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John 11:17-44 5.8.18
Weeping, grieving, and lamenting is part of a healthy life. If you fight lamenting, or think there is something wrong with it if you do lament, then there is something seriously wrong with you.
More than that, it’s godly. We have seen that in the past two Sundays, from the Old Testament. Today, we are looking at lament in the person and the life of the Lord Jesus.
No one laments more deeply than Jesus. He is called “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” in Isaiah 53:3. Why?
· What did he do after Herod killed and beheaded John the Baptist, his cousin, the greatest man in the kingdom of God? John’s “disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus” (Mt 14:12) and he said “Don’t worry, it’s all part of God’s plan” and went on to doing the next thing”? “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a desolate place, by himself” (Mt 4:13). For a party? Or for lamenting?
· When his religious enemies saw him heal a man who had had a serious stroke, all they really saw was the way he broke their rules. Jesus’ response? “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” (Mk 3:5)
· The Jews have largely rejected him. “That’s just the way things are”, he said? “When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:41)
· He came to the home of Mary and Martha after their brother had died. They and their friends are lamenting, in that Eastern loud wailing kind of way. John uses a different word when he says in John 11:35 “Jesus wept” … his weeping and lamenting were really deep, as he “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” (11:33)
· The night before he died, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read that “he began to be greatly distressed and troubled” and that he told his closest friends “My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death.” Mark 14:33, 34 we know that his grief as he prayed was so deep that he sweated with sweat “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
· What depth of lament when we hear him call out from his cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
· Then, in a summary kind of way, the writer to the Hebrews says “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, top him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Hebrews 5:7)
I was going to say today “Even though Jesus is perfect in every way, he laments.” That would be so wrong. It’s not THOUGH he is perfect, he laments. But BECAUSE he is perfect, he laments. His tears and cries are not a denial of trust in the Living God, but part of it.
Now let’s assume that we get that. Is any form of lament okay? Or that all lamenting has the same weight? Is there something about the way in which Jesus laments which is different from the hopeless, self-centred or out-of-control lament we see or feel? I think there is.
Look at what he lamented about, for starters. I think he laments over three things in particular.
1. JESUS WEPT OVER EVIL AND UNBELIEF
In the most blatant display of arrogance, the leaders in Jerusalem turned their backs on the Living God. How could they reject the Holy Son of God and expect to get off scot free? How could it be that judgment, serious judgment, would not fall on them?
Higher taxes and political corruption are to be lamented, but unbelieving rejection of God’s only Son is so evil and so eternally significant, any response without tears could never be enough.
Do you sense that we are a long way from true lament? Aren’t people just choosing one option from many valid options when they turn their backs on Jesus? Isn’t it just a free personal choice at the end of the day? What’s the future for people you love? It’s awful, truly awful. How can you not weep?
o Is it evil when I treat so lightly the sins for which Jesus shed his holy blood? Isn’t that an evil; to be lamented?
o Is it evil when banks deal ruthlessly with little people and rich people feather their own nests, while poor people can’t pay basic bills? Isn’t that an evil to be lamented?
o When Muslims in Nigeria have just killed thousands of Christians, is that not another great evil to lament? Rather than to be ignored just because it is not in our backyard?
While Jesus’ lament over unbelief and evil included tears, it was more. He pleaded more strongly. He exposed hypocrisy all the more. He shook people who though they were safe in their unbelief. Tears without action is only sentimentality and that’s pretty much worthless. True lament over unbelief and evil is a lot more than something passive.
When Jesus came to the grave of Lazarus, John says Jesus was “moved in his spirit” (John 11:33). That’s the word you use to describe the snorting of a horse, before it rides into battle. Jesus is so affronted by the evil of death that he’s charging in to deal with it head-on.
That is precisely what he does when he sets Lazarus free from the hold and decay of death. Doesn’t John say in 1 John 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Tears over evil and unbelief, yes. Determined destruction of what is evil. It includes all that to say that Jesus wept.
1. Jesus wept over evil and unbelief
2. JESUS WEPT FOR HIS FRIENDS
Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters. It seems he stayed with them whenever he was in Jerusalem because they were close.
How they have now suffered. Lazarus was sick for days, maybe weeks or months before he died – he suffered. His sisters suffered – as they offered palliative care in his illness, and then as they had to deal with his death and the funeral.
Allah is passion-less – but not Jesus. He grieves. He feels loss. Not because of his omniscience, but because of his experience. He loves with a knowing, tender-heart. He is the man for others, like no-one else is. His heart is one of compassionate commitment.
We’re back to where we were last Sunday. Jesus is fully sovereign over all things, including the cause, timing and suffering of death. But his sovereign rule is personal. Always feeling for his own, and profoundly committed to them in the midst of all their suffering.
