Luke 19:41-44 “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.”
The one referred to in our text as approaching Jerusalem is Jehovah Jesus. Here is God in the flesh, and our Lord shows men and women what God is like. To see him is to see the one true and living God. We are also meeting in Jesus of Nazareth the proper man, God’s great definition of a man, and so his life shows us the life of the archetypal man, the last Adam, and how he behaves. He is God, and he is man; he is two perfect and distinct natures – manhood and Godhood – in one person. The God who created the universe is a personal God. We don’t refer to him as ‘it’ but as ‘he’. He has personality – wise, loving, patient, kind, holy, truthful in all he is and all he does. He makes man in his image and likeness. God speaks to man and then through men he speaks to others. In other words God separates to himself men who become his mouthpieces – we call them God’s prophets – and he communicates to them privately exactly what he wants them to say to us about himself and about us. Noah was one such prophet, as were Abraham, and Moses, and David and the others. He tells them much about why the world is in the state it’s in, how man defied God and fell into sin, and also they tell us God’s own response to all this, that God is grieved at the wickedness of man. He is determined it will not go on being like this for ever and ever. The prophets tell us about the compassion and sorrow of God. One of them was called Hosea, and the way his wife behaved broke his heart. The heart of Hosea displayed God’s love.
But it was not enough for God to speak to us about himself through these men (who were his mouthpieces). He certainly wouldn’t shout down from heaven and shatter the peace of all the world. That’s science fiction and extra terrestrial stuff! God’s way was to become a man, to add to his deity manhood. He told the prophets that this would happen. A virgin would conceive and bear a son, and he would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He would not be sheltered from the grief of the world – griefs like those which some of you have known. Crushing griefs. He would be a true man in our humble condition. So the eternal Son of God was formed in the womb of the virgin Mary. He grew up through childhood and adolescence to manhood. He had a human brain, and the human means of acquiring and retaining knowledge and learning from it – observation, listening, experiencing and retaining. He had human emotions and human tear ducts. When he cried he had to dry his eyes, and his nose also ran and he needed to blow it and wipe it. He had a lump in his throat and a heaviness in his stomach at such times. He was not a stoic. He was touched by the feeling of his friends’ infirmities. He is our sympathetic fellow sufferer. He was a people person, looking forward to having a meal with his best friends. He needed them to be with him when he was cast down. He asked them to pray with him for an hour. He needed assurance from them when they’d let him down badly that they still loved him. “Do you love me?” he asked one of them several times. He needed to know of Peter’s many expressions of love just like a wife needs that when she’s been betrayed by her husband.
So Jehovah Jesus had an inner emotional life just as we do. We don’t know much about the emotional life of angels but we know much about Jesus’ emotional life because he was not afraid to expose that to us. He spoke frankly and openly about his feelings. He didn’t consider it to be a sign of weakness to share such things with the whole world. You know there are many men who are utterly stoical and impassive. The Buddha is also like that, but our Lord wasn’t like that. He told his friends, “My soul is troubled” (Jn. 12:27). Before the crucifixion he acknowledged, “My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38). In other words he felt his soul was going to burst or break with sorrow and that would kill him. I am saying that Jehovah Jesus expressed the full range of human emotions, that he was amazed at the faith of the centurion, and he wept in grief at the death of Lazarus and the sorrow of his two sisters. When he prayed he didn’t just repeat a prayer by rote. We are told that he “offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebs. 5:7).
When Christ saw a multitude of people he saw a multitude of pain. He told his friends that he had compassion on them, or better that he pitied them. There was an occasion when his vast open air congregation was starving at the end of long sessions of teaching. He said to his disciples, “I can’t send them away in the state they’re in. They are ravenous, and where can they get food from here? They will collapse with hunger as they walk back.” He was concerned about human hunger, but more than their physical needs he saw them as having no one to protect them. They were like sheep without a shepherd with a pack of hungry wolves approaching. They were in a desperate plight and he was especially moved with concern because they couldn’t see it! They were blind to their danger and he pitied them greatly.
