Sounds of the Passion: Part 2
Sunday February 28, 2010
Rev. James E. Butler, D.Min., pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Springfield, Massachusetts
People cry all the time. Sometime in life, we all shed tears. We cry because we hurt. Oh, we talk about shedding tears of joy, but mostly we cry because something’s wrong. Maybe it’s a death, maybe it’s leaving a job, maybe it’s the end of a relationship. Sometime in life, we all cry tears of pain and sadness.
Even Jesus cried—real tears of pain and sadness. Jesus cried as he saw the pain that sin and death brought into the world. He cried when he considered and when he felt the full price that sin and death would cost him. Tonight we hear the sound of crying. Listen carefully:
IN THE SOUND OF JESUS’ TEARS, CAN YOU HEAR HOW HE LOVES YOU?
The first time we encounter Jesus crying is at the death of his friend Lazarus. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. You remember them—the sisters who invited Jesus to eat. Martha was busy hustling and bustling to get everything ready, while Mary sat and listened to the Lord. Martha became angry about this arrangement, and Jesus told her that Mary made the better choice. You remember that story? Well, Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus. He became ill. His sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (Jn 11:3). I’m sure they expected Jesus to come just as soon as he heard, but he didn’t. Instead, he waited around for a few days and then set out to see Lazarus. He told his disciples that Lazarus had died, but that he was going “to wake him up” (Jn 11:11).
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, came out to meet him. Where had Jesus been? Why didn’t he come when he got the news? “‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask’” (Jn 11:21–22).
Jesus reminded her that he is the resurrection and the life, and that all who believe in him never die. Even when they end life on this earth, they will live with him forever. Then he asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26). “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (Jn 11:27).
Jesus, Mary, and Martha approached the tomb. A crowd of people followed. Jesus knew what was going to happen. He knew he was going to go to the tomb to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew the surprise and the joy that were to come. Yet as he went to the tomb, Jesus began to cry. At this place, we find that short, poignant verse, the shortest verse in our English Bibles, “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35).
But why—with all that Jesus knew—why was he crying? Most of the people thought Jesus was crying for Lazarus. “See how he loved him!” (Jn 11:36), the townspeople said. The fact is, though, Jesus wasn’t crying for Lazarus. He knew Lazarus was just fine. Jesus was crying for Mary and Martha. Jesus was crying for the people in the town. Jesus cried for all those who were in pain at Lazarus’s death. They knew he loved Lazarus and his sisters because he cried tears for them. He cried because he saw the pain and torment that death caused. So he cried with the people as they cried for their friend.
A second time we find Jesus crying is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Referring particularly to that night, the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Heb 5:7). This time as Jesus weeps, there’s no crowd of people. Jesus is by himself. His disciples are sound asleep nearby, oblivious to their Master’s tears and pain. He throws himself down on the ground, shedding tears in anguish. “Father!” Can you hear the pain and torment in that word? Can you see the tears rushing down his cheeks as he cries aloud to God? Oh, Jesus cried that night—shed blood and sweat, no doubt mixed with tears of pain and torment. “Father! If it is possible, please let this cup pass from me!”
Why is Jesus crying now? Think about it: again Jesus knows what’s going to happen. He’s told his disciples over and over: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life” (Mt 17:22–23). Jesus knew the joy at the end, the resurrection. So why is he crying now?
He’s crying because of the cup. “Let this cup pass from me!” That cup, filled with the wine of the Lord’s anger, he promised the nations would one day be forced to drink, and it would send them all reeling. That cup, the cup of God’s wrath and anger, was now at Jesus’ lips. He recoiled in horror at the thought of drinking it—of being the sin bearer for the whole world. “Father,” he cried out through salty tears, “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Yet not my will, but yours be done!”
Jesus knew what was in the cup, but he also knew that someone had to drink it. We couldn’t face God’s wrath on our own. Ten thousand times ten thousand years in hell would not be enough pain and anguish to alleviate the wrath of God. Only the death of a sinless person, of God himself—only the death of Jesus—would be enough to take away God’s anger. Jesus would have to drink the hated cup of God’s wrath. Even knowing that all of this would happen, Jesus was willing to go through with it, to go to the cross. “Not my will, but yours be done!” He would take God’s anger on himself. He would give up his holy life, and he would take our sin on himself. In return, he would give us the perfect life that God requires, so that we could be forgiven. (See stanza 4 of Gerald Coleman’s hymn “The Lamb” [HS98 822].) The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was willing to learn obedience through suffering so that he might be the source of eternal salvation for all who believe on him (Heb 5:8–9). We can almost imagine the angels, seeing their Lord calling out to his Father in anguish and yet fully willing to suffer it all, saying, “See how he loves them!”
Once more, at the cross, we can surely picture Jesus shedding tears. Tears of pain as the nails went through his hands and his feet. Tears of grief as the chief priests and Pharisees stood laughing at him. Tears of anguish as he saw his mother crying in pain for her Son. Tears of supreme agony as his Father abandoned him to suffer his wrath and anger, damning his Son to the full torments of hell in our place. And finally, tears of victory as he called out in triumph, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Oh, yes, Jesus cried. Jesus cried to see what death had done to his people. He cried to see the pain that the punishment of death and hell placed upon us. But Jesus did much more than cry about the pain caused by sin and death. He did a lot more than merely hurt with the people of God. Jesus went to the cross and suffered in our place. By dying for us, Jesus defeated death once and for all, winning God’s grace and salvation forever. All people—from every time and every place—who believe in Jesus are completely forgiven, their sins wiped away forever. What greater joy, what better message than this, that God loves, accepts, and forgives every person for Jesus’ sake! As Jesus cried, as he suffered for us, the angels of God well might have cried out, “See how he loves them!” See how our Lord loves us: he gives himself on the cross in our place.
And not only did Jesus die in our place. No, he rose again on Sunday morning. Never forget the joy of Easter morning! For there we see the final victory of Jesus, as he broke free of death’s prison and showed that the curse of death, the curse from Eden itself, was finally destroyed. And he gives us this promise—whoever lives and believes in him will never die. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath. He destroyed the power of sin and broke the chains of death. His Easter victory moves us to tears. We are filled with joy and peace unending at his forgiveness and grace. We rejoice in his love and proclaim, “See how he loves us!”
Brothers and sisters, each of us has pains and hurts. Sometimes we feel lonely. Other times we feel distressed. Some members of our congregation are facing personal battles with family members; others are facing a biopsy, surgery, and many other illnesses and pain. But I want to remind you that as you face each of these tough roads, you are never alone. Jesus is with you. Jesus hurts with you. Jesus walks with you. Jesus cries real tears with you. Jesus promises to bring you through the times of pain and darkness into the light of his joy. Jesus shed his tears of pain at Gethsemane and on the cross for you. He hurts to see you in pain now, and he cries with you. But more than that, he promises to bring you through the pain and into an eternal joy. “I have come that they might have life,” said Jesus, “and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Not even the pain of death itself is able to separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Listen—the sound of sobbing. People crying in pain all over the world. But over and above all of those tears is the sound of Jesus’ crying. He cried to see our pain. He cried in Gethsemane. He cried on the cross. And now he welcomes us into his kingdom, where he promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes with his own love and joy.