John 11.35 Why did Jesus weep?

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?”  38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

John 11.32-38

Why did Jesus weep in John 11.35? I don’t think anyone can give a conclusive answer to this question, but here are some observations:

  1. Jesus has not yet come to the tomb when he weeps, because v. 38 says, “then Jesus… came to the tomb…” This implies that it is not the fact that Lazarus is dead and gone that he is weeping. Besides, he knows that he is going to raise him (he hints at it in v. 15). This is the most obvious thing to me to indicate that these are not tears of grief over death that parallel Mary’s tears. I just don’t see how that could be Jesus’ emotion when he knows that Lazarus is about to be resurrected.
  2. It is when Jesus sees Mary weeping (v. 33) along with the Jews who are with her, that he is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” This is the stated context of his weeping and offers the most help in discerning the cause of his tears. However, the fact that the word “deeply moved” can also mean “indignant” makes it difficult to pin down exactly what emotional state this word is referring to.
  3. The fact that the Jews say “see how he loved him” could be showing the reason for his tears, but it is also possible that John is indicating a misunderstanding of Jesus’ tears.
  4. Everything Jesus says and does in this chapter shows that he is focused on the far more important eternal spiritual realities of life and death (see my other posts on John 11)

Based on the above (especially #1), I think it is safe to conclude that Jesus is NOT weeping because of grief over Lazarus’ death.

It is slightly more likely that he is weeping out of sympathy for the grief of Mary and the Jews weeping with her. This is a reason often stated at funerals–that Jesus sympathizes with our grief and that he is with us in our sorrows. Let me say that this is TRUE! Jesus does sympathize with us and knows our grief and is with us in it.

But because of #4 above, I think this still misses the mark. As I said at the beginning here, I don’t think we can say anything conclusively, but it seems warranted to me to say that Jesus is in a troubled emotional state (perhaps “indignant” is the right word?) that brings him even to tears because of the spiritual state of the people around him. It is spiritual death that leads to physical death, and the grief of Mary and the Jews is a vivid demonstration to Jesus of the reality of sinful mankind’s need for spiritual resurrection.

These verses show Jesus’ humanity so clearly. We see him experiencing one of the strongest of human emotions, even attended by tears. But while this is a very human emotional response, I believe that Jesus is feeling it for very different reasons from those around him. He is moved not just by the physical separation of death, but by the spiritual death that is its cause.

Grief that is caused by the spiritual death that surrounds us is something that will often come over Christians in this world. I have experienced something very much like what Jesus demonstrates here while I was attending a funeral for a non-believer that was led by his atheist father, who obviously had no real hope, and who could therefore offer no real hope to those who had come to be with him in his time of grief. As I watched the pall-bearers, who were all wearing black t-shirts with heavy metal bands featured on them, complete with pictures of demons and death, it filled me with grief and indignation that this was unfolding without any announcement or public demonstration of the hope of the gospel.

I think this is what Jesus is experiencing here. He sees the ravages of sin and its resultant death, and he doesn’t see any indication in the people around him of a true belief in him as the resurrection and the life. Therefore when he says in v. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” he doesn’t just mean that they would see God’s glory manifested in the physical resurrection of Lazarus, but he also means that if they would believe, they would be spiritually resurrected themselves.

All this is not to say that Mary is unregenerate or an unbeliever, but she is acting here in the flesh. Her words, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” are not the way a believer appropriately responds to the death of a loved one. They are an accusation that Jesus has not done what he should have done. Contrasted with this is what I have heard at many Christian funerals through the years–declarations of confidence that death is not victorious and that God has promoted that Christian loved one to glory and that the promise of resurrection is certain because that one who has believed in Jesus will never die!

A further reflection is that this spiritual grief over spiritual deadness and unbelief is something that I can even feel for myself! My “new self” (Eph. 4.24) grieves over the unbelief that is present in my flesh–the “old self” (Eph. 4.22)

Jesus’ tears are a reminder to see the world around us as it really is; to grieve over its lostness and unbelief. But praise God that John 11 doesn’t end with v. 35. Jesus goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead–a picture of the authority that Jesus has to raise those who believe in him from spiritual death to a new and never-ending life!


Jeremiah 13.1-14 Jeremiah’s Underwear

“Muddy River” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist.”

Jeremiah 13.1-2

This is actually a rather funny passage of scripture because a loincloth is technically UNDERWEAR! Underwear is not usually a source of pride! But in this passage the loincloth that Jeremiah wears represents Israel and their pride in themselves

What gives the loincloth its meaning, purpose and value is its relation to the one who wears it. The Lord points out in verse 11 that just as the loincloth “clings” to the waist of the man who wears it, so Israel was created by God in order that they might cling to him and find their identity not in themselves, but in the fact that they belonged to the Lord. This is Israel’s glory: that they are God’s people!

For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen. 

Jeremiah 13.11

However, Jeremiah’s not dipping the loincloth in water (i.e. washing it) and his subsequent hiding of the loincloth at the Euphrates represents the pride of the people of Israel. Israel had failed to maintain a pure relationship with God through repentance (symbolized by not washing the loincloth by dipping it in water) and they had not “clung” to the Lord as they were created to do (symbolized by the hiding of the loincloth by the Euphrates).

“Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.