So we’re being told through the life of Jesus that this is how God is. God is as compassionate and involved in our lives as Jesus. Let me illustrate this by reminding you of a parable that Jesus once told, maybe his greatest parable, of the prodigal son. The boy has taken all his inheritance from his father at the earliest possible opportunity, and he had hurried off to Las Vegas, or the equivalent of that day, and he had splurged the lot in night-clubs, parties, drinking, gambling, expensive restaurants and women, on and on and on until every penny was gone. He was broke and he was soon friendless; all his fair-weather friends didn’t want anything to do with him any longer, and he took a job feeding pigs. All he had were the pigs and the memories of what he’d done. Then and there, desperately hungry and broke, he came to himself, and humiliatingly he left that place and walked back home with a rehearsed speech. Every day his father had looked down the country lane to see if his boy were coming home. Day after day, no boy could be seen walking home, until one never to be forgotten day when his father saw a thin, bedraggled figure slowly, shyly walking to the farm, and the old man was quickly out of his chair, and through the front door and across the farmyard, and through the gate, and he was running and running and running, his tear-filled eyes fixed on his boy. What if the lad changed his mind? What if stopped and turned back in suicidal despair? He mustn’t! He will not! He ran to him and took him in his arms and wept over him and kissed him and hugged him. “This, my son, was lost and is found, was dead and is alive again.” And he commanded the most joyful celebration for his son’s return.
That weeping old man clinging to his wastrel son is God! Jesus paints this picture of what God is like. He underlines it by another parable of a lost and wandering sheep that’s in deadly peril, but ignorant of that reality. It’s surrounded as darkness falls by foxes and wild beasts. It’s on the edge of a precipice and a storm is blowing, but it can’t see the danger. It is nibbling fresh tender grass in the sunset. It’s the gayest of the gay. It’s living just for this moment. It’s the shepherd who is tortured by the anxiety of the moment, of what may happen to this sheep. The animal is unconcerned about the wolves lurking all around and the wind blowing up a storm and the clouds hiding any light from the mountain. Only the shepherd thinks about all of this – the helplessness of the animal, and its loneliness, and its inevitable destruction. The shepherd is carried along on a wave of pity and concern, and off he goes from the warmth of the house and the companionship of his family, into the darkness and the storm searching for the sheep, crying out in his heart, “Oh lead me to this sheep!” stumbling and falling but keeping on and keeping on until he has found and rescued the animal carrying it home on his shoulders rejoicing. The sheep wouldn’t come to him and so he must go and search for it. That is God! He bears our burdens when we refuse to admit we have any; he sets up the plan of sending his Son to seek and to save that which was lost.
Look at the dangers into which God the Son came. He came where men do the vilest iniquities. They will go into a school yard, as one man did last Monday, and shoot dead three children and a father he had never seen before, because they were of a different race from himself. Then they will take the loveliest and best of men and they will nail him through his hands and feet to a cross and lift up that cross and mock him as his soul screams in pain. Such men, acting like that, seem beyond repentance and beyond forgiveness. They seem to have no idea what wickedness is, and yet Jehovah Jesus pleads for them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is God!
The heart of the Christian gospel is the picture of a God who loves, and that love wants us. He’s got to have us! It is not merely that all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, but there is a dynamic and saving love with God that moved him to seek for his people, billions of us, and find us and hold us and never let us go, a love that will never be satisfied until we are in his arms, and he won’t ever let us leave him again. That is the love of God. He pities us, yes, but more than that, he will relieve us of our misery. He has made up his mind and will do it. In Christ that work is done and finished. That is why he has come to Jerusalem.
So here in our passage is God, and here also is the archetypal man, both persons, Creator and creature, present in this one person Jesus of Nazareth, and we are told by Luke that when his long journey to Jerusalem was over and he stood on a hill top to see lying before him this magnificent little city, as he saw it he wept over it. And I am pleading with you not to think that this is the man Jesus of Nazareth weeping, that this is not only Christ’s humanity that Luke is recording. This is the grief of God incarnate. This is how God is, and it is simply impossible for us to put a label on each action of the God-man and say, “Here it is the true God who is doing this, but there it is the true man who is doing that.” I am saying that in our text we see both God and man filled with sadness at the sight of the people of Jerusalem, and what is more, here is how all of us should be seeing our town in its history, and in its contemporary confusion and need, and in its pervasive contempt of the true Messiah, and we too should grieve and God makes every Christian men of sorrow and acquainted with grief. But here is also how the one living and true God looked at Jerusalem, its past, present and future, and how God views every great city today. And so now we must ask the question why it was that Jesus wept over the inhabitants of this city, and Luke gives us three reasons for his grief.
