When Jesus weeps over death in the Bible, he physically and emotionally responds to the pain and suffering around him. He doesn’t hide his emotions. He explicitly takes time to be deeply moved not only externally but also at a heart level. It is not an act. It is not unnatural. The level of care and the multi-faceted emotional response that Jesus had towards death came from genuine concern and love for those who were touched by death’s sting.
One place in scripture where we see Jesus’ perfect humanity is in his own grief and toward other sufferers is in the story of Lazarus.
As he crossed the Jordan River from Jerusalem, Jesus was showing the people “many good works from the Father” (Jn 10:32). It was during this ministry time that he heard of Lazarus’ death “He said to [the disciples], ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Knowing they did not yet understand Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (Jn 11:11-14).
When Jesus arrived, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha fell at his feet, crying out in grief that if he had been there, their brother would not have died. Scripture tells us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” asking where they had laid their brother. The sisters answered, ‘Lord, come and see.’ And when Jesus saw, he wept. The Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (33a-35).
The amount of love Jesus had for his friends in this moment is astounding. Jesus is so relationally connected with the people he loves that he weeps despite the fact that he knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:4). Jesus is already aware of the relief Mary and Martha will soon feel. He knows that they will be comforted beyond their expectations, that they will learn more about God from going through this trial and that they will experience great joy when Lazarus is returned to them. However, in this moment he sees his loved one’s despair and is still incredibly moved by their grief to mourn.
Jesus weeps with those who weep.
His emotion however, was not simply deep sadness, but sadness mixed with righteous anger towards the evil of death. Jesus knew the last enemy to be destroyed on earth would be death (1 Cor 15:26). He understood and could taste the death born by sin and the Fall and he hated it. In that moment of weeping over Lazarus’ death, Jesus hated sin. He hated death. He hated pain. And it broke his heart. This story gives a beautiful picture of Jesus being fully God, yet totally human; his grieving was completely appropriate. It was 100% perfect.
Facing Our Pain
When we face the loss of life we are often hesitant to allow ourselves to grieve because of our fear of the pain. We are afraid to acknowledge what has transpired because we fear the horror of it may challenge our faith and the faith of those around us. But the story of Lazarus tells us that death must be grieved. As Jesus grieves a death he knows will not last, he still grieves it deeply, having perfect faith that the Father will overcome it through His plans. Because Jesus perfectly trusted the Father, Jesus could fully grieve.
Too often we confuse glorifying God with feeling good. We are always searching for deeper joy, which is assumed to be something that should be pain-free. And while certain emotional goals can be good and healthy, like going from depression to contentment, our goal for those who are grieving death should not be for them – or us – to feel good.
To feel good in the throes of tragic death would be inappropriate and wrong. Death deserves sackcloth and ashes. Jesus was willing to sit in the pain of those whom he loved. Because we know Jesus’ example was always perfect, we see that mourning in the face of death does not indicate faithlessness. Far from faithlessness, these appropriate feelings toward death indicate genuine and heartfelt sorrow at the reality of suffering.
While we can rejoice that Christ has conquered death, Jesus’ weeping over the death of Lazarus shows us that the certainty of future resurrection does not mean that loss of life no longer brings pain. It only means that in this deep pain we must seek to understand it in the context of a greater hope; a hope that is surer than death. But the pain of death is still pain – deep, abiding and often sharp pain.
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept because of his broken friends. He wept because of the curse of sin and death. He wept over the reality of pain for his people. He did not view them as idiots, failing to understand the fullness of what God was trying to do in that situation. In fact, he understood the depth of the tragedy more than they ever would. For Jesus, death was a tragedy that deserved weeping.
Jesus’ sorrow and compassion over the death he experienced in this world is a help to us in understanding how we too should respond to death. But weeping was not the only thing Jesus did when faced with tragedy and suffering. Scripture tells us that throughout his life, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8). Through the suffering and grief that Jesus encountered, he consistently responded in perfect faith to God and in doing so, he grew in his obedience to His Father. When we encounter death and suffering, we too can grow in our obedience and help others to grow in theirs by responding by faith as Jesus did in the Scriptures.
But what will that look like? More in my next post.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.