Two words only, a subject and a verb (John 11:35). We like to think of Jesus as our tower of strength. He is our Rock, a strong arm to lift us and carry us in our weakest moments. The shortest verse in the King James Version doesn’t seem to portray a God of strength. In a man’s world where strength and toughness is most important, even if it is occasionally only an illusion, the idea of the greatest man the world has ever known weeping at the tomb of a friend brings great discomfort.
We (men) are so often obsessed in our attempt to portray toughness that we fail to allow our friends and family see the compassionate side of our nature. Don’t deny it, we all have a compassionate side because we have all been created in the image of a compassionate God. Here, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus is openly and unabashedly expressing his deepest compassion for Lazarus and his friends.
It is a deception we often embrace that tears indicate a lesser man. My father served as a sergeant in the army. He was deployed to the European sector during WWII. As a medic in a hospital in France he heard men wail as they attempted to endure the unimaginable pain of their wounds. He saw men beg to see their wives and children one last time. He saw men look in horror at missing legs and arms. He witnessed many men breath in their last breath and pass away having made the ultimate sacrifice for their families and their country. It wasn’t a place for the weak kneed or the feeble hearted.
I have known few men who were tougher than my father. As a child he suffered abuse from an alcoholic father, he lost his mother when he was only 17 years of age, he was often fed by the neighbors and he and his brothers occasionally took on all comers in ally fights after school. He lived with relatives until he was old enough to join the army. His first wife abandoned him while he was serving his country overseas. On a surprise visit home he found his two-year old son alone while his mother had gone out. These difficulties in my father’s life created a man who had survived many wounds in his heart. I never knew a man any stronger than my father.
My father wept. He was a hard man whose heart was full of compassion for others. I accompanied him many mornings when we drove along dangerous and icy roads in northern Pennsylvania to bring children who lived in ‘shanty town’ to church. My father wept when he saw children kneel at an altar and confess sins to Christ. The family would occasionally watch a television movie together and when the plot turned sad my father was always the first in the room to feel the warmth of wet tears form rivulets on his cheeks. My father had the unique ability to walk into a room, weep tears of compassion and leave without a single person having the slightest question about his masculinity.
Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. No man need question the masculinity of Christ. He contradicted the fallacy of our modern culture that promotes the idea that a compassionate heart is less manly. Only a man of immense strength and grace could have endured such suffering as Christ endured on the brutal cross that pierced Golgotha. I envision Christ one day splitting the eastern sky riding upon a powerful, white stallion submissive to its rider. The One who wept at Lazarus’ funeral will come with sword in hand. He will come as the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. He will do what Adolf and Alexander and Attila only dreamed of doing. He will conquer the world and his rule will be eternal and uncontested.
This conquering Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. He wept because he felt compassion for those whose hearts were broken. He wept because he understood the effects and consequences of sin. He felt in one moment of time all the pain and heartache and sorrow death would bring to mankind. He saw the orphan child looking into the casket of his mother one last time. He saw the war widow weeping on the grave stone of her newlywed husband. He saw the aged widow quietly say goodbye to her lifelong companion to whom she had been married for 68 years. He saw the broken heart of a young mother as she held her still- born child.
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus because he was standing at the casket, the graveside, the tombs of millions more who would suffer the pain of death. Jesus wept because he wanted to teach the men of the world that masculinity is never threatened by compassion. He was teaching us that a man never reaches his full masculinity unless he learns to love, not simply with a few sentimental words but with the fullness of all his heart. When a man loves with such fullness it is not uncommon for him to weep.