Sermon for Trinity 10
Luke 19:41-48 + Jeremiah 7:1-11,20 + Romans 9:30 – 10:4
Twice in the New Testament it says that “Jesus wept.” He may have wept more often than that, but twice it’s recorded for us to know and consider. The first time was at the grave site of his friend Lazarus. Jesus was moved to tears by the tears of his friends, and by the sadness and sorrow that accompanied death, even the death of a believer. Jesus wept.
The other time Jesus wept was on Palm Sunday. We don’t usually make the connection, do we? We think of Palm Sunday as a day of celebration and rejoicing, palm branches and singing at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And that’s all true. It’s just not the whole story. Because the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the bigger those walls grew in his vision, the harder it struck the Son of God: This “holy” city is going to be destroyed.
On this day of the Church Year, the Church remembers the fall of Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70 AD, as prophesied by Jesus in our Gospel today some 40 years before it happened. When Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, the crowd exclaimed, “See how he loved him!” As we witness Jesus weeping at the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we exclaim, “See how he loved her!” And see how he loves her still! See how Jesus loves Jerusalem!
First, we see Jesus’ love in his tears as he mourns for apostate Jerusalem.
“Apostate” means “fallen away.” Some people get a little carried away with this text and picture Jesus crying for all the lost sinners of the world. But that’s not exactly right. It’s true, God doesn’t want anyone to perish. But it’s more specific than that. Jesus weeps for Jerusalem. Jerusalem was special. Jerusalem had been the home of God’s people and the site of God’s holy Temple for 1,000 years. Jerusalem represented God’s Church on earth, those who had received God’s very own words and promises, those who were pledged to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, like a woman who is pledged to be married to a man. Jerusalem’s long-awaited Messiah was coming. Jerusalem was supposed to be his Bride when he arrived, and he would bring her peace. If she would have received Jesus in faith, she would have received every blessing, both temporal and eternal.
But Jerusalem became apostate. The city as a whole claimed to worship God, claimed to know God, but when God came to her, when the Messiah arrived, she didn’t receive him. She didn’t even recognize him. The Savior was hidden from her eyes. His divine identity was hidden in words, in prophecies, in flesh and blood and weakness and humility. God’s Holy Spirit opened the eyes and ears of a few to believe the words and see him for who he was, who he is. But for the most part, this beautiful old city lived in unbelief. She who had all the promises and all the prophecies about the Messiah rejected the Messiah and despised God’s Word. Five days after Palm Sunday, she would call for her Husband’s crucifixion.
Now sometimes, Jesus addressed the impenitence of the Jews with harsh words and stern threats. But now, as Jerusalem is about to betray Jesus and reject him once and for all, he has no harsh words for her. He shows only love, only tenderness, only pity for those who despise him. He mourns for her, he grieves over her as people grieve over a loved one who has died, or who is about to die. Jesus sheds no tears for himself and what he is about to suffer. His tears are only for Jerusalem, because, by rejecting him, she was sealing her own fate. Her destruction was set in stone.
And Jesus saw it all too clearly, how, within forty years, Jerusalem would be surrounded by the Romans. The siege would start on Passover, with all the visitors from other countries trapped in the city – some 3 million people, for 143 days. By the end, it was pure mayhem. The food was gone; the people were starving. They were resorting to cannibalism by the time the Roman armies finally entered the city and tore down the Temple, killing up to a million people before they were through. Jesus saw it all before it happened. And he wept over the destruction of those who despised him. See how he loved Jerusalem!
Jerusalem stands as a symbol for the Christian church on earth of all times. This Christian Church has no capital city. The Church is the city. Its walls aren’t made of brick and stone, but of baptized people from every nation on earth who confess the name of Christ crucified as God and Savior. It has no Temple. It is the Temple of God where he dwells through his Holy Spirit, where his Word and Sacrament bring God into the presence of man.
But what is the state of the Christian Church on earth? It is fast approaching the state of Jerusalem in 30 AD. False teachers are everywhere. The name of Christ is still mentioned, but people look to him more for moral teaching than for the forgiveness of sins. Rare are the Christian churches that still believe the Bible to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from God. And how many have been baptized or called themselves Christians their whole lives and yet rarely if ever set foot in a church?
Here, even in this place, the Word of God is offered and proclaimed freely; the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen is preached; the Sacrament is offered every Sunday; we have a Book of Lutheran Confessions that is pure gold, and everyone has access to a Bible. But do we use them? Are our hearts in them? Is our gathering as the Church around Word and Table the high point of our week from which everything else flows, or is it just another check in the to-do list?
