The staff of The Western Journal is working a reduced schedule over Easter weekend to allow our employees the opportunity for rest and worship with their families if they so choose. We are re-publishing this article as a service to our readers, who reacted strongly to it when it first ran.
A version of this article previously appeared on the desiringGod.org website on March 27, 2012.
Tears sum up everything gone wrong in this fallen world.
Grief, frustration, pain, disappointment, loss, stress, tragedy, disaster, regret, mourning, depression, lament, brokenness, abandonment — all of it can be expressed through the universal language of tears. We need no interpreter to read this language: the wet, bloodshot eyes, the sobs, the facial contortions, the sporadic breathing, the body tremors, the broken speech.
We are instantly struck by the tearful face of one who weeps the blood of a wounded soul (Augustine).
… But Isaiah Points Forward
The pages penned by the prophet Isaiah are soaked with tears.
And that’s probably why the bold, feasting promise we read about in Isaiah 25:6-8 is especially striking:
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
Isaiah feasted his imagination on the eschatological celebration in Zion. It was a large mountaintop party attended by people of every nation, every race, every language (verse 6). And there was much to celebrate. The veil of death and sorrow and warfare that had cast its ugly shadow over the whole earth for centuries was being ripped in half and thrown away (verse 7). As the nations enjoy perfect peace and harmony, they gulp down rich foods and delicacies, while God gulps down death, swallowing it in defeat forever. The sadness is gone and every last tear was finally dried from the face of God’s people (verse 8).
… And Easter Points Forward
Isaiah’s incredible feast continues to draw near, a point that we celebrate once again when Easter arrives in a few weeks. The feast points us to the Christ who has been raised from the dead. By his death and resurrection Christ has ripped the fangs out of the jaws of death. The snake still taunts, but the venom is gone.
In his great chapter on the Savior’s resurrection, Paul is reminded of Isaiah’s feast and points us forward to the day when we will put on imperishable bodies. Some believers will not die, but most of us will have our bodies cast into the ground and covered with dirt, like a seed. But eventually all God’s children will put on incorruptible bodies and feast together. This is the final act when Isaiah’s scene of death swallowed forever comes true (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
Our personal individual resurrection ushers us into a feast that we find written about in the final chapters of the Bible. There the children of God join a wedding celebration with the risen Lamb. Here, once again, the themes of our tears and Christ’s resurrection get connected.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
Which explains why God’s plan to stop every sorrow and dry every tear is rooted in the Easter morning empty tomb. There should be no tears shed at an empty tomb, the striking point that confronts Mary on Easter morning (John 20:11–13). “Woman, why are you weeping?” The question from the mouth of a perplexed angel makes a profound theological point: Nothing is more out of place than tears of sorrow dripping into the dirt where death has been defeated.
Isaiah saw the feast coming, and it’s a feast that we see even more clearly on this side of side of the Easter Sunday. Death has been defeated, and it now serves the purposes of the church (1 Corinthians 3:22). The new creation has dawned. And through the gospel, the elect are being invited from every nation to participate in the feast (Revelation 19:9).
It does not mean all the tears have been dried, but it does mean the tears have been defeated. Sorrow will continue to be part of our daily lives in this fallen world. And weeping continues to play a valuable role in our gospel ministry to the world and to one another (Acts 20:19, 31; Romans 12:15).
But when we cry, we cry through eyes that have seen a glimpse of the age to come. Just as surely as Christ has wiped away every one of our sins, so will he one day wipe away every one of our tears (Acts 3:19, Colossians 2:14).
Death has been defeated. Death will be swallowed.
And because Christ has risen, he is turning water into wine, turning our tears of sorrow into the well-aged wine of eternal joy.
Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is senior writer for Desiring God and author of 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (2017), John Newton on the Christian Life (2015), and Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011). He hosts the Ask Pastor John podcast and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and three children.
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