Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 13 - Companions in Life

We are taking note of the movement from the old Israel to the New Israel; from the old, earthly, historic Israel, to the new, heavenly, spiritual Israel. This gospel by John is one of the books in the New Testament which especially have to do with that matter. That is, this gospel in a particular way sets forth this transition from the old to the new, from what was in the Old Testament times, to what is now in New Testament times. And we have indicated that in this gospel there are sixteen points in that transition. And we have already dealt with thirteen of these, so that tonight we come to number fourteen, and that is in the eleventh chapter of the gospel.

It would take too much of our time to read the whole chapter and especially because I have some other Scriptures that I want to bring in. Most of you will be familiar with this account of the death and raising of Lazarus. If you are not familiar with it, just look down the chapter and as quickly as possible acquaint yourself with what is said here. I shall be dealing with it in a general way, but I want to bring in at this point alongside of that chapter some passages from the Old Testament.

I turn you first to the prophecies of Ezekiel, chapter 37, at verse 12. I think many of you people on the continent are not as familiar with your Old Testament as you are with the New, so I will give you plenty of time to find it. If you open your Bible very near the middle, you'll be near Ezekiel; I hope you don't think I'm insulting your intelligence. Ezekiel chapter 37 at verse 12: "Wherefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, behold I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, oh My people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel and ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, oh My people."

Now over to the prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 11, at verse 11: "And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again, the second time, to recover the remnant of His people which shall remain from Syria, from Egypt..." and so on.

Now over to the New Testament, the letter to the Romans, chapter 9, verse 27: "And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, if the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, finishing it and cutting it short and as as Isaiah hath said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah."

You will remember those Scriptures as I refer to them as we go along. We come then to John chapter 11: "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany of the village of Mary and her sister Martha." We have been seeing that in this whole gospel there is a Jewish background to everything and that the Lord is building His new Israel with the old Israel in the background. That is, you can see the new spiritual Israel in the light of God's dealings with the old, earthly Israel. But at this point the old Israel was being put aside and against that rejection of the old Israel, God is bringing in His new Israel after the Spirit. The saints, the believers of this present dispensation are God's new, heavenly Israel.

Now, to see the Israel that is being rejected, just note some verses here. And once more you will see how unfortunate it is that the chapters are divided, of course they had to be divided as a convenience for public reading, but in your private reading you ought never to take any notice of these chapter divisions. So you look back to what is marked as chapter 10 at verse 39, this is speaking about Jesus: "And they sought again to take Him and He went forth out of their hand". Look back at verse 31: "The Jews took up stones again to stone Him...." Verse 33: "The Jews answered Him, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God".

Now over again to chapter 11 at verse 11, at verse 7: "Then after this He saith to the disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. The disciples say unto Him, Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?"

Now you see the Jewish background. Repeatedly they attempted to stone Jesus. They wanted to do with Him what later they did with His servant Stephen - just to stone Him there, and leave Him broken in body and dead - just as they did to Stephen. Again and again and again they took up the stones to stone Him: "and they sought to stone Him" it says. That is the Jewish background of chapter eleven, and it very clearly shows us why Israel of old had to be set aside, and why God must have another Israel. That kind of Israel can never serve the purpose of God! And so that Israel is rejected.

Now you notice that if you remove the chapter mark 11 and read through from chapter 10 and read right on, you'll find that this account of the death and raising of Lazarus is set right in that background. We must never just take some story as an incident in itself. We must always recognise that it relates to something else, and this dying and raising of Lazarus is set right in that Jewish background. This was not just a coincidence, not just a chance sort of thing that happened. Jesus made it perfectly clear that this was in the plan of God, if you read the story. And it is quite clear from what Jesus said that this is all planned - this is arranged by God. It is arranged by God that Lazarus shall die, and Jesus is not going to interfere with that. It has got to happen because it stands related to some very big thing that God is doing.

