Why Was Jesus Mad?

April 2, 2017 | John 11:1-45 | Lent 5

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

I do not envy the task of Bible translators.  When confronted with a mysterious word in either Hebrew or Greek, they have to choose a word or phrase to accurately convey the true meaning of the text. (fun fact: in the Old Testament, the word “kidneys” was used to describe the inmost being of a person, the word we normally use today being “heart.”  But you won’t find a Bible verse that says, “Oh how my kidneys yearn within me to see the Lord!”  This is but one example of how cultural considerations must be made when translating the Bible into English).

John chapter 11 is a great example where many Bible translators simply get it wrong.

John 11:33 reads, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  I took this from the English Standard Version, which is supposed to be one of the most literal (read: “accurate”) modern-day English translations.  But what does “deeply moved” really mean?  I’m sorry but when I see this phrase, I think of indigestion.  After his lunch at Taco Bell, Jesus traveled to Bethany where, because of his liberal use of the Diablo Sauce on his fresco style bean burrito, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

When we read the verse in its original Greek, we come to the conclusion that Jesus was more than deeply moved; he was enraged.  Pastor Tim Keller, in his sermon on this passage, understands this verse to mean that Jesus was filled with passionate anger, almost like a lion ready to let out a ferocious roar.

So why did many translators choose to declaw Jesus?  My best guess is that we are troubled by the sight of Jesus actually getting angry.  We would rather not see Jesus ready to really go bonkers, maybe with the exception of flipping over the tables of money changers in the Temple Courts.  We would rather see Jesus angry and disappointed at the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Isn’t anger a sin?  Not necessarily.  Anger is an emotion, a feeling that one experiences when provoked.  To be angry isn’t necessarily to sin; oftentimes, it’s what we do when we are angry that leads to sinful actions or thoughts.  I remind myself of this every time I play a round of golf (which is about once a year).  Golfers label their balls so as not to mistakenly pick up or play another golfer’s ball.  I mark mine with a simple Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”  The temptation to lash out after hitting an errant shot is real – just ask any golfer.  But I have learned to not allow my anger get the best of me when I am out enjoying this game.  I only wish I could mark other areas of my life with Psalm 4:4 and follow suit!

Again, Jesus didn’t sin when he became angry.  But He did grow angry and we cannot overlook that.

Why was Jesus mad?  This is an important question and the context of John 11 will help us understand.

Essentially, Jesus was angry at the death of his good friend Lazarus and at the sorrow and grief being experienced by Mary and Martha.  Jesus grew angry because Jesus knew that this is not how the world should be. Jesus was filled with so much anger and sadness, in fact, that at the sight of Lazarus’ tomb, he openly wept in a shameless display of raw emotion.

This is an image of Jesus I have come to truly appreciate.  My Jesus is a Lord who does not simply heal and restore people because He has the power to do so.  No.  My Jesus is one who enters fully into humanity to experience our deepest sorrows and fears.  My Jesus is one who identifies with us when we are at our lowest.  I imagine that Mary and Martha were a mess at this time.  Hair disheveled, eyes puffy and nose bright red.  Their dresses probably filthy with all the tears mixed in with the dirt every time they collapsed to the ground.  My Jesus was angry at this funeral scene because He fully entered into the suffering and pain of His dear friends.

But death did not have the final say in this story.   We read through to the end and see that Jesus displayed His awesome power by raising Lazarus from the grave.  This miracle is not meant to be stared at and memorialized; no, the sign points us to the greater reality that in Christ Jesus we have the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Today, I believe this anger would suit the Church well.  There is no shortage of suffering in the world around us.  Beloved Church, if we are to love the world with the love of Jesus, shouldn’t that also mean that we grow angry when we see pain and suffering in our midst?  Should we not also have a deep anger welling up within us when we see the dehumanization of others?  When we see the images of war in Syria, or famine in Somalia, or racism and bigotry in the images of a burnt out African-American church or the shattered windows of a graffiti-marked mosque, should we also not burn with anger at the sight of injustice among us?

Like Psalm 4:4 instructs us, in our anger may we not sin.  Instead, like the Lord Jesus may our anger move us into a compassionate engagement with the world that is desperate for the touch of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.


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