THE TEARS OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-88 10:50 a.m.
And God bless the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor delivering the message entitled The Tears of Jesus. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 11. And, in chapter 11, in the heart of it, is the shortest verse in the Bible. John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” In the Greek testament, as in our English version, it is the briefest, shortest verse in the Word of God: “Jesus cried.”
When He came to Caesarea Philippi, the Lord asked His disciples: “Whom do men say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13]. And they replied: “Some say You are John the Baptist, then some say You are Elijah, the messianic harbinger. But some say You are Jeremiah—You are like the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:14]. It was Jeremiah who begins his ninth chapter: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the lost of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1]. It was Jeremiah who wrote in his Lamentations, his first chapter: “Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow… wherein the Lord hath afflicted me” [Lamentations 1:12]. “He is like,” they said, “Jeremiah the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:14].
Not one time in the Bible does it say that our Lord smiled or that He laughed, but three times does it say that He cried. Here in our text, in John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” Then in Luke 19:41, when He came to the brow of Olivet and saw the city lost, judged, lying before Him, He burst into tears. And the third place is in Hebrews 5:7, where it says as He faced the cross; He pled with Him—His Father—with strong crying and tears.
Is it an admission of weakness to cry? I so poignantly remember as a boy, moved in the services, I would bow my head between the pews and cry. I was ashamed that I was so moved, even unto tears. I remember in one of my village churches in Kentucky, the principal of the high school was a big, big, big man. He was the center—had been the center—on the University of Kentucky university football team. At one of our services, he gave his testimony and cried; and he apologized for his tears.
Who cries? Who weeps? Simon Peter wept bitterly after he had denied his Lord; and Jesus turned and looked upon Peter; and he recalled the word of the Savior: “Before the cock crow twice, you shall deny Me thrice.” And he went out, and wept bitterly [Luke 22:56-62].
Who weeps? The Ephesians elders wept when Paul told them they would see his face no more [Acts 20:36-38].
Who cries? My mother cried so profusely when she turned to me as a ten year-old boy and asked if that day I would receive Jesus as my Savior. My father cried the last time I saw him. My father cried when he said to me: “Son, I have the feeling in my heart that I’ll never see you again.”
Who cries? The mother-heart, the father-heart, the shepherdly heart, the broken heart, the repentant heart, the sorrowing heart—one of the most remarkable things to me in the biblical presentation of our blessed Savior is this: in the three instances, in the Word of God, where it says that our Lord cried, the verbs are so very different. There are three far apart verbs that describe the weeping of our Savior.
In John 11:35, the word is dakruō, dakruō, that means to weep tenderly, softly, preciously. In Luke 19:41, the verb is klaiō, which means to lament. And in Hebrews 5:7, the verb is kraugazō, kraugazō, which means to cry in agony. That first verb, dakruō, used in John 11:35, our Lord cried tenderly, sweetly, preciously, softly—they were tears of sympathy and compassion. As He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, who had died [John 11:14], with Mary and Martha, his sisters, He wept in sympathy with their sorrow [John 11:35].
I heard of a little girl who came home from school and said: “Mommy, my little friend, my classmate at school, cried so today. Her mother had died.”
And the mother said: “Sweet, what did you do? What did you say?”
And the little girl replied: “Mommy, I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just put my arms around her and cried.”
Tears of sympathy and compassionate remembrance. You know, we have a strange reaction to our Lord that is so extraneous to the truth of the gospel. We think we persuade ourselves that for just a while our Lord was here in the days of His flesh; and He experienced the trials and sorrows of our lives while He was here, but that now He is in heaven, that He is untouched and unmoved by the feelings of our infirmities. Nothing could be further from the truth. As our Lord was here, so He is in heaven. He hasn’t changed. He is the same blessed, compassionate, loving, caring Lord Jesus. The Scriptures go to great lengths to present to us this wonderful, and startling, and amazingly precious fact that the acknowledgments of our Savior are human still. For example, He said to Thomas and to the disciples: “Behold, My hands and My feet” [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:26-27]. He has scars! Resurrected from the dead [Luke 24:1-7; John 20:1-14] and ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]—our Lord has scars in His hands and in His feet.
I say His recognitions are human still. When He was raised from the dead, Mary knew Him by the way that He pronounced her name. He had a way of saying “Mary” like unto no one else [John 20:16]. John recognized Him by the way He folded up a napkin [John 20:4-8]. One of those little idiosyncratic characteristics of our Savior—the way He folded up a napkin. The two on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13], knew Him by the way that He said a blessing [Luke 24:30-31]. Jesus had a way of saying a blessing unlike anyone else—saying grace at the table—and they knew Him in the way that He said His blessing [Luke 24:35].
