SOMETIMES I NEED TO CRY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 4, 2020
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 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. 32 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.” 33 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. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
— John 11:17-37, ESV
In this part of the Lazarus story we come to terms with our tears. We don’t talk about them often, as sadness and its subsequent shedding of tears is a difficult subject to address. We’d rather avoid it altogether, having inherited a stiff upper lip from our British ancestors and adopted the American adage that big boys, and in this egalitarian age big girls, don’t cry.
Music helps and hurts. Roy Orbison made a big hit out of “Crying” in 1961. Much later, lesser know recording artists Homer and Jethro made a mockery of tears with their infamous “I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back Crying Over You.”
So should we hold our tears back, let them flow, or laugh them away? Why don’t we let Holy Scripture decide for us?
Sometimes I Need to Cry
I’d already been a parent for fifteen years when my fourth daughter came along. I didn’t know I was doing it all wrong. When Christie, Ashley, or Emily got hurt and cried, my response was typical. “There, there, don’t cry,” I would say. That didn’t work on Courtney Grace. She began speaking her mind as soon as she learned to talk. If you tried to comfort her by telling her not to cry, she’d stomp her feet and look you in the eye and say, “Sometimes I need to cry!’
She was right. I think Lazarus’ sisters and the Lord Jesus Christ would agree. Just look at all the tears in this text. Martha’s words can only be interpreted through tears. Mary, the more emotional of the two sisters, went to Lazarus’ tomb “to weep there” (vs. 31) and “Jesus saw her weeping” (vs. 33). “The Jews who had come with her also [were] weeping” (vs. 33), a rare sympathetic thing for the Jewish John to write about “the Jews,” opposers to Christ during His ministry and a diaspora people by the time the Gospel was written.
And finally, in the shortest verse in Scripture, one memorized by all former students of the late, great Dr. Gray Allison who required a hundred memorized verses written verbatim on his mid-term and final exams, “Jesus wept” (vs. 35). The word translated wept is unique, used only here in the New Testament, and means that Jesus cried, and cried, and cried. Weddings and funerals lasted for days, not minutes, in the old world, and this funeral for Lazarus was soaked in tears from beginning to abrupt end. Sometimes, even God needs to cry.
There Are Good Reasons to Cry
Sometimes we need to cry because sometimes there are good reasons to cry. A loved one’s death is at the top of the list. Lazarus, the godly helper, must have been greatly beloved by all. His sisters, his Bethany neighbors, even the Lord Jesus Christ wept profusely at his funeral. Death is not final for Christ followers, but death is still a proper, legitimate, and biblical reason to cry.
The is a good reason why we cry at deaths, even though death is not the end for a Christian. The separation caused by death, albeit temporary, is very real and painful. People cried over Lazarus, not knowing at the time he would be raised again on the fourth day. Devout Jews cried over Lazarus, even though they affirmed the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine championed by the usually annoying Pharisees. We cry when we lose someone we love, because of the unspecified lost time we will experience without them. We miss their smile, fellowship, giftedness, good works, and more. These are good reasons to cry.
Death and lost time hurt. The pain is real, and pain is the thing that produces the tears. Physical pain can make you cry. Emotional pain can make you cry. Spiritual pain, knowing that all suffering and death is ultimately caused by our collective sin against God, can make you cry.
And here is what the pain, the loss, and the tears are all about. Life and death are about relationship, covenant, community. God did not create us to be alone. He created us for a covenant with Him, relationships with one another, and fellowship together on earth, as it is in Heaven. And when that relationship is broken, even temporarily for true believers, it is a sharp pain, it is great loss, and it is crying time, for good reasons.
Consider the odd truth that the Bible says plainly in the Old and New Testaments that God hated a man named Esau. Do you know why? Esau thought little of, actually despised, you could even say hated, the covenant relationship between a son and his earthly and heavenly fathers. God hates that which, and those who, destroy godly covenants and important relationships. That’s why God is on record for hating divorce, because it is the destruction of a covenant and the collateral damage of broken relationships ripple abroad. Death can break covenants and relationships, too, which is one of the many good reasons God wept at the death of Lazarus.
So while there are good reasons to cry, and to observe why even God cried in this episode, there is also a reminder while we are living to cherish our God-ordained relationships, for this is what we are made for. Hold on to the Lord, your church family, your family and friends. Be true to covenant and relationship, so much so that it will hurt deeply if they are broken, even temporarily, by death. And know that when death happens, God is there.
God’s Responds When We Cry
We need to cry because there are good reasons to cry, especially when a relationship is broken into by the uninvited guest of death. But through eyes of tears there is wonderful news to read in this story. When we cry the most, when we hurt the deepest, God is always there to help, comfort, and guide us.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His presence. He did not send flowers or a card, as appropriate as that might be in certain circumstances. He did not video chat, since Covid-19 was not the culprit that took Lazarus. He showed up, in person, as befits the close, covenant relationship He enjoyed with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. What a difference it made when the family saw Jesus’ smiling, and crying, face! Good relationships can be maintained and broken hearts can be mended when we show up for one another, the way God does for His children. It’s well over half the battle in victorious marriages, families, friendships, churches, and any relationship oriented entity.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His word. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That’s where Job’s friends blew it, they should have shown up and shut up. But Jesus shared vital, gospel words with Lazarus’ family even before the big event of the resurrection. They constitute the fifth of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, and the next sermon will be devoted entirely to them. But for now, suffice it to say that the greatest words you can ever share with anyone anytime, especially in times of death and sorrow, are words that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His actions. He took the bull by the horns, the body by its death, and with His presence and with His word Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We will say much more about this in the following studies, but for now observer Jesus’s pattern of comfort: presence, words, actions. You and I cannot heal on demand nor raise the dead at a funeral, but there are plenty of other actions we can take to comfort and support those who are hurting. Let God show us the way.
As far as Lazarus is concerned, not many in history have experienced an earthly resurrection like his. There are only a very few cases in the Bible. Some say the rarity of resurrection is happening today, where the light of the gospel is going to the darkest places on earth. But by grace through faith, all of God’s people are privy to the promises Jesus spoke at Lazarus’ funeral. Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25), and all who enjoy a covenant relationship with Him will never die. Earthly death is just a door that leads us from the lesser to the greater, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earth of pain and sorrow to the Heaven where tears will flow no more.
But for now, there are times when we need to cry. When we do, God is there, in Spirit and in word. So when someone you love is crying, don’t be the dumb parent I once was. Go to them, tell them it is okay, say “Sometimes I need to cry,” and keep it up until the promise of the Lord is fulfilled:
“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes … death shall be no more … Amen … Come, Lord Jesus” (ref. Revelation 21:4, 22:20), especially when we need to cry.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org