John 5-12

John 5‑12  •  1.3 hr. read  •  grade level: 6
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Having followed our Lord through chapters 1-4 of this Gospel, I desire now, in God’s grace, to track His further way; and may He, through the Spirit, make this work the occasion of holy and thankful delight!
In chapters 5-12 we see our Lord in intercourse with the Jews. But to exhibit His public life and ministry is not the purpose of the Spirit in this Gospel. He is not seen here, as in the other Gospels, going about the cities and villages of Israel preaching the kingdom, if perhaps they would repent; but the departure from God of that world through which He was passing seems to be ever on His mind; and only at times is He seen coming forth to act in power or in grace on all around Him, as the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, the Saviour of sinners.
And so towards His disciples. They are not the companions of His ministry in this Gospel, as they are in the others. He does not appoint the twelve, and then the seventy—but ministry is left in His own hand. The apostles are seen but little with Him until John 13, when His public ministry has closed. And when they are with Him, it is with some reserve. (See John 4:32; 6:5; 11:932But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. (John 4:32)
5When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (John 6:5)
9Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. (John 11:9)
But, on the other hand, in no Gospel is He seen so near the sinner. He is alone with the Samaritan, alone with the adulteress, alone with the outcast beggar. And this gives its highest interest to this precious portion of the Word of God. The joy and security of being alone with the Son of God, as is here exhibited, is beyond everything to the soul. The sinner thus learns his title to the Saviour, and discovers the blessed truth, that they are suited to one another. The moment we learn that we are sinners, we may look in the face of the Son of God, and claim Him as our own. And what a moment in the very days of heaven that is! He came to seek and to save sinners; and He walked as a solitary man on the earth, save when He met a poor sinner. Such alone had title, or even power, to interrupt the solitude of this heavenly Stranger. The world knew Him not. His paths were lonely among us, save when He and the sinner found their way to each other. The leper outside the camp met Him, but none else.
And let me say, this being alone with Jesus is the sinner’s first position. It is the beginning of his joy; and no one has a right to meddle with it. That which has called itself the Church, in every age of Christendom, has sought to break in upon the privacy of the Saviour and the sinner, and to make itself a party in the settlement of the question that there is between them, but in this it has been an intruder. Sin casts us upon God alone.
And indeed, beloved, in the variety of judgment nowadays, it is needful to our peace to know this. Others may require of us to join them in particular lines of service, or in particular forms and order of worship; and may count us disobedient if we do not. But however we may listen to them in those things, we dare not give up, in fear of them, God’s prerogative to deal with us as sinners Himself alone. We must not surrender to any the right of God to talk with us alone about our sins. Nor should our anxiety on a thousand questions which may arise, righteous as that anxiety may be, be allowed to lead us for a moment to forget that, as sinners, we have been already alone with Jesus; and that He has, once and forever, in the riches of His grace, pardoned and accepted us.
This solitude of Christ and the sinner our Gospel most comfortingly presents to us. But as to all others Jesus is here only at a distance, and with reserve. And so as to places as well as persons. The Son of God had nothing to do specially with any place; the wide wilderness of the world, where sinners were to be found, was the only scene for Him.
But I will continue now to follow the chapters in order.
John 5
I have already shown, from various instances, that there was, through all the stages of the history of Israel, the occasional putting forth of a special energy of the Spirit, by which, and not by the resources of their own system, the Lord was sustaining Israel, and teaching them to know where their final hope lay. From the call of Abraham to the throne of David we saw this.
Now I judge that Bethesda was a witness of the same thing. Bethesda was not that which the system itself provided. It was opened in Jerusalem, as a fountain of healing, by the sovereign grace of Jehovah (as, indeed, its name imports). Neither was it an abiding, but only an occasional, relief, as the judges and prophets had been. Like them it was a testimony to the grace and power which were in God Himself for Israel, and it had, perhaps, yielded this its testimony at certain seasons all through the dark age which had passed since the days of the last of their prophets. But it must now be set aside. Its waters are to be no more troubled. He to Whom all these witnesses of grace pointed had appeared. As the true fountain of health, the Son of God had now come to the daughter of Zion, and was showing Himself to her.
It was a feast time, we are told (vs. 1). All was going on at Jerusalem as though all were right before God. The feasts were duly observed; the time was one of exact religious services. But Bethesda alone might have told the daughter of Zion that she needed a physician, and was not in that rest which faithfulness to Jehovah would have preserved to her. And the Lord would now tell her the same truth. He heals the impotent man, thus taking the place of Bethesda; but He does so in a way that tells Israel of their loss of the Sabbath—the loss of their own proper glory. “The same day was the Sabbath.”
The nation is at once sensitive of this. It touched the place of their pride; for the Sabbath was the sign of all their national distinction; and they resent it—they “sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath-day.”
But I must tarry a little longer here.
Jesus beside the Pool of Bethesda, as we see Him in this chapter, is a sight which, in the spirit of Moses at the bush, we may well turn aside to see. If, of old, He had been reflected in that water, now He stands there to dry it up. He stands there as a new thing, in strong contrast with the pool. “Wilt thou be made whole?” was the word He addressed to the poor cripple that was lying there. Was he ready to put himself, just as he was, into His hand? Was he willing to be His debtor? Could he trust himself, in all his need and impotency, alone with Jesus? This was all. And surely this was in contrast with the weighty, cumbrous machinery of Bethesda. No rivalry need be feared, no help need be looked for, no delay need be endured, nor uncertainty felt. Those who might have struggled with this cripple to get down into the pool before him, or those who might, in pity, have been drawn to help him down before others, he may now alike overlook; and delay and hope may now be exchanged for a present and a full deliverance. Angels and the pool, helpers and rivals, delay and uncertainty, were now all blessedly and gloriously disposed of by Jesus in his behalf. When Jesus appeared, when the Son of God stood beside this pool, the only question was, Would the poor cripple be His debtor—stand by and see His salvation?
The poverty of the pool is exposed. It is seen to be nothing but a “beggarly element.” It has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth. And after this same manner the Spirit, by the apostle, exposes “the worldly sanctuary,” and all its provisions and services, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As I may say, Jesus is there standing again beside Bethesda. He is brought forth by the Holy Spirit in contrast with all that system of ordinances and observances which had gone before, and He exposes them all in their impotency and poverty. There had been, indeed, a reflection of Christ in those ceremonies of the old tabernacle, as there had been in this water by the sheep-market; but it disappears now, when the Light itself fills the place.
But, as we tarry a little longer at this pool, what are we to say, when we see, not only this cripple, but “a great multitude of impotent folk” lingering round that uncertain, disappointing water, though the Son of God was abroad in the land, carrying in Him and with Him healing and deliverance without doubt or delay, and in defiance of all rivalry, and independent of all help! Surely this reads us a lesson. The pool thickly frequented, Jesus passing by unheeded! The pool sought unto, while Jesus has to seek, and to propose Himself! What a witness of man’s religion! Ordinances, with all their cumbrous machinery, still waited on; the grace of God that brings salvation slighted!
We might marvel, did we not know, as from ourselves, some of the workings of this ruined nature of ours.
But further still. In the other Gospels, when the Lord is challenged for doing His works on the Sabbath-day, He answers as from the case of David eating the showbread, from the priests doing work in the temple, or from the fact that they themselves, His accusers, would lead out their ass to the watering on the Sabbath-day. But here, in John’s Gospel, it is not what David, or the priests, or His accusers themselves would do, or had done, that He pleads, but what the heavenly Father had ever been doing in this needy, ruined world. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” the Lord here says to those who were challenging this act of His at Bethesda, because it was the Sabbath.
