Dad has recently settled into an assisted living facility. None of us is particularly glad about it but we’re seeing some benefits. Within three years he’s gone from 2,500 square feet to 700 to 120. It’s metaphorical, really. As we get older our world gets smaller and more temporary, more lonely. Dad has yet to call it “home” and I’m not sure he should. At best, he calls it where he “stays” or his “place.” And that’s what it is: a place, not home.
He’s stronger some days than others but he still inches toward the midnight hour. John 11 escorts me out when we leave Dad in his chair in his room. And I take tearful comfort that Jesus has been there, too.
The apostle John put Jesus on peculiar display in John 11. It’s only one of two occasions the Gospel writers refer to Jesus crying (cf. Lk 19.41). The fullness of God and the fullness of man swirling heavenward to stir up faith in the Bethany township. The Son of God who raises the dead is also the Son of Man who weeps in graveyards.
Because he is the Son of Man, fully human, Jesus had a beloved friend on his deathbed (v3). Because he is the Son of God, fully divine, Jesus had already written the end of the story (v4). Or more appropriately, the beginning of the story.
The Son of Man went to a funeral as good friends do (vv15, 17). The Son of God would end the funeral.
The Son of Man consoled a grieving and theologically astute sister (vv23-27). As the Son of God Jesus eased her pain, not with platitudes, but by drawing her to himself.
The Son of Man was “deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” that his friends suffered (v33). The Son of God Jesus could actually do something about it: “Where have you laid him?” (v34).
The Son of Man wept as he stood before his beloved friend’s newly-sealed tomb (vv35, 38). The Son of God broke the seal and solved the dilemma of death by commanding life back into his friend (vv33-34). “Remove the stone” (v39).
And somehow the man “bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face…wrapped around with a cloth” “came forth” (v44). Maybe he shuffled. Maybe he floated. Maybe he just appeared. But when Jesus spoke a living soul returned to a reeking corpse, oxygen filled Lazarus’ lungs, decomposition reversed course, strength returned to his legs. As if speaking to death itself Jesus commanded, “Unbind him, and let him go” (v44).
As John’s famous seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus echoed the seventh day of creation: God’s salvific rest. John’s Gospel would slow down to the last week of Jesus’ mortal life as chapter 12 begins “six days before the Passover.” It would be The Passover to end all Passovers. John covered eternity past to AD 33 in eleven chapters. John would took the next ten chapters to cover a few days. Raising Lazarus was the literary equivalent of an emergency brake on a locomotive. With Lazarus’s resurrection, the preface to John’s Gospel was finally complete and he could get on with the story.
The Beloved Son would die, be sealed in a tomb behind a stone, and his friends would mourn. But God would remove the stone (Jn 20.1) and the Beloved One would come forth. Only this One would leave his burial clothes in the tomb (v5). Unlike Lazarus, Jesus would never need them again.
Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead long before Lazarus ever died: “This sickness is not to end in death” (vv4, 11). Yet, Jesus he was moved by the sorrow (v33). Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus after a short prayer (v42) and yet he still wept before he prayed (v35).
Scholars debate why Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb. Maybe he was mad. Maybe he was frustrated. Maybe he was disappointed in Martha. Maybe he was put out with naysayers (v37).
Or maybe he was human.
Jesus entered into the fullness of human suffering (Heb 2.14; 4.15). As the Son of Man Jesus would take on and endure the curse we welcomed into his world. Therefore, the Creator and Goal of all things (Col 1.16) – who created a good and perfect world, who is Life and Light (Jn 1.1-5) – chose to stand before the lifeless, lightless cave of a beloved friend. Knowing he would ransack death, Jesus stood in the middle of wailing mourners before a stonewalled tomb and cried as if to say, “This is what my world has come to! Look how far we’ve fallen!”
When God said “Let there be” he didn’t create any tombs. Jesus didn’t create caves to hide rotting bodies. He created flowers to stretch upward in praise, not to wilt over graves. He created the morning, not mourning.
But there he was. Engulfed in the tidal wave of human depravity. Satan’s playground. The one who created the Tree of Life tasted the bitter fruit of death. And he wept.
It was this very death he would undergo for his beloved friends: the children God gave him (Jn 6.37-40). For them he will be the resurrection and the life. He will endure their death and then some so that they will have his life. There was a we-ness about Lazarus’ tomb.
It is a John 11 moment when we visit Dad at his “place.” We know Jesus has been raised and will raise us on the last day (Rom 8.11). But until then we stand with and before broken people crying “This ought not be!” Look at what this world, the world we wanted, has come to. It’s broken. Really broken. There are folks far worse off than Dad but there is a we-ness about things at the place.
Image-bearers of God should not lose their minds or their legs or their sight or their continence. We should not be so disgraced. God’s people should not need wheelchairs or eat through straws or drool or wear diapers. They should not live on chemicals and in isolation. They should not stink (v39). Satan should not make sport of us. Humans should not be so dehumanized. A Living God should not have a dying people. We are rightly compelled to provide as much dignity as possible in such situations because dignity is becoming of the imago Dei.
In our attempt to become gods ourselves we became rather sub-human (Gen 3.2-3), ruled by those things we should’ve ruled over. In the most ironic consequence of sin, we actually now live in a world where we consider death to be an act of mercy. God’s world is so upside down that we actually pray for death as an answer to misery. What we want for our loved ones often opposes what is necessary for them. This ought not be.
It was that sort of day in Bethany. So Jesus wept just like every other human would and should. Jesus would say to us what he said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv25-26). The one who dies will never die. Only the Son of God could reconcile that antimony. Jesus, our Jesus, entered into our suffering with both feet. Better yet, he was baptized into it.
In the meantime, we live in the proverbial “two days” in which Jesus is staying where he is (v6) until he returns with his word of Life (Jn 5.28-29; 14.2-3). We live by tear-stained faith in the Risen-and-Returning One. Until then we mourn and cry and pray and hope behind the stone with a small shaft of Light at the edge. While we mourn here Jesus prays for us there that we will keep believing (Jn 11.42; Heb 7.25).
I saw Jesus at the “place.” And he wept.