Will you make Jesus Christ cry or smile this week?
Will you break or console His heart?
It’s a trivia question that’s familiar to anyone who’s been around the church for any length of time – “What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?” “Jesus wept” we say, “John 11:35.” By definition, “trivia” is “a piece of information that’s of little value.” And that’s what we’ve done to John 11:35. We’ve “trivialized” it. We’ve reduced it to a Sunday School riddle, to a piece of amusing but unimportant information. But to my way of thinking, “Jesus wept,” John 11:35 is one of the most important things that the New Testament tells us about Jesus Christ.
In the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, right after Jesus told His disciples that He was the way, the truth, and the life, how we get to God, Philip, one of Christ’s very first disciples, made what must rank right up there with the great understatements of all times. “Just show us God,” he said, “and that will satisfy us” (John 14:9). Really, Philip? That’s all you want? To see God? That will make you happy? We can’t hear the inflection of the voice in the things that Jesus said in the Gospels, but I can’t help but think that there’s just a little bit of exasperation when Jesus answered Philip with — “Have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t get it?” And then Jesus made the statement on which all of Christianity rests – “Whoever sees me sees God” (John 14:9). Explaining what this means, E. Stanley Jones said that just as our words are the expression of our thoughts, so Jesus Christ is the expression of God.
Just as we look up through a person’s words to understand their thoughts, so we look up through Jesus to know what. God is like that which we see in Jesus. And if God is, then He is a good God and trustable. I can ask for nothing better. (28-29)
So, what do the tears of Jesus tell us about who God is?
Well, in John 11:35, the tears of Jesus tell us that God completely understands the pain that the death of a loved one produces in us. Jesus wept at the tomb of his good friend Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew that He was on the verge of bringing him back from the dead, still Jesus wept as He stared the reality of His friend’s death in the face, and that’s because death is an enemy, the New Testament tells us, the last enemy to be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:25). Even when death comes as the blessed release of a loved one from their suffering and struggle, death is still unnatural, not part of God’s original design for us as human beings. It’s intrusive, destructive, and malevolent. That’s what the tears of Jesus tell us in John 11:35. God doesn’t want us to die, and Jesus Christ came to see to it that we don’t have to. He’s the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him, Jesus promised, though he dies, yet shall he live, in fact, whoever lives and believes in Him “shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Imagine that, Pastor Ben Haden said, we who are Christians – we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior – we won’t be… we can’t be dead… not even for a minute! That’s what the tears of Jesus mean in John 11:35, but this isn’t the only place in the Gospels where Jesus cried. He wept on Palm Sunday as He approached Jerusalem for His final week (Luke 19:41-44)–
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying…
“You did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
Halfway down the Mount of Olives today, directly opposite the walls of Jerusalem, there’s a little church known as “Dominus Flevit” – Latin for “Our Lord wept.” This is where tradition tells us that Jesus Christ stopped on that first Palm Sunday to grieve the fact that “He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:11). The tears of Jesus in Luke 19:41 were the tears of rejection, the tears of unrequited love. As Morton Kelsey used to say, “There’s something more powerful in this world than God is, and it’s us, for we have the power to keep God out of our lives should we choose to.” Jesus, it would seem, came to terms with this fact halfway down the Mount of Olives on His way into Jerusalem for the last time, and it caused Him to stop and weep. His tears were the tears of God, in fact, those tears had flowed before.
Jeremiah 8 is where we’re told about the tears of God. The prophets of the Old Testament operated with a profound sense of — “Thus saith the Lord.” They didn’t speak on their own initiative or from their own insight. God put His thoughts in their hearts; His words in their mouths. At least that’s the claim made by the Bible’s prophetic books. And so, in the book of Jeremiah when we read –
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn,
and dismay has taken hold of me…
O that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night for…
my poor people!
