When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:28-36)
John 11:28-36 parallels many of the same elements previously seen in vs. 17-27. However, in this new unfolding scene, the principle characters John highlights are not Jesus and Martha but rather Jesus and Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ sister.
The unfolding scene begins with Martha going to Mary, who has remained thus far in the family’s home, and telling her that Jesus is calling for her. In other words, He wants to speak with her. Mary immediately responds and goes to Jesus. John informs us that Jesus has yet to enter the village of Bethany but is somewhere near.
John adds that the Jews who were in the house consoling Mary followed her. They presumed she was going to Lazarus’ tomb and arriving there would continue her weeping. Dr. John MacArthur states that, “According to Jewish oral tradition, the funeral custom indicated that even a poor family must hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman to mourn the dead. Because the family may have been well-to-do, a rather large group appears present.”
Like Martha before her, when Mary meets with Jesus she said, ““Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It does not appear that Mary spoke these words with bitterness. On the contrary, her words expressed Mary’s confidence in Jesus’ power and an exclamation that she believed He could have solved the problem of Lazarus’ ill health had He come earlier. As one commentator explains, “Since she does not ask Jesus to heal Lazarus now, it may be that she does not yet know His power extends over life and death itself. Soon, however, she will see that death is no impediment to the Son of God.”
John then relates Jesus’ response to not only Mary but also the Jews who followed her. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” There is some dispute as to exactly what Jesus was feeling at this moment. Some believe that when Jesus was “deeply moved” or “groaned” He was checking His emotions and striving to keep His tears from flowing. However, the phrase “deeply moved” (ἐμβριμάομαι; embrimaomai) means to have an intense and strong feeling of indignation.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The phrase here does not mean merely that Jesus was deeply touched or moved with sympathy at the sight. The Greek term “deeply moved” always suggests anger, outrage, or emotional indignation (see v. 38; cf. Matt. 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5). Most likely Jesus was angered at the emotional grief of the people because it implicitly revealed unbelief in the resurrection and the temporary nature of death. The group was acting like pagans who had no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). While grief is understandable, the group was acting in despair, thus indicating a tacit denial of the resurrection and the Scripture that promised it. Jesus may also have been angered because he was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition.”
The Apostle John then records the following: “And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” Jesus’ weeping was caused by His sorrow and grief. His tears were less about Lazarus being dead because Jesus already knew that He would resurrect His friend. Rather, Jesus’ tears were really about His grief for the fallen world entangled in sin-caused sorrow and death. Jesus’ behavior embodied Isaiah’s statement that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that “These emotions reveal our Lord’s humanity. When the Son of God took on a human nature in the incarnation, He took on everything that makes us essentially human, including our emotions. He became acquainted with grief, having entered our world and our suffering.”
John Calvin comments, “The Son of God, having clothed himself with our flesh, of his own accord clothed himself also with human feelings, so that he did not differ at all from his brethren, sin only excepted.”
While it is certainly appropriate to grieve when a loved one dies (I Thessalonians 4:13), believers are not to grieve or mourn as those who have no hope beyond the grave. Our mourning over the death of a loved one should never turn into despair.
Soli deo Gloria!