READ : John 11:33-36
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
John 11:33-36 rsv
It’s the shortest and perhaps the most poignantly beautiful verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” It tells us something rich about grief, about God and about the gospel.
A MESSAGE ABOUT GRIEF
What do we learn from the weeping Jesus about grief? This certainly: to express our grief in tears is right and good. That may seem obvious to you, but to many in our world it is not. I answered a letter this week from a young woman in Africa whose twin babies have both died. She has been told by the people in her community that she cannot cry about this because the children are her firstborn. They’re telling her, “It isn’t right for you to weep.”
In many cultures boys are taught from childhood that “real men don’t cry.” The ideal of manliness set before them is to suppress all feelings of pain and sorrow, never to show distress, even when your heart is broken. How much better for them if those boys had learned early in life that Jesus wept! He is the true Man, God’s idea of what a human being ought to be. In Him we see the fullest expression of strength and courage, loyalty and love. How can it be wrong for grown men to cry when we read in God’s book that Jesus wept?
I have known people – perhaps you have too – who fear expressions of grief as though they were unhealthy. Someone breaking down at a funeral seems to them unsettling. “Perhaps they’ll lose control,” they say. “They’ll go to pieces. Their mental stability will be impaired.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The danger is all on the side of repressing our grief, denying its reality, keeping it down inside. That’s what’s unhealthy. Perhaps you’ve known friends who seem incredibly brave at funerals. They smile serenely at those who come to comfort them. They never shed a tear. Others marvel at their composure. But later on, when the reality of loss bears in inexorably upon them, they may struggle with serious problems. I know of a woman who couldn’t shed a tear at the death of her beloved husband, but who six months later went into uncontrollable fits of weeping at the death of the family cat. Grief long suppressed can finally vent itself explosively, even over a trifle. How can anyone say that it isn’t good for you to cry in your grief, when the Scriptures tell us that Jesus wept?
I’ve known others who seem to feel it isn’t Christian to cry. They have the idea that if we believe God’s promises, if we are submissive to His will, we will accept everything that comes to us cheerfully. It seems to them a sad concession to human weakness when they see bereaved ones sobbing, brokenhearted. But if they feel that way, they haven’t understood, have they? They haven’t taken to heart the liberating truth that Jesus wept. This one for whom trust in and submission to the Father were like meat and drink. This Jesus, at the graveside of a friend, could cry real salt tears.
So, dear friends, don’t let anyone persuade you for any reasons, however plausible, that it isn’t manly or healthy or Christian to express your grief in weeping. If there’s such a thing as “good grief” in the world, tears are surely a part of it.
A WORD ABOUT GOD
But I learn something here even better, something about God: His heart is touched by our grieving.
The God we worship is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and upholder of all things. He does His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay His hand, as the Scripture says, or say to Him, “What are You doing?” He’s the sovereign God, of unimaginable power and majesty and greatness. The more we learn about the marvelous creation around us, the more we are persuaded of that.
It’s not so evident from the created order, however, what His attitude is toward individual human beings like you and me. What we call “Nature” gives a mixed message, doesn’t it? The sunshine, the rain, the fruitful earth, the bountiful provision around us, these speak of kindly providence and care. But what about the floods and the famines, the hurricanes and earthquakes, with all the destruction and suffering they bring? Is this exalted God really touched by what we feel, by what we go through?
The answer to that question that has shaped my whole life and outlook is Jesus Christ. He made the staggering claim that in His birth, His life, His ministry, His death and resurrection, the living God had entered into history as a man. He could actually say of Himself, “I and the Father are one . . . He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 10:30; 14:9). In other words, if you want to know what God is really like in His relationship to human beings, see how Jesus dealt with them. See how He touched and cleansed a leper that no one else would approach. See how He went to the home of a man despised by all his countrymen. See how He forgave the most abandoned and scorned ones. See how He gave His life so that undeserving people like us could live. That, friends, is not simply the record of a remarkably noble human life. It is that. It’s also a revelation of the heart of God. That’s how God feels about people like you and me. That’s the length and breadth and depth and height of His love toward us. Jesus is God taking human form, God drawing back the veil and letting us see what’s in His heart toward us.