Well, let us look at Lazarus. Our friend Lazarus is sick, and Lazarus has a sickness for which there is no cure. I don't know how many doctors there were in Bethany, or even in Jerusalem just a few miles away, but I am quite sure that if there were any doctors about during those four days, the sisters would have sent for the doctor. But whether they sent for the doctor or not, the doctors could have done nothing. Lazarus has just got to die in the plan of God. He has a sickness for which there is no cure, and even Jesus, who had more than once raised the dead, will not interfere in this matter. He just positively refuses to prevent Lazarus from dying. Here it tells us that when Jesus heard about it He stayed where He was for four days. Of course, it was that that made the great problem for the sisters, and it gave something to the enemies. They said: "Could not this man, who gave sight to the blind, have prevented this man from dying?" Well, let the sisters misunderstand and let the enemies misjudge, Jesus is not going to be moved by anything. He lets Lazarus die.

Is this a hopeless situation? Well, what does Jesus say about it? When He received the message from the sisters of Lazarus He said: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby." This sickness is not unto death, and yet He let him die. He evidently meant: "This sickness is not unto death forever - it is not final death." Later He said, "our friend Lazarus is dead", and yet He said, "It is not unto death". So He meant: "this death is not going to be the last word".

Now let us note this as we go along: the spiritual knowledge of Jesus. Although He was a long way away, away from Bethany, He knew exactly the moment when Lazarus died. No one sent a second message to Him to say "Lazarus is dead". He said to His disciples: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth". They said: "Well if he sleeps, he'll do well". "Then said Jesus plainly unto them, Lazarus is dead." Jesus knew in His spirit what had happened, He knew in His spirit that Lazarus had died. In His spirit He always knew when there was death and when there was life anywhere. And I'm tempted to stop there and put in something else: you know, dear friends, that if the Lord Jesus is in us by His Spirit, we always know when things are alive or dead. We may go amongst some people and say: "My word, there is no life here! It is all dead." Or we may go amongst other people like those at Aeschi and say: "My, there's life here!" We know it in our spirit. No one has to tell us that those people are dead or they are alive. And that is a mark of the Lord Jesus. Now that is just something by itself, let us go on.

Jesus knew the moment that Lazarus died. Now we have the Jewish background, the immediate connection of this incident, that is, the connection of the old Israel. Now that is why I read those Scriptures from Ezekiel and Isaiah. When Israel was in captivity in Babylon and Assyria, the Lord said they were dead and buried, and He said "When I shall open their graves". To the Lord they were in their graves. And then Isaiah said, "a remnant shall return", and that remnant was the people who came up out of the grave of Assyria and Babylon.

Now, did you notice in Romans how Paul takes that up and brings it over into the New Testament? He quotes Isaiah's word about a remnant and in Romans he is saying that out of the old buried Israel there is going to come a remnant that is resurrected by the Lord, and that remnant of Israel is going to be incorporated into the new heavenly Israel. That is why this story of Lazarus is put right in the Jewish setting.

You notice that Jesus deliberately moves into the Jewish area. It was there that they had repeatedly tried to stone Him, He said to His disciples: "Let us go back into Judaea". They said, "Lord, they have only just recently tried to stone You there. Why go back?" But He would not accept their argument. He went deliberately into the Jewish area although it was so hostile to Him. Why did He do it? The story of Lazarus is the answer. This death and raising of Lazarus was set over against that Jewish situation; right in the midst of the rejected, dead and buried old Israel, He is going to raise a new one.

You might have thought that when the Lord wanted to start His new work He would have gone to some other country. He would have said: "Well, I can do nothing in Jerusalem, I can do nothing in Palestine; let Me go to India, let Me go to China, let Me go to Switzerland and start afresh all over again", but He deliberately went back into Judaea and He said: "In the place of death I am going to have resurrection".

And the Day of Pentecost is wonderful for that fact alone. If ever there was an impossible situation, it was Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The old Israel has been rejected by God, from God's standpoint it is dead. It is buried. And right there God brings, by new birth, His new Jerusalem. That's the immediate setting and meaning of this incident.

