He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
John 11:34 NRSV
John's gospel is different from the other three we have in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are called the Synoptic Gospels--from the Greek "see together" or "look alike"--all follow the same plot structure and often have the same words, but John's gospel looks very different from them. Only in John do we find the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. This story is the culmination of the miracles of Jesus in John; miracles which are called signs. The signs reveal Jesus' identity, and this final sign, the raising of Lazarus, demonstrates God's power over death through him.
Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, John contains no scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although Jesus does enter a garden in chapter 18 where he is arrested, he does not pray in agony over his soon to come torture and death. In chapter 11, Jesus does weep, however, just before he raises Lazarus from the dead. In verse 33, Jesus is "greatly disturbed" because of the grief of those gathered to mourn Lazarus, and then in verse 35 are the famous words: "Jesus wept." Those around him assume Jesus is weeping for his dead friend--so do most commentators, but is Jesus only weeping for Lazarus? After all, according to John, Jesus knew even before Lazarus died that he would come and raise Lazarus from death. Why is Jesus crying when he knows everything will be okay?
Bible scholar and master preacher Fred Craddock writes that this is the Gospel of John's Gethsemane story. Unlike the other gospels, Jesus does not weep on his last night but rather weeps before he does something that will set his death in motion. Once Jesus raises Lazarus from death, he effectively signs his own death warrant. The religious powers that be understand that Jesus is a threat they must eliminate. Only a few verses later they have made the decision to have him killed.
Jesus is weeping, because his own faith will be put to the test. Once he performs this last miracle there is no turning back for him. In verse 34, just before Jesus weeps, he asks those gathered where Lazarus has been laid? They respond, "Lord, come and see." The words "come and see" in John have special meaning. One of Jesus' first disciples, Philip, urges his brother Nathaniel, "come and see" the Messiah. The Samaritan woman urges her fellow townspeople to "come and see" the Messiah. Now, ironically, it is Jesus who must "come and see" what kind of Messiah he really is. Soon he will be inhabiting a tomb, just like Lazarus. Soon he will see what it is to be in need of being raised from the dead.
If Jesus is divine, what might it mean to think that God might know fear of death? What might it mean to think of God weeping over the power death holds over those whom God loves? What might it mean that God knows what it is to fear death not only intellectually but also experientially? These are the questions about God that John's Gospel asks. Often John is understood as portraying a divine-looking Jesus who is in control the whole time, but if Jesus is weeping for himself as well as for his dead friend, in this moment at least, Jesus is not in control.
Is it more comforting to you or less to consider a God who knows firsthand what it is to fear death?
I take great comfort in a God who identifies so closely with what we humans must endure. Whatever you believe about Jesus' divinity or lack thereof, each of us must at some point "come and see" if what we have faith in will hold up in light of our mortality.
The wonder of Easter resurrection can only be understood after moments of pain and doubt when our faith is tested. The joy of resurrection is the relief that comes from knowing our trust in God is not in vain.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
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