The shortest verse in the Bible is one of great value to me.
The context leading to it in John 11 is as follows (and worth clicking the link to read in full): Christ’s friend, Lazarus, died while Christ was teaching elsewhere. After Lazarus’ passing, his sisters, Mary and Martha, alongside and others in the community, grieved his loss and buried him. Upon Christ’s hearing of his friend’s death, he returned to the home of Lazarus’ grieving sisters, both of whom independently said to Christ, “My Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” To this Christ asked them to take him to the grave of his friend, and he wept, before raising Lazarus from the dead in the presence of many witnesses, whose belief in Christ grew as a result of the miraculous event.
The sentence is about as short as sentences can be, and I find it odd that the independent clause, such as it is, stands alone in the passage. Of course, when I consider it from a writer’s perspective, the concept of setting the two words apart as their own verse makes sense for two reasons. The first is that in our Bible’s, verse demarcation often forces us to pause during study. Though we know the original text was provided in more of an interrupted format (and I tend to memorize that way as well), the chapter and verse structure of modern Bibles in the west lead us to separate and underscore key ideas by their contextualization and separation. Additionally, the verse offers us a truly wonderful picture of Christ, if we approach the verse NOT as a solitary thought, but a summation of his emotional character, given who we know he is.
Those who have read the Gospel of John to this point know that Christ has claimed to be the Messiah. He has informed the crowds that he is “The way, the truth, and the life”. He has spoken the immortal (and, oft, misquoted) words, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” in reference to himself. He has provided the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The doctrine of who Christ is and who claimed to be are well documented in John to this point.
And then we place that knowledge alongside John 11:35. Christ is God’s son, the Messiah, the Truth by which men will be freed from their sinful lives. He has great power that he has already displayed, and he is assured that with God the Father, all things are possible.
Given this, he could have approached the mourners with a stoic attitude that all was well and, in fact, good. He could have rebuked them for their lack of faith in his absence. He could have immediately raised Lazarus so as to give those grieving all they wanted at that very moment. Instead, he paused, listened, and wept. He wept.
I do not believe that he wept for Lazarus; I believe he knew full well that Lazarus would be among them all soon. I think he wept for those around him, those grieving over the painful sting of death on this world. According to John, all the world was made through Christ (John 1), and that world was good and without the emotional pangs of death. To be among his Creation and see the toll that its brokenness takes led him to tears. He hurt for those who were hurting; he cried with them because they cried.
Christ was a man of compassion, of mercy, of gentleness, of kindness, and of meekness. Christ was a man of love. In two words the Gospel of John encapsulates Christ’s deep resounding empathy with mankind, for he not only died for us but hurts with us and for us, and he died so that we may, in time, join him in a paradise where such grief, turmoil, and anguish are no more.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Inclusion of this translation does not imply endorsement of this author’s thoughts by the copyright holders.