It is not the humiliating memorials of mortality that lie scattered around, -- the caves and grottoes and grassy heaps sacred to many a Bethany villager. It is not even the newly sealed stone which marks the spot where Lazarus "sleeps." Let us turn aside for a little, and see this great sight. It is the Creator of all worlds in tears! -- the God-man Mediator dissolved in tenderest grief! Of all the memories of Bethany, this surely is the most hallowed and the most wondrous. These tears form the most touching episode in sacred story; and if we are in sorrow, it may either dry our own tears, or give them the warrant to flow when we are told -- Jesus wept!
Whence those tears? This is what we shall now inquire. There is often a false interpretation put upon this brief and touching verse, as if it denoted the expression of the Saviour's sorrow for the loss of a loved friend. This, it is plain, it could not be. However mingled may have been the hopes and fears of the weeping mourners around him, He at least knew that in a few brief moments Lazarus was to be restored. He could not surely weep so bitterly, possessing, as He then did, the confident assurance that death was about to give back its captive, and light up every tear-dimmed eye with an ecstasy of joy. Whence, then, we again ask, this strange and mysterious grief? Come and let us surround the grave of Bethany, and as we behold the chief mourner at that grave, let us inquire why it was that "Jesus wept!"
(1.) JESUS WEPT out of Sympathy for the Bereaved.
The hearts around Him were breaking with anguish. All unconscious of how soon and how wondrously their sorrow was to be turned into joy, the appalling thought was alone present to them in all its fearfulness -- "Lazarus is dead!" When He, the God-man Mediator, with the refined sensibilities of His tender heart, beheld the poignancy of that grief, the pent-up torrent of His own human sympathies could be restrained no longer. His tears flowed too.
But it would be a contracted view of the tears of Jesus to think that two solitary mourners in a Jewish graveyard engrossed and monopolised that sympathy. It had a far wider sweep.
There were hearts, yes -- myriads of desolate sufferers in ages then unborn, who He knew would be brought to stand as He was then doing by the grave of loved relatives -- mourners who would have no visible comforter or restorer to rush to, as had Martha and Mary, to dry their tears, and give them back their dead; and when He thought of this, "Jesus wept!"
What an interest it gives to that scene of weeping, to think that at that eventful moment, the Saviour had before Him the bereaved of all time -- that His eye was roaming at that moment through deserted chambers, and vacant seats, and opened graves, down to the end of the world. The aged Jacobs and Rachels weeping for their children -- the Ezekiels mourning in the dust and ashes of disconsolate widowhood, "the desire of their eyes taken away by a stroke" -- the unsolaced Marys and Marthas brooding over a dark future, with the prop and support of existence swept down, the central sun and light of their being eclipsed in mysterious darkness! Think, (as you are now perusing these pages,) throughout the wide world, how many breaking hearts there are -- how loud the wail of suffering humanity, could we but hear it! -- those written childless and fatherless, and friendless and homeless! -- Bethany-processions pacing with slow and measured step to deposit their earthly all in the cold custody of the tomb! Think of the Marys and Marthas who are now "going to some grave to weep there," perhaps with no Saviour's smile to gladden them -- or the desolate chambers that are now resounding to the plaintive dirge, "O Absalom, Absalom, would God I had died for thee; O Absalom, my son! my son!" Think of all these scenes at that moment vividly suggested and pictured to the Redeemer's eye -- the long and loud miserere, echoing dismally from the remotest bounds of time, and there "entering into the ear of the God of Sabaoth," and can you wonder that -- Jesus wept!
Blessed and amazing picture of the Lord of glory! It combines the delineation alike of the tenderness of His humanity, and the majesty of His Godhead. His Humanity! It is revealed in those tear drops, falling from a human eye on a human grave. His Godhead! It is manifested in His ability to take in with a giant grasp all the prospective sufferings of His suffering people.
Weeping believer! thine anguished heart was included in those Bethany tears! Be assured thy grief was visibly portrayed at that moment to that omniscient Saviour. He had all thy sorrows before Him -- thy anxious moments during thy friend's tedious sickness -- the trembling suspense -- the nights of weary watching -- the agonising revelation of "no hope" -- the closing scene! Bethany's graveyard became to Him a picture-gallery of the world's aching hearts; and thine, yes! thine was there! and as He beheld it, "Jesus wept!"
"Jesus wept! These tears are over,
Saviour, who can love like Thee,
"When the pangs of trial seize us,
Surely none can feel like Thee,
"Jesus wept! And still in glory,
Lord! when I am call'd to die,
"Jesus wept! That tear of sorrow
Thou art all in all to me,
(2.) JESUS WEPT when He thought of the triumphs of Death!
He was treading a burial ground -- mouldering heaps were around Him -- silent sepulchral caves, giving forth no echo of life!
