“Jesus wept.” At the graveside of his dear friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”
It is a good thing that John 11:35 is there marked out for us as the shortest verse in the Bible, because it is so helpful in times of grief and mourning. Jesus wept. The truth that Jesus Christ the Son of God wept in grief 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
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. If there is indeed eternal life beyond this mortal life, as Christians believe, then our loved one is not affected by what they have left behind. If there is no life beyond this life, then they are no longer aware of what they have left behind. Either way, we are not weeping for what our loved one has lost.
Nor are we weeping principally for the circumstances of their death. Every death is a tragedy. Some circumstances may seem more tragic than others. When a child dies before its parent that is a tragedy. We are sad as we think of the lost potential. When somebody dies in great pain that is a tragedy. We are sad as we imagine how great their suffering was. But the reality is that the person who has gone is no longer affected by the circumstances of their death. That is not why we weep.
Let us be clear – 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. The loss is ours, not theirs. We miss their company – they do not miss ours. We miss their conversation – they do not miss ours. Whatever we believe or do not believe about the eternal destiny of our loved ones, the grief is ours, not theirs. 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.
Of course we will never forget them. We will always treasure our happy memories. And we will weep until the pain of their absence is no longer unbearable. And then we will weep lots more. So we weep – because there is nothing we can do to bring them back. Nothing at all. Ever. And that is what hurts more than anything else. They have gone. We miss them terribly. And somehow, impossible as it often seems, we have to go on without them. To make a new life without them at the centre of it. A new life without them in it.
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. What is grief? Somebody has written this.
• Grief is all the adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that bring life to a halt.
• Grief is being alone
• Grief is spending time standing quietly and alone in the cemetery because a part of us is left there in the cemetery.
• Grief is the silent terror and sadness that comes so often, when you start to speak to someone who is no longer there.
• Grief is the emptiness that comes when you eat alone after eating together for so many years.
• Grief is teaching yourself to go to bed without saying good night to the one who had died.
• Grief is the helpless wishing that things were different when you know they are not and never will be again.
Jesus 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 if 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, in resuscitation or reanimation or revivification – Jesus still wept!
So 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 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. I am not going to encourage you to find comfort in the hope of heaven because the person who has died may not have shared that faith in God who promises eternal life to all who believe in him. You yourself may not share that faith, or in the depths of your grief that faith may have deserted you. But more significantly, where our loved ones are now is actually not the important thing to us when we are grieving. The important thing is that they are not right here right now with us. Actually, if they were still alive and with us, we wouldn’t be here at all now. We wouldn’t need to be here mourning and grieving!
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.
We may send a card, or some flowers, or phone or even visit. But in our country we aren’t so good at sitting on the ground for seven days and seven nights in silence. 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.
And in those 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 wept. 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.
Sometimes when somebody close to us 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. God understands our suffering. God feels our pain.
Hebrews 2:14 ¶ Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. ,,,, 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
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.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
Something very profound was happening deep within God Himself as Jesus was suffering on the cross. As Martin Luther said, “Christ saw Himself as lost, as forsaken by God, felt in His concience that He was cursed by God, suffered the torments of the damned who feel God’s eternal wrath, shrink from it and flee.”
And God the Father knows what it is to be bereaved, to be cut off by death from His beloved only Son. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it like this. “It was a deep division in God Himself, insofar as God abandoned God and contradicted Himself. The Son suffers in His love being forsaken by the Father as He dies. The Father suffers in His love the grief of the death of the Son.”
The cross of Christ was just as hard, just as painful, just as heartbreaking for the loving Father as it was for the obedient Son. Any father would suffer handing his son over to such agony and desolation. God the Father was not an aloof spectator at Calvary. He looked on with grief and tears that the world could only be reconciled and redeemed at the inestimable cost of alienation from His only beloved Son. So God knows exactly what it feels like to be bereaved!
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.