So we tell little boys when they fall. Then they read in their Bibles that Jesus wept. Does that mean He was a “sissie?” No. One has to consider the reason for the tears. Are they tears of weakness or strength? Of fear or compassion? Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and He wept on three occasions. Each time He left us the right example.
JESUS WEPT AT LAZARUS’ TOMB (John 11:35)
The shortest verse of the Bible says a lot! It says the Great Physician had good “bedside manners.” Jesus could overturn moneychanger tables when necessary, but He also knew how to show He cared. Mary said the same thing to Jesus her sister had earlier said (John 11:21 John 11:32), but Jesus reacted differently. With practical Martha, He discussed reasonable facts and helped her heart through her head. With emotional Mary (she was crying), He groaned in spirit1, was troubled, and wept. He helped her through commiseration. As we help people grieve, we should deal with different personalities in different ways. Jesus knew Mary needed somebody to care about her pain. She had lost a brother, and her heart was breaking, so, even though He was about to resurrect Lazarus, He “wept2with those that wept” (Romans 12:15; Job 30:25). He illustrated the Jewish proverb:
Among those who stand, do not sit;
Among those who sit, do not stand;
Among those who laugh, do not weep;
Among those who weep, do not laugh.
Experience brings sympathy. Wandering disguised one night in London, King Harry VIII was arrested by watchmen who did not believe he was the king. They put him in the Poultry Compter without fire, food, or candle. Upon liberation he granted thirty chaldrons of coals and some bread for all night prisoners in that place. Christ, having lost a dear friend to death, can understand our sorrows. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15; Psalm 35:13-14) and is the perfect intercessor for us when we pray to our Father to comfort the bereaved (Hebrews 7:25). This world would be better if, instead of putting others in their place, we more often tried putting ourselves in the place of others. Those who have felt affliction, doubt, sickness, and temptation are more apt, and better equipped, to console those in a similar condition (2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 1 Peter 3:8). Christians are tenderhearted (Ephesians 4:32) and have been known to cry upon occasion in funeral homes and hospitals. These are tears of sympathy.
JESUS WEPT OVER JERUSALEM (Luke 19:41-45).
This was the most glorious public moment of Jesus’ life. He was ushered into the city with a hero’s welcome. Everyone is singing His praises (literally), yet…He breaks down in passionate sobs.3Like the Psalmist, rivers of waters ran down His eyes because they kept not the law (Psalm 119:53, Psalm 119:136, Psalm 119:158; cf. Jeremiah 13:17). Like Paul, there was great heaviness and continual sorrow in His heart for His kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9:2-3). He had done all He could to get them to believe, yet they persisted in doubt. He had come that they might be enlightened, but they chose darkness (John 1:11). He wanted for them the abundant life, but they wanted eternal death (John 10:10). The city He had just entered was on God’s “hit-list” (Matthew 24:4-34), and Sodom and Gomorra got off easy by comparison (Matthew 24:21).4These voices now shouting, “Blessed bethe King that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 19:36), would soon scream, “Crucify him, crucify him, His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25; Mark 15:14).
Jesus still weeps for lost cities and souls. He longs for men to mourn over their own sins (Matthew 5:4), so He won’t have to. A Middle Ages legend tells of a girl expelled from heaven but told if she brought back the gift God valued most, she would be readmitted. She tried a blood drop from a dying martyr; she searched out the coins a destitute widow gave the poor; she brought back a powerful preacher’s Bible; she gathered dust from missionaries’ shoes who served long years in distant lands. Each time she was rejected. Then she watched a man on horseback stop at a fountain. Seeing a small boy playing, he was reminded of his own childhood innocence. Then, seeing his sin-hardened face reflected in the pool, he was overcome and wept penitent tears. She took one of those tears to heaven whereupon the door opened wide (2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 55:7; Ezekiel 18:21; 2 Kings 22:19).5The lost die daily, unprepared for what awaits them. Many never give the afterlife an afterthought. We must make them think. Jesus let His tears drive Him to Calvary; ours must drive us to tell of Calvary (Mark 16:15). These are tears of sorrow.
JESUS WEPT IN GETHSEMANE (Hebrews 5:5-7).
The Bible here reveals a detail about that night in the Garden that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John gives us. It says, “…when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard….” Jesus wept in Gethsemane the night He was arrested. This was not silent, personal grief, but loud, public crying. The disciples—had they been awake—could have heard it at the stone’s-throw distance.6This episode shows Christ’s humanity. He did not want to suffer Calvary’s humiliation, pain, and separation (Hebrews 12:2). He prayed that God find some other way to save man, but there was no Plan B (Mark 14:32-35; Luke 22:40-44).
Americans take 33,000,000,000 aspirins a year.7Jesus knows every headache. Sixty-to-ninety percent of medical office visits are for stress-related symptoms.8Jesus knows every stressor (Ecclesiastes 8:16; Luke 10:40; Luke 21:34). Man is the only creature God made that can cry. No other experiences sorrow to the extent we do. Countless pillows are wet each night with heartache’s tears, and sleep flees from dread of the future. Jesus sees every tear and understands every fear. We can cast our cares upon Him, for He cares (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 23:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:2-11). He understands because He has been there. Augustine of Hippo said, “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” Everybody has problems; the wise ones let their troubles drive them to the Garden of prayer. These are tears of struggle.
At the tomb, He wept for a hurting family. On Olivet, He wept for a lost city. In the Garden, He wept for a cursed world. The tomb tears are a spring, belonging to a household. The Jerusalem tears are a river, belonging to a whole country. The Garden tears are the sea, belonging to the whole world. Big boys sometimes cry—for Christians never outgrow being children (of God).
1Groaned in the spiritcomes from embrimasthai (from a root meaning, “to snort as a horse with anger”) which means, “to have indignation on, to sigh with chagrin…” It is used three other times in the New Testament. In Matthew 9:30 and Mark 1:43, Jesus sternly chargedthe blind men and the leper not to publish the fact that He had healed them. In Mark14:5, the spectators reproached the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with the costly ointment, because they thought that it was wastefully extravagant. Barclay comments, “Deep emotion seized Jesus so that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.
2Interestingly, the root of the word Paul uses for weep here (klaio) means, “to sob, or wail aloud.” It does not just mean to become teary-eyed or weep silently (dakruo).
3The word is klaio again.
4Sodom and Gomorrah got off easy in the sense that their’s was over in an instant. The siege on Jerusalem stretched out long enough that people starved.
5Don McCullough, “Jesus the Judge,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 129.
6Strong, ischuros, means “forcible; boisterous, mighty” and crying, krauge, could be translated “an outcry” (it comes from a root, krazo, meaning, “to croak as a raven; scream aloud; shriek, exclaim”).
7Reader’s Digest Book of Facts.
8Harvard Business Review (11-12/94).