The man known as Yeshua bin Yusuf – a prophet and rabbi who would one day be more recognizably known as Jesus the Nazarene – sat upon a tree stump at the edge of a well-travelled, winding, dirt pathway that led to the hillside town of Bethany, a small village very similar to his hometown of Nazareth, which lie far to the north. Many of his disciples—the famed Twelve of his closest as well as many more who frequently accompanied him—also took a moment to catch their breath, for the day been hot and the sun bright, their travel long and the path quite taxing. They glanced at him as if awaiting him to spew forth words of wisdom or comments of encouragement, but instead he sat silently, lost to his own thoughts and strangely distant.
It was fairly quiet amongst the group save the occasional utterance of conversation amongst some disciples as they tried to decipher the cryptic words that Yeshua had just proclaimed to a woman who had approached him only moments before – one of the sisters of his friend named Lazarus, the friend whose death was the very reason for their trek to the little town of which they soon approached. When she had questioned his late arrival in such a time of mourning, he, instead of answering her accusation, began to talk of resurrection and life, living through death and dying through life, a peculiar message that perfectly mirrored many of those other difficult-to-understand and seemingly contradictory truths that he seemed so fond of throwing at people to get their minds spinning and deep in thought. The woman, Martha, had subsequently uttered her praises to him and had departed, heading back home to retrieve her sister, Mary, the woman whom they now awaited as Yeshua sat upon the stump with his eyes closed, as if in deep thought of the friend who had been lost to the realm of the living. He and Lazarus had been close, so his death was not to be taken lightly; they all knew that.
Yet for some odd reason, many disciples noted that Yeshua himself did not seem to be mourning – not in the same way that Martha had, that is. Instead, he was just silently contemplating, not submersed into a world of grief and depravation but instead wrought by some unseen sadness that none of them could comprehend. His pain was not for the loss of his friend, but for something else; that, they could see clearly. Yet where that sadness came from, they knew not, nor did they ask. They just allowed him to sit and think, trying to busy themselves by discussing the teaching that had just come from his mouth only moments before.
After what seemed like an eternity, another woman came into view – a woman whom many disciples recognized as Mary, the other sister to Lazarus – many of her closest friends following not far behind as she approached the thirty-something year old sage who had awaited her arrival. As she approached him, Yeshua stood up to meet her, walking in her direction quietly without exchanging even a single word. All the disciples watched in stunned silence as she so boldly approached Yeshua and fell at his feet, tears flowing from her eyes as she looked up into his face with an expression so pained and filled with grief that many of them had to look away in a mixture of pity and embarrassment. In a culture such as theirs, for a woman to present herself in such a deprived state was a sign of utter boldness or sheer insanity; they could not tell which trait she now displayed.
“Lord,” the woman said, her arms falling dead to her side as her eyes locked with Yeshua’s, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her plea, though not meant to be accusatory, failed to conceal the resentment between each word, a sting that came as a message loud and clear to Yeshua’s ears, the bite of them visible on his face as his beloved friend wallowed in such pity and shame, her words hurtful and direct. This woman – the same young woman who had humbled herself and washed his feet with her hair only years before – now found herself at his feet once again, this time humbling herself not through reverence or discernment, but out of depravation and despair. She knelt before him broken and distraught, angry at him and pained by his absence in their time of need. Her brother was dead, and she blamed Yeshua for this, a fact that troubled him deeply and moved him to his core.
He squatted down before her, various emotions passing over his countenance as he passed his hand through her hair and cupped her chin, lifting her face so that her eyes once again met his. His disciples and her friends alike dared not move a muscle as they watched the spectacle before them, the teacher and his student locked in a moment of utter emotion as a shared grief passed over the each of them, equally painful yet utterly different, sourced by two separate despairs that could be shared all the same. The angry and grieving and lost Mary found herself locking eyes with the saddened and troubled yet found Yeshua, and together, they allowed their sadness to overtake them.
There, in that shared moment of troubled sadness, Yeshua wept.
It was not an utter wailing or outburst, the kind that sends bodies quaking and loud laments crying up to the heavens; no, instead it was a silent burst of tears that poured from his face and down his cheeks, his eyes closing in thought as he pressed his forehead against his grieving disciple’s and prayed silently before them both. They stayed in that moment for just a short period that seemed like a lifetime, and then Jesus at last pushed away from her and smiled, not bothering to wipe the tears from his eyes as he once again locked his gaze with hers, color rushing to his face as the oh-so-familiar determination took over his entire visage. In but a split second, Yeshua went from the grieving friend to the wise rabbi that they had all grown accustomed to. The silence was deafening as all present awaited the next words that would pour from the prophet’s mouth.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
At this point in the story we reach a moment in Jesus’ life that would serve as the “last straw” event of his miracle-working days, the miracle that would be so bold and breathtaking and rebellious that Jewish religious leaders would subsequently feel so threatened that they proceeded to plan his execution: he would raise his dear friend Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, back to life with but a single command from his mouth. With that single command – “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43) – Jesus would seemingly seal his own fate, this miracle in and of itself being the very catalyst that pushed the religious council over the edge that they at last decided that Jesus of Nazareth needed to die before he started an all-out rebellion through the movement he had already begun. This is one of Jesus’ better known miracles (the entirety of which can be found in John 11), and rightfully so, for it not only proved his power over the grave, but his determination in proving the love of God to a world so quick to rebuke that love.