But we said Paul carries this whole thing right over into the New Testament and he says: "God has sent the old Israel away, but God is going to bring out of that very place of death His new Israel. A remnant is going to be saved through union with Jesus Christ in death and resurrection".

And what is the new Israel? Here again get rid of your chapter divisions, from a certain standpoint they can be a perfect nuisance. The chapters in the letter to the Romans - remove the numbers. What are marked chapters 9, 10, and 11 deal with, on the one side, the death of the old Israel, the rejected nation. And then it's there that the Apostle says that out of that a remnant will be brought. But you see chapter eleven goes straight into chapter twelve and what is chapter twelve about? It is about the Body of Christ! It says, "There is one body..." there is one Body. What is the Body of Christ? It is not Jew and Gentile brought together, it is both, having lost their own distinctiveness, and become one in Christ. In another place Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free... we are all one man in Christ. So that when the old Israel is removed, a remnant is taken out of it, and buried with Christ, and raised together with Christ. It does not come back as a Jewish remnant, it comes back as a part of the Body of Christ. That's the new Israel.

Well now, I have said that is the immediate connection, what will help us most is to see the wider connection.

Going back to Lazarus, the New Testament teaches us this: that the Cross of Jesus Christ does not cure the old man. It crucifies him. Now that's the trouble with most of us. Let us be perfectly honest about it! We are wanting the Lord to cure our old man, to make the old man a good old man, to remove from him all his faults, all that is wrong with him, all his sinful nature. The Cross of the Lord Jesus does not do that with the old man. The Cross of the Lord Jesus says in the sight of God that old man is dead and buried. "Our old man", says Paul, "was crucified with Christ". Jesus never came to any old man to heal him and make him better, and we are waiting all the days of our lives for the Lord to make us better. And right to the end of our life the old man will still be the old man, but with this difference - that God looks upon him as buried, as in the grave - crucified with Christ. There's Lazarus. Jesus would not cure Lazarus of his sickness. God would not cure Israel of its evil nature. God said: "It must die".

That's only half of the story, but let us be quite clear about this. There will always be an incurable background in our life which is not healed. It's there all the time, it's not healed, it is not cured of its spiritual maladies. Any day that you like, if you like to go back on the ground of the old man, you can commit the same old sins. That is what the New Testament teaches on one side.

But the glory will be in that which stands over against the background! The glory will be in what is in the foreground. We may have a sick body; the Lord does not always heal sick bodies. Just sometimes He does, but He does not always, even with the very best saints that He has had. And some of the best saints that God has ever had, have had sick bodies. We may have a sick human nature - and we all know that is true - we are all the time up against the troubles in one another, "Oh, if only I could forget what that brother or that sister is in himself or herself... I would have a happy time! But, you know, he is such an awkward man! He loves the Lord, he wants the Lord's best, but if you come up against him naturally you don't find him a very easy man to get on with..." and the Lord does not seem to deal with that, He does not seem to heal that human nature. I do not expect, dear friends, however long I live, that the day will come when everybody will think that I'm perfect. Perhaps in my last days, before going to the Lord, people will find some difficulties with me! Paul, right at the end of his life, says, "Neither am I already perfect..." I am not saying that we ought not to lose some of those strong, wrong ways in our lives.

Grace can work miracles in our human nature, but if you are looking for the day in this life when you are going to be absolutely free from your bad human nature, you are doomed to disappointment. Perhaps you'd say: "That's a very poor gospel to preach!" but there is another side to it. You and I can live in the power of His resurrection with a very sick body and with a very poor human nature. Yes, the power of His resurrection can cover so much! The foreground can just be the power of His resurrection.