2. Jesus wept for his friends
3. JESUS WEPT FOR HIMSELF
If there was one miracle of Jesus which really upset his enemies, it was this one of raising Lazarus from death. By doing this, Jesus knew that he was hastening his own death … “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well” (12:10). Is that part of the reason why Jesus wept?
Jesus knew that it was his Father’s will that he die, but it was an awful prospect. He was to die under the judgment of God. Not for his own sin, but for the sin of others.
It will be bad enough that God’s anger stored up against even one sinner should fall on him. It will be worse that an eternity of anger will fall on him in just six hours. It is worse again that an eternity of anger against millions of sinners will fall on him in just six hours.
Do you wonder that he cried out in the Garden? Or on the cross at that prospect his Father turning his back on him though they had been in intimate love with each other for all eternity? How could he not cry out with tears?
Did he know that his death would fulfil his Father’s plans and win him glory? Of course he did, but the way there was so tough. Of course he wept for himself.
I’m sure Jesus lamented for more that all this. But we know at least that he wept over evil and unbelief … that he wept for his friends … and he wept for himself, and the agony he would endure.
Just seeing Jesus more clearly would be enough, but may I try and touch our lives in two ways because we see him lamenting.
A. JESUS SHOWS US HOW TO LAMENT
I said two weeks back that we are not good at lamenting in our culture at all. Certainly not in a godly way. If we belong to him, in this matter of lament, we model ourselves on him, not on our culture.
>>> Our culture says: avoid the pain at all cost, and do only what makes you happy. Jesus says: lament the pain and don’t pretend it is not real … but in the pain, and in the lament, pray “yet, Lord, not what I want, but what you want”.
Is there pain when you take a stand that makes you look weird? Or forego a holiday so you can help pay for something done to make Jesus known? Or lose a friendship, marriage prospects, and chances of promotion to a happier life, for his sake? Of course there is. It would be crazy to pretend otherwise.
>>> Our culture says that you look after number one (yourself). It says that you don’t get involved in the lives of others, especially if they have brought their mess upon themselves by their own bad choices.
Jesus shows that true empathy and lament doesn’t stop at those borders. True lament doesn’t stop at finding fault, but in the church it “weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice.” There is no room in the church of Jesus for emotional distance or self-righteous judgment … not when Jesus is our model.
>>> Our culture says that belief is a matter of personal choice, and that you shouldn’t presume to urge people to change and turn to Jesus.
Jesus shows us that unbelief is evil, and deadly dangerous. How can you not weep over the affront their unbelief is to the Living God who is so precious to you? Or the dangerous place they are in, as they live their lives on the edge of hell?
Not that you only lament, but that like Jesus who, when he saw that the crowds were “like sheep without a shepherd” so that he taught them … you do whatever it’s in your power to do, to persuade members of your family, neighbours, others at work or in your class, children you teach, patients you care for – to turn to Jesus?
You can’t be blasé (indifferent to or bored with life) or off-handed about them and their situation, not if you model your lament on Jesus’ lament, as he shed tears over Jerusalem.
Jesus shows us how to lament, and he does much more …
B. JESUS IS OUR HOPE IN LAMENT
o As I lament my sins, shall I fear that I shall be cut off from God in hell? No – because he was.
o Shall death be end for me? No, because he ended death in his death.
o Shall evil batter me like it battered him? No, because it battered itself to death at Calvary, and the evil I face is a defeated evil.
o Shall the agonies I face in doing his will squash me? No, because he has taken the sting out of them all in his own agony.
o Shall I suffer alone? No. Jesus is my high priest in heaven “who in every respect has been tempted as we are … let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15,16) He knows what it’s like for me … except that his experience of the agony I know was so much deeper and heavier.
His tears, his grief, his lament, his agony is the guarantee that mine shall be so, so much less.
Isaiah says Jesus is the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. More than that: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”. How? In his own “sorrow, even to death”.
Jesus is our guarantee so this means that the sorrow that remains is part of life now, and is almost gone. Almost, because the day is almost here when Jesus shall appear, and be so glorious to us. Tears will be no more and what caused tears will all be forgotten. Forever.
Some of us are lamenting deeply right now.
§ Someone dear to you who is no longer there, or slipping away.
§ You face a sad situation in which there seems no hope.
§ You hate what you have done, and lament your evil heart.
§ You have been written off by others because you stand with Jesus.
Lament in all that is real, so real but because Jesus agonised, we shall not lament for much longer. He is our guarantee.
The four days Lazarus was in his grave must have seemed an eternity to his sisters but it wasn’t. It was only four days and then Jesus, with compassionate lament, love for them and hatred of all that was evil changed everything and at his own great personal cost.
Can you hang in for four days? With Jesus as your model as you lament? Yes? And with Jesus as your guarantee that he is almost here, when you will be with him? His tears … and free from all your tears? All of them? Yes, yes, and again yes!