Summary: A full third of Americans are wrestling with depression and anxiety. Maybe you're one of them. It might help you to know that the Bible records three separate times that Jesus was so overwhelmed with emotion that he broke down in tears. How can the tears of Jesus help us wipe away our own?
Jesus Wept (1)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 9/13/2020
Ella Wilcox once witnessed a strange phenomenon in the middle of a train car. Sitting quietly by herself, Ella noticed a woman near the front of the car who was crying. There was nothing subtle about it either. This wasn’t a single tear rolling down her check; rather, she was sobbing very noticeably. At first, Ella was a little bothered by the persistent weeping, but then she noticed another passenger in the car—an older gentlemen sitting near the rear of the car telling funny stories to the passengers sitting around him. Everybody smiled and chuckled along with the old man. After a while, some of the other passengers in the car started moving. They were getting up from their seats in the front, near the crying woman, and gravitating toward the back near the man telling the funny stories. Out of this experience, Ella Wilcox wrote the well-known adage: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” Maybe you can relate.
Let's be honest. This year has been pretty hard on all of us. Between the coronavirus, the isolation, economic pressure, racial tensions, the rioting, the political divisions, disrupted routines, and the constant arguments over whether to wear masks or whether schools should be open, people are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than anytime I can remember.
All this garbage going on in the world just sort of eats away at us. People who have never felt anxious before are suddenly weighed down with worry, loneliness, uncertainty, and even hopelessness. According to the National Center for Health: In July 2019, 8% of adults showed signs of clinical depression and anxiety. In July 2020, that number jumped to 36%. A full third of Americans are wrestling with depression and anxiety. Maybe you're one of them. Maybe you've been struggling with disappointment, discouragement or depression in recent months. Maybe you've had days where you feel like breaking down in tears—sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of a train car.
Did you know there's a scientific reason why people cry?
Gregg Levoy, writing in Psychology Today, reports that crying can actually remove chemicals that build up during emotional distress. According to Levoy, the amount of manganese stored in the body affects our moods, and the body stores thirty times as much manganese in tears as in blood serum. Biochemist William Frey says that the lacrimal gland, which determines the flow of tears, concentrates and removes manganese from the body (Nelson 722). That's why crying often makes you feel better. I rather prefer M.R. DeHaan's explanation: "A tear is the distillation of the soul... From infancy to old age the record of every man's life is written in letters of tears" (Nelson 722). Of course, crying isn't very manly, is it? Statistically, women do cry about four times as frequently as men. But men—even strong manly men—still cry on occasion. In the words of Ron Swanson, "Crying is acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon."
It may surprise some of you that the Bible records three separate times that Jesus was so overwhelmed with emotion that he broke down in tears. He experienced the same inner turmoil and tension that we often experience in life. He faced real anxiety and anguish on many occasions. In fact, the shortest verse in the Bible tells us "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). And we're not talking about a single manly tear rolling down his cheek. Jesus wept bitterly and loudly at times. Jesus wrestled with soul-crushing despair. The tears that stained his cheeks and soiled his beard tell tales of sympathy, sorrow, and struggle.
It's my hope that perhaps you and I can learn something about ourselves and our struggles through the tears of Jesus. So, for the next few weeks, I'd like to dig into the Gospels and really unpack these tales of tears. What could possibly bring tears to the eyes of God? How did Jesus deal with discouragement and despair? And what can we learn from his experiences and example that could help us wipe our own tears away? Let's try to find those answers together.
The first time Jesus weeps is recorded in John 11. It's the story of Lazarus's funeral, a story that many of you are probably familiar with. In fact, I preached this very passage a few months ago in my series titled At His Feet. But I want to take a slightly different approach to it this time.
As you might recall Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were dear friends of Jesus. So, when Lazarus fell gravely ill, Mary and Martha immediately send word to Jesus. Several days later, Jesus and his disciples arrive outside of Bethany. Before they even reach the city, they can hear flutes and the sounds of psalms pouring out from the broken-hearts of the grieving. Lazarus died from his illness. The funeral had already begun. The mourners wail with strained voices and tear-stained faces, everyone dotted with ash and dust from head to toe—a sobering sight to say the least. Bereaved and ash covered, beating their chests, ripping their clothes, wailing in gut-wrenching sorrow, broken in grief.