Jesus Wept – John 11:1-41
We know the story of Lazarus but why did Jesus weep? He knew what he was about to do, that very soon Lazarus would walk out of that tomb, so why did he weep? We will return to that question but first some background.
In our house group we are reading the letters of John and we are currently in 1 John 4, where we learn most emphatically, “God is love.” Two questions have issued from the discussion:
How can God possibly love us when we are, in the great scheme of things, so insignificant? The more science discovers, it seems, the smaller we make God and the more doubt can enter our hearts. The truth, and what we discovered in house group, is that God is not too great to bother with us but so great he can be bothered with each of us individually. In our eagerness to call him Father, which for Christian believers is quite correct of course, we must remember he is Almighty God.
The second question, and one that is familiar enough to each of us is:
How can there be a God who loves when we look at the state of the world? This is, in many minds, a more pressing question and is as old as man it seems. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah asks, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” (Jer.12:1)
The psalmist writes, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives...they don't have trouble like other people; they are not plagued with problems like everyone else....These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others...
Look at these wicked people – enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?...I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!” (Ps.73:3-8, NLT)
Does this sound familiar? Can you identify with those words today? Are you confused by the prosperity of the wicked? When will there be justice on the earth? Is there any hope? In addressing this question there are three things we must know:
We were created for better
Man, in his original state, was made to reflect the image of God. In Genesis we read, “God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen.1:26, cf Ps.8:3-9) Who do we think of when we read the psalmist's words, “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet?” This text has been used, and quite correctly, as prophetic of Jesus. But in its original context speaks of mankind.
Jesus, of course, is described by the writer to the Hebrews as the image of the invisible God. The difference between Jesus and us is that he is God in the flesh, the exact image, the very imprimatur of God, while we are creatures, made originally to have a history with God that increasingly reflects his image as we grow, multiply and are fruitful on the earth.
We were to be stewards, co-regent, with God, of the earth. To rule, as described in Genesis, means to enjoy delegated sovereignty under God. Stewardship means being responsible for those things placed under our care. This is who and what we were made to be.
We were to represent God on the earth. That means running things as he would run them. Doing things his way. Genesis reminds us we are to be creative, fruitful, productive, living and reigning according to his rule.
We were to relate to each other in a way that is honouring to God and to each other. Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh...” so to harm her is to harm himself. John Donne famously wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Paul describes the church in a similar fashion in his letter to Christians in Corinth, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor.12:26-27)
The church is to be a reflection of this original plan, to show God's purposes to the world. To demonstrate that to be authentically human is to reflect God's image, be God's representative on the earth, to grow in the things of God, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. By contrast our society has brought chaos out of order.
All around us we see selfishness reaching new lows as people clamber over each other to get to the bar, as Swansea's council leader declares that the growth of pubs and bars in Swansea has reached saturation point; “Enough is Enough,” according to the Evening Post.
Talk to the Street Pastors and they tell stories of the folly of men and women in their headlong drive to waste themselves in “me first” pleasure whatever the cost. It is currently costing the police over £500,000 a year to police Swansea city centre. That is besides the human cost in health, violence, crime and broken relationships.
We have fallen far
When we see where we have fallen from then we can see how far we have fallen. If life disappoints us it should! Life doesn't fit and this is why; we are a fallen people. But when we consider our lot in this world we must realise we are not simply the playthings of the gods, as some societies would have us believe. Neither are we helpless pawns in the hands of a blind and capricious fate, nor are we the products of a mindless evolutionary process. Mankind was made for relationship and responsibility and we – are – responsible....What of our part in this tragic drama of life?
Neither is it simply a question of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous, as we naively think, there are no righteous! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Ro.3:23) It is a case, rather, of restoring the order, fulfilling God's original purposes. John's revelation tells us of, “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea[chaos]” (Rev.21:1) In this restoration we are yet to be stewards of God's new creation, those who reflect his image and glory, represent him on the earth and bring order out of chaos like our Creator/God. But how do we get from here to there?
