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Jesus Wept

Jesus Wept

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Sometimes two words carry a depth that a picture just can’t capture.

John 11:35 says simply, “Jesus wept.” Yes His weeping was anything but simple. 

Recently, as we were gathered with friends for our weekly Bible discussion/study, we came across this verse. The discussion that followed carried on for close to a half hour, and was one of the deepest, most profound moments I have ever had while discussing Scripture.

This small yet mighty verse comes after Jesus was summoned to return to the town of Bethany because his close friend Lazarus was very sick. Jesus was in Jerusalem at this time, which, as verse 18 tells us, is only 2 miles outside Bethany. Jesus could have easily made the trip in under an hour (maybe slightly more depending on the terrain’ I’m not knowledgeable about this area of the Holy Land). Verse 17 tells us that Jesus didn’t drop everything and head to Lazarus’ side; we read that when Jesus arrived in the town, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Four days!! This means that Jesus had to have received the message at least five days prior to his arrival in Bethany.

We go on in John 11 to read that Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha takes this to mean the resurrection of the believers at the last day. 

Jesus tells Martha that He is the resurrection and the life, and that those who believe in Him will live and have life. Martha  confirms that she believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world.

After this, Martha gets her sister Mary, who runs to greet Jesus where Martha had met Him coming in to town. The Jews that were in the sisters’ home mourning Lazarus saw that Mary left quickly and followed her, thinking she was headed to the tomb to mourn.

Mary falls at Jesus’ feet and says the same words Martha had, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

As Mary wept at Jesus’ feet, Jesus was moved in the Spirit and “troubled” (vs. 33). 

Jesus asks where Lazarus is laid, and Mary leads Him to the tomb.

It is here that Jesus weeps.

At first glance, or even a 50th glance, we think, “of course He wept, His close friend has died and people He cares for and loves are in mourning. Seems to sum up His weeping, right?

That was my limited understanding of these two words for many years. Our Bible study discussion expanded my understanding greatly!

This account of Lazaurus’ death comes at a time when Jesus was being watched by the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time, like a hawk. Everything He did they watched, they questioned, and they attempted to catch Him in a trap in order to get rid of Him, as He was a threat to their power and status. The ones who should have recognized Him right away for who He is were blinded by all their knowledge, lacked the wisdom to see the prophecies they so diligently studied be fulfilled in one man, and missed the Messiah they were waiting for.

This alone could make Jesus weep. How could those who were supposed to be leading God’s people, be misled themselves? No matter what He said, they just couldn’t see it – or wouldn;t allow themselves to see it.

Breaking John 11 down a bit helps us to see the power and intensity behind Jesus’ weeping. 

Early on, we read that when Jesus received the news of Lazarus being ill, He stayed where He was for two more days, then decided to head back to town. His disciples questioned this decision because the town is a place where the Jews were riled up by His actions to the point where they wanted to stone Jesus. He escaped unnoticed, without a scratch on Him. 

Jesus goes on to explain that they are returning because Lazarus has fallen asleep and He was returning to wake him up, to which the disciples remark that if he is sick, sleep is good for him. They missed the meaning of the words “fallen asleep”. Jesus responds by informing the disciples that Lazarus has died, and that He is glad they were not present when it happened; otherwise, they would not believe what they were about to witness. After this is when Jesus returns to Bethany.

So, how does all this point to a deeper meaning behind Jesus wept, than simply His feelings over his friend’s death?

Our discussion unveiled the realization that Lazarus’ death mirrored Jesus’ death, in that He would be die, His loved ones would mourn Him, and He would rise on the third day.

The number of days that Jesus and Lazarus are dead carry meaning in the Jewish culture of the time. During these times, the Jews would hold off on burying their dead for three days to be sure the person was dead, to give loved ones, a chance to mourn, and because they believed that the person’s soul stayed close by for this time period. Jesus coming when Lazarus had been dead for four days, meant that everyone would know that Lazarus was 100% dead. There was no chance of him being in a “deep sleep” or the nearby soul to reenter the body and breathe life once again into their loved one. 

With everyone knowing Lazarus was dead, and him being well-respected, well-loved member of the community. The sound of the mourners alone would have moved Jesus to tears. Thinking of His own death that was to happen in the near future also weighed on Him.

What’s more, is that He knew His pending death would be carried out so that anyone who chooses to accept His gift of salvation will have their sins accounted for once and for all. This means the sins of the friends and family He loved so dearly here on Earth, as well as the enemies who would kill others in His name – and work to kill Him as well.

Jesus’ death meant He would experience deep betrayal by those closest to Him; those He should be able to count on the most. 

His death means leaving His followers to spread the Good News to the world, without Him physically by their side. 

Jesus knows that there will be those who hear and believe, and those who will hear and reject His gift. 

Jesus knows that He will hang from a cross as an innocent, perfect being, in between two sinners. He knows that one of these sinners will accept His salvation, and the other will not.

Jesus knows that He will be betrayed by Judas, who is stealing from the disciples funds, for 30 pieces of silver. While a good sum of money at the time, and even now, is it worth the price of rejecting your Savior?

Jesus knows that you and I will hear His message, and that as Believers, we will face persecution, ridicule, and rejection because of Him.

Jesus also wept because His disciples, the family He spent so much time with, and even the woman who drops everything to sit at His feet and learn, did not have the faith to know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus could heal Lazarus or raise him from the dead, without Him even being near him. Even when Jesus tells Martha her brother will rise again, her mind goes to the day of Jesus’ return, and misses the possibility of what can happen right in the moment she is speaking with her Lord.

Even those who spent the most time with Him didn’t understand the full depth of who He is. And truth be told, none of us can. In our human limitations, we can learn and grow closer to Christ, yet we still will not know the extent of His awesomeness until we see Him face to face.

Jesus weeps that we cannot fathom this, as He cannot wait to spend eternity with us!

There was a lot on Jesus’ shoulders when He told them to roll the stone at the tomb’s entrance away. And those that were with Him asked if He really wanted it to be removed, as Lazrus would surely be stinking up the joint! Jesus replies to their question with, “Did I not tell you, that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” They still were not “getting it”.

The stone is rolled away – just as it would be for Him – and Jesus looked up, thanking God the Father for hearing Him. Not letting a teaching moment go to waste, He says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you have sent me.” I wonder if they caught that? Jesus weeps when we miss Him for who He is, and what He is able to do.

Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out – just as He will come out – and Lazarus walks out of the grave, as if he was only taking an extended nap.

Jesus’ next words are powerful. He tells those in attendance, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”.

Wow! Can you envision this account? Can you imagine what it would have looked like and felt like by imagining that you went to get Jesus, that He came into your home, just as your friends and family do? Can you imagine standing in front of a tomb and seeing an unraveling mummy walk out to greet you as your brother?

Can you feel the words – the meaning – of “take off the grave clothes and let him go”?

What grave clothes do you continue to wear day in and day out? What are you not letting go and walking away from? Jesus weeps at the chains we allow ourselves to be enslaved by.

Jesus wept for his friend. He wept for those who would believe and suffer in His name. He wept for those who would hear and reject. He weeps for the pain we suffer here on earth, and He weeps in longing for the day when we will join Him in Heaven. 

Who knew two words could carry such meaning?

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Pam Spinker
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I help Christian homeschool moms, just like you, thrive in your home and in your walk with Christ. If you question your abilities, or feel like you’re drowning in homeschooling, you’re in the right place! 

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