Wondrous sentence! and how fully in character with His way all through John. He does not here, as in the other Gospels on the like occasion, put Himself in company with David, with the priests, or with His neighbors, but with God! “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
This is full of consistent character with all that we get in this Gospel. And surely it is full, also, of that which may draw forth the joyful praise of those who know Him. With the Jews, however, it was otherwise. These words again told them of their loss of the Sabbath in which they boasted; yes, that they had long lost it, lost it from the beginning; for, in every stage of their history, God had been working in grace among them, working as His Father, of which this Bethesda was the sign; and that He Himself had now come, just in the same way, to work in grace among them, of which this poor restored cripple was the sign. This was the voice of these words, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”; referring to the act of grace all through Israel’s history, which I have noticed, but on this the Jews resent Him the more; and, not being in the secret of His glory, they charge Him with blasphemy for calling God His Father.
To this He again; answers (still, as before, speaking of Himself as Son, but taking a place of subjection also), “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself.” (Without the knowledge of the divine dignity of His person we cannot discover the place which the Lord here takes to be the place of willing subjection, as it was. For it would not have been such in any mere creature, however exalted, to have said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” But this in the Son was subjection.)
But all this is most blessed. One who came into this world on behalf of God and His honor, could take no other place. It was the only place of righteousness here. “He that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Man had, through pride, dishonored God. Man did an affront to the majesty of God when he listened to the words, “Ye shall be as God.” And the Son, who came to honor God, must humble Himself. Though in the form of God, He must empty Himself here. God’s praise, in a world that had departed from Him in pride, must have this sacrifice. And this sacrifice the Son offered. But this did not suit man; this was not according to man; and man could not receive or sanction such a one. “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.”
This is a deep and holy matter, beloved. By His humiliation and subjection the Son was at once honoring God, and testing man; giving the “only Potentate” His rights in this world, but thus becoming Himself a sign for the making manifest of the thoughts of the heart. And the Jew, the favored Jew, was found in the common atheism of man; for to disclose this hidden spring of unbelief in Israel our Lord’s discourse in this chapter was tending. It was not for want of light and testimony. They had the works of Christ, the Father’s voice, their own Scriptures, and the testimony of John. But withal, they had the love of the world in them, and not the love of God; and were thus unprepared for the Son of God (vs. 42).
“How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (vs. 44). Surely this has a voice for our ears, beloved! Does it not tell us that the heart and its hidden motions have to be watched? “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” There may be strong and dangerous currents running under the surface. Job was a godly man. There were none like him in his generation. But in his soul there was flowing a rapid current. He valued his character and his circumstances. Not that he was, in the common way, either self-righteous or worldly. He was truly a believer, and a generous friend and benefactor. But he valued his circumstances in life, and his estimation among men. In the hidden exercises of his heart, he was wont to survey his goodly condition with complacency (Job 29). That was a strong undercurrent. His neighbors had not traced the course of that stream; but his heavenly Father had; and because He loved him, and would have him partaker of His holiness, with which all this was inconsistent, He put him into His own school to exercise him.
What a gracious warning does this afford us, to keep the ebbings and flowings of the heart under watch. “What are we thinking of?” we may ask ourselves again and again through the day. Whereon are we spending our diligence? What are the secret calculations of our minds in moments of relaxation? Is it the spirit or the flesh that is providing food for us? Do our affections which stir within savor of heaven or of hell?
These are healthful inquiries for us, and are suggested by the strong moral thought of the Lord here, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another?”
How could man, apostate in pride, brook the lowly, Son of Man, the emptied Son of God? This was the source where their unbelief took its rise. There was no association between them and the One who stood for God’s honor before men. His form of humiliation was now disallowed, as His work and grace at Bethesda had before been refused. His brethren should have understood how that God by His hand would deliver them; but they understood not; they believed not Moses, and were thus, in principle, still in Egypt, still in the flesh, still unredeemed. Had they believed Moses they would have believed Christ, and been led out by Him, as at this time, from under the hand of Pharaoh, the power of the flesh and the world. But under all that, through unbelief, this chapter finds them and leaves them.
John 6
A new scene opens here. It was the passover: but God’s mercy, which that season celebrated, Israel had slighted. They had still to learn the lesson of Egypt and the wilderness; and in patient love, after so many provocations, the Lord would even now teach them.
Accordingly, He feeds the multitude in a desert place; thus showing the grace and power of Him who, for forty years, had fed their fathers in another desert. The disciples, like Moses, wonder through unbelief, and say, as it were, “Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them?” But His hand is not shortened. He feeds them; and this awakens zeal in the multitude, and they would willingly come, and by force make Him a king. But the Lord would not take the kingdom from zeal like this. This could not be the source of the kingdom of the Son of Man. The beasts may take their kingdoms from the winds striving upon the great sea, but Jesus cannot (Dan. 7). This was not His mother crowning Him in the day of His espousals (Song of Sol. 3). This was not, in His ear, the shouting of the people bringing in the headstone of the corner; nor the symptom of His people made willing in the day of His power. This would have been an appointment to the throne of Israel on scarcely better principles than those on which Saul had been appointed of old. His kingdom would have been the fruit of a heated desire of the people, as Saul’s had been the fruit of their revolted heart. But this could not be. And beside this, before the Lord could take His seat on Mount Zion, He must ascend the solitary mount; and before the people could enter the kingdom, they must go down to the stormy sea. And these things we see reflected here, as in a glass. The Lord is seen on high for awhile, and they are enduring the buffets of the winds and the waves; but in due season He descends from His elevation, makes the storm a calm, and brings them to their desired haven. And so it will be by-and-by. He will come down in the power of the heaven to which He has now ascended, for the deliverance of His afflicted ones; then shall they see His wonders, as in the deep, and praise Him for His goodness, for the works that He does for the children of men (Psa. 107:23-3223They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; 24These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. 25For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. 26They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. 27They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. 28Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 29He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. 30Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. 31Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! 32Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:23‑32)). (In the corresponding places in Matthew and Mark we read that the Lord goes to the mountain to pray. But that is not noticed here. Indeed, the Lord is not shown by John in prayer (save in John 17; and that is rather intercession); and all this is still in the full character of our Gospel.)
The Lord, therefore, has only to retire from all this popular awakening in His favor. How must the mind of the heavenly Stranger have felt entire dissociation from it all! He retires from it; and, on the following day, enters on other work altogether. He opens the mystery of the true Passover, and the manna of the wilderness, which they had still to learn. They had still to learn the virtue of the Cross, the true Passover which delivers from Egypt, from the bondage of the flesh, from the judgment of the law; enabling the sinner to say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live.” The wages of sin is death; and sin in the Cross had its wages. Death had its sway; and the law can return to the throne of God with its own vindication; for it has executed its commission: Christ has died, and died for us. This is the true Passover—the power of redemption; in the grace of which we leave Egypt, or the place of bondage, and come forth with the Son of God into the wilderness, there to feed on manna, there to live by every word that has proceeded out of the mouth of God.
And though thus in some sense distinct, the Lord in this discourse seems to combine the mysteries of the passover and the manna. It was in the time of the passover that He preached to them on the manna. For both pertained to the same Israel, the same life. The blood of the paschal lamb was upon the lintel for redemption, while the lamb was fed upon within the house. The Israelite was in living communion with that which gave him security. And this was the beginning of life to him; in the strength of which he came forth to feed on the manna in the wilderness.
But Israel, as we here find, had not as yet so come forth out of the bondage of Egypt into God’s pastures in the wilderness. They prove that as yet they knew not this life; that as yet they had never really kept the passover, nor fed on the manna. They murmured at Him. Their thoughts were too full of Moses. “He gave them bread from heaven to eat,” said they. But, before they could indeed eat of the manna, they must fall into the paths of love, into thoughts of the Father, and not of Moses. For it is love that leads us to the Cross. Moses never gave that bread. The law never spread the feast. It is love that does that; and love must be apprehended, as we sit at it. And this is the reason why so few guests are there; for man has hard thoughts of God, and proud thoughts of himself. But, to keep the feast, we must have happy thoughts of God, and humble, self-renouncing thoughts of ourselves. Communion with the Father and with the Son, on the ground of salvation, communion with God in love, is life.
