Read John 11:1-44
Once again John provides a detailed story that demonstrates the humanity of the immortal, the love of God so vast that it transcends time and strikes us in the deepest parts of our being. I titled this, Jesus Wept, because I think this is the point of the story beyond His ability to raise Lazarus from the dead. As Martha knew, Jesus is fully capable of restoring life. What strikes me today is the fact that Jesus wept for Martha, for Mary, for Lazarus, for His disciples, for you, and for me.
While the focus of this discussion is primarily on chapter 11, you may find it helpful to read both chapters 11 and 12 together since there are more words pertaining to Lazarus as well. It helps frame the discussion. Remember, we’re trying to take smaller passages to keep our discussion brief in this present effort, not too small to miss the greater story. Anyway, take a few minutes and look at both chapters then come back here.
The Death of Lazarus: John 11:1-16
One of the striking images I take from the first section of the story is the close friendship that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus have with Jesus. This is a very human thing to consider. I know that Jesus is the Messiah, but He was also fully human and had real friends with actual people that lived and breathed on earth. This is simply too important to miss.
In talking with a friend this past weekend, it’s very likely that Jesus laughed, told stories, joked around, and did all things human while He walked around with people on earth. When we say He was fully human, I respectfully submit He was in fact completely human, except for the whole sin-nature thing.
This perspective adds to the story. These were people that knew Jesus well. They knew He was just down the road as He ministered in Jerusalem. They sent word for Jesus to let Him know one of His dear friends was sick.
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.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:4-5
The disciples are concerned about venturing back to the place they recently departed, but Jesus loves His friends and, of course, has a plan. He tells them Lazarus is asleep, then clarifies that he is actually dead. Ok, that changes things, right?
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” John 11:16
Did you catch that? Thomas, the one we like to refer to as “doubting Thomas” is boldly asserting that we should get serious and march back into Bethany! Remember this insight when someone makes fun of Thomas’ reaction just after the resurrection of Jesus. He’s human, just like us. Don’t be so quick to judge those who did ministry with Jesus.
Jesus Comes to Bethany: John 11:17-37
Jesus finally gets to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ death. Four days is significant. Researchers suggest that there was a belief that a person spirit hung around for three days after death. By day four, there was no hope for resuscitation. Lazarus was thoroughly dead.
Martha, the older sister, was the first to confront Jesus. Here words are not disrespectful; rather, they are filled with sorrow.
“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.” John 11:21-22
Mary has a similar response:
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:32
Take a close look at the interaction between Jesus and Martha. Jesus reminds Martha that which she knows deep in her heart then leaves her with a question.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
I would suggest this is a question for each of us. I believe John carefully placed the question here for all those who heard this scroll read 2,000 years ago and for those reading these words on their favorite electronic device today. Do you believe this?
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept. John 11:33-35
Lazarus is Raised to Life: John 11:38-44
For four days people found their way to this place of burial for their friend Lazarus. People came and mourned publicly. The timing was such that many were gathered.
It’s interesting to note the authority that Jesus had among these people. When they got to the tomb, Jesus told them to remove the stone. Even with some mild questioning, it appears that no one meant to contradict what Jesus told them to do. This had to be extremely odd, to say the least. Bad odor or simply bad idea, they moved the stone and Jesus took center stage.
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. John 11:43-44
I can’t begin to imagine the reaction of the crowd at this point. One who was dead for four days walks out of the tomb still dressed in grave clothes. Pause for a minute and let the story sink in.
The climax of this story is the tears that flowed on Jesus’ cheeks, but I’m convinced it’s not the only time Jesus wept. I’m pretty sure Jesus wept in Genesis 3:6, 4:8, 6:5, 7:21, and 11:8 to name a few references. When I read through the Old Testament, I see time after time when I’m sure Jesus wept.
I think He wept when I sinned, again, knowing that I knew better, but I lacked the faith and resolve to focus on the best prize in favor of an expedient goal. Yes, He forgives again and again. While I’m convinced Jesus smiles more than He weeps, I still get the sense that He cares so much for us that it moves Him to tears when we make wrong choices.
As a parent, this is certainly something I’ve seen in a small sense. As a parent of adult children, it’s much more emotional than when our children lived under our roof. Adult children are offered adult-sized mistakes. It’s painful. It makes me weep.
Beyond my personal ring of friends and family, I see many others that have fallen into the cycle of despair that comes from a sequence of bad choices. I like the term “bad” here because it’s not always a clear right or wrong option. Sometimes there are multiple things to do that are all right, by definition, but some are more valuable than others. All too often, it seems, we choose that which is easy over that which is less appealing and less likely to gain favor from others.
Lord, help me to do what is best. I need You to whisper in my ear, or shout if that’s what it takes! Forgive me for the things I do that fall short of honoring as I should. Don’t let me dwell on that which You’ve chosen to forget, but move me in the right direction to benefit Your amazing kingdom, for Your greater good!