Monday, October 30, 2006

The Glorious, Mysterious God

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” so said Mary to Jesus through tears of grief. Her brother Lazarus had passed away, and she knew that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would live still. They had sent word; they had watched for his coming; they had watched Lazarus die. Jesus had not come.

And so Mary cried. I understand Mary’s reaction. I have wept at the loss of loved ones, too. I have seen grief on a hundred faces, and I have felt the emptiness that it brings. I understand Mary. Jesus, I do not understand.

“Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

“Jesus wept.”

When Mary saw Jesus she collapsed at His feet. Through tears, she told Him that her brother, His friend, had died. And Jesus wept, too. He grieved in His spirit and was troubled. The reason I find this surprising is because Jesus already knew that Lazarus had died. I find this strange because Jesus tarried so that this very event might come to pass. Jesus had come, not to heal a sick man, but to raise a dead one.

So why does He grieve? Why does Jesus mourn Lazarus? Why does the sight of Mary’s tears and grief move Him so deeply. The magician does not panic when the rabbit vanishes, nor does he gasp when he saws a man in half. Surely, if Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus, He should not have been so disturbed. Yet, His grief was real and apparent to all who attended the funeral that day. The people said, “See how He loved him!”

I freely and happily confess that despite my studies I do not understand everything. Not even close. I also confess that this ignorance does not discourage me; it grips me. I see a mystery in John 11, and it thrills my soul. For a moment, the curtain that divides the mystery of God from the eye of man is drawn aside, and I see the heart of God.

Jesus weeps at the tomb of His friend because death is real and ugly. Jesus weeps at the sight of Mary because He loves her and knows her anguish. Jesus weeps because Lazarus’ stinking corpse is no cosmic magic show. It is the result of sin, and it brings misery and emptiness and hopeless. Jesus weeps because God hates death, and He hates it with a passion. Jesus came to put an end to it. Jesus came so that no one who loves Him ever need fear it. He came to conquer it once and for all.

It is so easy to reason a scene like this away. It’s the natural tendency of the human mind, I think. The reasoning goes something like this:

Jesus knows everything.
He knew that Lazarus would die.
He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.
Therefore, He couldn’t really have been mourning at that tomb.

Or how about:
God is holy.
God hates sin.
I am a sinner.
Therefore, God couldn’t love me.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And that is the beauty of the mystery of God. We have a holy God who loves sinners, and we have a Savior who wept over pain and trouble, even when He had all the answers.

So, beloved of God, whatever thing you have in your life that you feel that God cannot possibly understand, whatever sin you believe is beyond forgiveness, or whatever hurt you have that you believe the Savior cannot feel or heal; know that you are wonderfully and completely wrong. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psalm 34:8.


Jim said...

How about this:

Jesus was not weeping over the death of Lazarus or in compassion for Mary and Martha, but rather over the unbelief displayed in His ability to raise Lazarus from the dead.

He had done many miracles in their sight, spent much time with them and yet they still did not believe He was omnipotent God.

The Lord Jesus rejoices most over the faith He sees in people. Consider the Centurion, and others. Also Peter's confession that He was the Christ.

Sojourner said...


And what in the text makes you certain that Jesus didn't weep over death or Mary and Martha's pain?

To the former, I would say that the text says that Jesus was "again groaning in Himself" when He approached the tomb (cf. 11:38). It seems that part of Jesus' grief was over death.

Jim said...

Brad, there are a number of points that lead me to believe His weeping was not pointed at the death of Lazarus.

First of all, He waited until Lazarus had died before coming to Bethany. He wanted to show His power over death.

Secondly, His being moved to indignation was a result of their unbelief over His words that Lazarus would truly rise from the dead.

While I understand Jesus' humanity, I cannot overlook His eternal purpose in revealing Himself to people.

Consider the following and ask yourself why he was groaning. Was it because Lazarus had died or the murmuring and unbelief of the Jewish mourners?

"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? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself..."

They obviously thought His power was limited to people who were alive and did not understand as He said that He was the resurrection and the life.

No doubt I would have been one of those unbelievers had I been there.

God bless,

Sojourner said...


Don't you cry at loved one's funeral, even though you know that they will rise from the dead?

I don't think that Mary and Martha demonstrated a stellar lack of faith, they may not have understood exactly what Jesus meant, but they believed in Him. Here's the conversation with Martha:

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

She said to Him, "Yes, Lord.I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is come into the world."

That doesn't seem like words that would irk the Lord. I believe that Mary had a similar faith.

It is certainly possible that Jesus was grieved at unbelief then. But there is no reason to believe that death could not have aroused compassion in the Lord, or even grief. It seems rather uncharitable to have Jesus weeping here at Mary and Martha's unbelief considering the plethora of failures by the Twelve that brought not tears but exasperation. These women were grieving over a loved one, and they clearly believed in the Lord.

Jim said...

Brad, I don't want to seem argumentative just doesn't make sense to me that He was simply crying over the death of Lazarus.

Considering He allowed him to die before coming and then knowing He would call him forth from the tomb, why would He exhibit such strong emotions over his death? Would not He be rejoicing in what was about to happen?

Anyways, just some food for thought.

Sojourner said...


I don't think you're being argumentative. I think you're trying to make a point that I think misses the bigger picture of Jesus' emotion in this passage.:)

I cry at funerals. My grandfather died, and I cried. In fact, I still miss my grandfather. It makes me both sad and happy that he's gone. I know that Jesus will raise him from the dead, and I know that he will be clothed in glory, and I know that he is in the presence of Christ right now. Yet, I cry. And yet I rejoice. Would Jesus scold me for unbelief for missing my grandfather? I must not grieve as the heathen do who have no hope, but I may grieve, and I think that Jesus knows that sting.

I don't think Jesus wept at the tomb because he thought that Lazarus was gone forever. I think that the ugliness and pain that death brings moved Him. After all, Jesus hated death so fiercely that He came to defeat it, and when it had reared its ugly head against His friend Lazarus and had hurt His friends Mary and Martha, He felt pain.

Certainly Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus, and I know that He rejoiced in that, but that doesn't discount genuine grief over death's ugliness at Lazarus' tomb.