He had always been so strong, so very strong.
In fact, his strength was truly unlike anything they had ever seen. He had been able to face down demon-possessed maniacs without so much a flinch. He had reached out and touched lepers whose faces were literally rotting away from that dread, malodorous disease.
He had remained completely calm during a horrendous, life-threatening storm out on the Sea of Galilee, so unafraid that he would have simply slept through the whole thing had it not been for the fear of the others.
He had stood up to the Pharisees and scribes and their religious traditions that were more concerned about laws and rules than compassion and forgiveness. He had gone 40 days without food and had even faced the Devil himself.
One-on-one out in the wilderness, and he had emerged victorious, sending Satan away like a wounded dog, with his tail tucked between his legs.
He was so strong; Jesus was so very strong. And yet, here he stood weeping … in the middle of a great crowd, tears rolling down his mighty cheeks like a little baby.
John 11:33-38 describes him as greatly disturbed in spirit, deeply grieved, again greatly disturbed. The English translations of those original Greek adjectives hardly do justice to communicate how upset he really must have been.
Why was he crying? Why was Jesus, this strong and mighty One, so greatly disturbed?
Because he was standing outside the tomb of his friend. Lazarus, had died – and his sisters, Mary and Martha, also Jesus’ close friends, were overwrought with grief.
For any of us who have ever stood at the graveside of a dearly departed loved one, we know exactly why Jesus was weeping. But the miracle of this story is not that we know how Jesus must have felt. No, the miracle of this story is that the Son of God knows how we must feel.
It is the miracle of Christmas (I guess it’s okay to mention Christmas here in August – after all, in a Columbia store this week, I saw Christmas decorations already on display.)
Truly, it is the miracle of the God’s Son humbling himself and taking on human form – leaving the eternal realms of the golden Heavenly Jerusalem and coming down to earth to experience firsthand the every pain and challenge and struggle that we endure as God’s human creatures here on this planet.
Those tears running down Jesus’ mighty cheeks are the miracle of God’s love being born as a babe in Bethlehem, being born for you and me, for all the human family. It is a statement unlike any statement made by any other religion.
It is a statement that the Almighty Creator of the Universe loves you so much, wants to be so close to you, that he would go to unimaginable lengths just to assure you that nothing could be a barrier between you and your Heavenly Father.
“See, the home of God is among mortals,” Revelation 21:3 declares, “He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
That great final vision of the days to come is already coming to be in our lives through the presence of Jesus.
There he is, the Son of God, God in the flesh, standing by a tomb, human tears of grief and pain streaming down his cheeks. His heart aching in sorrow over the death of someone he loved.
What pain are you carrying inside you? What grief still weighs heavy on your heart? What fear, what struggle, is casting a shroud over your life? What is the cause of your own tears?
The good news of God’s love, the good news of Jesus, God’s Son, the good news of his tears is this: that whatever you are facing, you are not facing it alone! Let me say that again: you are not facing it alone. God sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth so you would know the truth of those words, without a doubt, and Jesus’ own tears outside that tomb, they seal the deal.
It is a gift of God’s grace to see those tears of Jesus standing by that tomb.
But the good news does not stop there, does it? The story of Jesus and Lazarus reminds us that God did not just send His Son to earth to be with us and know how we feel, but that God sent Jesus to us to do something about it – to change everything, once and for all, for eternity.
So, finally, here at the end of August, we not only celebrate Christmas, but even more so, we celebrate Easter. We are reminded that Jesus did not just stand crying outside Lazarus’ tomb, but that Jesus’ power – the power of God’s love – was so strong that Jesus could do something else. Jesus could change the unchangeable.
“Take away the stone,” he commanded. “Lazarus, come out … Unbind him, and let him go!”
With those three commands, the true strength of Jesus is revealed, and the complete, total power God’s love is made known! Not just at Lazarus’ empty tomb, but ultimately at Jesus’ own empty tomb, on the glorious morning of Easter, when the miracle of Lazarus’ resuscitation is expanded into a miraculous victory of a glorious Resurrection for all!
Yes, in Jesus, Almighty God makes it know that truly (in the words of St. Paul from Romans 8), there is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from God’s love – not even death itself.
In Jesus, God was finally fulfilling that great 700-year-old promise of the prophet Isaiah: “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; He will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces!”
In Jesus, the great vision of the last days as envisioned by John in the book of Revelation, is now already taking reality in our lives: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
In Jesus and his tears, in Jesus and his strength, in Jesus and his victory over death for us all, God is already fulfilling the promise.
“I am the Resurrection and the life!” Jesus tells Martha when he first arrives on the scene after Lazarus’ death.
Yes, in Jesus, we not only have the promise of resurrection, but in Jesus, we also have the promise of life. True life. Abundant life. Everlasting life. Life where all of us who are carrying heavy burdens may come and lay them upon Jesus – where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be yoked to Jesus, and know the power of faith, the power of hope, the power of God’s love.
Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you! For the Bible tells you so. His tears tell you so! His presence at Lazarus’ tomb tells you so! Christmas and Easter tell you so.
His presence with you this very day tells you so. His promise of resurrection and life tells you so! Jesus strength, his mighty strength, tells you so.