Today we are going to be shifting gears a little bit and learning about the events leading up to Easter. It’s fascinating to learn about what happened in the life of Jesus before His death and resurrection. Every day leading to the resurrection had great significance.
The shortest verse in the Bible is John 10:35, “Jesus wept.” Children may playfully volunteer to recite this verse because it’s so easy to remember. Nevertheless, it’s also a complicated verse for consisting of only two words. Lazarus had died, and Jesus did not choose to heal him when Christ was first approached. Jesus waited, and then he came days later. From John 10, we know Lazarus had been been buried for four days (v. 39) by the time Jesus showed up with his disciples. In context, no one really perceived why Jesus wept in John 10:35; we will see the speculation as to why he wept from some of the Jews in John 10:36, “Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’”
The word wept may be taken different ways to the reader, so we ought to dispel any notion that some lone tear went streaking down Jesus’ face. When Jesus wept, he burst forth in tears. That’s the idea of the word for “weep” here. It wasn’t that He was out of control of His emotions, but certainly a nerve had been touched upon. Look at verses 33-34 to see how this came about:
Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.
Take note of Mary’s response, first of all: “If You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Based upon her statement, the condition of having kept Lazarus from dying by her words was if Jesus had been there on site. Not only was the statement made, but she and the Jews with her came weeping: strong emotions of sadness not withheld, as Jesus would do in turn. There is something separating their weeping and His, though: the groaning in spirit and being troubled. Before we get to that, consider a passage relative to the raising of Lazarus: the second miracle Jesus performed in his public ministry. It is recorded in John 4:46-54:
So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.“ The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
Both of these events share the similarities of Christ not being immediate to the sick person in question, as well as His promise of them living, but in one case the father believes at once upon hearing Jesus’ affirmation and in the case of Mary, Martha and the Jews, the conclusion becomes that Jesus didn’t respond in time. What was lacking in their story that deviated from the nobleman’s story? Ponder that one as we continue on.
There are actually two “bookend” emotions surrounding “Jesus wept”: 1) He groaned and was troubled (v.33). Groaned is a word referring to being moved with anger while troubled is referring to the state of being unsettled within. The emotions evoked followed the statement spoken: “If you’d have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” as well as the weeping. (Note that it is very, very likely that Jesus and the grieving party are not weeping for exactly the same reasons). 2) He groaned within Himself again in v. 38. What solicited this response again? Verse 37: And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” The parallel between Mary’s statement in v. 32 and the Jews’ statement in v. 37 is that both are confused as to why He couldn’t save Lazarus from dying; both statements reveal mental hurdles in trusting Him, those hurdles causing grief over their loss and from their point of view, Jesus’ failure to some degree.
Keep in mind that seeing a term referring to anger does not mean Christ was ever out of control in that anger, or that He was just “ticked off” at people He loved. There are multiple comparative moments where Jesus will be astounded at the slowness of others to believe, especially His own disciples. Hear just a couple verses from immediately after His resurrection: And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” (John 4:17) The two men he spoke to, who didn’t know it was Him, told Him essentially that the One they’d hoped in had died and now His body couldn’t even be found. “Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26) Fragile, weak faith evokes emotions repeatedly with Jesus.
So why did He burst forth in tears if we look at the immediate context? For all of the evidence of His Lordship, their sitting at his feet to listen to Him (Luke 10:39), the miracles and the continuity of His love and trustworthiness, they had holdups. “If you’d have been here” was not the issue of Lazarus being healed or not. “Could not this Man…have kept this man from dying?” was a shallow question because they ought to have known, “of course He could.” It’s a matter of believing, not just knowing. The cross was coming and He knew what He was doing, how little time there was before the cross, and still the people were so slow to trust. So much imparted to them, so many reasons to believe Him, and still they struggled. Is it all that different today?
Jesus told the messenger from the sisters in John 11:4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The word for glorified in John 11:4 is used here in this fashion: “to cause to have splendid greatness, to clothe in splendor” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). Glorified sometimes refers to being praised, but there are multiple instances in the New Testament, like v. 4, where glorified is speaking of being made glorious in an exalted manner. The glory Jesus refers to in John 11:4 is the glory that would come through being crucified and resurrected. Jesus let Lazarus die, in part, so that you and I could live through the death He would die on our behalf. How do we know His intention? Obviously, v. 4, but secondly, the response of the people to the raising of Lazarus.
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. John 11:41-46
Belief would come forth among many of the Jews on hand as they would see Lazarus come back to life. One physically dead person was made alive while many spiritually dead people were brought to life. Jesus would speak and many would be made alive. What does this have to do with Easter? This particular miracle would expedite the crucifixion of Jesus. We often miss this part of the text on Palm Sunday, but have a look (this covers a bit of Saturday and Palm Sunday):
Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna!`Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” John 12:9-19
The raising of Lazarus had much to do with the people being prompted to pave the way for the King on Palm Sunday. It’s peppered throughout the Palm Sunday account. There was only one solution for the Pharisees as they watched the world going after Him: to see to the death of Jesus Christ. This time, unlike others, they would succeed, but their success would be short-lived as death could not hold Him. He would raise again and the following of many more people would come in response to the Son of God raised back to life. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 10:29b
Jesus wept. Later, His sweat would come like drops of blood as He anguished over the coming cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. He would be reviled, mocked, beaten, whipped, abandoned and crucified. Do you see how much God loves you? He gave us His Son to go through all of that so that we could claim eternal life and never know His wrath or be forsaken by Him. There are no accidents in the timing of God; learn this lesson from the raising of Lazarus, and know that He was always in control of the situation, as He is today!
For further thought-provoking study, consider reading Luke 16:19-31, the parable of “Lazarus and the rich man.” Some scholars believe that this parable is more than just a parable and may actually be a true account. While it will remain unsettled, it’s certainly food for thought.
God, be magnified in our hearts today. Be magnified in our country and in our world. Let the Gospel go forth with power among the peoples, and bring life to many more who are spiritually dead even now. Help us to value spiritual life even more than mortal life in a dying world. Set Jesus high in our hearts this Easter season. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.