It is the shortest verse in the entire Bible– St. John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” Only two words. They are easily memorized; they are also easily overlooked or misrepresented. Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.
Jesus wept–Emmanuel felt deep emotion and showed it. God shed tears over the pain and sadness of a death; Messiah cried for the loss of his good friend. Jesus was no stranger to sadness and loss– God understands the sharp sting of death. God is compassionate, not heartless or cruel. If we are in emotional turmoil, it is not because God doesn’t know our pain or doesn’t care. He hurts WITH us in our times of deepest need.
Jesus wept–People often ask the rhetorical question, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a situation. Here is an example of what Jesus did– he wept. Sometimes, the “thing to do” is to acknowledge the reality of our situation–death hurts. It brings out feelings of anger and even fear. Death is scary. It’s ugly, and it fills us with a sense of injustice, and a desire to wake up and find that death is just a very bad dream. Aching loss, wracking sobs, feeling punched in the gut by circumstances– these are valid feelings and reactions. To pretend otherwise or to deny ourselves or others the right to express those feelings does great harm, just as wallowing in sadness and remaining isolated in our grief can drag us into hopeless depression.
Jesus wept– period. He didn’t punch a wall or point fingers at Mary and Martha for “letting” their brother die. He didn’t try to justify his extra-long stay that kept him from arriving before his friend died. Neither did he justify returning to a region where he was not “safe” from the authorities in order to comfort the sisters (and ultimately raise Lazarus back to life). People often criticize Christians for “not doing enough” to erase hunger, cure diseases, or end poverty in the world. Some even point out that Jesus, being God incarnate, had the power to do all of this during his earthly ministry. But he didn’t. As he was dying, he said, “It is finished.” He wasn’t referring to some social revolution or economic program, or political movement that would abolish the oppression of the Roman Empire, or the corruption of the Pharisees, or end the slave trade. That doesn’t mean that God approves of evil, corruption, and injustice.
But it means that Jesus’s mission was accomplished through what he did in life and through his sacrificial death. He loved freely, healed those who were willing, and taught about the true character of his Heavenly Father. He ate, and laughed, and slept; he burped and sweat, and cried. He prayed and worshiped and worked and gave. Jesus didn’t weep because he had no power to keep Lazarus from dying. He proved that just minutes later.
Jesus wept because he was showing us the very heart of God. God’s heart is not to flex his sovereign muscles and demand our instant and abject obedience– though he has the perfect authority and right to do so. His heart is to walk intimately with us, even when that walk goes through the very valley of the shadow of death! God’s love isn’t flinty and cold. It isn’t pushy and arrogant and selfish. It is extravagant and gracious beyond all imagination. It is raw agony and pure joy.
What in your life causes you to weep? What burdens and aches and frustrations and questions drive you to tears? Jesus may not take away what hurts us, but he will never turn us away because we are scarred or scared or broken. He will share our burdens, wipe our eyes, and hold us as we pour out our tears.