Jesus Wept.

John 11

When our kids were children, we had to move, taking them away from their schools and friends. One night, I was out shopping and found the largest stuffed animals I had ever seen. These floppy-eared dogs were more than twice as long as my oldest was tall.

Because I wanted each child to enjoy this special gift with me, I planned to give them one at a time. Sarah came outside when she heard me drive up, and I brought out her dog! Her eyes were never so big, her joy EXACTLY what I had expected. Before I knew it, she ran inside, floppy-dog flopping even more and trailing behind her as she ran. Bethany and Jesse met her, coming the other way, and as only a child could in that instant, each must have assumed that I loved Sarah more than they. Their expressions of sadness and disbelief as they came out the door fully powered by their lack of floppy-dog.

One look at their faces and I wept. I fell to the ground with sadness. I didn’t just sniffle, big tears best described by the term “weep”. I was so sad because they were sad. It hurt deeply that I had let them down. It didn’t matter that I knew I had the same great gift for both to them. It didn’t matter that I knew that their response was that of a child, ignorant of the unseen and unknown around them. All that mattered at that moment was that I felt sad because they felt sad.

      

*Hahahahahahahahahahaha!

Not.

I simply pulled their floppy-dogs from the trunk of the car, and there were smiles all around. Hero. Strong emotions. Happy ending.

But Jesus did weep. Unfortunately, the scripture doesn’t directly tell us why. Our experience tells us that he was sad because Lazarus’ friends and family were sad, that his friend had died.

The scripture tells us:

  • He was reprimanded by Mary – “…if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 32). 
  • He was moved in spirit and troubled by her weeping, and that of the Jews with her (v. 33)
  • He was escorted to the tomb (v.34)

And we are then told that He wept. (v.35)

But we’re also told in the broader passage:

  • As soon as He heard that Lazarus was sick, He announced that the story would not end in death. (vs. 4)
  • The entire episode from sickness, to death, to raised from death was planned to give God glory (vs. 4)
  • He chose to delay his departure to see Lazarus for two days, ensuring that Lazarus would die, even though John notes that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. (vs. 7)
  • He knew that Lazarus had died before he left (vs. 11)
  • He clearly states that He is glad that Lazarus has died, because of the faith that would develop in this God-glorifying experience (vs. 14-15)

And because it is important to us, especially at this time in our culture, that Jesus empathize with us, we conclude that the spirit moved in Him and He was troubled by what He had allowed to happen. That’s right, He had purposely allowed Lazarus to die. And therefore, based on these two verses, we must conclude that this is why He wept. (*See Haha above.)

When one reads this for the first time, they often filter this response through their own experiences. We can think of all the reasons why we would weep, and it doesn’t take long to find one that resonates.

However, this is a common mistake – for one to ascribe to Jesus motivations that resonate with one’s own heart will at best be close, and at worst be naught. Our answer to a “Why” question is almost always less: less sufficient, less correct, less in alignment with His will, less to His glory and more to ours.

I don’t believe that Jesus wept for this reason. He was not sad because they were sad. It did not hurt Him deeply because He had not let them down. It mattered that He knew He had a great gift for them all. It mattered that He knew that their response was because they were ignorant of the unseen and unknown around them. And, of all that mattered in that moment, the least of what mattered was that they felt sad.

Ok, then. Why do you think He wept?

I don’t think that Jesus just ambled around the planet looking for good things to do while He was here. I believe He was the God-man on purpose. Every place He went, every conversation He had, every person He touched, every lesson He taught, and the way He taught every lesson were all by design. His three years of ministry were designed to prepare the world as a farmer would prepare the soil, as well as a small cadre of followers to how to farm. He wasted no time on this effort, as He had none to waste. It was critical to my salvation and yours, and to all those who came before, and all those that will follow, that this small cadre be forever committed to bear fruit from the Gospel.

As Jesus approached the grave of Lazarus, there were at least three things He knew. We can only be sure of two of them.

He knew Lazarus was dead.

Doornail dead. Dead and buried. And the scripture here informs us very well.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. Hebrews 9:27 (cf Rev 20:12, 15)

There is no third option for mankind. Our eternal existence will either a celebration in the presence of the Father or a desperate desolation absent the presence of the Father. Heaven or Hell. Eternal Life or Eternal Death. We either live once and die twice, or we live twice and die once.

