STAND & COMFORT Newsletter
WHY DID JESUS WEEP?
Jesus was a man like us, but a perfect man, God come in the flesh. Like us, he loved and served God, felt compassion for suffering people, and had physical and emotional needs. But unlike us, Jesus served God in absolute obedience, expressed his compassion through perfect works, and looked only to his Father to fill his needs.
Jesus loved mankind so much that he took upon himself our sorrows, our sin and our punishment in a supreme act of love, but he never allowed himself to be overcome with emotional sentiment. He didn't cry over suffering. When confronted with sick and infirm people--the lame, the blind, the paralyzed, the lepers-- Jesus didn't weep with them in empathy; he just healed them. Even sick and dying little children didn't move Jesus to tears. Weeping was no help to them, but healing was.
Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds around him because "they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36.) But instead of wringing his hands and crying for them, he offered to be their Shepherd. Even when his beloved cousin John was beheaded, Jesus never publicly mourned, as was the custom. Although John had spent his whole life preparing the way for him, Jesus didn't gather his disciples together and preach an emotional eulogy. Instead, he "withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place" (Matthew 14:13.) And when he returned and saw another large crowd waiting for him, he went on with his work: "He had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14.)
In the end, as he hung dying on the cross, Jesus saw his grieving mother in the little crowd of women nearby. In fulfillment of prophecy, Mary's own soul was being pierced with a sword as she watched her perfect son suffer a cruel, unjust death. But Jesus didn't weep for his mother. Instead, in the last moments of his life, Jesus made sure that Mary would be cared for; he gave her as a mother to the disciple he loved, and John tells us that "all was now completed" (John 19:28.)
Jesus' entire ministry was spent in speaking the Father's mind and doing His work. He knew why he'd been sent--to bring light and life to the world--and he knew that neither pity nor sentiment would overcome the darkness and death. Jesus overflowed with compassion, not sympathy, and he never dwelt on others' feelings. In fact, he often spoke what were judged to be harsh words:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34.)
But in reality, Jesus' words were life-giving truths. He knew that men's susceptibility to human emotion often leads to spiritual error and an inordinate love for others and self. His words were not hard-hearted sayings, but warnings from the truly loving heart of God.
Jesus was never moved to tears for himself. He hungered, he had no home, and he bore insulting accusations of madness and demon-possession. Instead of receiving honor from the world, he knew he was hated, despised and rejected. Men threatened his life and tried to stone him. In all of this, he never wept. In Jesus' humanity, he needed love and affection as much as anyone else, but when his own brothers didn't believe in him and many of his disciples turned away, he looked to the Father instead of resorting to self-pity.
Jesus knew what kind of death he would suffer. In Gethsemene, he confided to his close friends, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me" (Matthew 26:38.) But his friends fell asleep. He fell with his face to the ground and prayed that the cup of suffering would be taken from him, and his anguish was so intense that sweat fell like drops of blood to the ground. But he shed no tears for himself.
When they came for him, his disciples fled, just as he'd told them earlier: "You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me" (John 16:32.) Leaning totally on his Father, Jesus demonstrated the "full extent of his love" (John 13:1) by enduring his trial, flogging and crucifixion. And throughout the entire ordeal, he never succumbed to weeping.
But the gospels tell us that on two occasions, Jesus did weep. The first time was in Bethany, immediately before he raised Lazarus from death, and the second was his weeping over Jerusalem. What was it about these times that made them different from the others? We'll look at the second occasion first, in order to more clearly understand Jesus' weeping in Bethany.
Jesus stopped in Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew the crowds were expecting the onset of the Messianic kingdom. So again, he stated his purpose for coming: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10.) Then he told the people a parable about a nobleman who went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then return. "But," said Jesus, "his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don't want this man to be our king'" (Luke 19:14.) Jesus knew that the kingdom of godliness and holiness that he offered would, within the week, be violently and finally rejected. So he ended his parable with the nobleman's declaration of justice: "‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me'" (Luke 19:27.)
