This is, of course, a verse to be taken seriously. Few verses in the Bible are more significant. It's short enough to be sharp. "Jesus wept." Tears appear often in the biblical narrative, but nowhere more movingly than here.
The Bible never says, "Jesus laughed." I am certain that He did. He was so often a welcome guest at banquets, feasts and parties. If Jesus had been a grim, glum, sad, sour soul that would not have been the case. They said of Jesus, "He's a winebibber and a glutton." He was neither. The reason they thought that was they heard all the laughter coming from the house where Jesus was a guest.
Occasionally a group of ministers will be together for lunch. Each one has a fund of stories to share, and each story is funnier than the one before. If you sat at a nearby table you'd find it hard to believe that we are all stone cold sober. It was like that with Jesus.
Another reason I think Jesus laughed is because of the humorous things Jesus said. We miss the humor because we know the punch line in advance, and that always spoils the joke. A joke turns upon a sudden perception of incongruity. But when Jesus spoke of a blind man who got another to lead him and both fell in a ditch, it was as funny as the Three Stooges. When Jesus said a man with a beam in his eye tried to get a speck out of someone else's eye, people laughed. That's funny! When He spoke of those who carefully washed the outside of the cup but not the inside, it was funny!
Another reason I think Jesus laughed is this: the person who has no sense of humor doesn't understand life. There are great slices of life that after all are really uproariously funny. If you have no sense of humor you don't understand life. Because I'm sure Jesus understood life perfectly, I'm confident He laughed. But the Bible never says, "Jesus laughed."
The Bible does say, "Jesus wept." What if the Bible did not say, "Jesus wept"? We would always have assumed that Jesus wept, but we needed to know it with certainty. We need the assurance and the reassurance that Jesus wept. The book of Hebrews calls Jesus our high priest and says, "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: It's important to know that Jesus can be touched . . . that Jesus wept.
Does Jesus care when my heart is painedOne of the ways I know He cares is that Jesus wept. The occasion of this text is the death of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, had been close friends of Jesus. They had often been His hosts. Jesus was away when Lazarus died. When finally He arrived, He was taken to a tomb. He wept. "Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him." We don't know why Jesus wept. The neighbors thought that Jesus wept because of His love for Lazarus. We are certain that the fact that Jesus wept is convincing proof that He loves us.
Too deeply for mirth and song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?
Oh yes, He cares; I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief.
(Frank E. Graeff)
It is possible that Jesus wept out of sympathy for the sorrowing sisters. It was an interesting family: two sisters and a brother. None of them had ever married. They lived together and made a home for one another. In that culture, the brother functioned as the head of the family. Now he is dead. The two sisters are alone in the world and it is possible that Jesus wept in sympathy for them.
It's important for us to know that people sympathize with us.
Someone said of marriage, "May there be such a oneness between you that when one cries tears the other tastes salt." It can be like that in the household of faith, too.Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear.
When you feel sympathetic pain, the problem is in one part of the body, but the pain is felt in another part of the body. In the body of Christ we often have sympathetic pain. It means a lot to us. It means even more to know that Jesus sympathizes. When we weep, He weeps. "The Great Physician now is near, the sympathizing Jesus" (William Hunter).
It is, however, equally possible that Jesus wept because of the crowd. The crowd did not believe. Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and that they still would not believe. That's how stubborn their doubt was. In fact, some say the resurrection of Lazarus provoked the crucifixion of Jesus. It convinced the opposition that Jesus had to be dealt with once and for all. So they began to conspire to kill Him. Not only that, they conspired to kill Lazarus. Disbelieving the evidence, they decided to destroy the evidence. Jesus knew all that and it may be that He wept because of the doubt of those around Him.
How do we respond to doubt? How do we respond to a disbelieving world? Sometimes we respond in anger. Sometimes we respond in panic. Jesus responded in pity.
