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“Jesus laughed.”

How do you feel about this verse? Laying aside for the moment that you will not find it in your Bible in this form, what sort of scene do the words provoke? Can you see Jesus of Nazareth roaring with laughter as he jumps for joy over his disciples? And if not, why? Has the man of sorrows overshadowed the Lord of joy?

“Jesus wept.”

John 11:35 is the Bible’s shortest verse. What do you see when you read those words? Is he bent over, face held in hands as his shoulders shake? What do you hear? Are there groans or sobs or simply silent grief? How do you feel? Do you share his pain as he plods toward the tomb of his friend? Tear away from the tears for a moment and let me ask you: are you surprised? Does the image of a crying Jesus seem dissonant to you at all? My guess is probably not. If a somber Jesus seems more real to you than a smiling one, I can’t say that I blame you. Sorrowful Jesus has gotten more press, and not without good reason.

Isaiah 53:3-4
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. KJV

We know that by the age of twelve, Jesus had a mastery of the Scriptures that astonished the rabbis and a sense of purpose that baffled his parents.[1] Can you imagine him reading these words in the synagogue as a young boy and knowing they were about him? Despised, rejected, grieving, sorrowful, and stricken. Who wouldn’t weep? We rightly worship Him as Lord. But I think at times that our adulation of the Son of God blinds us from admiring the man who charged the cross.

Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant is horrific, describing a man beaten beyond human recognition.[2] Jesus read these prophecies as a boy, a flesh-and-blood boy. As a young man, he breached the baptismal waters of the Jordan to see the Holy Spirit descend on him in the shape of the most common sacrifice offered by the poor. With wings outspread and feet pointed down, the Dove descended in cruciform, punctuating John’s announcement of the Lamb of God. They might as well have said, “Dead man walking.” But walk he did; into the wilderness, over the waves, through Gethsemane, and up to Calvary. Small wonder we would see such a man weeping.

Luke 19:41-42
41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. KJV

The king rides triumphant on the colt of an ass[3]. It is a festive occasion. Clothing and branches carpet the way as the disciples shout for joy. The atmosphere is jubilant. If you can’t see Jesus smiling as he warns the Pharisees of screaming stones, take another look. And then look down one more verse. And Jesus is weeping.

It is at this point that English fails us. I am a big fan of the King James Version of the Bible. But as one of my many teachers once told me, the problem with the King James Version isn’t the words you don’t know but the ones you think you do. And if you are tempted to think of Jesus weeping as I suggested he did at Lazarus’ tomb – with groans and sobs and shaking shoulders – you wouldn’t be far from the mark because this is the type of crying that the underlying Greek word describes.

The word translated “wept” in Luke 19:41 is the Greek word klaio (Strong’s # NT:2799). It means to sob or wail aloud, implying not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.[4] Its emphasis is on the noise accompanying the weeping.[5] This was not the type of weeping Jesus did on the way to raise Lazarus. There the word used is dakruo (Strong’s # NT:1145), which simply means to shed tears. Examining these tears and the sobs that came later alongside wedding parties, non sequiturs, flipping tables, “impossible” demands, and jumping celebrations help flesh out for us some of the emotional depth and breadth of our Messiah.

I am not a Jesus film aficionado. I stopped watching them a long time ago, mostly because they usually portrayed a Jesus as two dimensional as any icon or as lifeless as any idol. Every pronouncement was delivered in monotone, as if he were channeling in a séance instead of preaching with passion in the face of tremendous popularity and political persecution. I know of no theatrical or film production that does justice to his public displays of power or the probing insights of his private discussions documented for us in the Gospels. His discretion in the face of danger, his defiance when he seemed defenseless, his delight in his disciples, his deep compassion for the destitute, his fury toward the faithless, his depression while dealing with death, and his forgiveness as he succumbed to it all speak of an emotional intelligence par excellence.

What drove him to tears at Lazarus’ tomb? The commentators would have us believe that it was sheer empathy and personal grief at the loss of a loved one. The mourners at the grave certainly interpreted it that way. But then, they hadn’t kept company with him while he waited for Lazarus to die. They weren’t there to hear his decision to venture into Judea once again even though the Jews had threatened to stone him. The witnesses of his weeping weren’t aware of his cheerfulness for his disciples because he knew they would see a resurrection.[6]

And then when the man who turned water into wine, walked on the waves, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, and caused the blind to see came to his friends, they are frustrated and resentful. “Lord, if you had been here,” Mary says, crying at his feet, “my brother wouldn’t have died.” Jesus looks on her and those mourning about her and he is moved. But what compels him to tears isn’t compassion, far from it.

John 11:33
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned [Greek, emiirmaomai] in the spirit, and was troubled [Greek, extaraxen heauton] KJV

The Greek word translated “groaned” means to “snort with anger like a horse.”[7] His groaning wasn’t grief, it was indignation. He was angry in his spirit. And then the English reads “and was troubled,” which sounds a bit passive to me. The Greek is literally “he troubled himself.” We would say that in his anger, he worked himself up. And just in case we missed it on first read, John says it again in verse 38 to bring the point home. In view of the strength of his passion, his restraint in subsequent action is a wonder indeed.

He asks for the stone to be rolled away and Martha expresses concern about the stink. Clearly, she and Mary still seem to think that Lazarus is somehow beyond his reach to help. He prays to the Father out loud for the benefit of all present. “Father, thank you that you have heard me.” Have heard me? What does he mean, have heard me? I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly prone to thanking God for hearing my prayers when there is a negative patient outcome![8] And yet, here is Jesus praying publicly so all may hear his thankfulness to the Father for hearing him out while his friend died and allowing this tremendous display of glory.

