Jesus had just proclaimed himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and said that if someone believed in him, he'd never really die. He comforted Martha with these words, and then he met with Mary for a few minutes before he went to the tomb. I find it interesting that she repeated the first sentence that Martha had led with, but without the word of confidence that had followed when her sister had said it. Did she believe, like Martha, that Jesus could raise her brother if he wanted? We don’t know, but if she did, she didn’t express it.
Now we get to the shortest verse in the Bible, and one of the most mysterious. Of course, the immediate meaning is pretty clear. For some reason, Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. Now, we know that he planned to raise his friend from the dead and give him back to his sisters. So that raises the question: Why did he weep? If he really is the Resurrection and the Life, then why the tears at a funeral? There are at least three explanations I’ve found, and all of them have a case to make. I also want to point out that these explanations are not mutually contradictory at all.
Before we get to them, however, let’s look at one more piece of evidence. Vs.33 might furnish us with a clue: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” So this tells me that the reason behind his weeping might lie (at least in part) behind their grief.
The first explanation is that he was just joining them in their grief. Yes, he knew that he was about to restore Lazarus, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sympathize with them up to that point. I believe that he weeps with us now: When we lose a loved one, he sorrows with us. The Psalmist tells us that God “daily bears our burdens.” And if he does weep with us at our loss, that too is in the shadow of the great resurrection. We’re going to be reunited with our loved ones (who are saved) just as Lazarus’s family was. It’ll just take a little longer.
The second explanation, which I have a little more trouble with, is that he was grieved by their lack of faith. He'd proclaimed himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, and they were still grieving as if they had no hope. Quite frankly, I don’t buy it. Paul had no problem with grieving for a lost brother, even though he believed in the resurrection as much as anyone. This explanation sounds a little too heartless to me.
The third theory--which I get from C. S. Lewis--has to do with death itself. We were not originally designed to die. Death is an intruder, one which our first parents let in when they opened the door to sin. The ancient Greeks, because of their hatred of the physical body, actually wrote poems about death. They saw it as a release from the crude body into a glorious spirituality. But that’s the not the message of the Bible. God hates death. It’s not the natural state for us; it’s the ultimate corruption of his creation. Yes, it’s a defeated foe, and yes it’s the means by which the Lord brings us into his presence. But it’s still a foe, not something to be embraced for its own sake. And one day the One who is the Resurrection and the Life will swallow it up forever, and the victory which Christ started at his own resurrection will be completed. So the reason why Jesus wept over the tomb of Lazarus was the same feeling which an artist displays when he sees his work destroyed or damaged. He designed that body lovingly within the mother’s womb. Those weren’t tears of pity; they were tears of holy anger at what sin had done to his work.
Like I said, we can’t be totally sure why Jesus wept. I sort of lean towards the first, while the third really intrigues me. But ultimately we don’t want to miss the main point: We have a Savior who weeps. When we suffer, he weeps. Our loss is his. Our pain is his. And unlike the tears of our other friends, the tears of Jesus represent a determination to do something about it. Decisively.
Thank you Lord Jesus for being God-with-us. You're not out there, somewhere removed from our suffering. You're here, closer than a heartbeat, closer than the breath on my lips.