Saturday, October 17, 2009

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

I have to say that to a little boy who was tasked every day for two weeks to memorize a verse from the Bible, that the day that this verse was introduced to us was a grand one indeed. John 11:35 was touted as the shortest verse in the Scriptures, the longest being Esther 8:9:

Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

No, we were not required to memorize this passage.

There are other interesting facts about the King James Version of the Bible that were undoubtedly recited to us years ago, some of which I did not recall until today.

There are 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament for a total of 66. There are 1189 chapters (929 and 260) in the protestant KJV. There are 31,102 verses (23,145 and 7957) of which I only had to memorize 12 a year. There is no single middle verse of the Bible, but two verses located at Psalms 103:1-2. Psalms 117 is both the shortest chapter and the middle chapter of the Bible. Psalms 119 is the longest chapter. All of these are fun facts, but none of them explain why “Jesus wept”; I am quite certain that none of my Daily Vacation Bible School teachers ever explained why he did either.

The scene that precipitated the Savior’s weeping was in conjunction with the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a close friend of Jesus and his Apostles, the brother of Mary and Martha.

The chapter begins with John the Beloved noting in his narrative that Lazarus was ill, a fact that was communicated by messengers sent from Mary and Martha to Jesus who was teaching many miles away on the east side of the river Jordan (see John 10:40-42). Depending on Jesus’ location in Perea or Decapolis, the Savior could have been as much as 65 miles from Bethany. Upon hearing that Lazarus was desperately ill, Jesus testified to his disciples that their friend’s situation was to be a blessing to everyone concerned and that they ought not to be overly agitated. Jesus then continued preaching for another two days beyond Jordan before leaving for Bethany (see John 11.6). The Apostles apparently thought that Jesus’ hesitancy in returning to Bethany was fear of the murderous scribes and Pharisees who were intent on putting their Lord to death (see John 11:8). Jesus was quite clear, however, as to his motive for going to the home of his friends (see John 11:9-16). By the time Jesus and his disciples arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in his tomb four days, suggesting that he had probably been dead a week. Martha met Jesus as he entered the town and expressed her conviction that Lazarus would not have died had the Savior been there. There is a sweet exchange between the two which includes another of my Daily Vacation Bible School scriptures, John 11:25:

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

Mary is eventually persuaded to meet Jesus in the same place where he met Martha, at the edge of town (no great distance, by the way). The mourners, professional and otherwise, rushed after the young woman and were irreverently gathered about to witness the exchange between Lazarus’ younger sister and the Savior. With all of the tumult and idle chatter, Jesus was not in a position to comfort Mary in the same fashion as he had Martha. Mary, therefore, continued in her distressed state with the unsympathetic mob arrayed about them.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (John 11:33).

The Greek word which is here translated as “groaned” derives from roots which mean “to snort with anger, indignation, blame, sigh with chagrin, sternly enjoin, straitly charge”. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible follows this meaning. If we accept this interpretation, we must decide with whom Jesus was indignant. With Mary? Highly unlikely! With the Jews who accompanied Mary to the cemetery? Far more likely. As was the case with the crowd who appeared when the daughter of Jairus died (see Mark 5:22-43), so also here we are confronted with a body of men and women whose sorrow is at best affected pretense. Why indignation? Because this show of feigned grief could not have but unnecessarily disturbed the faithful tranquility that Mary and Martha should have enjoyed as a product of their faith in Christ.

As Jesus is taken to the tomb, his weeping is misinterpreted by the raucous Jews:

Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it (John 11:36-38).

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus prayed to his Father in Heaven:

Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (John 11:41-43).

When Lazarus came forth from the tomb there were mixed emotions expressed. Needless to say Mary and Martha were overcome with joy. The disciples began to fully understand what had been going on for the past seven days. Many of those who had been skeptical about the Savior’s power and authority with God were immediately disabused of their skepticism, desiring to be received into the company of Christians. Then there were others, so thoroughly hardened in their hearts that they fled Bethany to the Pharisees in Jerusalem. Caiaphas, the nominal high priest of the Jews, then deliberately chose to plot against the life of Jesus Christ, fully knowing the import of that which had just taken place in Bethany.

Jesus wept on the way to Lazarus’ tomb for much of the same reason he has ever shown emotion. In the case of Mary, the circumstances were such that he could not immediately comfort her. There is no more tender heart in all of the eternities than that of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wept for those whose hearts and minds were so entangled in the temptations of this lost and fallen world that they could not perceive the hand of the God of Israel laboring among them until some sort of miracle awakened them to the truth. He wept for the belligerent, the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees, even as the heavens had wept for the fall of Lucifer. Every soul is precious in the sight of God; He loves them all in spite of their recalcitrance and weeps for each of them even as a Father weeps for a child that has gone missing. Jesus is his Father’s Son; their sentiments are the same.

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