Sermon: Our God Cries: Where is Jesus When it Hurts?
Scripture: John 11:27-37
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: Virtual First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: March 29, 2020
Today we have a story about four friends separated from one another by distance. Sisters Martha and Mary, along with their brother Lazarus, live in a village just a few miles from Jerusalem. Jesus was recently there for the Feast of the Dedication but had to make a hasty retreat because the religious officials got upset with him and tried to stone him. Jesus has taken the long, hot road down to the Jordan river and went to gather his thoughts at the place his cousin John baptized people before John was beheaded. In the time between his leaving Jerusalem and getting down to the river, a reasonable two day’s walk, his dear friend, Lazarus had become deathly ill. The sisters sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was dying but explained that if Jesus acted quickly, he might get back to Bethany in time to cure him.
Jesus self-distanced himself thinking about it.
He waited two extra days before he and the other disciples climbed the long mountain road back to Bethany. By the time he got to his friends’ home two days later, Lazarus was already dead and buried for four days. We are picking up in the Story as Jesus is walking into Bethany and is met by Martha, Lazarus’ sister. The first thing she says to Jesus in verse 21 is, “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” In response to her indictment, Jesus levels with her: Do you really believe in the resurrection and the life? Hear the Word of the Lord!
 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.  Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.  When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep.  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 
Jesus is met by Martha, then Mary, and then all the others in the village who were sitting Shiva with family. Sitting Shiva is the Jewish practice of surrounding a family with your physical presence for up to seven days helping them grieve. You speak of the deceased person; you cry and wail for the loss of the one who died on behalf of their family because they may not have any more tears to shed. Death is a social event for our Jewish neighbors just as it was for Jesus in the first century.
So, picture in your mind this very emotional reunion of Jesus with his dear friends; he is surrounded by them as these crying, wailing neighbors keep huddled around the women as they go. This time it’s Mary who falls at Jesus’ feet and reminds him yet again that if he had come sooner, her brother would not have died. It’s at this point, Jesus himself becomes overwhelmed in his own grief and looses it giving us what has been called the shortest verse in the Bible in John 11:35: Jesus wept. His best friend is dead. He looks at the two sisters who now have no one to care for them and he just loses it. The weight of grief is too much.
Reading the text confronts us with Martha and Mary’s gentle dig at Jesus: Why didn’t you come sooner? Jesus, you could’ve prevented all this pain and sadness! We hear the crowds mutter, “He could open the eyes of the blind but he could not save his friend? Why, Jesus, why?”
If we are all honest, we have asked that question, too. Events have occurred in our lives that we pause and look to heaven and ask God, “Why?” Why did Jesus wait until is his friend was not only dead and buried but wait so long, as we read further along in our story, until the dead body would’ve been at the point of smelling of decay? Why?
Here’s my shot of an answer: In John’s gospel, Jesus was aware of his identity as being the very presence of the Almighty in the world. His claim as the Great I AM earlier in John’s narrative affirms that. You see, it’s my contention that Jesus knew that if he was the Resurrection and the Life, the God-among-us in the fleshiness of our humanity, he was going to need to fully relate to our human experience in every possible way. Jesus needed to experience the grief all humanity feels when someone we love dies. Jesus spent his life loving and healing all types of people. These “other people” matter to him, matter to God, because they are created by the Almighty and deserve His love. It’s easy to love “those other people”, those strangers that desperately come up to him and cling to him, begging for mercy and grace in a world that is full of selfishness and pain. But Lazarus was different. Lazarus was not like “those other people” we read about in scripture.
Lazarus was Jesus’ dear friend. He was a soul brother. The love expressed in the healings of the others in the gospel Stories are Jesus’ expression of agape love – the sacrificial, intentional, and graceful love to those who do not deserve it. Jesus’ love for Lazarus was different than that. Verse 36 has the crowds say, “Look how he (Jesus) loved him.” The word John uses for love is filial love not agape love. It’s the type of love used to describe brotherly love, affection and emotional connection. It is love that describes a personal intimacy within the relationship between people.
Lazarus was not just somebody; Lazarus was a soul brother that Jesus shared an emotional bond. They were tight. Lazarus wasn’t a part of the masses; he was a special friend akin to family to Jesus. It was at Lazarus’ house he could be authentically Jesus, authentically himself and let his guard down. So why let Lazarus die? Why not save his best friend?
Passion. You see, to fully relate to all men and women in our common humanity, Jesus not only had to suffer the death all people face; Jesus had to feel the deep pain and pathos of anguish from the loss of someone close to him. He had to experience the searing loss of death of an intimate person in his life, not from a divine point of view as the Christ of God but as Jesus, the man of God living as a human being. God Almighty, Creator of All, would feel the pain of loss for his Son on Good Friday just as Jesus experienced the loss of his beloved friend. It’s only in this way that the Glorious Triune God fully enters into and experience of human death in both its finality and in its overwhelming sense of loss and sadness.
So, Jesus wept. Jesus the man felt the total weight of emotional loss of an intimate friend. Not only would he taste death on Good Friday like every human will encounter death, but in our Lazarus story, Jesus weeps because he feels the human sense of loss and sadness we experience. Jesus, the man of God, feels the sting of death as a human. God the Father feels the sting of death at the loss of his only Son on Good Friday. The whole Godhead, the Trinity, experiences what we humans are experience!
Where is Jesus when in hurts, when life goes amuck and awry? He’s in the midst of it all. It means that as we read the Sentinel, the Times and the Journal, we know God completely relates and empathizes with us as the headlines report the impact of this pandemic we are in at the moment. God is weeping with you in the fears that silently vibrate through your life and in our country right now.
Lent is a time to remind ourselves that our Christian faith is the only faith in the world that draws strength from the fact that God knows how to cry out of pain for and with those he loves. Our God cries for and with us! Christians have the beautiful confidence, power and strength that our God cries. Jesus wept. His tears are a warm rain that overs us when all around us seems so swirly and scary. You, me…we are not alone, beloved. Our God cries out for us! Amen.
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.