In the Storm: "When God Wept"
Topic: God Has Never Left Us Scripture: John 11:17–11:44
When a person cries, we notice. It’s hard not to sometimes. People cry in lots of different ways. Some people are loud cryers. Big gasps of air, lots of sounds. Other people are more subtle with their tears. A wipe of the eye, maybe a tear track here or there. Why we cry plays a role too, right? When someone cries at the altar, as they are getting married, it usually looks pretty different from when a kid scraps their knee.
Regardless of why someone might be crying, or how they cry, we take notice. There’s a part of our humanity that compels us to wonder why. There are some people have that unbelievable spark to want to come alongside those who cry and comfort them. I experienced one of those times while I was in student ministry. We were on a retreat for my youth group that included all of our students (6th-12th grade). We did other retreats, but this was the only one where all of us were together, and it held a special place in my heart. After the worship and speaker session on Saturday night, we had time carved out where students could talk to me, or another adult leader, about what they were thinking, their faith, stuff going on in their life, etc. I was surveying the room and praying for my dozen or so leaders and the 60 something students that were there, when I noticed one of my 6th-grade boys sitting by himself, crying. We’ll call him Bob.
Anyway, I knew Bob pretty well. He was a regular for Sunday school and Sunday night youth group and was usually a funny, energetic kid. Not really the emotional type. So this kind of struck me. Again, someone was crying and I noticed. I noticed that most of my leaders were with other students, I walked over and sat down next to him. I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him what was up. He sniffled, and sorta wiped his eyes, maybe a little embarrassed. I told him it was ok and that if something was bothering him that he could talk to me. He said, “No, it’s not about me. It’s you.” I was kind of stunned and just said, “Me? What do you mean, buddy?” He sniffed again and then said, “Well, it’s just. It’s just I worry about you, because you act like you don’t know you’re bald.”
That’s maybe one moment where I wish I hadn’t noticed someone crying. Regardless, tears often move us in meaningful ways. And that’s even truer when we see someone cry that we never have before. Whether it be a spunky middle schooler or even a parent. Maybe you have memories of the first time you saw your mom or dad cry. This morning we’re wrapping up our message series, In The Storm. We’ve looked at Elijah’s experience of despair and depression on the mountain, and last week, Larry helped us process the traumatic and tragic losses that Job endured. This morning, we’re looking at a text with tears. And those tears come from the most significant person to ever walk the planet. We’re going to continue through John 11. I’ll pick it up in verse 17, and go through verse 44.
* Read John 11:17-44 *
And so we come to the moment in Scripture When God Wept. We benefit from getting to hear how the whole series of events unfolded. Jesus gets word that a dear friend of his, Lazarus, is very sick. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, are worried he might even die. Jesus receives the request of Mary and Martha. He’s aware of their anxiety and their concern. And he is aware of the condition of his beloved friend, Lazarus. And yet, Jesus remains where he is for another couple days.
This is likely one of the moments in Scripture where the reader can say, “Hold on, that can’t be right.” They go back and reread the verses only to see that – no – they weren’t mistaken. Jesus knew his friend was sick and chose to wait. It’s also likely that this passage has the potential to become the first point where the reader says, “I don’t like that. Why would Jesus do that?” I spend hours every week sifting through and thinking over Scripture, and I’m not even immune to that feeling. Someone is in danger. Jesus knows it. Jesus could do something about it. Jesus waits. If you don’t struggle with this, then you either have no preconceived idea of who Jesus is or you’re not listening. Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.
Eventually, Jesus and his friends make their way to the home of Lazarus. But it’s too late. Lazarus has died. If we look back, we know Jesus was already aware of this. Before they begin their journey, Jesus tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep. When they don’t pick up the hint, Jesus tells them directly that Lazarus has died. But it doesn’t make the scene unfold any easier.
Lazarus has been buried for four days. Mary and Martha are surrounded by folks who want to comfort them in their time of loss. It’s the familiar scene of a funeral. When they learn Jesus is approaching, Martha runs to meet him, and Mary stays behind. And we witness these two sisters exhibit unique, but personal and profound displays of grieving. Displays we are likely to have witnessed or even practiced ourselves.
Martha runs to Jesus immediately. She finds him and even though she is facing and enduring the pain of her loss, her faith in Jesus doesn’t waver. She knows Jesus could have saved Lazarus, but she also seems to possess a next-level peace and understanding about the afterlife, and the resurrection. She seems, perhaps, even content with this reality. Her unwavering belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah – the Savior for all – stands like a lighthouse in the dark, cloudy night of Lazarus’ death. And then there is Mary.
Mary doesn’t run to Jesus like her sister does. Instead, she has to be told that Jesus wants to see her. Martha tells her, and so Mary goes to Christ. When she finally approaches Jesus, she falls at his feet and weeps. The words she speaks to Jesus are the same as her sister, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But I think there’s a big difference in the place both these questions are being asked. Still, we shouldn’t look down on Mary for this. After all, even though she is broken and shaken, Mary does believe that Jesus possesses the power to have saved Lazarus.