But Israel was not in this communion. They go back, they thrust Him from them, and in their hearts turn back again into Egypt: their carcasses fall in the wilderness, and a remnant only feed on “the words of eternal life,” and live—a remnant who look round on all as a barren waste yielding no bread without Him, as “a dry and thirsty land” from one end to the other, save for the Rock that follows them; and they say, “To whom shall we go?”
And whence this remnant? “According to the election of grace,” as the Lord here further teaches, showing us the acts of the Father in the mystery of our life, that it is He Who gives to the Son, and draws to the Son, all who come to Him; that His teachings and drawings are the hidden channels through which this life is reaching us. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the faith and utterance of that elect remnant, who, coming out of Egypt, live by faith on the Son of God; but only in the Son of God as crucified. For our life lies in His death, and through the faith which feeds on that death. No acceptance of Christ but as crucified avails for life. It is not His virtues, His instructions, His example, or the like, but His death (His flesh and blood), that must be fed upon. His death accomplished, singly and alone, what all together and beside never did and never could. The blessed Lord died; gave up the spirit, or surrendered the life which He had, and which none had title to take from Him. But, the moment that was done, results broke forth which all His previous life had never produced. It was then, but not until then, that the veil of the temple was rent, the rocks were riven, the graves opened. Heaven, earth, and hell felt a power they had never owned before. The life of Jesus, His charities to man, His subjection to God, the savor of His spotless human nature, the holiness of that which had been born of the Virgin, none of these, nor all of them together, nor everything in Him and about Him, by Him or through Him, short of the surrender of life, would ever have rent the veil or broken up the graves. God would still have been at a distance, hell been still unconquered, and he that has the power of death still undestroyed. The blood of Christ has done what all beside never did, and never could do. And over Him thus preached and set forth it is still to be said, “He that hath the Son hath life.”
This leads me to pause for a little over a subject connected with our life of which this chapter speaks. Under the law all slain beasts were to be brought to the door of the tabernacle, and their blood offered upon the altar, and by no means to be eaten (Lev. 17). This was a confession that the life had reverted to God, and was not in man’s power. To eat blood under the law would have been an attempt to regain life in our own strength—an attempt by man to reach that which he had forfeited. But now, under the Gospel, the ordinance is changed. Blood must be eaten—“Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” For the life that had reverted to God, God has given to make atonement. The blood of the New Testament has been shed for the remission of sins, and life, through that blood, is now given to sinners in the Son of God. “In Him was life.” He came from God with the life for us. “He that hath the Son hath life.” And we are commanded, as well as besought, to take life from Him. And, truly we may say, our God has thus perfected our comfort and our assurance before Him, making it to be as simple disobedience in us not to take life from Him as His gift, as it would be simple pride and arrogance of heart to assume to take it by our own works. What a pleading of love is this with our souls! We are disobedient if we are not saved! Death is God’s enemy as well as ours, and if we do not take life from the Son we join the enemy of God. “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life,” says the aggrieved Son of God. And when asked by certain persons in this very chapter, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” He has but to reply, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” To believe, and take life as the gift of God through His Son, is the only act of obedience that the blessed God claims from a sinner—the only thing that a sinner, until he is reconciled, can do to please Him.
This is grace wondrously and blessedly revealed. This ordinance, that forbade the eating of blood, was as the flaming sword of the cherubim in the garden. Both that sword and this ordinance told the sinner that there was no recovery of forfeited life by any effort of his own. And Adam’s faith most sweetly displays itself here. He did not seek to put back that sword, as though he could regain the tree of life himself. But what did he? He took life from God, through grace, and the gift by grace. He believed the promise about the woman’s Seed; and in that faith, called the woman “the mother of all living.” He took life as the gift of God through Christ, and sought it not by works of the law, or in the face of the flaming sword.
All this mystery in the sinner’s life was thus illustrated from the very beginning, even in the faith of Adam; and is blessedly unfolded in our Lord’s discourse to the people in this chapter. That life begins in the power of redemption by the paschal lamb slain in Egypt, and by the manna of the wilderness. But our chapter shows us that Israel was still a stranger to it; that they had not learned the lesson of Egypt and the wilderness, in the knowledge of the redemption and life that are in Christ Jesus.
John 7
A new scene again opens here, It was the time of the feast of tabernacles; as the preceding scene had been laid in the time of the passover.
This was the most joyous season in the Jewish year. It was the great annual festival at Jerusalem; the grand commemoration of Israel’s past sojourn in the wilderness, and of their present rest in Canaan; the type also of Messiah’s coming glory and joy as King of Israel. His brethren urge the Lord to take advantage of this season; to leave Galilee and go up to Jerusalem, there to exhibit His power, and get Himself a name in the world. But they did not understand Him. They were of the world; He was not of the world. The Son of God was a Stranger here; but they were at home. They might go up and meet the world at the feast, but He witnessed for God against the world. He, to Whom the feast bore witness, could not go up and claim His own there, because the world was there, because the god of this world had usurped and was corrupting the scene of His glory and joy.
But how fallen was Israel when this was so! And what was their boasted festival, when the Spring of its joy and the Heir of its glory must thus stand estranged from it!
The gold had become dim. The ways to Zion were still solitary; none were really coming to the solemn feasts. In spirit the prophet was still weeping (Lam. 1:44The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness. (Lamentations 1:4)). The Lord goes up, it is true, but not in His glory. He does not go as His brethren would have had Him; but in obedience merely, to take the place of the humbled and not of the great one of the earth. And, when arrived at the city of solemnities, we see Him only in the same character, for He goes to the temple and teaches; but when this attracts notice, He hides Himself, saying, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.” He hides Himself, that not He, but the Father Who had sent Him, might be seen. As the One Who had emptied Himself, and taken the form of a servant, He is willing to be nothing. Those who were at the feast manifested their utter apostasy from the principle of the feast, saying, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” In their pride they acknowledged no source of knowledge or wisdom above man. They would have the creature in honor; but the feast celebrated Jehovah, and was for the setting forth of the honors of Him Who now in righteousness had to hide His glory, and separate Himself from it all. Israel and the feast, Israel and the Son of God, were utterly disassociated. They had nothing in each other. And thus, whether we listen to the Jews, or to the men of Jerusalem, or to the Pharisees, in this chapter, all tell us of their rejection of Him; and He has in the end to say to them, “Where I am, thither ye cannot come.”
Jesus thus refuses to sanction the feast. He tells Israel that they had now no title to the rest and glory which it pledged to them—that they were not really in Canaan, and had never yet drawn water out of the wells of salvation; that their land, instead of being watered by the river of God, was but a barren and thirsty portion of the accursed earth; that they had forsaken the fountain of living waters, and all their own cisterns were but broken. And, accordingly, as the feast was closing, Jesus puts the living water into other vessels, and dries up the wells which were in Jerusalem. He turns the fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein, and opens the river of God in other places. “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
And in connection with this, I would shortly trace the river of God through Scripture; and we shall see it flowing in different channels according to different dispensations.
In Eden it took its rise in the earth to water the garden, and from thence to wander in divers streams over the earth. For the dispensation was one of earthly good. Man knew no sources of blessing, or streams of joy, other than such as were connected with creation. In the wilderness the smitten rock was its source, and every path of the camp of God its channel. It followed them; for at that time they only were the redeemed of the Lord, whom His eye rested on in the world. In Canaan, afterwards, the waters of Shiloah flowed softly; Jehovah watered the land from His own fountains, and made it to drink of the rain of heaven; and for the souls of the people, every feast and every sacrifice was as a well of this water; and the current of the yearly service of the sanctuary was its constant channel. The river will also rise under the sanctuary for the watering of Jerusalem and the whole land (Ezek. 47; Joel 3; Zech. 14; Psa. 46:44There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. (Psalm 46:4); Psa. 65:99Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. (Psalm 65:9)). For then will be the time of the twofold blessing, the time of the heavenly and earthly glory. All things will have the grace and power of God dispensed among them, all will then be visited by “the river of God, which is full of water.” The feast of tabernacles will then be duly kept in Jerusalem, and that nation of the earth which will not go up to keep it there shall have no gracious visitation of rain.
