3/17/02, L5A

Tears at the Tomb”
John 11: 1-57

his fantastic story surrounding Jesus' tears at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus begins when Jesus was across the Jordan River cloistered from the leaders of the Synagogue who had attempted to stone him during his last trip to Jerusalem. While there he preached to the gentiles and many came to believe in him. (10:42). During this time a message was delivered to Jesus informing him that his friend Lazarus was dead and that his sisters were calling for him to come to Bethany. Jesus waited two days to make the journey up to Bethany, two miles north of Jerusalem. He attempted to explain to the Apostles that the death of Lazarus would be an opportunity to glorify God and proclaim his Messiahship, thus triggering the final episode of his life, but his followers could not yet see the big picture of what God was doing through His Son. The inner circle of three who had seen him transfigured on the mountain could nor understand, even after all this time following Jesus down the dusty paths.

By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany four days had passed. Martha met Jesus with words that reflected her disappointment, "Lord. If you had been here my brother would not have died." (21). It was in this context that Jesus first repeated to her the familiar words that have become a part of our funeral ritual. I have quoted these words of comfort at nearly every one of the hundreds of funerals that I have led, "Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (25). Then Jesus asked her, "Do you believe this?" Martha only had a vague answer. She really had not caught on yet. Our advantage today is that we know how the Easter story ends and can finally see the sweeping view of the Christ Event. But, at this point in the story, Jesus followers did not have any idea what was about to happen.

Jesus surely was led to tears because of the lack of faith of the many disciples who had followed him through other difficult situations, yet they seemingly had not grasped the broader picture of the consequences of his life and ministry. Yet, our text says that many, who had come to the tomb and had seen what Jesus did, finally did believe on that day in Bethany. (45) But some of them who had seen the dead man raised slithered off to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Seeing does not always lead to believing or becoming a loyal follower of Christ.

One of the most precious emotional events that Jesus models for us is his joining Mary and Martha in shedding tears at the tomb. "Jesus wept.," verse 35, is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. Just two words to express his human heartache and his empathy with the sisters and their friends.

We too can identify with the sorrow of Mary and Martha because we have all been touched by death's sharp arrow that has pierced our hearts. I grew up in a home with a framed photograph on the mantel of myself as an infant in my Dad's arms under the funeral tent at my Uncle George's grave. Our family's beloved Navy Pilot uncle was killed toward the end of WWII and the family was terribly brokenhearted. I have always felt that bereavement tears are as natural as rain. Jesus' tears were an authentic expression of his sorrow. It was another manner in which he bore our human pain. It is through these human experiences that reveal Jesus' self-limited humanity that we best understand his nature and how he fully identified with our plight..

Furthermore, we can say that Jesus still weeps with us in our sorrow. He joins us in the journey that often leads through dark valleys, and troubled times. He comes to us in emergency rooms and in hospital waiting rooms. He is there whenever we face situations that have no easy solutions. Indeed, the Word became flesh and weeps with us. Perhaps the most precious aspect of knowing him is that he always comes when adversity strikes. He does not kiss our skinned knee like a mother and take our pain away; but rather he shares in our pain and enables maturity of life and faith development as a result of our having to find victory through the crying times of life. We might even say that without pain there is no gain. This has been a common thread through the Lenten lectionary sermons that have dealt with real people like, Nicodemus the Pharisee, a sinful Samaritan woman that Jesus met at a town well, a young man who was blind from birth, and now this event of human tragedy at a tomb.

As events later unfolded, this story occurred just prior to what turned out to be Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem and to his own tomb, at which these same disciples would weep for him. We can assume that Jesus wept because he knew that the events that would lead to his own death would be detonated by his miracle of raising the dead. Jesus knew that the Sanhedrin had set itself against him and that this truly Messianic sign would unleash a series of prophetic events. As one fully human, as well as fully divine, Jesus shared in our terror. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his betrayal and arrest, Jesus' human agony was most apparent. (Mt. 26, Mk. 14).

Despite his human sadness and fear, Jesus boldly called out those famous words, "Lazarus, come forth!" And Lazarus came out of the tomb, his body still wrapped in burial cloth. The old preachers used to comment that if Jesus had not specifically called out Lazarus' name, everyone in the graveyard would have come forth.

So, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council and said, "What are we to do?" They were afraid that if Jesus were declared Messiah that the occupying Romans would think that the Jews were resisting and would destroy the leaders of the Jews and take away their limited authority. "So, from that day on they planned to put Jesus to death." (53). Next Sunday is Palm and Passion Sunday when we relive the fact that he who raised the dead would himself experience death for us. And then on Easter we again celebrate Jesus' own Resurrection, as the first example of our resurrection.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

3/17/02, L5A