Many years ago when I was teaching a college freshman class in New Testament Survey I had a student tell me that since Jesus was God there was nothing he didn’t know or couldn’t do. I pressed him a bit and learned that when Jesus was a baby he just pretended not to know since that would be hard to explain to others. The student didn’t know it but he was involved in what theologians call the “hypostatic union” – the doctrine of the two natures of the incarnate Jesus (divine and human). It stems from the time of Athanasius (a fourth century bishop of Alexandria) and was adopted as orthodox at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In simple terms, the student didn’t want his Jesus to be like the rest of us. It amounted to a denial of the humanity of Christ.
While informed believers accept the doctrine of two natures, there is at the same time a tendency to view Jesus as essentially divine and only acting like a man from time to time. In the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) I notice several very human reactions – things that you and I might do but not characteristic of how we might view a divine being. Jesus had heard that his dear friend Lazarus was ill so after two days he decided to go to Judea to see him. The fact that he waited two days has furrowed many a brow but one thing is sure, it’s more like man than God. The text says that Jesus “loved Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (vs. 5). The mention of each person emphasizes his love for each one individually; the imperfect tense in the Greek text suggests a continuing state. Since Jesus was both man and God, which one did the loving? Or was it both?
Later in the account when Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping he was “deeply moved in spirit and visibly distressed” (vs. 33). A moment later when they invited him to come and see the body he “burst into tears” (vs. 35). Once again I ask, was it God himself incarnate that couldn’t control his tears or was it Jesus the man? I am not a theologian but I understand that even today there is a difference in opinion on this issue between the Reformed and the Lutheran traditions. The important point for us is that Jesus cared. His concern for a dear brother taken so quickly affected him deeply: He wept (vs. 35, the shortest verse in the New Testament.)
I do not believe in sentimentality but the way Jesus lived tells us not to fortress ourselves against an honest expression of emotion whenever appropriate. To care for the welfare of a friend facing death may move us to follow the lead of Jesus and give way to tears. While some have thought that Jesus’ tears were due to the gloomy sense of loss prevalent at the moment, I choose to understand them as the tears of “one has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).