Why Did Jesus Weep? (and why we should too)

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The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, which simply says, Jesus wept. This verse is a stroke of genius. It says it all when there is little else to say. And should cause us to pause and question, why did Jesus weep?

If you grew up in church, you know this verse, you know its backstory. But stay here for just a minute. Think about this moment. 

Jesus, who was God in flesh, wept. He was so overcome with grief that he simply lost it. Not just a few tears… He was uncontrollably sobbing. 

The God of the universe wept over what you and I face. 

I know most of you are probably so familiar with this verse that this isn’t that shocking. But it should be. These two simple words reveal the unique humanity of God. 

This verse should cause us to pause, ponder, and question. Why did Jesus weep? And am I weeping for what Jesus wept for? 

We will dive into those questions in just a minute, but first let’s give this passage a deeper look. 

Jesus Wept Verse

I’m only going to give a relatively brief overview of this passage. If you want to dive deeper, I HIGHLY recommend picking up John For You (part of the God’s Word For You Series). It’s an in-depth, easy-to-read commentary on the book of John as a whole and can be used for devotions or study. Please note, the above link is for John 1 – 12; there’s a second book that covers the rest of John. 

Alright, let’s set the scene. 

Before these events unfold, Jesus is doing his thing. He’s teaching crowds and annoying the religious leaders. But then some news comes in: Lazarus is sick (John 11:1-3). Really sick. Now, Lazarus and Jesus are close. In fact, when Jesus is told about Lazarus being ill, the messenger doesn’t even give his name and instead just says, “The one whom you love is ill.” They were close. 

Because of this closeness, you would expect Jesus to immediately pack up and head to his friend. But he doesn’t. Instead he makes some strange comments and stays in place for two more days (John 11:4-7). 

There are some interesting dynamics at play here that we just don’t have time to get into… Again, check out John For You for more info. So much unfolds within these verses, but for time’s sake, we will just focus on why Jesus wept.

So skip down a few verses, and Jesus finally makes his way to Lazarus, who has now been dead for four days (John 11:17). Lazarus’s sister, Martha, hears Jesus is coming and runs to see him. Through her tears she displays incredible faith, saying that if only he had been there Lazarus would not have died; he could have healed him… If only… (John 11:20-22) 

You have to imagine that in this moment, Jesus becomes emotional. His friend died, and now he encounters his distraught sister. The emotion is building. And Jesus can’t help but say what’s about to happen: Lazarus will raise again. But Martha doesn’t understand; who can blame her? (John 11:23-27) 

Soon Mary joins Jesus and Martha and makes a similar statement…”Jesus, if you had only been here” (John 11:28-32). 

Jesus can’t keep it in anymore. Martha is devastated. Mary is weeping at his feet. Several of their friends follow suit, tears helplessly streaming down their faces. John 11:33 tells us that in that moment Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled

Jesus isn’t just a little sad. Deep down in his gut, he is moved. Upset. Uncomfortable. Mad. Angry. He feels this in the innermost part of his being. 

Finally, he can’t take it anymore, and he weeps (John 11:35). 

Don’t miss the significance of this. He knew what was going to happen next. He knows he’s about to raise Lazarus. He can see the bigger picture. He knows, at the end of the day, he has the power over death. He knows that one day all those who accept the invitation will live for eternity with him.

Yet still, in this moment he weeps. 

But he doesn’t just weep. He also takes action. 

Read what Jesus does next. But don’t just read it picturing a calm Jesus. Read it visualizing someone who is furious, yelling, and determined to get his friend back. 

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “TAKE AWAY THE STONE,” he {screamed through tears}. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 

“Did I stutter?!” Jesus said… Okay, he didn’t say that. But with the same emotion he said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud {again add the emotions and anger when you read this} voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!” (John 11:38-44)

And to everyone’s surprise, the man who died was now alive.  

That’s the story… But we still have the first question to deal with: Why did Jesus weep? 

Why Did Jesus Weep? 

Why did Jesus weep? It wasn’t because he was grieving his friend. He knew he was about to see him again and eat dinner with him soon. He knew the tears of sadness would be transformed into tears of joy in a matter of minutes. But still, he wept. Why? 