Because Lazarus was dead, he was in one or the other.

Many would say Heaven. After all, Jesus loved him and he loved Jesus. He was a follower. But, based on everything Mary and Martha said to Jesus at the funeral, did He really understand salvation?

Some might say Hell. Not because Lazarus was a bad guy (that’s not why people are separated from God), but because Jesus had not yet resurrected; He had not yet paid the price for the sin of all the world. It was not possible to be saved by faith because the grave still had its victory and death still had its sting. (1 Cor 15:55).

For the sake of this conversation, it matters little which one was true. Because the question is, Why did Jesus weep?

Let’s say that it was the latter. That Lazarus was separated from God. Standing across from that grave, Jesus would have known the price that Lazarus paid for this lesson to be taught. Jesus would have known the foreshadowing of His own forsakenness on the cross yet to come (see The Cross vs the Grave). I believe that His knowing what his friend had had to endure for days would have caused him enough duress to weep.

On the other hand, let’s say it was the former. That Lazarus was in the presence of God. Standing across from that grave, Jesus would have known the price that Lazarus was about to pay for this lesson to be taught. Jesus knew full well what it was like to leave perfection to walk among sinful mankind. He knew the glory of the Father and joy of His presence like no other. And He would know that to call Lazarus from the grave would be to call Him away – to call him back to sin, sorrow, and death once more. I believe this, too, would be cause enough for Jesus to weep.

He knew the Cross was next.

Two things of note happened after Lazarus came forth.

First, while many of the Jews that were there believed in Him (v.45), others ran to the Pharisees to report on Jesus. This act of raising Lazarus was the last straw for the Pharisees. Verse 53 summarizes the result of their conversation: “So, from that day on, they made plans to put Him to death.”

Secondly, because of this very real threat, Jesus went into hiding. But He wasn’t hiding out of fear. We know that He was able to walk through violent crowds without receiving even a scratch (Luke 4:28-30).

He was hiding because it was not yet His time. Passover was His time, and it was fast approaching. In fact, John reports nothing in his Gospel account between Jesus going into hiding at the end of Chapter 11, and then His coming out of hiding in preparation for the Passover in the beginning of Chapter 12. Jesus knew the Cross was next.

His Followers Still Did Not Get It.

Just consider the following comments from his follows in this passage. This is not an attempt to belittle those closest to Jesus. Neither you nor I would have gotten it at this point either.

vs 16: Upon hearing that Jesus would not be deterred from going to Lazarus, Thomas “knew” that they were all going to die. (His followers’ early death was not at all part of His plan.)

vss 21-27: Martha’s first words to Jesus were of complaint and blame. You can just hear her cry, “This is all your fault!”

Then she turned to a request only He could fulfill, but she really didn’t believe it. She says that “…even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Sounds like faith. But when Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again, she repeats the promise of the resurrection in the distant last days. She was really speaking out of her pain and loss, and wanted Jesus to cure that pain and loss. (Nowhere is it in God’s plan that those who are called by His name will be absent pain and loss. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The world is not our home. The world system is not our friend. Christians are belittled, maligned, mistreated, ostracized, and/or murdered in places all over the world because of Christ.)

vss 28-36: Now it’s Mary’s turn to blame Him, repeating what she and Martha must surely have repeated to one another time and again while they waited for Jesus to come. “If only he had been here….”

vss 38-40: He had told them that God would be glorified, but they argued with Him!

Jesus: Remove the stone.

Crowd: That can’t be right! Don’t you know the dead body will stink by now?

Jesus knew Lazarus was paying a high price.

He knew that the Cross was next.

And He knew that His closest followers still did not yet get it. And this living parable was the solution for that.

I would have cried, too.

How is it possible that we have the faith to believe the Jesus is in control, and yet argue with Him and blame Him when things don’t go our way?

Sometimes, we don’t get it either. We’re supposed to want things to go His way.

The Meaning of Forgiveness in an Abusive World

by Eli Bernard & Bethany Persons

Words matter. Rather, the meanings of words matter and by that, we mean – words matter.

