TEARS AT THE TOMB
By Pastor Glenn Pease
It I had a dollar for every tear shed by men and women if the Bible, I would be a wealthy man, for the Bible is a book soaked with the tears of the saints. The weeping of the wicked and the sobs of sinners added to the tears of the saints makes a salty sea of liquid. Not only was Jesus a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but the Bible is a book of sorrows, and is acquainted with grief. The Bible deals with life as it really is, and real life provides abundant opportunity for the exercise of the tear ducts. Not all tears are bad.
Charles Dickens said, "We need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are like rain upon the blinding dust of earth." Tears, like rain drops, have brought forth much fruitfulness. Tears can move the very heart of God. When Hezekiah was told he would die he wept bitterly, and God sent Isaiah to say to him in II Kings 20:5, "Thus says the Lord, the God of David your Father: I've heard your prayers, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you."
Tears of repentance have transformed dying weeds into living flowers of faith. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, has a story of a demon and an angel debating over which should have possession of the body of one who had died in battle. The angel clinched his argument for possession by opening the eyes of the dead man. "See," said the bright angel, "The trace of a recent tear." This can be overly sentimental, and people can weep without repenting, but the fact is, tears of true repentance do move the heart of God. Few things are more tragic than eyes that have never shed tears over sin.
O ye tears, O ye tears! I am thankful that ye run!
Thou ye trickle in the darkness, ye shall glitter in the sun.
The rainbow cannot shine if the rain refused to fall,
And the eyes that cannot weep are the saddest eyes of all.
Tears of repentance are worth their weight in gold. Those who shed such tears will enter that land of bliss where God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. But those who never shed them will never escape them, for their destiny is outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Blessed are those who mourn now for sin, for they shall be comforted forever. Those who will not weep in time, will weep in eternity. There is no escape from tears, but you have a choice as to when you will shed them. Spurgeon said, "The tears of penitents are precious, a cup of them were worth a king's ransom. It is no sign of weakness when a man weeps for sin."
Henry Martyn is a legend among missionaries. One of the greatest ever, but he may never have been heard of had it not been for tears. As a student he got into a quarrel with his father. In a fit of passion he stormed out of the house, never to return. Before he could return and seek his father's forgiveness, his father suddenly died. His remorse was so pitiful, and his eyes so swollen with tears. F. W. Borham writes, "But that torrent of tears so cleansed those eyes that he was able to see, as he had never seen before, into the abysmal depths of his own heart." He saw himself as a sinner who desperately needed a Savior. His father, by dying, gained an answer to his prayers. The poet describes how tears of repentance can be a dead man's blessing.
When I was laid in my coffin,
Quite done with time and its fears,
My son came and stood beside me-
He hadn't been home for years;
And right on my face came dripping
The scald of his salty tears,
And I was glad to know his breast
Had turned at last to the old home nest,
That I said to myself in an underbreath:
This is the recompense of death.
There are many kinds of tears. There are the tears shed for the sins of others. Compassion for others has made the strongest men weak. Jesus wept for others, and tears like these have changed the course of history. Shakespeare said, "Did he break into tears? There are no faces truer than those that are so washed." Psa. 126:5-6 says of this kind of weeping, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Compassionate tears, like raindrops, have brought forth much fruit.
When Lincoln got the telegram that General Lee was about to surrender, he left Washington to go to the front. He found officials preparing for his entry into Richmond. Lincoln put his foot down and said, "There shall be no triumphal entry into Richmond. There shall be no demonstration just now." He walked alone into the city with his head bowed and his heart heavy with sorrow. He went to the Southern capital, and sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis. He put his head in his hands and wept. His sympathetic heart bound the North and South together. Pride and a gloating smile of victory could have widened the division, but a great man's humble tears cemented this split nation, and brought it together.
Lincoln was just one of the many great men who won great victories with the power of tears. Someone once built a statue to commemorate a victory, and when an observer said, "Why there is a tear in the eye," the sculptor said, "I know, we won the war, but we did not win the enemy." Lincoln's tears did not win the war, but they won the enemy.
No radiant pearl, which crested fortune wears,
No gem that twinkling hangs from beauty's ears,
Not the bright stars which night's blue arch adorn,
Nor rising suns that guild the vernal morn,
Shines with such lustre as the tear that flows
Down virtue's manly cheek for other's woes.
C. S. Lewis in, Letters To An American Lady wrote, "I am very sorry indeed to hear that anxieties again assail you. By the way, don't weep inwardly and get a sore throat. If you must weep, weep a good honest howl! I suspect we-and especially, my sex-don't cry enough now-a-days. Aeneas and Hector and Beowolf, Roland, and Lancelot blubbered like school girls, so why shouldn't we?
A concordance will reveal that almost every great man in Scripture wept. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the apostle Peter, the apostle Paul, and the greatest of all, Jesus. Paul even counseled us to weep with those who weep, as he did. The fact is, there is more about the tears of men in the Bible than about the tears of women. Women are suppose to be the crying sex, but there are very few descriptions of it in the Bible. One of them we do have is of a wife's cleaver use of tears to get her own way. The woman in the Bible who cried the most was the bride to be of Samson.
She wanted him to tell her the answer to his riddle. He would not do it, so we read in Judges 14:17, "She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her...." Samson may have been the strongest man in history, but even he could not take more than a week with a weeping woman. Women have used this fact effectively.
Ladies, to this advice give heed:
In controlling men,
If at first you don't succeed,
Cry, cry again.
