In Bible study last Friday, the topic was John 11 – the death of Lazarus, and Jesus’ resurrection of him, four days later. We discussed a lot of things: why Jesus waited to go to him, even though he would have only had to walk two miles; why Martha went out to confront him before he even got into town; the “resurrection at the last day”; and also John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible.
This happens after Jesus is shown where Lazarus has been entombed, surrounded by family, friends, and possibly local Jewish religious leaders. Why Jesus wept has always intrigued me – after all, he was intending to raise Lazarus from the dead, right? That seems to be the goal, even in verse 11, where he says that he will wake Lazarus from his “sleep”, which he then clarifies is death. Oh, and he’s also the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe … did I mention that?
So why break down in tears? Were I in his position, I would probably smile enigmatically at the sobbing crowd – or maybe even laugh at them – before telling them to take the stone from the grave. A few thoughts that came up in Bible study:
- How do you show the world what you’re feeling internally? Just because you’re capable of suppressing tears doesn’t mean that it’s always wise. Perhaps this was Jesus intentionally communicating with the spectators how he truly felt – as God, teacher, promised Messiah, radical, yes, but also as man, carpenter, and close friend. I think he got his point across. The very next verse records the reaction of the spectators: “Behold how he loved him!”
- This leads directly into the next idea: tears as a result of his friendship with Lazarus. Despite his intent to raise Lazarus, he was possibly still deeply upset over the abrupt end of his friend’s life. This deep friendship – what we term a “personal relationship” – is something that he had not only with Lazarus, but also with myself and other believers. He truly, deeply cares about me personally. Which leads me to wonder: has Jesus wept over me? And what about?
- One reason seems to be pretty clear in the passage – he cried in an expression of sympathy for his friends, Mary and Martha, and their family, being “deeply troubled” when he saw them weeping. As several members of the study pointed out, sometimes the best way to comfort someone is just to cry with them. One of the reasons that Jesus became human, Hebrews 4 says, was so that he could sympathize with us in our troubles; so that he could feel what we feel – joy, sadness, temptation, frustration, fatigue.
- Perhaps, in addition to all or some of the above, he saw Lazarus’ death in context of the larger human story. First the created perfection of Adam and Eve, then disobedience and the separation of man from God, and the result: death. Perhaps one of the things that led to Jesus’ tears was sorrow over the broken state of man, comparing what was to what had been. This was a confrontation with Death, the inevitable consequence of imperfection, and the ultimate foe. I cannot begin to guess what emotions that might bring forth.
- What makes men cry (as opposed to women)? I don’t know, but I think that an answer to this question might give some insight into what else Jesus might have been feeling.
Of course, the resurrection of Lazarus is peanuts compared to Christ’s resurrection of himself: the guarantee that he will also be able to raise me up. Which is glorious, and possibly a little creepy, but the point is that not only is my Jesus and triumphant over death, but he also is very, very human.