“Jesus wept.” At the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”
This morning we are marking the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. We are giving thanks for her inspiring example of a life of service over more than seven decades as our Queen. For many of us, Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for the whole of our lives. We praise God for Her Majesty’s living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Saviour. So we are sad. Many are weeping. And some people may be wrestling with grief for all kinds of other losses as well today. So this is a good time to remember that Jesus also wept.
It is there marked out for us in the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35. It is so helpful in times of grief and mourning to remember that Jesus himself wept in grief. That remarkable occasion has two vitally important things to say to us. As the perfect human being, Jesus Christ shows us how to weep and mourn which is just what our reaction to death should be. And as the Son of God, Jesus Christ shows us that God understands our sadness and pain and indeed God mourns with us in our grief. Let me unpack these two statements this morning as we mourn for our treasured Queen.
Jesus wept. As the perfect human being, Jesus Christ shows us how to weep and mourn and just what our reaction to death should be.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
The normal response to the death of somebody we love is to weep. To cry. To be sad for their death and for our loss. And that was just as true for Jesus Christ the Son of God as it will ever be for any of us!
Of course Jesus was sad. Jesus really cared for Lazarus and for his sisters Mary and Martha.3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
It is no surprise then to read later that 35 Jesus wept 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
The more we loved somebody, the closer they were to us, the more we will grieve and weep when they are gone. And that mourning will last not just for days but for weeks and months and years. And that’s alright. That’s the way it should be. That is our natural human response to death.
But let us pause for a moment to remember just why we are weeping. We are not weeping for what our loved one has lost. Our loved one is not affected by what they have left behind. More than that, Christians believe that there is eternal life which continues beyond this mortal life. If the person who died was a believer we can be sure that they are even now in the presence of Almighty God. In that light, we believe that Her Majesty is even now in the presence of God her Heavenly Father. She has been promoted to glory. That confidence is not based on the fact that Her Majesty had been our Queen, nor on her very long and wonderful life of compassion and sacrificial service. A life of good works does not open the door to heaven, even for a Queen. But we do have every reason to understand that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had a profound and radiant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Queen herself bore witness to her personal relationship with God and Her Majesty enjoyed that eternal life which not even death can take away. Queen Elizabeth is now in the presence of the Lord who she loved and served throughout her life.
We are not weeping for what our loved one has lost. Nor are we weeping at the circumstances of their death. In fact, Her Majesty had remained in fine health and remarkably active through all the years until recent weeks. We are given to understand that Queen Elizabeth passed very peacefully from this life to the next.
When we weep we are weeping for what we ourselves have lost. The grief is ours, not our loved one’s. The loss is ours, not theirs. Because it is we who have to go on without them. It is us who have to rebuild a new life, not them. We miss their company and their conversation. There is absolutely nothing we can do which will affect them any more. The only situation we can do anything at all about is our own situation. The only things which can change are within us – not within them. Today we weep because Her Majesty’s passing leaves a hole, not only in our own lives and the life of our nation, but truly as King Charles pointed out, across the entire world.
Of course we will never forget our loved ones who have departed. We will always treasure our happy memories. And we will continue to weep. Nothing we can do will bring them back. They have gone. Our sadness comes from the pain of separation and loss. And our mourning and grieving takes us through the terrible process of adjusting to life without the person we have lost. In this it is good to know that Jesus also wept. Because faced with the cold cruel realities of death, that is what human beings will naturally do. Weeping is healthy. Allowing ourselves to express that deep emotion is very healthy. Because death it horrible and dreadful. Death itself should always cause us to weep. Even though we have faith. Even when we have the hope of heaven. Even though we trust in the love of God. We weep. We are allowed to weep. We are supposed to weep. We know that is the case because Jesus Christ the only perfect man who ever lived – Jesus wept.
Jesus wept. Even though he already knew exactly what was going to do next.
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
Even though He knew it was the Father’s plan to raise Lazarus from the dead – Jesus wept.
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Even though He is the resurrection and the life and he knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life – Jesus still wept!
So when we are mourning we will also weep. And in our weeping we can find comfort and peace. Since this is a sermon in a church by a Christian Minister you might expect me to say that our comfort comes from knowing that our loved ones are safe with God in heaven. I could encourage you today to find hope in those words of Jesus, who tells Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
But I am not going to say that. Because when we are grieving, where our loved ones are now is actually not the most important thing to us. What matters is that they are not right here right now with us.
There is a time and a place to focus on the hope of heaven. But Ecclesiastes 3:14 tells us there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
When a loved one dies then it is the time to weep and to mourn. And Romans 12:15 calls us all to Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. We are called to weep with those who weep. Job was a righteous man. His seven sons and three daughters all died in an accident. His animals were all stolen by raiders and almost all his servants were killed. In the middle of his grieving Job’s three friends came along and we read,
“Job 2: 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognise him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No-one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
If someone we care about dies we may send a card, or some flowers, or phone or even visit their family. Following the death of Her Majesty the Queen, we have seen an enormous outpouring of expressions of grief in floral tributes and messages of condolence. But in our country we aren’t so good at sitting on the ground for seven days and seven nights in silence as Job’s friends did. We like to try to find something meaningful to say, although actually we don’t need to. We aren’t so good at not saying a word but just being there! We need to learn how to weep with those who weep. In this season of national mourning we are joining with millions of other people in weeping at the death of our Queen.
In these times of mourning, the Christian faith does give us comfort. But that comfort is not so much rooted in the hope of eternal life, but rather in the second implication of Jesus weeping at the graveside of Lazarus.
Jesus Christ the Son of God wept. And this shows us that God understands our sadness and pain and indeed God mourns with us in our grief. Sometimes when somebody dies we can think that God just doesn’t care about what happens in this world. That God has turned His back on us. That is completely untrue. The opposite is the truth. God DOES care. God is completely involved in His world. God knows. God cares. God understands. And we know this because Jesus wept. Jesus was deeply troubled by the death of Lazarus.
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
35 Jesus Wept
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved (deeply troubled, deeply upset), came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
God understands. That is the message of Christmas. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Time and again the Bible tells us that Jesus experienced the same sufferings and pains and griefs that all human beings face.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The MESSAGE translates those verses this way:- We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Jesus wept. God sympathises with us. God has compassion for us. Our English word sympathy comes from the Greek meaning to suffer with. Our word compassion is from the Latin and means to suffer with or alongside. Jesus has sympathy with and compassion for everybody who grieves. Whenever we are mourning, God understands our suffering. God feels our pain.
In Gethsemane, Jesus experienced the full realities of the prospect of pain and suffering and death as any other human being would. And God even knows what it is like to die. That is the message of the cross. Jesus the Son knows from experience what it is to die, as the Son of God was separated from His Father. The Incarnation. Gethsemane. Golgotha. The cross and the stone cold tomb. There are times when our only consolation, the only answer to all our unanswerable questions, is to know that God suffers with us. God understands. The shortest verse in the Bible is one of the most significant. Jesus wept. As the perfect human being, Jesus Christ shows us how to weep and mourn and just what our reaction to death should be. And as the Son of God, Jesus Christ shows us that God understands our sadness and pain and indeed God mourns with us in our grief. “Jesus wept.”
“Jesus wept.” At the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”