Weeping Over the City

Text: Luke 19:41-48
Date: Pentecost XI
+ 8/12/07

     There are only two accounts of Jesus weeping recorded for us. One was at the grave of His good friend Lazarus (John 11:35). The other is here (Luke 19:41). The prophet Malachi said that the Lord, the Messiah, would one day appear and visit His holy temple. The word for “visit” is the same word for an overseer or bishop. The Lord Jesus visited, came as the Lord and owner of the temple the first time only 40 days after his birth when he was presented as holy before the Lord (Luke 2:22). The second time of which we have record was as a twelve-year-old, sitting at the feet of the teachers. Now, after His three-year earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing, having bound Satan at His temptation in the wilderness, and calling disciples to himself preparing them for the climactic event for which He came, He finally drew near to Jerusalem and the temple for the last time. In Jesus God had transferred His promised gracious presence from the stone and mortar of the temple to the flesh and blood of His incarnate Son. In Jesus God “visited” His people as the fulfillment of everything the ancient temple stood for.

     After His humble entry into Jerusalem to the raucous welcome of the cheers and Hosannas of the crowds, before actually entering the city, however, He paused. In the sunlight He saw the bright, gleaming walls of the temple, and he was moved to tears. He wept over the city, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” He wept because the city whose name was peace (salem) would soon be a city forsaken of peace as she would blindly reject their Messiah, their Lord and God, and crucify Him. They rejected Him and crucified Him out of ignorance—ignorant of “the things that make for peace.” Even as He was dying He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they are ignorant, they do not know what they are doing.” Surprisingly, that forgiveness would come as a result of His very death where He died not for Himself, but for them and for all; the vicarious atonement in His body for the release from the bondage of sin, the forgiveness of sin and the life of the whole world!

     Jesus wept. He wept because he knew of their rejection of Him and the destruction that awaited this beloved city of God as He described it in terms of the physical destruction of the city and the temple, which, indeed, happened in 70 ad. But even more he wept because the people “did not know,” that is, did not believe that “the things that have to do with peace” are all wrapped up in God’s visitation in His Son, Jesus. Whereas even a blind beggar knew and believed who Jesus really was, those who could lay their eyes on Him saw only a radical rabbi, one demon-possessed, an enemy of both the state and the religious establishment.

     Jesus still weeps. He weeps over Detroit and over every city and citizen that rejects Him today, that does not recognize Him for who He is, that does not know the things that have to do with peace. But the divine weeping is even greater today since ignorance is no longer an excuse. For the truth of sin and God’s deliverance from sin by faith in His Son has been and is being preached to the whole creation. As St. Paul said it, “so they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Oh, there are, more today than in years past, people who are ignorant of God’s truth, who have never heard the Ten Commandments, the Law of God that condemns and convicts sinners, and the Creed, the Gospel of God that proclaims the wondrous gift of the Savior from sin and death. But the Voice, the Hands and Feet of Christ are still here; the Church in all her members still give witness and testimony to God the Savior “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

     Admittedly, the Church’s voice is very weak today. It is weak not only in numbers and volume but also where the one message of sin and grace, judgment and deliverance, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is, in many places, covered over with a message of mere happiness, mired in mere moralism, avoiding talking about what’s really important—sin and righteousness, judgment and deliverance, actually emptying the cross of Christ of its power (1 Cor. 1:17)—its power to convict of sin, to bring to repentance and to give the only deliverance there is.

     In this way the Church of today is little different than the temple of Jesus’ day. Notice that before He begins preaching and teaching in the temple, it first had to be cleansed, cleaned up, straightened out, making it a fit place for His teaching. He quite violently drove out those who treated the holy place as no different than a shopping mall. It always shocked me, really befuddled me when, in a former parish, the people designated to count the offerings for the day showed up for that task after church, but had not attended the service themselves! It apparently never even crossed their mind the hypocrisy. I felt embarrassed for them and hardly knew what to say (for which I repent in tears). The money is meaningless, even detrimental to the entire enterprise unless the heart, first, is in the right place…the place of repentance and faith. "It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers." And so there is weeping—divine weeping not only over the city and the world but even over the very house set apart to be the house of prayer.

     But then there is also cleansing, the visitation, the overseeing of the Church, in spite of all its wrinkles and waywardness, its spots of decay and weakness, by the Bishop and Overseer of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25), by whose blood we are cleansed from all sin, who “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). This is the reality, this is what Christ sees when He looks upon His Church. For all her outward weakness and waywardness, where His Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments administered according to His institution there is He standing in grace and mercy—mercy to forgive, and grace to renew and to strengthen and to save.

     The last word of our text: “The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.” Jesus is put to death by the chief priests and the Pharisees. But the people continue to respond to him with favor. Throughout Luke’s Gospel the people represent the faithful remnant of Israel who are positively inclined toward Jesus and his teaching. They remain faithful to him throughout even most of his day of crucifixion. They are what we are called to be: hearers of the Word, attentive hearers of Jesus’ teaching in the temple. For it is only His Word that can make sense…faithful sense of everything else.

           Jesus wept. He shed tears of sorrow over the city because of unbelief. He broke in grief when He saw what death was doing to the mourners at the grave of Lazarus. He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane over the price He was soon to pay for the sin of the whole world. But those same blood-shot eyes became bright again as, in His resurrection from the dead, He brought life and immortality to light for all who hear the Word of the Gospel, repent and believe. For His death and resurrection are the only thing that makes for peace. By faith in Christ alone do hearers of the Word have the hope of the world to come, where “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17).