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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 48 – John 11:35

Jesus Wept

That is famously the shortest verse in the Bible but it is far from being the easiest to understand. The obvious and ultimately unanswerable question is: why did Jesus cry? The thought of the Son of God, an integral part of God, with tears streaming down his cheeks so much that other people saw them and commented on them is amazing. But so it was. Here in no particular order, each behind a single identifying word, are seven possibilities:

  1. Annoyance that Martha, Mary and their friends were making such a fuss;
  2. Grief; that people’s ultimate destination is death;
  3. Solidarity in his mind with the grief that was going on all around him;
  4. Anger at the demonstration of the work of Satan and the power of sin and death in front of him;
  5. Beginning of his great conflict with the evil powers rampant in the world;
  6. Foreboding at what the death of Lazarus reminded him of – the far worse things that would happen to him in his near future;
  7. Strain from the stress and pressure of what he knew lay in front of him;

My first thought was to suggest that you should try to put them in some sort of order from the least to the most significant but, on second thoughts, that is probably too hard to do if you are listening to this and do not have the various words in front of you. The description of his attitude in the immediately preceding verses, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” certainly suggests that the trigger was what he saw in the human reactions going on around him. The Greek word for ‘deeply moved’ does not suggest compassion but rather anger.

I would discount the first one on my list: annoyance at the sister’s fuss. I think he would have accepted that as the natural expected reaction in their culture and not a wrong thing to do.

The next two focus on grief; the first grief that death is always the end of human life is less likely than the next. That he was acting in solidarity with those around him is much more likely. He was human and we tend to pick up the attitudes of those around us, particularly if we know them and like them.

The next two, both concerned with the ultimate conflict with evil powers; the first in a general way, the second about the beginning of his role in that conflict must surely have played a part.

The last two both refer to his personal internal reaction to what it must have reminded him of so strongly: his own approaching passion and death. Sometimes men have shown the ability to approach the most appalling deaths with unflinching fortitude, as he was to do, but that is not to say that they have not been severely affected by what was to come even if they succeeded in hiding that from other people. Perhaps we are seeing here just a little bit of what it meant to him to die for us – a beginning of his struggle in the garden when we are told that, “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

The writer to the Hebrews gathers together these thoughts when he says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are” and “he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

What a wonderful Saviour and Lord we have. Think on these things. Jesus wept!

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