems and Prose (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

image

John 11:3846

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, Remove the stone. Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days. 40 Jesus said to her, Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God? 41 So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me. 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go.

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.

image   These verses record one of the greatest miracles the Lord Jesus Christ ever worked, and supply an unanswerable proof of His divinity. He whose voice could bring back from the grave one that had been four days dead, must indeed have been very God! The miracle itself is described in such simple language that no human comment can throw light upon it. But the sayings of our Lord on this occasion are peculiarly interesting, and demand special notice.
   We should mark, first, our Lords words about the stone which lay upon the grave of Lazarus.* We read that He said to those around Him, when he came to the place of burial, Take ye away the stone.

Now why did our Lord say this? It was doubtless as easy for Him to command the stone to roll away untouched as to call a dead body from the tomb. But such was not His mode of proceeding. Here, as in other cases, He chose to give man something to do. Here, as elsewhere, He taught the great lesson that His almighty power was not meant to destroy mans responsibility. Even when He was ready and willing to raise the dead, He would not have man stand by altogether idle.

Let us treasure up this in our memories. It involves a point of great importance. In doing spiritual good to others,in training up our children for heaven,in following after holiness in our own daily walk,in all these things it is undoubtedly true that we are weak and helpless. Without Christ we can do nothing. But still we must remember that Christ expects us to do what we can. Take ye away the stone is the daily command which He gives us. Let us beware that we do not stand still in idleness, under the pretense of humility. Let us daily try to do what we can, and in the trying Christ will meet us and grant His blessing.

We should mark, secondly, the words which our Lord addressed to Martha, when she objected to the stone being removed from the grave. The faith of this holy woman completely broke down, when the cave where her beloved brother lay was about to be thrown open. She could not believe that it was of any use. Lord, she cries, by this time he stinketh. And then comes in the solemn reproof of our Lord: Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldest believe thou shouldest see the glory of God?

That sentence is rich in meaning. It is far from unlikely that it contains a reference to the message which had been sent to Martha and Mary, when their brother first fell sick. It may be meant to remind Martha that her Master had sent her word, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God. But it is perhaps more likely that our Lord desired to recall to Marthas mind the old lesson He had taught her all through His ministry, the duty of always believing. It is as though He said, Martha, Martha, thou art forgetting the great doctrine of faith, which I have ever taught thee. Believe, and all will be well. Fear not: only believe.

The lesson is one which we can never know too well. How apt our faith is to break down in time of trial! How easy it is to talk of faith in the days of health and prosperity, and how hard to practice it in the days of darkness, when neither sun, moon, nor stars appear! Let us lay to heart what our Lord says in this place. Let us pray for such stores of inward faith, that when our turn comes to suffer, we may suffer patiently and believe all is well. The Christian who has ceased to say, I must see, and then I will believe, and has learned to say, I believe, and by and by I shall see, has reached a high degree in the school of Christ.

We should mark, thirdly, the words which our Lord addressed to God the Father, when the stone was taken from the grave. We read that He said, Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me.

This wonderful language is totally unlike anything said by Prophets or Apostles, when they worked miracles. In fact, it is not prayer, but praise. It evidently implies a constant mysterious communion going on between Jesus and His Father in heaven, which it is past the power of man either to explain or conceive. We need not doubt that here, as elsewhere in St. John, our Lord meant to teach the Jews the entire and complete unity there was between Him and His Father, in all that He did, as well as in all that He taught. Once more He would remind those who he did not come among them as a mere Prophet, but as the Messiah who was sent by the Father, and who was one with the Father. Once more He would have them know that as the words which He spoke were the very words which the Father gave Him to speak, so the works which He wrought were the very works which the Father gave Him to do. In short, He was the promised Messiah, whom the Father always hears, because He and the Father are One.

Deep and high as this truth is, it is for the peace of our souls to believe it thoroughly, and to grasp it tightly. Let it be a settled principle of our religion, that the Saviour in whom we trust is nothing less than eternal God, One whom the Father hears always, One who in very deed is Gods Fellow. A clear view of the dignity of our Mediators Person is one secret of inward comfort. Happy is he who can say, I know whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him. (2 Tim. i. 12.)
We should mark, lastly, the words which our Lord addressed to Lazarus when he raised him from the grave. We read that He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth! At the sound of that voice, the king of terrors at once yielded up his lawful captive, and the insatiable grave gave up its prey. At once He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes.

The greatness of this miracle cannot possibly be exaggerated. The mind of man can scarcely take in the vastness of the work that was done. Here, in open day, and before many hostile witnesses, a man, four days dead, was restored to life in a moment. Here was public proof that our Lord had absolute power over the material world! A corpse, already corrupt, was made alive!Here was public proof that our Lord had absolute power over the world of spirits! A soul that had left its earthly tenement was called back from Paradise, and joined once more to its owners body.Well may the Church of Christ maintain that He who could work such works was God over all blessed forever. (Rom. ix. 5.)

Let us turn from the whole passage with thoughts of comfort and consolation. Comfortable is the thought that the loving Saviour of sinners, on whose mercy our souls entirely depend, is one who has all power in heaven, and earth, and is mighty to save.Comfortable is the thought that there is no sinner too far gone in sin for Christ to raise and convert. He that stood by the grave of Lazarus can say to the vilest of men, Come forth: loose him, and let him go.Comfortable, not least, is the thought that when we ourselves lie down in the grave, we may lie down in the full assurance that we shall rise again. The voice that called Lazarus forth will one day pierce our tombs, and bid soul and body come together. The trumpets shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. xv. 52.)

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)].

* Here, I believe Ryle makes a point where there is none. It is certainly a good point, and biblical, but I do not believe it is found in this text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these.



Posted 2010·06·20 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels · Gospel of John · J C Ryle · John Donne · Lord’s Day · Poems and Prose (Donne)
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