For my family, that reality has hit particularly close to home lately. We have stared down that ugly monster, with all the pain, stress, chaos, and confusion it entails. And it’s gotten me thinking about a Bible verse I’m sure we’re all familiar with, if for no other reason than its brevity. In John 11:35 we read simply, “Jesus wept.” The immediate context explains Christ’s display of emotions—He was at the graveside of Lazarus, described as “the one you love.” But the extended context perhaps confuses us a little. Just a few verses later, Jesus commanded those present to “take away the stone” and called, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did just that, the grave clothes were removed, and Lazarus went back—presumably—to life as normal. If we back up to the beginning of the chapter, we see Jesus hearing of Lazarus’s sickness and responding, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” Jesus didn’t say the sickness would not result in death, but that it would not end in death. Then He waited two days before departing, at which time He told the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” The disciples thought Jesus was speaking of regular sleep, but John informs us “Jesus had been speaking of his death.” Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and be glorified through it. So why, when he arrived at the tomb, did He weep?
It could be that Jesus, being fully human, was simply stirred by seeing others weeping. However, I once heard another explanation—and I can’t recall from where, so I can’t give proper credit—that I think makes more sense. Jesus didn’t shed tears at His own personal loss, because He knew it wasn’t a net loss—He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And while He may have shed tears of sympathy at seeing the grief of His friends, I suggest to you His grief went deeper. I think He wept because of death in general. I think He wept because He knew the scene before Him would play out millions upon millions of times throughout history—just as has recently for my family—and this was not the plan. Death was never supposed to be a part of creation. Paul tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” God’s intent was for man to exist in perfect, eternal fellowship with Him. But the first man and woman rebelled—as we all do—and one of the results of that breaking of fellowship—of sin—is death.
Jesus knew that—it was, after all, the reason He came to earth. He knew the agony of parents forced to bury a child. He knew the empty heartache of a spouse losing a lifelong partner. He knew vacancy left behind by the death of a parent. He knew the pain and suffering that accompany death. And in that moment, standing outside the tomb, I think He wept for all of humanity, for its numbing grief and paralyzing pain, for the consequences of sin and of living in a fallen world. The author of Hebrews tells us, “he too shared in their humanity” and “he had to be made like them, fully human in every way.” Having entered His creation, I believe He joined us in “[groaning] inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies.”
But weeping is not the end of the story. As mentioned, Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. Lazarus is recorded in the next chapter eating with Jesus and visiting with people as if he had never died. And Jesus’ choice of language is telling. Speaking to His disciples, He didn’t say that Lazarus was dead, but used the metaphor, “Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Paul also used this sleeping imagery to refer to death:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Indeed, before visiting the grave, Jesus spoke to Martha. He told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” The death described in the Bible as “the wages of sin” is not just a physical death, although as seen above, that is clearly part of it. Rather, it is an eternal separation from God. Given the gravity of death, it is all the more reason why Jesus would be “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” It is also why Jesus “[gave] himself as a ransom for many,” that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Death is hideous. I hate it. I hate every aspect of it. I hate it even more given the fact that eternity is at stake. I believe Jesus hated it too. And yet, as Lazarus was a type of “sleeping” and “waking,” we have hope beyond this life. For those who have faith in Christ, death is still heinous, horrible, and repulsive. It is painful, stressful, chaotic—a nightmare. But it is only a veil. I again quote the Apostle Paul:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
It was also Paul who wrote “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” What’s more, he quoted these words from Hosea: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Paul was able to taunt death. He looked the black ghoul in the face with confidence. Why? “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus wept over the pain of death. But He also walked to the cross and stomped on death’s repugnant face. He took the horror and ugliness of that crude implement of death and “made a public spectacle” of it. Then, he once and for all defeated death by rising from the grave, as pointed to in the “type” of Lazarus, which is what enabled Him to tell Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
You’re going to die.
I’m going to die.
It’s going to happen.
But the one who believes in Jesus will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Him will never die.
Do you believe this?
 Switchfoot. “Where I Belong.” Vice Verses, Atlantic Records, 2011.
 John 11:3
 John 11:39
 John 11:43
 John 11:4
 John 11:11
 John 11:12
 Romans 5:12; see also Genesis 3:14-19
 See Romans 3:23, 6:23
 Hebrews 2:14, 17
 Romans 8:23
 I Thessalonians 4:13-18
 John 11:25-26
 See Revelation 20:12-15; II Thessalonians 1:8-9; II Peter 2:9
 John 11:33
 Matthew 20:28
 John 3:16
 I Corinthians 15:51-54
 Philippians 1:21, emphasis added
 I Corinthians 15:55, quoting Hosea 13:14
 I Corinthians 15:57
 See Colossians 2:13-15