Upon all this I would only further notice the connection that there is between our thirst and the outflow of this living water (John 7:37-3837In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:37‑38)). The saint thirsts, then goes to Jesus for the water that He has to give, and afterwards comes with the water of life, the flowing of the Spirit, in him, for his own refreshing and that of the weary. His thirst receives the abounding presence of the Holy Spirit, opening in him a channel for the river of life, which now rises in the ascended Head of the Church, to flow through him to others. Oh that we panted more after God, as the hart pants after the water-brooks! that we longed more for the courts of the Lord! Then would the Spirit fill our souls, and we should comfort and refresh one another. And this is indeed the power of all ministry. Ministry is but the outflowing of this living water, the expression of this hidden, abounding presence of the Spirit within us. The Head has received the gifts for us; and, from the Head, all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. And this is our only feast of tabernacles, until we celebrate a still happier one round the throne. For this feast cannot now be kept in Jerusalem; the saints must have it in its own present form, by walking together in the liberty and refreshing of the Holy Spirit.
This feast, this “joy in the Holy Ghost,” is something more than either the passover of Egypt, or the manna of the wilderness. Those were for redemption and life; but this is for joy and the foretaste of glory. Those were of the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, broken and shed here; but this of the Son of Man glorified in heaven. It savors of Canaan, though for comfort in the wilderness; as the feast of tabernacles was a feast in Canaan, the land of rest and glory after the wilderness.
But Israel, as yet, knew nothing of these things, as is here shown to us. In the fifth chapter, the Lord had met them, as in Egypt, with redeeming grace and power: witness the restored cripple; which was like Moses casting down his rod in the sight of Israel in proof of his embassy. But it only ended in proving that they would remain in Egypt—for they refuse to believe Moses, believing not Him of whom Moses wrote; and what redemption from Egypt, was there for Israel, if Moses were refused? In the sixth He had met them, as in the wilderness, with the manna; but only, in like manner, to prove that they were not feeding there, as the camp of God, upon the bread of God. In this chapter He had met them as in Canaan; but all had shown that Canaan was still the land of the uncircumcised, the land of drought, and not of the river of God. He, therefore, now stands outside of the city of solemnities, and in spirit ascends to heaven, as Head of His body the Church, to feed the thirsty from thence. He says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” The Jews may reason about Him among themselves, and then go every man “to his own house”; but He, owning His present estrangement from Israel, and consequent homeless condition on the earth, goes to the Mount of Olives.
John 8
Thus was it with Israel now. They knew not that they were still in bonds, and needing His hand to lead them out, and feed them again. They knew not that they had still to reach the true Canaan, Immanuel’s land. They had been rejecting the grace of the Son of God, and were making their boast of the law; and now, in the confidence that it was theirs, and that they could use it, and by it entangle the Lord, they bring forward the adulteress.
They had, to be sure, noticed His grace to sinners. All His ways must have told them that. And they judge it, of course, an easy matter to show Him to be the enemy of Moses and the law. But He gains a holy and glorious victory. Grace is made to shout a triumph over sin, and the sinner over every accuser. The Lord does not impugn the law. He could not; for it was holy; and He had come not to destroy, but to fulfill it. He does not acquit the guilty. He could not; for He had come into the world with full certainty as to the sinner’s guilt. It was that which had brought Him among us. And, therefore, in the present case, He does not pretend to raise such questions. The sinner is convicted, and the law righteously lies against her. But who can execute it? Who can cast the stone? That question He may and does raise. Satan may accuse, the sinner may be guilty, and the law may condemn; but where is the executioner? Who can handle the fiery power of the law? None but Himself. None can avenge the quarrel of divine righteousness upon the sinner; none have hands clean enough to take up the stone and cast it but Jesus Himself; and He refuses. He refuses to act. He refuses to entertain the case. He stooped down and wrote on the ground as though He heard them not. He was not presiding in any court for the trying of such matters. He came not to judge. But they persist. And then the Lord, in effect, replies, that if they will have Mount Sinai, they shall—if, like Israel of old, they will challenge the law, and undertake the terms of the fiery hill, why, they shall have the law, and again; hear the voice of that hill. And, accordingly, He lets out something of the genuine heat of that place; and they soon find that it reaches them, as well as the poor convicted one; and the place becomes too hot for them.
They had not reckoned on this. They had not thought that the thunders of that hill would have made them to quake, or its horrible darkness have inwrapped them as completely as the open and shamed sinner whom their own hand had dragged there. But as they had chosen the fiery hill, they must take it for better or worse, and just as they find it.
The Lord, however, in giving the law this character, in causing it to reach the judges as well as their prisoner, proved that He was the Lord of that hill. He let, as I said, some of its genuine heat out. He marshalled its thunder and directed its lightning, and spread out its horrible darkness, as the Lord of it. He made the hosts of that hill take their march, and address themselves to their proper work. And then, on this being done, exactly as of old at the same place, this is found to be intolerable. “Let not God speak with us,” said Israel then (Ex. 20); as now these scribes and Pharisees, “being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one.” They can no more stand under that place, which they themselves had challenged, than Israel of old, when that mount let them know what it really was.
All this has a very great character in it. The Lord is greatly glorified. They designed to expose Him as Moses’ enemy, but He displays Himself as Moses’ Lord, or the Conductor of that lightning which had once made the heart of that stoutest Israelite exceedingly to fear and quake.
I read all this as something very excellent indeed.
But further. If this is His glory, it is equally our blessing. If the Lord Jesus is honored as the Conductor of the fiery power of the law, we find that He does this for us. He lets this poor sinner know this. While the scribes and Pharisees accuse her, He is deaf to all they were saying; and when they still urge Him, He gives her to see Him turning the hot thunderbolt on the head of her accusers, so that they are forced to leave her alone with Him who had proved Himself the Lord of Sinai, and her Deliverer.
Could she desire more? Could she leave the place where she now found herself? Impossible. She was as able to stand it as the very Lord of the hill Himself. Sinai had no more terror for her than for Him. Need she leave that place? She was free to do so, if she pleased. Those who had forced her there were gone. The passage was open. She had nothing to do but to go out after the rest, if she desired it. If she would willingly hide her shame, and make the best of her case, she may. Now is the time. Let her go out. The Lord knows her sin in all its magnitude, and she need not think of remaining where she is and be accounted guiltless. If this be her hope, let her follow her convicted accusers, and hide her shame outside. But no. She had learned the tale of delivering grace from the words and the acts of Jesus, and she need not go out. Nature would have retired. Flesh and blood, or the mere moral principles of man, would have sent her after the rest. But the faith which had read the story of redemption acts above nature, or the judgment of the moral man. She remains where she is. This Mount Sinai (as her accusers had made that place) was not too much for her. The still small voice of mercy, which once answered Moses and again answered Elijah there, had now answered her. The pledges of salvation were there exposed to her as of old time to the fathers, and the spot was green and fresh and sunny to her spirit. It had become “the gate of heaven” to her. The shadow of death had been turned into “the light of life.” She need not go—she would not go—she could not go. She will not leave the presence of Jesus, Who had so gloriously approved Himself the Lord of Sinai, and yet her Deliverer. She was a sinner. Yes—and she knew it, and He knew it, before whom in solitude she now stood. And so was Adam, as he came forth naked from the trees of the garden. But she is willing and able to stand detected before Him. She could no more retire to a thicket than Adam could continue in a thicket, or wear his apron of fig-leaves, after such a voice. Jesus had confounded all her accusers. They had roared of the evil she had done, but He had utterly and forever silenced them. In the light of life she now walked. Her conscience, in a little moment, had taken a long and eventful journey. She had passed from the region of darkness and death into the realms of liberty, safety, and joy, led by the light of the Lord of life.