This is not the only occasion on which Jesus wept. Once He stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley at the city of Jerusalem and wept. He cried out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wing, and ye would not." Those are indescribably sad words. "And ye would not."
I am glad that Jesus wept for an individual and I am glad that He wept for a city. I am glad that He wept for one and glad that He wept for many. Doubt caused Jesus to respond in this way because of His love. Have you ever loved someone greatly and had them doubt you? It hurts. It may not hurt much if a stranger or a casual acquaintance doubts you. But if you love somebody and they doubt you, it hurts. Because Jesus loved the world so greatly, He responded to its doubt with sorrow.
However, it is possible that we may not yet have discovered why Jesus wept. It may not have been because of His sympathy for the sisters of Lazarus. It may not have been because of the doubt of those about Him. He may have wept for Lazarus. We assume that Jesus did Lazarus a great favor when He raised him from the dead. But was that such a great favor? Lazarus is called back from Heaven to earth, from eternity back into time. He had to face again life's pain and life's problems. Now he had to face the opposition of those who would try to kill him and he had to die all over again. Perhaps Jesus wept for him.
It may be that death is not as terrible a thing as we have supposed. The Bible suggests that. Books recently published about dying experiences suggest that. It may not have been death Jesus dreaded in Gethsemane, but only the suffering on the cross that would precede death. In any case, it is possible that Jesus wept for Lazarus.
We don't know if He wept for Mary and Martha, for the crowd, or for Lazarus. But this much is sure. We know that He did not weep for himself. Self-pity was one thing in which Jesus would not indulge. We often see people mired down in self-pity. The theme song of their lives is, "Poor Me." We recoil from self pity. We honor those who rise above it. We honor the organizations that help people rise above it. We honor the people who enter the Boston Marathon in wheelchairs. We honor blind people who consider their blindness nothing more than an inconvenience.
If any man had reason for self-pity it was Jesus. He was a wholly innocent man about to be tried, convicted, tortured and executed. The very people He himself had created were about to kill Him. He knew that some of the very people for whom He died would not understand Him and would reject him. If ever there was a person who had reason to pity himself, it was Jesus, but He wouldn't do it.
Because of the culture in which we've grown up, it particularly moves us to see a man cry, especially if it's a big muscular, stalwart man. Our culture has taught us that it is all right for women and children to cry but that men aren't supposed to cry. There is no physical basis for that. Men have tear ducts, too! But because of this strange feature of our culture it always moves us to see a man cry. I can only remember two occasions on which I saw my father cry. One was a winter day when the wind came out of the north, fierce and strong, and it blew tears out of his eyes. The other occasion was at church. The sermon had been particularly moving. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him lift that hard, calloused hand and brush away a tear. I was only a child, but it made an unforgettable impression on me.
In the Greek Orthodox Cathedral at Tarpon Springs, Florida, there is a picture of their patron saint, St. Nicholas. Such a picture is regarded as holy in the Greek Orthodox Church. A few years ago people came from far and wide to see that picture, because it wept. If you are at all familiar with the intense humidity of Florida, it is not surprising that anything under glass would weep. But to those who believed it was all very significant. They said the picture wept because St. Nicholas himself wept. They were moved by it. We may have some problem with that, but we are all touched to know that Jesus wept.
We are touched all the more to know that He weeps
still. Perhaps He weeps for you and me. Perhaps some Sunday
He sees an empty place at church, where you usually sit, and weeps that
you are not there. You have not kept your appointment with Him there.
It is possible that He looks into your life, sees some ugly sin, and weeps
that you have disobeyed His will. Perhaps He listens to your conversation,
hears His own name, spoken not in reverence but in profanity, and weeps.
Perhaps He weeps that you would speak His name so lightly, so carelessly.
The Bible says that there is joy in Heaven when one sinner repents.
May we not then conclude that there is grief in Heaven whenever one sinner
refuses to repent? You must decide whether you will bring a tear
to the eye of Jesus or a smile to the face of God!