Jesus Wept


By Pastor Michael Cofer
Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 11:1-45

When I was a kid, I thought spiritual growth was about knowing more stuff about God. Which was good news for me, because I was pretty good at Bible trivia.  And I’d been in Sunday school my whole life. I went to a Lutheran school, where we studied the Bible every morning.

Now, as an adult, I treasure the foundation I was given in God’s Word as a child. Without it, I wouldn’t be very able to instruct others, or to preach, or to even articulate my worldview in a compelling way.  But as I’ve matured I’ve learned that the growth that God really intends for us is not an ever-increasing store of Bible trivia, but growing closer to Him.

At this season in life, I want to know Jesus personally.  I want to know what He likes and dislikes.  I want to know how He feels about things.  I want to be able to intuit what He would do in any given situation.  I want to cultivate a friendship with Him.

And I’m finding not only is it possible to get to know Jesus personally, but it something He wants for all of us.  If you think that just because you didn’t live in the middle east 2000 years ago you missed your shot, you are very mistaken.  The same Jesus we read about in scriptures is still alive, is still both God and Man, and is still revealing the Father to us.

See, when I was a kid, I knew John 11:35.  It is a someone notorious passage for confirmation teacher because every year there is some kid (or several kids!) who want to choose it as their confirmation verse because it is the shortest verse in the Bible – just two words. “Jesus wept.”

Now, even at my most pious, I understood those words to be a historical fact about Jesus.  But today, when I read those two words, they mean an awful lot more to me than they did when I was a 13 year-old confirmand.

I used to picture Jesus as a guy who is mostly calm and collected.  I used to picture him healing the lame or the leper with cool passivity, because the problems of this world are no big deal for Jesus.  He can heal disease, calm the seas, and even raise the dead with a word.  So, no big deal, right?

But that’s the kind of view you get of Jesus when you just read the highlights without getting to know the man Himself.  The Bible talks about Jesus having a heavy heart or a gut wrenching sympathy for the sick and needy.  He wasn’t dispassionate; He was (and is) the very picture of compassion.

I don’t think there’s any other way to read this story.  From the moment Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick (and maybe long before) He knew how the whole story would unfold.  He knew that the Father had ordained a miracle – not of healing but of resurrection!  He said so, “This illness is not for death, but for God’s glory.”

And of course, God had chosen this path for Christ so that He could reveal a new truth about Jesus.  Not only is He a healer, but He is the resurrection and the life.  Even when all seems hopeless, when death seems to have won the day, Jesus is victorious.  And we have a beautiful anticipation of the greatest miracle of all – Jesus’ own resurrection on Easter.

But if Jesus is armed with all of that information – if He knows that Lazarus is only moments away from returning to life – why does He weep?  Well, because He’s broken hearted.  His friend died, and no matter how certain you are of the resurrection, that is a terrible thing.  So here, at Lazarus’ tomb, the Resurrection and the Life weeps openly.

Look at it from Jesus’ perspective. How many of Jesus’ enemies and antagonists were healthy and comfortable?  And yet, here is the tomb of a beloved friend of Jesus.  And Jesus is surrounded by Lazarus’ friends and family, and they are all aching and mourning.  They are struggling to make peace with the situation (and I suspect maybe even some anger that Jesus didn’t show up in time to save him).

Why did this happen?  Because we live in a broken world, and because we are all sinners.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  We were meant to live forever in peace with God and one another.  But instead, this.  Suffering, death, loss, tears.

Jesus weeps because sin is a terrible thing.  The damage it does is incalculable, and Jesus hates it.  Even the faithful, even his beloved suffer because of it, and that breaks his heart.

That same Jesus who wept outside the tomb of Lazarus walks with us today.  His compassion is every bit as powerful today as it was 2000 years ago.  It’s part of what makes Him the Christ that God intended Him to be.  Hebrews talks about Jesus as being the perfect high priest for us because He sympathizes with us.

Understanding this tiny verse helps me understand so much more.  It helps me understand why Jesus is so passionately opposed to sin.  It helps me understand that you can both mourn death and hold fast to the resurrection.  It helps me see that Jesus understands exactly what I’m going through (whatever that happens to be) and He is right there, going through it with me.

Now, that’s obviously not the end of the story… and I’d be remiss if I stopped there.  No, they roll away the stone, and Jesus lifts up his voice and says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And just like that, with a couple words Jesus undoes the power of sin and breaks death’s hold.

How dare I ever think any less of Jesus than that?!  He is not too late.  Lazarus is not too far-gone.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  He is the antidote to the poison of sin.  With a couple words He breaks the unbreakable curse.

He didn’t meet Mary and Martha’s expectations… but what he did exceeded their wildest dreams.

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