We opened by singing ‘Majestic sweetness sits enthroned upon the Saviour’s brow‘
Some of the thoughts may appear disjointed but that is no reflection on the speaker.
Rev. Seaton opened out the passage for the first 20 minutes. After that we could ask questions and make contributions.
We often talk in terms of good or bad providences. But, when ‘dark providences’ hit, we need to resist reaching for those, we ought to pause and act according to the example of the ladies in this account
1. Go to the Bible. We are prone to ask, ‘Why?!’ At the risk of sounding blunt, we should ask, ‘Why not?’
The fall brought man into an ‘estate of sin and misery’ (Shorter Catechism). We re-discover that we are not unique. Here is an example of the compactness of the Bible, a ‘set piece’ for our instruction. Another example is Epaphroditus. He was a good man, doing good work. Paul tells us to honour such. Paul had the apostolic power and authority to heal him. As for Trophimus. But he did not. Of course, Paul himself suffered the thorn in the flesh which God refused to remove. What was the will of God in those circumstances? We find it in the Word of God. Go there first.
2. Martha and Mary sent to Jesus – and this is what we should do. A 2 day journey lay between them. Martha and Mary were probably elderly and anyway were busy nursing Lazarus. They send to Jesus and leave it with Him – so must we. They issue no demands. We should be careful of being ‘cheeky’ in our requests to God. Their request is only implied.
3. What they send. ‘Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick’ How do we know God loves? By reading His word (v5) ‘Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.’ That spells it out for us. They spread this very fact out before Jesus and left it to him to answer as he saw fit. We are to ‘Put flesh and blood into the Bible characters’ when we read them. They were human, feeling and suffering as humans. And there in v.35 is Jesus, revealing his humanity. This is reality. These kinds of things are all real. He loved them unto the end (John 13:1), this ‘Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20).
Dark or light providences – they are all working to His glory. This raising of Lazarus is a parabolic miracle. God’s people have always grown sick and died, but the glory of God will be revealed at the end – at the general resurrection.
God’s word is the one true source: Jonah 2:8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
The AV’s rendering of Lazarus corpse is preferrable – not an ‘odour’, but ‘he stinketh’! And this reflects the reality of sin – it stinks! But note how Thomas and Martha shine in John 11, who get such a bad press for doubting or getting their priorities wrong in other references. Yet they both make bold statements of faith in this chapter, but Martha especially: John11:27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
‘Where God is not exercising his power, he must be exercising his purpose‘: After Saul’s conversion, the churches had rest (http://mbible.com/acts/9-31.htm) but we might be tempted to ask why God didnt save Saul earlier and give the churches rest sooner… Zacharias was an aged, righteous man when the angel told him his prayers had been heard (Luke 1:12), presumably the prayers from his youth!
The key to it is, do we acquiescence?
In Matthew 20, ‘the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. 22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask.
There is a place for wrestling in prayer, but even the Saviour prayed, ‘Not my will but thine be done‘. In passing, it is astonishing to consider that there could ever even have been uttered a way that deviated from ‘Plan A’, forged, as it was, from before the foundations of the world in the counsel of the Triune God-Head. But he acquiesced, for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:1).
Circumstances may affect our approach in prayer, or perhaps leave us in silence before God, the Spirit interpreting the groans of our hearts (Rom 8). Spurgeon can be quoted at both ends of the spectrum: for example, ‘Pray the gates of hell off their hinges’! Yet this from Martha and Mary was an implicit request, somewhat similar to the request of Jesus’ mother at Cana: ‘They have no wine.’ (John 2:3).
Psychotherapy for Christians is unhelpful if it turns them away from the Bible and the God of the Bible. In all his suffering, Job did not sin or charge God foolishly (Job 1:22). Yet grief was very real and received its highest sanction in the weeping Saviour. Clearly, affliction is part of our experience in a fallen world, but grief is a God-given outlet.
John 11:15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe
Part of the purpose of his postponed arrival was for the blessing of those who would witness the unfolding of that purpose, that they would witness the fullness of His hand in what would follow… not just the miracle, but the fore-planning of it. In another place, Jesus delayed calming the storm, but, being brought out of sleep, his mere words were enough to still the vicious storm.
Lazarus was someone Jesus loved. The disciples were somewhat trapped in the commonly held flawed logic which associated bad events following bad deeds, John 9:2: Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? But Jesus loved Lazarus John 11:36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! Trial was bound up with that love. Lazarus was invested with and trusted with this ordeal. The trial was a part of the whole. Soon this news would be ‘noised abroad’ and the Jews would be looking to kill Jesus and Lazarus because of it. But especially for Jesus, this miracle was implicated in the Jews motivation to do away with the Saviour. In a sense, Lazarus’ raising was a ‘by-errand’ (to quote Matthew Henry), just like the healing of the woman with an issue of blood on the way to raising Jairus’ daughter.
Jesus uses the term, ‘This is not unto death’, and we find the origin of the notion that when a believer dies he is merely ‘sleeping’, awaiting the resurrection. No sickness is ‘unto death’ for the believer.
It has been said that if Jesus had not included ‘Lazarus’ in the command to ‘come forth’, the general resurrection would have commenced. This was thought of as somewhat ingenious, but demonstrates how wide the applications of this passage are. Another example includes the nature of gospel work: it is for us to roll back the stone, it is for God to call the dead from their spiritual death. He employs humans, but He performs the miracle.
There is always a temptation to look for a formulae in interpreting our circumstances, and especially our trials. But really the only formula is that we are to live in communion with God, who has, after all, paid so dearly for to make it possible, reconciling us to himself through the blood of his own Son: it is not for us then to corrupt that communion, exchanging it for mere religion.
Two of us prayed and Rev. Seaton closed. It was truly a privilege to be there and we are very grateful to Mr Seaton for giving up his time in preparation beforehand as well as in the meeting itself.