“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that every verse is God-breathed or from God’s mouth. Every verse is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John, we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …
– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).
– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).
– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).
– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).
– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).
The sixth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is so we may DISCOVER CHRIST’S COMPASSION (John 11:28-37). Jesus has arrived at the grave side of Lazarus. He has already spoken with one of Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha, and now He converses with the other sister, Mary. In His conversation with Mary, Jesus shows sensitivity to her specific need. Whereas Martha needed instruction to cope with her loss, Mary needed an understanding friend to weep with her.
Martha secretly informs Mary that Jesus had arrived and was calling for her. “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ ” (John 11:28). Jesus was reaching out to her. This message was given in secret so Jesus could have a private conversation with Mary to comfort and instruct her. Martha refers to Jesus as “the Teacher,”not “a Teacher.” Christ is the only teacher of His kind. His three years of ministry had accomplished more than the combined one hundred thirty years of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Only Christ can save a soul from hell. Philosophy… art… literature… music and science cannot accomplish that! Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can give eternal life to those who are spiritually dead. He alone can grant everlasting peace to the human heart.
Jesus wanted to teach Mary about what He could do in her situation. He wanted to show her that she could trust Him while she dealt with her pain. The Lord uses disappointments in our lives to teach us.
“29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.” (John 11:29-30). Jesus waited outside the village because He wanted privacy with Mary. Perhaps He also wanted to be closer to Lazarus’ tomb. “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ ” (John 11:31). The secrecy of Martha was of no avail as these Jews followed Mary thinking that she was going to the tomb to grieve.
“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32). Nothing is said of Martha falling at Jesus’ feet, but Mary does. Like Martha, Mary expresses her anger and disappointment to Jesus. She is hurting because Lazarus’ life ended too soon. Mary blames Jesus for this. “You could have prevented this from happening, Lord!” She says no more than this and then weeps.
“Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:33). Unlike the Greek gods who were apathetic and lacking emotion, we see Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus connected with the emotions of others. Christ’s own emotions swelled up inside of Him as He observes the pain and sorrow of death. The word “groaned” (enebrimēsato) is used to describe an angry or indignant attitude. Perhaps Jesus was angry with the consequences of sin (death is the penalty of sin – Romans 6:23). He may have been agitated with the misery that Lazarus’ death had caused His friends. Or maybe He was irritated by the unbelief of Mary and the Jewish mourners who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection power.
Christ was not apathetic or indifferent to the grief of others. He was sensitive to the feelings of those around Him. “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ ” (John 11:34). Christ wanted directions to the tomb because He knew what He was about to do.
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). Martha had testified that Jesus is fully God (John 11:27; cf. 1:1), and now Jesus’ tears testified that is also fully human (John 1:14). Two natures in one Person, unmixed forever. Even though Christ knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He grieved with the pain and sorrow as well as the death-dealing effects of sin on those He loves. The Bible tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus did not hide His emotions. He was spontaneous with them. This word “wept” (edakrysen), is a quiet form of weeping compared to the loud form of weeping by Mary and the mourners surrounding her. Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He is sad that Mary and the mourners were so distressed. He has compassion for those who are hurting.
One of the best things we can do for those who are grieving is to cry with them. No speeches. No exhortation or Bible study. Just being there for them speaks volumes to the person who is grieving. Jesus understood how Mary and the mourners felt. He had lost John the Baptist by this time. And Jesus understands how we feel today when we lose someone close to us. He weeps with those who weep. He does not say, “You should not cry when you hurt.” Instead He says, “I understand Lazarus was very important to you and it hurts to see him pass away.” Jesus does not want us to deny our humanness.
God sometimes delays His answers to our prayers so we may experience His comforting presence in the midst of loss. He permits us to go through painful times so we may know the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our pain and trials can never exceed God’s comfort (“comforts us in all our tribulation”). He uses our losses to equip us to comfort others who go through a similar difficulty with the comfort we received from the Lord in our loss. If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave.
