Recently I’ve been studying John 10-12 to prepare for a teaching opportunity. Studying a passage of scripture is very different from just casually reading it. As we engage with the text we are studying, it will at times raise good questions for us. In John 11, we read about the well-known story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, the miracle that will eventually lead to the cross.
If you remember the story, we are told that Lazarus was ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send a message to Jesus that ‘he whom you love is ill’. You might think that Jesus will immediately head to Bethany when he got that news (although He didn’t need to go to Bethany to heal him). However, when Jesus received the message, He stated “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). He then stayed where he was two days longer. Jesus was not in Bethany before Lazarus died so that his disciples might believe. He knew that he would raise Lazarus, resulting in his disciples seeing his power made manifest, and they be strengthened in their faith. God would bring good out of the agony of Lazarus’ death.
When Jesus finally arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had not only died, but been in the tomb for four days. When he saw Mary and the Jews who had come with her weeping, we are told that he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. The MacArthur Study Bible notes that the Greek term “deeply moved” always suggests anger, outrage or emotional indignation. Knowing that he was soon going to heal Lazarus, why do you think Jesus was deeply moved and greatly troubled? Have you ever wondered about that, or have you tended to just read past it?
The MacArthur Study Bible also states that most likely, Jesus was angered at the emotional grief of the people because it implicitly revealed unbelief in the resurrection and the temporary nature of death. MacArthur states that while grief is understandable, the mourners were acting in despair, like nonbelievers would, without hope. The ESV Study Bible adds that Jesus was moved with profound sorrow at the death of his friend and the grief that Martha and Mary were suffering. He was also most likely angry at the evil of death, the final enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Verse 35, “Jesus wept”, is the shortest verse in the Bible. This is one of two times in the gospels that we read of Jesus weeping (the other is when he weeps over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41).
Years ago, one of our pastors would give out a piece of candy from his popular “Treasure Chest” to any children who could recite a verse of scripture. John 11:35 was always a popular choice. Despite being the shortest verse in the Bible, Jon Bloom tells us that for all its grammatical simplicity, it’s packed with unfathomable complexity. The MacArthur Study Bible indicates that the Greek word used for “wept” has the connotation of silently bursting into tears, in contrast to the loud lament of the others.
Being fully God and fully man, Jesus felt emotions just as we do. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Still, knowing that he was shortly going to raise Lazarus from the dead, perhaps his greatest miracle, in which both he and his Father would be glorified, why do you think Jesus wept?
Jon Bloom in his article “Why Jesus Wept” gives us four helpful reasons for Jesus weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. They are:
- His deep compassion for those who were suffering.
- The calamity of sin.
- The cost Jesus was about to pay to purchase not only Lazarus’s short-term resurrection, but his everlasting life.
- Because Jesus knew that raising Lazarus would actually causethe religious leaders to finally take action to put him to death.
Michael Card wrote a song titled “Jesus Wept” in which he questions why Jesus wept. You can listen to the song, as well as Michael’s comments about it here. In addressing why Jesus wept, the chorus states:
Did Jesus weep for their disbelief?
Or did He cry because His friend had died?
Took on Himself, all of their pain and fear
Explained the mystery of his silent tears
The final verse reveals that we may never know why Jesus wept:
Jesus wept that day mysterious silent tears
The reason that He cried never will be clear
But there’s one certain thing, for now that we can say
He had come to wipe all their tears away
If someone were to ask you why Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb, knowing that He was going to heal him shortly, how would you answer?