”Jesus wept.” John 11:35
As every Sunday School kid who has to memorize Scripture knows, this is the shortest (and easiest to learn) verse in the Bible.
But its size is not indicative of the deep spiritual insight it gives into the thinking of Christ Jesus.
Why on earth would Jesus cry?
Was he sad, was he upset? What was going on that moved him to tears?
Let’s set the scene. It’s about a week before Passover (and Jesus’ crucifixion). Jesus has just returned with his disciples to Bethany because he received word that his dear friend Lazarus was gravely ill. When he arrives, he learns that Lazarus has already been in the tomb four days. “He’s too late,” is what everybody’s thinking.
Jesus asks to see the burial place and begins to weep. From the way he was crying, those around him could tell that Jesus loved Lazarus. But they assumed he was sad. And I have heard prominent preachers declare emphatically that Jesus was crying because he was grieving for Lazarus.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Did Jesus think he was too late? Absolutely not! He knew exactly what he was about to do. He actually had delayed his arrival on purpose and had told his disciples that he was glad he had not been there so their faith would be strengthened when they saw what he would do (see John 11:6,15).
Jesus had a very different perspective on death, what it was—and what it wasn’t. Jesus knew he would call Lazarus out of that tomb.
In fact, he had just comforted Martha that Lazarus would rise again. She thought he meant here-after, at the Last Day. Jesus emphatically declared “I am the resurrection, and the life.” Not was. Not will be. But here and now. Jesus insisted he was the resurrection and the life that very moment—and every moment for all eternity.
But why did Jesus even go to the trouble of resurrecting Lazarus? If Lazarus was going to be resurrected at the Last Day as Martha believed, what difference did it make? In eternity, isn’t that all that really matters?
Obviously Jesus didn’t feel that way. He took the grand truths of eternity and applied them to every day life. The human condition was his laboratory for proving the omnipotence and love of God.
Take away the stone.
So Jesus comes to the tomb and he tells those nearby, “Take ye away the stone.” Notice Jesus says “ye” which is second person plural. It obviously will take more than one person to roll back the heavy stone at the entrance of the cave.
Martha’s immediate reaction was: Why bother, he’s been in there four days and stinks by now. How utterly disrespectful this action might have seemed to her. She hadn’t yet glimpsed what Jesus was about to do.
Now just imagine how long it must have taken for a bunch of strong men to move that stone. Probably a good long while. If you had been one of the men rolling back the stone, what would you have been thinking at this point? What was everyone else thinking? How was their thinking evolving from being absolutely certain that Lazarus was dead, to curiosity as to what Jesus was going to do, and finally to expecting something amazing to happen?
The very command to roll away the stone helped to dissolve the conviction that Lazarus’ death was irreversible. The removal of the stone allowed expectation to fill its place. The stone represents fear, doubt, disbelief, and defeat. It is the feeling of hopelessness in the face of all the material world throws at us.
And then of course, Jesus spoke those powerful words, “Lazaurs, come forth.” And Lazarus stepped forth to the astonishment of everyone except Jesus.
So why did Jesus cry?
He was not sad. He was not discouraged. They were tears of joy, tears of victory and deep spiritual gratitude—gratitude to God for delivering Jesus himself from death after the crucifixion.
Jesus knew in a week’s time he would be facing his own death. Lazarus’ emergence form the tomb foreshadowed Jesus’ own victory over the grave in his resurrection. And Jesus knew it with absolute certainty. God was reassuring Jesus that death could not defeat him. It was God’s promise to his dearly beloved Son that death did not have the final say and that Christ destroys the power of death.
Christ has given us the victory over death.
Do we obey when Christ tells us to take away the stone?
Do we come forth when he calls us from the grave of sin, discouragement, and self-condemnation, etc.?
Obey Christ’s call. Come forth.
“He is risen” in our hearts.