THEY WERE IGNORANT OF WHAT WOULD BRING THEM PEACE.
The Lord Jesus knew Jerusalem well. He had lived for thirty years in Nazareth 70 miles north of Jerusalem, a few days journey for pilgrims. Three times a year throughout his entire life he and his family spent a week in Jerusalem at the feasts. So in a hundred visits to Jerusalem Christ had got to know the city and its people like the back of his hand. Then he had preached there a number of times during his public ministry, and the people of Jerusalem had also gone out to hear him when, for example, the occasion came when five thousand men had heard him and on another seven thousand. I am saying that there would have been many from Jerusalem in the crowd.
They had seen his miraculous healing. Some had spoken to Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead, and to members of Lazarus’ family. They had heard his great claims, “before Abraham was I am . . . I and my Father are one . . . I am the way, and the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.” He claimed to be the Judge of all mankind and its only Saviour. They had heard his great gospel promises, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). They had heard him say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Those were the words they talked about at Jerusalem’s gates, and the women as they waited to collect their daily pots of water and as they washed clothes at the riverside. “Did you know what he did yesterday . . . did you hear what he said? He said we could have peace if we came to him. Is that right? I don’t know if it is, but it’s hard to argue with someone who’s given sight to that beggar who was born blind. I don’t know. I think the jury is still out.” That is what was being talked about. There was no big groundswell of opinion flowing in his direction, no populist movement had spread. There was a burst of enthusiasm as he entered the city on a donkey at the Passover. Maybe he would stop being so gentle and meek and lead them into battle with Rome and display his power in smiting the Roman armies all dead. Until then they were not committing themselves to him.
Jesus knew all this, and was confronted with a city he loved but whose people didn’t want him as their Lord. They had heard so much; they had seen the most extraordinary things people living on this planet have ever seen and heard, but they were not satisfied. They couldn’t say, “Now if someone came back from the dead I would believe,” because he had raised three people we know of from the dead, and they still did not believe, and Jesus wept at their defiance. This is what he said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes” (v.42). When we say that God knows everything we mean that God knows what might have happened to us if we had not chosen that option, or refused to do that deed, or not gone that way. If only we had known what would result, and God does know.
Sometimes we say about people, “if only they knew what they were missing . . . if only they knew the consequences of steady drinking and constant smoking and sexual permissiveness . . . if only they knew what would happen if they were unfaithful to their wives . . . if only they knew what refusing to work at school and passing their exams would result in . . . if only they knew what constant viewing of pornography on the web would do for them . . . if only they knew what gambling and drug taking would do for them . . . if only they knew what constant watching television does for hours day after day, the flickering screen, the attempts at humour and excitement, year after year after year and your life is over! Eat, drink and watch telly! If only they knew there was a better way of living your life . . . then they would change. They would turn their lives around. What peace they would find! What happiness! If only . . . if only . . .
What does Jesus say here? “If they’d only known on this day what would bring them peace.” It’s all a quest for peace isn’t it? The drugs, the relationships, the drink, the pornography, the television – “this will bring me peace because I don’t have it now.” But there is no peace for the wicked. No peace whatsoever. A Christian once said, “God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.” God has sent his Son into the world as the one Mediator with him. He came into the world to show us the living God, and to live the life that we should live as the real and true man. He became the Lamb of God, and he made atonement for our guilt by his death on the cross. He died in our place, as our substitute. God dealt with him as we ourselves deserve to be dealt with – and as we shall be dealt with if we reject him as our Mediator and Substitute. But through the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ there is forgiveness for our sins. We receive mercy from God because Jesus had received justice from God, not for his own sins, for he had none, but for our guilt which he freely bore in his own body on the cross. Judgment for him; pardon for us.
