Christians believe that Jesus is completely God and completely human. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes we forget his humanity and can be overly focused on his deity. But in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to John, we see that Jesus had a friend named Lazarus.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are an adult trio of siblings who live in a village in Palestine called Bethany. And when Lazarus gets sick, the sisters send word to Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” No further specification. No name drop. Jesus knows who they’re talking about. Lazarus is the one whom Jesus loves. Does that mean that Jesus didn’t love everybody? Of course not! But Jesus has a special love for Lazarus because Lazarus is his friend.
Shockingly, Jesus doesn’t go immediately to heal him, however. He waits two days to leave because he loves Lazarus and his sisters (see v6). Then he tells his disciples that “our friend” Lazarus has fallen asleep (meaning, he is dead). And Jesus and the disciples go back into the territory of Judea, where Bethany is, and the disciples think this is a suicide mission because the religious leaders are looking everywhere for Jesus, to arrest and/or kill him.
Martha meets Jesus when they enter Bethany and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v21). Rather than correcting this, he starts to talk about the hope of the resurrection. Christianity, like the Jewish soil it grew out of, believes in the resurrection of the dead. The dead will not stay dead. Death does not have the final word. Everything sad will come untrue, as Tolkien has Samwise hope for in The Return of the King. And Jesus says not only is there a final day of the resurrection, but that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that belief in him will produce life, even if death comes (v25-26).
Then Mary joins them and says the same thing Martha did (which must’ve stung a little bit): “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You could’ve stopped your friend from dying, Jesus. You could’ve spared this family pain! Why didn’t you?
Jesus is overwhelmed by all the sorrow and grief and v33 says that he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Jesus, the God-man, 100% divine, is on the verge of breaking down because his friend, whom he loved, is dead. And when he sees the tomb where Lazarus is buried, he loses it.
Verse 33: “Jesus wept.”
In just six verses, Jesus will resurrect Lazarus. He will undo death in a preview of his own resurrection and a picture of the hope of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life. So why did Jesus cry for Lazarus? Jesus knew what he was going to do. Jesus knew he was going to have his friend back. He knew he was about to give Mary and Martha their brother back. So why weep over something that is going to be fixed in a few moments?
He cried because his friend had died. Lazarus was not one of his disciples. Jesus didn’t have any obligation to teach him or care for him as a traveling rabbi with his student. But he had committed himself to Lazarus in love. He had glued his soul to his friend like David and Jonathan, like Ruth and Naomi. And when Lazarus died, a little bit of Christ’s humanity died with him. Emotionally, Jesus was wrecked by this and it’s entirely right that he was. That’s what a loving friendship does.
Even in sight of the coming hope, Jesus wept. The Resurrection and the Life wept over the death of his friend. Jesus had entrusted his heart to Lazarus. He had made himself vulnerable when he chose to love his friend. And this opened him up to pain.
C.S. Lewis talks about this sort of process:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
To love is to be vulnerable. And Christ become more vulnerable than anyone could when he went to the cross for his friends. “Greater love has no one that this- that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what Jesus says in John 15:13. And that’s what Christ has done for us. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, the proverb says, and no other wounds are more sure to be trusted in than those inflicted on Christ for our sake.
Christ’s wounds displayed his love for us. If he had not died for us, we would’ve come to absolute ruin in hell. But he makes us his friends when we place our faith in his death and resurrection on our behalf. And we imitate Jesus’ model of friendship by making ourselves vulnerable, even to pain, when we love our friends (even unto death).