As firm believers in the sovereignty of God, often there is a temptation to seem cold and rehearsed, to give standard answers. For this reason, some of the most heady theologians and pastors make the worst sympathizers and revivalists. They simply don’t weep when others are weeping (instead they talk about the glory of trials) or exhort unbelievers to seek God while He may be found (because God chooses them, not the reverse). But let us be careful with our use of Scripture so that we don’t become unbalanced. With this in mind, consider John 11:
“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”” (John 11:1-3 ESV)
Love is a choice; love is an emotion. We’ll see both in this passage. From the outset we know who it is that has become ill. Lazarus and Martha, beloved by Jesus.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:5-6 ESV)
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” (John 11:33-35 ESV)
Here I had left the post unfinished, until now. Pulpit Magazine has an article on just this topic. The relevant section reads:
Have you ever wondered why He was weeping? It could not be just grief over the loss of Lazarus, because He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. Yet it’s clear from Scripture that His tears signified real sorrow.
So what was He mourning about?
Surely He was grieving over the effects of sin on people He loved. He was sorrowing over the ravages of evil on His creation. He was thus identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And at Lazarus’s grave He felt the full weight of anguish over the sinfulness of the human condition. He was deeply and sincerely moved by it.
Death is a horrible enemy. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is “The last enemy that shall be destroyed.” And when you sit with someone who is dying slowly, you come face to face with the fact that death is a formidable, tyrannical, universal foe. The searing pain and sadness of death seem almost unbearable at times. If we thought about it in merely human, earthly terms, we might be tempted to become chronically melancholy and despondent.
Let us learn our pastoral ministry from Jesus.