"He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled."—John xi. 33.
UR Lord is on the way to the tomb of Lazarus, and as He looks at the two poor weeping sisters, and the company of more or less sincere mourners weeping with them, a storm of unwonted emotion sweeps across the surface of His generally untroubled spirit. The fact of the emotion is noteworthy, and the nature of it is not less so. A word of explanation as to the terms of our text may put us in the way for gathering the lessons from this unique exhibition of Christ as " troubled."
Now, you will find in the margin of the Revised Version an alternative rendering of the first clause of my text, which distinctly is to be preferred. Instead of "groaned," that version reads, "was moved with indignation," and that is undeniably, I think, the true meaning of the word. Then the second clause of my text would be more accurately, and yet not pedantically, rendered, "troubled Himself." And though, of course, that phrase may be a mere synonym for the more ordinary passive "was troubled," still I think that it is extremely improbable that the evangelist should have employed such a remarkable expression if he had meant nothing more than what is indicated by the more ordinary one. Then, further, we have to observe that we find the further development of this agitation in the tears of Christ.
So, putting all these things together, and making the alterations which I have suggested in the terms of the text, we see here vehement emotion fostered and encouraged by Jesus Christ, and that of such a sort as that in it there is grief mingled with indignation. Now I think that that stands alone in the New Testament as a picture of one phase of Christ's experience, and is profoundly pathetic, and as profoundly significant. And I seek to draw two or three plain lessons from it.
I.—First, then, let me ask you to note here the self-troubled Christ.
"My peace give I unto you," He said once, at a time when few men could have spoken of peace, and the words are significant of the ordinary characteristic of His life, round which there laj' an untroubled quiet, like a very atmosphere. But tranquillity is not impassiveness, and an unemotional manhood would be a very imperfect manhood. Unspeakably precious to us, therefore, as giving us an assurance of the inmost kindred of Jesus Christ with ourselves in what we sometimes, with a foolish pride, are accustomed to think weakness and to suppress, are all these intimations that He, too, lived a life of feeling, and was affected by present circumstances. That evidence of His true Manhood is even more thorough and more touching than that which is drawn from the consideration that He shared in our corporeal necessities. It is much to know that He hungered, that He thirsted, that He was weary, that He slept the sleep of active and exhausting toil; but it is more to know that He wondered, and desired with desire, and was grieved and wept, and even was angry; for thus we learn that "in all points" He experienced our fate, and that "we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities."
But, then let us remember that all these exhibitions of a true and thorough manhood derive their preciousness, their power, and their pathos, from the underlying conviction that this manhood is the temple in which there dwelt Divinity. What would it matter to me that a man, however good, however important in the development of the world's history, was moved with the common emotions of humanity? But when I can say to myself that the hungry, thirsty, weary, sleeping Christ is God manifest in the flesh, and when I can farther think that He who so entered into the limits of humanity as that He could be surprised, and so shared our tremulous nature as that He could be grieved, and glad, and indignant, was the Son of God, I bow, and, with adoring reverence say, "Lo! This is our God "—this, and not an impassive monster, far away from our experiences, and, therefore, from our love, but dwelling with us and one of us, that we may be drawn near to Him.
It is, important, therefore, to notice that wherever, as in this incident, we have in Scripture some most conspicuous instance of our Lord's participation in the infirmities and limitations of manhood, there, side by side with it, as certainly as there must be a mountain summit where there is a valley, we have some instance of our Lord's true and proper possession of the power of Divinity. For the weeping Christ, the moved and troubled Man, is He who cast His autocratic voice into the thick darkness of the grave, and made it penetrate through the folds of the napkin that wrapped the face of the dead, and through the veils of that other state, and said, "Lazarus! Come forth." Inextricably interwoven are the weakness of the man and the omnipotence of the God. And I, for my part, cannot believe that any anonymous scribe could have conceived and stamped on the world's heart the image of the Being that united these two apparently incompatible opposites, unless he had been simply a faithful reporter of what he had beheld. So, then, we have here Jesus Christ shown as one of ourselves by the very agitation that swept across His spirit.
