33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[e] in his spirit and greatly troubled (John 11:33).
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it (John 11:38).
If you ask Bible readers to name a time Jesus got mad, most of them would talk about when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13). Probably none of them would say, “What about that time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead?” But that’s only because we haven’t done a great job translating a key phrase in John 11.
Twice in this account, we see that Jesus is “deeply moved,” according to the English Standard Version. This is actually a pretty tepid translation of the Greek word embrimiomai, which literally means “snort with anger.” Of all the English translations, the New Living Translation is the only one that gives you this sense: “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him.”
I can understand why most translations chose to go with “deeply moved” instead of “deep anger.” It’s confusing. What was Jesus deeply angry at, or who was He deeply angry with? The mourners, making all that racket? The sisters, for not believing hard enough? Neither one of those options seems to fit with the gentle, tender, compassionate Jesus who mourns with those who mourn and weeps with those who weep.
Instead, I think Jesus was angry at death itself. I think he was indignant at the interruption death causes. Jesus was with God in the beginning. He knew God’s design for humans—that we would never die. That we would continue in unbroken, uninterrupted fellowship with God forever. But sin messed everything up. When humans chose to follow their own way, death disrupted the divine design.
And I think Jesus hated it the way a brilliant architect hates any modification to his blueprint. He knew what He intended. And He knew that the pain and loss and anguish these two sisters were experiencing was not supposed to be part of the blueprint.
One morning recently, I got to my office at church, and the first person I saw was Mr. Joe, the old man who restocks our benevolence closet. Normally he greets me with a smile, his eyes twinkling behind his thick glasses. Today, the glasses were off, and the eyes were red and puffy from tears. Mr. Joe’s daughter is in the closing days of her fight with cancer.
Joe knows the Lord. And he knows his daughter knows the Lord. He has cancer himself, and he and I have already planned his funeral. His faith is strong.
But still. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. Cancer isn’t supposed to disrupt the design. But it does. All the time. And when I saw the pain on this dear man’s face, then I felt just a touch of the divine indignation Jesus felt against the Great Interrupter.
And even though I know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; even though I know that death does not have the final say, it still frustrates me that death has any say at all. I don’t want to “pardon the interruption.” When death says, “Excuse me,” I don’t want him to butt in.
So Lord Jesus, thank you that it made you mad. Thank you for “snorting with anger” at the tomb of your friend Lazarus. Help me to be a little angry at every graveside. And thank you for interrupting the Interrupter.
As you did with Lazarus, one day You will loose us all and let us go.
Note: this idea formed the basis of a a funeral sermon I preached for a young drug addict. It has become the most-viewed post on this blog, which tells me a lot of us know someone whose life was cut short by addiction. I lost my nephew in August in similar circumstances. Here is that sermon. I pray it helps you cope with your grief. Funeral for An Addict (Ecclesiastes 7:2; John 11)