The Tears of Jesus
Jesus wept — Joh_11:35
He beheld the city, and wept over it — Luk_19:41
Only Two Occasions of Jesus Weeping Are Recorded
There are but two occasions in the Gospels on which we light upon our Savior weeping; only two instances in which we see His tears. It is true that in the Epistle to the Hebrews we have a glimpse into the inner life of Christ, and there we read that He made supplication with tears and strong crying unto God. But into that interior life of prayer when Father and Son had fellowship together, we cannot enter, for it is holy ground. The point to observe is that in His recorded life we only hear of the tears of Jesus twice; once at the grave of a man who was His friend: once when Jerusalem lay spread out before Him. And both, not in the earlier days of youth when the human heart is susceptible and quivering, but in the later season when the cross was near. Goethe confesses in his autobiography that as he grew older he lost the power of tears, and there are many men who, as experience gathers, are conscious of a hardening like that. But our Savior, to the last moment that He lived, was quick and quivering to joy and sorrow, and His recorded tears are near the end. Never was He so conscious of His joy as in the closing season of His ministry; never did He speak so much about it nor so single it out as His most precious legacy. And so with weeping, which in the human heart is so often the other side of joy—it is under the shadow of His last days that it is recorded.
Both Weepings Prompted Not by Suffering,but by Divine Compassion
I am going to speak on the differences between these two Weepings; but first I ask you to observe one feature in which the two are beautifully kin. There are tears in the world, bitter and scalding tears, which are wrung out by personal affliction; tears of anguish, of intense corporeal anguish; tears caused by cruelty or mockery. And the point to be ever observed is that our Lord, though He suffered intensely in all such ways as that, never, so far as we read, was moved to tears. He was laughed to scorn—He of the sensitive heart—yet it is not then we read that Jesus wept. He was spat upon and scourged and crucified; but it is not then we light upon Him weeping. And even in the garden of Gethsemane where great drops were falling to the ground, drops which would have looked like tears to any prying child among the olives, Scripture tells us, as with a note of warning lest we should misinterpret what was happening there, that they were not tears, but drops of sweat and blood. The tears of our Lord were not wrung out by suffering, however intense and cruel it might be. On the only two occasions when we read of them they are the tears of a divine compassion. And whenever one thinks of that, one is impressed again with the wonder of the figure of the Christ, so infinitely pitiful and tenderhearted; so unswervingly and magnificently brave.
The First Tears Were Shed for the Individual, the Second for Many
Now if we take these two occasions on which the weeping of Jesus is recorded, and if, having found their common element, we go on to note the points on which they differ, what is the difference that first would arrest you? Well, I shall tell you what first impresses me. It is that the former tears were shed for one, and the latter tears were shed for many. Jesus wept beside the grave of Lazarus, for one single solitary friend; for a man who had loved Him with a great devotion and given Him always a welcome in his home. There is no such human touch in all the Gospels, nothing that so betrays the heart of Christ, as to be simply told that Jesus wept when He went out to stand before the grave of Lazarus. Here is a heart that has known the power of friendship, that has known the infinite solace of the one; a heart more deeply moved when that one dies than by all the cruelties which men can hurl at Him. And then, having learned of His infinite compassion for those who have had one heart to love and lose, we read that Jesus wept over the city. Picture Jerusalem on that Sunday morning, densely crowded for the Passover. Every house was full and every street was thronged; there were tens of thousands gathered there. And when our Lord, turning the crest of Olivet, saw before Him that crowded city, then like a summer tempest came His tears. Tears for the one; tears for the twice ten thousand: how typical is that of the Redeemer! Never was there a compassion so discriminative, and never a compassion so inclusive. Our separate sorrows—He understands them all, and our hours of solitary anguish by the grave; but not less the problem of the crowd. There are men who are full of sympathy for personal sorrows, but have never heard the crying of the multitude. There are men who hear the crying of the multitude, but have never been broken-hearted at the tomb. Christ has room for all and room for each. He loves the world with a divine compassion. And yet there is no one here who cannot say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
Tears Shed for Death and for Life
The next difference which impresses me is this—and it is a suggestive and profound distinction—it is that the former tears were shed for death, and the latter tears were shed for life. There was something in the death of Lazarus which made a profound impression upon Christ. He was troubled; He groaned in spirit; He wept. Often He had been face to face with death before, with death in some of its most tragic aspects. He had looked on the still, cold face of Jairus’ daughter, and had seen the anguish of the widow of Nain. Yet it is only now, upon the road at Bethany, that we see the storm and passion of His soul when faced by the awful ravages of death. Nobody ever fathoms all that death means until its hand has knocked upon his door. It is when someone whom we have loved is taken that we understand its meaning and its misery. And Christ, being tempted like as we are, felt the anguish of it in His soul with intensity. Death had come home to Him—attacked Him at close quarters—carried one of the bastions of His being. How utterly cruel was the last great enemy. The Lord groaned in spirit and was troubled: a storm of passion swept across His soul. He wept for all that death had done and all that death was doing in the world. And so these tears of His are sacramental of all the sorrow of the aching heart when the place is empty, and the grave is tenanted, and the familiar voice is silent.
