Fully Human 5: Weeping, Part 1
“Jesus wept.” These two words make up the shortest verse in the whole Bible, yet they overflow with emotion, wonder, insight, truth, and mystery. I remember being stunned as a new believer when I first read about Jesus weeping, because like many people, I grew up thinking Jesus was basically the docile, tame, mono-toned Jesus I saw on TV or in Christmas programs; and that God was basically some cold, harsh cosmic policeman who was just out to get everyone. But if God reveals Himself to us most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, as we have seen throughout this “Fully Human” series, then in Jesus’ own tears we can see the very heart of God breaking!
That is a radically different picture of God, and one which many people are simply unprepared for; but I am now convinced that it is impossible to understand Him, ourselves, or our own pain and suffering without reflecting deeply on the tears of Jesus.
Jesus weeps once in the Gospel of John and once in the Gospel of Luke; yet because his tears are so crucial for understanding the heart of God, we will save Luke for my next “Fully Human” blog-post and address John’s gospel here.
The death and healing of Lazarus in John 11:1-44 is fascinating: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are siblings and close friends of Jesus (v1-3, 5). Jesus is gone and Lazarus gets sick, so Martha and Mary send word to Jesus hoping he will come heal Lazarus. When Jesus finds out about the illness he immediately says: “this sickness will not end in death (v.4);” then surprisingly, Jesus waits around until Lazarus dies! He then goes to see his dead friend, declaring Lazarus is “dead,” but that Jesus will “wake him up (v15).”
When Jesus arrives he learns that Lazarus has been dead for four days. Both of Lazarus’ sisters are devastated as they run to Jesus separately but cry out with the same words: ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died (v21, 32)!” Mary falls at Jesus’ feet, weeping, and “when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (v.32-33).”
I can identify with the devastation and grief that Martha and Maria must have felt because my younger disabled brother Jonathan also died unexpectedly, and in many ways the grief never quite stops. Even now, years after Jonathan’s death, I get emotional thinking about him.
But the grief and devastation during the first week is raw and uncontrollable: this is how Martha and Maria felt. Jesus weeps as they take him to Lazarus’ tomb (v.35), but when they arrive Jesus orders Lazarus to come out, and incredibly, Lazarus does.
Now the question we must ask ourselves is: why on earth did Jesus weep? Martha, Maria, and the others wept for the same reason anyone weeps when a loved one dies: we know we are going to miss them. I still miss my brother Jonathan; that is normal. But that explanation cannot apply to Jesus here because Jesus knew all along he was going to bring Lazarus back to life in a matter of minutes: he even announces it four different times before actually doing it (v.4, 11, 12-15, 23)!
The only answer that makes sense to me is exactly what the text says: he was deeply moved and wept “when Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her (v.33)…” Jesus wept when he saw his friends’ grief and tears. Their pain and suffering caused him to weep. He did what good friends do at a time like that: he walked with them through their pain. The friends who are able to do that for us are the ones we can count on in even the worst moments of our lives; just as so many people were there for my family and I when my brother passed away, and made us feel loved, supported, and encouraged in the midst of our grief and devastation! This is what Jesus does here.
When disaster strikes and we are devastated, grieving, or overwhelmed, we often ask: where is God in all this pain and suffering? I asked that question a million times regarding the life and death of my brother Jonathan. Many of us think God must not really care much about us, or that God somehow is out to get us, or that He directly causes all this and then just sits back to watch us squirm.
But given the overall portrait of God in Scripture, and especially the one revealed in Jesus as he responds with tears to his friends’ pain and suffering, we must recognize that God is immeasurably more compassionate, caring, and concerned than we give Him credit for. Scripture says God reveals Himself to humanity through the person of Jesus more clearly than any other means: “the word became flesh” to reveal God’s glory to us (Jn 1:1-18); Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); the “fullness of God” dwelled in Jesus (Col 1:19, 2:9). These verses insist that we can see the heart, motives, personality, love, compassion, and fullness of God, in the person of Jesus as nowhere else.
If that is true, then maybe the answer to our question is that God’s heart breaks like Jesus’ did when he saw his friends suffer. Maybe God is at our side, devastated, and weeping with us like Jesus did with Martha and Mary? Maybe He cares for us so much that His own heart breaks when He sees us suffer? If Jesus is the fullness and image of God, as we have just seen, then in Jesus’ tears we can see God’s heart break over our own suffering; and we can be assured that if we turn to Him, He will walk with us through absolutely anything.
How then might you turn to Him? How might you allow Him to walk you through your own pain, suffering, and tears? How might you allow Him to begin to heal and restore the hurtful and broken places of your life?
For the entire Fully Human series click here.
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