Why did Jesus Weep?
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 11:32-37 (Compare Romans 12:15; Hebrews 4:15, 16)
32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
We often hear about John 11:35 in terms of it being the “shortest verse in the Bible.” That is true, of course. But it doesn’t have much bearing on what it means for us as believers. Who cares that it is the shortest? That fact is interesting, perhaps, but in itself is meaningless. The content of every verse is what we need. What does it say, and what does it mean? And, ultimately, how can I apply it to my own life?
The context was Lazarus’ death and the grief it had caused his family and friends. In thAt context, the fact that Jesus also wept takes on much more meaning. Was He just “overwhelmed with grief” at having lost His friend? That seems unlikely, since He knew He was about to raise him back to normal life. It seems far more likely that Jesus wept for the grief that the others were experiencing.
Get the Whole Context
In verses 1-14, we saw that Jesus knew all about what was going on in Bethany. Though he was a long distance away, He knew that Lazarus was sick. He knew that it would ultimately not result in death, (v.4) but in His own glorification. He waited two days after hearing the news that Lazarus was sick, before leaving. This was so that Lazarus would not have “just died” when Jesus arrived. He waited that long so that Lazarus would have been dead long enough that no one had any doubt about his death. In fact, they would know that his body would have begun to decay!
Then Jesus told His disciples that He was going back to Judaea. They were worried that He would be killed. He finally explained to them that Lazarus was dead, and that He, Jesus, was going to “awaken” him. They were still pretty anxious about going back to a town so close to Jerusalem, but ultimately, they all went along.
When Jesus arrived, the majority of the people who initially met Him were believers. Some said to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.’ Others, to one another, said “This man healed the blind. Couldn’t he have prevented the death of His friend?” So, we can see that many of them at least had a rudimentary faith in His ability to heal.
What about Death itself?
The issue they were all struggling with, was “Why didn’t you save his life?” But it had not yet occurred to most of them, that Jesus could actually raise the dead. Martha seemed to have a glimmer of the idea. She believed that Jesus could ask God to bring Lazarus back from the dead. (See verse 22: She said, “Even now, whatsoever you will ask of God, God will give it to you.”)
Can God raise the dead?
So, the question now is, “How far does the authority of Jesus, the Messiah, really extend? Can He raise the dead?” We need to remember that this is not the first time God raised the dead. In 1st Kings 17:17-24, we see that the son of the Widow at Zarephtha had died. Elijah asked God to restore him, and God honored that request and raised the boy back to life.
2nd Kings 4:1-37 tells of Elisha, the protégé of Elijah, and another child God raised from the dead. And, at the end of Elisha’s life, long after his death, in 2nd Kings 13:20, 21, we see some men sent out to bury the corpse of a dead man. But, because the men saw a band of enemy raiders coming, they hurriedly let the man’s body down into the grave of Elisha.
It must have been a shocking experience to those men: When the dead body touched the bones of Elisha, it sprang back to life! (I especially enjoy this story, as I imagine these men assigned to do the burying, running back within the city walls to escape the raiders, and looking back to see the dead man running with them.)
Finally, in Ezekiel 37, though it was “just a vision,” it still spoke of the authority of God to raise those who had long been dead. In that particular case, it referred to the resurrection of the Jews as a nation, both physically and spiritually.
But; Can Jesus Raise the Dead?
So, the concept of being raised from the dead was not new: it is just that none of them had ever seen it, and now they would see whether Jesus actually possessed the authority He claimed. That is the real question: “Does Jesus truly have the Authority He claims to have?” We still ask that question today: “Can Jesus really take care of me and my family? Is His blood really sufficient to take away all my sins? How sure am I, really, that everything He says is really true? And, Does He really caree about me?”
Jesus wants us to be sure. He wants us to know that we have eternal life, now, not waiting until we die to find out whether we were “Good Enough.” 1st John 5:11-13 says that He wants us to know that we have eternal life… not hope, or just be persuaded, or think so. He wants us to know it.
The Widow of Zarephtha had already believed that Elijah was a man of God. She agreed to make the small cake of bread for him, because he promised that her little barrel of meal and her little jar of oil would not run out until the famine was past. And it didn’t!
But then her son died. She immediately reproached Elijah, in grief and anger. But he took the dead child from her, carried him up to the loft where he was living, and prayed for God to “return his soul to his body.” And God did so. Her response was “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the LORD in thy mouth is Truth!”
God wants us to be that sure!
How can we Experience Eternal Life?
