A God who weeps

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Kahlil Gibran wrote: ‘You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.’ Who has wept with you? What did this mean to you?

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Bible passage: John 11:28–44

 28And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

 32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
      "Come and see, Lord," they replied.

 35Jesus wept.

 36Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

 37But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
 38Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39"Take away the stone," he said.
      "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

 40Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

 41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I 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."

 43When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
      Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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Showing emotion

The Greeks thought that God could not feel emotion – they called this apatheia. Jesus proves them wrong. Here’s one of the most poignant verses of the New Testament: ‘Jesus wept’ (v 35).

Jewish men had not been brought up to keep a stiff upper lip. Confronted with the death of his friend, Jesus wept – probably mourning his own loss, as well as empathising with Martha and Mary. But was that all?

Righteous anger

Twice John records that Jesus was ‘deeply moved’ (vs 33,38) or ‘greatly disturbed’ (NRSV). The Greek word used is a word which describes a horse snorting – an expression of indignation or anger. John seems to suggest that Jesus was in the grip of such deep emotion that an involuntary groan was wrung from the very core of his being.

Underlying Jesus’ tears is not mere grief, but righteous anger over the suffering, destruction and death that plague the world because of sin. The raising of Lazarus is Jesus’ outraged onslaught against death, that ‘last enemy to be destroyed’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). Jesus wept over the things that hurt humanity; he grieved even more intensely over the things that grieved God.


List the five things most likely to make you weep. List the five things you think grieve God the most. Compare your lists.

Deeper Bible study

Cultures differ so much in the expression of powerful emotion. Western cultures tend to encourage restraint, at least in public, while eastern cultures (though not all) tend to be less inhibited. This passage is interesting from this perspective because of the differences between the sisters and Jesus. There was no mention of Martha weeping, in yesterday’s passage. Today, however, Mary does not hold back her tears as she throws herself at Jesus’ feet with the same words, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. On her lips they sound more like an angry accusation, a bursting of the dam that held her feeling back while she sat with her Jewish comforters.

Jesus shows no restraint. John uses very powerful language in verses 33 and 38 to describe Jesus’ feelings, prompted by his empathy with Mary and her comforters. He knows what will happen to Lazarus very shortly, and yet he weeps for their weeping. Their sorrow becomes his, and he wants them to see it. Looking back to verse 4 (picked up here in verse 40), we realise that somehow the pathway through terrible sorrow is necessary, so that God may finally be glorified by our deliverance. And Jesus weeps with us on that way, until the moment when ‘the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’ (John 5:25)!

Jesus’ action with Lazarus – and Lazarus’ action in response! – mirrors that promise in John 5. What a glorious hope to have! In the meantime, we cannot do better than Mary, whose customary posture, it seems, is at Jesus’ feet (v 32). See how she is described in Luke 10:39 and in John 12:3, as well as here (and possibly also in Luke 7:38). Here she brings to his feet her great sorrow, stored up and then poured out with honesty.


Burial customs and beliefs

The Jewish custom was to bury the deceased as soon as possible following death. In the hot climate, decomposition would set in quickly. By the third day that process would have begun. Hence Martha’s, ‘… by this time there is a bad odour’ (11:38).

The Jews then did not know about embalming (as used by the Egyptians), but applied spices and ointment to mask the bad smell of the decaying corpse throughout the time of mourning. The body was wrapped tightly in cloths to which the spices and ointments were also applied (v 44).

The tomb
The tomb ‘was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance’ (11:38). This may have been in a burial place outside the village. Tombs were usually excavated in the side of a hill with a low doorway and ‘shelves’ either side on which to lie the bodies. A heavy slab of rock was placed over the entrance – to prevent dogs or other wild animals from scavenging.

Death was a significant community event and mourning by everyone was obligatory and often continued for a week. Loud lamentation was customary and mourners would be hired to wail and cry. Mary and Martha’s community seem to have come out in full support of the family (vs 19,33).

'Tricia Williams

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Job 41,42

Philippians 3

Truly alive

What does it mean to be truly alive in Jesus? Should the power of his resurrection radiate in our lives?

Reflect on this as you study Andrew Gray’s illustration of the raising of Lazarus (www.onegraydot.com / www.prodigitalartist.com).


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You are God
The Charlie Hall Band
Brian Bergman, Charlie Hall, Dustin Ragland, Kendall Combes
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Song: Your words are life
Composer: Noel Richard and Tim Sherrington
Copyright: Copyright © 2008 Thank you Music
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  • Graham Fuller | Wednesday, 07 August 2013

    His voice not only calls us from death but it also calls us from the grip of sin. If we respond to his voice, with his help we can be free to be the people he wants us to be.

  • Rae Bigwood | Wednesday, 07 August 2013

    I remember the separateness portrayed yesterday between Martha and Mary. I love the way Jesus portrays both sides of His character. His intellect and emotions being entwined and equally balanced. I am reminded of earlier lessons. I like to compare how Wisdom and Love come together in Christ. This is portrayed so poignantly here. Father help me to become more like you.

  • Nigel Harris | Wednesday, 07 August 2013

    Was Jesus so moved because in order to show Gods glory, Mary and Martha had to experience the death of their brother ? He could of healed Lazarus, but chose not to.

  • Myra Dipper | Wednesday, 07 August 2013

    Thanks Graham, Rae and Nigel for your comments. I am most challenged by what make me cry: frustration, anger, problems I can't seem to solve alone, death, ? and what makes God/Jesus cry: death, sin, disobedience... I imagine we all will come up with different answers to what make God cry - and the answers for each unique individual will be very different but tears seem both human and divine. Father, help me seek and trust members of your earthly family.

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