And then comes the response of Jesus. Jesus is standing there and he sees the shattered heart of Mary, and he hears the weeping cries of both her and all the Jews that had followed her. And what do we learn? That Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit, and that he was troubled. Remember when I said that we notice when someone cries? That it is a part of our humanity? The same is true for our Savior. He notices the tears of those before him, and it moves his heart. And in that sorrowful restlessness that we might be familiar with, he asks to be taken to where Lazarus is buried. And when he arrives, we receive what should be one of the single most meaningful, inspiring, comforting displays of Jesus, in all of Scripture. Verse 35: Jesus wept.
The eternal Son of God. The one who was present for all creation. The man who had fed the hungry, healed the blind, calmed the storm, and defeated demons…cried. At the sight of his friend’s grave, we observe a confounding and intriguing moment. The moment when God wept. And even how Jesus wept is telling. When we read this account in English, we read that Mary and the Jews wept and then Jesus wept. But in the original language, in Greek, it’s two different words. The one used for Mary and the Jews describes a loud wailing. The word used to describe the lament of Christ is used instead, for a soft, private shedding of tears. It describes a deep grieving. And in this case, it describes the deep grieving of Jesus. Our Savior and the Son of God.
This is the shortest verse in all of the Bible, but it is saturated with powerful, personal truth. For as long as humanity has considered the Almighty, we have also contemplated the presence of the Divinity within the despair of life. Catastrophe, disaster, suffering, loss. In all these spaces and more, we have asked, “Where was God?” In this account of John 11, in the shortest verse of Scripture, we receive our answer. As it is here, those are moments when God wept. Our God stands at the fallout, by the graveside, in the hospital room, amidst the pain, and in all of those times and places…God weeps. God is deeply moved, and God’s spirit is troubled. God’s heart is grieved and the Almighty is brought to tears.
This is the mistake I think so many of us make, that I made: We assume that because bad things happen, that God doesn’t care. I was in 9th grade when my mom passed away. I was still trying to figure out who I was and how geometry worked when I had to say goodbye to one of my parents. The only thing I understood less than geometry, was God. And I became upset, confused, angry, and bitter. Because I assumed God didn’t care. If He did, He’d have done something. Or so I reasoned to myself. But I was wrong. God did do something. That was a moment when God wept. Over the pain my mother had felt. Over the heartbreak of my Dad losing his spouse. Over two children who would never get another moment with their mother. God did what Jesus did at Lazarus’ tomb.
The hardest part about the account of Lazarus - isn’t that he died, it’s that Lazarus lived. We hear accounts of God’s miraculous power. We sing songs that declare it. We read verse after verse that affirms it. We gather on a weekly basis with others who believe it. We call that faith. But faith is a belief in what isn’t seen. Faith is the single most difficult thing to hang onto in the worst moments of our life. Everything, literally everything, around us urges us to give it up. Whispers to us that it’s useless. That it’s a lie. That was my experience when I was in 9th grade. On Easter Sunday. The day I found out I would never see the color of my mother’s eyes ever again.
This is heart-breaking, soul-compressing, life-altering stuff I’m talking about. And it’s not unique to me. All of us have moments that threaten to shatter us at our core. The circumstances are different. Instead of your mother, maybe it was a friend or a child who was taken far too young. Instead of the loss of life, it might be the loss of a relationship or a career. It could be poverty, depression, addiction, abuse, fear. It could be a single moment or an experience that seems to stretch on for decades. Saint John of the Cross called it the Dark Night of the Soul. It’s more than hardship. It’s chaos and crisis that impacts the way we perceive the Creator of all things and the only Savior of the world. The sting of loss and heartbreak, the dark night of the soul, has affected every human being, and that includes the Son of God as he stood at the grave of his friend, and had tears fall from his eyes.
Friends, I said this when we began this series. I have no easy answers for you. Instead, what I have is a testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in a Savior that knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, and still wept at the loss of his friend. As I grew and came to learn more about Christ, the way I began to wrestle with and understand my mom’s death transformed. Jesus told his disciples that because of Lazarus’s death, they would believe. I know without a shadow of a doubt, that my faith was planted, tended to, and grown in the dark but rich soil of my mother’s passing. And from that soil, I am confident God has done much and will do more.
My encouragement to you is this: Never think for a moment that God doesn’t care. When we suffer, we tend to crave a display of God’s miraculous power. Our lapse is to place time restrictions on the miracle. Our mistake is to assume that because God does not act out our heart’s desire, then that must mean God does not care. This text, this rare moment of vulnerability in Christ, is proof of the exact opposite. Yes, we have a God of power and might. But we also have a God who sheds tears. At the grave of Lazarus. In that hospital room where my mother passed. At the funerals and in the difficult conversations. Amidst the broken relationships and the broken spirits. Through every dark night of the soul. In every moment where we cry out. Those, my friends, are moments when God wept.