In December 2016, one of the pastors I enjoyed serving with in the Philippines was tragically murdered while driving his wife to a public school where she serves as a teacher. This deeply impacted my soul. I wept over this unfortunate death for days. During this time of grieving, Matthew 12:20 leaped off the page of my Bible as I read it: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”Jesus will not pour salt into our wounds. He will not treat those who are “bruised” with grief and pain harshly. He comes along side of us to strengthen us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little flame for the Lord or life (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28).
Many Christian leaders can add to the pain of the broken and bruised by being harsh and demanding. But not Jesus. He is always available to empathize with us and understand us when we are hurting. He knows exactly what to say and do when we are vulnerable so He can lift us up and set us in a broad place. He is on our side. He is not against us (cf. Psalm 118:5-9; Romans 8:31-39).
I am impressed with the emotional health of Jesus in verses 33 and 35. Christ experienced emotions of anger (11:33; cf. 11:38) and sadness (11:35). He did not deny them nor stuff them down. When we experience losses, God wants us also to pay attention to our emotions, including anger and sadness, as part of growing in the discipleship process. God made people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) which includes emotions. God has feelings of anger (cf. Exodus 4:14; Number 11:10; Deuteronomy 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; 11:33, 38; Romans 1:18; 12:19) and sadness (Genesis 6:6; I Samuel 15:11; Isaiah 63:10; Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Ephesians 4:30), so emotions in themselves are not sinful. Denying our emotions is denying our humanity given to us by our Creator. But acknowledging and processing our emotions with the Lord leads to healing and a greater capacity to love the Lord and other people.
Some Christians have been taught to be ashamed of their emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, so they stuff those feelings instead of processing them. Often times, the result is those emotions “leak” through in indirect ways such as passive aggressive behavior (e.g. showing up late, etc.), sarcasm, a spiteful tone of voice, withdrawing from others, and giving them the silent treatment.
“Two-thirds of the psalms are laments, complaints to God.” 1 Several Psalms are imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109; 137) whereby the writer curses God’s enemies. Is it wrong to ask God to punish our enemies since Jesus taught His followers to bless their enemies and not curse them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28)? Why would God inspire the writers of Psalms to record these kinds of prayers if it was wrong to pray in this way? I personally believe God has included these Psalms to help us pray honestly to God about our own feelings. Grieving our losses God’s way includes paying attention to our emotions, so we can process them and release them to the Lord.
“Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ ” (John 11:36). According to this group, Jesus’ tears showed how much He loved Lazarus. Evidence of sincere love for others can have a powerful impact on those who witness it. As believers show compassion to those who are broken and hurting, God can give them opportunities to share the gospel with the lost.
“And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ ” (John 11:37). Others near Lazarus’ grave were not impressed with Jesus’ tears. They were angry. They thought Jesus should have prevented Lazarus death. “He had healed the blind so it is obvious He could have healed Lazarus to prevent all of this sadness and blubbering.”
If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave. Likewise, if Christ did not allow situations to worsen in our lives after we pray, many of us would be unable to know what His compassion is like for us.
What is your response to Jesus today? Can you relate to Mary and Martha who were angry and disappointed with Jesus? Have you asked Jesus where He was when your loved one died? Or perhaps you wondered where Christ was when you were abandoned or abused as a child?
Christ wants you to know that He was there when you went through your loss or your trauma. And the look on His face was not one of apathy or anger. The look on His face was the same look that Mary saw that day when Jesus came to her brother’s grave. His was the look of compassion with tears streaming down His face.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your humanity which enables You to be an understanding Friend Who weeps with me when I lose a loved one or have to process a painful memory. Knowing that You understand how I feel gives me hope that You know what to do to help me heal. My trust is in You to meet my deepest needs at this time. Your tears demonstrate that You truly do care about my pain. Thank You for helping me to face that pain so I can heal and move forward with You. In Your name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), pg. 126.