The Bible records three occasions when Jesus wept, with all three offering valuable lessons to apply to our own lives. The Greek word used in Luke and John means “to shed tears.” So, we know it was not just eyes welled up and it was not sobbing. He simply cried. But in Hebrews below, we see powerful emotions driving Him to pray with what is likely sobbing.
During Prayers to God
In Hebrews Chapter 5 we read, “7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and He was heard because of his reverence.” Here, as in the other two occurrences, we see the human nature of Jesus in a powerful way. Crying is a natural human response. This is the one common factor to explain why Jesus wept – his humanity. He experienced emotions and all aspects of being human as we do.
We learn that Jesus’ human nature feared the wrath of God and knew what it was like to fear death, even his own. So, He poured himself out in prayers with tears knowing the plight of all people and their need for salvation. How many of our prayers are offered up with loud cries and tears? Here Jesus shows us it is appropriate and effective, for it shows our reverence for God and the urgency of our need.
Looking Down Upon Jerusalem
Jesus also wept, as recorded in Luke 19:41. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover the week of his crucifixion. He overlooks the city from just outside its entrance and He is overcome by the thought of the lost souls there at the time and over all of history. Earlier in Luke 13:34, He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it (refused).” As our Lord approached Jerusalem the thought of all those lost souls brought Him to tears. We too should weep for those alive today who are lost. Jesus’ passion for the people of His time and those of the future is very evident.
However, most consider the main reason for his tears was knowing Jerusalem’s future. In less than 40 years from that time; more than 1,000,000 residents of Jerusalem would die, and the temple would be destroyed. Jesus prophesized this and knew He would be rejected, bringing him to tears before he entered the city.
At the Tomb of Lazarus
Lastly, let’s look at the best-known occasion of Jesus weeping – at the tomb of his good friend Lazarus. Let’s read some excerpts of this story recorded in John11:1-43.
1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
The most common reaction from readers is that Jesus’ wept because of His human nature and his love for Lazarus. His human nature yes, but note He says it will not end in death, so there is no reason for Jesus to weep about Lazarus’ fate. We also see Jesus intentionally delayed his arrival in Bethany. It is significant he arrives four days after Lazarus’ death. Jewish tradition said that a person’s spirit did not leave until after being dead for three days. So, for Jesus’ miracle to have credibility, he had to arrive four days after his death.
“14 So then he told them (disciples) plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake, I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Once again, we see Jesus intentionality. He wanted Lazarus to die and his spirit departed so that He could demonstrate the power of our Almighty God to both His disciples and all present.
“18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 ……33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.34 “Where have you laid him?”he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.35 Jesus wept. 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. 43Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
There is a serious lesson here. First, Jesus allowed not just any person, but a close friend to experience death, knowing much “good” would result. Always remember, when bad things happen they are often for our good and we may not see that good until later. Secondly, when Jesus saw all the people weeping and mourning, he was “deeply moved.” Jesus loves all, even the strangers who were there, just as we are called to love our neighbor.
There is one more reason rarely discussed that I believe is the primary reason for Jesus weeping here. There was a large crowd there. The people in Jerusalem knew Jesus was on the way to celebrate the Passover, and now hearing of Lazarus’ death, they had also heard Jesus would be there.
Here is the primary reason for tears. Jesus knew that after performing what would be his greatest miracle, that many in this large crowd still would not believe. In fact, many returned to Jerusalem telling the story, stirring up a plot to kill him. This, as with his tears while praying, show Jesus’ immeasurable desire to have all believe and be assured of eternal life with God. Yet many saw a dead man alive again and still did not believe, and hence his tears. It was Jesus love for all people, the sadness of lost souls, and his human nature that brought us the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”
Conclusion: What Have We Learned?
Important today is Jesus wept not only for peoples of the past and those in His presence, he also wept for all of us today. Yes, Jesus wept for us just as he also prayed for us (John 17 – a must read). Jesus understood the difficulties of our lives. He understood that many had turned away and many would turn away. Yet He continues to pursue unbelievers because of His incredible love. Most still reject Him today as the culture influences us to the point of bad decisions. Don’t go there. His arms are wide open waiting for you to call on Him.
In the love of Jesus Christ,