Jesus had spent well over three years pointing out, and living, the way back to God. As the Word of God, he was the very proof of Psalm 119:129-130: "Thy testimonies are wonderful . . . The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" (KJV.) He'd made the knowledge of God, and admittance into the heavenly kingdom, available to even the simplest of men. But Jesus knew their unbelief, and knew that his Father's gift would be rejected. With the Psalmist, Jesus cried to God, "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law [teaching]" (Psalm 119:136 KJV.)
Luke tells us that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, "he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you'" (Luke 19:41-44.)
God Himself had come to His people in a "visitation" (KJV). The Greek word (episkope) has the meaning of "going to see, or inspect, in order to relieve." Jesus was sent by the Father to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel, to open their eyes to the fullness of God's love and mercy. He'd come to relieve the hard yoke of the Law and offer instead his own light yoke and easy burden. But they didn't understand. John tells us,
"In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:4-5.)
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because God's own people refused to comprehend the light that made Him known, and as a consequence, Israel would be cut off for a time, fiercely assaulted and scattered among her enemies.
The above verses explain Jesus' weeping at Bethany, too. In him was life. Over and over, Jesus told his hearers that he was the source of eternal life. They need not fear death, the last enemy, because he had life in himself and had come to defeat death:
"Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life'" (John 4:13-14.)
Jesus didn't just tell the people that he gave life; he'd demonstrated his power over death by raising people from the dead (Luke 7:12-15,22; Mark 5:22-43.) Mary and Martha and the rest of his disciples were aware of these things. In fact, both of Lazarus' sisters said to him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21,32.) And some of the Jews said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" (John 11:37.) Unlike unbelievers, Jesus' disciples had faith that he could heal a dying man, and therefore keep him alive. They believed, like Martha, that Lazarus would "rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24.) And certainly, they'd heard about and believed that Jesus had resurrected Jairus' little daughter and the widow's son. Yet here Lazarus' family and other followers of Jesus were weeping, mourning the loss of their loved one, distressed that Jesus hadn't arrived in time.
The flesh of Lazarus' body had begun to decay, and with it, the faith of the disciples. But Jesus had deliberately stayed away until Lazarus was in the grave for four days. He'd been glad he wasn't there for their sake, so that they would believe (John 11:15.) But when they said "Come and see" where they laid the body, Jesus wept. Some of the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" (John 11:36,) but they didn't understand. Jesus didn't weep because his friend was dead. Days before, he'd plainly told his disciples, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:14.) And he didn't weep in sympathy for the family, although he loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:5.)
Why, then, did Jesus weep? John tells us that "when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled" (John 11:33.)
Jesus was "deeply moved in spirit," or as the KJV reads, "he groaned in the spirit." These phrases translate the Greek "embrimaomai" defined as "to have indignation on, to blame, to sigh with chagrin." The root of the word (brimaomai) literally means "to snort with anger." Jesus was indignant, chagrined with his own friends and disciples. Even these, who had followed him most closely and believed most heartily, were not completely convinced that he was life. Like the religious leaders in Jerusalem, they had not recognized the time of their visitation; they didn't understand the enormity of his relief. So Jesus wept.
As he approached Lazarus' tomb, Jesus once more groaned in himself. He reproved his disciples: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40.) Still chagrined, he thanked God for hearing him, and said, "‘I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out . . ." (John 11:42-44.)
Jesus was sent by God, and was rejected as both the light and the life. He wept because of the Jews' unbelief in their own God. In contrast, when we weep, it is usually because of our own unbelief. Like the Jews, we don't fully comprehend the tremendous power and love that God applies in every situation, and so we weep, in sympathy for others or pity for ourselves. But that's why Jesus gave us his word and sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. He promised, "All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you" (John 16:15.) As we grow in faith and the understanding of what is his, and as we are conformed to His image and likeness, God's purposes become our purposes also, and we more clearly comprehend that His works are perfect. Let us strive to be like Jesus even in our emotions, and weep with him only over the unbelief that results in death.
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