Nowhere does that bring me a more moving message than in the words, “Jesus wept.” What was the occasion? It was the death of one of His dear friends. He had just arrived from quite a distance, had been told by the sisters of Lazarus that their brother had died. He saw their tears and the weeping also of those who had come to comfort them. Jesus was deeply moved and the tears began to run down His cheeks. His grieving was visible, audible, unmistakable. Could we possibly have a more powerful evidence that the heart of God is touched by our sorrow?
Most of you hearing my voice today have gone through some real grief. You’ve had to say goodby to someone dear to you. It seems that a part of you has been wrenched away in their passing. What is it that comforts you in times like those? Many things perhaps. A visit from a friend. The touch of a hand. Consoling words. But doesn’t it mean most when in your tears of grief and loss, someone else is moved to weeping, too? That says with powerful eloquence that what you feel, they feel also. In your sadness they are sorrowful. And as a psychiatrist friend of mine often says, “Nothing brings us together like shared pain.”
It must then be the greatest comfort of all to know that when you weep in your sorrow and loss, somehow the tears of God are on your pillow, too. He can be moved with the feeling of your sadness and can enter into your desolation. That’s what it means to me that Jesus wept.
A WITNESS TO THE GOSPEL
So we learn something about grief, something about God and also something about the gospel. That is that the One who grieves is also the living One who conquers death. All the tears in the world, supportive and comforting as they are, will never bring our loved ones back, will they? The wonderful thing about the tears of Jesus, His brokenheartedness for us, is this: He is also the resurrection and the life.
Soon after He began to cry, Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus and called with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” That voice, that sovereign expression of will, brought a man four days dead to life again. Jesus’ word did the impossible. It brought life out of death.
When you and I stand by the grave of someone dear to us, we cherish sympathy. We’re supported by the fellow-feeling of those who stand by us. But we need more than that. We need hope. And did you know, friends, that hope was almost unknown in this world until Jesus came and died and rose again? Death was universally feared, dreaded. It meant for multitudes oblivion or something worse. “Let’s not think about it; let’s not talk about it” was the prevailing mood. Death is the final terror. But then Jesus came and tasted death, as the Scripture says, for everyone. He went through that dark valley on our behalf and came out on the other side. And, in so doing, He conquered death. He drew its sting. He robbed it of all its terrors for those who trust in Him.
No one was prepared for what Jesus did in raising Lazarus. Even Martha, who made the great confession of faith, “Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,” could not imagine that the brother she was mourning would be then restored to life. When Jesus said, “Take away the stone,” Martha objected, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” It seemed unthinkable to her that her grief could not only be comforted by Jesus but shattered by His life-giving miracle. Martha believed that her brother would rise again at the last day, in the final resurrection, but here and now? Jesus said it, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
This is the abiding gospel word for us. The one who wept with such profound compassion is also the one who speaks with sovereign power, summoning the dead to life again.
Jesus weeps now with us. He groans with grief and anger at the tragedy sin has brought into human life. He knows our sorrows and shares them. But the raising of Lazarus is a sign of something more. There will come a time when the tears are wiped away. Weeping may endure for a night, as the psalmist says, but joy comes in the morning (see Ps. 30:5). By His death and rising, Jesus has conquered death and taken away its power to separate us finally from those we love. Believers say now with a kind of triumph, “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (see 1 Cor. 15:35,37).
So, friends, in your times of overwhelming loss and bereavement, don’t be afraid to shed your tears of grief. The Lord has taught us and shown us that it’s fitting to do that. And oh, be sure of this: in the midst of your sorrow, He feels it too. Do you know the hymn, “Does Jesus care?” I like especially this stanza:
Does Jesus care when I’ve said “good-by” to the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks –
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
Oh, be sure of that! And best of all, be persuaded of this: your grief, friends, is only for a time. It will yet be swallowed up in the joy of a resurrection morning.
Maybe today you’re one of those who has never yet trusted in Jesus Christ. You haven’t realized how deeply He cares about you, even to the giving of His own life on your behalf. You haven’t known yet the thrilling hope and confidence of victory over death through Him. I pray that this day you will come to know Him as He is, the compassionate, conquering Savior.
Prayer: Father, may this be today a liberating and encouraging word for everyone sharing this program. May we know it’s all right to let our grief come out in tears. May we know that God feels with us our sorrow, and may we also be gripped by the great hope of the gospel that Jesus Christ has conquered death, and one day, all the tears will be wiped away. In His name. Amen.