THE RAISING OF LAZARUS.
THESE farewell interviews and teachings perhaps belong to the two days after Jesuswhile still in the Peræan Bethanyhad received from the other Bethany, where He had so often found a home, the solemn message that "he whom He loved was sick." Lazarus was the one intimate personal friend whom Jesus possessed outside the circle of His Apostles, and the urgent message was evidently an appeal for the presence of Him in whose presence, so far as we know, there had never been a death-bed scene.
But Jesus did not come. He contented Himselfoccupied as He was in important workswith sending them the message that "this sickness was not to death, but for the glory of God," and stayed two days longer where He was. And at the end of those two days He said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judæa again." The disciples reminded Him how lately the Jews had there sought to stone Him. and asked Him how He could venture to go there again; but His answer was that during the twelve hours of His day of work He could walk in safety, for the light of His duty, which was the will of His Heavenly Father, would keep Him from danger. And then He told them that Lazarus slept, and that He was going to wake him out of sleep. Three of them at least must have remembered how, on another memorable occasion, He had spoken of death as sleep; but either they were silent, and others spoke, or they were too slow of heart to remember it. As they understood Him to speak of natural sleep, He had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead, and that He was glad of it for their sakes, for that He would go to restore him to life. "Let us also go," said the affectionate but ever despondent Thomas, "that we may die with Him"as though he had said, "It is all a useless and perilous scheme, but still let us go."
Starting early in the morning, Jesus could easily have accomplished the distancesome twenty milesbefore sunset. But, on His arrival, he stayed outside the little village. Its vicinity to Jerusalem, from which it is not two miles distant, and the evident wealth and position of the family, had attracted a large concourse of distinguished Jews to console and mourn with the sisters; and it was obviously desirable to act with caution in venturing among such determined enemies. But while Mary, true to her retiring and contemplative disposition, was sitting in the house, unconscious of her Lord's approach, the more active Martha had received intelligence that He was near at hand, and immediately went forth to meet Him. Lazarus had died on the very day that Jesus received the message of his illness; two days had elapsed while he lingered in Peræa, a fourth had been spent on the journey. Martha could not understand this sad delay. "Lord," she said, in tones gently reproachful, "if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died," yet "even now" she seems to indulge the vague hope that some alleviation may be vouchsafed to their bereavement. The few words which follow are words of most memorable importa declaration of Jesus which has brought comfort not to Martha only, but to millions since, and which shall do to millions more unto the world's end
"Thy brother shall rise again."
Martha evidently had not dreamt that he would now be awaked from the sleep of death, and she could only answer, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Jesus said unto her, "I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE: HE THAT BELIEVETH ON ME, THOUGH HE HAVE DIED, SHALL LIVE; AND HE THAT LIVETH AND BELIEVETH ON ME SHALL NEVER DIE. Believest thou this?"
It was not for a spirit like Martha's to distinguish the interchanging thoughts of physical and spiritual death which were united in that deep utterance; but, without pausing to fathom it, her faithful love supplied the answer, "Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."
Having uttered that great confession, she at once went in quest of her sister, about whom Jesus had already inquired, and whose heart and intellect, as Martha seemed instinctively to feel, were better adapted to embrace such lofty truths. She found Mary in the house, and both the secrecy with which she delivered her message, and the haste and silence with which Mary arose to go and meet her Lord, show that precaution was needed, and that the visit of Jesus had not been unaccompanied with danger. The Jews who were comforting her, and whom she had thus suddenly left, rose to follow her to the tomb whither they thought that she had gone to weep; but they soon saw the real object of her movement. Outside the village they found Jesus surrounded by His friends, and they saw Mary hurry up to Him, and fling herself at His feet with the same agonising reproach which her sister also had used, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died." The greater intensity of her emotion spoke in her fewer words and her greater self-abandonment of anguish, and she could add no more. It may be that her affection was too deep to permit her hope to be so sanguine as that of her sister; it may be that with humbler reverence she left all to her Lord. The sight of all that love and misery, the pitiable spectacle of human bereavement, the utter futility at such a moment of human consolation, the shrill commingling of a hired and simulated lamentation with all this genuine anguish, the unspoken reproach, "Oh, why didst Thou not come at once and snatch the victim from the enemy, and spare Thy friend from the sting of death, and us from the more bitter sting of such a parting?"all these influences touched the tender compassion of Jesus with deep emotion. A strong effort of self-repression was neededan effort which shook his whole frame with a powerful shudderbefore He could find words to speak, and then He could merely ask, "Where have ye laid him?" They said, "Lord, come and see." As