Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Did Jesus Weep?

Jesus was heading to the tomb of Lazarus, and he wept.  It's one of the most famous verses in the Bible, mostly because of an accident of publishing-- it's the only verse that has two words.  Easiest verse to memorize, "Jesus wept."

But why did he weep?  Well, it made sense to the people around him that he wept.  After all, his good friend had just died.  Of course he wept.  He had just lost a loved one.

But he knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  He hadn't lost him at all, and he knew it.

Some say that Jesus was sympathizing with those who were mourning.  He understood their grief.

But if that was the case, Jesus was just faking it.  He wasn't really grieving at all.  And didn't he rebuke people for faking grief, telling them they had no reason to mourn because the girl was only sleeping, not dead at all?  Why should he weep here?

The key here is that Jesus had just been told the same thing by both of Lazarus' sisters: "Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died."  What did they imply?  That Lazarus was dead now.  They had lost him.  He wasn't coming back.  Jesus had come too late.

Jesus wept because Mary and Martha-- both strong followers of Jesus-- didn't understand the truth.  That it wasn't too late.  That it was NEVER too late.  They assumed that once Death got his grimy paws on Lazarus, that no one could make him give their brother back up.  Jesus wept because they assumed that Death was stronger than Jesus.  That there was a limit on Jesus' ability to command spirits.

Jesus wept because they had faith, but not the full faith he wanted them to have.  That the kingdom is here, now.  That we can ask and Jesus will do greater things than we had ever thought possible.  That God's power goes beyond the power of possibility.

And we often act the same way.  Somehow, we think that the norm applies to Jesus.  That Jesus can't overcome what is always the case.  That Jesus can't do miracles.  I've heard many teach that miracles can't happen today.  Others say that miracles do happen, but we can't expect them to happen.  Others say that God doesn't operate that way anymore, now we have God's word (as if they didn't have God's word in Jesus' day).  Many don't bother to pray for their sick, or for pained communities, because there's nothing they can do.

And Jesus weeps.

Raising the Dead

The way the people in Jesus’ day understood healings is different from today.  Today, we see an illness as caused by germs or a problem in the body, and if you fix the body, the sickness goes away.  In ancient times, illness was caused by spirits and these spirits attacked the person, causing them to be sick.  Thus, when Jesus healed people, most of the time, people just saw him as getting rid of the spirit that was attacking them, which is why Jesus could command fevers and illnesses to be gone.

            But death was something else.  Again, today we see death as being a person’s body being unfunctional enough that it just stops and no one is able to revive it.  In ancient times, however, death is seen as a person being put under the control of one of the most powerful spirits of all—Sheol, or the power of Death.  And when one is handed over to Death, there is no human who could bring that person back.  Death is a kind of slavery—a person is being handed over to such a powerful Master that no one could call them back.  No one, until Jesus.

* * *

            Jesus and his disciples were travelling through a town called Nain.  In the city, near the gate, there was a funeral.  A widow was mourning the departure of her only son.  Having no men left in her family, the widow was now destitute, with no where to go.  Jesus saw this, and told her, “Do not weep.”  The people around thought he was crazy.  Then Jesus placed his hand upon the cot on which the body was carried and said, “Young man, get up!”  Immediately, the man sat up and began to speak.  All the people were stunned and said, “God has come to visit us!”

            As Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem, he got word that his good friend, Lazarus, was terribly sick.  Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha and they all lived in Bethany, an easy walk from Jerusalem.  
The messenger who told Jesus the news added, “Please come, Lord.”  
Jesus replied, “This sickness will not end in death, but God will be glorified through it.”  Even so, Jesus did not go to Lazarus, but remained where he was, ministering to people. 

           Two days later, Jesus said, “Come, let us go to Jerusalem.” 
His disciples said, “The people in Judea will want to kill you, Lord. Perhaps now isn’t the time.”  
Jesus replied, “My friend Lazarus is asleep, and I must go to wake him.”  
One of the disciples said to Jesus, “But if he’s asleep, Lord, then he might get better.  You shouldn’t wake him!”  
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand.  Lazarus is dead.  But I am glad he died, so that you might see God’s works and so believe. Let’s go to Bethany.”  
Another disciple, mourning Lazarus, said, “Yes, let’s go, so we can die with him.”

            Many from Jerusalem were there mourning with Mary and Martha, when Jesus arrived, for Lazarus had been in the tomb four days by the time Jesus arrived.  
Martha came out to meet Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” 
Jesus said, “Your brother will rise from the dead.”  
Martha replied, “Yes, I know, Lord.  On the final day, we will all rise.”  
Jesus said, “Do you believe that I am the resurrection right now?  That whoever is faithful in me will rise again, even though he dies? That whoever believes in me will never die?”  
Martha said, “Yes, Lord.  You are the Son of God.” 

            Martha then got her sister Mary and said, “The Teacher wishes to see you.”  
Mary went to Jesus and also said, “If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.”  
Jesus saw her crying deeply and all those from Jerusalem were also weeping.  He saw their love for Lazarus and their unbelief and he also wept.  
Those from Jerusalem said, “See how much he loved Lazarus!”  And some also asked, “Jesus is such a powerful healer—if only he had come here soon enough so that Lazarus wouldn’t have died.”

            Jesus asked Mary, “Where is the tomb?”  
So Mary led him to the tomb where Lazarus was.  It was a cave with a stone in front of the entrance.  
Jesus said, “Roll back the stone.”  
Martha complained, “But Lord, the stench would be awful!”  
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory?  Do as I say!.”  So the stone was rolled back.  Then Jesus prayed “Father thank you for hearing me.”  Then he shouted to the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!”  
And Lazarus, wrapped in linen, walked out of the tomb. 
Jesus said, “Unwrap him and let him go.” 

            Many believed in Jesus that day, and word spread throughout the area what Jesus did.  Even the high priest heard of this miracle and was stunned.  But instead of believing in Jesus, he saw Jesus as a powerful rival—one that must be done away with.