Yvonne wants to know exactly what John meant when he wrote, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35)?
This verse is part of John’s account of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. This miracle was the final “sign” in John’s highly selective catalogue of miracles that he recorded to lead people to faith and life through Jesus (20:30-31). It also marked the turning point in Jesus’ ministry as the majority of the Jewish leaders made the decision to put Him to death in response to this miracle (11:46-53).
Here’s the immediate context of the miracle as John recorded it for us:
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.
Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him’ (11:33-36).
The people of Bethany took Jesus’ tears to be about to Lazarus’s death. That’s not wrong, but of course, there’s more to the story.
Christ was also weeping because of the pain being experienced by Mary and Martha. We’re told in v. 33 that “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” as a result of the suffering He saw Mary and those with her going through. We all know what it’s like to see someone close to us hurting. We hurt because they hurt and that’s what happened here. But there’s still a bit more.
When Jesus met with Martha and later with Mary, the first words from them were identical—”if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” (v. 21, 32). I get the idea this was something they had been discussing (rehearsing) for the last four days. Although it’s possible to take these words as simply expressing confidence in Jesus, I understand them to be something more. I think the sisters were hurt by what they perceived as negligence on His part (for not coming and healing Lazarus), and their words were meant to reflect that. Read them again and see what you think. If this is so, it would be natural for Jesus to be troubled by their disappointment in Him and it adds another layer to the sorrow He is experiencing.
Finally, I also think there is something more universal and less personal going on. I think Jesus is weeping because He understood this was what sin did—it brought misery, pain, suffering and bondage to people. It separated them from their loved ones. It created chaos and confusion. He knew He was about to bring Lazarus back to life, but He also knew he would later die, as would all. He wept because this was the pain the human race had brought upon itself through sin. All of the hospitals, clinics, and cemeteries owe their existence to sin (Genesis 3:17-19). There would no Darfurs, Rwandas, gulags, or Holocausts, were it not for our rebellion. No child would go to bed hungry, cold, or separated from their parents if there were no such thing as sin. If this is an accurate assessment of what was going on, it parallels His tears outside Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus was no spectator of the human condition, He was a participant! Praise God that what moved our Lord to tears at these times, later moved Him to the cross and to making all things new.