Sermon audio here.
It seemed like a glorious day. The adoring crowds looked on as Jesus entered into Jerusalem, hailing Him as He passed: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)
Now we know Jesus was a Man of sorrows, but if anything could bring a smile to His face, surely it was this. The streets of Jerusalem were packed—standing room only, with people singing His praise. It seemed like a glorious Day.
But our Lord wasn’t laughing, He was weeping (Luke 19:41). He had no message of good tidings for the city. The people thought Jesus came to restore Jerusalem to its former glory (Luke 19:11). Instead, He told them it would be reduced to rubble (Luke 19:43–44).
After this, Jesus goes into the temple, not to pray, but to drive people out (Luke 19:45–46). Imagine, Jesus kicking people out of church! Maybe that’s what we should do. Instead of sending out letters of encouragement, the pastor and elders show up at your door with a whip!
You know what Jesus says about those who want no part of Him? Not “bend over backward to keep them in church,” that’s for sure. “If anyone does not receive you or listen to your words,” He says, “shake the dust off your feet,” (Matthew 10:14). St. Paul agrees: give one or two warnings, then have nothing to do with them (Titus 3:10–11). Jesus wants nothing more than to gather His children like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but not everyone is willing. For all their enthusiasm, the people of Jerusalem certainly weren’t.
This is like what happened back in the 8th century. The people were as eager for the Day of the Lord as an 8-year old on Christmas Eve. But compared to the Day of the Lord, getting coal on Christmas would seem like a really great gift. The only present God would be giving out on that Day was the Jerusalem special.
Scripture describes the Day of the Lord as a Day of thick gloom and deep darkness. “Woe to those who desire that Day!” Amos says. It is as if a man fled from a lion only to be met a bear, or went inside for refuge and leaned his hand on a wall, only to be bitten by a serpent (Amos 5:18–19).
The people couldn’t have been any more distant from God. The crowds were rejoicing while Jesus was weeping. They thought He’d come to reverse Jerusalem’s fortunes when in reality He came to announce its ruin. They were on the verge of destruction but thought, like the people of Amos’ day, “disaster shall not overtake or meet us,” (Amos 9:10). They were estranged from God because of their false doctrine.
There’s no shortage of false doctrine today, especially when it comes to those things we don’t like about God—things like His wrath and judgment. Somehow we’ve managed to sterilize Noah’s Ark into a cute children’s story, and even many who claim to be Christians deny that God would ever send someone to hell. So we take the parts of God we like and get rid of the rest.
But this doesn’t work because God is no Frankenstein. He made you, not the other way around. You don’t get to pick and choose what you like about Scripture. And like those in Jerusalem, eventually you will come face to face with your Creator and there will be no denying the truth. But if you refuse to know God—as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word—He cannot know you.
It never ceases to amaze me how wrong Christians can get God. Yesterday Tiffinie took a survey from an organization that self-identifies as Christian. On that survey, they asked the question, “Do you think people who aren’t Christians can know God?” The fact that we’re even asking this question is sad, but it just goes to show how confused about God we’ve become.
Our Lord couldn’t have been more explicit. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also,” (John 14:6–7). And the reverse is true: if you don’t know Jesus, you can’t know God. He is the image of the invisible God.
Or, as the Athanasian Creed puts it, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” To the question, “Can non-Christians know God?” both Scripture and the Creeds answer an emphatic NO.
Denying God can happen in two ways. To actively reject God is to show Him outright hostility. Christians tend not to do this very often, but it happens. But you can also reject Him passively—which is exceedingly common among Christians—by neglecting preaching and His Word. This is why Jesus weeps. He wants everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, but God doesn’t always get what He wants. Rejecting preaching and His Word is the shortest path to hell, and tragically, it’s a road that’s well traveled. As our Lord says,
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” (Matthew 7:13–14).
Don’t make the terrible mistake of the Israelites, who thought God’s favor couldn’t be lost. They thought being God’s chosen nation meant their salvation was assured no matter what. Instead, God told them that their election meant they would be judged even more severely. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth,” God said, “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities,” (Amos 3:1–2). In other words, “You of all people should have known better!” But they had an invincibility complex and made the mistake of thinking salvation cannot be lost. This is how it will be on the Last Day for those who presume upon the grace of God. Jesus says,
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’” (Matthew 7:22–23).
