“Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” – John 11:3
For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the example of Lazarus provided immense comfort, a comfort he hoped his hearers would find as well. On this occaision Spurgeon found himself preaching to an audience of invalid ladies, and so he opened his sermon with the pregnant observation that “Lazarus was sick.”
In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon highlighted a key “Fact,” namely that “‘he whom thou lovest is sick.’” Here Spurgeon noted that the sisters were “somewhat astonished that it should be so.” After all, weren’t Mary, Martha, and Lazarus a “favoured trio”? Didn’t Jesus have a special love for them? Would Jesus let tragedy befall them? Even so, “as the serpent came into Paradise, so did sorrow enter into their quiet household at Bethany.”
Spurgeon believed that the sisters’ invitation to Jesus must have been filled with astonished urgency. Speaking for the sisters, he said, “We love him, and would make him well directly: thou lovest him, and yet he remains sick. Thou canst heal him with a word, why then is thy loved one sick?” The implication was clear, the sisters couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t just say a word and make the sickness go away.
Turning to his audience, Spurgeon personalized the question, “Have not you, dear sick friend, often wondered how your painful or lingering disease could be consistent with your being chosen, called, and made one with Christ?” The implication was this if Jesus could save a soul he could certainly make a body well.
Spurgeon was quick to answer the silent “Why not?” hanging in the room. He reminded his hearers that “the love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life.” Simply, “men of God are still men.” Even the glorious “covenant of grace” was not “a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.”
But, Spurgeon was also quick to add that “affliction of some sort is one of the marks of the true-born child of God. Recalling the examples of “Job,” “David,” and “Hezekiah” Spurgeon asked “who are we that we should be amazed because we are in ill-health?”
Spurgeon was also concerned that his hearers “reflect upon the great benefit which often flows from it to ourselves.” He noted that “many a disciple of Jesus would have been of small use if he had not been afflicted.” For example, “strong men are apt to be harsh, imperious, and unsympathetic, and therefore they need to be put into the furnace, and melted down.”
Furthermore, Spurgeon also noted that the “sickness of the Lord’s loved ones is [often] for the good of others.” After all, “Lazarus was permitted to be sick and to die, that by his death and resurrection the apostles might be benefited. His sickness was ‘for the glory of God.’” And so the question Spurgeon put to his hearers that morning was pointed: Would you trust that God was working all things, including your sickness and affliction, for his glory?
In the second section of his sermon, Spurgeon observed the sisters’ “Report.” Here he urged his hearers to model their example and “keep up a constant correspondence with our Lord about everything.” Now, Spurgeon knew that “Jesus already knows all about us,” but insisted that “it is a great relief to pour out our hearts before him.” Here the application was clear, as he said “In all trouble send a message to Jesus, and do not keep your misery to yourself.” With Jesus there was no need for “reserve” for he could never treat believers with “cold pride” or “heartless indifference.”
In the third section of his sermon, Spurgeon drew attention to “A result which we should not have expected.” Here he noted that “no doubt when Mary and Martha sent to tell Jesus they looked to see Lazarus recover as soon as the messenger reached the Master.” However, “they were not gratified.” And so Spurgeon warned “if our Lord leaves us to suffer, let us not repine.” Indeed, in this instance Lazarus’ death made way for his resurrection as mourning was turned into unexpected joy. And even if in this life suffering persisted and sickness remained, then the Christian still had a final resurrection to look forward to.
In the fourth, and final section of his sermon, Spurgeon concluded with “A question – ‘Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus’ – does he in a special sense love you?” He was concerned for his hearers, many of whom were believers, but especially for those who were not believers. To those who did believe, he urged them to “let all the world see how you glorify God in your sickness.” And to those who did not, he urged them to “seek his face at once.” Indeed, to seek the great Physician of both the body and soul.
Why you should take up and read:
For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the example of Lazarus provided immense comfort. Specifically, that “Lazarus was permitted to be sick and to die” so that “his death and resurrection” would be “‘for the glory of God.’” In this sermon, Spurgeon sought to help his hearers bear their sickness and suffering in hope. For those seeking hope in their suffering please take up and read.
Here is a link to the Sermon of the Week:https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/beloved-and-yet-afflicted#flipbook/
Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.