It is a solemn and impressive thing, even for us, to tread the graveyard; more especially if there are there nameless treasures of buried affection. The thought that those whose smile gladdened to us every step in the wilderness, who formed our solace in sorrow, and our joy in adversity -- whose words, and society, and converse were intertwined with our very being -- it is solemn and saddening, as we tread that land of oblivion, to find these words and looks and tears unanswered -- a gloomy silence hovering over the spot where the wrecks of worth and loveliness are laid! He would have a bold, a stern heart indeed who could pace unmoved over such hallowed ground, and forbid a tear to flow over the gushing memories of the past!
What, then, must it have been at that moment in Bethany with Jesus, when he saw one of those purchased by his own blood (dearest to him) chased by the unsparing destroyer to that gloomy prison-house?
If we have supposed that the tears of Martha and Mary were suggestive of manifold other broken and sorrowing hearts in other ages, we may well believe that graveyard was suggestive of triumphs still in reserve for the tomb, numberless trophies which in every age were to be reaped in by the King of Terrors until the reaper's arm was paralyzed, and death swallowed up in victory. The few silent sepulchres around must have significantly called to the mind of the Divine spectator how sin had blasted and scathed His noblest workmanship; converting the fairest province of His creation into one vast Necropolis, -- one dismal "city of the dead!" The body of man, "so fearfully and wonderfully made," and on which he had originally placed His own impress of "very good," ruined, and resolved into a mass of humiliating dust! If the Architect mourns over the destruction of some favourite edifice which the storm has swept down, or the fire has wrapt in conflagration and reduced to ashes -- if the Sculptor mourns to see his breathing marble with one rude stroke hurled to the ground, and its fragments scattered at his feet -- what must have been the sensations of the mighty Architect of the human frame, at whose completion the morning stars and the sons of God chanted a loud anthem -- what must have been His sensations as He thought of them, now a devastated wreck, mouldering in dissolution and decay, the King of Terrors sitting in regal state, holding his high holiday over a vassal world!
In Bethany He beheld only a few of these broken and prostrate columns, but they were powerfully suggestive of millions on millions which were yet in coming ages to undergo the same doom of mortality.
If even our less sensitive hearts may be wrung with emotion at the tidings of some mournful catastrophe that occupies, after all, but some passing hour in the world's history, but which has carried death and lamentation into many households -- the sudden pestilence that has swept down its thousands -- the gallant vessel that was a moment before spreading proudly its white wings to the gale, the joyous hearts on board dreaming of hearth and home, and the "many ports that would exult in the gleam of her mast" -- the next! hurrying down to the depths of an ocean grave, with no survivor to tell the tale! -- or the terrible records of War -- the ranks of bold and brave laid low in the carnage of battle -- youth and strength and beauty and rank and friendship blent in one red burial! -- if these and such like mournful tales of death, and the power of death, affect at the moment even the most callous amongst us, causing the lip to grow pale, and demanding the tribute of more than a tear, oh! what must it have been to the omniscient eye and exquisitely sensitive spirit of Jesus, as, taking in all time at a glance, He beheld the Pale Horse with its ghastly rider trampling under foot the vast human family; converting the globe in which they dwelt into a mournful valley of vision, filled with the wrecks and skeletons of breathing men and animated frames!
The triumphs of death are, in ordinary circumstances, to us scarcely perceptible. He moves with noiseless tread. The footprint is made on the sands of time; but like the tides of the ocean, the world's oblivion-power washes it away. The name of yonder churchyard is "the land of forgetfulness!" Not so with the Lord of Life, the great Antagonist of this usurper! The future, a ghastly future, rose in appalling vividness before Him. -- Death (vulture-like) flapping his wings over the multitudes he claimed as his own, -- vessels freighted with immortality lying wrecked and stranded on the shores of Time!
Yes! we can only understand the full import of these tears of Jesus, as we imagine to ourselves His Godlike eye penetrating at that moment every churchyard and every grave: the mausoleums of the great -- the grassy sods of the poor; the marble cenotaph of the noble and illustrious slumbering under fretted aisle and cathedral canopy -- the myriads whose requiem is chanted by the bleak winds of the desert or the chimes of the ocean! The child carried away in the twinkling of an eye -- the blossom just opening, and then frost-blighted; the aged sire, cut down like a shock of corn in its season, falling withered and seared like the leaves of autumn; the young exulting in the prime of manhood; the pious and benevolent, the great and good, succumbing indiscriminately to the same inexorable decree; the erring and thoughtless, reckless of all warning, hurried away in the midst of scorned mercy -- Oh! as He beheld this ghastly funeral procession moving before Him, the whole world going to the same long home, and He Himself alone left the survivor, can we wonder that Jesus wept?
(3.) Once more, JESUS WEPT when He thought of the impenitence and obduracy of the human heart.
This may not be at first sight patent as a cause of the tears of Jesus, but we may well believe it entered largely as an element into this strange flood of sorrow.
