Vol. XI — No. 42 October 18, 1970
And when he was come near, be beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
If you read through the four Gospels, you will find, significantly, not one reference to Jesus having smiled or laughed. Rather you will learn how sorrow often filled His Savior-heart, to the extent that on two recorded occasions He broke into open weeping. Truly does Scripture say of the Christ during the days of His earthly ministry: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Is. 53:3.
And what was the chief cause of the Savior’s sorrow and weeping? Was it the thought of the intense pain and indescribably great agony of soul which would be His as He hung upon the cross, there being “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities”? Is. 53:5. One might think so, but His grief was centered rather in His great love and concern for the poor sinners whom He had come to save. At Lazarus’ grave He shed quiet tears over the suffering that the death of a loved one brings to a Christian family, And in our text He breaks into loud and open sobbing over the fact that His beloved Jerusalem has rejected Him, their only hope for deliverance from sin, from a horrible judgment, and from eternal death. This then is the sorrow which chiefly burdened the compassionate heart of our Savior: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” John 1:11.
Christ Jesus has left this world of sin and death and ascended into glory, but He loves us no less than the inhabitants of the holy city, and is no less concerned about our salvation. From the day of our baptism even until now He has been visiting us with His grace and mercy. Have we, like the people of Jerusalem, caused Him sorrow, by not continually receiving Him with open and thankful hearts? Have we brought Him grief by often letting our attentions center more upon the perishing things of this earth than upon the heavenly gifts which He has purchased for us at so great a price? Have we given Him occasion to weep by not taking as seriously as we should the fact that this present world will one day perish in the fire of Judgment Day, and that the things of eternity must therefore be all important in all our thinking and striving?
If we take an honest look into our hearts and lives, we will surely recognize a need to learn well the lesson which our text this morning would bring us:
The time of our text is Palm Sunday, the day of Christ’s solemn entry into the city of Jerusalem, where in but a few days He, as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, would pour out His soul unto death. The festival worshipers had come out of the city to meet Him, and were accompanying Him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna.” The procession moves slowly onward until it reaches the top of the hill over looking Jerusalem from the east. In an instant the entire city bursts into view—the temple with its glistening towers and beautiful courts, and beyond it the magnificent city with its thousands of spacious homes and lush gardens. And as the Savior beholds, He suddenly bursts into tears of deep lamentation.
The reason for His sobs of grief we find in the words He then utters: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” How many days He had spent among the inhabitants of the holy city, carrying out His mission “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10. His message had been one of peace. Peace between God and man, because through His own righteous life and innocent death the world would be again be made one with the holy God. Peace from a conscience burdened with the knowledge of sin and guilt, for that sin and guilt would be forever removed by His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. Peace even from the fear of death, for in Him was resurrection and life for all mankind.
But how did Jerusalem receive this gracious invitation of their Savior? They shut their eyes to it and rejected it in unbelief. Moreover, in this very week they would cry out against Him in bitter hatred: “Crucify him, crucify him.” Luke 23:21. With what justice could not Christ, as He viewed the unbelieving and murderous city lying before Him, have called down fire and brimstone from heaven to destroy it. But so deep is His Savior-love for its undeserving inhabitants, that instead He shed tears of bitter grief over their rejection of Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Matt. 23:37.
When we hear our Savior sobbing over Jerusalem, how can we any longer doubt these words of our God: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezek. 33:11. No matter how great the sins which may lie in our past, no matter how grievously we may have fallen prey to the temptations of Satan and the world surrounding us, no matter how deeply we may have grieved our Lord through a heedless and self-centered life—He comes to us and desires nothing more than that we repent and believe that Gospel of forgiveness and salvation which assures us: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” Rom. 5:20. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18.
Take seriously, then, this time of your visitation, recognizing it as a time of marvelous grace. For what the hymwriter says is most certainly true:
Today Thy mercy calls us
To wash away our sin.
However great our trespass,
Whatever we have been,
However long from mercy
Our hearts have turned away,
Thy precious blood can cleanse us
And make us white today. LH: 279:1
As the Savior views the holy city before Him, His prophetic eye looks forty years into the future: “The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”
The contrast is indeed terrible between the Jerusalem that lay before Him in all its beauty and security, and the Jerusalem which He saw in vision: the camp of the enemy surrounding her on every side, hugging her in a deadly embrace; the rampart raised by the Roman legions to make escape from the doomed city impossible; and finally, the city laid even with the ground, the gory bodies of her children lying among her ruins—the silence and desolation of death by the hand of God!
Yes, by the hand of God, for what was the reason for this terrifying judgment upon Jerusalem? Hear again the words of Christ: “Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” The leaders of the city were out to destroy Christ, for He threatened their positions of power and their sources of wealth, one of which was the shamefully dishonest profiteering that went on in that market which had been set up in the very courts of the temple itself. And the common people also turned away from Him, for it was a political savior that they wanted, someone who would restore their national independence and raise their standard of living, rather than a Savior from sin and everlasting death. Because they neglected the time of their gracious visitation, they had to learn through terrifying destruction the meaning of Scripture: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb. 10:31.
And “how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation”? Heb. 2:3. The unbelieving people of Jerusalem were confidently secure that Christ’s prophecy of judgment would never be fulfilled—until the hordes of the enemy were lying at their gates and escape was impossible. So also in our day the unbelieving millions, who have no interest in the things of God and eternity are content to center their attention upon the things of this life, are confidently secure that they are safe from judgment. Even as Scripture says of them: “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” II Peter 3:7. But judgment shall one day come, and:
Then woe to those who scorned the Lord
And sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word
And loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the Judge’s stern command
To Satan be delivered. LH 611:4.
Our text closes with the happy observation: “All the people were very attentive to hear him.” Who these people were we are not told, but it is probable that they consisted largely of those who were not inhabitants of Jerusalem, but were present that week in the city as festival pilgrims. They did not give Jesus an idle or half-hearted hearing as He taught them in the temple, but were rather “very attentive.” To translate literally: “All the people were hanging upon him by hearing.” They recognized this as a precious time of grace, and therefore could not tear themselves away from Him, but clung to His every word. And they did wisely, for in but a day or two the Lord would remove His gracious presence from the temple, never again to proclaim there “the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
So do not think: “I can hear the Gospel any old time. Why spend so much time and effort now in learning it?” Scripture says: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)—which clearly implies that the day may come when men will not be able to find Him. Who knows when the time of our visitation may be gone? Already the judgment is falling upon our land, so that there are right now preciously few places here in America where the Word of God is still taught in all its saving truth. Those of you who are young may well see another fulfilment of Amos’ prophecy: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” Amos 8:11-12.
Therefore, as Luther says: “My dear countrymen, buy while the market is at your door; gather the harvest while the sun shines and the weather is fair; use the grace and Word of God while they are near.” Sit daily at your Savior’s feet as He comes to you in Holy Scripture, and cling to His every word, as did those festival pilgrims, letting this be the prayer of your heart:
O Thou Lord of my salvation,
Grant my soul Thy blood-bought peace.
By Thy tears of lamentation
Bid my faith and love increase.
Grant me grace to love Thy Word,
Grace to keep the message heard,
Grace to own Thee as my Treasure,
Grace to love Thee without measure. LH 419:3.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.