For all of the trivia buffs out there, what is the shortest verse in the Bible? If you answered John 11:35, “Jesus wept”, you are mostly correct. That is the shortest verse in the King James Version but it is actually the 3rd shortest in the original Greek language. What’s the point you might ask. Sometimes things are a little more complicated than they appear on the surface. Let’s look together at the story and see if we can figure out why Jesus wept.
In John 11, we read the story of Lazarus. He is described as one whom Jesus loves. It is widely believed that Jesus and Lazarus, along with his sisters Mary and Martha, grew up together as childhood friends. In the story, Lazarus becomes very ill and his sisters send for Jesus to come and pray for him to be healed. His response is that this sickness isn’t going to lead to death but for the glory of God.
You would assume that Jesus would immediately head to Bethany to pray for his friend, but instead he waits two more days before heading down there. When he does decide to go, he tells his disciples and they remind him of a very practical reality. The last time we were in Judea they tried to kill you. Jesus’ response was Lazarus is asleep and I need to go wake him up. Very practically, the disciples responded, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover”. I can almost hear Jesus sigh as he says back to them, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas’ response is priceless. “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Before you’re too hard on Thomas, how would you have responded?
As they arrive in Bethany, Jesus is greeted by Martha who seems to reprimand Jesus for being too late but still shows some signs of hope by acknowledging that even now God would answer his prayers. Jesus plainly tells her that Lazarus is going to rise again and she responds in what sounds like to me a religious pat answer, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus answer is the 5th “I Am” found in the book of John. These statements show Jesus’ deity, the fact that He is God! He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She affirms her belief that he is the Christ who is sent from God but still doesn’t seem to believe he will raise Lazarus from the dead.
Martha now goes to get her sister Mary to come and talk to Jesus. Her response to Jesus is the same: too little, too late. At this point, you have to picture the scene. Mary is at Jesus’ feet weeping. Martha is standing by doing the same. There is a crowd gathered around now who are wailing. Jesus’ demeanor changes here. It says that he was deeply moved in his spirit. This actually indicates that he was growing impatient. He tells them to take him to the place where Lazarus was laid. It’s in this context that Jesus weeps. This word in Greek doesn’t indicate a loud wailing, but quiet tears. The crowd in what seems to me to be another religious response talks about how much Jesus loved Lazarus and if he’d only been here he might have been able to keep him from dying.
They arrive at the tomb. Jesus commands them to remove the stone that is sealing it. Martha, always the practical one, tries to bring the grieving Jesus to the reality that it’s too late to see Lazarus. He’s been dead 4 days and therefore his body has begun to decay and will stink. Jesus replies, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they roll away the stone and Jesus prays a preach prayer. Have you ever heard one of those? It’s a prayer where someone is making a point for the hearers while they pray. He says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
He then cried out using Lazarus’ name so as to not awaken all of the dead in the region and said simply, “Come out”. Lazarus comes out wrapped up like a mummy raised to life by the power of God. I can almost imagine the look on everyone’s faces as they stare at this spectacle. That theory seems to be backed up by Jesus having to tell them to unbind him and let him go.
I want to start a dialogue with you. From what we’ve studied here together, why do you think Jesus’ wept? What was the reason? By the way, I think there is probably a combination of things instead of one right answer. What practical lessons can we glean from this story? How can we apply its truths to our lives?