I was a bit plowed down by this question this past week. Why did Jesus weep? My heart was not completely able to navigate that question, as I read John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” I have read that many times over the years, but in my grief I was overcome by the question. It was begging for an answer and I felt compelled to explore the “why.”
Before we can answer the “why,” we have to put some context to the verse. Jesus had been summoned by Mary and Martha because their brother, Lazarus, was very sick.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He *said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” John 11:1-7
Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal their brother…they had seen Him heal so many throughout Judea. They also knew that Jesus loved Lazarus and would come at their harkening. However, He delayed coming to Bethany. We might wonder why Jesus would delay coming, especially knowing the depth of His love for Lazarus and Mary and Martha.
The answer becomes quite obvious as you read the account further.
“This He said, and after that He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” John 11:11-15
Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. Since He was fully God, He knew His mission was not to heal a sick man, but to raise a dead man. But, why??? He clearly tells His disciples it was for their sakes. I believe that Jesus needed for His disciples to see Lazarus raised from the dead so that when He resurrected, after His own death, they would believe it.
However, when Jesus arrived in Bethany, Mary and Martha were distraught. They did not understand why Jesus would delay coming to them. I am sure they felt quite abandoned by Jesus at that moment.
“So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she *got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
And now, we have arrived at the verse that has caused my heart to ponder so deeply its meaning:
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35
Two words that have pierced my heart and my grief so profoundly…Jesus wept. This little verse was not included in John’s account by accident…God is very intentional in His Word so that we can understand better. In God’s intention for me to understand His Word, I have understood so much regarding this verse.
Jesus Wept — He wept because He loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus so very much. He was “deeply moved” by their grief. His heart was pained to see them hurting at the loss of their brother. It reminds me that our Lord is acquainted with our grief and our sorrow. The prophet Isaiah tells us of this surety in chapter 53, verse 3 and 4.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”
Jesus Wept — He wept because He understood that when He raised Lazarus from the dead that Lazarus would die another physical death again. Yet, He knew that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave had swallowed up death. If we Believe upon Him, we are given eternal life.
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?“
Jesus Wept — He wept because of their lack of faith. While it was a momentary lack, Jesus knew that we too would suffer momentary lacks of faith from time-to-time. Martha and Mary’s momentary lack of faith was used to teach us to better trust.
“Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” John 11:21-22
Jesus Wept — He wept because He knew that He would soon suffer on the cross. While Jesus was resolved to complete the Father’s will, He still struggled with the cup He had to drink, while praying on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest.
“And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46
God has given us such a beautiful picture of His love for us through His Son’s life on this earth. Jesus became like us…fully God and fully man and yet without sin. He set an example for us to follow..in His steps. His heart is ever toward us, as the Psalmist reminds us.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
“For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!” Psalms 117:2
John Piper said, “Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature of man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course, you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But, take these truths and day-by-day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach His Word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for!”
My grief this past week has only been met by God’s enduring love for me. I must become like Jesus in all things…even my sorrow…it is always for God’s glory. We were created to glorify Him and that does not change because I am sick or pained or tired or grieved. He is acquainted with my grief and my sorrow, but more than that, He suffered greatly physically…oh, what a Savior!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
Soli Deo Gloria