He was about to perform a great (His greatest) miracle; but while He knew that, in consequence of this manifestation of His mighty power, many of those who now stood around Lazarus' tomb would believe, He knew also that others would only "despise, and wonder, and perish;" that while some, as we shall afterwards find, acknowledged Him as the Messiah, others went straightway into Jerusalem to concert with the Pharisees in plotting His murder. When He observed the impenitence of these obdurate hearts at His side, He could not subdue His tenderest emotion. We read that, when He saw the sisters weeping, and the Jews that were with them weeping, Jesus wept. These Jews could weep for a fellow-mortal, but they could not weep for themselves, and therefore for them, Jesus wept!
One soul was precious to Him. He who alone can estimate alike the worth and the loss of the soul, might have wept, even had there been but one then present found to resist His claims and forfeit His salvation. But these tears extended far beyond that lonely spot in a Jewish village, and the few impenitent hearts that were then flocking around. These obdurate Jews were types of the world's impenitency. There was at that moment summoned before Him a mournful picture of the hardened hearts in every age -- those who would read His gospel, and hear of His miracles, and listen to the story of His love all unmoved -- who would die as they had lived, uncheered by His grace and unmeet for His presence.
Ah! surely no cause could more tenderly elicit a Redeemer's tears than this -- the thought of His Redemption scorned, His blood trampled on, His work set at nought.
If we have thought of Him shedding tears over the ruin of the body, what must have been the depth and intensity of those tears over the sadder, more fearful ruin of the soul? Immortal powers, that ought to have been ennobled and consecrated to His service, alienated, degraded, destroyed! -- immortal beings spurning from them the day of grace and the hopes of heaven! Bitter as may have been the wail of mourning and sorrowing hearts that may then have reached His ear from future ages, more agonising and dismal far must have been the wailing cry which, beyond the limits of time, came floating up from a dark and dreary eternity; those who might have believed and lived, but who blasphemed or trifled, neglected and procrastinated, and finally perished!
If we think of it, it is not the loss of health, or the loss of wealth, or the loss of friends, which forms the heaviest of trials, the deepest ground of soul sadness. We put on the sable attire as emblems of mourning; but if we saw it as a weeping Jesus sees it, there is more real cause for sackcloth and ashes in the heart at enmity with God, and despising His salvation, trampling under foot His Son, and enacting over again the sad tragedy of Calvary.
Reader! are you at this moment guilty of living on in a state of presumptuous impenitence -- salvation unsought -- Jesus a stranger -- His name unhonoured -- His Bible unread -- His promises unappropriated -- His wrath undreaded -- defeating all His marvellous appliances of love, and remonstrance, and forbearance -- meeting a prodigal expenditure of patience and long-suffering with cold and chilling indifference and neglect -- casting away from you the hoarded riches of eternity which He has been holding out for your acceptance? In that sacred Bethany ground, as ye mark these falling tear-drops which dim His eye, there may have been a tear for you! Eighteen hundred years have since elapsed, but He to whom "a thousand years are as one day," marked even then your present ungrateful apostacy or guilty alienation -- there was a tear then which stole down that cheek on account of unrequited love?
Is that tear to flow in vain? Are you to mock His tender sympathy still with cold formalism, or persisted-in impenitency? Are you to think of Bethany and its tear-drops and still go on in sin?
Ah, never was sermon preached to an erring or impenitent sinner half so eloquent as this. Paul was not given to weeping, and it makes his fervid love of souls all the more striking when we find him confessing that he had wept like a child over those who were "enemies to the cross of Christ." We have often felt Paul's burning tears over hardened sinners to be touching and impressive. But what are they, after all, in comparison with those of Paul's Lord?
He, the Great Sun of the World -- the Sun of Righteousness, was to set in a few brief days behind the walls of ungrateful Jerusalem in darkness and blood -- His last rays seem now lingering over the crest of Olivet -- His tears seem to tell that He has clung till He can cling no more to the fond hope that an impenitent nation and guilty city will yet turn at His reproof, believe and live.
And still does He linger among us. Though the night cometh, the beams of mercy are still tardily lingering, as if loth to leave the backsliding to their wanderings, or the impenitent to their own midnight of despair.
O Reader! leave not this subject -- leave not the graveyard of Bethany till you think of Jesus as then weeping for thee. Yes! for thee -- thy pitiable condition -- thy perverse ingratitude -- thy slighting of His warnings -- thy grieving of His spirit -- thy unkindness to Him -- thine obstinate disregard of thine own everlasting interests. Let it be the most wondrous and heart-searching of all the memories of Bethany, that for thy soul -- that traitor, truant, worthless soul -- which like a stray planet He might have suffered to drift away from Himself into the blackness of eternal darkness -- helpless, hopeless, ruined, lost! -- Yes! that for thee, JESUS WEPT!
"And doth the Saviour weep