John 11 contains an important story that displays not only the power and amazing, miraculous ability of Jesus, but also insight into the very heart of the God we meet fully in Jesus. As the chapter opens, we are introduced to Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. This family has close connection to Jesus, as Lazarus is described as the one whom Jesus loves in verse 3. They have history, relationship. The sisters expect Jesus to respond to their summons to come and be with them–even to heal Lazarus.
Yet, this is not what Jesus does. At least not right away. Take a moment and read John 11:1-45 here.
There are a number of important themes worthy of discussion in this passage. Very prominent is the theme of life and death (an ongoing theme throughout the Gospel of John). Jesus declares that he is the resurrection and the life in verse 25–one of the I Am statements found throughout this text.
Another theme is that of belief in Jesus. Jesus tells the disciples that he will go to Lazarus for their sakes so that they may believe in verse 15, and the story closes with many believing in him because of what he had done.
However, there is another theme that captures my attention here. And it is found in one of the most well-known trivia questions about the Bible: in John 11:35. Jesus weeps. He mourns the loss of Lazarus. Even though he has already indicated to the disciples, to Martha, and to Mary that Lazarus will rise again. Jesus still is overcome by his loss of a dearly loved friend. Jesus weeps.
And this is not the only place we see Jesus, or even God’s very self grieving. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus will mourn the coming of the cross and what death and separation from God will cost. And if we travel back all the way to the opening chapters of the Bible in Genesis, as we read the flood story, God is grieved that evil has entered into the world and completely overrun God’s good creation.
These examples give us a clue and insight into the nature of this God. They help us to learn something of great significance. This is a God who mourns.
The significance of this should not be missed. In a world–both then and now–where a prevailing idea about God is God’s detachment, these stories fly in the face of such a narrative. God is not the gods of the Greek or Roman pantheon who simply sits detached on a mountain, separated and apart from the world and those in it. God is not ambivalent or Stoic to the world. God is not the clockmaker of Deism. God is not the absent parent who has abandoned creation to itself.
No, these stories, and especially this story of Lazarus tell us that the God who we meet in the person of Jesus is immanent, near, and this God, too, mourns. This is a God who is deeply concerned and involved in creation. That has always been the case. The witness of Scripture shows this to be consistent throughout history. Even in the times when God, in judgment, removes God’s presence from the people of Israel, God does not abandon the people. God hears their cries and returns to the people whom he has created, loved, called, and covenanted to.
Again, this is highly significant. For God mourns with us. God mourns the pain that is present in the world. God mourns the evil in the world. God mourns that death takes place. This is not how God would have it. God mourns alongside us as we mourn. In the moments when we experience acute pain and loss, God is there with us, joining us in our sorrow and grief.
God is not detached nor ambivalent. God is present. Immanent. With us. (Don’t forget that when Jesus’ birth is announced, he is announced as Emmanuel–God with us. This is true not only in our triumph and joy, but in our pain and hurt too.)
As Jesus continues to interact with people throughout this Gospel, we learn in this story and chapter that this God is here with us. In all circumstances of life. And we are reminded too that this is the God of resurrection and new life too.
Lazarus is raised to new life. The pain and sorrows we feel are real and true. Jesus joins us in the midst of them. But the story of Jesus also points us to the new life that God is bringing into the world and into our lives. This is the message of the cross and the Gospel. God does not let pain, evil, or death have the final word. For there is new life to be had. There is resurrection power in Jesus.
This week, I hope that you are reminded that in the difficult moments of life, God is present with you. God mourns with you. You are not alone, nor are you abandoned. And I hope that you will set your eyes on the resurrection. May it bring hope for us all.