That is God’s way of peace. We sinners keep falling short of God’s glory by our own doing, but Christ has come doing the works of the law and doing the payment the law demands, and we are declared righteous because of that – because of his righteousness. The way of peace is costly but the bill is paid by God, and the work is done by Christ. It costs us nothing, but it cost the Father the death of his Son. It cost the Son the agony and bloody sweat of Gethsemane and Golgotha to give us peace with God. But to us? No cost! It is free of charge! We did not buy this peace, Christ did. It was not earned by our doings but by the doings of Christ.
How is that gift received? How do we get that peace? By entrusting ourselves entirely and wholly in this life to Christ, and when we stand and give account to God we plead Christ, and for ever and ever in heaven we plead our only entitlement of being there to be the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not by our loving that we get peace because our loving is always imperfect. It is not by our good works because they are all mixed with sin. It is because of Jesus’ loving, and Jesus’ good works that God gives his peace to us. Those are the only terms by which we can come to God. God has made that spectacularly clear. There is no other way. It is not by baptism. It is not by confirmation. It is not by a bishop’s hands on our heads. It is not by holy communion. It is not by church membership. It is only and ever through what the Lord Jesus Christ has done, by his righteous life and his atoning death he became our Saviour.
Here is the great statement of Paul in the opening verse of Romans chapter 5. He has been writing in the first four chapters about the problem of sin and its guilt and then how God sent forth his Son to propitiate his wrath against sin for everyone who believes, and then he says, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Roms. 5:1). That is God’s way of peace. Perfect peace comes to us through our trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is not angry with us. We have no fear of death and hell for Jesus has plucked the sting out of death and exhausted all the judgment of hell. God has promised that he will never leave us – peace with God. He will supply all our needs – peace with God. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death he will walk it with us – peace with God. An angry God has become our Father – peace with God! And it is all through Jesus Christ being received into your life, and followed and served. That is why Jesus Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” But if you reject him then there is no peace for the unbeliever. There is the ceaseless tramping from one pub to another, night after night. There are endless ‘relationships.’ There is constant watching of TV. There are all the things with which you will try to fill your empty heart, searching for peace and finding none.
We break our hearts over you. If only you knew with conviction, deep in your heart that it is Jesus Christ and no one else who can give you peace. If only you knew this what lost years you would save. What an aching void of a life you would miss. What needless pain you’d dodge, and what satisfying peace you would gain, but you are deliberately blind to it all. You refuse to see it. It is hidden from you. Our own hearts as Christians – my heart is too stony to weep over your rejection of our Saviour, but Jesus’ heart was big and loving, and when he saw the way that Jerusalem sinners had rejected his way of peace he wept. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes”
THEY WERE IGNORANT OF THE DESTRUCTION BEFORE THEM.
Jesus said to them, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another” (vv. 43&44). At every annual Passover the people of Jerusalem got excited. Maybe this year the Messiah would appear and he would use the same supernatural power that their ancestors, the children of Israel in Egypt, had witnessed, as a succession of plagues came upon their enemies, with increasing ferocity ending with the death of their firstborn children. Then their enemies surrendered and let them go with all the plunder they could carry with them, and when they pursued them then Pharaoh and all his army were drowned in the Red Sea. This was their God. He had not changed. “Do it again Lord, at this Passover! Do it soon!” That was their hope, a military political solution to the problem of Rome and their lack of liberty.
That is what the world has cried out for during the last century, for military and political solutions to social and personal and family problems. “A glorious time is going to come,” said the communists. “It is going to come,” said the nationalists. “It is going to come,” said the fascists. “It is going to come,” said the Maoists. “It is going to come,” said the socialists. “It is going to come,” said the Muslims. What a wonderful future it will be, they dream, when their political agenda is acted upon. So what happened following all the revolutions and wars of the 20th century? The year 1900 was the beginning of the 20th century and what excitement and hopes there were all round the world for the century before them. Then there came a ceaseless chain of disasters. The sinking of the unsinkable ship the Titanic a hundred years ago in 1912, then the slaughter of the first world war beginning two years later, the second world war only twenty years after the first world war had ended. In that war which I lived through 23 million Soviets were killed, over 6 million Poles and 6 million Germans. Then it didn’t end in 1945. In Eastern Europe in continued for months, and in Greece for years, in Yugoslavia it broke out a generation later. One night in the second world war the British bombed Hamburg and we killed 60,000 Germans in one night. We did it! Then Russia, who ended on the winning side, got saddled by victory with communism and the most inefficient government the world has known for the next sixty years.
