Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple

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Sermon for Trinity 10

Jeremiah 7:1-11  +  1 Corinthians 12:1-11  +  Luke 19:41-48

It’s not often in Scripture that we see Jesus weep.  In fact, only twice—at the grave of Lazarus, and in today’s Gospel as He weeps for the city of Jerusalem.  It’s not often that we see Jesus overturning tables and physically driving people out of the Temple.  Again, only twice—once at the beginning of His ministry, and again in today’s Gospel.  Two striking, and strikingly different, images of Jesus come together before us, the weeping on Palm Sunday, the driving out of money-changers on the next day.  Different images of Jesus, but both display how deeply He cares for Jerusalem, that is, for the Church, for those who have been called by the Gospel and have professed to believe in the God of Israel.  How saddened Jesus is when those who are called by His name turn away from Him in unbelief and bring destruction and condemnation upon themselves; and how zealous He is for the preaching of His Word, which is the only thing that can save anyone and bring them into the Church and keep them there.  In both parts of our Gospel there is a warning for us—a warning for the Church, and also great comfort.

First, let’s examine how and why Jesus wept over the city.

It was Palm Sunday, five days before Jesus was crucified.  Jesus was riding on that donkey, the king of Jerusalem riding in to save her.  The crowds were singing their Hosanna’s and rejoicing.  But while they rejoiced, Jesus wept.  He wept because He knew the city, as a whole, would reject Him as her Messiah.  No matter how much He preached, no matter how much the Apostles would preach to Jerusalem after His resurrection, the city, as a whole, would not believe.  And by not believing in Jesus, by rejecting Jesus as their King, they were sealing a most horrible fate for themselves.  Annihilation, within 40 years.  Not at the hands of Christians, mind you.  Jesus did not call on His Christians to be His agents of wrath against the Jews.  No, it would be the pagans, the Romans, whom God would use to bring this punishment on Jerusalem.  They would be besieged for months by the Roman army.  They would run out of food.  The glorious walls of Jerusalem would be demolished.  The city would be burned.  Its inhabitants would be slaughtered.  All this took place in 70 AD, 40 years after they slaughtered the Son of God.

But see!  It wasn’t slaughtering the Son of God that brought on this terrible destruction.  Jesus wasn’t weeping over the fact that Jerusalem would crucify Him.  He was weeping over the fact that even after crucifying Him, they would not repent of their crimes against God.  Even after the love of God was put on display on the cross, they would still cling to their sin and despise the Word of Christ.

Isn’t that amazing?  Killing Jesus could have been forgiven.  But rejecting the Word of Jesus in unbelief—for that, there was no forgiveness.  Why?  Because the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  The wrath of God and a day of judgment is coming against all sinners.  But Jesus bore every sin of every sinner on the cross, providing a place of refuge from God’s righteous wrath, providing a place of righteousness, where sinners are forgiven and God’s wrath is already poured out and satisfied.  Christ would send His Apostles out to preach this message and to call even Jerusalem to repentance and faith in the Son of God.  Every sin that could condemn a person, even calling for the death of Jesus Himself, can be forgiven.  But forgiveness is received only through faith in Christ, and so unbelief becomes the only sin, from which all other sins flow.

Jerusalem was given every opportunity to know the truth.  Where was the Word of God preached and taught more than it was in Jerusalem?  Where did the first preaching of the resurrection of Christ take place, but in Jerusalem?  Where did the Apostles begin their ministry, where was the Church born, but in Jerusalem?  And yet, although some would certainly believe and be forgiven by God and escape the coming wrath, Jerusalem, as a whole, would not repent and believe, and so Jerusalem would be found guilty of all her sins.  And since they would refuse to trust in the payment Jesus made for their sins, they would have to suffer for them all.

And that made Jesus, not angry, but sad.  It made Him weep.  His goal, His desire was not for the destruction of Jerusalem, but for her salvation.

If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

The destruction of Jerusalem is an omen, a foreshadowing, a picture of an even greater destruction—the destruction of all the ungodly and unbelieving, and particularly the destruction of the apostate Christian Church.

