Once during morning devotions, I asked my children, “What are some verses in the Bible that give you hope?”
One of them squirmed, “I don’t know . . . ” Then a silly grin spread across his face. “Wait,” he said. “Jesus wept.”
“You are right,” I said. He was surprised. The shortest verse in all of Scripture — just two words, eleven characters — does give us great hope.
Jesus’s good friend Lazarus has died (John 11:14). Before his death, Jesus received word that Lazarus was seriously ill. Then he delayed going for two days. When he finally arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21–22).
Then Mary came to him and said the same thing. John writes, “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” (John 11:33–35).
Jesus delayed his journey on purpose. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:15). So why did he cry?
A Savior Affected by Our Grief
John Calvin says this about John 11:
[Jesus] gives proof that he has sympathy. For the cause of this feeling is, in my opinion, expressed by the Evangelist, when he says that Christ saw Mary and the rest weeping yet I have no doubt that Christ contemplated something higher, namely, the general misery of the whole human race; for he knew well what had been enjoined on him by the Father, and why he was sent into the world, namely, to free us from all evils.
As he has actually done this, so he intended to show that he accomplished it with warmth and earnestness. Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before granting deliverance or aid, by the groaning of his spirit, by a strong feeling of grief, and by tears, he shows that he is as much affected by our distresses as if he had endured them in his own person. (Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries)
John 11 isn’t the only passage that tells us about Jesus’s tears. Isaiah describes the Messiah as a man of sorrows: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). In Matthew, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
He Will Wipe Away Every Tear
The fact that Jesus wept means that our Savior knows and understands our grief. He experienced the agony of this dark world firsthand. He was rejected, abused, abandoned, mocked, cursed, tempted, and scorned. As Hebrews 2:18 tells us, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Our Lord is also compassionate toward us. He cares about our sorrow. He hears our cries and listens to us when we call out to him (Psalm 116:1). He keeps track of all our tears: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).
Because Jesus was perfect, the expressions of his grief — his tears — were also perfect. Our emotions bear the curse of sin but his did not. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And because Jesus’s perfect righteousness has now been credited to us, his perfect sorrows have become ours as well. Jesus’s sinless sorrows are redeeming even our sorrows.
In the story of Lazarus, we see a God who not only cares about the sorrows of his people, but a God who is also able to resurrect joy from the grave of despair — to bring life from death. The story of Lazarus points to the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection and ultimately to the final resurrection when all our tears will be wiped away forever. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
“Jesus wept.” These two words, though brief, are filled with great hope. Because Jesus wept, we know he understands and cares about our tears. Because Jesus wept, his perfect, sinless tears have become our own. And because Jesus wept, we have hope that one day, our tears will be no more.