Tears can be a virtue, but these were tears that were a vice. Samson probably wept himself for ever getting mixed up with this fake cry-baby. She ruined his riddle bet for him, and he got angry, and the whole wedding was off. Even these tears had some value, for they led to Samson never having to live with this cry-baby.
We could go on studying the various kinds of tears of the Bible, but our text should be our focus. Here are some of the most unique tears of the Bible. Mary Magdalene is the weepiest woman of the New Testament. She is the only person in history who had both angels and the son of God ask her why she was weeping. Tears at the tomb are not really much of a mystery. If weeping is not appropriate there, then it is hard to conceive of where it is. Tears in the tomb are a common place couple, as perfectly matched as black and grief. If you see someone crying at a grave site, you are not puzzled by this emotion. The real mystery is why the angels and the Lord asked Mary why she was weeping. Nobody ever asked the disciples why they were weeping. They were still shedding tears after the Risen Son had dried hers, and made her smile in joy. In Mark 16:10 we read of Mary after she met Christ, "She went and told those who have been with him, as they mourned and wept..."
The disciples tears are dismissed with a mere mention, but these tears at the tomb are an issue. Mary's tears are pure tears of loving grief. The disciples have tears mixed with guilt. They failed Jesus, they forsook Him, and their sorrow is contaminated with much selfishness. Mary, however, never forsook her Lord, and never denied Him, but openly followed Him to the end. Her love did not depend upon His popularity, or His acceptance among the leaders of Israel. It was not a superficial or surface love with her. Someone wrote, "Don't be veneer stuck on with glue, be solid mahogany all the way through." That was Mary Magdalene-she was solid.
Her pure tears, therefore, were the first to be dried by the risen Christ. Paul does not even mention her in his list of those who saw Jesus risen. Some see this as evidence of Paul's negative attitude toward women, but more than likely, Paul did not even know about these things of which John writes. John did not write his Gospel until long after Paul wrote his epistles. Whatever the reason for Paul's neglect, John makes Mary the first to see the risen Christ, and the first to have her tears of grief wiped away by the reality of the resurrection. Her tears at the tomb are symbolic of how deeply we can love Christ, and the drying of her tears are symbolic of how deeply Christ loves us in conquering death. Only Christ could dry her tears.
Verse 12 says she saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been. Jesus had hung on a cross between two thieves, but His body in death lay between two angels. The angels were literally bodyguards, for it the archangel Michael had to combat with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, as we read in Jude 9, it would seem likely that the body of Jesus would not be safe from demonic plots without angelic protection. The angels were obviously in the form of men, and Mary did not realize they were supernatural beings. She could not calmly engage in conversation with them had they been great winged creatures as the artists portray them. She spoke with them as if they were a couple of curious bystanders who stopped to see what was going on. She was entertaining angels unaware.
In verse 13 they asked her why she is weeping. For all we know angels never shed tears. They never lose loved ones to death, and they may not grasp the meaning of tears of grief. They were not asking for information, but were simply making her examine the basis for her sorrow, for they knew she had none, but just didn't know it. Then Jesus appeared, but He was unrecognized, and He asked her the same question, "Why are you weeping?" She tells of her search for the body of her Lord, and makes a commitment to carry it away if he would reveal where it is hidden. When Jesus called her by name, and she suddenly became aware that He was alive, she almost did carry Him away, and Jesus had to caution her.
Mary's tears were tears of ignorance. Three times in verses 9, 13, and 14 there is reference to the cloud of ignorance that was responsible for the rain of tears from her eyes. She did not know any of the positives, but saw only the negatives. Ignorance is the cause of many tears. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians who were weeping for Christians who had died, and said, "I would not have you to be ignorant brethren, concerning them which are fallen to sleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope." Then he goes on to remind them of the resurrection, rapture, and the precious hope of reunion. Those who live in ignorance of the good news will weep the tears of ignorance, but those who know the living Christ, who gained the victory over death, will only have tears of gratitude.
The word that brought light was her own name. When Jesus spoke her name the sun rose, the clouds dissolved, and the tears at the tomb were ended. The ear heard a sound which shut off the tears of the eyes. Words can be tear stoppers. Many a tear has been dried by words of love and encouragement. Mary heard the voice that had cast out the demons in her. She heard the voice that had given forth life and health to the multitudes. She heard the voice of her Lord, and from that moment joy filled her life, and tears were wiped away. The resurrection of Christ is the foundation for the ultimate wiping away of all tears, and an eternal life of rejoicing.
Who is this, a Man of Sorrows,
Walking sadly life's hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping
Over sin and Satan's sway?
'Tis our God, our glorious Saviour,
Who above the starry sky,
Now for us a place prepareth
Where no tear can dim the eye.
Until that day tears will continue to be a universal language. The simpleton can weep as well as the sage. You may not understand Greek or Spanish, but you can understand the tears of the Greeks and the Spaniards. Tears are neither foreign nor domestic, for they are universal. But for the believer tears are only temporary. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning, for when Jesus arose, He gained victory over all our foes.
I invite you to join me in the journey to that land of tearless joy by putting your trust in the Lord Jesus as you Savior. He wept so much on earth that we might weep no more in heaven. Whether you shed tears forever, or escape them forever, all depends on what you do with Jesus. It is tears forever, or tears forever wiped away.
Tears forever washed away,
Or tears forever flowing.
It all depends upon the way
That you and I are going.
Jesus is the Way to tears forever wiped away.