He followed them His eyes were streaming with silent tears. His tears were not unnoticed, and while some of the Jews observed with respectful sympathy this proof of His affection for the dead, others were asking dubiously, perhaps almost sneeringly, whether He who had opened the eyes of the blind could not have saved His friend from death? They had not heard how, in the far-off village of Galilee, He had raised the dead; but they knew that in Jerusalem He had opened the eyes of one born blind, and that seemed to them a miracle no less stupendous. But Jesus knew and heard their comments, and once more the whole sceneits genuine sorrows, its hired mourners, its uncalmed hatreds, all concentrated around the ghastly work of deathcame so powerfully over His spirit, that, though He knew that He was going to wake the dead, once more His whole being was swept by a storm of emotion. The grave, like most of the graves belonging to the wealthier Jews, was a recess carved horizontally in the rock, with a slab or mass of stone to close the entrance. Jesus bade them remove this gôlal, as it was called. Then Martha interposedpartly from conviction that the soul had now utterly departed from the vicinity of the mouldering body, partly afraid in her natural delicacy of the shocking spectacle which the removal of that stone would reveal. For in that hot climate it is necessary that burial should follow immediately upon death, and as it was the evening of the fourth day since Lazarus had died, there was too much reason to fear that by this time decomposition had set in. Solemnly Jesus reminded her of His promise, and the stone was moved from the place where the dead was laid. He stood at the entrance, and all others shrank a little backward, with their eyes still fixed on that dark and silent cave. A hush fell upon them all as Jesus raised His eyes and thanked God for the coming confirmation of His prayer. And then, raising to its clearest tones that voice of awful and sonorous authority, and uttering, as was usual with Him on such occasions, the briefest words, He cried, "LAZARUS, COME FORTH!" Those words thrilled once more through that region of impenetrable darkness which separates us from the world to come; and scarcely were they spoken when, like a spectre, from the rocky tomb issued a figure, swathed indeed in its white and ghastly cerementswith the napkin round the head which had upheld the jaw that four days previously had dropped in death, bound hand and foot and face, but not livid, not horriblethe figure of a youth with the healthy blood of a restored life flowing through his veins; of a life restoredso tradition tells usfor thirty more long years of life, and light, and love.
Let us pause here to answer the not unnatural question as to the silence of the Synoptists respecting this great miracle. To treat the subject fully would indeed be to write a long disquisition on the structure of the Gospels; and after all we could assign no final explanation of their obvious difficulties. The Gospels are, of their very nature, confessedly and designedly fragmentary, and it may be regarded as all but certain that the first three were mainly derived from a common oral tradition, or founded on one or two original, and themselves fragmentary, documents. The Synoptists almost confine themselves to the Galilæan, and St. John to the Judæan ministry, though the Synoptists distinctly allude to and presuppose the ministry in Jerusalem, and St. John the ministry in Galilee. Not one of the four Evangelists proposes for a moment to give an exhaustive account, or even catalogue of the parables, discourses, and miracles of Jesus; nor was it the object of either of them to write a complete narrative of His three and a-half years of public life. Each of them relates the incidents which came most immediately within his own scope, and were best known to him either by personal witness, by isolated written documents, or by oral tradition; and each of them tells enough to show that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Saviour of the world. Now, since the raising of Lazarus would not seem to them a greater exercise of miraculous power than others which they had recorded (John xi. 37)since, as has well been said, no semeiometer had been then invented to test the relative greatness of miraclesand since this miracle fell within the Judæan cycleit does not seem at all more inexplicable that they should have omitted this, than that they should have omitted the miracle at Bethesda, or the opening of the eyes of him who had been born blind. But further than this, we seem to trace in the Synoptists a special reticence about the family at Bethany. The house in which they take a prominent position is called "the house of Simon the leper;" Mary is called simply "a woman" by St. Matthew and St. Mark (Matt. xxvi. 6,7; Mark xiv. 3); and St. Luke contents himself with calling Bethany "a certain village" (Luke x. 38), although he was perfectly aware of the name (Luke xix. 29). There is, therefore, a distinct argument for the conjecture that when the earliest form of the Gospel of St. Matthew appeared, and when the memorials were collected which were used by the other two Synoptists, there may have been special reasons for not recording a miracle which would have brought into dangerous prominence a man who was still living, but of whom the Jews had distinctly sought to get rid as a witness of Christ's wonder-working power (John xii. 10). Even if this danger had ceased, it would have been obviously repulsive to the quiet family of Bethany to have been made the focus of an intense and irreverent curiosity, and to be questioned about those hidden things which none have ever revealed. Something, then, seems to have "sealed the lips" of those Evangelistsan obstacle which had been long removed when St. John's Gospel first saw the light.