This is the triumph of grace; and this is the joy of the sinner. This is the song of victory on the banks of the Red Sea, the enemy lying dead on its shores. She has but to call Him “Lord,” and He has but to say, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”
This was full deliverance. And the same deliverance awaits every sinner who, like the poor adulteress here, will come and be alone with Jesus. As sinners (as I have observed before), we have to do only with God. We may do offence or wrong to others, and they may complain and challenge us. But, as sinners, God must deal with us alone; and the discovery of this is the way of blessing. David discovered it, and got blessing at once. His act, it is true, had been a wrong to another. He had taken the poor man’s one little ewe lamb. But he had in all this sinned against God also. And in the discovery and sense of this he says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” But the effect of this was to leave him alone with God. As a wrongdoer, Uriah might have to do with him; but as a sinner, he had not. God must deal with him; and the moment his sin thus casts him alone with God, he, like the poor adulteress here, listens to the voice of mercy: “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” He suffers chastening for the wrong he had done, but the wages of sin are remitted.
It is ever the sinner’s victory when he can thus by faith claim to be alone with Jesus. The priest and the Levite have then passed by; for what could they do? What art or ability had the law to meet the sinner’s case? It is grace—the Stranger from heaven—that must help. The needy, wounded sinner is lying in the way, and the good Samaritan must meet him. And truly blessed is it, when all through its further way, the soul still remembers how it thus began in solitude with Jesus the Saviour.
And He is glorified in all this as surely as we are comforted; glorified with His brightest glory, His glory as the Saviour of the guilty. A vial is prepared for redeemed sinners, which is to bear an incense the like to which can be found nowhere else (Ex. 30:3737And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. (Exodus 30:37)). Even the vials of angels do not carry such perfume. They praise the Lamb, it is true; but not in such lofty strains as the Church of redeemed sinners. They ascribe to Him “power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” but the Church has a song before the throne, and sings, “Thou art worthy....for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
All this blessing for the sinner, and this glory for the Saviour, we see here. The sinner is hid from her accuser, and the Saviour silences him. The officers had been lately disarmed by the holy attraction of His words, and now the scribes and Pharisees are rebuked by the convicting light of His words (John 7:4646The officers answered, Never man spake like this man. (John 7:46); John 8:99And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (John 8:9)). Those were not carnal weapons, but weapons of heavenly temper. Their enmity had exhausted all its resources. They had tested the force of the lion and the guile of the serpent; and, all having passed, the Son of God at once takes His elevation, and shows Himself in His place of entire separation and distance from them; He raises the pillar of light and darkness in the present wilderness of Canaan, and puts Israel, like the Egyptians of old, on the dark side of it. “I am the Light of the world,” says Jesus: “he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness.”
Such was Israel now, spiritually called Egypt. They had no association with Abraham, or with God, though they boasted in them; for they had no faculty to discern Abraham’s joy, or the Sent of God. They must take their place of atheistic darkness and alienation. The Lord gives them the place of Ishmael, the very place which Paul afterwards puts them in. (See vs. 35; Gal. 4). As the child of the bondwoman Israel still is, and will be, until “they turn to the Lord,” until they know the truth, and the truth make them “free,”—make them as Isaac. The Jews assert that they had never been in bondage (vs. 33). Jesus might have called for a penny, and by its image and superscription have proved their falsehood. But, according to the high and divine thoughts of this Gospel, He takes other ground with them, and convicts them of deadlier bondage than that to Rome, a bondage to flesh and to sin.
Mark also their low and mistaken thoughts about Him and His plainest words. He had said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day”; but they reply as though He had said He had seen Abraham. The difference, however, was infinite, though they perceived it not. By the words He had used, the Lord was challenging the highest glories for Himself. He was making Himself the great Object from the beginning, the One Who had been filling the thoughts, the hopes, and answering the need, of all the elect of God in all ages. It was not He that had seen Abraham, but it was Abraham that had seen Him; and, without contradiction, I may say, the better is seen of the less. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” That is Christ’s place. He was Adam’s Object, as he went forth from the garden. He was the confidence of Abel and of Noah. He was seen and rejoiced in by Abraham and the patriarchs. He was the Substance of the shadows, and the End of the law. He was the Lamb and the Light under the eye of the Baptist. He is now the confidence of every saved sinner; and He will be, through eternity, the praise and the Center of the creation of God.
All this is a strong discovery of the state of Israel through this chapter. And this was a solemn moment for them. In Matthew the Lord tested the Jews by His Messiahship, and in the end convicted them of rejecting Him in that character. But in this Gospel He tests them by other and higher proposals of Himself: as the Light, the Truth, the Doer of the works and the Speaker of the words of God, as the Son of the Father; and thus convicts them, not of mere unbelief in Messiah, but of the common atheism of man. In this character Israel is here made to stand, Cain-like, in the land of Nod, in the place of the common departure of man from God. He had spoken the words of the Father, but they understood not, they believed not. As the Sent of the Father, He had come (as such a one must have come) in grace to them; but they refused Him. And so is it among men of this day. The Gospel is a message of goodness; but man receives it not. Man will not think well of God. This is the secret of unbelief. The Gospel is “goodness” (Rom. 11:2222Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. (Romans 11:22)); and man still asks, Is it from God? for man has hard thoughts of God, and Satan is persuading him still to have them. He does what he can to obscure the sinner’s title to God, that the sinner may look for some inheritance elsewhere.
So here with Israel. Jesus judged no man, but spoke the word of the Father, which was freedom and life to them. But they understood not His speech, as He says to them. Their minds were formed by their father, who was a liar and a murderer; and “grace and truth,” which came to them by Jesus Christ, they had no ears to hear. And now, as the disallowed Witness of the Father, as the hated Light of the world, He has no place in the land, no certain paths of this earth to go forth into. He passes by as knowing no spot or person here, but still, as the Light of the world, shining, wherever His beams may reach, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
John 9-10
Accordingly, in this character, He is separated from Israel. Israel is left in darkness, and the pillar of God moves onward. Jesus, the “Light of the world,” goes forth and meets one who had been blind from his birth; and in such a one His works could well be manifested.
The Lord God, it is most true, is a great King, and acts as a Sovereign. He is the Potter that has power over the clay. But the Son came not as from the throne of the King, but from the Father. He came to manifest the Father. The blind may be in the world, but the Son came as the light of the world: and accordingly, as such, He applies Himself to His blessed labor of grace and power, and opens the eyes of this blind beggar.
But what was this to Jerusalem? There was darkness there; and the light may shine, but it will not be comprehended. Instead of that, as we read here, “they brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.” There was a high court of inquisition at Jerusalem, and it must try the ways of the Son of God. Instead of welcoming Him as of old, when the pillar of God was raised, and saying, “Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered,” they love their own darkness, and will walk in it.
At first they question the man himself. But not finding him quite to their purpose, they commit the case to witnesses, who, they judge, were in their own power. They call his parents. But again; they fail, The fact that the light had shone among them cannot be gainsaid. They then seek to divert the whole matter into such a channel as would leave untouched their own pride and worldliness, and they say, “Give God the praise: we know that this Man is a sinner.” But this will not do either. The poor soul maintains his integrity; and then they alarm him by separating him from all acknowledged ground of safety. “Thou art His disciple,” say they, “but we are Moses’ disciples.” But he is kept still; and not only kept, but led on from strength to strength. He hath, and more is given him. He follows as the light leads, until at length it so shines as to reprove the darkness of the Pharisees; and they cast him forth without the camp.