The apostate Christian Church is the empty shell of Christian churches around the world that still bear the name of Christ, that still read from the Bible and still retain the appearance of being godly, but they deny the truth of God’s Word, they deny the power of godliness, they refuse to live in repentance, and their faith is a faith in a Jesus of their own creation, not the confidence in the death and resurrection of the real Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  The apostate Church is all around us in America, where God’s Word has never been so abundantly proclaimed and made available, and yet the pure Word is despised, and people find better things to do than to hear it and learn it and believe it.

Jesus’ tears in today’s Gospel are intended to coax all of us to repentance and trust in Him who cares for sinners, even the ones who would crucify Him, even those who would never believe in Him.  If He is that kind, if He cares so much for those who will be destroyed and lost eternally, just think how much He cares for you who do trust in Him, who have been washed and justified and sanctified through faith in Him.  He still holds out His forgiveness to you today in His Word and Supper.  It isn’t too late!  But one day, it will be.

Jesus’ tears also teach us to have hearts that weep for the lost, hearts that care as Jesus cares.  And so we pray for those who are now in error, that they may come to repentance.  We pray for those who haven’t heard the Word of Christ, that they may hear and believe.  We must not grow haughty or proud here in this Christian Church, but recognize with humility that “there but by the grace of God go I.” Let us live a life of love and compassion toward our neighbor, whoever he or she may be.

Now, there is a time to think about and weep over the impending destruction of those who reject Christ.  But we shouldn’t imagine that Jesus goes around weeping all the time, or that we should, either.  There is also a time to fight against those who reject the Word of Christ so that Christ’s name can be properly taught and proclaimed and preached—to fight against them, not with swords or guns or knives, but with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

The day after Palm Sunday, Jesus wasn’t weeping anymore.  He was fighting.  He was turning over tables and driving out all those who were doing business in God’s Temple, both the sellers and the buyers.  He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” He didn’t harm anyone or murder anyone or destroy the temple.  But He did disrupt their godless buying and selling within God’s house of prayer.  Why?  Because they were dishonoring God? No, but because they were preventing the people from hearing God’s Word and turning to Him for help in prayer.  They were harming the people who needed to hear and take to heart, because the only salvation from judgment and condemnation comes through faith in Christ, and faith in Christ only comes through hearing.

Once the noise died down in the Temple, it says that He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

Now, there is no longer a temple in Jerusalem that is THE house of God, the house of prayer.  Whether it’s the Israelis or the Palestinians in control of Jerusalem, both groups, for the most part, reject Jesus as the Christ and so both groups will share the fate of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  But there is a temple of God, a spiritual house, the kingdom of Christ, where the Word of Christ is preached and the Spirit of God is working—the visible Christian Church on earth.  The visible Church is divided, and has always been divided and will always be divided into believers and hypocrites.  Christians in name and in faith, and Christians in name only.  The right and pure doctrine of Christ will always be taught, and false doctrine will always be right there to threaten it and live alongside it in the larger umbrella of the Church.

What would Jesus drive out of our places of worship today, where we live?  He would drive out everything that hinders the right preaching and hearing of His Word.    All false doctrine.  All ungodly living.  All self-reliance.  All fear and cowardice.  All tweaking of His Word.  Everything that takes the focus away from Christ and puts it on man, or on something else. He would drive out anything and everything that distracts from prayer and from the teaching of the Word of Christ and from the administration of the Sacraments of Christ. Why?  Because He cares for His Church and wants His Word to have free rein in our preaching and in our lives.  That is how we will escape the coming destruction.  That is how others will hear and be brought into the kingdom of Christ. That is how we will be kept safe for time and for eternity, through hearing the Word and receiving God’s grace in the Holy Sacraments.

Let the zeal of Jesus for God’s temple move us to a renewed vigor in preaching and teaching and hearing and learning, to a renewed zeal in praying for those who have not yet heard the Word of Christ, and to live such good and upright lives among the unbelievers that they may see our good deeds and give praise to our Father in heaven.  Amen.

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