How Can God Sympathize with Me?

How Can God Sympathize with Me?

April 19th, 1984 @ 12:00 PM

John 11:1-5

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 11:1-5

4-19-84    12:00 p.m.


The series of messages this pre-Easter week has been built around the theme in the Gospel of John, “My Lord and My God” [John 20:28].  On Monday: How Could God Become a Man? from John 1 [John 1:14].  On Tuesday: How Could God Recreate Me, Remake Me, Reborn Me? from John 3 [John 3:1-12]. Yesterday, How Can God Sustain Me, Keep Me, Save Me Forever? from John 11; from John 10 [John 10:27-30].  Today: How Can God Sympathize with Me, from John 11 [John 11:1-5].  And, tomorrow, the last day: How Can God Be Triumphant over Death and Die for Me, pay my debt of death to sin, Friday, the day He was crucified? [John 19:16-22]. And then, on Sunday: How Can God Raise Me from the Dead? [John 11:25]. Today: How Can God Sympathize with Me?  [John 11:1-5].

In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John:

Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.

(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

Therefore his sisters sent unto Him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.

When Jesus heard that, He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

 And when He heard that, that Lazarus was sick, He stayed—He tarried, He abode—two whole, solid days still in the same place where He was.

Then He said, Let us go into Judea—and into Bethany where Lazarus has died.

[John 11:1-7]

Now, there are several things about that simple story that are overwhelming to us.  Number one: this is the last home that I would have ever thought for in which sorrow and crying and death should have entered.  This is the place where Jesus made His home away from home.  He loved to stay in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  He was a frequent guest.  And how could it be that, in that home, come such tears and sorrow and death?

A second thing: evidently, what the world commonly supposes concerning suffering and tears is not what the world commonly thinks of it to be.  For example, in the ninth chapter of this Gospel of John, as the Lord and the disciples pass by a man blind from his birth [John 9:1], the disciples said to Jesus, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”  [John 9:2].  Certainly, blindness and the suffering attendant are results of sin.  That’s what the story of Job is all about.  His comforters said to him, “You must be a great sinner because you have been subject to such great afflictions” [Job 4:7-8].

Now the Word of God denies that and everlastingly does it.  Our Lord replied to His disciples concerning that man born blind, “This man has not sinned, nor his parents that he is born blind, but in order that the works of God might be manifested in him” [John 9:3].  Out of that suffering is to come a marvelous tribute to the Lord.  Now you look at the same thing here.  When Jesus heard of the sadness of the illness and death of Lazarus whom He loved, He said, “This sickness is for the glory of God” [John11:4].  And in the fifteenth verse, He says, “It is to the intent that ye may believe” [John 11:15].

There is a holy and a godly purpose in the illnesses, and the sicknesses, and the sorrows and the tears that we experience in this life.  God has some holy word to say to us.  Every illness, every disappointment, every sorrow, all the tears we ever shed—there is the purpose of God in them.  God is saying to us something.  God speaks to us in sorrow and sickness and tears and in death.  Out of the sorrows we know in life come our greatest blessings.

As you know, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before I came to be undershepherd of this congregation.  And in Muskogee is the only Indian college in America.  It’s a Baptist school.  And on the great foundation stone of Bacone College are incised these words from Charles Journeycake, Chief of the Delawares.  I copied down those incised, stone-carved words.  And here they are.  Charles Journeycake said,

We have been broken up and moved six times.  We have been despoiled of our property.  We thought when we moved across the Missouri River and had paid for our homes in Kansas, that we were safe.  But, in a few years the white man wanted our country.  We had good farms, built comfortable houses and big barns.  We had schools for our children, and churches where we listened to the same gospel the white man listens to.

The white man came into our country from Missouri and drove our cattle and horses away.  And, if our people followed them, they were killed.

We tried to forget these things.  But, we would not forget that the white man brought to us the blessed gospel of Christ, the Christian’s hope.  This more than pays for all we have suffered

Charles Journeycake, chief of the Delawares, April 1886.

Out of the suffering of life comes our greatest blessings.  In the sweet story, it says that Mary and Martha, upon the illness and then death of Lazarus, sent unto Jesus: “Lord, You come.  Please come” [John 11:3].  To know the Lord is to see the apparent hope they had in Him.  The sympathizing, compassionate heart of our Lord reaches down to each one of us [Ephesians 5:2].

In the story of the beheading of the great Baptist preacher named John [Matthew 14:1-11], the story says that his disciples came and buried his headless body and went and told Jesus [Matthew 14:12].  We sing a song like that:

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles.

He is a kind, compassionate friend.

In my distress He kindly will help me.

He will bring to my troubles always an end.

I must tell Jesus.

[from “I Must Tell Jesus,” Elisha Hoffman, 1893]

The compassionate love of our Lord is the most beautiful, ennobling characteristic of His life and of His ministry in the days of His flesh.  I think that it is beautiful and appropriate that the translators and arrangers of the Bible took that little word, “Jesus wept,” and made a separate verse out of it.  John 11:35:  “Jesus wept.”

Three times in the Word of God does it say that Jesus cried: here, when the tears streamed down His face over the illness and death of His friend, Lazarus [John 11:35].  The second time—and of all times that Jesus could cry, this would be the last time I’d ever guessed for—on Palm Sunday, last Sunday, in the royal triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when He came to the height of Olivet and stood on the brow of the hill and looked over the city, the Bible says that He wept [Luke 19:41].  He cried over the lostness of the great city that lay before Him.  And the third time that He cried is described in the Book of Hebrews: “with strong crying and tears He made supplications unto Him who was able to save Him from death” [Hebrews 5:7].

