The Bible records two times when the Lord publically cried and at least one time he likely did so. This study will also briefly delve into the topic of Jesus' tears shed in private.
The shortest verse in the entirety of Scripture is where we find it first recorded that Jesus publically cried. Lazarus had been dead for four days when he and his disciples came near his burial location (John 11:1, 17). After witnessing the tears of Mary and Martha, Lazarus' sisters, and those of some Jews who also mourned, he asked where the body was buried (verses 21 - 34). It was during his travel to Lazarus' tomb that the Lord openly wept (John 11:35).
Reasons to weep
What motivated Jesus to cry near Lazarus' tomb? He did not cry because he could not arrive in time to heal him, as he knowingly chose to travel where Lazarus lived after he passed away (John 11:6, 11 - 14). The Lord also did not shed tears wondering what he would do next or whether he had the divine authority to restore life.
Jesus knew God's will was to resurrect Lazarus (John 11:4, 11 - 15). He had also displayed his authority over life when he resurrected, earlier in his ministry, two others (Luke 7:11 - 18, 8:49 - 52).
The Lord cried in sympathy to the grief his close friends felt at a loss they could not, of themselves, reverse or rectify. He also shed tears, however, due to the faithlessness of the mourners.
Jesus, at that time of Lazarus' death, had carried out his public ministry for more than three years. Even though he had performed countless miracles, so much so that the apostles could not list them all (see John 11:25), those in Bethany still doubted who he was and what he could do (John 11:21, 32, 37, 39 - 40). Their stark lack of faith seems to have motivated him to cry.
As if to further underscore the fact that the people lacked faith, Jesus is twice recorded in John 11 to have groaned within himself immediately after someone expressed disbelief in him (John 11:32 - 33, 37 - 38). It is not recorded, however, that he groaned at the two previous resurrections he performed.
Sorrow for Jerusalem
On Thursday, March 30 in 30 A.D., less than a week before his last Passover, Jesus began what is often referred to as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28 - 44). He mounts a colt in Bethphage and travels toward the city. Crowds of people begin to swarm the road and shout praises to God. In the midst of such an outpouring of joy toward God, Christ begins to cry when he first sees the city (Luke 19:41).
Jesus' tears come from the sadness of knowing that the people's rejection of God, and his ministry, would lead to Jerusalem's utter destruction (Luke 19:42 - 44, see also 13:34 - 35). The hard hearts of the people, caused by a long history of refusing to obey their Creator, led to them being unable to comprehend the salvation offered by the Messiah (see Isaiah 6:9 - 10, 29:10, Romans 11:8, 10).
The destruction that led Jesus to cry occurred exactly forty years later (40 symbolizes the length of a generation) in 70 A.D. It was in this year that Rome's army, led by future emperor Titus, completed their destruction of Jerusalem. The siege of the city would ultimately bring such untold suffering that Christ, while carrying the beam he would be crucified upon, warned weeping women not to cry for him but for themselves (Luke 23:28 - 31).
In the Garden
Jesus, after his last Passover, led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to await his arrest. While waiting he prayed to God for the strength to endure what was to befall him (Matthew 26:36 - 44, Mark 14:32 - 41).
Although not directly stated, it is reasonable to conclude Christ cried during this critical and most difficult time in his ministry. Scripture states after he entered Gethsemane, "He began to be very melancholy and deeply depressed" (Matthew 26:37). He himself told three of his disciples that, "My soul is deeply grieved, even to death . . ." (verse 38). He also profusely sweated and required an angel to strengthen his resolve (Luke 22:43 - 44).
Jesus, even though he was God in the flesh, also possessed the same kind of human nature as we do (Hebrews 2:14 - 18, 4:15). The Lord never took for granted its ability to lead him to disobey his Father. Throughout his entire life as a human, he regularly set aside time to privately pray and cry tears to God for help in living a perfect life.
Who, in the days of His (Jesus') flesh, offered up both prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because He feared God (Hebrews 5:7, HBFV).
The death Christ cried out to be saved from was not his physical demise, as this was the primary reason he came to the earth (Hebrews 2:9 - 10, 7:27, 9:11 - 15, 26, etc.). He earnestly prayed to be saved from an eternal death that would come as the penalty for sinning one time!
Scripture records Christ publically shed tears twice and possibly a third time. He was also moved to cry to the Father countless times, in private, beseeching him for the spiritual strength and wisdom needed to fulfill, perfectly, his earthly mission.
Jesus, when his work as a human was completed, experienced the same blessings that will be given to all believers who cry in this life. In his famous Sermon on the Mount he promised those who are faithful to the end, "Blessed are those who weep now, for you shall laugh" (Luke 6:21).