I think Jesus is reacting to the fallen condition of his people. He is distraught that people he cares for are experiencing pain. He was not overcome because of grief over the loss of a friend. Why did Jesus weep? Because he feels empathy for his people.  

You see, God isn’t a distant God who doesn’t care about our problems. No, he’s deeply invested in you. He cares about you in a way that you and I cannot even fathom. He weeps with us. 

The shortest verse in the entire Bible tells us so much about the God who gave up heaven to pursue his people. We are cared for and loved far more than we ever dared hope. 

Why did Jesus weep? Jesus wept because of the deep empathy he has for you and me. He genuinely cares about you and is profoundly moved by what you are going through. 

Now, what about the second question: Am I weeping for what Jesus wept for?

Am I Weeping For What Jesus Wept For? 

The church is described in the Bible as the body of Christ. In other words, anyone who follows Jesus is part of his body. What we do and say tells those around us something about Jesus—a responsibility we shouldn’t take lightly. 

With that in mind, let me ask you, if you are following Jesus… Are you weeping for what Jesus wept for? 

Are you moved by what moved Jesus? Are you disturbed by the fallen human condition? Are you pained by the pain others face? Are you overcome by emotion because of what those around you are going through? 

Simply put… Do you feel empathy for others? 

Jesus did. And we should too. 

Listen, I get it. Entering into other people’s pain is messy. It’s difficult. It’s uncomfortable. It makes us feel helpless and not know what to do or say. So we simply avoid it. We stick to ourselves and our own problems. It’s easier to pretend their problems don’t exist and just walk on by. 

But aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t act that way towards you? Jesus entered into your mess and your pain. He didn’t avoid you or wait for it to pass. No, he came charging after you and sat with you in the midst of what you are going through. 

And now we are called to do the same. After all that Jesus has done for you, how can you not do that for others? 

Now,we often just don’t know what to do. So let me offer you a little guidance about what it means to be his hands and feet.

In his book The Question That Never Goes Away, Philip Yancey talks about his experience counseling parents in Newton after the terrible tragedy that left 20 children and 6 adults dead. Realizing that most theological answers Christians often hurt rather than help, he opted for a different approach. 

He says, First, I ask myself how these words would sound to a mother who kissed her daughter goodbye as she put her on the school bus and then later that day was called to identify her bloody boy. Would my words bring comfort or compound her pain? Then I ask myself what Jesus would say to that mother. Few theological explanations pass those tests. The only way I know how to respond with comfort and healing, as Jesus did, is to fully embrace the mother’s grief and to assure her that God feels more grieved than she does.

Let me say it this way: Sometimes it’s better to simply weep with someone then it is to try to formulate an answer to the question “Why?”.

After all, that’s what Jesus did. He wept. He did not tell them Lazarus was in a better place. He wept. He did not tell them heaven gained another angel. He wept. He didn’t lecture them on how one day it will all make sense and everything will be okay. He wept. 

We should assume the same posture. Your presence is more powerful than your words. 

So, are you weeping for what Jesus wept for? 

This is a very brief overview; for more, check out: Following Jesus Is More Than The Words We Say

The Good News (Jesus Wept Meaning For Us) 

I know that seems like a good place to end, but I just can’t. Not yet. We have one last thing to look at. 

The reality is, what Jesus did on that day was temporary. Lazarus died again. His family  would once again be overcome by the grief of losing someone they loved. 

But this time, there would be hope. Because Jesus took that same attitude to the cross. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He conquered sin and death. Now, even in death, we have hope. Death could not hold him down, and he rose, conquering death once and for all. 

This story of the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept”, is one in which the human and divine intertwine. Why did Jesus weep? He knows that Lazarus is going to be alive again just moments from now. There will be laughter and celebration. But he is still caught up in the emotion of the moment, because Jesus deeply cares about us. 

So now, for all who follow Jesus, there is hope on the other side. Even in death, there’s hope. The pain we face is temporary. And we serve a God that sits with us in our pain, weeps with us, and allows us to cling to him. May we do the same for others. 

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