But where do they cast him? Just where every lonely, outcast sinner may find himself—where the unclean Samaritan and the convicted adulteress had before found themselves— into the presence, and across the solitude, of the Son of God; and that is the very gate of heaven. For the Lord had gone without the camp before him. This sheep of the flock was now put forth; but it was only to meet the Shepherd, Who had gone before. In that place of shame and exposure they meet each other. There was he found by One who had Himself been shot by the archers. The meeting there was a meeting indeed. This poor Israelite, while he was within the camp, had met Jesus as his Healer; but now that he is put without, he meets Him as the Son of God. He meets Him to know Him as the One who, when he was blind, had opened his eyes, and, now that he is cast out, talks with him. And, beloved, this is ever the way of our meeting Jesus, as sinners and as outcasts, in the unclean place. If He take us up there, it must be in the full grace of the Son of God, the Saviour. And thus our character as sinners leads us into the sweetest and dearest intimacies of the Lord of life and glory. As creatures we know the strength of His hand, His Godhead, and wisdom, and goodness; but as sinners we know the love of His heart, and all the treasures of His grace and glory.
And I notice the changed tone of this poor beggar. In the presence of the Pharisees he was firm and unbending. He does not abate the tone of conscious righteousness and truth all through. He set his face as a flint, and endured hardness. But the moment he comes into the presence of the Lord he is all humility and gentleness. He melts, as it were, at the feet of Jesus. Oh, what a sweet sample is this of the workmanship of the Spirit of God! Courage before man, but the meltings of love and the bowings of worship before the Lord who has loved and redeemed us.
But this unclean place without the camp, where the Lord of heaven and earth now stood with this favored sinner, was not only the place of liberty and joy to the sinner, but the wide field of observation to the Lord. From this place He surveys Himself, the beggar, and the whole camp of Israel, outside of which He had gone with His elect one; and in the parable of the Good Shepherd, He draws the moral of it all. In the scene of the ninth chapter He had shown that He had entered by the door into the sheep-fold; for He had come working the works of the Father, and had, in that way, approved Himself to be in the confidence of the Owner of the fold, the sanctioned Shepherd of His flock. He was estranged from Israel; but, like Moses in such a case, He was to keep the flock of His Father in other pastures, near the mount of God. The Pharisees, because they were resisting Him, must therefore needs be “thieves and robbers,” climbing into the fold some other way. And the poor blind beggar was a sample of the flock, who, while they refuse the voice of strangers, hear and know the voice of Him that had entered by the door; and, entering by Him, “the Door of the sheep,” find safety, rest, and pasture.
All this had been set out in the scene before us, and is expressed in the parable. The parable thus passes a blessed commentary on the present condition of this poor outcast. The Jews, no doubt, judged, (and would have had him judge so likewise) that he had now been cut off from safety, being cut off from themselves. But Jesus shows that not until now was he in safety; that had he been left where he was, he would have become a prey to those who were stealing, and killing, and destroying; but that now he was found and taken up of One Who, to give him life, would lay down His own. (I may just notice how it was that this poor weak one of God broke the snare of the fowler. We see in his ways two things: first, his honest, faithful following of the light, as it was given to him, and as it shone in him more and more brightly; secondly, his simple pleading of the works and ways of Jesus, his Deliverer and Friend, in answer to all the suggestions of the enemy. This was his security; and this is ours too, whether we be pressed or entangled by Satan.)
All this we have, both in the narrative and in the parable. And it is at this point in our Gospel that the Lord and the remnant meet together; “the poor of the flock” are here manifested, their own shepherds pitying them not; and the Shepherd from heaven takes them up as all His care, to guard and to feed them (Zech. 11).
But the love and care of Him who said to Him, “Feed the flock of slaughter” (Zech. 11:44Thus saith the Lord my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; (Zechariah 11:4)), is also seen here most blessedly. It is, perhaps, the sweetest thing in the parable. We learn the mind of the Father towards the flock. For the Lord says, “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep”; letting us know that one of the deepest secrets of the Father’s heart was His love and care for the sheep. The flock, indeed, was the Father’s before it was committed to Christ, the Shepherd. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” They lay in the Father’s hand before they were put into Christ’s hand. They were the Father’s by election before the world was, and became Christ’s by the gift of the Father, and by purchase of blood. And all the tenderness and diligent care of the Shepherd expresses the mind of the Owner towards His flock. The Shepherd and the Owner of the flock are one. As the Lord says, “I and My Father are one.” One, it is true, in glory, but one also in their love to and carefulness about their poor flock of redeemed sinners. Christ met the Father’s mind when He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; and they rest forever one in that love, as surely as they rest one in their own glory. This is truth of precious comfort to us. “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” We learn, indeed, that God is love; and the moment we discover this we get our rest in God; for the wearied, broken heart of the sinner may rest in love, though nowhere else. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
Here, then, “the poor of the flock” feed and lie down. But Beauty and Bands are to be broken. The Shepherd’s staves that would have led and kept Israel must now be cast away. It was only a remnant that knew His voice. Who can hear the voice of a Saviour but a sinner? The whole need not the physician. And thus, in this place, our Lord’s dealings with Israel close. He refuses to feed them any more: “That that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off” (Zech. 11:99Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another. (Zechariah 11:9)).
And I may notice that His dealing with Israel closes here in a way fully characteristic of this Gospel by John. They seek to stone Him, as we read, because that He, being a Man, had made Himself God. In the other Gospels the soul of Israel loathes Him (as Zechariah speaks) for other reasons; because, for instance, He received sinners, or impugned their traditions, or touched their Sabbath. But in this Gospel it is His assertion of Sonship of the Father, the assertion of the divine honors of His person, which chiefly raises the conflict. (See John 5,8,10.) In this place we observe that the Lord, in answer to the Jews, pleads the manifestation which He had now given of Himself, as others had done in Israel before Him. Others, set in authority, had been called “gods,” because they had manifested God in His place of authority and judgment, and were the powers whom God had ordained. And He, in like manner, had now manifested the Father. The judges and kings could have shown that the word of God had come to them, committing to them the sword of God. And Jesus had shown Himself the Sent of the Father, full of grace and truth, working among them now as the Father had hitherto worked, in the exercise of grace; restoring, and healing, and blessing sinners. Thus had He shown that the Father was in Him, and He in the Father. But their hearts were hardened. The darkness could not comprehend the Light and He has to escape out of their hands, and take up again a position in the earth apart from the revolted nation. (See John 2:1313And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, (John 2:13); John 6:44And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. (John 6:4); John 7:22Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand. (John 7:2); John 11:5555And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. (John 11:55).) In this Gospel I observe that the feasts are called “feasts of the Jews,” as though the Spirit of God looked at them as something now estranged from His mind. This is highly characteristic of this Gospel, in which, as I have noticed, the Spirit is separated from Jewish recollections, because He is tracing the way of the Son of God, the Son of the Father, Who stands above Jewish connection. Similarly to this, in the Old Testament, Horeb, or Sinai, is called “the Mount of God”; but in the New, under Paul’s hand, it is called “Mount Sinai in Arabia”; the Spirit of God no longer owning it, but leaving it simply to its earthly description.
Here the second section of our Gospel ends. It has presented to us our Lord’s controversies with the Jews, in the course of which He set aside one Jewish thing after another, and brought in Himself in the place of it. In the fifth chapter He set aside Bethesda, the last witness of the Father’s working in Israel, and took its place, as Minister of grace. In the sixth and seventh chapters He set aside the feasts; the passover and the tabernacles (the first of which opened the Jewish year with the life of the nation, while the second closed it with their glory), taking the place of these ordinances Himself, showing that He was the only Source of life and glory. In the eighth, after exposing the utter unsuitableness of the law to man, because of the evil and weakness of man, He takes His place as “the light of the world,” as the One by whom alone, and not by the law, sinners were to find their way into truth, and liberty, and home to God. And then, in the ninth chapter, in this character of the Light of the world, He goes out from Israel. He had been casting His beams on that people, but they comprehended Him not. He goes forth, therefore, and draws the poor of the flock after Him; and in the tenth exhibits Himself and them outside the camp, leaving the land of Israel, as the prophet had spoken, a chaos without form and void. The Word of the Lord, that would have called it into beauty and order, was refused; and, now, the place of Jehovah’s ancient husbandry, on which His eyes rested from one end of the year to the other, and which He watered with the rain of His own heavens, is given over to become the wilderness and the shadow of death.
