We do not fully grasp Christ’s love for us. How could we? A divine love that sacrificed a face-to-face relationship with the Father (John 1:1)—who can comprehend? A heavenly love that incarnated itself in the frailty of created man (2 Corinthians 8:9)—who can plumb? An eternal love that chose death, suffering, and wrath for the sake of sinners—who can fathom? 

Christ’s love is too wonderful to fully appreciate and too vast to wrap our minds around. His love reaches the heavens and tunnels into the unknown (Ephesians 3:18). And yet, “to know the love of Christ” for us—even though it “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19)—is what spurs our love for Him (1 John 4:19). Comprehending the incomprehensible is what undergirds all praise (Psalm 63:9), relieves all doubt (Romans 5:10), and removes all fear (Romans 8:35-39). Only Christ’s love can satisfy our soul (Psalm 63:10), free us from self-centered drive (Ephesians 5:2), and compel us to live for His Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Though we will never fully plumb the love Christ has for His own, we must still try. And treasure what we find.

A Loving Savior and His Troubled Soul 

As John 11:33 opens, Jesus arrives in Bethany, ending the four days of silence, questions, and confusion that Mary and Martha experienced at the death of their brother, Lazarus.[1] If you know this story, you know what Jesus is about to do: He will wield His power over the grave, reach into Sheol, and snatch a friend from death’s grip. The Lord of life is about to conquer the king of terrors. The Master of the grave will soon empty Lazarus’ tomb.

That is why Jesus’ emotional response in verse 33 comes out of nowhere. John tells us that Jesus “was troubled” (ταράσσω) as He eyed Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus is shaken,[2] disturbed by what He sees. There is a heaviness upon His soul. One translator put it this way: “Jesus gave way to such distress of spirit as made his body tremble.”[3] The always calm Jesus is now agitated, even horrified. His bones tremor at the sight. 

Compare this reaction to what Jesus commands His Apostles in John 14:1: “Do not let your heart be troubled [ταράσσω]” (John 14:1). But here, what Jesus commands His Apostles not to beHe is. The one who once slept soundly while a storm raged around Him now churns on the inside. The one who stood boldly before the demonic realm is distressed, unnerved, distraught—in a state of spiritual agitation that causes tears to stream down Jesus’ face in verse 35; “Jesus wept.”[4] 

We must ask why: Why is Jesus weeping? Why is God’s Son experiencing such inner turmoil? We must ask what: What could shock incarnate God to the point of tears? What is disturbing His tranquil soul?

We know it’s not the loss of Lazarus because Jesus will rectify that in a few minutes. It’s not the sorrow of Mary and Martha because Jesus will soon give their brother back. 

We are told in verse 36, “The Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’” (John 11:36). Jesus trembled because He loved; He wept because He cared. What the crowd said was true—but the love that the crowd had in mind did not even scratch the surface of the love Jesus had for Lazarus.

A Weeping Savior Because of His Coming Cross

The crowd thought Jesus wept because He arrived too late to save a friend. They thought He cried because He would not see Lazarus again. This is why “some of them said, ‘Could not [Jesus]…have kept this man from also dying?'” (John 11:38).

But Jesus was not weeping because He would never see Lazarus again. No, He shed tears because He knew He would see Lazarus again. Jesus wept, not because Lazarus died, but because He was about to call Lazarus from the grave.

As Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, He trembled because He saw His demise. This is why John describes Lazarus’ and Jesus’ tomb with eerie similarities (compare John 11:38, 44 with 19:38, 40; 20:1).

Lazarus’ tomb was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ fate—and it startled Jesus like never before. Jesus knew what must be done if He was to conquer Lazarus’ death: For Lazarus to rise, He must die.

He must pay the required cost to fix sin’s rupture, break death’s chains, and satisfy God’s wrath.[5] As Mark Jones wrote, “Jesus knew that if Lazarus were to come out of the grave, then He Himself must enter it. No wonder ‘Jesus wept.’”[6]

And we know the cross caused Jesus to tremble because each time ταράσσω is used in John’s gospel, with reference to Jesus, it is always because of His coming death.

John 12:27 – “My soul has become troubled [ταράσσω]; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

John 13:18, 21 – “I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me’…When Jesus had said this, He became troubled [ταράσσω] in spirit.” 

Christ’s commitment to our salvation caused His tears to flow.[7] Love shook His soul. He was forsaken and crushed because He loved (Psalm 22:1; Isaiah 53:10), smitten and afflicted because He cared (Isaiah 53:4). Isaiah was right, only through “the anguish of [the Servant’s] soul…[would] He justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). And for Jesus, that anguish of love began in Bethany, as He stood before Lazarus’ grave with tears streaming down His face. 

Let us never take His love for granted. Let us never think our “Savior approached [His sacrifice for us] in a spirit of untroubled calm.”[8] 

Comprehending the Incomprehensible 

Do you see why we will never be able to fully grasp Christ’s love? Christ’s love for us cost Him everything. Words on a page cannot do this justice. Our puny minds cannot fathom all the implications. His love is boundless. As the hymn writer penned, 

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry; 
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.[9]

To fully comprehend the incomprehensible is an impossible task. And yet we must try, for there is no greater motivation to live for our Lord than to be overwhelmed by His love for us. We must plumb its infinite depths, reach for its immeasurable heights, stretch for its endless breadth, and then confess our inadequacies when we hit a wall and can go no farther. And then we must love Him—the one who trembled, wept, and died because He first loved us.

 [1] My previous blog posts on John 11 can be found here.

[2] A living picture of this word is found in John 5:7 where a tranquil pool is “stirred up” and agitated. 

[3] As quoted in R. Kent Hughes, “John: That You May Believe” (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 285.

[4] John used a different word for Jesus’ weeping than he did for the weeping crowd in v. 33. Jesus’ tears in verse 35 are not the loud, public tears of verse 33. Jesus’ tears are the quiet and personal tears of a weeping Savior. Why the difference in wording? Because John knows Jesus is weeping for a different reason than the crowd.

[5] There is only one other passage in the Gospels where we read that Jesus cried, and that is found in Luke 19:41. There, Jesus wept because God would bring judgment upon Jerusalem using the hands of Rome. Here in John 11, Jesus also weeps because of a coming judgment, but in this instance, it was a far more severe judgment that was about to fall—judgment from the hand of His Father that would be meted out in full upon Himself (Isaiah 53:10).

[6] Mark Jones, Knowing Christ (Edinburg: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 141.

[7] John is the only Gospel not to record Jesus’ tearful prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). One reason is that he didn’t have to. Rather than recording one night of agony over the cross, John showed that Jesus’ Gethsemane struggle “was the culmination of a struggle that preceded it.” Merrill C. Tenney, John and Acts in The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 129.

[8] Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Peabody: Hendriksen Publishing, 2000), 416. Milne adds, “For in his death he must not only face the reality of human finitude, the ending of his mission, the mockery of his enemies in whose eyes he will die a failure, and in addition the appalling physical and mental suffering of death by crucifixion. Beyond all that he must also face the Father himself, the one to whom he has been inseparably bound for all eternity, not in the warm embrace of his everlasting love, but in the terror of his holy and righteous wrath. He must in fact become the object of divine rejection, the bearer of the implacable antipathy to sin and evil of the ever-living God. He was troubled. Indeed, he had reason to be.” Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 189.

[9] Frederick Martin LehmanLove of God is Greater Far.