At the risk of stepping into the universe where the reader’s meaning often matters more than the author’s meaning, our attempt here is to speak to what The Author meant by this amazing word that we misuse. While focusing on the Author’s meaning can be helpful for analysis and open dialogue, comprehending it is much more vital to the “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7) in our own lives.

In the recent weeks, there has been a flurry of devastating reports about those that teach, expect, and seemingly demand forgiveness as a response to a horrendous assault. We are afraid that the way the word “forgiveness” is perceived – perhaps by those assaulted and to many who enter the conversation only through media – is as

  • a sort of magic wand, whereby the assaulted or offended waive away any consequence or responsibility of the offender “because that’s what good Christians do” or
  • a weapon used to silence the assaulted, demanding greater spiritual maturity from them than their attacker.

Forgiveness is not a magic wand and it does nothing to remedy the attack or solve problems larger than the one experienced by the one assaulted. To weaponize forgiveness in order to silence those assaulted is a reprehensible power play, worthy of any Pharisee Jesus encountered.

We do not know what the intention or heart is of those who have advised forgiveness in any of these reported or many unreported offenses. We were not there. We did not hear their tone or the full context of their comment. We only know how it reads in the media – and it is that reading that prompts this response.

  • Forgiveness does not absolve the offender of guilt
  • Forgiveness does not bring resolution to implied or apparent larger problems
  • Forgiveness does not abdicate the responsibility of the offender
  • Forgiveness does not eliminate the need for accountability
  • Forgiveness does not supersede the necessity for consequences
  • Forgiveness does not demand or imply the restoration of relationship

One of the things that we should do is strive to understand the full meaning of what The Author meant by the words that He used. And He never used the word “forgiveness” in these ways.

Visiting the Example of the Author of Forgiveness

Jesus’ death is the price that was paid for our forgiveness. He loves us and died for us. And because He forgave us, we have eternal life with Him. While this is true, it is a too-simplistic and gap-filled explanation of the magnitude of that event, and it does not suffice.

Jesus did indeed offer us – the whole world – forgiveness by his death/resurrection. But no one – no one in the whole world – received forgiveness simply because it was – and is – available.

Forgiveness is for the benefit of the offended, wounded and the assaulted – not for the ones doing the offending and assaulting.  We know that flies in the face of contemporary religious thought. But it is to the benefit of the wounded and offended to offer it, not to the benefit of the abuser/offender. The offended offering forgiveness should have no fear of the offender receiving it absent true repentance. It matters not what words they say or actions they take. Only true repentance aligns with true forgiveness. Additionally, since forgiveness does not imply or demand the restoration of relationship, the offended need not fear some obligation to the same.

Jesus offers forgiveness, not because we need it (although we absolutely do), but because He wanted to offer it. The fact that we need it does not mandate it. The fact that God wants a relationship with us is what mandates it. Certainly, we benefit from it should we receive it. But it is not possessed by anyone who does not demonstrate their desire by repentance. The unrepentant are not forgiven. As much as we need forgiveness, it is not to our benefit; it is to His.

“But wait, what about…”

  • Confessing with my mouth and believing in my heart (Rom 10:9)
  • Saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10)
  • Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:30-31)
  • Praying “the sinner’s prayer“
  • Asking Jesus into my heart

Without delving deeply into these for their own merits and implications, unless repentance is the attitude of the heart, then these are motions merely gone through; insufficient regardless of sincerity. To be clear, asking without a repentant heart is to ask vainly. Believing with an unrepentant heart is not the belief that leads to salvation. (James 2:19)

“But wait, where do these passages say I need to repent?”

This question illustrates a telltale failure of contemporary preaching and curriculum driven teaching. It is the whole Bible, not any one passage that gives us the whole truth. John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles preached repentance from the beginning of their earthly ministries (Matt 3:2, Matt 11:20-21, Luke 5:32, Luke 13:1-5, Luke 15, Acts 2:38, Acts 13:24).  We don’t forget about that just because we’re reading from a different passage. To do that is tantamount to Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, but you won’t need to do that if you just wait until Paul writes Romans 10:9.”

To do that is tantamount to Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, but you won’t need to do that if you just wait until Paul writes Romans 10:9.”