John 11-12
Thus was it with Israel. They were left in unbelief and darkness, having refused the proposals of the Son of God. But these chapters show that though Israel may delay their mercy, they shall not disappoint it. God’s purpose is to bless, and He will bless. In the way of His own covenant, that is, in resurrection power and grace, He will bring the blessing to Israel. It was as the Quickener of the dead He had of old entered into covenant with their father Abraham. It was thus that He appeared to Moses, as the Hope of the nation at Horeb (Ex. 3; Luke 20:3737Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Luke 20:37)). It was by resurrection that He was to give to Israel the promised Prophet, like unto Moses (Deut. 18; Acts 3). It is in this character that all the prophets speak of Him as acting for the seed of Abraham in the latter day. And our own apostle tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of all the blessing promised to the fathers (Acts 13:3333God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:33)). Jehovah will restore life and glory to Israel, in resurrection power and grace. When all their own strength is gone He will Himself arise for their help. He will plant glory in the land of the living. The barren woman shall keep house. The Lord will call them from their graves, and make the dry bones live. And that He will accomplish all this for Israel is here, in these two chapters, pledged and foreshown. The previous chapters had shown Israel to be in ruins, and at a distance from God; but here, before the Lord entirely hides Himself from them, He gives them, in the raising of Lazarus, and its results, full pledges of final life and glory.
This, I doubt not, is the general bearing of these two chapters; and thus they form a kind of appendix to the previous section, rather than a distinct portion of the Gospel.
The Lord had left Judea, and was in retirement beyond Jordan, when a message came to Him that one (in Judea) whom He loved was sick. He abides in the place where He was until this sickness had taken its course, and ended in death. Then He addresses Himself to His journey, for He could then take it as the Son of God, the Quickener of the dead; and in the full consciousness that He was about to act as such, He sets forward, saying, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (vs. 11).
But here let me turn aside for a little.
The words of the two sisters in the progress of this chapter are, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died.” But they were not in the divine secret, the secret of the Son of God. He had come into this world now, as of old He had gone to the house of Abraham, as a Quickener of the dead. He was bringing victorious life with Him. He must be displayed in that glory. This had been done, since sin had entered and brought in death. But nature is not equal to this great mystery. Faith receives it, and talks of it; but faith is of the operation of God. And so, when Peter owned this life in Jesus, confessing Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was told him that the Father had revealed that to him (Matt. 16). None in this chapter were equal to it. They all talk of death, and not of life, even Martha and Mary themselves. But Jesus has life in Him and before Him. “I am the Resurrection, and the Life,” He says: “he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”
It is life, thus qualified, that the Son imparts to us—life eternal, infallible, victorious—and faith apprehends, receives, and enjoys it. “He that hath the Son hath life.” Peter, as we said, had it revealed to him by the Father (Matt. 16); Jesus took knowledge of it as in Himself (John 2:1919Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19); John 8:5151Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. (John 8:51); John 11:2525Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25)); the empty sepulcher displayed and celebrated it; the risen Christ imparted it (John 20). It is undefilable, as it is eternal or victorious. Death cannot reach it, the gates of hell prevail not against it.
What a story of life in a world where sin has reigned unto death! What glory to God! What effectual relief and consolation to us! It is life won from death, life brought in by the putting away of sin through the inestimably precious sacrifice of the Lamb, the Son of God, of Him “Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” What a mystery!
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:1212Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)). (Let me just notice the tears of Jesus here. The consciousness that He carried resurrection—virtue in Him, and was about to fill the house at Bethany with the joy of restored life, did not stay the current of natural affection. “Jesus wept.” His heart was still alive to the sorrow, as to the degradation, of death. His calmness throughout this exquisite scene was not indifference, but elevation. His soul was in the sunshine of those deathless regions which lay far away and beyond the tomb of Lazarus, but He could visit that valley of tears, and weep there with them that wept.)
But we must leave this precious, wondrous theme. The Lord, here in our chapter, also consciously bore the day as well as the life with Him; for “the life was the light of men”—and thus He says also, in answer to the fears of His disciples, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not because he seeth the light of this world” (vs. 9). He not only saw the light, but He has the Light, of the world—not merely a child of light, but the Fountain of light. His disciples, however, are dull of hearing. They neither discern the voice of the Son of God, nor see the path of the light of life. They judge that, death to Himself, rather than life to others, was before Him; and one says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (vs. 16.) There might have been human affection in this, but there was sad ignorance of His glory. The disciples now, like the women afterwards, would willingly take their spices to the Saviour’s tomb; but both should have known that He was not there.
Onward He goes, the Son of God, the Quickener of the dead; and His path lies to the grave of Lazarus, His friend, in Judea. There He stands, in the full vision of the triumphs of sin; for “sin hath reigned unto death”; and, had all ended here, Satan had prevailed. “Jesus wept.” In another Gospel He had wept, as the Son of David, over the city which He had chosen to put His name there, because she had refused Him. But here the Son of God, Who had life in Himself, weeps over the vision of death. But He groaned in Himself also; and He that searches the hearts knew that groan; and Jesus, in full assurance that it was heard, had only to acknowledge the answer with thanksgiving, and in the power of that answer to say, “Lazarus, come forth”—and he that was dead did come forth, the witness that, “as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.”
Here did the path of the Son of God end. He had met the power of sin at its height, and had shown that He was above it—the Resurrection and the Life. But this was not the destruction of him that had the power of death; for it was not the death and resurrection of the Captain of salvation Himself. Nor was it properly a pledge to the saints of their resurrection in glorious bodies; for Lazarus came forth bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, to walk again in flesh and blood. It was rather a pledge to Israel of the quickening power of the Son of God on their behalf; showing them that the promised resurrection or revival of the nation rested on Him, and that He would in due time accomplish it.
I would notice the paths of Martha and Mary in this scene. Martha goes out to meet the Lord, on hearing that He was coming. But she does not really meet Him. He was above her. He was standing in the consciousness of a glory that she as yet could not apprehend, and He speaks from His elevation, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”; while she answers from hers, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Thus there was a distance between them, the sense of which becomes painful to her, and she goes her way. There was then, I judge, a whisper in her soul that her more heavenly-minded and better-instructed sister would understand the Lord better than she did; and under this suggestion she went and told Mary that the Master had come, and called for her. This, I believe, was the secret of Martha’s word to her sister. It was not that the Lord had really called for Mary, and much less was Martha the bearer wrongfully of a false report. But Martha’s heart suggested that there was a sympathy between the Lord and Mary; and this suggestion, without wrong, expressed itself thus: “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” And so it proved. Mary goes forth to meet her Lord, and really meets Him. There is not the same distance between them as there had been between the Lord and Martha. Mary, on meeting Him, falls at His feet; and He, on seeing her, groans in spirit. This was a meeting indeed, a meeting between the Lord of life and His worshipper. Mary does not, like Martha, multiply words without knowledge; nor has the Lord to rebuke any slowness of heart in her, as He had in Martha. But we know He loved them both; and blessed is it to have any living fellowship with Him. Some may have more burning thoughts and brighter views of Him than others; but though our measure is but the Martha measure, yet there is heaven in the fellowship, wherever it is true and living.
But Israel had no eyes to read this sign of their mercy, nor heart to understand it. Instead of its becoming the ground of their faith, it is made the occasion of the working of full enmity. “From that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death” (vs. 53). The husbandmen set themselves to cast out the heir of the vineyard. And their entire departure from their father Abraham, their complete apostasy from God, is manifested. Israel had been separated out of the nations unto God; but they now deliberate, and take their place among the nations again. Unlike Abraham, they take riches from the king of Sodom, instead of blessing from the hand of Melchizedek. They choose the patronage of Rome rather than know the resurrection-power of the Son of God. “If we let Him thus alone,” say they, “all will believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” And the judgment then comes upon them, “Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” (Isa. 6:99And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. (Isaiah 6:9)). For now, having the voice of the Spirit in their high priest, there is no ear to hear it aright; and having the doings of the Son of God among them, there is no eye to perceive Him aright.
