read John 11. The New York Times today claims that 15 “months after the generals seized power at the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, how much they now submit for the first time to civilian authority will determine whether last year’s uprising lives up to its billing as a democratic revolution or amounts instead to a coup.” NYTimes Monday May 7, 2012 A4. It’s a fascinating concept. The idea is that you can evaluate a revolution in retrospect alone – how does it pan out? Who ends up in charge? If it’s the military, we call it a coup. If it’s the people, we call it a democratic uprising.
If the end result is the gold standard for a revolution, therefore, what does that say about the revolution of Christ? Is it a coup or a democratic uprising?
To answer that question, we can look at John 11 and ask why the leader of the revolution wept. This is the famous story where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s an incredibly moving story, packed full of authentic details that mean either it’s true, or it was written by a gifted storyteller who thought up everything. For instance, when Jesus orders the people to roll the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, the response of Martha, his sister is to say: “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” John 11:39.
Martha is right. The smell of death is terrible. Death, even the death of someone “old and full of years” as the Bible says of Job when Job finally passes away, is a shock. It’s a tear in the fabric of the world. We are not meant for death, and deep down, we know this. God has “planted eternity in the human heart,” and deep down, we know this, too. Ecclesiastes 3:11.
But when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, instead of rushing to heal him and prevent his death, Jesus delayed, even though “Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus”. John 11:7. We need to remember this when our prayers seem unanswered. There is such a thing as divine delay, and it doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us. God works in His timing, not ours. God works all things – even death – for His glory. We don’t like this concept. We hate it. We chafe against it. But accepting that God knows best is the first step toward a productive life of joy, instead of a bitter life of despair and self-pity.
Jesus waits until he knows Lazarus is dead before He goes to Bethany. After Lazarus dies, Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus “has fallen asleep.” John 11:11. To God, apparently, death is like sleeping. That’s why John Donne can ask, triumphantly, “O death, where is thy sting?” Jesus conquered death on the cross, so death has lost its sting. This, too, we need to keep in mind when our loved ones die, or become as good as dead to us. God can do anything. As Paul says, don’t you now that the same power that raised the dead is at work in us?
Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, and Martha, the sister who once got a loving reprimand from Jesus for resenting the way her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet instead of helping her in the kitchen, goes out to meet Him. Meanwhile, Mary, the sister who had chosen the only thing Jesus says we “need” (sitting at Jesus’ feet), stayed in the house. I don’t know why they reacted differently to Jesus’ approach. Had their roles reversed? Had Martha become like the prodigal son, running into the arms of her heavenly father, and Mary like the miffed elder brother, refusing to join the party? Martha certainly runs out to meet Jesus and affirms Him here. She says she believes in the resurrection of the dead, and that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He is “the Son of God”. Is Mary too angry at the death of her brother to join the party? It’s possible, but I don’t think so. The reason I don’t is that both sisters say the exact same thing to Christ: ”If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21 and 11:32. They seem to be in the same place, in that they both know that Jesus could have healed a sick man and are just sad and confused as to why He didn’t.
What’s fascinating is that when Martha says this, Jesus gives her a theology lesson. He says that Lazarus will “rise again.” John 11:23. He says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live ever after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” John 11:25-26. Martha says she does – even though Jesus hasn’t yet raised Lazarus. It looks like Jesus is already using his divine delay to the purpose of bringing Martha to the place where she can have faith in the unseen. Sometimes when we go out to meet Jesus, He gives us knowledge and wisdom.
When Mary says the same thing, however, about how if Jesus had been there her brother would not have died, Jesus reacts not with theology but with strong emotions. A “deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.” John 11:34. Why the difference? I don’t know, but my guess is that it’s because Mary ‘fell at his feet” weeping. When we fall at God’s feet, weeping, we may imagine that God doesn’t care, but this passage of Scripture shows that God cares, deeply. God weeps when we weep. God is moved with deep anger at our pain. It strikes me that God, too, is moved by the fundamental wrongness of death. Sometimes, when we meet Jesus, He gives us not words but empathy and action. God knows what each of us need more than we do.