"If they believe not Moses and the Prophets"so ran the answer of Abraham to Dives in the parable"neither will they be converted though one (and this, too, a Lazarus!) rose from the dead." It was even so. There were many witnesses of this miracle who believed when they saw it, but there were others who could only carry an angry and alarmed account of it to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem.
The Sanhedrin met in a spirit of hatred and perplexity. They could not deny the miracle; they would not believe on Him who had performed it; they could only dread His growing influence, and conjecture that it would be used to make Himself a king, and so end in Roman intervention and the annihilation of their political existence. And as they vainly raged in impotent counsels, Joseph Caiaphas rose to address them. He was the civil High Priest, and held the office eleven years, from A.D. 25, when Valerius Gratas placed him in it, till A.D. 36, when Vitellius turned him out. A large share indeed of the honour which belonged to his position had been transferred to Ananus, Annasor to give him his true Jewish name, Hananwho had simply been deprived of the High Priesthood by Roman authority, and who (as we shall see hereafter) was perhaps the Nasî or Sagan, and was, at any rate, regarded as being the real High Priest by the stricter Jews. Caiaphas, however, was at this time nominally and ostensibly High Priest. As such he was supposed to have that gift of prophecy which was still believed to linger faintly in the persons of the descendants of Aaron, after the total disappearance of dreams, Urim, omens, prophets, and Bath Kôl, which, in descending degrees, had been the ordinary means of ascertaining the will of God. And thus when Caiaphas rose, and with shameless avowal of a policy most flagitiously selfish and unjust, haughtily told the Sanhedrin that all their proposals were mere ignorance, and that the only thing to be done was to sacrifice one victiminnocent or guilty he did not stop to inquire or to defineone victim for the whole peopleay, and, St. John adds, not for that nation only, but for all God's children scattered throughout the worldthey accepted unhesitatingly that voice of unconscious prophecy. And by accepting it they filled to the brim the cup of their iniquity, and incurred the crime which drew upon their guilty heads the very catastrophe which it was committed to avert. It was this Moloch worship of worse than human sacrifice which, as in the days of Manasseh, doomed them to a second and a more terrible, and a more enduring, destruction. There were some, indeed, who were not to be found on that Hill of Evil Counsel, or who, if present, consented not to the counsel or will of them; but from that day forth the secret fiat had been issued that Jesus must be put to death. Henceforth He was living with a price upon His head.
And that fiat, however originally secret, became instantly known. Jesus was not ignorant of it; and for the last few weeks of His earthly existence, till the due time had brought round the Passover at which He meant to lay down His life, He retired in secret to a little obscure city, near the wilderness, called Ephraim. There, safe from all the tumults and machinations of His deadly enemies, He spent calmly and happily those last few weeks of rest, surrounded only by His disciples, and training them, in that peaceful seclusion, for the mighty work of thrusting their sickles into the ripening harvests of the world. None, or few beside that faithful band, knew of His hiding-place; for the Pharisees, when they found themselves unable to conceal their designs, had published an order that if any man knew where He was, he was to reveal it, that they might seize Him, if necessary even by violence, and execute the decision at which they had arrived. But, as yet, the bribe had no effect.
How long this deep and much-imperilled retirement lasted we are not told, nor can we lift the veil of silence that has fallen over its records. If the decision at which the Beth Dîn, in the house of Caiaphas had arrived was regarded as a formal sentence of death, then it is not impossible that these scrupulous legists may have suffered forty days to elapse for the production of witnesses in favour of the accused. But it is very doubtful whether the destruction intended for Jesus was not meant to be carried out in a manner more secret and more summary, bearing the aspect rather of a violent assassination than of a legal judgment.