Monday, March 12, 2012

Why Did Jesus Weep?

When I was a kid and we were learning the Bible verses on the list at Church Camp or Vacation Bible School, one of the most popular verses to memorize was John 11:35.  Why?  Simple.  It is the shortest verse in the Bible.  "Jesus wept."  When you are getting points for your team or earning prizes per verse, this one gives you some bang for your buck.  Every kid on the team could memorize it in 2.8 seconds. 100% team participation!

I have realized over the years, however, that this short verse also carries huge significance.  Those two little words have puzzled people over the generations.  Jesus wept.  Why did He weep?

The context of the story is that Jesus just found out that His good friend Lazarus had died.  Lazarus's sisters had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, undoubtedly hoping that after He had healed all manner of the dregs of society over the past months, He would certainly rush to heal His good friend.  I mean, there should be some perks to being good friends with the greatest Healer of all time, shouldn't there?  Jesus, however, stayed where He was for two more days, and by the time He got around to heading to their home in Bethany, Lazarus had died.  This part Jesus later explained to His disciples.  He waited so that God could be glorified when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in a foreshadowing of His own resurrection.

What I don't get is why did Jesus weep?  It was His plan to wait until Lazarus died before He went to him. He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Why was He sad when He knew that He could and would resurrect His friend?  Some people have suggested that He wept because He was sympathetic to the grief of Lazarus's sisters, His good friends Mary and Martha.  Maybe that was part of it, but I don't buy it.  If I could raise people from the dead and was on my way to resurrect my grandmother, and on the way I ran into my cousin who was crying, I wouldn't stop and cry with her.  I'd say, "Hey, don't cry, I'm going to raise Grandma from the dead, and everything will be fine!"  Why didn't Jesus just say, "Hey, Mary and Martha, don't cry, I've got it under control?"  That's basically what He did in Luke 8:52, when He raised Jairus's daughter.  So maybe some of it had to do with the fact that in His human life, He was very good friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Others have suggested that Jesus wept merely to let us know that it is OK to grieve as humans.  Maybe that was part of it.  But I think there is more.

I think Jesus wept because Death is not natural.  We've all been taught that it is.  Death is a natural part of life.  Everyone dies someday.  The only things we can be sure of are Death and Taxes.  The truth is, we only think Death is natural because it has happened to almost everyone in the past 6,000 years.  But it wasn't part of God's original plan.  God did not create people to die.  He created us to live forever with Him.  Death came to the first man and every one since (except for a few exceptions like Elijah and Enoch - yeah, I think they are the only ones) as a result of sin entering the world.  It is a punishment that we brought on ourselves, one about which God warned us and which He allows us to suffer, but not one that He wanted.  It was not part of His original perfect plan.  And so when Jesus encountered it as a human, He wept.  He wept because it made Him sad that people had to die, He was sad for the other people who were affected, and He was sad that He would have to undergo it Himself in order to pay the punishment for our sins.  It is a horrible separation from God and from our loved ones that truly made Him sad, just as it makes us sad, even though He knew that He had power over it and would eventually conquer it.

My grandmother died this morning.  She was 90 years old.  She was a lovely, strong woman.  She lived a good, long life, and there is nothing for us to regret.  We know she is in a better place.  So why are we so sad?  Because we miss her - that's part of it, of course.  Our grief is more for ourselves than it is for her.  But we also grieve because Death is, by its nature, sad, and it causes grief.  We long for the Day when it will have power over us no more.  We long for the Grave Robber to come like a thief in the night, when Death will finally die.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory."  I Corinthians 15:54 NIV

There's a step that we all have to take alone
An appointment we have with the great unknown
Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass
Like the flowers that fade, like the withering grass

But life seems so long and death so complete
And the grave an impossible portion to cheat
But there's One who has been there and still lives to tell
There is One who has been through both heaven and hell

And the grave will come up empty-handed that day
Jesus will come and steal us away

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite?
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize?
When the grave robber comes and death finally dies.
--Grave Robber by PETRA

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! It really made me think. I had never really thought about that verse before. I'm sorry about your grandma. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.