Religion Magazine

We Can Rejoice Because Jesus Wept. John 11.28-44

By Malcolmdrogers
John 11.28-44
We can rejoice because Jesus wept.  John 11.28-44
‘Jesus began to weep’ John 11:35
In the KJV it is just two words ‘Jesus wept’, making it the shortest verse in the bible.
Why? Why does he weep?

Jesus is clearly not weeping for Lazarus, because he knows that in a few minutes he will raise Lazarus from the dead
And Jesus is not weeping for Mary and Martha and the mourners in their grief, because he knows that in a few minutes he will turn that grief into joy
If a child comes to you all upset because something has been taken away from them, but you can give them something so much better, then you may feel for them, but rather than weep with them you will wipe their eyes and make them happy again.
So why does Jesus weep?
1. Jesus weeps in compassion because he sees what death does
He sees the devastation that it causes.
Death was never part of God’s plan
When God created the world there was no death. At the heart of the garden of Eden there was the tree of life.
Death is nothing in itself. It is simply a negation of what is, a denial of life and of creation.
It came into this creation, like an alien virus, through sin, when men and women exercised the gift of their free will and chose non-existence rather than the life, that communion with God, which God offered them. And that sin and death has grown and spread. And there is no vaccine. And it leads now to another garden, with Lazarus dead in a closed tomb, and crushed and broken hearts.
We read of the beginning of death in Genesis, in the first book of the Bible. In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, death is pictured as a horseman riding a pale green horse, and death brings the sword, famine and pestilence: war, disaster and disease (Revelation 6:8)
And Jesus weeps because he sees what death does to us
Death tears away those who we love. It separates. It makes a mockery of our promises, hopes, and loves. It strips us inside and outside. It brings emptiness, despair, fear and pain.
I remember someone telling me after the death of their wife that they had not realised that death was so physical.
It is true that death can come as a release, even as a friend.
But that is only because death’s nasty little relatives, decay and suffering, have already done the devastating preparatory work. We long for death, but only because accidents or sickness or human cruelty or old age have already stripped us of the things of life, of strength and health of body and of mind.
There is a graphic but rather depressing description of old age in Ecclesiastes 12:3-5: “the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails”
There are echoes of that in Shakespeare’s seventh age of man: ‘sans (French for without) teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’
At least three older people in the last few weeks, who are suffering with various very painful ailments, have said to me, ‘Don’t grow old!’.
It is not very helpful advice, but I know what they mean.
And Jesus in his compassion weeps for us because he sees what death does – not only to us but to this creation which he made good.
Paul writes that this creation longs to be set free from its bondage to decay; we call it the law of entropy.
Jesus weeps for men and women living under the shadow of death, held captive by the fear of death and destroyed by death (Hebrews 2:15)
His tears for Mary and Martha in their grief, are also tears for us.
They are an expression of his hatred of death and of his deep compassion for men and women.
And it is the same compassion which brought Jesus to tears, that deep love, which also took him to the cross, to his death for us.
Ephrem the Syrian writes, “His tears were like the rain, and Lazarus like a grain of wheat, and the tomb like the earth. He gave forth a cry like that of thunder, and death trembled at his voice. Lazarus burst forth like a grain of wheat.”
It was love which took Jesus to the cross, where he defeated and destroyed death – the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15.26) - by his own death for us.
Hebrews 2:14, ‘Through death he destroys the power of the one who has the power of death’.There is the triumphant Orthodox Easter acclamation: ‘Christ is risen from the dead. Death has defeated death, and life has been given to those who were in the graves’.
2. Jesus weeps out of anger because of their lack of faith
The word that is used here which is translated as ‘deeply disturbed’ is a rare word. John uses it twice here, yet we only find it in Mark and Matthew when Jesus rebukes or gives a strong warning.
If you read through John 11, you will see that there is a difference between Martha and Mary, the two sisters of Lazarus.
On a different occasion when Jesus came to the home of Martha and Mary, it was Mary who was commended for her faith, but now it is Martha who exercises faith and Mary who is blinded by her grief.
When Jesus arrives it is Martha who first meets him. She falls at his feet and says, ‘Lord if you had come earlier you could have saved my brother. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask’. And from that faith, Jesus is able to draw Martha so that she confesses that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come to bring in God’s eternal kingdom.