The right interpretive question for us to ask when hearing these verses is – “Who’s speaking?” Who is the “me,” and the “my,” and the “I”? Is it Jeremiah speaking, or is it God? Is this the anguish of Jeremiah for his people, or is it the anguish of God for His people? Are the tears these verses describe the tears of Jeremiah the prophet, or are they the tears of the God who sent the prophet? Christopher J.H. Wright in his commentary on the book of the prophet Jeremiah, after acknowledging the difficulty that interpreters have had trying to sort out the words of the prophet from the words of God in these verses, finally concluded that when they are read backwards from the – “thus saith the Lord” – in chapter 9, verse 3 back to what’s said in chapter 8, verses 18-22, that the “me” who speaks is “unquestionably God himself.”
The brutal fact is, God himself breaks down in agonizing sorrow (8:18). God is crushed (8:21)… God dissolves in tears (9:1)… God holds his head in his hands, and sobbing through the tears says – “My people, my people, my poor, poor people.” (127)
We can break God’s heart. We can make Christ cry. We can grieve the Holy Spirit.
Our Catholic brothers and sisters have an entire devotional tradition that’s based on this idea. It’s called “consoling the heart of Jesus,” and it goes back to a 17th century French nun who said that while she was meditating on the death of Christ on the cross one day that she had a vision of His heart and heard a voice saying, “Behold this heart which loves so much yet is so little loved.” At the center of “Consoling Spirituality” is the realization that our indifference, our ingratitude, our inattentiveness, and our irreverence makes God incredibly sad. Christ’s heart aches because so many for whom He’s dying ignore His goodness and love. “Behold this heart which loves so much yet is so little loved.” This is not just a Catholic idea.
G. A. Studdert Kennedy was a much beloved Church of England minister during WW 1. He won the Military Cross for bravery in his service to the wounded during the war, and then when the war was over, he threw himself into the ministry of the church with the same energy and passion, especially with the inner city poor of England. Never healthy, he pushed himself in his service of Christ to the point of physical exhaustion, and in 1929, just short of his 46th birthday, G.A. Studdert Kennedy died. A poet as well as a pastor, G.A. Studdert Kennedy’s poem “Indifference” is probably his best known –
When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.
It’s said that Christ would rather be rejected than ignored. In the book of Revelation the Risen Glorious Christ told the Christians in Laodicea that they were neither “hot” nor “cold” – indifferent.
So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth! (3:15-16)
Jesus stopped to weep on His way into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday not because of the cross that was waiting for him there at the end of Holy week, but because He knew that what He was going to do on that cross was something that could so easily ignored by the people for whom He was doing it. “Behold this heart which loves so much yet is so little loved.”
In the Gospel of John, right after the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus gave His Bread of Life discourse, and it proved to be something of a watershed moment in His ministry. Because of what Jesus said about being the bread from heaven that must be consumed by people who are desiring eternal life, many in the crowd of fans who were just following Him for the show and the snacks turned away from Jesus because they found what He was saying to be too confusing, too demanding, and too disturbing. And John tells us that as the crowd thinned, Jesus turned to His disciples, to the people who had been with Him from the very beginning, and asked – “Are you going to leave me now too?” Again, we can’t hear the inflection in the words that Jesus spoke in the Gospels, still, I hear sorrow. And Peter answered – “Lord, to whom we can go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:66-69).
“Consoling Spirituality” is nothing more and nothing less than us telling the sorrowful Christ that we aren’t leaving Him, that we know He has the words of eternal life, and that we believe He is the Holy One of God. If Christ is hurt by our rejection, then surely Christ is bolstered by our devotion. In fact, Robert Boyd Munger said that we can make God smile (84). In a 1986 interview, this pastoral giant said that all he ever wanted from the Lord in return for his more than 60 year ministry on the West Coast was His smile. “If I know you’re there and you’re pleased,” he said, “that’s all I need.” So, if it’s our inattentiveness, indifference, ingratitude, and irreverence that grieves Christ, then it’s our attentiveness, responsiveness, gratitude, and reverence that pleases Him.
So, will you spend time in Scripture this week reading again the story of Christ’s
passion, about how He died and was raised for you?
Will you gather with the community of faith to offer God praise and thanks
for what He has done for us and our salvation?
Will you spend some time talking to God from your heart about
where you are right now in your life and what it is that He wants for you?
And will you find some specific and concrete ways to take up your cross
and follow Christ on the way of self-sacrifice and service?
This is the week for paying attention, giving thanks, taking take up our crosses, and making God smile. DBS +