Recently I sat down to read a short devotional book authored by Ann Spangler, entitled, "The Tender Words of God." I decided I would open the book at random and begin reading one of the devotionals on the specific day of the week I happened to be reading. I located the devotional and began reading scripture snippets from John 11. Here we find Mary and Martha clearly grieving and lamenting Jesus' absence from their brother Lazarus' sickness and subsequent death. For context, here is a portion of John 11 for you to read and study below:
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:17-27, NRSV)
Jesus makes several I AM statements in the Gospels, recalling God's interaction with Moses at the burning bush ("Tell them I AM WHO I AM sent you"). For Christ-followers, there can be no better news than hearing Jesus say, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." This is a statement of fact: Jesus is the Person of God who raises the dead and breathes new life into bodies whose bones are dried up and wasted. Jesus is, indeed, the Spirit that Ezekiel speaks about in Ez. 37, the one bringing the hope and promise of life to dry, dead bones! In the passage above, Martha is reassured that death doesn't have the final say, not only in her brother Lazarus' life but also in her own. This reality cannot be overstated. Salvation is found in no other name but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12), and it is a gift originating from the heart of a God of grace. But why do we need salvation in the first place? And how does God feel about the need for salvation? To answers these questions, let's take a look at the next section of scripture in John 11:
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:28-37, NRSV)
Why does Jesus cry? Is it because he loved Lazarus so deeply, just as he loved Mary and Martha? There is no doubt that he cultivated a lasting friendship with these siblings, especially as they provided him hospitality and fellowship when he stayed with them in Bethany. Yes, Jesus dearly loved Lazarus and his family. But we also know that God doesn't show favoritism (Rom. 2:11). But Jesus' love is more profound than the imperfect, comforting love of Lazarus' family, friends, and neighbors. It runs deeper than that.
Many scholars will have various answers for why Jesus wept (vs. 35). One of the most compelling is the fact that Jesus weeps not only for the grief experienced by close family and friends but also for the devastating effects of sin itself. After all, James tells us that desire gives birth to sin, and sin, when fully conceived, gives birth to death (James 1:15). Jesus weeps over sin, the lie we choose over the truth and blessing of God. Jesus cries because humanity suffers needlessly; Jesus weeps because sin tears apart relationships and if not checked by the Spirit, leads to eternal absence from God. Jesus cries over the sin that maims, wounds and destroys the very people he created for the purpose of loving God and one another. Jesus' tears reflect his compassion, his pity, his lovingkindness toward us. Anything that lures us away from the safe, protective boundaries of God's love gives cause for Jesus to respond to us in the same way God cares for the Son. Since sin causes harm, and we are God's children, Jesus' heart breaks for the pain sin inflicts on his beloved.
Presently, all around us we are witnessing the effects of original sin. Our cities, state, nation and world are rife with sin and death, and it seems to be getting more pronounced, more visible and more pervasive. Way before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, the virus of sin spread like wildfire once Adam and Eve contracted it in the Garden of Eden. Ever since we've seen selfish, prideful choices wreak havoc in families, towns, and countries through the centuries. Wars come and go, and return to decimate populations. Lives are ripped apart by greed and a lust for power and prominence. Others suffer needlessly from oppressive activity, serving to further divide unnecessary social rifts and schisms. Broken families who only know dysfunction and pain continue to perpetuate the same and hatred. Vitriolic speech persists in both online and offline spaces, permeating the political, social, racial and economic landscape and damaging the lives and reputations of others made in the image of God. The sin of racism and bigotry grows, too. All the while, forgiveness and reconciliation seem to be lost arts as inhumane acts of violence wound, tear apart and destroy communities, both in our nation and around the world.
Still today...Jesus weeps over sin. Jesus weeps over suffering. Jesus weeps over death.
But let us never forget that since Jesus is Immanuel, there is always good news. As we return to the story of Jesus and Mary, Martha and Lazarus in John 11 we hear Jesus command Lazarus to come out of the tomb and to take off his grave clothes. Immediately, Lazarus is resurrected and returned to his family, much to the amazement of those in attendance. This miraculous recovery must be, for the church, a permanent reminder that Jesus is alive in order to resurrect the death we experience through sin and give us new life, life that forgives, heals, restores and revives. Let us look more deeply to see that Jesus doesn't just raise Lazarus to breathe the air of an earthly atmosphere (after all, Lazarus will die again) but that he also shows all that as long as Jesus is around, sin and its effects don't have to have the final say. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." Yes, indeed, dear brothers and sisters--the love of Jesus has the final word! And this means that love is able to reverse the effects of sin in our culture, in our communities and even in our churches. When the church stands against injustice with the bold resolve of lovingkindness, mercy and grace, hostilities can end and instead, new reconciled relationships can form and have room to grow. This is the essence of Jesus as Resurrection and Life, and it is the essence of God's dream for the world--we were always meant to live life, not sin and death.
So the question now becomes, do we, like Jesus, weep over sin? Do we cry over the violence, not only that which we see going on in our nation and world but in the violent, sinful tendencies we carry within our hearts? Do we shed tears over our hateful words and our selfish speech? Are our faces stained by the weeping over the status of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and the excluded? Do we cry like Jesus over sin? If not, why not?
When Jesus cries in John 11:35, we must pay attention to his reasons for doing so. Because the compassion of Christ lives within us, we must weep over the sins that so easily beset us and run the race of ministry that God has marked out for all of us in Christ Jesus (Heb. 12:1). Since we know that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, we know that all things are possible for men and women to find relationships renovated and renewed in Christ.
There's a lot to cry about today. A lot. Sin is everywhere, and it lurks close within our hearts. Jesus still cries over its effects, but he knows that the cross and the empty tomb can change a life and make it brand new. The world needs to witness sins' effects reversed; we, the "resurrection people," are the ones who must lead the way towards justice, humility and mercy. We must shed tears and, after drying our eyes, lead the while in the joy that brings life in the person of Christ Jesus, our Lord! When Jesus cries, we are his baptizing tears that raise others to walk "...in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4).
And all God's people said? Amen, and amen!
Seeking to be, along with you, God's instrument of justice in our community,
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