A little more than a year ago AnOldSinner wrote “Whose Jesus.” It was inspired by another writer’s essay about problems young, and some not so young, Christians were having with Evangelical Churches. The writer opined that Millennials and others were not finding Jesus in these churches. AnOldSinner opined they could not find Jesus because they were only looking for their particular vision of Jesus.
The underlying issue of “Whose Jesus” resurfaced recently due to a sermon at this writer’s home church. The sermon was part of a series on suffering, and this sermon spoke to the suffering of Jesus. The pastor used John 11:35 to help illustrate that Jesus did suffer in His human form, although He had the power to avoid suffering if He desired.
John 11:35, “Jesus Wept” (ESV) is arguably the shortest verse in the Bible.1 Yet it is packed with meaning, and is, as this writer discovered after the sermon, the subject of some debate.
Anyone familiar with the verse in question may find the last sentence a bit hard to swallow. How much debate could there be over two words? They record Jesus’ reaction upon being told His friend Lazarus was dead and in a tomb? What is controversial about that? Anyone with a heart for others might cry at such a time, right?
It is controversial because of John 11:33. Several Bible translations interpret that passage to read that Jesus was “deeply moved.” Other translations use slightly different terminology, but they all convey that Jesus had an emotional reaction. The nature of that reaction is where the debate begins.
The Greek words used to describe Christ’s reaction can be translated to mean He was indignant or even angry.2 This leads some theologians to believe Jesus was not reacting sympathetically to the mourning of those around Him. Instead, He might have been upset with them because they did not yet understand who He was. After all He had done, they still did not see Him as the Messiah.
Martha’s interaction with Jesus seems to support this view of Christ’s reaction as recorded in John 11:21-24. She told him that if had been with them Lazarus would not have died. When Christ responded Lazarus would live again, it is believed she thought Christ was taking about the resurrection to come on the last day. She did not think Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead.
The idea that Christ could be upset or frustrated by anyone other than money changers and Pharisees is hard for some to believe. The idea that He might be upset with people He loved when they were in mourning is even harder for some to accept.
A logical question at this point is, what difference does it make? Does it really matter whether Christ cried because he was empathetic, or because he was frustrated? He cried, and that is what is significant.
One can argue the reason for his tears are immaterial. After all, the Bible is full of stories of man’s inability to understand or believe in the power of God. This is just another example of those in biblical times not understanding or recognizing God’s omnipotence and sovereignty. If only that were the case.
This little disagreement or misunderstanding is simply one sign of a greater problem. Many Christians, evangelicals especially, talk about a personal relationship with Christ. Such a relationship may be less important in some denominations than others, but at its core, the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus the Christ is essential to much of Christianity.
Some might argue that the personal aspect of one’s Christian faith is exaggerated. After all, Christ died on the cross for everyone’s sins, not just this writer’s, a reader’s, or anyone else’s in particular. How could Jesus have a personal relationship with everyone?
Jesus can have a relationship with each believer because of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives within each believer. It was given to the apostles at the time of Pentecost, and each Christian receives the Spirit when he or she accepts Jesus.3 The Holy Spirit is the key to our relationship with Jesus Christ.4
For the record, the discussion of a personal relationship with Christ is meant to clarify, not cause further debate. If a reader does not believe in such a relationship, as it is meant here, that is the reader’s choice, and it is one this writer respects. However, one’s personal beliefs on this matter are not the issue. The issue is that many Christians do believe that way, and they go one step further.
They believe their personal relationship with Christ gives them license to define Christ personally as well. This means, as discussed in “Whose Jesus,” that some Christians will not see Christ in any situation that does not fit their personal understanding of Him.
The people in question are the same people who think the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. They believe God changed during the gap between the testaments, or that Jesus represents a different God. A God that is all loving and kind, as they define those terms. To believe this way, they must ignore parts of the New Testament, and much of the Old Testament. Which brings this piece back to the original point.
How one understands the verse, “Jesus wept,” is important. A Christian who can see only one meaning for Christ’s tears is likely putting Christ in a box of their making. They are saying MY Christ could not have been upset with the mourners, or MY Christ was crying because He did not return in time to save Lazarus. The reality is that He is not OUR Christ. We are HIS. We do not define our relationship, HE does. However, God has given us the ability to control our side of the relationship. He will not force a believer to act or believe a certain way.
A Christian can, consciously or unconsciously distance him or herself from God and Christ. He can block or ignore the influence of the Holy Spirit. He can develop a personal image of Jesus, one that meets the believer’s personal criteria for God. God has given us that ability.
The author of the piece inspiring “Whose Jesus” stated her experience and study led her to believe that many believers were failing to find Jesus in their churches or churches they visited. She, and they, may have been right. This writer has visited churches that appeared to be built on faulty foundations and premises. That led AnOldSinner to wonder about the soul of those churches, to question whether Christ was there.
This writer, the other writer, and the Millennials may be right at times. Some churches may be devoid of Christ, the Holy Spirit, or God. On the other hand, He may be there, but we cannot see Him. We cannot see Him because He does not fit our expectations.
Jesus was rejected and died on the cross 2,000 years ago because He did not fit the image, the expectations, of the Christ held by the Jews. How many modern day Christians are treating Him the same way today? How many of us fail to see Him because we are looking for a Jesus that meets our image of Him? I wonder if He weeps for us at times?
1. “Jesus Wept” is considered by most to be the shortest verse in the Bible. Still, others argue there are shorter verses, depending on which language and which translation is considered. Chapter 5 verse 16 in 1 Thessalonians is claimed by some, while Job 3:2 is claimed by others. Again, depending on the language, the translation, and whether one is counting words or total number of letters.
2. The New American Commentary: John 1-11 states in part, “But the reaction of Jesus to that kind of wailing by the mourners was hardly empathetic support. The result was that Jesus became “disgusted” or “angered” (the Greek is embrimasthai) in his spirit and “perturbed” (tarassein) by the actions of the people.
3.Acts 2:38 says, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
4.Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
© AnOldSinner – 2015