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Why Jesus Wept

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This column originally appeared in Saworship.com.

Jesus wept.

Two simple words; a subject followed by a past-tense verb.

These words comprise the Bible’s shortest verse, John 11:35. It’s hard to imagine that such a small collection of words could convey such amazing truths about God and His Son Jesus.

It might be hard at first to imagine Jesus crying, but not so much when you consider that He became a human and adopted human attributes. Jesus hungered, thirsted, felt pain, and even had to sleep when He became exhausted enough. We also know from at least three occasions that He became angry (driving money changers out of temple, rebuking Peter and getting frustrated with the disciples for being unable to cast out a demon). He also grew frustrated with the Jewish leaders’ inability to correctly interpret the prophecies of the Old Testament and being unable to see past their pride regarding who the Messiah was.

And if Jesus could do all these things, surely He could cry. As a child, He cried when he needed food or when He felt pain. The misery and heartache caused by man’s sinful nature must’ve made Him cry. He may have also cried when He saw the hearts of people who hoped their sacrifices and good works would get them into heaven.

Matthew 23:37-39 and Luke 13:31-35 tell us that He wept over Jerusalem. He also cried on the cross as He became the sin sacrifice for all mankind, partly because of the temporary separation from God that He had to endure and partly because He knew there would be billions of souls that would still reject His sacrifice.

This brings us to the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. John 11 tells us that when Jesus first heard Lazarus was sick, He waited. If Jesus had wanted to, He could’ve simply spoken or even thought the words, and Lazarus would’ve been healed. On at least two occasions that we know of, He did this (the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and the Greek woman in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30). He also could’ve supernaturally transported Himself to Lazarus’ home to get there quickly.

But instead, Jesus waited for two days.

Not just until Lazarus was gravely ill or on his death bed, but until he’d died. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary lived, it had been four days since Lazarus’ death. By this time, the decay process had begun.

Jesus waited because He knew God would use Lazarus’ death to provide a miracle to those around the area. It would also go a long way, He hoped, in further teaching the disciples about God and strengthening their faiths.

But despite His omniscience and omnipotence, controlling His emotions still wasn’t easy. When Jesus arrived, getting there four days after Lazarus had died, he encountered much sorrow. Those who were family, friends and loved ones were lamenting the loss of Lazarus, whom John 11:3 says that Jesus loved (suggesting they were very close friends). Others were there because they wanted to know why this “holy man” hadn’t gotten there in time to heal Lazarus of his infirmity. Others might’ve even been there to get a first-hand glimpse of the miracles they’d heard so much about. Whether it was for entertainment or because they were seekers is anyone’s guess. And yet others might’ve been there simply as spies for the Jewish Sanhedrin. Maybe they were hoping Jesus would commit more unauthorized miracles (such as Sabbath-day healing) that would warrant his death sentence.

When Jesus saw the heartache of the two sisters and those around him, and the wailings of “If you’d gotten here sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died,” He wept.

He wept because of the sorrow felt by Mary, Martha and everyone else who was there. He wept because Lazarus had been a dear friend of His, and he was saddened that he’d had to die. Lazarus’ death would be used to demonstrate God’s power, but Jesus still felt sorrow over the initial physical death of his friend.

Jesus wept over the pain Lazarus must’ve felt over dying. Surely, Lazarus must’ve heard the talk about Jesus coming to heal him and felt saddened that it didn’t come to pass. Jesus also wept over the souls of those who were there to see him. They were seeking eternal truths, and Jesus realized that for the receptive minds they had, this was a golden opportunity for Him to present them with truth of the Gospel.

But there was another reason Jesus wept, and probably the biggest reason. He wept because He knew that despite the miracle He would perform in raising Lazarus from the dead (an exceptional miracle considering Lazarus was already beginning to decompose), there were those there who would leave with hardened their hearts, never to receive the Gospel. Despite seeing one of His greatest miracles, they would still choose their own path and eternal separation from God.

And so, Jesus had the stone rolled away, prayed aloud thanking God for the miracle. He then cried out, “LAZARUS, COME FORTH!” To the astonishment of everyone, Lazarus came out of the tomb, bound in grave clothes. His sisters’ tears of grief gave way to tears of joy, and we read that many believed. Others simply left to report what they saw to the Jewish Sanhedrin; perhaps the sole reason they had gone there was for further evidence used to quell the nuisance of this maverick rabbi.

This miracle might seem very difficult for us to believe. We live in an era where God chooses not to perform miracles the way they were openly done in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But, as it turns out, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. We learn of another Lazarus who had died in Luke 16. The rich man in hell begged Abraham to send this Lazarus back from the dead to tell the rich man’s family about the horrors of hell. Abraham replied in Luke 16:31, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11, but we can conclude from the text that some of the witnesses there left with hardened hearts.

Why Jesus wept is easy to understand. Besides the compassion He felt for those who felt Lazarus’ loss and for those who were seeking out God, Jesus wept because He knew that despite everything He did, people would still choose to go their own way into eternal destruction.

And that’s worth weeping over.

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