Jeremiah 13.4-7

As a result, God says that he will spoil Israel’s pride just like Jeremiah’s underwear hidden somewhere down by the river. Would you wear used underwear that you found sopping wet and wrapped around some rocks down by a riverside??

When we forsake God and try to find our identity apart from who we were created to be in relation to him, we are like that muddy, wet underwear at the river’s edge. Jeremiah’s story is meant to wake Israel (and us) up to the fact that the glory we should pursue is not our own, but the glory that comes from our relationship to God.

The gospel shows us that our worth and value comes not from anything in us, but from our relationship to God–a relationship that is possible because Jesus has reconciled us to the Father by a spiritual uniting us to himself in his death and resurrection. That union with Christ is accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit who gives us new birth and causes us to cling to Jesus in faith.

This prophetic passage gives us yet another understanding of the gospel–that we are to cling in faith to Jesus and in so doing, our standing with God and our glory comes from the new identity we have as belonging to him.

As a Christian, do you pursue an identity in something or someone other than Christ? In what practical ways are you “clinging” to Jesus? In what practical ways are you building your identity around him and who he is in you through the unique way he has re-created you by the Spirit?


Hebrews 3.12-14 On Temptation and Deception

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Heb. 3.12-14

The author of Hebrews warns Christians here of an “evil, unbelieving heart.”  The opposite of faith is unbelief, and unbelief is closely linked to deception. If faith is a spiritual sight of what the natural man cannot see or be convinced of (as Hebrews 11.1 says), then a lack of this sight is due to a deception that keeps the natural man from spiritually seeing. This deception is described in 2 Cor. 4.4, which talks about the god of this world blinding unbelievers to “keep them” from seeing the glory of Christ. It is also mentioned at the end of v. 13 here where the author warns about being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. So in warning the brothers (believers!!) about an “evil, unbelieving heart”, the author of Hebrews is implying that a believer can be deceived and act in unbelief, and thus be hardened and even eventually fall away from the living God. 

All this leads to the following insight: there is a deceptive power in temptation that makes falsehood seem true, and truth seem false. And there is a way set forth in these verses for how to break the deceptive power of sin.

What I see often in my own experience is that it only takes the teeny-tiniest deception to start a slippery slope of greater and greater deception. For example, I’m enjoying a classical music video that features a solo violinist who is very attractive playing in front of a symphony orchestra. So I believe the deception that I am looking up some other classical music videos on YouTube in order to “enjoy the music” when my real motivation is to see more and different musicians in formal dress meant to be pleasing and attractive.  Such a teeny-tiny deception, but it can lead to me choosing the videos that have the most attractive women, not the best music.  By this point, I have already believed a more powerful deception than simply the rationalizing of what I am doing. I have been deceived into thinking that this physical attractiveness is a good and satisfying thing that I need to pursue for myself as an end in itself, and not for the glory of God and according to his good guidelines.

Something that I’ve noticed happening in my own life is that once I’ve accepted a deception as true, it has a tremendous power over me. The glory of the Lord Jesus does not seem to hold a candle to a glimpse of something that excites me sexually.  I can strive to desire the right thing (Jesus) more than the obvious deception (the temptation) but the spiritual sight of his glory (faith) is gone.  As I evaluate my thoughts and my heart, it seems so clear that the pleasure that sin promises is real! It sounds shocking to say it, but it seems like a god worth following all the way to the end.  Like John Nash’s hallucinations in “A Beautiful Mind”, I know both that they aren’t real, but I am also so convinced that they are real. Only with time back in the Lord’s presence, reading the word, focusing my attention on the Truth, do the hallucinations begin to fade and I feel that faith/spiritual sight returning to me. 

So if this analysis is right, then the “exhort one another” of Heb. 3.13 is reminding each other what is true.   To the extent that we share truth with one another, we keep each other from being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. The truth that we share doesn’t even always have to be related to the immediate situation. If I can be reminded that Jesus is glorious and helped to see his glory, the hallucinations begin to fade and the Truth is more visible. If I am reminded simply that I have brothers who care and are praying for me, it’s like John Nash’s friend visiting him on his front porch and pulling him, even if it is ever so slightly, back into the real world of God’s kingdom.

In addition, even before others exhort me at all, opening my heart to my brothers by letting them know I am being tempted is a way of admitting to a “real” person (to go back to the John Nash analogy) that I’m seeing a hallucination. Just interacting with a real person has a therapeutic effect of pulling us out of the deceptive dream world that we often slip into.

And if all this wasn’t encouraging enough, in the words of Vizzini from Princess Bride… “wait till I get going!” 

Verse 14 tells me that continuing to hold on to what is true and real and rejecting the deception is the proof that I have come to share in Christ. Why? Because Christ always does what he sees his Father doing. He only does the will of his Father (John 5.30, Matt. 26.39-42). And if I hear the Father’s voice as verse 15 says and I do not harden my heart, but trust him and obey him and follow him out of the fog into the light, then it is yet another evidence that I share in Christ. 

I can testify that sometimes all I hear is the voice of the Father. There is no other tangible evidence that I can feel that any of this life (the Christian life) that we are trying to live is true. My heart’s desires tell me that the best thing I can do for myself is whatever I want in that moment. Being immersed in a culture that is materialistic and pleasure-seeking, it can feel like the world’s way is true. 

But if we hear the voice of our Father calling us, let us NOT harden our hearts!