John 11:35 is known as the shortest text in the Bible. Growing up it was the go to text whenever we were playing scripture memory games and had to recite verses from memory. I think everyone wanted to be the first person to say, “Jesus Wept.” But the text is much more than the answer to a Jeopardy trivia question. It carries a much deeper message that Jesus was trying to convey and it has far more relevance for us today amid the multiplicity of tragedies that seem to be mounting around us. In recent days we have witnessed the mass shootings at Umpqua Community College, the tragic car accident that took the lives of three family members in Indianapolis on their way to school, the tragic killing of an 11 month old baby, along with a mother and grandmother in Chicago and the list goes on and on. It gives us all great pause and causes us to wonder, how should be respond to such tragic, sudden unexpected pain, suffering and loss?
As Christians we are especially challenged to respond to such tragedies and give answers to unanswerable questions and the age old query, why? Where was God? How could God let this happen to innocent people? When will it all end? There are no easy answers, however, the way not to respond is to discuss alternate attack measures when confronted by a gunman. At least that should not be the tenor of a Christian’s response.
What we know about Jesus is, violence was not His response to the savagery that surrounded Him. When His disciples attempted to defend him on the night of His arrest, Jesus responded, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”(Matthew 26:52, 53). When questioned by Pilate about His true identity Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.”(John 18:36).
No Rambo escape plans for Jesus. That was not His remedy for a tumultuous world. Nor is that His response to those who deal with the pain and trauma of sudden, unexplainable and unexpected loss. Jesus’ response is found in the simple words of John 11:35, “Jesus Wept.” They are so simple, yet so profound. When you understand the context of His tears you can fully appreciate them.
Jesus has just been told that one of His best friends is sick and instead of rushing to his rescue, Jesus allows him to die. Jesus says the death will bring glory to God and to Him. This seems to make no sense at first, but in time it will. Jesus deliberately delays and when He arrives at the home of His friends, Lazarus is dead and has been buried for 4 days. The sisters of the deceased are distressed and crying, disappointed that Jesus was too late. But Jesus’ response is to ask them both, “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life.” Their faith is weak, but His is not. He asks them to take Him to the place where Lazarus has been laid to rest.
Jesus knows He is about to perform the greatest miracle of His entire ministry, the resurrection of someone who had been dead and buried 4 days. And yet with that foreknowledge, as Jesus stands at the opened tomb He begins to weep. Why would Jesus weep for someone He is about to resurrect? Here is where Jesus’ connection with humanity is powerfully demonstrated. Christ is not just our Savior, He is also our High Priest. What does this mean? There are two texts in Hebrews that explain its meaning. The first is Hebrews 2:18 which says, “Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to ‘help’ those who are being tempted. The Message Bible says it like this, “He would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing and would be able to help where help was needed.” Jesus related to the pain that His friends were experiencing as he reflected on similar losses in His own life. Death is a part of the human experience and Jesus was not immune from experiencing it during His lifetime. Joseph, His earthly father had already died and the remembrance of that painful loss must have flooded his consciousness. He understood what His friends were experiencing and from that place of understanding Jesus’ tears began to flow.
But not only that Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but was one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Jesus’ empathy lets us know that He feels compassion for us. Henry Cloud writes, “We cannot grow if we are all alone emotionally. Life is too difficult. But if we know that someone truly understands, we know we are not alone with our feelings and thoughts, and we gain encouragement to persevere in our growth. We need to know that we are “heard”—on a human level from each other, and on a divine level from God: “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” (Ps. 10:17).”
Jesus wept because He identified with the emotional pain the sisters of Lazarus felt regardless of the joy they would experience in the next few moments, when Lazarus would be dramatically resurrected. The assurance that salvation brings and the certainty of the resurrection does not mean that Jesus is not attuned to the pain and sorry of human loss. He still weeps when we weep and the bereaved need to know that Jesus empathizes with them at a deep emotional level. He feels what we feel and mourns with us when we weep. When we experience tragic and unexpected loss, we are not left alone spiritually or emotionally.
Tragedies like the ones we have witnessed over the past few days are not the time for commentary and analysis on what might have happened or what people should have done or what preventive measures could have been taken to avert this attack or that shooting. Those things have there appropriate time and place to be hashed out and discussed. But as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, what the families who have lost loved ones need to know is the One who IS the Resurrection and the Life, Weeps with them as they mourn the loss of the one’s they love. They need to know they have a shoulder to cry on in their time of tragic, unexpected, unexplainable loss. They need to know they will not be left alone emotionally but they will have our support. They need to know that Jesus Still Weeps…and we weep with them.