(Text, and Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7): — It is a commonplace to speak of tears; would that it were a common practice to shed them. Whoever divided the New Testament into verses seems to have stopped in amazement at the text, making an entire verse of two words. There is not a shorter verse in the Bible nor a larger text. Christ wept thrice. The tears of the text are as a spring belonging to one house. hold; the tears over Jerusalem are as a river, belonging to a whole country; the tears on the cross (Hebrews 5:7) are as a sea belonging to all the world; and though, literally, these fall no more into our text than the spring, yet because the spring flows into the river and the river into the sea, and that wheresoever we find that Jesus wept we find our text, we shall look upon those heavenly eyes through this glass of His own tears in all these three lines. Christ's tears were —
I. HUMANE, as here. This being His greatest miracle, and declaring His Divinity, He would declare that He was man too.
1. They were not distrustful inordinate tears. Christ might go further than any other man, both because He had no original sin within to drive Him, and no inordinate love without to draw Him when His affections were moved. Christ goes as far as a passionate deprecation in the passion, but all these passions were sanctified in the root by full submission to God's pleasure. And here Christ's affections were vehemently stirred (ver. 33); but as in a clean glass if water be troubled it may conceive a little light froth, yet it contracts no foulness, the affections of Christ were moved but so as to contract no inordinateness. But then every Christian is not a Christ, and He who would fast forty days as Christ did might starve.
2. But Christ came nearer to excess than to senselessness. Inordinateness may make men like beasts, but absence of affection makes them like stones. St. Peter tells us that men will become lovers of themselves, which is bad enough, but he casts another sin lower — to be without natural affections. The Jews argued that saw Christ weep, "Behold how He loved him." Without outward declarations who can conclude inward love? Who then needs to be ashamed of weeping? As they proceeded from natural affection, Christ's were tears of imitation. And when God shall come to that last act in the glorifying of man — wiping all tears from his eyes — what shall He have to do with that eye that never wept?
3. Christ wept out of a natural tenderness in general; now out of a particular occasion — Lazarus was dead. A good man is not the worse for dying, because he is established in a better world: but yet when he is gone out of this he is none of us, is no longer a man. It is not the soul, but the union of the soul that makes the man. A man has a natural loathness to lose his friend though God take him. Lazarus's sisters believed his soul to be in a good estate, and that his body would be raised, yet they wept. Here in this world we lack those who are gone: we know they shall never come to us, and we shall not know them again till we join them.
4. Christ wept though He knew Lazarus was to be restored. He would do a great miracle for him as He was a mighty God; but He would weep for him as He was a good-natured man. It is no very charitable disposition if I give all at my death to others, and keep all my life to myself. I may mean to feast a man at Christmas, and that man may starve before in Lent. Jesus would not give this family whom He loved occasion of suspicion that He neglected them; and therefore though He came not presently to His great work, He left them not comfortless by the way.
II. PROPHETICAL — over Jerusalem. His former tears had the spirit of prophecy in them, for He foresaw how little the Jews would make of the miracle. His prophetical tears were humane too, they rise from good affections to that people.
1. He wept in the midst of the acclamations of the people. In the best times there is ever just occasion of fear of worse, and so of tears. Every man is but a sponge. Whether God lay His left hand of adversity or His right hand of prosperity the sponge shall weep. Jesus wept when all went well with Him to show the slipperiness of worldly happiness.
2. He wept in denouncing judgments to show with how ill a will He inflicted them, and that the Jews had drawn them on themselves (Isaiah 16:9). If they were only from His absolute decree, without any respect to their sins, could He be displeased with His own act? Would God ask that question, "Why will ye die?" etc., if He lay open to the answer, "Because Thou hast killed us"?
3. He wept when He came near the city: not till then. If we will not come near the miseries of our brethren we will never weep over them. It was when Christ Himself, not when His disciples, who could do Jerusalem no good, took knowledge of it. It was not when those judgments drew near; yet Christ did not ease Himself on account of their remoteness, but lamented future calamities.
III. PONTIFICAL — accompanying His sacrifice. These were expressed by that inestimable weight, the sins of all the world. And if Christ looking on Peter made him weep, shall not His looking on us here with such tears make us weep.
1. I am far from concluding all to be impenitent who do not actually shed tears. There are constitutions that do not afford them. And yet the worst epithet that the best poet could fix on Pluto himself was "a person that could not weep." But to weep for other things and not for sin, this is a sponge dried into a pumice stone. Though there be good tears and bad tears, yet all have this degree of good in them that they argue a tender heart; and the Holy Ghost loves to work in wax not in marble. God made a firmament which He called heaven after it had divided the waters: after we have distinguished our tears worldly from heavenly then is there a firmament established in us, and a heaven opened to us.
2. I might stand long upon the manifold benefits of godly tears, but I contract all into this, which is all — godly sorrow is joy.
(J. Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Jesus wept.
WEB: Jesus wept.