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The Shortest Verse in the Bible

John 11:17-35

Pray with me, please.  Lord, nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling. Amen.

Now here’s a bit of trivia for you. 455 years ago, a French printer named Robert Estienne sat down and, for the very first time, divided the Bible into chapters and verses. In fact, he divided the Bible into 1,189 chapters and 31,173 verses. Now for some reason known only to himself, when he reached the point of what we call the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, he chose to divide that chapter in such a way that the 35th verse of that chapter consists of just two words: “Jesus wept.” That is the shortest verse in all of the Bible.

Today I wish to focus our attention upon this shortest verse in the Bible, because I want us to attempt to capture the immense spiritual significance I believe can be found in those two remarkable little words: “Jesus wept.” Here in this, the shortest verse of the Bible, we catch a glimpse of the humanity of Jesus. Jesus came to this earth not only to save humanity for eternal life, but also to serve as the perfect model or pattern for humanity in this earthly life. That is why all through the ages, the true Church has always celebrated not only the divinity of Jesus, but also His humanity. Jesus, you see, is unique. Jesus is not some mythical Greek god, not some pagan deity, not some vague, mystical, Oriental idea, isolated and insulated from the human experience. Quite the contrary. Jesus is God in human form, participating fully in the life that you and I live every single day. When Jesus saw, He saw as we see. When Jesus heard, He heard as we hear. When Jesus was thirsty, He was thirsty just as we are thirsty. When Jesus took one hand and smashed it against the other, it made exactly the same sound as when we do that. When Jesus took upon His shoulders a burden or a weight too heavy to carry, He fell, just as we fall when we seek to carry a weight which is too heavy for us. And when Jesus attended the funeral of a very close friend, He did exactly what we do under similar circumstances. He wept. Jesus, you see, was completely involved in the human experience as we are. Jesus’ life was woven, and His body was made, of exactly that of which you and I are woven and made. The same blood, the same sweat. And yes, the same tears.

C.S. Lewis, who always expressed profound truth in vivid, memorable ways—C.S. Lewis described it as being like the cliff-divers down in Acapulco. Those young men who scale the rocky cliffs, and then, from the height of those cliffs, leap out, and in a graceful arc, then plunge down toward the sea, piercing the surface of the emerald waters, plunging down into the icy darkness of the depths, touching the muddy bottom. And then with lungs reaching and stretching for air, they come surging back up to the surface again. Just so C.S. Lewis says, Jesus leapt from the splendors of Heaven, and in a graceful arc, descended down, all the way down, into the icy darkness of life on this earth. Staying not just for a moment or two, no. But staying for 33 years. And yet never once losing all of the beauty and all of the excellence that so clearly marked His life. C.S. Lewis is right. Jesus is not just God in human form. It is so important for us to understand that Jesus immersed Himself fully and completely in the human experience. The life that you and I live every day is exactly the life that Jesus lived. All of that is captured in those two remarkable little words: “Jesus wept.”

And here in the shortest verse in the Bible, we catch a glimpse of the strength of Jesus.

That’s right. That’s what I said. Strength. We do tend sometimes, especially in our modern society, to regard tears as somehow being a sign of weakness. I argue to the contrary. And Jesus is the proof. We are told in Scripture that when Jesus wept, He wept right out in the open where everyone could see. He was unashamed of His tears. There are two vivid examples of that recorded for us on the pages of the Bible. One, when Jesus was at the tomb of His very close, dear friend, Lazarus. The other, when Jesus stood looking out over the city that He especially loved, the city of Jerusalem. Jesus wept right out in the open. The tears came flowing down His face. I would suggest to you that the tears of Jesus are nothing less than testimony to His amazing strength.

Let me show you what I mean. Some of you may remember the amazing relationship which existed between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo—two professional football players who played for the Chicago Bears. Overcoming racial barriers, the two of them became incredibly close friends. Now right at the peak of their professional football-playing prowess, suddenly Brian Piccolo was stricken with terminal cancer. As he lay dying in the hospital, Gale Sayers was named to receive the George Halas Award as the Most Courageous Player in all of professional football. On the occasion of receiving that award, Gale Sayers stood before a large audience of people. And suddenly, tears began coursing down his cheeks. And he said to the assembled crowd, “I love Brian Piccolo. I want you to love him. And tonight when you hit your knees, ask God to love him too.” A strong man weeping for his beloved friend. Is that a sign of weakness? I think not.

