Why Did Jesus Weep? (the POWERFUL truth of John 11:35)

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35; it simply says, Jesus wept. 

This verse is a stroke of genius. It says it all when there is little else to say. And it 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 my guess is it’s become common place, you don’t think much about the Jesus wept meaning. And I think we should pause here. 

Think about this… 

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. That’s mind boggling, at least it should be. 

Our familiarity with this verse makes it more commonplace and less shocking. But this verse should take us back. 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, more deserved 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. It will go much deeper into the question, why did Jesus weep? 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.” That’s close. 

If you and I had a close friend that was really sick we would likely drop everything to be with them. And that’s what you’d expect Jesus to do. But he doesn’t. 

Instead he makes some strange comments and stays in place for two more days (John 11:4-7). 

Something interesting I’ve noticed about Jesus is that he’s never in a rush. But that’s another blog post for another day… 

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.

A few verses later 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). 

I’m going to read into the text a little bit. We don’t know exactly what Jesus was feeling, but it’s reasonable to assume that in that moment Jesus becomes emotional. 

I mean his friend died, and now he encounters his distraught sister. The emotion is building. And it’s almost as if Jesus can’t help but blurt out what’s about to happen: Lazarus will raise again. But Martha doesn’t understand; who can blame her? She had no reference in her life that these kinds of things could happen. (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). You can almost hear the hope in their voices. 

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. It’s a visceral reaction that we all have when faced with death. Jesus is experiencing that too. 

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

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. Put yourself there, why did Jesus weep? What would you be thinking? 

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, spit going everywhere, and determined to get his friend back. 

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. Which was a cave with a big stone laid across the entrance. 

“TAKE AWAY THE STONE,” he {screamed likely 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.” They still don’t fully grasp what Jesus can do… 

“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.  

What an incredible moment. 

That’s the story… But we still have the first question to deal with: Why did Jesus weep? What caused the creator of the universe to display such emotion? 

Why Did Jesus Weep? 

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

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.  

That should cause us to pause and reflect. 

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. 

He doesn’t look at your problems and think you should just get over it, deal with it, or move past it. Even though he knows that what we are facing is temporary. Instead he chooses to sit with us in it. 

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? He wept because he cares about what we are going through on a deep and emphatic level. 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? 

As followers of Jesus we aren’t called to be passive. We are called to be active. We are actually supposed to follow Jesus

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. 

When we ask this question (why did Jesus weep?) we must also remember that we are his body. So, 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. 

Often times Christians take an “us verse them” approach. It’s us verse the world. Not only will that never accomplish anything. It’s not what Jesus did. 

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. He wept with you. 

And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to do the same for others. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. 

I know that probably sounds scary, 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 AwayPhilip Yancey talks about his experience counseling parents in Newtown after the terrible tragedy that left 20 children and 6 adults dead. It’s an incredible book that is a short read. I HIGHLY recommend picking it up. 

In his book Yancey realizes that most theological answers Christians often use hurt rather than help, and 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.

If I could summarize, your presence often means more than your words ever will. 

Sometimes it’s better to simply weep with someone and is far more helpful than 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. He was caught up in the emotion of the moment. He didn’t excuse it, he experienced it. 

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

So, are you weeping for what Jesus wept for? You are Jesus’ hands and feet. You are telling those around you something about Jesus. Let’s make sure it’s accurate. 

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) 

I know that seems like a good place to end. We’ve answered the question (why did Jesus weep?) and put a nice bow on it. 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.

Let’s hear from you! How would you answer the question: Why did Jesus weep? 

I’d love to hear from you! How does the Jesus wept meaning impact you? Leave a comment below!

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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