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. (John 11:33-35)
God is not put off by your grief. The shortest verse in the Bible is proof. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). If it was alright for the Son of God to weep over the death of his friend, Lazarus, surely it’s alright for you to cry too.
But what we typically miss here is that Jesus’ grief was mixed with anger. He was “greatly troubled.” This is important to understand, since it reminds us that death is unnatural. It disturbs us, and it should. But, as Christians, it should also deepen our appreciation of the victory Jesus secured on our behalf through his own death, burial, and resurrection.
In his classic essay The Emotional Life of Our Lord, B.B. Warfield, renowned theologian at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921, provides explanation. When Jesus observed Mary weeping (wailing) he groaned in his spirit and groaned in himself. Warfield writes, the “natural suggestion of the word ‘groan’ is…pain or sorrow, not [disapproval]; and this rendering…is misleading….What John tells us, in point of fact, is that Jesus approached the grave of Lazarus, in a state, not of uncontrollable grief, but of irrepressible anger. He did respond…with quiet, sympathetic tears: ‘Jesus wept’ (verse 36). But the emotion which tore his breast and clamored for utterance was just rage.” This was not “just rage,” meaning only rage. It was “just rage,” meaning his anger was intense and just. “Jesus raged within himself.” This “inwardly restrained fury produced a profound agitation of his whole being, one of the manifestations of which was tears.”
But what, and who, was this controlled anger directed at? Death and the devil. “Why did the sight of the wailing of Mary and her companions enrage Jesus?” Warfield asks, and then answers his own question: “The spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness…and “burns with rage against the oppressor of men….It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death and whom he has come into the world to destroy….What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation.”
The Bible assures us that when the appointed time came, God sent forth His Son, Jesus, the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (Galatians 4:4; Genesis 3:15) He did this on the cross, while the unrestrained fury of God was unleashed upon sin, the first cause of death, and the devil. Jesus died in your place so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12) and who, three days after being slain, arose victorious to defeat the devil, and purchase redemption for sinners!
Be careful. Jesus was angry at death, but he never sinned. Sadly, because of your sin nature, it will be infinitely more difficult for you to mix anger with your grief, and yet not sin.
So guard your heart.
[An edited version of this is now included in my 50-day devotional on loss, grief, and healing.]