But note, further, how we have here Jesus Christ stimulating and encouraging this trouble of His Spirit. "He troubled Himself." Now there is a fostering of emotion, which is unreal, insincere, hypocritical, and harmful. There is nothing more mawkish and disgusting than pumped-up feeling, manufactured to order, because men think they ought to feel. It is separated by a very narrow line from lying.
But, on the other hand, there is a stimulating and encouraging of emotions, if the emotions be themselves right and legitimate, which is wholly right and a plain part of self-government and culture. We usually talk about self-control with the idea that it means damping down feeling. So it does; but there are feelings which men need to stimulate by setting before themselves resolvedly the objects that should evoke them, and by many another way on which I do not need to dwell now. And one lesson that I draw from this strange picture of my text is that the possession of emotions is not weakness, but rather strength; but that weakness is to let them be our masters. Control them, keep them well in hand and under check. Let principle guide feeling, and conscience move principle. Stimulate the sentiments which a true man would have in the presence of grief, and do not be afraid of stirring up yourselves to feelings, the possession of which bless you, and should impel you to bless the world. We have a Master who, though He dwelt in eternal calm even in His manhood, would have been untrue to His manhood and His Godhead alike if, in the presence of sorrow, loss, and death, He had not "troubled Himself."
There are plenty of us priding ourselves on our equable temperament, on our mastery of our emotions, who would be twenty times better men if there were more frequently flashed through them the electric shock of these generous emotions; and if they lived more than they do under their influence.
But then, again, let me remind you that in this picture of a troubled Christ we may see not only the sanction, but also the limits, of legitimate feeling, especially of sorrow. A spurious philosophy tells us that emotional lives are low; a spurious pride is ashamed of the exhibition of feeling; a spurious Christianity preaches to us that sorrow is sin. And, in answer to all that, we point to Jesus Christ at the grave of Lazarus, shaken by the vehemence of His emotions, and we say, "That is our pattern."
But He teaches us also the limits of sorrow. Look at these two sisters if you want to see excessive emotion. One of them was restless in her grief, unfit to settle down to anything, rushing out to meet the Master with what was almost like a rebuke upon her lip3; impatient when He flashed some faint beam of hope into her grief, putting away petulantly the thought of "the resurrection on the last day" as much too far off and shadowy to be of any use in present sorrow. And the other of them was sitting with folded hands on her lap, doing nothing but eating her heart out with her sorrows. Let us learn that grief is excessive and sinful when it selfishly absorbs us, makes us oblivious of duty, sets us to aimless regretting that something had not happened which did not happen, and which if it had happened would have made everything else different, and above all when it makes us put away from us, with impatient hand, as too far off, the solace and hopes that lie in the great Beyond. And from these two poor, weeping women, to be pardoned and yet to be blamed for the exuberant extravagance of their grief, let us turn to Him who ruled His emotions, and bid back His tears, in order to lift up His voice in confident acknowledgment that the Father heard Him, and then to fling it into the grave, the word of life-giving power. Sorrow that brings us nearer to God in close communion with Him, sorrow that sends us upon our path with the assurance that we are doing the Father's will, sorrow that makes us gentle with all other sad hearts; that is the sorrow which is worth) of the Christ.
II.—And so note, secondly, how we have here the indignant Christ.
"He was moved with indignation in His spirit."
Why? At what? Not at these poor weeping sisters; not at anybody that stood there. That is plain enough. Then, at what? or why? I suppose because He saw in that one single instance a reproduction in little, and, as it were, an isolated specimen, of all the miseries and evils that were bringing sorrows to so many hearts all over the world, and saw the sorrow in its cause as a fruit of sin.
Perhaps there may be some reference in the indignation to a dark personal source of the sin which begat the sorrow. But whether that be so or no, at all events here we have Jesus Christ looking upon man's miseries, and regarding them with the indignation mingled with grief which is due to the consideration that the miseries are the fruits of evil.
