What Really Happened When Jesus Wept?

It took about two weeks before my son realized he’d probably never see his little friend again. He had been invited to the boy’s birthday party and talked about going every day leading up to the big bash. The two often played together at school.

But at some point before the big day, the boy switched schools. By the casual nature of their goodbyes after the party, I knew my son didn’t really understand the significance of that moment. To a 4 year old, time is not just an abstract reality, it’s irrelevant.

For almost two weeks afterward my little guy just thought his friend was sick, his made up reason for why he no longer saw him at school. He kept this up until the moment I asked him one day who he played with during class. He rattled off a few names but then informed me why he believed his friend was not there.

“No, baby. He wasn’t sick. He’s not going to your school anymore,” I replied.

The stunned look. The anguish. Then, the explosion of tears–big alligator tears that streamed unrestrained down his face. Heartbroken.

“My best friend!” he wailed.

I felt like the worst mom in the world. I did not mean to open up a wound he didn’t even know he had. And yet I knew this moment would eventually find us: the reckoning. If you’ve ever tried to console a young child who’s hurting, you know. Though his grief might be small in the grand scheme of things, it was no less real, nothing to be dismissed.

The Day Jesus Wept

My son’s sudden wailing reminded me of what I pictured Jesus did once in the Bible, the moment he cried with such intensity that everyone around him talked about it.

It’s the shortest verse in our English language: “Jesus wept.” A good friend, perhaps a best friend, had fallen dangerously ill, so sick his sisters could only hope for a miracle. But they knew the miracle worker. In fact, they were good friends with him.

“Behold, the one whom you love is sick,” (John 11:3) they tell their friend, who at this point was laying low after having his own life threatened for healing a blind man.

And then this man, the miracle worker, does the unimagineable: He camped out for two more days. (Read the stunning and beautiful story here.)

By the time he arrives, it was too late. Lazarus was dead.

On hearing word that Jesus was finally near, Martha leaves everything to meet him on his way. Then she makes a big question-filled statement — the same one her sister makes just a few moments later, the same so many of us have cried out before — a single statement that echoes throughout the chambers of human suffering.


“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Oh, Lord… Lord, if you had only been here, this would not have happened. Lord, if you had only showed up on time… God, where were you when my tragedy happened? Where were you when my world fell apart? Why were you not here when we needed you most?

Oh, Lord… inexplicable grief.

And he looks up and sees the people following Mary, the mourners, the weepers, the wailers, the heartbroken, the desperate, the hopeless.

He looks up and sees Mary and Martha, his beloved friends. And he takes on the deep pangs of their anguish.

“Where have you laid him?” he asks.
“Lord, come and see.”

And then… Jesus, God — the Creator of the Universe, wept.

Weeping with Tears

It’s a puzzling picture. Jesus, both man and God, who knows what is about to happen, who intentionally allowed this moment to come…. weeps with grief.  But not the same loud, uncontainable hopeless wailing all around him as I once imagined. Not the audible display of mourning the people came to demonstrate.

No. Jesus wept…  silently. He shed real tears. Not the kind you can hide or stiffen up. Real human tears — in front of everyone. The kind that well up so big they stream unrestrained down the face.

Jesus, who knew what was about to happen, joined in our deepest griefs. He joined the suffering from the deepest spring of human heartache.

He wept for Mary and Martha and these mourners and wailers.

He wept for the fathers and mothers who have lost their children

He wept for the child who has lost a parent.

He wept for the sisters and brothers who have lost a sibling.

He wept for the woman who grieves her barrenness. He wept for the man whose dreams were crushed.

He wept for the desperate, the lonely, the devastated, the broken… the bereaved.

He wept for those whose sickness pronounced a death sentence.

He wept, but not for the one in the grave.

Jesus wept for us.

And through his silent tears he walks up to the tomb, commands the stone to be rolled away and shouts for the dead man to come out. And he does.

And he demonstrates his answer to Martha, who had professed her undying faith in him despite this hopeless cause.

“I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.”

And with that shout, Jesus, the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, gives life to a man who was indisputably dead.

With a shout, Jesus launches the final sequence of events that would lead him to his own tomb just a few weeks later — the tomb he would occupy for three days where he would demonstrate the impossible and silence our deepest griefs once and for all.

Because with a shout, he will also one day wipe away our big human tears… every tear. And there will be no more loss, no more graves to conquer, no more fear, no more devastating sickness.

No more silent tears for hopeless causes.

Because Jesus, who is present in our suffering, traded places with Lazarus, went to the grave and told us once and for all: “Remove the stone.”

“Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)

If we believe. Because through Him, the wailing and mourning, both big and small, including the heartache for one little boy who lost a friend, will be forever silenced.

Jesus wept. But through Him, praise God, we will weep no more.

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