We have to say about some people: "Well, you know, they're so weak physically. They know so much about sickness, and yet, look at what the Lord enables them to do! It's a miracle how much work they get through! They ought to have been dead a hundred times, but they go on." Not in their own strength, there is another strength that is over their weakness. Paul said: "When I am weak, then am I strong", the power of Christ's resurrection was overcoming his weakness. The weakness was there, he said: "I glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may encamp upon me". He was speaking of his physical infirmities and he was speaking of the power of Christ's resurrection.

Now, what is true in the physical realm is true in the spiritual. If we live in ourselves, we will give up. Oh, what a lot of infirmities there are in our natures! We are always carrying about a lot of spiritual sicknesses. Do you understand what I mean? These natural infirmities of ours... what a trouble they are. And if ever we say "Well, I cannot...", and then, because we cannot, we say "I give it up", we have forfeited the greatest blessing of the Christian life. Think of all that the apostle Paul had to do and to suffer! It was a terrible, terrible life that he had to live, from one standpoint. He had a weak and infirm body, he had enemies wherever he went, he suffered three shipwrecks (he only tells, we're only told of one, but he says there were three) he was in the sea a day and a night. He was in nakedness and hunger. He had to travel on foot mile after mile, month after month. And so we can gather up all the difficulties in that life... if ever a man ought to have said "I cannot go on..." that man was Paul! But what did he say? "I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me", not 'I can do all things' - Paul would have said 'I can do nothing' - but "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." There was a day when he naturally despaired of life; he said so. He said: "We had the sentence that it was death, on the natural side we despaired of life, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead".

Now, Lazarus was absolutely hopeless and helpless. He could do nothing... and that's how we are naturally. But Jesus said "it's for the glory of God". And dear friends, the glory of God is manifested in those who in themselves are as good as dead, but whom He enables to go on and to do much for Him. Jesus may not always heal us in body or in nature, but if He does not heal us, He can give us Divine Life and Divine Life is a great thing.

Perhaps some of you have heard of God's great servant, Dr. A. B. Simpson and Dr Simpson was a great believer in Divine healing. And he wrote a book on Divine healing, but, although he was such a great believer in Divine healing, he said this: "So that no one will misunderstand my position, I do not say that everybody has got to be healed, but I do say that everybody can know Divine life, which is something more than natural life."

Well, back to Lazarus. The Lord did not heal him, but the Lord gave him resurrection life, and this is the hope of everyone. The Lord may want to heal you in your body, or He may not do it. Whether He does it or whether He does not do it, He does not want us to live on our own life, He wants us to live by resurrection Life. That is what Jesus meant when He said: "This is not unto death, but to the glory of God". And if you look through your New Testament you will see that God is always glorified in resurrection. That is where the glory of God is.

You may see a very weak Christian physically, and you may glorify God in that weak Christian because of the wonderful power of Divine Life. You may see a person who has many faults and lots of things about them that you don't like, and yet there's something more than that - there is the Lord's Life in them. And while you may not glory in what they are naturally, you can glorify God for what they are spiritually. Well, that is the real heart of this incident of Lazarus. Life out of death is God's secret, it is the thing that most of all glorifies God.

Is that all a lovely story, all wonderful truth? Put it into operation tomorrow morning! When you get up in the morning say to the Lord: "Now Lord, I'm no good in myself, but I'm going to live this day by the power of Your resurrection". There may be impossible situations in yourself or outside of yourself; you just say to the Lord: "Now, Lord, You get glory today by enabling me to live by resurrection Life." It is something that we are to take by faith every day.

Timothy was evidently weak, a physically weak, young man. There was something wrong with his stomach and it was constantly troubling him. Paul said, "for thine oft infirmity..." Paul said to Timothy, "Lay hold on eternal life". You may have an "oft infirmity". If the Lord meant everybody to be physically healed, why did Paul not heal Timothy? Paul knew that there was something better than being physically healed - the power of eternal Life in a weak physical body is better. "Lay hold on eternal life" - that is, resurrection Life, something that we have got to do. May the Lord enable us to do it in all times of conscious weakness.

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