The reason Jesus weeps, to me, goes even deeper than just that Jesus saw Mary “weeping and saw the other people wailing with her.” John 11:33. He doesn’t weep at the first sight of them weeping. Instead, He reacts with anger and deep compassion to the sight. Jesus asks where they put Lazarus, and the people say: “Lord, come and see.”
“Then Jesus wept.” John 11:35.
I’ve heard that this is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. Jesus wept. Why does Jesus weep when the people say to Him, “Come and see”?
I think it’s because God says to all of us, over and over in the Bible – come and see. King David cries out: ”Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people.” Psalm 66:5. When two of John’s disciples ask where Jesus is staying, Jesus says: “come and see.” John 1:39. When Nathanael asks if anything good can come from Nazareth, Philip says “come and see for yourself.” When Jesus meets the woman at the well she tells her village “come and see” the man who told me everything I ever did. John 4:29. God wants us to come and see what He offers. These are His words. This is His invitation.
Because God knows that we are, all of us, searching. We’re seeking answers. We’re searching for love. We’re hungry for righteousness and thirsty for soul satisfaction. We’re desperately seeking satisfaction of our deepest desires. Jesus begs us to “come and see” what He is about. He wants us to “come and see” how He is the answer to our every need. He wants us to “come and see” His love for us. He doesn’t force us. He asks. He invites.
So when the people ask Jesus to “come and see” where a dead man lies in a tomb, He weeps. He knows He’s going to raise Lazarus. So He’s not weeping because He thinks death is final. He is, perhaps, weeping because He knows that we are rejecting His invitation and instead looking in the wrong places and seeing the wrong things. We see death. He wants us to see life.
In the ultimate moment of the wrong kind of “come and see,” when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the people ridiculed Him: “Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Mark 15:32. The people thought that they should see Jesus off the cross. We don’t understand that the true miracle was that Jesus stayed on the cross. We get it backwards. We don’t understand what a miracle should look like. We think we know what we need, but we forget that God’s ways give us joy, not our ways. We are so selfish, all of us, that we can’t even take in this concept of sacrificial love – the concept at the heart of love, the concept at the heart of the gospel of Christ.
So Jesus stayed on the cross, suffered death and the furies of hell for our sins, so that He could raise us from the dead. So when the people tell Him to “come and see” Lazarus’ tomb, He is weeping, I think, because of love. He weeps because He loves us so much He will choose to die for us. He knows that one day He will die, and the stone will be rolled away from His tomb by angels. He weeps because He hates that we suffer. He weeps because He has compassion on our short-sightedness. He weeps because He knows we experience a thousand deaths a day, afraid of our own shadows, afraid of the future, afraid of being alone, afraid of continuing to mess up the way we always have, afraid of the unknown, and yet we refuse to come and see the answer to our every care. He wants to give us peace. He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to throw ourselves at His feet, as Mary does, and bring our problems to Him, knowing He will always, always answer us.
And He knows we just can’t.
So Jesus wept. Then He raised Lazarus from the dead. With the same authentic details, we are told that the “dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth.” John 11:44. Jesus wept, and then He raised the dead.
And there is the answer to the original question: what kind of revolution did Jesus bring? Was it a coup? Or a democratic uprising? Well, it’s both. It’s a coup, in that God can raise us from the dead. He can cleanse us from our sins. God can come in and give us a new heart, one that is tender and soft, responsive to His touch. God can free us. God gives us a revolution in our hearts. We need it. Nothing short of a coup can raise us from a dead and selfish life.
But it’s also a democratic uprising, in that we have to ask for it. We have to want it. We have to choose to invite God in. We have to vote for it.
It’s both and. God asks us to come and see. He wants us to see that He weeps with us. He is inviting us to trust Him. He is offering to raise us from the dead. He wants to transform our dry, hollow, shallow, dried up hearts into soft, warm, compassionate hearts. He wants to revolutionize us – but through our voluntary surrender, not through force. What’s the end result? The end result is that we have to keep on begging for a coup, over and over, every day, as we lay down our pride and selfishness and lift up the banner of sacrificial love – and receive grace and forgiveness for the ways we fall short of our king who weeps for us. When we start to realize that we’re asking not a selfish dictator, but the one who loves us most, to be in charge – what choice do we have but to beg for a coup?
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on May 7, 2012