The problem of sin looms large and apparently unchallenged in our world, unassailable it seems in our lives, alienating us from the God who made us and making us less than we were created to be.
Jesus tells us:
"What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
But we not only make God too small in our thinking, we make the problem of sin to small. We are so blind to our own part in this, we call what the other person does “sin,” but when we do it we call it something else; weaknesses, faults (“Who hasn't got them?” we ask, not realising our question is a confession). “Being human,” we say but, as we have seen, being truly human is something else altogether.
The idea of sin is not the product of a less sophisticated, more superstitious time. Sin is a disaster of epic proportions. It lies at the root of everything that is wrong with this world. A massive problem, all-pervasive, staining and spoiling everything. Every depravity, every injustice, every cruel act, every lie, theft, betrayal and defamation results from the influence of sin in our lives.
When celebrities abuses children it is sin destroying the kind of relationships we were created to have; when a train driver speeds his passengers to a terrible death it is sin corrupting his judgement and bringing chaos out of order; when people in positions of power face charges of corruption it is sin taking stewardship and twisting it into exploitation and unrighteous dominion. Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia:
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Gal.5:20-21)
How embarrassing! Our sin is “obvious!” Lets not fool ourselves now, the situation is dire and we are all in that list somewhere. Paul writes to Christians in Rome:
“Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Ro.6:16)
It is sin that brings death and death stalks our every waking moment, invades our nightmares boasting of its eventual victory; the death rate in this world is still 100%. Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro.6:23) We laugh at sin today, mock it, regard it as quaint, and we make death something regrettable but natural and manageable. God sees these things quite differently and he offers us real and sure hope.
We have a sure hope
And so we come to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus had raised the dead before; the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler (Mk.5:38-42), the widow's son at Nain (Lk.7:11-16). He knew beforehand what he intended to do for Lazarus, yet he wept?
Were these tears of sorrow? Perhaps so, Isaiah prophetically called Jesus, “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Is.53:3)
Were they tears of empathy as he saw the inconsolable grief of Mary and Martha Lazarus' bereft sisters? Again, perhaps so, Matthew tells us in one place that, “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Mt.9:36) Jesus was, after all, fully human and capable of fellow feeling.
It is tempting to think of this in this way, as a local incident. Jesus, who went about doing good, doing good for his friend Lazarus. But nothing Jesus did was incidental and this was an event of eternal significance. Jesus' tears were not primarily those of sorrow, or of compassion. We read in verse 33 of our passage, “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”
There is more here than sorrow or sympathy. These words could as easily be rendered, “He was enraged in spirit and troubled himself.” There is indignation here, a sense of outrage and the object of his wrath is death itself. The Prince of life walked the earth and death had the audacity to come this close. Jesus, moved to indignation by the unnatural and violent tyranny of death, advances to the tomb, in Calvin's words, “as a champion prepared for conflict.”
This is a clear demonstration of Jesus' conquest of death and hell. Not in cold unconcern but in flaming anger against the enemy of us all, Jesus strikes a mortal blow in our behalf. Jesus approaches our graves in the same spirit of outrage and divine determination. He suffered the same agitation of spirit, magnified many times over in Gethsemane as he anticipated Calvary and the cross on which he would pay the price for sin and defeat what Paul calls the last enemy to be defeated, death.
When Lazarus comes out from the tomb Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
This is where the new life starts. Like Lazarus, we are dead. Paul describes our situation well:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Just as Jesus raised Lazarus so God raises to new life those who trust in Jesus. Paul goes on:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--” (Eph.2:1-6)
If you want to be truly human, to be what you were created to be, there is hope for you today if you put your trust fully in the Christ who saves and who, when he knew his time had come, said, “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn.12:31-33) Will you be drawn to the one who, in our passage declared with confidence and divine determination, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (Jn.11:25-26)
He calls you to new life, to become authentically human through his sacrifice for you on the cross, to grow in the things of God, to reflect God's image, to be God's representative on the earth, to relate correctly to others, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. How could anyone settle for less?