Let us remember the fall of Jerusalem not in arrogance, but with fear. Because as the Last Day approaches, the visible Christian church on earth will become more and more apostate. You can count on it. It’s not restricted to any single denomination. And the last day will not only bring destruction on the secular world, but also on the apostate Church, of every denomination. Judgment, says the Apostle Paul, does not begin with the world, but with the house of God. It begins with those who had his Gospel proclaimed in their midst most clearly, most abundantly, and yet who still didn’t cherish it.
If you think you are standing first…that’s when you should be most afraid of falling. Jerusalem thought she stood firm, that she could never be moved. And so she grew casual about her faith and careless in her watching. If Jerusalem, God’s city, could become apostate, so could you! If Jerusalem could fall, so could you! If Jesus mourned for that city and its imminent downfall, how much more will he mourn for you who have been baptized into his name, if you should come to despise his Word!
See how Jesus loves Jerusalem! He weeps over the Christian Church as it slowly abandons him and becomes apostate. He weeps over every baptized Christian who walks away from the faith, or who becomes secure in his or her sin. And the tears of his love call us back to repentance so that we do not perish together with the multitudes. His tears over the destruction of those who despise him – don’t they move you not to despise him any longer?
But tears aren’t the only face of Jesus in today’s Gospel. On the front cover of your service folder you see a picture of an angry Jesus. But you who mourn over your sin, don’t be afraid. He isn’t the least bit angry with you. He’s fighting for you. His is a righteous anger. A sad and mournful Jesus approaches Jerusalem. But a fierce and determined Jesus heads straight for the Temple to fight for the salvation of those who hope in him.
See how Jesus loves Jerusalem! He fights for her salvation.
Jesus goes straight to the Temple on that Palm Sunday, that 10th day of Nisan when the Passover lambs were chosen for sacrifice. He goes to the Temple to teach the people. He hasn’t given up on Jerusalem. He knows that most people will remain in unbelief, but he also knows that some will hear his words and believe in him and escape the destruction that is to come. These people form a New Jerusalem, a spiritual one.
So God comes to his Temple to teach. But he can’t teach. Because the Temple has become a marketplace, a “den of robbers,” as Jesus put it. God’s house, God’s Temple was to serve as a beacon for all nations, the only place on earth where man could be sure to encounter the living God, because He promised to be there. They were supposed to be able to come and seek him there and pray to him there, and he promised to listen. But instead it was full of money changers exchanging currency, selling animals, making it impossible for people to hear God’s Word.
So Jesus drove them out of his house. “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer!” And then he began to teach the people earnestly, with his final days, with his final breath. He handed out to people the word of life, even as he would hand over his own body to be sacrificed on the cross and his own blood to be shed on the outskirts of Jerusalem before the week was out, so that there could be forgiveness of sins for all men. See how Jesus loves Jerusalem!
Now, in his fight for his Bride, Jerusalem, Jesus sends ministers into the world, and like him, they mourn over the downfall of his Church. But like Him, they also fight for his Church. They preach repentance; they hand out the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. They call the erring sheep back to the fold, and comfort those who are afraid.
That’s what the Church is for – for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It must never become a den of robbers. We can’t prevent the destruction of Jerusalem, of the Christian Church on earth. But we can be vigilant in our own walk, in our own church, in our own lives. The true Church of Christ – the New Jerusalem will never be destroyed. You don’t have to be among those who are perishing. For he who is your peace has come, and reveals himself to you here and now, to believe in him, to be saved by him. He comes again today into Jerusalem, into the midst of his people. He comes to teach. He comes in flesh and blood. As literally as he came into Jerusalem, he comes in flesh and blood in the Sacrament to fortify the walls of New Jerusalem.
Apostate Jerusalem was finally abandoned by God and reduced to rubble. That is the imminent fate of all things. But spiritual Jerusalem, God’s holy people – the saints, will never come to ruin. And you are among the saints, by faith in Christ Jesus. May Jesus’ love for Jerusalem – both in his tears for those who perish in unbelief and in his fierce determination for those who will be saved by faith in him – may Jesus’ love for Jerusalem melt your heart and keep you strong in him, so that when he comes for his Bride, for his New Jerusalem, you may be found within her walls. Amen.