John 11:28-38. Jesus wept

John 11:28    After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”  29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.  30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 

32    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.”

33    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 

35    Jesus wept.

36    Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38    Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.

Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ death catches us by surprise, especially because we know that he intentionally delayed his arrival until after his friend was dead (Jn 11:11). When Mary arrives with a crowd of mourners, Jesus is ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (v33). This phrase refers to a feeling of being rebuked or censured: clearly a response to the accusation that Jesus could have done something if he’d been there sooner. This charge is also repeated by the sceptics in v37, where once again Jesus is ‘deeply moved’ (ἐμβριμώμενος — the same root word as in v33).

Given that Jesus already knows that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, there must be some other layers to his feelings at his friend Lazarus’ tomb. His deeply stirred emotions are likely also an expression of anger and frustration at death itself– that humanity’s fall from grace has come to this. Death is a horrible reality: for Jesus knows that it is not merely the cessation of earthly life but that– outside of grace– it is also the final state of judgment, separation from God and a permanent experience of wrath. Outside the garden of Eden, death is a tragic and ugly reality that befalls every human. And Jesus hates this. He is deeply stirred in his gut and in his spirit by this state of affairs.

There is another aspect to Jesus’ emotional reaction at the tomb of his friend. Jesus wept (v35). Grief and sadness fill his heart. As any mourner knows, in time of death, love expresses itself in tears (v36). In anglo-western culture, crying is sometimes shamed as an expression of weakness. It is not. Grief is the expression of love for the person lost. The more love, the greater the loss, the deeper the sadness– and so, the more there will be tears. Love is nothing to be ashamed of. Jesus wept because he loved Lazarus. And he loves humanity.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that it is your love that led you to the cross. Praise you that, motivated by love, you have broken death’s curse and given eternal life to all who believe. Amen.