But still He was the Quickener of Israel; and in the latter day the dry bones shall hear the word of the Lord, and live; of which, as I have observed, Lazarus is the pledge. And the remnant in Israel in that day is also illustrated in the family at Bethany. (But in this house at Bethany we see also the Church, there being so much of moral kindredness between the two. For the Church is the witness of Christ’s resurrection-power during the long age of Israel’s unbelief, and before the remnant is manifested. And in the Church also, during that age, the Lord finds His only refreshment and fellowship. In Martha serving, Lazarus sitting, and Mary anointing the feet, we see the saints in their various grace and characters of communion with the Lord: some waiting on Him in the activities of love; some resting beside Him in the calm certainty of His favor, hearing His voice and learning His ways; some pouring forth the fullness of their loving and worshipping hearts.) Into the midst of this well-loved family the Lord comes, and finds refreshment, and fellowship, and the acknowledgement of His glory; as He will find these things in His remnant in the latter day. There He sits as the Lord of life, the witness of His quickening power being seated beside Him; and there too He sits as “the King of glory,” the homage of His willing people being laid at His feet. In these two holy dignities is He now received by this faithful household. “While the King sitteth at His table” (says Mary), “my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (Song of Sol. 1:1212While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof. (Song of Solomon 1:12)).
It is thus He here sits; one family in the apostate land owning Him Lord of life and King of glory. But the city itself, and the strangers there, were soon to see Him, as well as this house at Bethany; as, by-and-by, the nation and the whole earth will own Him after He is owned by the Remnant.
Accordingly, “on the next day,” as we read, many people, moved by the report of His having raised Lazarus from the dead, meet Him on His coming to Jerusalem, and lead Him into the royal city, as the Son of David, the King of Israel. (The Lord does not send for the ass’s colt here, as He is shown to do in the other Gospels. Here the scene of the entry into the city is produced by the zeal of the people. This distinction is still characteristic for this Gospel does not give the Lord in Jewish connection, as I have observed.) The time was the time of the passover; but the people are moved as with the joy of the feast of tabernacles, and take branches of palm-trees to gladden their King. And the nations, as it were, come up to keep the feast also; for certain Greeks come to Philip, and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Glory shines for a moment in the land of the living. Here was Lazarus raised from the dead, the city receiving her King, and the nations worshipping there. The great materials of the kingdom in which He is to be glorified had now passed before the Lord. The joy of Jerusalem and the gathering of the nations He had now witnessed; but His soul was full of the holy certainty that death awaits all here, however promising or pleasurable; and that enduring honor and prosperity must be hoped for only in other and brighter regions. In the midst of all this festive scene Jesus Himself sits solitary. His spirit muses on death, while the thoughts of all around Him are full of a kingdom, with its attendant honors and joys. “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” is His word now, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” Resurrection was everything to Him. It was His relief amid the sorrows of life, as we saw in John 11; it is His object amid the prospects and promises of the world, as we now see in John 12. It gave His soul a calm sunshine, when dark and heavy clouds had gathered over Bethany; it moderates and separates His affections, when the brilliant glare of a festive day was lighting up the way from thence to Jerusalem. The thought of resurrection thus stayed His mind amid griefs and enjoyments around Him. It made Him a perfect Exemplar of that fine principle, Let him that weeps be as if he wept not, and he that rejoiceth as though he rejoiced not. (See 1 Cor. 7:29-3129But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. (1 Corinthians 7:29‑31)). How little of this elevation above the conditions and circumstances of life the hearts of some of us are acquainted with!
This season was really to be the passover, and not the feast of tabernacles to Jesus; and His soul passes, for another moment, through His paschal trouble but the Father again acknowledges Him. He had glorified Him as Son of God, Quickener of the dead, at the grave of Lazarus; and now He glorifies Him as Son of Man, Judge of the world and of the prince of the world, by the voice from heaven.
And here did His path as the Son of Man end, as His path as the Son of God had before ended at the grave of Lazarus. The Son of God and Son of Man had now been fully displayed before His unbelieving Israel. He was glorified among them as the Prince of life, and the Holder of all authority and power. The things now accomplished and displayed in these two chapters, were the fulfilling of His words to them at the beginning: these were the “greater works” at which they should “marvel” (John 5:20-2220For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. 21For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. 22For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: (John 5:20‑22)). They had now witnessed His quickening power as Son of God, and had His judicial glory as Son of Man pledged to them by the voice from heaven. They should have honored Him as they honored the Father. But instead of this they would soon kill Him. They would soon disown the Lord of life and the King of glory, on whom all their hopes of life and the kingdom hung. He had tested them by the promised “greater works”; but there was no response from Israel. The harvest was past, the summer ended, and they were not saved. The lamentation of the prophet was now to be uttered, “Who hath believed our report?” It was not that His works had not manifested Him as the Hope of Israel. Many even of the chief rulers felt and owned them in their consciences, as we here read. But they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, as He had said unto them (chapter 5:44; 12:43). All that remained was judgment on Israel and the heavenly glory of this earth—rejected Jesus (vss. 40-41). So does our evangelist himself tell us, drawing the awful moral of the whole scene—“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him.” All closed in judgment upon Israel, and in glory, heavenly glory, glory within the veil, for the blessed Jesus (Isa. 6:1-21In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. (Isaiah 6:1‑2)).
Thus our Gospel seats the Son of God in heaven again. His way ends there, as it had begun there. The Gospel by Matthew ushers Him forth as the Son of David from Bethlehem, and closes with Him (as far as His ministry is concerned) on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 1:2424Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: (Matthew 1:24)). But this Gospel opened with His descent from the Father, and here closes (as far as His ministry was concerned) by His return to heaven. There He still dwells in the high and holy place, and with the humble and broken-hearted (Isa 57:1515For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15)). He speaks from heaven; and His voice must be in the power of all that finished work which has taken Him there. He is gone into the holiest, through the outer courts, throwing down all enmities, all middle walls and partitions, and has again; come forth from thence, in the virtue of His blood, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach peace to all (Eph. 2:12-2212That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:12‑22)). He cannot but speak of all that is there, and not of what is here. He cannot but speak, by His Spirit, of the peace and gladness and glory which are there, and not of the accusings with which our sins still committed here would fill our hearts.
All through His divine ministry in this Gospel, as I have before observed, the Lord had been acting in grace, as “the Son of the Father,” and as “the Light of the world.” His presence was “daytime” in the land of Israel. He had been shining there, if perhaps the darkness might comprehend Him. And here, at the close of that ministry (John 12:35-3635Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. 36While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. (John 12:35‑36)), we see Him still as the Light casting forth His last beams upon the land and people. He can but shine, whether they will comprehend Him or not. While His presence is there, it is still daytime. The night cannot come until He is gone. “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” But here, “He departs and hides Himself”; and then God; by His prophet, brings the night upon the land (vs. 40). It was not that the light had imperfectly shone. Their own consciences told them otherwise (vss. 42-43). The Light had done its service, and ruled the day, but the darkness had not comprehended it; and then this Ruler of the day sets in Judea, only to rise in other spheres. For His cry in these closing verses (44-50) is not addressed to Israel merely, but to the whole earth. It is but the same “Light of the world,” which had lately run His race in Judea, coming forth out of His chamber to run a longer race. And this race He is running still. “The day of salvation” is still with us. The night of judgment on the Gentiles has not yet come. We may still walk without stumbling; we may still know whither we are going. The Light still says, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Such are Thy ways, blessed Saviour, Lamb of God, Son of the Father!