Back in 1900 there were such hopes for the 20th century, and what politics would certainly achieve, and if you had told them these facts as I have given them to you and told them, “This is what lies before you in the 20th century,” they would have mocked you. What folly! What a simpleton to believe in that. So it was in Jerusalem. Jesus often spoke of what lay before that generation who rejected him and the kingdom of God, the people who rather looked for a political kingdom. That generation, in forty years’ time, would see invasion, siege, the wanton cruel slaughter even of children, with the city and the Temple of God totally destroyed; “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another.” And in the year 70 this was fulfilled to the letter. No bright tomorrow. No driving out of the Roman armies and the Messiah reigning over the Middle East, nothing like it, but simply the most horrific scenes and a new slavery for the people; Jerusalem no more. Pagan Rome triumphant
Jesus wept as he spoke to them. Now I have no knowledge of what lies before us, but I do know of the capacity of destruction in contemporary armaments, that one bomb can destroy an entire city or even a small country. I know that there are men who would long to wipe out the whole western world and have no conscience about doing so. May the powers that be have the skill to resist them! May we pray for them constantly! What fools we would be to put our trust in politicians of any political party. May we put to death any utopian hopes we have of establishing peace through politics. Let us weep before God for mercy on our groaning world. If he should put us in his crucible and destroy us isn’t that exactly what our sensual, cruel world deserves? Mercy is all we can pray for. We know that what nations sow that is also what they reap. Whatever lies before us we cannot avoid our own destruction and the judgment of God and the possibility of everlasting separation from the presence of God. Let us cry to God for mercy. Again why did Jesus weep?
THEY WERE IGNORANT OF THE TIME GOD HAD COME TO THEM.
Jesus wept, he told them, because, “you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you” (v.44). God had told them that one day he would come. He spoke straight away in Eden when Adam and Eve had obeyed the serpent and defied him by taking the fruit of the tree he had told them not to take. He did not tantalize them but he told them immediately of his mercy, that a descendant of Eve would come and would bruise the serpent’s head. He told them that a descendant of Abraham would come and all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. He told them that he would be one of Moses’ brethren and a descendant of David, that he would be born in Bethlehem, that he would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, but he would be the wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting father and the prince of peace. He told them that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and that he would be Immanuel, God with us. And Jehovah Jesus came, just as God had said, and no one was born like him, and no one lived like him, and not one taught like him, and no one loved like him, and no one died like him and no one conquered the grave like him, and no one comes to us and helps and saves us like Jesus does today
He tells us that he is with his disciples for ever, never leaving them. He comes into our hearts and he abides there for ever. We have, as I often tell you, unlimited access to an indwelling Saviour. And when we meet together in his name he is there in our midst as he has been in our midst today, walking these aisles and sitting next to us, and opening our understanding, enlightening and explaining things to us, saving us and rebuking us for our unbelief and correcting our ideas and training us in righteous ways. God is with us each Sunday in this place. Yet some of you come and when you leave you are as cool and untouched as when you came. You failed to recognize the time when God came here and dealt with you. When I particularly touched you in the sermon then the thought came to you, “It’s his eloquence. He could make me believe that black was white,” and so you could dismiss the word that God was actually speaking to you and you could rather hang on to your unbelief and to your darling sins. You did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you, and I feel so sorry for you. Every Christian here feels a sorrow for you. We are not angry with you because many of us took years to submit to the Lord Jesus. What fools we were and slow of heart, we feel today.
Jesus triumphed with us. The Jesus who wept over our coldness of heart finally made us willing in a day of his power to end this alienation and submit to his lordship, but how we regret that we grieved his Spirit. He was so patient with us. His longsuffering to you is to bring you to repentance. The Son of God came, as he said he would, two thousand years ago, and since that time he has sent his servants into the world to gather together his people in congregations large and small and whenever they have met in his name, without exception, he has been there. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” he has promised. This tender, loving Saviour who has often looked at you and spoken to you, has brought you here again today. Make him rejoice, not grieve, as he finds you and welcomes you, a prodigal, at last come home.
25th March 2012 GEOFF THOMAS