"Jesus wept!"—John 11:35
"Our friend Lazarus sleeps."—John 11:11
Let us turn aside for a little and see this great sight. It is the Creator of all worlds in tears—the God-man Mediator dissolved in tenderest grief. These tears form the most touching episode in sacred story; and if we are in sorrow, it may either dry our own or give them the warrant to flow when we are told—Jesus wept!
Whence those tears? There is often, as we have remarked in a previous meditation, a false interpretation put upon this brief verse, as if it denoted the expression of the Savior's sorrow for the loss of a loved friend. This, it is plain, it could not be. However mingled may have been the hopes and fears of the weeping mourners around him, He at least knew that in a few brief moments Lazarus was to be restored. He could not surely weep so bitterly, possessing as He then did, the confident assurance that death was about to give back its captive, and light up every tear-dimmed eye with an ecstasy of joy. Whence, then, we again ask, this strange and mysterious grief? We have space only for two, among other reasons.
(1). Jesus wept out of sympathy for the bereaved.
The hearts at His side were breaking with anguish. All unconscious of how soon and how wondrously their sorrow was to be turned into joy, the appalling thought was alone present to them in all its fearfulness—"Lazarus is dead!" When He, the God-man Mediator, with the refined sensibilities of His tender heart, beheld the poignancy of their affliction, the pent-up torrent of His own human sympathies could be restrained no longer. His tears flowed too.
But it would be a contracted view of the tears of Jesus, to think that two solitary mourners in a Jewish graveyard engrossed and monopolized that sympathy. It had a vastly wider sweep.
There were hearts, yes, myriads of desolate sufferers in ages then unborn, who He knew would be brought to stand as you, reader, have lately been, and as He was then doing, by the grave of loved relatives—mourners who would have no visible Comforter or Restorer to rush to, as had Martha and Mary, to assuage their grief, and give them back their dead; and when He thought of this, "Jesus wept!"
What an interest it gives to this scene of weeping, to think that at that eventful moment the Savior had before Him the bereaved of all time—that His eye was roaming at that moment through deserted chambers, and vacant seats, and opened graves, down to the end of the world! The Rachels weeping for their children—the "little daughters" that "lay dying;" the young men "carried out—the only sons of their mothers;" the Ezekiels mourning in the dust and ashes of disconsolate widowhood, "the desire of their eyes taken away by a stroke;" the unsolaced sisters brooding over a sad future, with the prop and joy of existence swept down—the light of their being eclipsed in mysterious darkness!
Think (as you are now perusing these pages), throughout the wide world, how many breaking hearts there are—how loud the wail of suffering humanity, could we but hear it!—those written childless and fatherless, and friendless and homeless!—Bethany-processions pacing with slow and measured step to deposit their earthly all in the custody of the tomb! Think of the Marys and Marthas who are now "going to some grave to weep there," perhaps with no Savior's unseen, yet graciously ever-present smile to gladden them—or the desolate chambers that are now resounding to the plaintive dirge, "O Absalom, Absalom! would God I had died for you; O Absalom, my son! my son!" Think of all these experiences at that moment vividly brought before the Redeemer's eye—the long and loud miserere, echoing dismally from the remotest bounds of time, and there "entering into the ear of God Almighty," and can you wonder that—Jesus wept?
Blessed and amazing picture of the Lord of glory! It combines the delineation alike of the tenderness of His humanity, and the majesty of His Godhead. His Humanity! It is revealed in those teardrops, falling from a human eye on a human grave. His Godhead! It is manifested in His ability to take in with a giant grasp all the prospective sufferings of His suffering people.
Weeping believer! your anguished spirit was included in those Bethany tears! Be assured your grief was visibly portrayed at that moment to that omniscient Savior. He had all your sorrows before Him—your anxious moments during the tedious sickness—the trembling suspense—the nights of weary watching—the agonizing revelation of "no hope;" the pulses of that young life ebbing; the fresh green sods of that early tomb. Bethany's graveyard became to Him a picture-gallery of the world's aching hearts; and yours, yes! yours was there! And as He beheld it, Jesus wept!"
(2.) Jesus wept when He thought of the triumphs of Death!
He was treading a burial-ground; mouldering heaps were around Him—silent sepulchral caves, giving forth no echo of life. They must have significantly called to the mind of the Divine Spectator how sin had blasted and scathed His noblest workmanship, converting the fairest province of His creation into one vast Necropolis—one dismal "city of the dead"—the body, "so fearfully and wonderfully made," and on which He had originally placed His own impress of "very good," ruined, and resolved into a mass of humiliating dust! If the architect mourns over the destruction of some favorite edifice which the storm has swept down, or the fire has wrapped in conflagration and reduced to ashes; if the sculptor mourns to see his breathing marble with one crude stroke hurled to the ground, and its fragments scattered at his feet—what must have been the sensations of the Almighty Architect of the human frame, at whose completion the morning stars and the sons of God chanted a loud anthem, as He thought of that frame, now a devastated wreck, mouldering in dissolution and decay, the King of Terrors sitting in regal state, holding His high holiday over a vassal world!