Let’s say that you asked me for my favorite biscuit recipe. I might tell you:

In a large mixing bowl sift together ½ tsp salt, 2 cups of flour, and 1 tbsp of baking powder. Cut in ½ cup shortening with fork or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour ¾ cup of buttermilk into flour mixture while stirring with a fork.

After rolling out, cutting, and baking the biscuits, you offer me one – one of the blandest, most tasteless biscuits I’ve ever had.

“Where’s the salt?”, I ask.

‘Oh, I didn’t think I needed to add it since it was the first thing you said. I thought I only needed to add the stuff that made them look like biscuits.”

Forgiveness is the way for the wounded and offended to release the offense, to not carry the grudge, to not hold it to the account of the offended. It is because this is how the Author understands forgiveness that eternity with Him is available – He does not hold our sin to our account. He, who first loved us, has made that possible by offering forgiveness. That is to His benefit because it is He who first wanted a relationship with us.

Forgiveness has no effect or impact on the offender until the very high and humbling price of repentance is paid. Forgiveness is good for the forgiver. The only impact on the offender is that it is available. It is not received simply based on that availability. It cannot be claimed by the offender simply to gain its benefit.

Forgiveness allows the forgiver to heal, to move forward, to live life without a grudge, to not hold on to the devastating event as if it is now the basis of who they are – the driving force that defines their life and future. Forgiveness is the path to freedom from a life controlled by the sin of others.

But, for the offender, the forgiveness offered by others imparts no such freedom. The forgiven receives no inherent or automatic benefit of forgiveness offered. No wand is waived. No magic exists. Forgiveness exists, much like a gift. The one forgiven may see it and want it – but it is not theirs simply because it has been expressed and placed in a common space.

The abuser/offender only receives the benefit of forgiveness through the path of repentance evidenced in part, by godly sorrow. The only way that forgiveness granted influences forgiveness received is the awareness of its existence. The offender must still humble themselves or be humiliated into such sorrow. The offender must be repentant of their offense, honestly and sorrowfully so. This is the benefit to the offender. True, whole-hearted, sorrowful repentance is their path to the freedom from a life controlled by their own sin.

Forgiveness is the path to freedom from a life controlled by the sin of others. 

Repentance is the path to freedom from a life controlled by my own sin.

Here is the truth.

  • Should the offender never repent, the offended can still be free from the spiritual grudge-controlled life by forgiving.
  • Should the offended never forgive, the offender can still be free from the spiritual guilt of the offense by repentance.
  • They can both be free and never know of the other’s freedom.

Unfortunately in our media-driven world, these are areas that are only truly visible to the Author of forgiveness. No one can tell if forgiveness has truly been given – but the forgiver and Author will know, and that is sufficient for them. No one can truly know that the offender has sorrowfully and remorsefully repented. The repentant and Author will know, and that is sufficient for them. They both know that the Author of forgiveness (and repentance) knows.

For the rest of us – the observers of lives thrust into the public view, we should be careful to allow time and space for both forgiveness and repentance in lives that are not our own. Should we not, we are not far from the ocular plank (Matt 7:3-5). (It may well benefit us to realize that the media cares little about planks.)

And since words matter, “repentance” does not mean remorse, sorrow, apology, fear, sadness, or any other number of terms or adjectives that are in common understanding today. The Author of forgiveness says that repentance is a complete turnaround. The offender chooses to never offend again. Those hiding the offense choose to never hide the offense again. Those who believe that their actions and attitudes were normal (“That’s just who I am”), now believe those actions and attitudes to be abhorrent and vile. That is repentance. Expand that definition with “sorrowful” and “remorseful” and you will begin to understand what the Author of forgiveness has in mind.

Let’s bring that down to today’s news. Pastors and missionaries, missionary organizations, associational and state convention employees that commit or hide such abhorrent behavior need to repent. Without it, forgiveness from the assaulted is not yours, even if those assaulted have given it. They know it. You know it. And the Author of forgiveness knows it.

It matters little if your repentance is from your own volition, or if it comes from being outed to your shame. It matters little if anyone believes you have repented. The Author of forgiveness will know. And that is not only enough, but it is also all that really matters eternally. But on this earthly coil, it will not and should not alleviate consequences. It will not and should not by necessity, restore your reputation or relationships. But it will matter – to you and to the One to whom it should.