In John 11:35 we find the shortest verse in our English translations: “Jesus wept.” Although a short verse, these two words tell us about who Jesus was and the love he has for people.
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus received word that his friend Lazarus was very ill. “So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, look, the one you love is sick.’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.) So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days” (John 11:3-6 NET).
If we did not know how much Jesus loved this family, we might accuse him of being insensitive. He delayed going to see Lazarus for two days. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. Even the two sisters, Martha and Mary, said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32). They knew Jesus had the power to heal and they knew that Lazarus was deathly sick. Why did Jesus not go sooner and heal Lazarus? Here are two things to consider.
It would seem that Lazarus had already died when Jesus received the news of his illness. When you work out the time it would have taken to get the message (probably one day), the two day delay, and his travel to Bethany, four days would have elapsed. So there would not have been time to have gone to heal him. As we see from John 11:11-13, Jesus already knew that Lazarus was dead.
Notice as well that little word “so” at the beginning of verse 6. Jesus chose to remain where he was when he heard of Lazarus’ illness because he loved the family. Yes, they knew he had the power to heal. But there was more. As he told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). They needed to realize that not only could Jesus heal but that he also came to give eternal life.
Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will come back to life again” (John 11:23). Martha thought he was talking about a resurrection at the end of time. But Jesus was telling her that he was going to raise Lazarus back to life. But when he was taken to the Lazarus’ tomb, he wept. Why did Jesus weep, knowing what he was about to do?
It would seem that part of this was his feeling the sorrow of these two sisters and the others that were mourning the loss of Lazarus. It is difficult to be in the presence of those who are mourning the loss of a loved one and not feel the sorrow that they feel.
What does this tell us? Jesus is not only aware of what we go through but he also feels the sorrow that we feel. We can be confident that when those we love depart from this life that God is aware of what we are going through. He is with us to give us the strength and comfort that we need.
As Christians, we also have the hope that Martha expressed: “I know that he will come back to life again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). May we live so that we have this hope. May our teaching and life help others to have this same hope so that we will all be united with Jesus for eternity.
Readings for next week:
31 October – John 12
1 November – John 13
2 November – John 14
3 November – John 15
4 November – John 16