One who has never sorrowed and never cried will never see the mystical city of Abraham in this earthly journey [Hebrews 11:10], nor will he ever see the angels Jacob saw while he slept [Genesis 28:12].  Out of all of the great marvelous words and addresses of our Lord, and out of all of the ennobling ministries for good and for help and for righteousness in the years of His life, to me there is nothing approaching the impressiveness of my Lord as in His loving, compassionate response toward human need.

Does anyone hunger?  Did He not hunger in the wilderness? [Luke 4:2].  Is anyone weary?  Was He not weary when He sat by the well? [John 4:6].  Is anyone thirsting?  Did He not thirst as He cried from the cross? [John 19:28].  Is anyone crushed and brokenhearted?  Was He not hurt by the rebuke of His own people?  “A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3].  And that same Lord, who was touched with the feeling of our infirmities in the days of His flesh [Hebrews 4:15] is the same compassionate Lord who sits at the right hand of God making intercession for us [Romans 8:34]—the same loving, tender, understanding, compassionate Lord Jesus [Matthew 14:14].

He was so sensitive to human need when He was here in this earth.  Do you remember that woman with an issue of blood who for twelve years had suffered and no one could heal her?  She said in her heart, “If I but touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21].  And, coming up in the throng and behind Him, she reached forth her hand and touched the tassel of His robe.  And, immediately, immediately she was healed.  And no less immediately did the Lord say, “Someone has touched Me” [Luke 8:43-45].

And, Simon Peter, who was always ready for answers, said, “Lord, Lord, they throng Thee and press Thee on every side, and yet You say, ‘Someone touched Me’” [Luke 8:45].

But the Lord said, “Yes, someone touched Me.  I perceive that virtue, dunamis, power, healing has gone out of Me” [Luke 8:46].  The Lord in His compassionate sensitive response in the days of His flesh [Luke 8:47-48]; He is that way yet and still.  These marvelous passages in Hebrews so describe Him:

We have a great High Priest, who has passed into the heavens,

who can be moved with the feeling of our infirmities; for He was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

[Hebrews 4:14-16]

I don’t know why the weakness of our mind and understanding, but so many times do we think that, in the life, in the existence, in the story of our Lord, for a little while He came down here into this world, that He lived our life, breathed our air, walked in our midst, and suffered our trials; then, then having accomplished the purpose for which He came, His spirit returned to heaven, and there was reunited with the unmixed pure deity of God in heaven.

We think that, that when He was down here, He was human and understanding, but now, He is in heaven far above us, deity itself; and He doesn’t understand, and He doesn’t sympathize, and He is not a man anymore.  There is not anything that the Holy Bible has taken greater pains to avow than this; that the Lord is still the same Man in heaven as He was down here in this earth, just the same.  The marks of His humanity are visible upon Him now, in glory, just as they were upon Him in the days of His flesh [John 20:27].  His recognitions are human.  Raised from the dead, Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:11-18].  John recognized Him by the way He folded up a napkin [John 20:3-8].  The two disciples in Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said the blessing [Luke 24:29-31, 35].

And when He appeared to the disciples, He said to them, “Handle Me, and see, that it is I Myself, for a spirit—a ghost, a phantom—has not flesh and bone such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39].  And then He said, “Have you anything to eat?”  And He ate a broiled fish and a honeycomb before them [Luke 24:41-43].  The same Lord Jesus, though immortalized, glorified, risen, His recognitions are still the same.

I don’t think there’s any little old aside, little word, more meaningful in the Bible than in the first chapter of the Revelation, when John on the isle of Patmos sees the vision of the glorified Lord.  His feet were as brass as they burned in a furnace, and His face was as the sun shining in His strength [Revelation 1:9-16].  And in the vision of that glorified Lord, the beloved disciple says, “I fell at His feet as dead” [Revelation 1:17]—so marvelous, overpowering the glorious vision of the risen, resurrected, glorified transfigured Lord Jesus!

Now do you remember the next sentence? “And He put His right hand upon me.” “And He put His right hand upon me” [Revelation 1:17].  In the days of His flesh, I would think the Lord had done that a thousand times.  He put His right hand upon His beloved disciple John, and said this, and pointed out that, and gave him the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20].  “He put His right hand upon me” [Revelation 1:17]—the same loving, tender gesture, kindness, understanding that John knew in the days of His flesh.  He is still the same Lord Jesus in heaven as He was here in earth.

“Wherefore, come boldly” [Hebrews 4:16].  No matter who you are, or what you have done, or into what providence life and lot have cast you, come boldly.  He knows all about us, and yet is our dearest compassionate Friend.

Our Lord, words cannot describe the love that flows out of our souls toward Thee, our suffering, weeping, sensitive, understanding, compassionate Savior.  We love Thee, Lord, forever, amen.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

John 11:26


I.          Sorrow in the Bethany house

A.  Would think this
house exempted from sorrow, affliction

      1.  Jesus a
frequent guest here

B.  A light on human

1.  Purpose
in our suffering (John 9:2-3, 11:4, 15)

2.  Charles
Journeycake in Muskogee

II.         They send for Jesus (Matthew 14:12)

A.  The sympathizing
Jesus (John 11:35)

B.  His tears (John
11:35, Luke 19:41, Hebrews 5:7)

C.  His compassion (Matthew
9:36, Isaiah 53)

III.        Today, the same Lord Jesus

A.  Sensitive to our
need in the days of His flesh (Luke 8:43-48)

B.  Same in heaven now
(Hebrews 4:14-16)

Scriptures affirm the humanity of Jesus (Luke 24:39, Revelation