But when Mary meets him, all she can say is, ‘Lord if you had come earlier you could have saved my brother’.
And as Jesus looks at her, and at the weeping crowd, he is ‘deeply disturbed, troubled, churned up’. He sees in their tears not just loss, but also no faith – no faith in what he can do and in who he is.
And that lack of faith is infectious.
Martha, who had earlier believed, now when Jesus says, ‘Take away the stone’, says, ‘But he has been dead four days. There will be a stench’.
By the way, if you look at many of the icons of the raising of Lazarus, you may notice that as Lazarus comes out of the grave, one of the onlookers is holding his nose!
And Jesus again challenges Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God’.
Jesus weeps because he sees their lack of faith.
My brothers and sisters we can trust Jesus, even in the face of death
This has been such a hard year.
There have been, by the end of September, 720000 excess deaths in Russia since the beginning of the pandemic. That is 720000 more deaths than would have been expected, looking at the average of the last 10 years
And it is not just a statistic
Alison said of one colleague who came to her almost in tears, saying how her husband – who is in his 30s – had just come back from the third funeral of a friend or colleague this year.
But we can trust Jesus, because he is the one who is completely different.
He is not just some wonder worker (although he does work wonders), but he is ‘the resurrection and the life’.
If you are with Jesus, if you have put your trust in him, if you have believed in him, and are part of him then of course you will die, and those who you love will die, but you will never really die, die in the way that matters, die eternally.
Jesus does not take his people out of this world.
In John 17 he prays that those who put their trust in him will be protected from drifting away from him, or being taken away from him. He prays that we will be kept close to him and that we will be made holy.
He does not take away our tears, but he can transform our tears of sorrow into tears of joy
He is not there to be the magic genii who makes our lives happy. He is our Lord and our God who would make us holy.
And one of the ways he makes us holy is by taking us through the valley of the shadow of death – both the death of those we love and our own death.
Of course, we will weep for those we love who have died
Although in actual fact we often do not weep for them but for the pain of separation, of lost opportunity, and we weep for ourselves.
They are in the hands of God. I am not saying that all those who we have loved and who have died are with God in heaven. For many, especially those who, as far as we knew, never received Christ, we do not know. In the end God accepts the decisions that they and we make on earth. But I do know that we can entrust them into the hands of God and that whatever happens will be right – right by God and, when we see clearly, right by us.
Of course, we will weep because death is a denial of everything that Jesus is.
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted’
Of course, we should fight against suffering and death, and everything that causes such suffering and death, with every ounce of our being
But as followers of Jesus we are to look at death in a completely new light.
We are not to weep like others, with no faith.
We do not need to ‘grieve without hope’
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. In him there is no death.
Paul writes about how when you were baptized, you died. Your baptism service was the funeral service of the old you. Baptism is that seal of your death to your old self and of your coming alive with Jesus.
While we are physically alive, we are with him: although we only see now by faith, dimly
When we die, we will be with him, and we will see him face to face.
The raising of Lazarus is one of the earliest Christian images that can be found. There are illustrations of it in the catacombs, where the Christians buried their dead – in the hope of resurrection
And so we can live as people who have peace. We may fear the process of dying – but God will be with us in that; but we do not need to fear death. And we wait for and pray for that day when death dies and, together with Hades, is thrown into the lake of fire. We wait for the coming of the King and the Kingdom in all its glory, when the dead will be raised and the heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth from heaven, and there will be no more crying or pain or suffering or death, and we together with all the saints will see him and be with him.
Jesus wept may be the shortest verse in the KJV.
But in the original Greek, there is a shorter verse.
John 11:35 in Greek has three words and 16 characters, but 1 Thessalonians 5:16 has two words and only 14 characters.
It reads, Πάντοτε χαίρετε, “Rejoice always”
We can rejoice because Jesus wept.
We rejoice with all the saints because he loved us enough to die for us, to go into death to defeat death. We rejoice with all the saints because he is with us now. We rejoice with all the saints because nothing can separate us from his love – not life or death. We rejoice with all the saints because of the hope that he has given us.

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