When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private,“The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” – John 11:28-37
Perhaps you have seen the video footage of the crash of the Hindenburg, and recall Herbert Morrison’s famous words, “Oh the humanity!” He was so obviously overwrought at the sight, and human tragedy unfolding before him, he could barely speak. In fact at one point in the report, he tells his radio audience, “I can hardly breathe. I–I’m going to step inside where I cannot see it.” An encounter with human tragedy ought to do that to a person. Today, however, we are too often inclined toward an aloofness that masks deeper feelings of distress, sadness, or horror.
When Jesus encounters the sisters of Lazarus, experiences their mixture of grief and faith, and has a moment to take it all in, he does not remain aloof. He does not remain cool, calm, collected. Jesus wept. This is the shortest verse in the English Bible, but it is long in meaning and significance for those who reflect on these two words.
There are several ways to understand this event. Certainly it is a glimpse into Jesus’ humanity, and the attendant emotions that are part of the human experience. These words also show Jesus’ love for these two sisters and their brother. It is clear, also that Jesus does not see death as a friend.
I believe there is also testimony here on Jesus’ part of his great sadness over the incredibly destructive nature of sin. Death has come into the world as a result of sin. But prior to that time the world was very good. That was the work of the Word; all things were made through him. He knew the perfection of glory. He knew how life, and earth, and family were originally designed. Now Jesus, the Word made flesh, was witnessing this deeply sad moment and seeing for himself the sadness that sin brings into our lives – but from a perspective that none of us has.
Jesus’ humanity is on display here. But it is a humanity that is mysteriously and inextricably indwelt with the divine nature of God. He sees the sadness from the perspective of the experience and understanding of eternal bliss and perfection. He knows that he will experience death as well, and that this broken world is not what God has in mind in the end. But for now Jesus weeps. Thanks be to God that isn’t his final word, nor is death our final destiny in him.