God expects the pagans to live as strangers to Him (to an extent). But not His own people! Jeremiah says, “Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the just decrees of the Lord,” (8:7). It’s no wonder Jesus weeps.
Times haven’t changed. Much of the time we get along without even giving God a second thought. He gets His hour on Sunday morning (if you come to church), and a little bit more here and there during the week if you pray, spend any time in Scripture, or restrain your sinful flesh and actually put your faith into practice. But the rest of the time, God’s hardly a blip on the radar. When you do become aware of His existence, it’s often because He’s done something that seems more like the work of the devil than anything you’d ever expect God to do.
This is what happens when you stop caring about what God says. Neglecting God’s Word is what got Jerusalem into trouble. Learn from their mistakes, and repent.
The church today is lukewarm, just like it was in the book of Revelation. To them Jesus says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth,” (Revelation 3:15–16).
The only thing that’s worse than hating someone is ignoring them—being neither cold nor hot. We get down on the Pharisees because they hated for Jesus, but at least they felt something for Him.
Jesus weeps because so few people care about His Word. He weeps that infants are dismembered in our country and sold for profit while Christians sit idly by. He weeps that Christians actually celebrate homosexual unions, not caring what God says about sin and thinking we know better.
Instead of weep over this sad reality, we’ve become numb. We neither tremble at God’s terrors nor rejoice in His salvation. The Israelites went to the temple and we come to Church, but it’s not enough to go through the motions. Thus says the Lord: “You have drawn near to Me with your mouth and honor Me with your lips, but your heart is far from Me,” (Isaiah 29:13). Repent.
There is nothing better for you than to hear and live according to God’s Word. When you don’t like what it says, repent. God isn’t wrong. The problem is never with Scripture, it’s with your own sinful thoughts and feelings. We live in such a shallow, one-dimensional, instant gratification culture that anything that doesn’t make you immediately happy is considered bad, and anything that makes you happy must be good. But sin is bad even though it usually feels good (at least temporarily), and repentance is good, even though it’s an incredibly painful thing to do.
We try to avoid sorrow at all costs, even to the point of having these ridiculous “celebrations of life” instead of funerals. Sorrow isn’t a bad thing. Mourning at funerals isn’t sinful; it’s an expression of love. Don’t rob your loved ones of the opportunity to do that. Learn from Jesus who wept at the death of His friend Lazarus. Have a real funeral and weep at the death of your loved ones. We mourn with hope, but we still mourn. To minimize the sorrow of death is to minimize the joy of Christ’s resurrection. Sorrow isn’t a bad thing. Sorrow over sin is one of the most important feelings you could ever have.
The fact that Jesus weeps over the destruction of the wicked is a sign of His compassion. His tears are proof that He came to save, not destroy. He came not to kill, but to be killed, for you. The only thing that flowed more freely than His tears is His blood.
The ultimate Day of the Lord had nothing to do with the destruction of cities. That Day of the Lord was so filled with darkness that day turned to night for three hours while the sun’s light failed. On that Day all of the destruction fell to Jesus, when on the cross He suffered the wrath of God over your sin.
Because of this, the risen Lord declares the guilty innocent and washes away all of your sin, as He did for you at the Font, and as He does for you every Lord’s Day in preaching and the Sacrament. Don’t take His grace for granted! The only thing that can sustain your faith is the Word of God. Preaching and God’s Word is your faith’s daily bread. Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.
Faith cannot survive and fellowship with God is impossible apart from the Holy Christian Church. God is present everywhere, but apart from His saving presence in Word and Sacrament He comes only as wrathful Judge. Come to His house and Table every Lord’s Day, that your faith might endure until the Day where there is no more sorrow or night (Revelation 21:23–25).
The Holy Spirit grant you comfort as you ponder the tears and the blood your Lord shed for you. For in those tears and with that blood, you see what the Lord desires above all: to have you in heaven. May His will be done.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
Portions adapted from Wolfmueller, “What Makes Jesus Weep”
St. Luke 19:41–48: “Hearts Estranged from God”
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015
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