We know from the Old Testament stories that God is completely capable of getting us safely home to Himself. We believe that His authority carries beyond the grave. But He wants us not only to be sure that we already have eternal life through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. He also wants us to be secure in the knowledge that He is with us now. He wants us to trust Him to carry us through all of life, and through death itself. This is not a “pie in the sky when you die” idea. We are called to experience that Eternal Life in the here and now!
In John 17:3, Jesus said “ And this is Eternal Life: that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The word translated as “know,” here, is the Greek word, “ginosko,” meaning “experiential knowledge.” Not just “knowing a lot about a person,” but having an ongoing, living, growing relationship with that person. If we are to experience eternal life today, then we need to be in that ongoing, experiential relationship with Jesus.
We can “have” eternal life, because we have placed our faith in His completed work at the Cross…faith in His shed blood for our sins. But to experience it in a real, everyday way, we need to be walking with Him.
Seeing the Dead Raised
We might be tempted to think, “Well, why doesn’t God raise the dead today, and make everyone believe?” There were people right there who saw Lazarus raised, who definitely were not persuaded to place their faith in Jesus. Quite the opposite: they plotted to kill him! Not only that, but, in the next chapter, it occurred to them that they had better include Lazarus in the bargain. (“Gotta kill him too, or people will believe in Jesus anyway!”)
In Luke 16:19-31, we see the story of the “other Lazarus.” In it, the dead rich man argued that “…if they see someone raised from the dead, they will believe!” Abraham answered, “If they will not believe Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe, though one be raised from the dead.” This passage in John 11, 12 is clear proof of that truth! Those who rebelled against Jesus were determined to oppose him despite having seen undeniable proof of His deity!
So, How does it Help Us, to Know that Jesus Wept?
Compassion should have been strong in every priest.
In the Old Testament, we see that some of the human High Priests were not very compassionate. And the High Priest at that moment (when Jesus was raising the dead) was a character named Caiaphas. He was the leader of the group that wanted Jesus murdered! (How “compassionate” is that?)
In Exodus 28:29-30, the High Priest was called to carry the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart. Leviticus 16:1-6 says that the High Priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, before he could minister as the mediator for the people. Hebrews 5:1-3 confirms this. The High Priest is supposed to “have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are ‘out of the way.’’” This is specifically because “he himself is surrounded by his own infirmity.” And that was just referring to the human high priests. They were flawed individuals themselves! And they were to have compassion upon others for that very reason.
Jesus is the Perfect High Priest
And, in Hebrews 4:15, 16, we see that “We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” I often point out that “our feelings are not always an accurate reflection of reality.” That is true, but the fact remains that the feelings themselves are a reality that we have to deal with! And Jesus is aware of our feelings and is compassionate toward us in our frailties.
Jesus had no sin, but He suffered as though He were just like any other human. He felt the grief of the people, and “wept with those who wept.” He genuinely felt their grief, and shared in it for their sake. He did not just say, “Chin up! This too shall pass!” or any other such inane platitudes: He wept with them because of their grief, even though He knew He was about to bring them indescribable Joy.
We are called to Join Jesus in His Priesthood
Jesus is the True High Priest… but every believer is called to serve as a priest in the Body of Christ. We are to be His hands and feet and heart in our lifetime here on Earth, reaching out to those around us in genuine compassion.
This is part of the unity of the church: we are all part of one body, the Body of Christ. And when one part of the body is injured, it affects the whole body to one degree or another. Every living body exhibits this care for itself. If there is an itch on the back, for example, the whole body contorts itself to relieve that discomfort by reaching to scratch it. If a toe is injured, the whole body responds to protect that toe by limping or hobbling along, avoiding further injury. We are to care for one another at that level, spiritually and emotionally, as well as physically.
Weep With Those Who Weep
Romans 12:15 clearly commands us to “Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” This is not a command to “pretend” grief or “pretend’ joy. It is a command to extend our hearts to the needs of those around us. We should feel their sorrow as our own and feel their joy as our own. Ultimately, of course, that makes us pretty vulnerable to being hurt. But it also opens us up to experiencing the blessing of God flowing through us to those who are hurting, in the world around us.
If we genuinely care about the needs of those around us, then, as Jesus did, we will often find ourselves weeping in sympathy with those who weep, and experiencing the joy of those who rejoice.
Lord Jesus, open our hearts to be like You, caring deeply for those around us, and deeply, genuinely empathizing with them as You demonstrated in Your life. Help us to demonstrate the Agape Love so that the World will see Your face in us.