But more to the point, look, please, at Jesus Himself. Jesus was, beyond any question, the single strongest man who ever lived on the face of this earth. No one, but no one, has ever been able to match His physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and moral strength. No one. He is the strongest man who ever lived. I’m talking here about one who possessed the rippling muscles and the taut sinews of a hard-working carpenter. I’m talking here about one who could stand in the bow of a pitching boat in the middle of a storm and command the wind to be still. I’m talking here about one who could do battle with the Devil in the Judean wilderness and win. I’m talking here about one who could walk into the midst of a hostile crowd of Sadducees and Pharisees, never blinking an eye nor mincing a word. I’m talking here about one who could erupt in righteous anger and single-handedly drive a whole hoard of money-changers off the temple mount. I’m talking here about one who could be beaten and cursed and spat upon by Roman soldiers, and who then could stand before the Roman governor in such magnificence that all this pathetic Pontius Pilate could say was, “Behold the man.” Ecce homo. That’s the Latin. That’s what Pontius Pilate would have said. “Ecce homo. Behold the man.” Translated into the street slang of our day, believe it or not, what Pontius Pilate was actually saying was, “You the man.” That’s right. “Ecce homo. You the man. Behold the man.” Get the picture, please. Jesus, beaten within an inch of His life, standing before the symbol of earthly power, standing in splendid silence. Is that a sign of weakness? I think not. And so on the strength, on the strength of Jesus, I want to contend with you that tears are not a sign of weakness. Rather, they are a sign of true strength. All of that is wrapped up in those two incredible little words: “Jesus wept.”

And then in this, the shortest verse in the Bible, we catch a glimpse of the compassion of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, the funeral services for His great friend Lazarus were already underway. Mourners were all about. They would have been dressed in sackcloth and ashes. There would have been loud wailing that is always a part of funerals in the Middle East, even now. Musical instruments would have been playing an incessant stream of funeral dirges. And the Bible says, when Jesus saw that, He wept. Notice, please, please notice, Jesus did not weep for Lazarus. Did you catch that in the reading? Jesus did not weep for Lazarus. Jesus knew that Lazarus already had one foot in the Kingdom of Heaven. And Jesus knew that He could call Lazarus back to this life in an instant. And Jesus knew that even if He didn’t call Lazarus back to this life, Lazarus’ next step would take him into the full glory of Heaven. Jesus knew that. And so Jesus didn’t weep for Lazarus. No, no. The Bible makes it absolutely clear. It says, “When Jesus saw their weeping, He wept.” When He saw the shattering grief in the lives of people He truly loved, that’s what moved Him to tears.

I submit to you that that is a clear demonstration of the loving compassion of Jesus Christ. I find it fascinating to note that the Greek word which we translate wept is actually a very descriptive word. It literally means that Jesus’ whole body began to shake with sobs, and tears ran like rivers down His face. He was so moved by the hurt and the heartache and the heartbreak and the brokenness and the tragedy that people He loved were experiencing, that He broke down and cried. No clearer picture could ever be painted of the loving compassion of Jesus Christ. When He saw their weeping, He wept.

Dear friends, I would contend that it is that loving compassion of Jesus that draws us to Him as nothing else. It is that loving compassion of Jesus that works in us and enables us to become what He wants us to be. I believe that it is that loving compassion of Jesus which does indeed speak to me so clearly, so pointedly, so powerfully in these two remarkable little words. Because you understand, dear friends, what I need more than anything else in life is a Savior. I need someone who not only will tell me how to live, but who will show me how to live. I need someone who not only will forgive my sin, but who then, by the power of His love, will enable me to go on to become more than I ever believed I could be. I need someone who will wrap His great, strong, loving arms around all the brokenness of my human sin and hold me tight, and thus hold me together in life. I need someone who cares—really, really cares.That someone is Jesus. It is in these remarkable little words that we see the clear revelation of the loving compassion of Jesus Christ.

Take this home with you. Back when Bishop Booth, the great Episcopal bishop of the state of Vermont, died, he was relatively young. But he had lived an exquisitely beautiful life. When he died, a nurse in the hospital suddenly said, “I know where Bishop Booth is tonight. He’s in Hell.” Her words stunned the family and the friends who were standing nearby. Stunned them into silence. But the nurse immediately went on to say, “Because that’s the only place where Bishop Booth would be truly happy. Where there are so many people who need Jesus.” The Bishop was Jesus’ man. Do you understand that Jesus literally saw Hell? We say it in the Creed. “He descended into Hell.” I believe He went there in order to find sinners He could save. Just so, I believe that Jesus descended into this life, which sometimes, I tell you, looks and feels to me a lot like Hell. Jesus descended into this life in order to find sinners to save. And I believe that Jesus is right here, right now. He is moving up and down these aisles. He is moving across the pews where you are sitting. He is whispering in our minds and in our hearts, “I have come, not to save the righteous. Oh, no. I have come to save sinners.”

My beloved people, the one who says that is the one who understands what it means to be truly human. The one who says that is the one who knows the strength and the renewing power of human tears. The one who says that is the one who stands ready to wrap us up in His great, loving arms, to hold us tight in life, and thus give us a true reason for living. The one who says that is the one who right now is longing, desperately longing, to make every single one of us His very own forever.

So there are 31,173 verses in the Bible. The shortest of those verses is John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” Just two words. But maybe now you can understand why those two remarkable little words fill my heart with such an incomparable hope.

Pray with me, please. God on high, hear my prayer. Enable us here and now to see Jesus reaching out to take us as His own. Enable us now to respond by reaching out and embracing Him as our very own. Amen.


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