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Jesus Wept

aymon de albatrus

"Jesus wept." (Joh 11:35) {Joh 11:1-46}

Most modern romantic expositors and preachers interpret romantically His weeping to mean that Jesus was sorrowful for the fact that Lazarus had died, in line with the reaction of the bystanders in that scene: "Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!" (Joh 11:36)

But this is an unreasonable and an implausible explanation, given His full knowledge that He was about to resurrect Lazarus: "These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." (Joh 11:11) sleep being synonymous to death in Biblical terms.

To understand fully the teaching of this story we must take into account that Lazarus was dead already four days before his resurrection: "Jesus said, take you away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said to him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he has been dead four days." (Joh 11:39) This is the key point of the whole story, for it is believed in the eastern religions and also rabbinical teaching that the soul of the departed hovers near the body for three days and then leaves without any possibility of returning. Jesus deliberately made sure that He would resurrect Lazarus after three days of his death to demonstrate to His disciples and to all that truly He was Lord of the living and of the dead. "4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he stayed two days still in the same place where he was." (Joh 11:4-6)

According to a Jewish belief, the soul stays near the body for three days after a person's death: "For three days the soul hovers over the grave, contemplating a return to the body, but once it sees that the facial color has faded, it goes away, never to return" (Gen. Rab. 50:10).  That is, after 3 days from death the body is so decomposed that the face is not recognisable anymore, see article. The point here is not whether or not this idea of 3 days is true or not, the point is that they believed so.

We also have Biblical parallel in both Jesus and Jonah: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Mat 12:40) {Jonah 1:17} Jesus resurrected at the end of three full days. Lazarus has been in the grave for four days (Joh 11:17,39) by the time Jesus resurrected him. This miracle is immense beyond comparison demonstrating Jesus’ total sovereignty over life and death, even after the soul had left for good, proving thus that He was indeed divine.  (but the essence of human being is such that not all believed)

No doubt Mary and Martha had begun the ritual thirty days of mourning and they are beside themselves with grief. Lazarus has been dead for four days. Why are we told this? According to their belief, the soul of the dead person leaves the presence of the body after three days. It was believed that it was possible to raise a person from the dead after two days, but after three days the soul had left without possibility of return, only the physical decomposed body remains. Lazarus is dead four days now, which means that the soul of Lazarus is gone for good and Jesus is too late. When Jesus sees Mary and the others weeping, we are told, He is "troubled in spirit." But according to the original Greek Jesus is not just in turmoil, he is enraged. "Where have you laid him?" Jesus asks. The people of the culture of death are eager to show him the tomb. They say to Jesus, "Come and See." When Jesus weeps, they shake their heads in disbelief. "Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?" Nobody believes in Jesus. Everybody believes in death. How does this make Jesus feel? Jesus has given His life to everyone; He comes with the gift of life; He offers every possibility for new life; and how is He received? He is rejected. "Hey, Jesus! Come and see our ways of death..." Jesus breaks down and weeps, contrary to everything we have been taught about this great tale, Jesus does not weep because Lazarus has died. Earlier Jesus told us that He rejoices, He is glad, at the news of Lazarus death "This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby". His hope is that they will come to believe in Him now, instead, Jesus finds everyone given over to the control of death. And he breaks down crying. Jesus weeps because everyone in the scene: the disciples, the religious folk, even his beloved friends, Martha and Mary-- every one of them and all of us, believe not in the God of life but in the culture of death. Jesus weeps not because His friend has died, but because in them every drop of faith and hope has died and they have no belief in Him.

Every single person whom Jesus talked to in John chapter 11 (His disciples, Martha, Mary, and the Jews) was blinded by their misconceptions of Jesus and by their failure to recognize that, as He declared, that He was "the resurrection and the life". "Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:" (Joh 11:25) referring to the resurrection at the end of time and not at the present.

Thus, "he groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (verse 33). Jesus wept because even those who were closest to him were still blinded by their concepts to the fact that he really was "the resurrection and the life" in spite of all his plain words to them: "25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Believe you this? 27 She said to him, Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." (Joh 11:25-27) Obviously Martha did not believe that Jesus could resurrect her dead brother dead by four days for she said: "Martha said to him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." (Joh 11:24)

But not only Martha did not believe in His power but also the bystanders just like most Christians today, were blinded by their own misconceptions and so did not understand that Jesus was actually weeping for them, for their disbelief, not for Lazarus who was about to be resurrected: "36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?" (Joh 11:36-37)

The aftermath of the resurrection of Lazarus shows the different effect, which the word and works of God will have on different individuals. Some are converted and others are hardened; yet the evidence of this miracle was as clear to the one as the other. But they would not be convinced. "45 ¶ Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. 46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done." (Joh 11:45-46)

Those of verse 45 saw all the passages relating to this miracle, and believed on him as the true Messiah, the miracles having a double use:

1. To prepare men for faith, disposing them to give an ear to him, to whom God hath given so great a power; so as after the sight of them they were more fitted to hear, and inclinable to believe.

2. To confirm faith in those that believed, so as they believed the more firmly, seeing the doctrine they heard confirmed by such miraculous operations.

Those of verse 46 had the same witness for believing the others had; they had heard the same words from Christ, they had seen the same miracle wrought by Christ. Why is it that any of the other Jews believed? These, instead of believing, run to the Pharisees to accuse him. Can any account be given of this, unless from the freedom of Divine grace, showing mercy where God will show mercy? “So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens.” (Rom 9:18) Though possibly the former wickedness, of these Jews was the cause of God’s not giving that grace to them which he gave to others.

According to an ancient tradition, it is said that Lazarus was thirty years old when the Lord raised him; then he lived another thirty years on Cyprus and there reposed in the Lord.

Jewish Law, the Burial of Jesus, and the Third Day