But it is not the raising of Lazarus that we are here to talk about today (like many other topics, this is yet another subject to be discussed at a later date). No, instead I want us to take a step back and rewind a little bit, back to the moment we just read about during the encounter between Jesus and Mary, the moment where the world seemingly paused in its place as teacher and student shared a moment of grief, despite the fact that the sources of their pain could not have been further from the same. Today, we look at how the source of sadness between God and man are often different than how they first appear.
Today, we are dissecting the shortest verse in the entire Bible, and I am going to show you how those two words have such a greater meaning than you have ever before realized.
Today, we are discussing the moment when Jesus wept (John 11:35).
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…when we think of Jesus crying in this story, we often think of it in context of a friend crying in sadness over the death of a loved one. But if I’m here to tell you the truth, I want to start off by telling you this right away: THAT IS NOT THE CASE! When we read that “Jesus wept,” it isn’t because Lazarus is dead, not in the slightest! Instead, the source of Jesus’ tears are much more profound than this, a reason that we can only comprehend when we first look at the source of Mary’s tears.
You see, it is Mary who is crying for the death of Lazarus, not Jesus. Mary is distraught because of the death of her brother, and she is hurt that Jesus, in whom she had fully put her trust, failed her in the fact that he did not save the brother whom she cared so deeply about. Mary knew of Jesus’ power, so the fact that Jesus essentially wasted so much time in arriving to Bethany frustrated her because she knew he had the power to save her brother prior to his death. She knew Jesus was capable of such wonders – had he not healed the ill before? (Matt 8, Mark 1:34) – and was shocked and perhaps a bit appalled that Jesus did not bother to save her brother, whom Jesus considered a personal friend. The idea of raising a dead man back to life seemed absurd and unheard of, so she was distraught by the fact that Jesus hadn't bothered to arrive any sooner to save him in those moments before death. Understandably, Mary is questioning the will of Jesus, because his tardiness seems oddly peculiar given the circumstances of the entire event.
But when it comes to the source of Jesus’ tears, we will be shocked to find a startling revelation within them. Look at the context of the story within the Biblical passage: as we read, Jesus already knew that Lazarus was dead, even when he was back in Galilee, before he even bothered travelling to Bethany. He knew Lazarus was dead prior to their trek across the land, but it was not until he sees Mary weeping that Jesus weeps, so we must conclude that Jesus’ tears result from her sadness and not from the death of his friend, as many are so quick to assume. Jesus had no reason to cry for Lazarus, for even in that moment with Mary, he knew he would raise Lazarus back to life; had he not already told the disciples that Lazarus was only “sleeping” (11:11-14), and do not those who are asleep one day awakened? To a man as powerful and wise as Jesus, death is no different than slumber, so he had no reason to weep at the death of his friend, especially since that friend was soon to be revived.
So this is what we must conclude, and it is indeed profound: Jesus did not weep for his own loss, but out of compassion for us. He wept in grief for the fallen world in which we live, the world entangled in death and sorrow that is all a result of the sin we gave birth to. Nothing can affect God, who is both complete and all-powerful (Mal 3:6, Heb 12:28) and thus cannot be shaken or moved, so the fact that Jesus wept in this very moment is instead a very testament of God’s love for His creation. In crying, Jesus proves how deeply the Lord cares for us, being brought to tears by our own sadness. Like a father who weeps at the sight of his child in pain, so the Lord looks at us and cries tears of despair, moved by our lack of faith and inability to keep our eyes directed towards Him. Was not Jesus prophesied to be “a man of suffering” who was “familiar with pain” (Isa 53:3)? His pain was not a result of any worldly thing that happened to him, but instead a result of our inability to look beyond the ways of this world and see the hope that is found in him.
To wrap things up and keep things simple, I want to end this with a touch of optimism, for as I have already said, there is hope to be found in the tears of Christ as we read them in this passage. Here are some truths that I want you to carry with you throughout the day and for each day going forward, each time you feel fear or sadness or grief or pain:
- This is true, as we have seen: the Lord loves us deeply. So deeply, in fact, that though He cannot be shaken or moved or altered in any way, He cries along with us out of compassion and love. (John 11)
- When we cry to the Lord, He hears our call and is quick to heal, for those who put their hope in the Lord will renew their strength and fly; they will find strength within their sorrow. (Psa 18:6, Psa 34:17, Isa 40:31, 1 Pet 5:10)
- The love of God has been demonstrated to us through this: that though we were sinners, Christ died for us, and through his death and resurrection, we have been granted eternal life as sons and daughters of the Father. (John 3:16, Rom 5:8)
So here is my encouragement to you, my friends: put your hope in the Lord, for He loves you dearly. There will be pain in your life and sadness will come, but it is your choice whether or not to wallow in it! Like Mary, you can choose to grieve over the things of this world, which are destined to fade away (1 John 2:17), or instead you can look into the kingdom of heaven, which lives inside us all (Luke 17:21), and you can see that there is hope despite the sorrow because there is a God who loves us and wills us to prosperity (Jer 29:11)! When we weep, God weeps along with us, but when we rejoice He does the same, so live lives of optimism and happiness, for our salvation is secure in Christ and nothing can harm us who are one with Him. Do not let your minder linger on the sadness, for in doing so you are becoming a slave to the world. Instead, I encourage you to jump-start your faith and keep your hope in the Lord, who can raise the dead to life as easily as waking a newborn child. This is the God we serve, so be happy and rejoice, for God is good.