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What The Bible's Shortest Verse Can Teach Us About Grief

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The Bible is full of comfort for the hurt and grieving, and it speaks to our grief in a hundred different ways. For some, their comfort is in the nature of God as a loving father. For others, comfort is found in a familiar passage like Psalm 23, a chapter on the Lord as a shepherd tenderly caring for and protecting his sheep. For their comfort, some lean on a sturdy confidence in God’s providence, while others in God’s promises such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who Love God and are called according to his purpose.

While there is certainly much comfort found in all those places and more, when it comes to offering hope to the hurting, there are two powerful words in the Bible that are often overlooked. Tucked away in the miraculous story of Lazarus’s resurrection, John 11:35—the Bible’s shortest verse, but perhaps one of the longest on implication—stands ready to flood our souls with truth about the Lord’s sympathy and compassion: “Jesus wept.”

Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters, Mary and Martha, both greeted Jesus with the same mixture of emotions, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed Jesus could have healed him, but they despaired that he was too late. Many of the Jews had come to console them, and they mourned with Mary and Martha. And as Jesus looked on their sadness, as he watched them grieve the most intense loss we feel in this life—the death of a loved one—he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” As they went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept. (John 11:17-35)

Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

The son of God. The second person of the Trinity. “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). This Jesus, who knew how it all would turn out, still wept with his friends. Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. He knew that sheer joy and celebration were just around the corner. In fact, he stayed away an extra two days when he heard Lazarus was ill, so that the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the onlooking Jews would see the glory of God and believe (John 11:5-6, 14-15, 40). Jesus loved this family and knew that witnessing Lazarus’s resurrection would deepen their faith more than seeing him healed. Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

It’s an incredible comfort to know Jesus sympathizes with our pain, that he’s compassionate and meets us in our grief. It’s no small thing to read that Jesus wept with these people he loved. He knows death is not eternal. He knows resurrection is coming. He knows life and glory are just around the corner, but in the moment, suffering and death and tremendous grief were real — and Jesus mourned their effect. 

In Jesus’ tears we see how he loved Lazarus (John 11:36). His example teaches us there’s a way to mourn while staying confident in God. In Jesus we see what it looks like to not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And as Jesus mourns the sadness of death before he resurrects Lazarus, so we mourn the reality of suffering and death before the final Resurrection, when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard it said that intense grief indicates a lack of faith? How does Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’s death indicate otherwise?

Jesus didn't go to Lazarus immediately when he heard he was sick, which led to Mary and Martha’s suffering when he died. What comfort can be gained by observing Jesus’ reason for this (that they would see the glory of God and believe)?

When you’ve experienced grief (maybe that’s right now), what comforts you? Is there any hope in knowing Jesus sympathizes, cares, and mourns with you even though he knows how he’ll use this to deepen your faith?

For further reflection, read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.