And not only are those recognitions avowed in the Bible, but the author of Hebrews goes to great pains to avow it:
We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but (He) was in all points tried just as we are…
Let us therefore, let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
He is just the same! He was moved to tears by the sorrows of those whom He loved, and He weeps with us in heaven today. He is moved by our sorrows and our infirmities.
The second time that our Lord is described as weeping is in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in verse 41, when He came to the brow of the hill and saw the city lying before Him. Klaiō, He lamented, He cried lamentably. The city faced a cruel and awesome judgment—lost. And as our Savior viewed that vast city, and the coming judgment, He wept lamentably [Luke 19:41].
A pastor one time was called to a city church—young as I was, called very young to be an undershepherd in this church, in this city. He came to be pastor of the church in that great city. And an older minister, years and years in the city, came to see him. And when he looked at the young man in his study, the young pastor was standing at a window, looking out over the city. And, as he stood there, he cried—he wept.
And the older pastor asked him why his tears.
And the young minister replied: “Just looking at the city and thinking of the thousands and the thousands that are lost in this great city.”
And the older minister said to him: “Son, you’ll get used to it. You’ll get used to it. The days and the years will harden your heart. You won’t weep over it anymore.” What a tragedy to become so inured, and so hardened, to the lostness of human life that it doesn’t move us, and we don’t weep anymore.
I read a book one time in which was a philosopher named Marius. And he, seated in one of those tiers in the great Coliseum in Rome, looking at those gladiatorial combats; and Marius the philosopher says: “What is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such suffering and bloodshed—and the future would belong to that force that could create such a heart.” As you know, Christ did that! The Christian faith did that. If you have stood in that Coliseum, it’s in ruins, and for hundreds of hundreds of years it has never witnessed those atrocities and terrible confrontations that ended in blood and death. The Christian faith is that! The Christian faith is a faith that loves, and cares, and weeps, and cries. It is sensitive to the hurting of humanity.
I read one time one of the strangest addenda to the revival meetings held in the great cities of America by Dwight L. Moody. Wherever he went, there was a humble layman named John Vassar. And when Moody held his great revivals in the cities, John Vassar would go from house to house, and door to door, and street to street inviting people to the Lord. There was a woman in the city who heard about John Vassar. And she said: “If he comes to my house and knocks at my door, I’ll slam the door in his face.” Surely enough, in the providences of God, he knocked at the door. He began to invite her to the Lord and to the meeting. And she broke in: “Are you John Vassar?” And he replied: “Yes.” And she slammed the door in his face, true to her word. But he didn’t leave. He sat down on her doorstep and sang this song.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown,
And love beyond degree.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe.
Here. Lord, I give myself away.
‘Tis all that I can do.
[“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” Isaac Watts]
That night, having come forward in the revival, in the after-service, giving her testimony, she described what John Vassar had done. And she added: “When he began singing about those drops of grief, every one of them fell on my heart.”
I had an experience somewhat like that: a sixteen or seventeen year-old teenage girl asked me to win her little brother to the Lord. [He] was about fifteen. And I went to the house and set down by the side of that boy, and tried to show him the way to God, to be saved, to accept Jesus as his Savior. And you would have thought I was talking to a hardened criminal. He was unmoved and untouched. And whatever I did, and whatever plea I made, he brushed it away indifferently. That teenage sister, seeing what was happening, took a chair and put it on the other side of the boy. I sat here, the lad was there, and she put her chair by him. Never said a word—just buried her face in her hands and began to cry. The tears fell between her fingers. And that boy looked at me, and looked at his sister, and back to me, and at his sister. Sweet people, it was no moment of time until I had that boy into the kingdom of God, and baptized him the following Sunday night.
There is something about the tears of concern and intercession that move the human heart.
I wept for my child who was fevered and ill.
I pled the blessed Lord make her whole.
But I’m humbled in shame, as I call on Thy name,
How long since I’ve wept for a soul.
I wept for my mother, now gone from the world.
Though she’s with the Savior I am told.
Then from somewhere above
Jesus questions in love,
“How long since you wept for a soul?”
I weep for the goals I had hoped to achieve,
For the failures of life, gain and gold.
But before you condemn,
Let me ask you my friend,
How long since you wept for a soul?
Jesus wept over the lost lamentably [Luke 19:41-42].
Jesus wept facing the cross—kraugazō—agonizingly. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews and verse 7:
In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, agonizingly… and, though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, God said He offers the soul of His servant as an atonement for our sins [Isaiah 53:10-11]. I cannot enter into it! The soul of the Lord offered as an expiation for my sins. I think of that Negro spiritual:
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there?
