During Advent our community is asking the question, “Why is the return of Christ a good reason for hope?”
And to answer that big question, we need to consider another question, a really basic question from the story of the death of Lazarus (John 11) in which John writes, “Jesus wept.”
The question is, “Why is Jesus crying?”
There are 2 reasons that are given in the story:
1. Jesus is crying because he loved Lazarus. They were friends. Jesus would spend time at Lazarus’ home. Lazarus is never mentioned in any of the stories of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not one of the 12 disciples. He’s just a friend. He’s a good friend. When Mary writes the note and sends it with a messenger to Jesus, the note she writes says simply, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus is crying because his good friend has suffered and died.
2. Jesus is crying because he could have done something about it. This is the first thing out of the mouth of each of Lazarus’ sisters: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And this is the commentary, the general opinion of those who have been welcomed into the inner circle of Lazarus’ family during the early days of grieving: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Couldn’t Jesus have done something about this?
What’s so challenging about this story is what’s so challenging about the storms of life:
(We ask) God, didn’t you know this was going to happen?
(And the story says) Yes, he knew it was going to happen… – and yet he weeps
(And so we wonder) What will happen next?
(But the story says) he knew what was going to happen next (he was going to bring Lazarus back to life – everything’s going to be OK) – and yet he weeps.
Why is Jesus crying?
I’d suggest that Jesus is crying because even though he has a plan to restore all things, and even though that plan has already begun, the time for that plan to reach completion is still a long way off.
And between now and then there will be lots of storms and they will be pitiless.
Sisters will crumble to their knees in grief.
Friends invited into the inner circle of the tragedy will protest: Why didn’t Jesus do something?
Jesus cries because the storms will continue to rage.
Yes, Lazarus walks out of the grave and many people believe, but in 5 years or 10 or 20 Lazarus will get sick again. Death will visit this house again.
Jesus is crying in this story because this was the time to inaugurate the kingdom, this was the time to reveal the kingdom, but this was not the time to consummate the kingdom, this was not the time to bring to completion the plan of restoration.
The resurrection of Lazarus was a miracle that signaled what was to come. In truth it was a very small battle – it revealed who the true Victor was, and who the true Victor was going to be. Within months Jesus would be killed and would rise again, winning the decisive battle over death. But, like D Day, even though the decisive battle was one, the war would rage on for a long time afterwards.
And I think Jesus wept because he saw his dear friends weeping and he saw their friends weeping and devastated and hopeless and he knew there’s going to be a lot of pain and a lot of loss and a lot of storms before this story is done…between the time when the game is won and the game is over.
Jesus is crying because he knows the enemy will be defeated in the resurrection, but he also knows the enemy will not soon be destroyed.
That’s why Jesus is crying.
[check back for part two to this post: If Jesus is crying, why are Christians hopeful?]