Lazarus’ resurrection is unique among all the dead-raising that Jesus did. This wasn’t somebody recently expired still in their sick room or on the way to their burial. This is someone who had been in the grave a day longer than Jesus himself would venture to stay. Lazarus is not just a corpse, he is a decomposing corpse. And Jesus yells for him to come out.[9] This is big drama, the reveal. And what comes forth? A tightly wrapped man shuffling and hopping into daylight. If that’s not comical, I don’t know what is.

For more insights to Jesus’ sense of humor, one need go no farther than a chapter back. “I and my Father are one,” Jesus declares right in the Temple on Solomon’s porch in front of God and everybody. Blasphemy! The religious Jews pick up stones to put this preposterous preacher down.  In the verse that John didn’t write, I see Jesus raising his hands in front of the crowd. “Now hold on just one minute,” he says and then John takes up the narrative again. “I’ve done a lot of good works in front of you for my Father. Which one exactly are you stoning me for?” He is a dead-serious, funny guy.

If you’ve been involved in church life for any length of time, you have no doubt served at a function or two. Imagine that you have been part of the staff for a day-long, outdoor seminar held in a remote park. The sun is going down and no vendors came along to set up their concession stands. You go to the main speaker, who spent most of his day healing all the sick people instead of mourning for his cousin, and respectfully request that he call a dinner break so everyone can go find a restaurant in town. He looks at you and says, “Isn’t there a bakery nearby where we can pick up some bread for them?” You take a quick glance at the remains in the offering plate and say, “Let me get this straight. We have probably over ten thousand men, women, and children out there and you want us to buy food? I could give you my pay check for the next eight months and it still wouldn’t be enough!” You wouldn’t think it funny, but what if you found out later that he had the meal covered all along and simply asked the question to see how you would react?[10]

Now imagine that you served this multitude with only five loaves and two fishes and while they rested, you walked through all the picnicking groups and picked up left overs. You are tired, and perhaps a little numb. Jesus is compassionate. He sends you off with your friends on a nice row across the lake. You get to go home. Hallelujah! And then the storm comes.

I am certain that you are familiar with this story. Jesus’s walk across the waves was nothing less than a display of divinity.[11] But it wasn’t intended to be seen.

Mark 6:48-50
48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. [Emphasis added.]
49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
50 For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. KJV

Had they not cried out, he would have walked right on by. Supposing that they had made it to the other side on their own efforts, can you imagine their surprise at finding Jesus on the shore waiting for them? “Hey, fellas, what took you so long?” Priceless. But they screamed. So he stopped. “Cheer up,” he says, “It’s me.”

Cheer up? We’ve been working all day, rowing all night, the storm is mean, the waves are high, the boat is swamped and you come out of nowhere like a ghost in the darkness and say, “Cheer up!” Well, that’s Jesus for you. Why shouldn’t people be happy when he’s nearby?

When the seventy came back to Him and reported that even demons were subject to them through his name, he told them not to rejoice in the power he had given them but in the fact that their names were written in heaven.[12] If we stopped reading right there, it all might sound like a religious bubble buster.

I’m sure you’ve encountered the kind. God has done some marvelous work in you or through you and so you excitedly share with the saints what has happened. “That’s nice,” Sanctimonious Sam says, “but remember, we’re not to rejoice in what God does but who He is.” Sam’s sentiment sounds true, but what he is really saying is that you should temper your exuberance, not that you should refocus it. Somehow your excitement gets subtly reproved instead of redirected. Jesus is no Sanctimonious Sam. He wants his disciples to rejoice. He simply wants them rejoicing in the right thing.[13] And just to drive the point home, he demonstrates it.

Luke 10:21
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father… KJV

Here again the English betrays us; English and perhaps our own religious tendencies. We are used to seeing joy more as a state of mind than an action. Thankfully, Luke wrote in Greek. The word he used for “rejoice” is agalliao. It is a compound word made up of agan (much) and hallomai (to leap). It means “to exult, leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping denoting excessive or ecstatic joy and delight.”[14] Have you ever imagined Jesus this way? Have you ever seen him in your mind’s eye jumping and leaping for joy while shouting out praise to the Father because of you? There is no cheerleader like our Lord!

Hebrews 1:9
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. KJV

Jesus has an anointing of gladness that surpasses the entire human race that he joined. The man of sorrows is the happiest guy in the universe. The word translated “gladness” is the noun form of the verb agalliao discussed above. He has a leaping-and-jumping, singing-and-dancing, shouting-and-praising anointing that would make the most manic of us look depressed. And He lives in you. So smile already.

[1] Luke 2:46-50
[2] “…he was so disfigured that he didn’t even seem human and simply no longer looked like a man” Isa 52:14 Complete Jewish Bible
[3] This time he entered on a donkey in peace. Next time he’ll ride a horse in war. See Rev 19:11-16.
[4] from The Complete Word Study Bible and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.
[5] from Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domain. Copyright © 1988 United Bible Societies, New York. Used by permission.
[6] John 11:15, “glad” is chairo, to be cheerful.
[7] from Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright © 1985 by Broadman Press.
[8] “Negative patient outcome” is the modern medical equivalent to “Lazarus sleepeth.”
[9] It is beyond the scope of this article to fully unpack the mechanics of this resurrection. But in short, Jesus called Lazarus’ spirit up from the righteous section of Sheol which then went back into his body. Body + spirit = life.
[10] Matt 14:10-16; John 6:5-7
[11] Job 9:8; Ps 77:19
[12] Luke 10:17-20
[13] If you’ve ever had the pleasure of casting out demons, then you probably have a good appreciation for the Lord’s caution.
[14]from The Complete Word Study Bible and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.