"And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother."—John 11:19
"Jesus said unto her, Your brother shall rise again."—John 11:23
The early death of an only Brother may well share the sacredness of that spoken of in the former chapters.
This whole narrative has a halo of singular interest surrounding it. Perhaps there is no one single resort in the Savior's Divine pilgrimage on which sanctified affection loves so fondly to dwell as on the home and village of BETHANY. Many has been the weary footstep and tearful eye that has hastened in thought there—"gone to the grave of Lazarus to weep there!" With every reasonable probability we may infer, from the poignant sorrow of the twin hearts that were so unexpectedly broken, that he was, as just stated, a beloved and lamented only brother—a sacred, solitary prop around which their tenderest affections were entwined.
Included too, as he was, in the love which the Divine Savior bore to the household (for "Jesus loved Lazarus"), it may be that his spirit had been cast into much the same human mold as that of his beloved Lord; and that the friendship of Jesus for him had been formed on the same principles on which friendships are formed still—a similarity of disposition, some mental and moral resemblances and idiosyncrasies. They were like-minded so far as fallible nature and the nature of a stainless humanity could be assimilated. We can think of him as gentle, retiring, amiable, forgiving, heavenly-minded—an imperfect and shadowy, it may be, but still a faithful reflection and transcript of Incarnate Loveliness. May we not venture to use regarding him his Lord's eulogy on another, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit?"
As yet the home of Bethany is all happiness. The burial-ground has been untraversed since, probably years before, the dust of one, or perhaps both parents had been committed to the sepulcher. Death had long left the inhabitants an unbroken circle. Can it be that the unwelcome intruder is so near at hand?—that their now joyous dwelling is so soon to echo to the wail of lamentation? We imagine it but lately visited by Jesus. In a little while the dart has sped—the sacredness of a Divine friendship is no guarantee against the fatal missile. The sisters are bowed in the agony of their worst bereavement—the pride of their existence is laid low—"Lazarus is dead!"
The often-repeated lesson of these pages once more obtrudes itself—the uncertainty of earth's best joys and purest happiness—that the brightest sunshine is often the precursor of a dark cloud.
It is the touching record of the inspired historian in narrating Abraham's heaviest trial—"after these things, God tested Abraham." After what things? After a season of rich blessings, gilding a future with glad hopes. He would teach us—while we are glad of our gourds—not to be "exceeding glad"—not to nestle here as if we were to "live always," but rather, as we are perched on our summer boughs, to be ready at His bidding to soar away, and leave behind us what most we prize.
"LAZARUS IS DEAD!" What! Lazarus—the head and stay and comfort of two helpless females? The joy and solace of a common orphanhood—a brother evidently made and born for their adversities? What! Lazarus, whom Jesus tenderly loved? How much, even to his Lord, will be buried in that early grave! We might well have expected, if there be one homestead in all Palestine guarded by the overshadowing wings of angels to debar the entrance of the last enemy, whose inhabitants may pillow their heads night after night in the confident assurance of immunity from trial—it must surely be that beloved resort—that "arbor in His hill Difficulty," where the God-man delighted often to pause and refresh His weary body and aching mind.
Will not Omnipotence have set its mark, as of old, on the doorposts and lintels of that consecrated dwelling, so that the destroyer, in going his rounds elsewhere, may pass by it unscathed? How, too, can the infant Church spare him? The aged Simeon, or Anna, we dare not wish to detain. Burdened with years and infirmities, after having obtained a glimpse of their Lord and Savior—let them depart in peace and receive their crowns. But one in the morning vigor of life—one so beautifully combining natural amiability with Christian grace—one who was pre-eminently the friend of Jesus—and that word profoundly suggestive of all that was lovely in a disciple's character. Death may visit other homes in that sequestered village, and spread desolation in other hearts—but surely the Church's Lord will not allow so valued a support prematurely to fall!
And yet, it is even so! The mysterious summons has come!—the most honored home on earth has been crudely rifled!—the most loving of hearts have been cruelly torn; and inscrutable is the dealing, for "Lazarus is dead!"
"He, the young, the strong, who cherished
"Your way is in the sea, and Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps are not known!" (Psalm 77:19).
But let us be still! The Savior, indeed, does not now lead us forth amid the scene of our trial, as He did the bereft sisters, to unravel the mysteries of His providence, and to show glory to God redounding from the darkest of His dispensations. To us the grand sequel is reserved for eternity. The grand development of the Divine plan will not be fully accomplished until then; faith must meanwhile rest satisfied with what is baffling to sight and sense. There is an undeveloped future in all God's dealings. There is an unseen "why and wherefore" which cannot be answered here. Our befitting attitude and language now is that of simple confidingness—"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?" Listening to one of these Bethany sayings, whose meaning will be interpreted in a brighter world by Him who uttered it in the days of His flesh—"Did I not say unto you—that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?"
Our duty, meanwhile, is that of children, simply to trust the faithfulness of a God whose purposes of love we often fail to discover. All will be seen at last to have been not only for the best, but really the best. Dark clouds will be fringed with mercy. What are now "perplexing dispensations" will be acknowledged as wondrous parts of a great connected whole—the wheel within wheel of that complex machinery by which "all things" (yes, ALL things) are working together for good.
"Lazarus is dead!" The choicest tree in the earthly Eden may have succumbed to the blast. Some great light in the moral skies may have been extinguished. Some 'Great Heart' may have fallen on the very eve of life's battle, before opportunity were given to prove his armor, and help to share the moral victory over earth's baseness and sufferings and wrong. But God can do without human agency! His Church can be preserved though no Moses be spared to conduct Israel over Jordan—and no Lazarus to tell the story of his Savior's grace and love, when other disciples have forsaken Him and fled.
We may be calling, in our blind unbelief, as we point to some ruined fabric of earthly bliss—some tomb which has become the grave of our fondest affections and dearest hopes—"Shall the dust praise You? shall it declare your Truth?" Believe! believe! God will not give us back our dead as He did to the Bethany sisters—but He will not deprive us of anything we have—or allow one garnered treasure to be removed—except for His own glory and our good. Now it is our province to believe it—in Heaven we shall know it. Before the sapphire throne we shall see that not one unnecessary thorn has been allowed to pierce our feet—or one needless sorrow to visit our dwelling—or one unnecessary tear to dim our eye.
Beautifully does a distinguished French orator and philosopher say—"We are all of us like the weavers of the Gobelins, who, following out the pattern of an unknown artist, endeavor to match the threads of colors on the wrong side, and do not see the result of their labor. It is only when the pattern is complete, that they can admire at their ease these lovely flowers and figures—these splendid pictures worthy of the palaces of kings. So it is with us. We work, we suffer, and we see neither the end nor the fruit. But God sees it—and when He releases us from our task, He will disclose to our wondering gaze what He, the great Artist, everywhere present and invisible, has woven out of those toils that now seem so sterile—and He will then deign to hang up in His palace of gold, the flimsy web that we have spun."
Be it ours to have Jesus with us and Jesus for us in all our afflictions. In the season of prosperity, if our homes and hearts be gladdened with His footstep, then, when prosperity is withdrawn, and is succeeded by the dark and cloudy day, we shall know, like Martha and Mary, where to rush in our hours of bitter sorrow—listening from His glorified lips on the throne to those same exalted themes of consolation which, for eighteen hundred years, have to myriad, myriad mourners been like oil thrown on the troubled sea. Jesus is with us!—"The Master has come!"—His presence will extract sorrow from the bitterest cup, and make, as He did at Bethany—a very home of bereavement and a burial scene to be "hallowed ground!"