Now with that dark and dreary scene will you for a moment contrast the other scene? It is a city shimmering in beauty under the radiance of a Sunday morning. Children are playing in the marketplace; women are singing as they rock the cradle; men are at business and regiments are marching—there is movement and there is music everywhere. Friends are meeting who have not met for years for Passover was the great season of reunion, and eyes are bright and hearts are beating bravely in the gladness of these old ties reknit. Out on the Bethany road there had been death; here in the teeming city there was life; life in the crowd—life in the marching soldiery—life in the little children romping merrily; life everywhere, in the indistinguishable murmur which rises where there are ten thousand people who have waked in the sunshine of another morning to the traffic and the concourse of the day. It was all that which swept into the gaze of Christ, and it was that which swept into the heart of Christ that Sunday morning when from the brow of Olivet He looked across the valley to Jerusalem. As a lad of twelve He had looked, and looking wondered, with all the thrilling expectancy of boyhood. Now we read that He looked, and looking, wept. They were not tears for death, but tears for life; tears of divine compassion for the living; tears for the might-have-been—the vanity—the awful judgment that was yet to be; tears for the living who have gone astray and who are hungering for peace and have missed it and who have had their opportunity and failed. There is a sorrow for the dead which may be intense and very tragical. It may wither every flower across the meadow and take all the summer sunshine from the sky. But there is a sorrow deeper than sorrow for the dead—it is the sorrow for the living; and it is much to know that Jesus understood it. The bitterest sorrow has no grave to stand at, no sepulchre to adorn with opening flowers; the bitterest sorrow wears no garb of mourning, and receives no beautiful letters by the post. The bitterest sorrow does not spring from death; it springs from that mystery which we call life; and Jesus felt it to His depths. Thou who art mourning for the dead, for thee there is Jesus by the grave of Lazarus. Thou who art mourning for the living, for thee also is that same compassion. He understands it all. He shares it. Like a great tide it flowed upon Him once, when in the morning from the brow of Olivet, He looked upon Jerusalem and wept.
Tears Others Shared in and Tears None Could Understand
I close by pointing out one other difference that stands out very clearly in the Scripture. The former tears were such as others shared in; the latter were tears that no one understood. Read that chapter in the Gospel of John again, and you find that Christ was not alone in weeping. Martha and Mary were there, and they were weeping also, and the Jews who had known Lazarus and loved him. There was a kinship in a common sorrow there, a fellow feeling which united hearts, a sense of common loss and ache and loneliness. Now turn to the other scene, and what a difference! It is a pageantry of enthusiastic gladness. The cry goes ringing along the country road, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” And it is amid these shouting voices of men beside themselves with wild enthusiasm that the Scripture tells us Jesus wept. At the grave of Lazarus many an eye was wet. Here every eye was dancing with excitement. No one was weeping here; nobody thought of weeping; it was the triumph of the Lord—Hosanna! And all alone, amid that welcoming tumult, in a grief which nobody could pierce or penetrate, the tears came welling from our Savior’s eyes. In this our mortal life there are common griefs, touches of nature which make the whole world kin. But how endlessly true is the old saying of Scripture that the heart knoweth its own bitterness. And in those bitternesses which words can never utter and which lie too deep for any human help, what a comfort to know that our Savior understands! In all the common sorrows of humanity He is our Brother, and He weeps with us. He stands beside the grave of Lazarus still, clothed in the beauty of His resurrection. But in that lonely unutterable sorrow, which is the price and the penalty of personality, we may be sure He understands us also.