In Bethany He beheld only a few of these broken and prostrate columns, but they could not fail to be suggestive of millions on millions which were yet in coming ages to undergo the same doom of mortality.
If even our less sensitive hearts are wrung with emotion at the tidings of some mournful catastrophe, which occupies, after all, but some passing hour in the world's history, but which has carried death and lamentation into many households—the sudden pestilence that has swept down its thousands—the gallant vessel that was a moment before spreading proudly its white wings to the gale, the joyous hearts on board dreaming of hearth and home, and "the many ports that would exult in the gleam of her mast"—the next! hurrying down to the depths of an ocean grave, with no survivor to tell the story!—Or the terrible records of war—the ranks of bold and brave laid low in the carnage of battle—youth and strength and beauty and rank and friendship blent in one 'red burial!'—if these and such-like mournful tales of death, and the power of death, affect at the moment even the most callous among us, causing the lip to grow pale, and demanding the tribute of more than a tear—oh! what must it have been to the Omniscient eye and exquisitely sensitive spirit of Jesus, as, taking in all time at a glance, He beheld the Pale Horse with its ghastly rider trampling under foot the vast human family, converting the globe into a mournful Valley of vision; vessels freighted with immortality lying stranded on the shores of Time.
Yes! we can only understand the full import of these tears of Jesus, as we imagine to ourselves His Godlike eye penetrating at that moment every churchyard; the mausoleums of the rich—the lowly graves of the poor; the marble cenotaph of the noble and illustrious, slumbering under fretted aisle and cathedral canopy—the myriads whose only requiem is chanted by the bleak winds of the desert or the chimes of the ocean! The child carried away in the twinkling of an eye—the blossom just opening, and then frost-blighted; the aged father, cut down like a shock of corn in its season; the young exulting in the prime of manhood; the pious and benevolent, the great and good, succumbing indiscriminately to the same inexorable decree; the erring and thoughtless, reckless of all warning, hurried away in the midst of scorned mercy—as He beheld this ghastly funeral procession moving before Him, the whole world going to the same long home, and He Himself left alone the survivor—can we wonder that Jesus wept?
And yet to pass, before we close, from this scene of the Tears and the Grave—in another gladdening sense He could say, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps!" And with a still more glorious and exalted meaning than when He spoke them on His way to that Bethany burial-ground, does He utter the same to us regarding our beloved dead. Here it is that Christianity and Paganism meet together in impressive and significant contrast. The one comes to the dark river with her pale, sickly lamp. It refuses to burn—the damps of Lethe dim and quench it. Philosophy tries to discourse on death as a "stern necessity"—of the duty of passing heroically into this mysterious, oblivion-world—taking with bold heart "the leap in the dark," and confronting, as we best can, blended images of annihilation and terror.
The Gospel takes us to the tomb, and shows us Death vanquished and the grave spoiled. Death truly, too well do those whose eyes trace these pages know, is in itself an unwelcome messenger at their door. It is the dark event in this our earth—the deepest of the many deep shadows of an otherwise fair creation—a cold, cheerless thing, lying at the heart of humanity, freezing up the gushing fountains of joyous life. But the Gospel shines, and the cold iceberg melts. The Sun of Righteousness effects what philosophy, with all its boasted power, never could. Jesus is the abolisher of Death. He has taken all that is terrible from it. So complete, indeed, is the Redeemer's victory, that He Himself speaks of it as no longer a reality, but a shadow—a phantom foe from which we have nothing to dread.
"Whoever believes in Me shall never die." "If anyone keeps My words, he shall never see death." These are an echo of the Psalmist's most familiar words, a transcript of his expressive figure, when he pictures the dark valley to the believer as the valley of a "shadow." The substance is removed! When the gaunt spirit meets him on the midnight waters, he may, like the disciples at first, be led to "cry out for fear." But a gentle Voice of love and tenderness rebukes his dread, and calms his misgivings—"It is I! be not afraid."
Yes! Jesus dries your tears with the encouraging assurance, "Your dead shall live; together with My body they shall arise." 'Let your Lazarus—your child, your son, your daughter, your loved and loving young companion or friend—"sleep on now and take their rest;" the time will come when My voice shall be heard proclaiming, "Awake, and sing, you that dwell in dust:"—"The winter is' past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in the land. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Soon shall the day-dawn of glory streak the horizon; and then, I shall go that I may awake them out of sleep!'
"Therefore, comfort one another with these words!"