Therefore I say we may learn from this how it becomes us to look upon suffering and sorrow. We must take, in connection with these words, other words in this same Gospel, which at first sight seem to point in another direction. When the disciples with a foolish curiosity, put the question to our Lord about one poor blind man, "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" they got the answer, "Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." There our Lord denies that individual transgression is the cause of individual suffering. But here, on the other hand, the indignation implies that the general sorrow is the result of human sin, and that is a hopeful thought. Sorrow, tears, death, and all the other ills that flesh is heir to are an alien and abnormal excrescence upon creation as God meant it; and He has nothing to do with them but to hate them, and to fight against them, and to cast them out, and to deliver us from them. True. He uses them as His ministers and messengers. True, the chastisement that falls upon His children is the token of His love. But all this is perfectly consistent with the other view, that we are to regard the so-called evil, which is suffering, as being an ugly, unnatural intruder into the creation of God; and that, as did Christ, so we should seek to stimulate in ourselves that passionate sentiment of abhorrence of the cause which has brought about such evils.
Let any man, with Christ's eyes in his head, and Christ's spirit in his spirit, walk the streets of Manchester for one hour, and he will see plenty to arouse his wholesome indignation—an indignation which falls, not so much on the victims as on the evil, which is sin, of which they are the victims. But, alas, custom and selfish engrossment with our own affairs make many of us quite insensible of the miseries attendant upon the present social order, and we are too apt to take these things as inseparable adjuncts of our civilization, like bilge water in a ship or the rattle and dust of a train, very disagreeable, but not to be got rid of.
We may learn, too, what was one very large element in the sorrow of Jesus Christ. He saw causes as we do not. He saw the whole in the single instance; He was keenly sensitive to the contrast between what might have been and what was, as we are not. And all that keenness of insight and depth of penetration were associated in Him with a tenderness and sensitiveness of sympathy, due to His own sinlessness, which made the touch of His hand so soft, but which also made the touch of the world on His hand so intensely painful. He was a Man of Sorrows. The disciples of the weeping Christ need not be ashamed or afraid of tears. The followers of the indignant Christ ought to share His indignation, and we are poor followers if we do not.
III.—Lastly, we may note here the helpful, delivering Christ.
All this storm of agitated feeling which we have been trying, reverently I hope, to contemplate, led on to act. The evangelist marks that in a very significant manner when he says, "He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him?" That was an invitation to them to come and see, but it was also the declaration of His resolve now to act under the impulse of this strong emotion. That resolve, indeed, had been made ere He left the region to which He had retired, and from which He was drawn by the news of the death of Lazarus. But still the excitement of the feelings of which we have been speaking led Him straight to the grave, and set Him to His task.
So we learn the cost at which Jesus Christ does His delivering and redeeming work. It is part of the great mystery of His work for the world that He must necessarily take upon himself the sin and the guilt from which He delivers us. He does not stand by the river's bank and stretch out a dry hand to the men fighting in the flood, but He Himself plunges in to rescue them. A feeble shadow of the same thing is seen in the law which runs through all humanity, that whoever would help his fellows must himself feel the miseries from which he seeks to deliver. A feeble illustration of it is given to us in the old story of the man who made himself a slave in order to deliver those who were in bondage. And the highest manifestation of it is given in this, that He Himself bare the sickness that He was to bear away; that He endured the griefs which He was to alleviate; that He bowed His head to the death which He was to abolish; that He entered into" the grave which He was to burst; and so, having passed through all man's miseries, He becomes the Deliverer from all.
Our service for the world can be done on no other terms than His service for us was done. It takes a great deal out of a man truly to help another. We need that our feelings should be stimulated; but all stimulation of feeling which does not end in active work is bad and harmful.
And therefore, dear brethren, though there be much in this strange picture of my text inimitable and unique, the spirit of it must be reproduced in our lives if we are to be the followers of Jesus Christ, and we, too, must know what it is to feel the full rush of the flood that we would stem, and to bear in ourselves the sorrows from which we seek to free others.
Is it not strange that Jesus Christ should have been thus shaken by passionate emotion over sorrows which He knew would all pass like a summer cloud in five minutes? People wonder that He thus was indignant, and troubled Himself and wept, when He was just on the point of bringing Lazarus back. Ah! if Jesus Christ did not feel with us our "light afiliction which is but for a moment," what would there be left for Him to feel with us? Blessed be God! however sure He may be that in an instant or two He will bring relief and consolation, like sudden sunshine on a winter's day, He none the less bears the burden of our trivial sorrows and takes the load of our fleeting distresses, and weeps with us the tears which next moment He wipes from off all faces. Take Him for your Friend and Comforter; take Him for your Pattern and Example.