First Glance: John 11:1-45

Photo by Donna Gatewood
Photo by Donna Gatewood

“Jesus wept” John 11:35

In English, this is the shortest verse in the Bible. I remember this because, like many of my friends in Sunday School, we would cite this verse any time we were asked if we had any verses in the bible memorized (I won my share of Sunshine Dollars from this one). How could I forget ‘Jesus wept’? It’s only two words.

Yet, this short, two word verse, is embedded in a larger story. Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, who is across the Jordan. When Jesus hears, even though he loved Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, he stays where he was for two more days. When Jesus finally arrives with his disciples, Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days.

First, Martha rushes up to him,

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Grief and trust are mingled in this response. Jesus assures her that her brother will rise, eventually revealing to her that he himself is the resurrection and that belief in him will lead to life eternal.

When Mary finally hears, she rushes to Jesus and falls at his feet, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

It is at this point, seeing Mary weeping, and the Jews with her weeping that Jesus weeps. Tears roll down his face. Then, when he is brought to the tomb, he tells them to roll the stone away, prays aloud to his father, and then commands Lazarus to come out. Lazarus, who was dead, is now alive.

Jesus wept. Two simple words, yet profound. John 11 reveals that Jesus already knew what he was going to do – he already knew he would raise Lazarus.

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.” (11:4)

From the beginning, Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus. Even when he encounters Martha, he assures her that her brother will rise again and that because of his faith in Jesus, Lazarus will live even though he dies. Jesus knew how this story with Lazarus would end. It would end in life – life as a sign of the resurrected life that will come to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

Yet, Jesus wept. Even knowing the end, Jesus shed tears for the loss of Lazarus, tears for Mary and Martha. This tells me at least two things.

First, we can weep too. Scripture is clear that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but we do mourn. We may know the end of the story for those we have lost, but that does not mean we should not weep. It didn’t stop Jesus.

Second, Jesus weeps for our loss. Jesus cares and his compassion leads him to be “deeply moved in spirit” (v.33). Even when he knew the end, his heart – fully God and fully human, in perfect harmony – wept for Lazarus. Jesus weeps too at our loss – not as one without hope or as one powerless in the face of loss (the rest of the story proves otherwise) – yet, Jesus still weeps. His love and compassion still moves him.

The one who weeps for our losses is the same one who has the power to give life and raise the dead. The one who wept over Lazarus and weeps with us is not powerless, but powerful – full of the power to redeem, Lord and sovereign over all. For all of us who weep, Jesus – the resurrection and the life – weeps too.

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