"When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. 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. 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.” 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. And He said, “Where have you laid Him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 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, ESV)
Martha had gone out to meet Jesus and spoken to Him about her confidence that if He had been there then her brother, Lazarus, would not have died. Jesus replied to her that He was the resurrection and the life and that her brother would indeed live. Martha acknowledged that she also believed that he would at the resurrection. When Jesus asked her if she believed the things He had said, Martha responded strongly that she did because she knew Him to be the Christ, the Son of God, sent into the world. It was after saying this that Martha sent for her sister Mary, who in private was told that “the Teacher” who they knew as Jesus was there and calling for her.
Mary quickly got up and went out to meet Him. Imagine the scene. Many Jews had come out to console Mary and Martha at the death of their brother. Martha had previously gone out to meet Jesus, and now Mary had left. The two people that they had come to see and comfort had left, and what were they now to do. So, they also got up and followed her not knowing where she was going, but supposing that she was going to Lazarus’ tomb to continue the weeping that she had been doing. Imagine their surprise when she did not go there, but instead went out and fell at Jesus feet, saying “Lord, it you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The emotions at that moment must have been very intense. John records for us that not only was Mary weeping but so also were the Jews who had come along with her.
Mary’s broken heart cried out, and our passage goes on to tell us that He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. As I’ve read this without digging any deeper I imagined that Jesus felt the extent of their grief and He felt extreme compassion and was disturbed by the loss that they were feeling. The reason for thinking this way is simply because that is how I have thought. But there is more to this. It appears that some if not most of the Jews who were there to mourn may not have been there as much to mourn out of a sense of loss, but rather out of a sense of tradition. According to Jewish oral traditions they were to hire some to play the flute and others to mourn. This was part of the program, and this family being well off may have had the ability to amass a larger crowd than others. What may, as some commentators have written, have really moved Jesus was the extent of the hopelessness of those gathered before Him.
At the same time, however, Jesus was also moved by the hurt that His dear friends were experiencing. He went on to ask where they had laid Him. Mary and Martha then took Jesus to the location. As they did this they told Him to come and see. It was then that we have a simple yet very well know two-word verse recorded for us in John 11:35—“Jesus wept.” Jesus wept. These are incredible words. For any who have suffered loss in one way or another they provide a connection between our God who we know knows absolutely everything including the very depth of our emotions and our Lord who as the God-man personally experienced them. In Christ we know that He knows and understands. But also in Christ we know that He knows what lies beyond the grief. While He could weep with Mary and Martha, He also holds the results of eternity in His hands.
Isaiah wrote of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV) Jesus had already been rejected numerous times. Numerous times people had tried to have Him arrested and put to death. He has repeatedly stood up to and confronted those who were lost in their own religious “goodness” and not knowing the incredible love of God. He was even at this time preparing to head into Jerusalem for one last time on His way to the cross. Jesus understood sorrow and grief, and in our passage today He demonstrated that He could even mourn with those who are going through it.
At the same time, He did not mourn as those without hope as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, ESV) No. He understood hope in its fullness and He is able to bring comfort in the midst of despair. We read in 2 Corinthians 1, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5, ESV)
Jesus understood grief and He brought comfort. Our passage goes on to record that when the crowd saw Jesus weeping they remarked about how deeply He must have loved Lazarus as well. While some scoffed or questioned if He really was who people said He was then why would He cry. Why wouldn’t He just have prevented Lazarus death? After all, if He could give sight to a blind man He clearly could have prevented Lazarus dying. Though they may not have believed Him to be the Christ there is great truth in their words. Jesus easily could have prevented Lazarus’ death, but Jesus knew that through Lazarus death God was going to demonstrate something even more remarkable than that act of giving sight. While they did not understand why Lazarus had to die if Jesus really did have that power, Jesus did and He knew that He was about to demonstrate the most amazing truth of all—the power to give life to those who are dead.