Were you there when He bowed His head and died?
Oh, sometimes it makes me to tremble,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
[“Were You There?” Negro spiritual, 1860]
What is this: the death of our Lord, that cross raised on Calvary? What is that? What is the meaning of that? Is that a dramatic play like Agamemnon [of] Aeschylus or like Shakespeare’s Hamlet or King Lear or Macbeth? Is it like Eugene O’Neill’s The Strange Interlude? What is that? Is that the story of a defeat and a disaster? Albert Schweitzer, in his great theological book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, avows that. That’s the theme of the whole book—that Jesus died in defeat and despair. Is that what that is?
What is that that happened on Calvary when Jesus was crucified? God’s Book says that that’s the atonement for our sins, that’s God’s expiation [Romans 5:11]—God’s washing away the guilt of our lives. How did it come to pass? Who did that? Who crucified our Lord? Who wrought His death? Some say God did it; blame God for every tragedy in life, including their own, like Job’s wife: “Curse God, and die!” [Job 2:9]. Some say it’s His fault. He should have been a better manipulator, a shrewder player. There are those who say Judas did it. He sold Him for thirty pieces of silver. Judas did it [Matthew 26:14-16]. There are those who say Pilate did it [Mark 15:15]. Weak and vacillating, Pilate—he did it. Who wrought the death of our Lord? Some say the Jews did it. They delivered Him [Luke 24:20]. There are those who would say the Roman soldiers did it. Who nailed Him to the cross? Who planted the crown of thorns and pressed it on His brow? The Roman soldiers did it [Matthew 27:27-35].
At the great judgment day of Almighty God, I can see those Jewish people rise and say: “It was not our fault. It was not our fault. Do not bring upon us the blood of this just Man” [Acts 5:28]. At that great day, I can see Pilate rise and wash his hands again, saying: “I am innocent of the blood of this just Man [Matthew 27:24]. It’s not my fault.” At that day, I can see the Roman soldiers, as they stand before God and say: “O God, we were just men under authority. The government ordered us to crucify Him like a felon.”
Who did that? Who pressed upon His brow the crown of thorns? And who nailed Him to the tree? I did! He is paying the penalty for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He is dying in my stead [2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20]. I did it! We did it! We did it. It was for our sins that our Lord wept agonizingly, cried [Luke 19:41], prayed with strong crying and tears [Hebrews 5:7]; and died on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].
“Lord, how could ever I pass Thee by without a word? How could I ever cease loving Thee? O Jesus, someday, face to face [Revelation 22:3-5], I hope to thank You for opening for me the gates of heaven, as You open for me the gates of grace. The same nail pierced hands; Lord, thank You.”
And that’s what it is to be a Christian and a follower of our wonderful Savior. “I accept, dear Jesus, Your atoning love for me [John 15:13]. I open my heart to Your love and grace, and unashamedly, I stand in Thy presence, confessing my faith, and love, and gratitude for what You have done for me” [Romans 10:9-10].
Oh, oh, oh, what He has done for me!
May we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, if we had ten thousand tongues, we could never voice the depths of our soul’s gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. Blessed Savior, we pray that the gospel message of Jesus love and grace and forgiveness [John 3:16], will reach every heart in divine presence, and that someday when the roll is called in heaven, we’ll answer, “Lord, here am I! Thank You for saving me.” Grant it, Jesus, in Thy wonderful and keeping name, amen.
In this moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], a family you, to come into the fellowship of this dear church we love so much, or to answer a call of the Spirit of God in your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m on the way.” And you who have listened on television and have heard on radio, may this be the day of glad commitment and salvation for you, while we stand and while we sing.
I. He is like Jeremiah
do men say that I am?” (Matthew 16:12-14,
Jeremiah 9:1, Lamentations 1:12)
recorded that He smiled; but it does say He cried (John
11:35, Luke 19:41, Hebrews 5:7)
tears a sign of weakness?
cries? (Matthew 26:74-75, Acts 20:36-38)
II. Tears of Sympathy (John 11:35)
A. Quiet tears
1. Little girl
crying with her schoolmate
B. Scripture confirms
His humanity (John 20:27, Hebrews 4:15-16)
III. Tears for the lost (Luke 19:41)
A. He lamented
1. Young pastor
called to city church
3. Dwight L.
Moody and John Vassar
B. The power of a
Christian heart to care
IV. Tears of atonement (Hebrews 5:7)
A. He wept facing the cross
B. The soul of the Lord
offered as expiation for my sins
V. What is this?
A. Not a dramatic play
or historic tragedy