“Too many Christians live as functional atheists.”

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The words were as shocking when I first heard them as they are now when I write them.  A Christian is a disciple of Jesus.  By definition, we believe not in “God”, but very specifically in Jesus.  How can we be atheists who don’t believe there is a God?

Because we may say we believe in Jesus, but we live as if we don’t.  It happens to every Jesus-follower from time to time, but we should accept it in our hearts less and less.

Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was sick and eventually, Lazarus died (John 11:1-16).  By the time Jesus (and the disciples) arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  One of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, had the faith to believe Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but now…her brother was dead.  When Jesus arrived, Martha’s grief overwhelmed her and she shared it with Jesus (John 11:22-27).

We pick up the story in John 11:28-35.

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.  

John 11:28-35 New International Version

When Martha tells Mary Jesus is asking for her, we don’t know if this is just John giving us summaries of conversations not recorded or if this is Martha’s way of getting her sister to do what she wants.  Judging from passages like Luke 10:38-42, I’m inclined to think the latter.

Seeing her weeping along with the other Jews who were mourning loudly, Jesus was, according to verse 33, “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”  Our English translations might obscure what’s happening here if we’re not paying attention.  Jesus was angry.  He was disgusted.  This is what the words actually mean in Greek.  This hardly seems compassionate, right?

Death had robbed Mary.  The mourners focused on the physical loss of Lazarus.  Martha knew she would see her brother again at the resurrection.  Mary was weeping for the Master while Martha had words with the Master.

Although their responses to Jesus seemed so similar, their reactions to Him could not have been more different.  Martha recognized the power of God in her presence while Mary and the mourners did not. 

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Jesus is taken to the tomb when Scripture records the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35, which simply reads, “Jesus wept.”

The word used here (in Greek) for “wept” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament and therefore, the Holy Spirit is pointing out to us that Jesus’ weeping is different from everyone else’s weeping.  His tears carry a different significance.

Jesus already said this wouldn’t end in death so why is He crying?

Certainly, Jesus felt compassion for the grief of Martha and Mary.  And just because you know how the story will end, doesn’t mean you don’t cry at the sad parts.

Based on how disturbed He was (verse 33), it could have also been tears from frustration.

In the greater context of His conversation with Martha and Mary and the greater context of the Gospel of John, I think His tears carried much more eternal significance.

I believe Jesus is weeping for the same reason He weeps today: we lose eternal perspective.

We mourn and groan in pain and quickly forget the words of the Master.  His compassion wasn’t just empathy—although certainly there was that too.

The compassion Jesus demonstrated was showing up and by His very presence reminding us: He has the last word in every situation.  He weeps when we don’t believe.

We break His heart when we function like atheists and treat death—either physical, emotional, marital, relational, or anything—like the final word.  It’s not.  Not when Jesus is there.

Do you break His heart with unbelief in His power to resurrect dead things in your life?  Are you a functional atheist even though you say, “I believe in Jesus”?